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Pronunciation [ìʎàʔú]
Created by Imralu
Setting Qu
Date 2013-2020
Region Qu
Ethnicity Ngolu / Ilaqu
Native speakers 100,000  ({{{date}}})
Language family
Language isolate
  • Iliaqu
Writing system (not created)

Iliaqu (IPA: /ˌɪljəˈʔuː/), also known as Ngolu or sometimes Qu (endonym: iliaqu IPA: [ìʎàʔú]) is a language isolate spoken throughout the known regions of the space habitat Qu by the Ngolu people, whose number is estimated to be around 100,000. As the Ngolu are almost entirely monolingual, and while voluntary travel to and from Qu remains impossible, the language is not in any danger of extinction. At this stage, little is known of dialect differences within Qu. There are estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 100 Iliaqu speakers on Earth who have simply mysteriously appeared in various locations. Small communities of Ngolu speakers been brought or have found their way together, the most well-known and well-studied of which is a group of about 15 living in and around Berlin, Germany.

Iliaqu is an isolating/fusional, head-initial (right-branching) language with VSO word order and nominative-accusative alignment. Verbs (verbals) make up the only open class of word, with nouns (nominals) constituting a closed class of heavily fusional words that fill the roll of pronouns and articles in other languages, marking grammatical person, number, definiteness and specificity, gender, accessibility, and case.



There appear to have been fewer than ten isolated instances of non-Ngolu people arriving in Qu and there are no other cultures or languages known to exist in Qu. In such a linguistically and culturally homogenous environment, the Ngolu have had no need for endonyms for their culture, people or language. Traditionally, they have described their language simply as ilia [ìʎá] 'speech', themselves as golu [ŋòlú] 'people', and their world as qu [ʔú] 'world'.

With the new knowledge of other cultures and the entire universe outside of Qu, neologisms have arisen to distinguish their language and their people from those of the outsiders. For the Ngolu arrivals Earth, contact with other cultures has forced them to acknowledge that the other languages they hear must have the ability to convey information just as their language. Consequently, on Earth, the word ilia generally refers to any language. To disambiguate their own language, they may call it ilia qu [ìʎáʔú] or iliaqu [ìʎàʔú] 'Qu speech'. Non-Ngolu are still referred to as taia ('ghost', 'demon') and Earth maybe referred to as utaia [ùtàjá] 'ghost world' or a loan word such as hiia, which was common among the Berlin group (from German hier) although it now seems to be dying out in favour of utaia. With the acknowledgement that non-Ngolu people are also people and the consequent expansion of the term golu to include non-Ngolu, the term goqu [ŋòʔú] ('Qu people', formed by adding the human prefix go- to the word qu) is gaining ground and may be contrasted with taia or goutaia [ŋòu̯tàjá].



VOWELS Front Central Back
High i ‹i› u ‹u›
Mid e ‹e› o ‹o›
Low a ‹a›

Each vowel may be 'strong' or 'weak'. These are essentially stressed and unstressed. There is only ever one 'strong' vowel per word and it is nearly always the final vowel. Where it is not, it is always the penultimate vowel and the in that case the final vowel is always /i/ or /u/. Non-final strong vowels are indicated in the romanisation using an acute accent, ‹áéíóú›.

The realisation of strong vowels varies across accents. There appears to be a cline ranging from a pitch-based pronunciation to a weight-based pronunciation (used chiefly by men). At the pitch-based end of the spectrum, 'strong' vowels are pronounced with a high tone and 'weak' vowels with a low-tone. At the end of a non-interrogative utterance, a high-tone becomes a falling tone. At the end of a question, a high tone may be lengthened and/or undergo an additional rise. At the weight-based extreme, strong vowels cause gemination of the following consonant but are pronounced as long themselves when the following sound is (1) a vowel, (2) a consonant cluster or (3) an already geminated consonant. Utterance finally, strong vowels are generally neither pronounced with a high tone nor lengthened but are usually pronounced slightly louder.

The high vowels, /i/ and /u/, when 'weak' and adjacent to another vowel are pronounced non-syllabically as [i̯~j] and [u̯~w]). Non-syllabic /i/ merges with and palatalises any preceding dental/alveolar consonant.

In these two word examples, the pitch-based pronunciation is given before the weight-based pronunciation.

  • ju muja [ʒúmùʒâ] ~ [ʒumːuˈʒa]
  • ju aio [ʒúàjô] ~ [ʒuːaˈjo]
  • ju uaia [ʒúwàjâ] [ʒuːwaˈja]
  • ju ntu [ʒúntû] ~ [ʒu:nˈtu]
  • ju lleue [ʒúlːèwê] ~ [ʒuːlːeˈwe]


CONSONANTS Bilabial Labiodental Dental/Alveolar Post-alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m ‹m› n ‹n› ŋ ‹g›
Plosive b ‹b› t ‹t› k ‹k› ʔ ‹q›
Ejective ‹tt› ‹kk›
Voiced Fricative v ‹v› z ‹z› ʒ ‹j›
Voiceless Fricative s ‹s› ʃ ‹x› h ‹h›
Tap ɾ ‹r›
Lateral l ‹l›
  • The nasal consonants /m n ŋ/, unlike other consonants, may occur before another consonant and then assimilate in place of articulation to that consonant. For this reason, many authors posit the archiphoneme /N/. /N/ may be syllabic post pausa, carrying a low tone. Before /l/, /N/ assimilates to [l̪] or [l̪̩]. Before /v/, it is pronounced as [ɱ] or [ɱ̩].
  • The normal pronunciation of /n t tʼ ɾ l/ is dental [n̪ t̪ t̪ʼ ɾ̪ l̪]. When these consonants are followed by a non-syllabic /i/, they are palatalised to [ɲ t͡s t͡sʼ d͡z ʎ] and the /i/ subsequently disappears. Some speakers palatalise /t/ and /d/ to [t͡ʃ] and [d͡ʒ] respectively. The ejective /tʼ/, however, is rarely or never palatalised as [t͡ʃʼ].
  • /ɾ/ is frequently pronounced as a voiced dental plosive [d̪].
  • Geminate /m/, /n/ and /l/ (resulting from /Nm/, /Nn/ and /Nl/) may be pronounced as [m̩b], [n̪̩d̪] and [l̪̩d̪] respectively, particularly by men and particularly post pausa.
  • /s/ and /z/ are normally alveolar. When followed by a non-syllabic /i/, they are not distinguished from /ʃ ʒ/.
  • /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ cannot be followed by non-syllabic /i/.
  • The phonemes /s/ and /ɾ/ do not occur at the beginning of a word.
  • The glottal stop /ʔ/ and the ejective consonants /tʼ/ and /kʼ/ are restricted to positions immediately before a 'strong' vowel, although there may be an intervening non-syllabic 'weak' /i/ or /u/ after the ejectives. At the beginning of a 'weak' syllable, ejective consonants become pronounced as their equivalent plain plosive and the glottal stop disappears. For example, kka [kʼá] and kkue [kʷʼé] are allowed while expected *kkina (derived from kka plus the infix -in-) is instead present as kina [kì.ná]. In connected speech, /tʼ/ and /kʼ/ may be pronounced as [t̚ʔ k̚ʔ] or even [tː kː]. However, a strong ejective pronunciation is always heard post pausa.


