jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San

Asking and Answering Questions

This lesson is a work in progress!

Video lesson still to come!

Table of Contents

Words to Know

Particles

WordDefinitionWriting
anu
anu
(connect phrases with 'or')A capital letter "Y" with a wide top
seme
seme
(request information)A question mark

By the way, anu comes back next lesson for a thing that isn't questions!

Content Words

WordDefinitionWriting
sijelo
sijelo
body, torsoLike a wide chest: flat line on top, three lines to bottom from left, right, center
lawa
lawa
head, mind, brain, control, plan, govern, leadA head wearing a hat, bill facing to the right
sinpin
sinpin
front, face, wallThe right half of a box with a dot to the right. Faces towards new writing!
luka
luka
hand, arm, tactile limbHand outline with thumb and extended fingers
noka
noka
foot, leg, locomotive limbFoot facing to the right
selo
selo
boundary, skin, bark, peel, outer layerA table shape, but with four straight legs in two pairs nearer to the edges.
uta
uta
mouth, lips, eating orificeAn open, smiling mouth with a dot beneath
lupa
lupa
hole, door, window, orificeA deep hole, curved at the bottom
monsi
monsi
back, behind, rearThe left half of a box with a dot on the left. Faces towards old writing!
nena
nena
bump, lump, extrusion, hill, mountain, noseA tall hill
insa
insa
inside, center, between, organThe bottom half of a box with a dot in the center
ijo
ijo
thingJust a circle. A perfectly generic object.

Overview

Questions are the cornerstone of speaking toki pona skillfully. Where a newbie speaker would be stuck wondering what a phrase or sentence means and not sure how to get past it, a skilled speaker knows what question to ask- in toki pona- to get the answer! In other words, if you master asking questions, you can make your way through any conversation!

In Toki Pona, there are three ways to ask questions, and many ways to answer them. You can use questions to cover gaps of all sorts- asking yes or no questions, clarifying something you misheard, asking what color and flavor yesterday was, and tons more.

Let's get into the first way of asking questions, with the word ala.

Asking your first question with ala

We can turn any sentence into a question by doubling the first word of the predicate, then adding ala between them both. As a reminder, the predicate comes after li, or after mi or sina if they're alone in the subject! Here are some examples:

sina pona ala pona?
  • Are you good?
  • Are y'all healing?
  • Is everyone okay?
kasi ale li weka ala weka?

Are all the plants gone?

Did all the grass go away?

Will the forest disappear?

These questions are the closest to yes or no questions in English. But you might have noticed, Toki Pona has no words for answering questions- no "yes" and no "no"!

Instead, you answer questions by repeating the doubled word for "yes," or ala for "no." You may also say the word and ala together for no.

ona li moku ala moku e ale?

moku

Translation of the above!

Did they eat everything?

Yep!

sina ken ala ken tawa?

ala.

ken ala.

Translation of the above!

Are you able to move?

No.

Can't.

Some speakers will repeat sentences, partly or fully, when answering questions. If you repeat part of a question, start repeating it from a particle:

ona li pini ala pini e musi?

ona li pini a

Translation of the above!

Did they end the game?

Yes, they ended (the game).

Asking questions with anu seme

Another way to ask questions is to add the phrase anu seme to the end of it. This forms the same kind of question as ala did before, but there are some tricks to it!

pipi li wile moku e pipi anu seme?

wile

As in this example, you answer "yes" like before, repeating the first word of the predicate as though it were doubled.

You also answer "no" like before:

jan li kepeken ilo ni anu seme?

ala

kepeken ala

Translation of the above!

Is the person using this tool, or what?

No.

Not using.

Questions formed with anu seme are often about something the speaker wants to confirm.

In English, you might hear the question "You took out the trash, right?". The speaker expects you to have taken out the trash- the "right" part on the end shows that. So you'll respond "Yes, I did" or just "yes!". Hopefully!

You can ask the same type of question in Toki Pona using the phrase anu seme. Here's the example from above, with both possible answers:

sina weka e jaki, anu seme?

weka

weka ala...

Translation of the above!

You took out the trash, right?

Yes!

No...

anu seme questions - but it doesn't have the possible answers built into the grammar, unlike the questions we looked at before. The speaker believes something, and they just want you to confirm it!

So, now that we get that, let's look at a few more fun cases with anu seme

Asking about "no" with anu seme

Since anu seme can be added to any sentence, you can use it to confirm negatives too! This leans heavily into this idea of assumption

kulupu li tawa ala tomo anu seme?

Asking questions about negatives can be just as confusing in Toki Pona as in English! When in doubt, saying more words to answer a question clearly never hurts!

Translation of the above!

anu seme can be anywhere in the sentence?!

I've only discussed anu seme at the end of sentences here, but you can add it to any part of speech! It's more common at the end of the sentence, so using using it elsewhere can occasionally confuse your listener, but it's always valid.

You'll see more of how to do this in the next lesson when we look closer at anu

Asking questions with seme

Another way to turn a sentence into a question is to replace any content word with seme. This leaves a blank that your listener fills in, and you can put it anywhere!

Asking multiple questions at the same time

Sometimes, you have a lot of questions! Fortunately, Toki Pona speakers have lots of answers.

Questions formed with ala aren't mixed with questions formed using anu seme, because that would be redundant. This does the same thing to the sentence!

But you can put seme in every part of a sentence, and it'll always form a valid question- even used more than once! The

seme la mi pana e mani seme tawa sina?

o pana e mani kepeken lipu mani. o pana e mani luka luka tu.

Translation of the above!

1

2

How do I send you money, and how much do I send?

Send money with your credit card. Send twelve dollars.

The translation here is pretty loose- the meaning is still the same, but the vibe is totally different. You've been warned!

Limit yourself to two seme in a single sentence. The more you add, the more confusing your sentence gets-

Lots of ways to answer questions

Frequently Asked Questions

This section is a quick summary of a few common and important questions you'll need as you study and practice! This is only a starting point though- many of these can be asked in a variety of other ways more than I list here. Be open minded and creative!

Who? What?

Both of these are generally formed in the same way- put seme in the subject!

seme li pali e ni?

If you know or need to be specific about the who or what being a person, then you would say jan seme.

Where?

lon seme? lon ma seme?

When?

Why?

Why questions can be formed with tan seme or seme la ...!

How?

Which?

Several of the question fragments stated here are often valid as full questions! For example, if you said lon seme? to somebody in the right context, they'd understand you to mean "where?"

Exercises

Toki Pona to English

English to Toki Pona

Takeaway

Fluency is not about understanding everything. It's about knowing what questions to ask if you don't understand!

Skilled speakers aren't just skilled at expression and comprehension; they also are quick to ask appropriate questions when they don't understand something. Not understanding a statement has stopped being a hindrance or a reason to switch to another language; you can correct your understanding and continue in Toki Pona alone.