toki a, jan ale o! mi jan Kekan San! mi wile pana e sona pi toki pona!
Hey everyone, I’m gregdan3, and today I wanna teach you about Toki Pona.
Today, we’re gonna be going over all of the prepositions in Toki Pona, as well start on the particle la. No bonuses this time around- there’s a lot to go over, so let’s get started!
Every part of today’s lesson is about context. Where and when does something happen? Why does it happen? What did you use to do that? What is it similar to? Keep this in mind as we go along. We’re gonna go one word at a time, with examples for each, starting with tawa:
As a preposition, tawa talks about moving. You can go somewhere, or you can do something for some reason. You can even talk about your opinion with it. For example:
mi pali e ni tawa mama mi
Here, tawa is after every other part of the sentence- so it’s telling us about the action of the sentence, the entire thing going on. You’ll see this pattern come up again!
The translation here is “I made this for my parent.” If you imagine taking the preposition off, the translation is just “I made this”- “tawa mama mi” is giving the listener more information about why we did that.
Here’s another example:
ona li tawa tomo sona
Here, tawa is right after li- so we’re talking about the subject, not the entire sentence like before. This pattern keeps coming up too!
tawa tells us there’s a specific place they’re moving to: tomo sona. So, the translation here is something like “They are going to school.”
One more for tawa, and then we’ll move on:
ni li pona wawa tawa mi
Here, tawa is describing the sentence like in our first example. Unlike our first example, reading it like “mi” is a reason or purpose or goal doesn’t make a lot of sense. “mi” is the speaker, you! And you are talking about your opinion. This sentence means “This is amazingly good to me.”
Now that we’ve seen the ways tawa can work, let’s move on to lon.
As a preposition, lon talks about where or when something happens. You can think of lon as setting the stage. But if you get clever, something can be “lon” anything you want- even knowledge, teaching, and feelings. We’ll look at how that works!
mi ken e ni lon tenpo weka
When lon is after everything else in the sentence, it tells us where that entire sentence takes place.
Here, the sentence is happening lon tenpo weka- in a far-away time. Without the preposition, this sentence means “I allow this”. And with it, it means something like, “I allowed this a long time ago.” That’s easy enough, so let’s look at another one:
poki mi li lon supa lape mi
When lon is right after li, it tells us where the subject is. Here, the translation is something like “My bag is on my bed.”
mi sona e ni lon pilin mi
This one’s a little tricky- the location here isn’t a place, it’s something abstract- an idea, a feeling. But it works exactly the same: The main part of the sentence says “I know this.” And with the preposition, we’re saying “I know this in my feelings.” That’s a little weird to think about- so let’s
A very close example in English would be “I know this in my heart.” This isn’t literal- it means you believe something deeply and emotionally. But the Toki Pona version is much closer to the literal meaning of “I know this in my heart.” Boom, lon telling us about feelings- and even helping us understand English better!
lon is a really important word with a lot of uses- you’ll have to experiment to get them all. Give it a shot, see how it goes! And we’re going to move on to tan.
tan as a preposition talks about cause and origin- why did something happen? Where is this from? This one’s actually pretty simple- so we’re gonna use this time to review tawa and lon as well!
jan ni li tan ma tomo lon poka pi telo suli!
Here, tan is right after li, so it’s talking directly about the subject! We also have lon later on- so let’s break this down!
First, “jan ni li tan ma tomo” is the main part of the sentence. This means “That person is from a city!” Cities being a place with buildings, of course. tan is easy!
lon is giving us a little extra info- in this sentence, it’s telling us about ma tomo. Where is ma tomo? lon poka pi telo suli- at the side of a large body of water.
Great! Let’s try one more.
kasi li jo e tomo tan pali mama
The main part of the sentence here is literally “the plant has a building.” Interpreting a bit, we could say “The tree has a treehouse”. The tan on the end here is telling us why the treehouse is there- what was the cause of the treehouse? “Because of the work of a parent.”
Be careful not to get this confused with tawa- the cause of something is not the same as why you do something, or who or what you do it for. Let me show you:
mama li ni tawa waso lili ona
This new sentence shows us the difference between tan and tawa, but it tells us more too- like, tomo wasn’t a treehouse! It was a nest! The translation here is “The parent did this for their baby birds.”
Great! Let’s move on to sama.
sama is also pretty easy. It talks about things being similar, whether a little bit or completely. That’s it!
sina jo e ilo sama ilo mi
Here, the speaker says “You have a tool, same as my tool!” That’s pretty literal- we don’t have more information, not even the way the tools are similar. But if you were having a conversation in person, it might be that you both have similar phones, or you both have a 3DS, or you’re both pushing around identical lawnmowers. But the similarity is there!
Let’s look at another one:
kulupu mi li wawa mute sama kulupu pi pipi lili
Now, this one’s a bit silly, but it works, and it’s the biggest strength of sama! The main part of the sentence says “My community is very strong.” That doesn’t talk about the way your community is strong- but with the preposition, the translation becomes something like “My team is very powerful, like a bunch of ants!” This is like making a comparison with “like” or “as” in English- using your common experiences with your listener to help them understand!
Still, this sentence is silly- but ants are organized, and dedicated to their task. That’s a great skill for a team to have, and definitely makes the team wawa. But this is a short example for the sake of time- you’re gonna have to be more specific about the pipi if you say this!
Our last preposition is kepeken. It means “to use.” That’s it!
akesi li kepeken palisa sama ilo
This is pretty straightforward. It says “A lizard is using a stick like a tool.”
We can even shorten this all the way to:
akesi li kepeken ilo
Or we could provide more info, about what the stick is used for:
akesi li alasa e moku kepeken palisa
“The lizard searches for food using a stick.” And of course, we can imagine a lizard scratching its way into the dirt, or a tree, with a stick. Great!
Before we get to la, you might be asking yourself, how can you tell when a word is a preposition, or a modifier? Especially with the word “tawa” that gets used so much to describe things that move.
The answer is, context! If I say:
ni li ilo tawa sina
It could mean “This is your moving tool”, or “This is a tool to you.” If you wanted to tell those apart, you’d have to know what the whole conversation was about, or be in person and look at the same thing as the speaker.
When is a word a preposition? That’s all about context!
Alright, and lastly, we come to la and phrases! But you might be surprised to learn that this will be super quick. la with phrases!
The common way to talk about la is to say it means “In the context of.” In the context of the thing before la, the thing after la. That might sound familiar- it came up while we were talking about lon.
If la has a phrase, it’s like having a preposition before the sentence instead of after. Let’s look at a few examples. In fact, I won’t even need to translate them, because you’ll know them right away:
mi la ni li pona wawa
sina la ni li ilo
pali mama la kasi li jo e tomo
tenpo weka la mi ken e ni
The common thread here is that a lot of the time, phrases in la are super similar to prepositions. Now, this isn’t everything about la- just the phrases. But it’s a great start!
Let’s do the translations just to be sure you’ve got it:
“To me, this is amazing!”
“To you, this is a tool.”
“Because of a parent’s work, this tree has a nest.”
“A long time ago, I allowed this.”
If you got all that, keep experimenting with
That’s all for today’s lesson! Thank you all so much for listening, and for learning.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me here, or on Discord!
I’m gonna get this recording up on YouTube, so be sure to check it out when it goes up!