Phonemically, a syllable may be ((N)C)V, where V is a vowel (C) an optional consonant and (N) an optional nasal which assimilates to its following consonant in its point of articulation.

Phonetically, syllables may be more complex. (N) is pronounced syllabically post pausa and otherwise is pronounced in the coda of the preceding syllable. The non-syllabic pronunciations of /i/ and /u/ mean that a syllable can be (C)(S)V(S)(N), where (S) is a semivowel.

nxua intaneti
is on the internet

Epenthetic /s/

An epenthetic /s/ sometimes appears between words when the second word begins with a vowel. In the romanisation used here, the /s/ is written on the end of the preceding word. The rules are somewhat complex and are best shown as a table. The final vowels of preceding words are shown vertically on the left. Initial vowels of the following word are shown along the top. An epenthetic /s/ doesn't appear before i and u when a syllabic vowel (V) immediately follows within the same word. In the table, the word borders are shown with an s indicating where the epenthetic /s/ always appears. In other positions in the table, the epenthetic /s/ can still appear in very clear emphatic speech.

i(V)- u(V)- i- u- e- o- a-
-i -i i- -i u- -i(s) i- -i u- -i e- -i o- -i a-
-u -u i- -u u- -u i- -u(s) u- -u e- -u o- -u a-
-e -e i- -e u- -e i- -e u- -es e- -es o- -es a-
-o -o i- -o u- -o i- -o u- -os e- -os o- -os a-
-a -a i- -a u- -a i- -a u- -as e- -as o- -as a-


ene ua [è.né.wá] u followed by syllabic vowel
enes u [è.né.sú] u not followed by syllabic vowel
ene ima [è.néj.má] i is weak and can become non-syllabic
enes eme [è.né.sè.mé] e is always syllabic
eni ua [è.ní.wá] final i before non-syllabic u
eni u [è.ní.ú] final i before syllabic u
eni iu [è.ní.jú] final i before non-syllabic i
enis iui [è.ní.sì.wí] final i before initial syllabic i
ene iui [è.néj.wí] final e followed by 'weak' i which becomes non-syllabic


There are four classes of words in Ngolu. Ngolu is a very verb-heavy language, with verbals making up the only truly open word class.

  • Nominals: closed
  • Verbals: open
  • Particles: closed
  • Interjections: closed (mostly)


Nominals are a large but closed class of inflecting words. The majority of nominals, the pronominals, are essentially the equivalent of pronouns and articles in other languages, inflecting for number, grammatical person, definiteness, specificity, gender, case and an inflectional dimension unique to Iliaqu, accessibility. Pronominals can appear on their own or can be followed by a verbal or verbal phrase. When followed by a verbal, they can be regarded as the head of an underlying relative clause which nominalises the verbal and allows it to function as an argument in the sentence.

As a pronoun:
"the thing"

As an article:
xu mala
"the thing that" "is a house"
the house

In addition to the pronominals, there are two complementisers which are essentially subordinating conjunctions which inflect for case. Zuo can be thought of as roughly equivalent to the English subordinating conjunction 'that' and kuo can be thought of as 'the time when'.

olos ene zuo kka g-ixi ja nana g-uje
be.strange DAT.1s.ACS NOM.C be.not COP-DAT.3s.INAN.DEF NOM.3s.DEF.ACS be.father COP-GEN.3s.ACS.DEF
"is strange" "to me" "that" "is not" "go there" "the one who" "is father" "is hers/his"
I think it's strange that his / her father didn't go / wasn't there. — [ACS/SUB]


Pronominals indicate two numbers, singular and plural. Plural is marked by the prefix i-, which occurs before some case prefixes and after others (see Case below for more information).

xu mala
"the thing that" "is a house"
the house

ixu mala
"the things that" "are houses"
the houses

The singular is used before quantifiers indicating a specific plural quantity.

xu euo mala
NOM.3s.INAN.DEF be.pair
"the thing that" "is a group of two" "is a house"
the two houses

When the plural is used, this indicates multiples of the indicated quantity.

ixu euo mala
NOM.3p.INAN.DEF be.pair
"the things that" "are groups of two" "are houses"
the pairs of houses

Many words denoting powders and granular substances are used in the plural with the singular referring to an individual grain.

xu bakua
NOM.3s.INAN.DEF be.grain.of.sand
"the thing that" "is a grain of sand"
the grain of sand

ixu bakua
NOM.3p.INAN.DEF be.grain.of.sand
"the things that" "are grains of sand"
the (grains of) sand

Water referred to as hunia, potable water, is indicated in the plural as well when it is a quantity larger than what one person can drink in one sitting.

ixu hunia
NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.potable
"the things that" "are potable"
the (large quantity of drinkable) water
xu hunia
NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.potable
"the things that" "are potable"
the (serving of drinkable) water


In the third person, nominals distinguish between animate and inanimate referents. When it comes to animals, the use of the genders depends on the speaker's rank. Kali (women, children and uninitiated men) and tuva (slaves) refer to all motile animals in the animate gender, generally as inaccessible although pets may be accessible. Muja (initiated men) refer to animals other than pets in the inanimate gender. The Ngolu believe this allows muja to hunt without remorse.

The following examples illustrate the difference. Examples which are specific to the rank of the speaker or the listener will be marked as such after the translation.

kulu eni ju ala
be.heard DAT.1s.ICS NOM.3s.ICS.DEF be.bird
"was heard" "to me" "the inaccessible one who" "is a bird"
I heard the bird.kali

kulu eni xu ala
be.heard DAT.1s.ICS NOM.3s.INAN.DEF be.bird
"was heard" "to me" "the thing that" "is a bird"
I heard the bird.muja

The interplay between a speaker and listener's rank is complex and may result in unexpected gender choices. For example, a slave must refer to him- or herself in the third person inanimate gender when speaking to balu and above unless specifically given permission otherwise. To read more about this, see Social Stratification and Language Use.


Three grammatical persons are marked by pronominals. The first person pronominals contain n. The second person pronominals contain a non-syllabic u (realised as v before u). In the third person, j, x, m, z, k and Ø appear depending on gender, definiteness and specificity.


The plural forms of all the basic pronominals are exclusive of other grammatical persons except for the first person plural forms inu and ina, which can include third person referents as well, especially when expressing closeness.

The first person inclusive (second plus first persons) may be indicated by compound pronominals, the dual forms ("you, one person, and I") being uana, uanu, vuna, vunu and the plural forms being iuana, iuanu, ivuna, ivunu. Which of the four options is used depends on accessibility. These compound forms are not used universally and many speakers use juxtaposition of pronouns, such as vu nu instead of vunu or iua na or iua ina instead of iuana.

Even addressing people in the second person, should the group include third persons who are not being addressed, many speakers will make note of these separately, for example ju vu (gloss: NOM.3s.ICS.DEF NOM.2s.ICS) and this is somewhat prescriptively enforced. The nominal ivu (gloss: NOM.2p.ICS), for example, is recommended only for use to address two or more people when all are present or when the message is at the very least expected to be passed onto those who are not present.

The order of the elements in these juxtapositions depends first on rank, with pronominals referring to higher ranking referents appearing before those of lower ranking referents. When the referents are equally ranked, 2nd person precedes third person, which, in turn, preceds first person. The compound 2nd+1st person pronouns are not subject to this ordering rule.

Nominal juxtapositions are characterised by all pronominals being inflected in the same case. For example, the nominative ua na (gloss: NOM.2s.ACS NOM.1s.ACS) becomes eues ene in the dative and uua una in the possessive.

Definiteness and Specificity

In the third person, pronominals indicate definiteness (whether the listener knows which individual) and specificity (whether the speaker knows which individual).


The Definite (+specific, +definite) is used when the listener is assumed to know which specific individual or individuals the speaker is referring to. In the following examples, ji ala (or just ji) refers to a specific bird which the listener is assumed to be already aware of, possibly because it is already been mentioned.

zue na ji ala
seek NOM.1s.ACS ACC.3s.ICS.DEF be.bird
"am seeking" "I" "the being who" "is a bird"
I'm looking for the bird. (You know which one.)kali [ACS/SUB]

zue na ji
seek NOM.1s.ACS ACC.3s.ICS.DEF
"am seeking" "I" "the being"
I'm looking for it. (You know which one.)kali [ACS/SUB]

The Specific (+specific, -definite) is used when the speaker has a specific individual or individuals in mind but the listener is not assumed to know which one(s). In the following examples, mi ala (or mi) refers to a specific bird but not one which the speaker expects the listener to know of.

zue na mi ala
seek NOM.1s.ACS ACC.3s.ICS.SPEC be.bird
"am seeking" "I" "a specific one who" "is a bird"
I'm looking for a (particular) bird.kali [ACS/SUB]

zue na mi
"am seeking" "I" "a specific being"
I'm looking for one (in particular).kali [ACS/SUB]

The Non-Specific (or General) does not refer to any specific individual(s) but to the abstract idea of a member or members of a particular class, any individual of which could be described. It often used when talking about desires or in negative sentences. In the examples below, i ala refers to any bird.

zue na i ala
seek NOM.1s.ACS ACC.3s.ANIM.NSPC be.bird
"am seeking" "I" "anyone who" "is a bird"
I'm looking for a(ny) bird.kali [ACS/SUB]

zue na i
"am seeking" "I" "anyone"
I'm looking for anyone. — [ACS/SUB]


Accessibility is a concept integral to Ngolu culture. Outside of the third person non-specific, all animate nominals have two forms, one accessible (gloss: ACS) and one inaccessible (gloss: ICS). Accessible nominals have a low vowel,a in the nominative stem, e in the accusative stem, and these correspond to the high vowels u and i respectively in inaccessible nominals. Accessibility is typically explained as an indication of whether physical contact is permitted or not, however it is more generally a means of conveying social closeness or distance even when no actual touching is involved.

In the first person, the English word I can be translated as either na (NOM.1s.ACS) or nu (NOM.1s.ICS). Using na signals to the listener "I am accessible to you." This means the speaker feels close and emotionally open to the listener and physical contact is permitted or even welcome. Using nu informs the listener that physical contact is not welcome at the current time. This is typically because of emotional distance, such as when talking to strangers, casual acquaintances or people whom the speaker does not like, but it may also signal an unwillingness to be touched for other, often fleeting reasons, such as illness, pain or emotional tension. Between close friends and lovers, suddenly switching to nu may indicate that the speaker has taken offence at something.

In the second and third persons, accessibility indicates the the referent's perceived accessibility to the speaker. Using ua (NOM.2s.ACS) indicates that the speaker assumes he or she may touch the listener. Using vu (NOM.2s.ICS) indicates either a more respectful or colder social distance (cf. French "vous", which, coincidentally, sounds identical). In the third person, ja (NOM.3s.ACS.DEF) and ju (NOM.3s.ICS.DEF) indicate the speaker's relationship to the referent. In plural, accessible indicates that all members of the group are accessible. Even one individual who the speaker regards as inaccessible, will cause the group to be marked as inaccessible. Inaccessibility is thus the 'default' and when speaking of generic or unknown individuals, these will be indicated with inaccessible nominals.

Accessibility produces four speech modes or 'stances'. In situations between peers of equal rank, generally the speech mode with either be accessible (using accessible nominals in both first and second persons) or inaccessible (using inaccessible nominals in both). In situations of unequal dominance, which generally, but do not always, run along lines of rank, the dominant party speaks in the dominant mode, using inaccessible first person nominals and accessible second person nominals. The subordinate party speaks in the subordinate or submissive mode, using the reverse.

speech mode first person second person meaning
accessible mode (ACS) na / ina (ACS) ua / iua (ACS) You may touch me. I may touch you.
inaccessible mode (ICS) nu / inu (ICS) vu / ivu (ICS) You may not touch me. I may not touch you.
dominant mode (DOM) nu / inu (ICS) ua / iua (ACS) You may not touch me but I may touch you.
submissive mode (SUB) na / ina (ACS) vu / ivu (ICS) You may touch me but I may not touch you.

The speech mode used depends not only on who the speaker and listener are to one another, but how they feel about each other in that moment. A friend or lover who is deeply offended may suddenly switch to the inaccessible or dominant mode to indicate that they are now not happy and had better not be touched until the offence is resolved. The submissive mode may be used in order to flirt with an acquaintance. Flirting may be met with the accessible or inaccessible modes, which essentially give an answer. No answer (yet) is signalled by the adoption of the dominant mode. Smooth social interactions are ensured by the concordance of speech modes, ACS↔ACS, ICS↔ICS, DOM↔SUB. Conflict is often caused by the refusal to agree or by physical contact with someone marked in speech as inaccessible.

Examples of the four speech modes in use.

xeva uas ene
be.seen NOM.2s.ACS DAT.2s.ACS
"are seen" "you" "to me"
I see you. — [ACS]

xeva vu eni
be.seen NOM.2s.ICS DAT.2s.ICS
"are seen" "you" "to me"
I see you. — [ICS]

xeva uas eni
be.seen NOM.2s.ACS DAT.2s.ICS
"are seen" "you" "to me"
I see you. — [DOM]

xeva vu ene
be.seen NOM.2s.ICS DAT.2s.ACS
"are seen" "you" "to me"
I see you. — [SUB]


Ngolu possesses 14 grammatical cases. The nominative and accusative case appear to be the oldest and all other forms appear to derive from the agglomeration of adpositions onto them. The first group (accusative, dative, ablative, locative, genitive and possessive) appear to be relatively old. At some point after these adpositions fused onto the nominals, the plural marker i- also became a prefix. For example i-e-ji 'to them' is made up of PL-DAT-ACC.3.ICS.DEF. The second group of derived cases (vocative, causal, benefactive, instrumental, comitative, topical, essive) appear to have developed more recently from prepositions added to either the nominative or the accusative case as the plural marker i- is sandwiched in the middle. For example te-i-ji 'about them' is made up of because.of-PL.ACC.3.ICS.DEF.


The nominative case indicates the grammatical subject of a verb. The nominative case is always formed with a back vowel, u for inaccessible and inanimate, a for accessible. In the non-specific, u shows animate and a inanimate. Plural is indicated with a prefixed i-.

muja na NOM.1s.ACS
"be an initiated man" "I"
I am an initiated man.muja [ACS/SUB]

kka loe ju
be.not sleep NOM.3s.ICS.DEF
"be not" "sleep" "the being"
S/he is not sleeping. / S/he didn't sleep.

ti uo ju
be.PRF deliberately.kill NOM.3s.ICS.DEF
"have finished" "deliberately kill" "the being"
He killed / murdered something / someone

te zuo kka lalu
be.good NOM.C be.not (be).rain
"be good" "that" "be not" "rain"
It's good that it's not raining.

zoua kuo tavi ja
be.difficult NOM.TEMP.C be.child NOM.3s.ACS.DEF
"be difficult" "the time when" "be child" "the being"
He had a difficult childhood.

(≈ The time when s/he was a child was difficult.)


The accusative case indicates the grammatical object of a verb. The accusative case is formed with a front vowel, i for inaccessible and inanimate, e for accessible. In the non-specific, i represents animate and e inanimate. Plural is indicated with a prefixed i-. The complementisers are jo and kio

ti uo ji ti
be.PRF deliberately.kill ACC.3s.ICS.DEF be.PRF
"have finished" "deliberately kill" "the being who" "have finished"
Someone murdered him / He was murdered.

jave ja xi kivo
throw NOM.3s.ACS.DEF ACC.3s.INAN.DEF be.rock
"throw" "the being" "the thing which" "be rock"
He threw the rock.

bio nu jo vai ua
want NOM.1s.ICS ACC.C stay NOM.2s.ACS
"want" "I" "that" "stay" "you"
I want you to stay. (≈ I want that you stay.) — [DOM]

In informal speech, the accusative case may replace the dative case when it indicates an experiencer. This does not occur with verbs that also have an accusative role and use the dative case to indicate a recipient.

xena ua ine
be.seen NOM.2s.ACS ACC.1p.ACS
"be visible" "you" "us"
We can see you. — [ACS]

The dative case indicates an indirect object of the verb, a destination or goal of a movement or an experiencer. It is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'to' in English. It is formed by prefixing e(r)- (ie(r)- in plural) before an accusative nominal.

volos ene izi hunia
give DAT.1s.ACS ACC.3p.SPEC.INAN.REL be.potable
"give" "to me" "some things that" "be water"
I was given water. / Someone gave me water. — [ACS/SUB]

xena ua iene
be.seen NOM.2s.ACS DAT.1p.ACS
"be visible" "you" "to us"
We can see you. — [ACS]

kua g-ieji uana
"should" "go - to them" "you and I"
Let us go to them. — [ACS]

ti vais inu ekio loe iju
"be finished" "stay" "we" "until" "sleep" "they"
We stayed until they slept. — [ICS/DOM]

The ablative case is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'from' in English. It is formed by suffixing -i to a nominative nominal. The complementisers are zuio and kuio in the ablative case.

Kuaqa nu xui mala g-uni
be.distant NOM.1s.ICS ABL.3s.DEF.INAN.REL COP-GEN.1s.ICS
"be far" "I" "from the thing which" "be a house" "be mine"
I'm far away from my home. — [ICS/DOM]

E n-nui
"!" "go - from me"
Get away from me! — [DOM]

Mahu eji xuua kuio iti (ju)
be.known DAT.3s.DEF.ICS NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.MED ABL.TEMP.C be.small (NOM.3s.DEF.ICS)
"be known" "to her/him" "that" "since" "be small" ("s/he")
She's known that since she was little.

The locative case indicates a location. It is more or less equivalent to the prepositions 'in', 'on' and 'at' in English. It is also used to replace the verb "have" when indicating immediate possession as in "to have something on one's person". It is formed by suffixing -a to a nominative nominal in the inaccessible and inanimate and prefixing a(r)- (plural: ia(r)-) to an accessible nominative nominal. The prefixed form is also used for the non-specific animate and inanimate.

kka bani ana
be.not LOC.1s.ACS
"be not" "be money" "at me"
I don't have any money (with me). (≈ There is no money at me.) — [ACS]

n-xua mo ua
"be at the thing which" "be what" "you"
Where are you? (≈ You are at the what?) — [ACS]

vujas iio jas azuo muana iti exi muana tta
hunt NOM.3s.ACS LOC.C be.body.of.flowing.water be.small DAT.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.body.of.flowing.water be.large
"hunt" "be fish" "he" "where" "flow" "be small" "to the thing that" "flow" "be big"
He's fishing where the stream flows into the river.

li molu ju nini g-uues akuo xeva(s eji) xuua
begin be.dead NOM.3s.DEF.ICS.REL be.mother COP-GEN.2s.ACS LOC.TEMP.C be.seen (DAT.3s.DEF.ICS) NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.MED
"begin" "be dead" "the inaccessible one who" "be mother" "be yours" "when" "be seen" ("to the inaccessible one") "that thing"
Your mother's going to die when she sees that.

The genitive case indicates a possessor. It covers all types of possession and association other than legal ownership. It is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'of' in English. It is formed by prefixing u(r)- (iu(r)- in plural) before an accusative nominal.

egio tani une
be.threesome be.sibling GEN.1s.ACS
"be a group of three" "be siblings" "my"
I have three siblings. — [ACS/SUB]

tta xu gula g-uji tio
be.large NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.pair.of.arms COP-GEN.3s.DEF.ICS be.that.3
"be large" "the thing which" "be a pair of arms" "be of the person who" "be that, over there"
That person over there has big arms. / The arms of that person over there are big.

The possessive case indicates strictly legal ownership. It is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'of' in English and may be used to indicate 'have' or 'own'. It is formed similarly to the genitive case: by prefixing u(r)- (iu(r)- in plural) but to a nominative nominal rather than an accusative one.

mala una POS.1s.ACS
"be a house" "owned by me"
I have / own a house.muja [ACS/SUB]

It should be noted that, although in many languages, the genitive or possessive case is usually adnominal, referring to an immediately adjacent noun phrase, in Iliaqu, all nominals, regardless of case, refer to the predicate in their clause unless verbalised with the copular prefix. Compare the following sentences.

masa xua xa buja g-una
be.snake LOC.3S.DEF.INAN be.inside be.boot COP-POS.1S.ACS
"be a snake" "at the thing which" "be inside" "be a boot" "be mine"
There's a snake in my boot.muja [ACS/SUB]

masa xua xa buja una
be.snake LOC.3S.DEF.INAN be.inside be.boot POS.1S.ACS
"be a snake" "at the thing which" "be inside" "be a boot" "my"
There's a snake in the boot and it's mine. / I own a snake which is in the boot. — muja [ACS/SUB]

In the second sentence, the lack of the copula on une indicates that it represents an argument of the predicate (masa 'there is a snake'), meaning that it is the snake which belongs to the speaker, not the boot. The word order, placing the unadorned possessive argument (une) after the much heavier locative argument (xua xa buja) is heavily marked, placing focus on the fact that the snake is the speaker's legal possession.

Because of the law in Qu, according to which only muja (initiated men) are recognised as the legal owners of things (including slaves). In the underground humanist community, ataiva, the possessive case may sometimes be applied to non-muja as well, but it is also very common for ataiva to avoid the possessive case entirely in favour of the genitive case.


The vocative case is used to address someone or attract their attention. It is formed by adding e(r)- (ei- in plural) to a nominative nominal.

The most common greeting words for most uses are simply vocative nominals. They must reflect the number and accessibility of the addressee(s).

"oh you"
Hi. — [ICS/SUB]

It is common for inaccessibles to be greeted in the third person, with eju frequently replacing evu.

"oh they"
Hello!. — [ACS/DOM]

Third person definite forms, however, may also be used with accessibles.

eja xagu
VOC.3s.DEF.ACS be.Xagu
"oh he who" "be Xagu"
(Oh) Xagu! — [ACS/DOM]

eua xagu
VOC.2s.ACS be.Xagu
"oh you who" "be Xagu"
(Oh) Xagu! — [ACS/DOM]

Among accessibles, the e- prefix may be added directly to a personal name. This and the predicate prefix i- are the only example of verbals (as all names are verbals) taking a non-derivational affix.

"hey - be Xagu"
Hey Xagu! — [ACS/DOM]

In the indefinite, the vocative can be used to summon help from non-specific people.

"hey anybody"
Help! (Used when one person's assistance is enough.)

"hey anybody"
Help! (Used when more than one person's assistance is required.)

The vocative complementiser ezuo is used to mean 'if only' or 'I wish'. It is also used for making polite requests. Literally, it's something like 'o that'.

ezuo hunia nua
VOC.C be.potable LOC.1s.ICS
"if only" "be beverage" "at me"
May I have some water please? (If only I had some water.) — [ICS]

The vocative temporal complementiser ekuo is used to express nostalgia about a past time or anticipation for a future time.

ekuos ata nu
"oh for the time when" "be adult" "I"
I can't wait till I'm grown up. — [ICS/DOM]

The causal case describes a cause. It is equivalent to the English "because of". It is formed by prefixing te(r)- (plural: tei-) to the accusative nominals.

zaxa nu teui
be.sick NOM.1s.ICS CAU.2s.ICS
"am sick" "I" "because of you"
I'm ill because of you. / You made me ill. — [ICS]

ezo zouas eni tejo kka mala uni be.difficult DAT.1s.ICS CAU.C be.not GEN.1s.ICS
"be now" "be difficult" "to me" "because" "be not" "be house" "my"
Things are tough for me at the moment because I don't have a house.. — [ICS/DOM]

The benefactive case indicates either a beneficiary or benefactor of an action or situation or a goal. It is roughly equivalent to the English preposition 'for'. It is formed by adding the prefix kua(r)- (plural: kuai-) to an accusative nominal.

tie kuaue
be.this.1 BEN.2s.ACS
"there is this, by me" "for you"
This is for you. (≈ There's this for you.) — [ACS/DOM]

bioi vaia na kuaue
be.willing do.everything NOM.1s.ACS BEN.2s.ACS
"would" "do everything" "I" "for you"
I would do anything for you. — [ACS]

ti etie na kuajo leu ue veji
be.PRF NOM.1s.ACS BEN.C rescue ACC.2s.ACS TOP.3s.DEF.ICS
"finish" "come here" "I" "so that" "rescue" "you" "about the person"
I came here (in order) to save you from him/her. — [ACS]

naxe molu iu kuajo mue lau iu azo
must be.dead NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM BEN.C be.alive NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM be.other
"must" "be dead" "some non-specific animates" "so that" "can" "live" "some non-specific animates that" "be other"
Some must die so that others may live.

kuas enies e kueta kuakio gehuo ua ji uako
be.JUSS carry ACC.3s.NSPC.INAN be.hunting.knife BEN.TEMP.C encounter NOM.2s.ACS NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM be.enemy
"should" "carry" "a non-specific thing which" "be a hunting knife" "in case" "encounter" "you" "some non-specific animates who" "be enemy"
Carry a knife in case you cross paths with enemies. — [ACS/DOM]

The instrumental case describes the means or method by which something is done. It is equivalent to the English preposition "with" when it means "using". It is formed by adding the prefix a(r)- (plural: ai-) to an accusative nominal.

uo ju vuja zi vaku azi kueta
kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS hunt ACC.3s.SPEC.INAN be.babirusa INS.3s.SPEC.INAN be.hunting.knife
"deliberately killed" "the being who" "hunts" "a specific thing that" "is a babirusa" "using a specific thing that" "is a hunting knife"
The hunter killed the babirusa with a hunting knife.

vuja imu ajo hanas ara tiamiga g-ara hunia
hunt NOM.3p.SPEC.ICS INS.C wait LOC.3s.NSPC.INAN be.undergrowth be-LOC.3s.NSPC.INAN be.potable
"hunt" "certain people" "by" "wait" "at anything which" "is bushes" "be-at anything which" "be drinking water"
Some men hunt by waiting in the undergrowth near water.muja

The comitative case indicates an accompanying person or thing. It is equivalent to 'with' in English when it means 'along with' or 'accompanied by'. It is formed by prefixing le(r)- (plural: lei-) to an accusative nominal.

vuja ja meha leje jalu
hunt NOM.3s.DEF.ACS be.Meha COM.3s.DEF.ACS Jalu
"is hunting" "the person who" "is Meha" "with the person who" "is Jalu"
Meha is hunting with Jalu.

e hu lene
"!" "come/go" "with me"
Come with me. — [ACS]

bata ja umatu lejo buga taba iju azo
dance NOM.3s.DEF.ACS be.Umatu COM.C hit be.drum NOM.3p.DEF.ICS be.other
"dance" "the being who" "be Umatu" "while" "hit" "be drum" "the beings who" "be other"
Umatu danced while the others played the drums.

The topical case indicates the topic or theme of an act of communication and in many instances also something which is kept in mind when a particular action is performed. It is roughly equivalent to the English preposition 'about'. It is formed by prefixing ve(r)- (plural vei-) to an accusative nominal.

bio ila na leue vezi valo
want speak NOM.1s.ACS COM.2s.ACS TOP.3s.SPEC.INAN.REL be.interesting
"want" "speak" "I" "with you" "about something that" "is interesting"
I want to talk to you about something interesting. — [ACS]

teuas eue vexi tiau
"thank" "to you" "about the thing that" "is food"
Thanks for the food. — [ACS/DOM]

malemale vejo moio iu azo lo zola iu babo
gossip TOP.C do.what NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.other ADV be.solely NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.unintelligent
"gossip" "about the fact that" "do what" "non-specific animates who" "be other" "while" "be only" "non-specific animates who" "be unintelligent
Only unintelligent people gossip about what other people do.

The essive case indicates the role of something in the sentence. It is roughly equivalent to the English words 'as' or 'like'. It is formed by adding the prefix o(r)- (plural: oi-) to the nominative case.

atia nas omas ali g-eue
be.there.2 NOM.1s.ACS ESS.3s.SPEC.ACS be.same.rank.friend COP-DAT.2s.ACS
"be here" "I" "as a person who" "be a friend of the same rank" "be to you"
I'm here as your friend. — [ACS]

xevas ozuo ka lalu
be.visible ESS.C (be).rain
"appear" "as if" "be going to" "rain"
It looks like it's going to rain.

Nominal Tables

Here is the entire set of nominals in the nominative case. The demonstrative forms given here can be analysed as contractions of nominals with the demonstrative verbals tie, tia and tio and in some varieties of Iliaqu, other nominals can also be combined with demonstratives. For more information and tables of the demonstrative forms, see the section on demonstratives.

Simple pronominals singular plural
accessible inaccessible accessible inaccessible
1st person animate definite na nu ina inu
2nd person animate definite ua vu iua ivu
3rd person animate definite ja ju ija iju
animate specific ma mu ima imu
animate generic u iu
inanimate definite xu ixu
inanimate specific zu izu
inanimate generic a ia
Demonstrative pronominals singular plural
accessible inaccessible accessible inaccessible
3rd person

animate definite

proximate jaie juue ijaie ijuue
medial jaia juua ijaia ijuua
distal jaio juuo ijaio ijuuo
3rd person

inanimate definite

proximate xuue ixuue
medial xuua ixuua
distal xuuo ixuuo
Compound pronominals accessible inaccessible dominant subordinate
2nd + 1st person dual uana vunu uanu vuna
plural iuana ivunu iuanu ivuna
Complimentisers temporal non-temporal
kuo zuo
First Person

First person nominals are all definite.

ICS Sg. ICS. Pl. ACS Sg. ACS. Pl.
Nominative nu inu na ina
Accusative ni ini ne ine
Dative eni ieni ene iene
Ablative nui inui nai inai
Locative nua inua ana iana
Genitive uni iuni une iune
Possessive unu iunu una iuna
Vocative enu einu ena eina
Causal teni teini tene teine
Benefactive kuani kuaini kuane kuaine
Instrumental ani aini ane aine
Comitative leni leini lene leine
Topical veni veini vene veine
Essive onu oinu ona oina
Second Person

Second person nominals are all definite and animate.

Nominative vu ivu ua iua
Accusative ui iui ue iue
Dative eui ieui eue ieue
Ablative vui ivui uai iuai
Locative vua ivua aua iaua
Genitive uui iuui uue iuue
Possessive uvu iuvu uua iuua
Vocative evu eivu eua eiua
Causal teui teiui teue teiue
Benefactive kuaui kuaiui kuaue kuaiue
Instrumental aui aiui aue aiue
Comitative leui leiui leue leiue
Topical veui veiui veue veiue
Essive ovu oivu oua oiua
Second Person + First Person (First Person Inclusive)

First person inclusive nominals are all definite. Because of the combination of first and second persons into a single word, the four stances, accessible, inaccessible, dominant, submissive are represented within single words.

Nominative vunu uana uanu vuna ivunu iuana iuanu ivuna
Accusative uini uene ueni uine iuini iuene iueni iuine
Dative euini euene eueni euine ieuini ieuene ieueni ieuine
Ablative vuinui uainai uainui vuinai ivuinui iuainai iuainui ivuinai
Locative vuanua auana auanua vuana ivuanua iauana iauanua ivuana
Genitive uuini uuene uueni uuine iuuini iuuene iuueni iuuine
Possessive uvunu uuana uuanu uvuna iuvunu iuuana iuuanu iuvuna
Vocative evunu euana euanu evuna eivunu eiuana eiuanu eivuna
Causal teuini teuene teueni teuine teiuini teiuene teiueni teiuine
Benefactive kuauini kuauene kuaueni kuauine kuaiuini kuaiuene kuaiueni kuaiuine
Instrumental auini auene aueni auine aiuini aiuene aiueni aiuine
Comitative leuini leuene leueni leuine leiuini leiuene leiueni leiuine
Topical veuini veuene veueni veuine veiuini veiuene veiueni veiuine
Essive ovunu ouana ouanu ovuna oivunu oiuana oiuanu oivuna
Third Person
ICS Sg. ICS. Pl. ACS Sg. ACS. Pl. Inan. Sg. Inan. Pl.
Nominative ju iju ja ija xu ixu
Accusative ji iji je ije xi ixi
Dative eji ieji eje ieje exi iexi
Ablative jui ijui jai ijai xui ixui
Locative jua ijua aja iaja xua ixua
Genitive uji iuji uje iuje uxi iuxi
Possessive uju iuju uja iuja *uxu *iuxu
Vocative eju eiju eja eija exu eixu
Causal teji teiji teje teije texi teixi
Benefactive kuaji kuaiji kuaje kuaije kuaxi kuaixi
Instrumental aji aiji aje aije axi aixi
Comitative leji leiji leje leije lexi leixi
Topical veji veiji veje veije vexi veixi
Essive oju oiju oja oija oxu oixu
*rare, theoretical
Indefinite, Specific
ICS Sg. ICS. Pl. ACS Sg. ACS. Pl. Inan. Sg. Inan. Pl.
Nominative mu imu ma ima zu izu
Accusative mi imi me ime zi izi
Dative emi iemi eme ieme ezi iezi
Ablative mui imui mai imai zui izui
Locative mua imua ama iama zua izua
Genitive umi iumi ume iume uzi iuzi
Possessive umu iumu uma iuma *uzu *iuzu
Vocative emu eimu ema eima ezu eizu
Causal temi teimi teme teime tezi teizi
Benefactive kuami kuaimi kuame kuaime kuazi kuaizi
Instrumental ami aimi ame aime azi aizi
Comitative lemi leimi leme leime lezi leizi
Topical vemi veimi veme veime vezi veizi
Essive omu oimu oma oima ozu oizu
*rare, theoretical
Indefinite, Non-Specific (General)
Nominative u iu a ia
Accusative i iri e ie
Dative eri ieri ere iere
Ablative ui iui ai iai
Locative aru iaru ara iara
Genitive uri iuri ure iure
Possessive uru iuru ura* iura*
Vocative eru eiu era eia
Causal teri teiri tere teie
Benefactive kuari kuairi kuare kuaie
Instrumental ari airi are aie
Comitative leri leiri lere leie
Topical veri veiri vere veie
Essive oru oiu ora oia
*rare, theoretical
"that" rough translation "the time that" rough translation
Nominative zuo 'that' kuo 'the time when'
Accusative jo 'that' kio 'the time when'
Dative ejo 'to the place where' ekio 'until'
Ablative zuio 'from the place where' kuio 'since', 'after'
Locative azuo 'in the place where' akuo 'when'
Genitive ujo ukio
Possessive *uzuo *ukuo
Vocative ezuo 'if only' ekuo
Causal tejo 'because' tekio
Benefactive kuajo 'so that' kuakio 'in case'
Instrumental ajo 'by V-ing' akio
Comitative lejo 'while' lekio
Topical vejo 'about V-ing' vekio 'about the time when'
Essive ozuo 'like' okuo
* theoretical


Verbals constitute the only open class of words in Ngolu. They are essentially content words, equivalent to what in other languages are verbs ...

loe 'to sleep' [NOM] sleeps
kau 'to eat' [NOM] eats [ACC]/[…]
vuja 'to hunt' (= 'to be a hunter') [NOM] hunts [ACC]/[…]
volo 'to give' [NOM] gives [ACC] to [DAT]
mahu 'to know' [DAT] knows [NOM] = [NOM] is known to [DAT]
ila 'to speak/talk' [NOM] speaks [ACC]/[INS] (= language) to [DAT]/[COM] about [TOP]
mue 'to be able to' [NOM] can / is able to […]

... nouns ...

iio 'to be a fish' [NOM] is a fish of [GEN] belonging to [POS]
vuja 'to be a hunter' (= 'to hunt') [NOM] is a hunter of [ACC]/[…]
golu 'to be a person' [NOM] is a person
alu 'to be a friend/lover/concubine (of a different rank)' [NOM] is a friend of [DAT], lover of [GEN] and concubine of [POS]
mala 'to be a building/house/home' [NOM] is a building/house which is owned by [POS] and home to [GEN]
ilia 'to be speech/language' [NOM] is the speech/language of [GEN]

... adjectives ...

tta 'to be large' [NOM] is large
kaiu 'to be edible' ('to be food') [NOM] is edible to [DAT]
kuaqa 'to be far/distant' [NOM] is far from [ABL]/[DAT]
xeva 'to be visible' (= 'to see') [NOM is visible to [DAT]; [DAT] sees [NOM]
lau 'to be alive' (= 'to live', 'to be a living being') [NOM] is alive
lubi 'to be closed/shut' [NOM] is closed/shut to [DAT]

... and adverbs.

jau 'to intentionally ...' [NOM] is intentionally […]
mola 'to be merely ...' (= 'to be insignificant') [NOM] is just/only/merely […]

They are generally thought of as 'content words' but even many grammatical functions are expressed by verbals.

kka 'to be not ...' [NEGATIVE] [NOM] is not […]
hua 'to be always ...', 'to be eternally ...' [GNOMIC] [NOM] is eternally […]
hau 'to be defined by being ...' [ESSENTIAL] [NOM] is essentially […] by definition
he 'to undergo' [PASSIVE] [NOM] undergoes […]
eti 'to have previously done ...' [PAST] [NOM] did […]

Regardless of the verbal's semantic meaning and which part of speech carries the bulk of the meaning when translated into another language, each verbal can be used in the same syntactic positions as any other verbal. All verbals can appear as a predicate, an argument (when preceded by a nominal) or as a modifier to another, preceding verbal. Compare the following two sentences which show how a semantically verb-like verbal, gahu ('to howl'), and a semantically more noun-like verbal, zagua ('to be a gibbon') can simply be swapped. Both can appear in the predicate, both can appear in an argument and neither needs to be inflected to take on either role.

Predicate Argument (Subject)
gahu ju zagua
howl NOM.3s.DEF.ICS.REL be.gibbon
"howls" "the being who" "is a gibbon"
The gibbon howls.kali
Predicate Argument (Subject)
zagua ju gahu
be.gibbon NOM.3s.DEF.ICS.REL howl
"is a gibbon" "the being who" "howls"
What howls is a gibbon.kali

Argument Structure

Verbals each have an inherent argument structure, controlling which case are used for which role. Dictionaries, and the examples above, mark the meanings of each relevant case when used with each verbal.

Many argument structures are as would be expected.

  • volo = [NOM] gives [ACC] to [DAT]
  • vuja = [NOM] hunts [ACC]; [NOM] is a hunter of [ACC]
  • akku = [NOM] is blood; [NOM] is the blood of [GEN]

volo na xi eje
"give" "I" "it" "to him"
I give it to him. — [ACS/SUB]

There is a tendency for experiencers to be in the dative case.

  • hualo = [DAT] loves/cares about [NOM]; [NOM] is loved by [DAT]
  • xeva = [DAT] sees [NOM]; [NOM] is seen by [DAT]
  • zoua = [NOM] is difficult for [DAT]

xevas eni ju taqu
be.seen DAT.1s.ICS NOM.3s.DEF.ICS be.king
"was seen" "to me" "the being who" "is the king"
I saw the king. — [ICS/DOM]

Although that is not always the case, as this pair of opposites shows.

  • mahu = [DAT] knows [NOM]; [NOM] is known to [DAT]
  • zau = [NOM] doesn't know about [TOP]; [NOM] is ignorant of [TOP]

mahu eni (xu)
be.known DAT.1s.ICS (NOM.3s.DEF.INAN)
"is known" "to me" ("it")
I know (it). — [ICS/DOM]

zau nu (vexi)
be.ignorant NOM.1s.ICS (TOP.3s.DEF.INAN)
"am ignorant" "I" ("about it")
I don't know (it). — [ICS/DOM]

There is also an unusual class of verbals where the nominative role usually refers to a body part, the genitive refers to the possessor and when there is an accusative argument, the whole thing refers to an action performed (with the body part) by the possessor.

  • bale = [NOM] is a fist of [GEN]; [GEN] punches [ACC]
  • bane = [NOM] is a hand of [GEN]; [GEN] holds, grasps, clutches [ACC]
  • buja = [NOM] is a heavy boot of [GEN]; [GEN] crushes [ACC] under his boot
  • gula = [NOM] is the pair of arms of [GEN]; [GEN] hugs [ACC]
  • juaza = [NOM] is the penis of [GEN]; [GEN] fucks [ACC] (vulgar!)
  • kanu = [NOM] is the nose of [GEN]; [GEN] sniffs [ACC]
  • kula = [NOM] is the pair of ears of [GEN]; [GEN] listens to [ACC]
  • mama = [NOM] is the pair of breasts of [GEN]; [GEN] breast-feeds [ACC]
  • miva = [NOM] is a finger of [GEN]; [GEN] touches, feels [ACC]
  • musari = [NOM] is a molar of [GEN]; [GEN] chews [ACC]
  • omo = [NOM] is the pair of eyes of [GEN]; [GEN] looks at [ACC]
  • umakka = [NOM] is a tooth (incisor, canine) of [GEN]; [GEN] bites [ACC]
  • zuru = [NOM] is a war against [ACC]; [GEN] wages war on [ACC]

omo une
be.pair.of.eyes GEN.1s.ACS
"is the pair of eyes" "my"
I have eyes. — [ACS/SUB]

omo une xu tie
be.pair.of.eyes GEN.1s.ACS NOM.3s.DEF.INAN be.this.1
"is the pair of eyes" "my" "the thing which" "is this, here by me"
These are my eyes. — [ACS/SUB]

omo une xi masa
be.pair.of.eyes GEN.1s.ACS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN be.snake
"is the pair of eyes" "my" "the thing which" "is a snake"
I'm looking at the snakemuja [ACS/SUB]

The verbal lama is somewhat similar, although it may simply be understood through an idiomatic translation.

  • lama = [NOM] is a tear of [GEN]/[LOC]; [GEN]/[LOC] weeps (silently) about [TOP]

lama ana teui
be.tear LOC.3s.DEF.ACS CAU.2s.ICS
"is (a) tear(s)" "at him/her" "because of you"
S/He's crying because of you. — [ICS/DOM]

The above sentence may also be translated as "There are tears on him/her because of you," or "S/He has tears because of you," making it less clear as to whether this is a good example of an apparent non-nominative subject.

There is a proposed additional place within the argument structure of many verbals, that of a following modifier. A following modifier may mark a specific role which may either be marked by another case or may only be filled by a following modifier. The notation used here indicates a following modifier with […].

  • maue = [NOM] is a group of seven […]
  • kka = [NOM] is not […]
  • mia = [NOM] approaches [DAT]/[…]
  • tehi = [NOM] is possibly […]

mia mala iju
approach NOM.3p.DEF.ICS
"approach" "be house" "they"
They are on their way to the house.

mia iju exi mala
approach NOM.3p.DEF.ICS DAT.3s.DEF.INAN
"approach" "they" "to the thing which" "be house"
They are on their way to the house.

Derivation of Verbals

There are two kinds of derivational affixes, one which converts a nominal into a verbal and many others which convert a verbal into another verbal with a different meaning.

Nominal to Verbal

All nominals can be converted into a verbal by adding a copula prefix. The copula prefix is g- before a vowel, k or g, m- before m, b and v, l- before l and n- before all other consonants. The copula prefix essentially prevents a nominal from signalling the start of an argument. Used with the dative or ablative case, the meaning may be interpreted as a verb of motion.

  • nu 'I' [NOM.1s.ICS]
nnu 'to be me' [COP-NOM.1s.ICS]
  • eni 'to me' [DAT.1s.ICS]
geni 'to be to me', 'to come to me' [COP-DAT.1s.ICS]
  • xu mala 'the house'
nxu mala 'to be the house'
  • xua mala 'at the house'
nxua mala 'to be at the house'
  • kuaini 'for us' [BEN.1p.ICS]
gkuaini 'to be for us' [COP-BEN.1p.ICS]

Here are some examples.

n-nu nu
"be I" "I"
I'm me. — [ICS/DOM]

kka n-xuas azikuo ju
be.not COP-LOC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.≈school NOM.3s.DEF.ICS
"be not" "be at the thing which" "be a school for adolescent boys" "s/he"
He's not at school.

e g-ene
"!" "come to me"
Come to me. — [ACS]

e l-lene
"!" "be with me"
Come with me. / Be with me. — [ACS]

nini g-une ja tie
be.mother COP-GEN.1s.ACS NOM.3s.DEF.ACS be.this
"be mother" "be mine" "the being who" "be this"
This is my mother. — [ACS/SUB]
Verbal to Verbal

A far more common means of derivation is from verbal to verbal. This is chiefly done by means of infixing although prefixes and suffixes also exist.


The collective infix -ig- indicates a group of the named entity.

  • ala 'to be a bird'
aliga 'to be a flock of birds'
  • balu 'to be a royal guardsman'
baligu 'to be the royal guard'
  • kau 'to eat'
kaigu 'to eat together'
  • uttia 'to be a tree'
utigia 'to be a forest'


The gerundive infix -i- indicates the use or purpose of something. The accusative role is promoted to the nominative role, as with the passive construction with he, but in addition the assertion is made that this is a good or customary use for the referent in question.

  • huna 'to drink'
hunia 'to be (fresh) water', 'to be potable', 'to be drinkable' (to be something to be drunk)
  • kau 'to eat'
tiau 'to be food' (to be something to be eaten, irregular)
kaiu 'to be edible' (regular)
  • jalo 'to welcome', 'to receive', 'to accept (into a place)'
jalio 'to be a guest' (one who is to be welcomed)
  • asu 'to be seated', 'to be sitting'
axu 'to be a chair', 'to be a seat' (to be something to be sat on) [*asiuaxu]
  • ila 'to speak', 'to talk'
ilia' 'to be language' (to be something to be spoken)
  • zoi 'to say', 'to tell'
zoji 'to be worth saying', 'to be fitting/appropriate' (to be something to be said) [*zoiizoji]
  • go 'to do something', 'to act'
gio 'to be a duty', 'to be an obligation', 'to be a good idea' (to be something to be done)
  • mue 'to be able', 'to be capable'
miue 'to be a required skill' (to be something that someone should be able to do)
  • omo 'to be a pair of eyes'; (with genitive subject) 'to look at'
omio 'to be beautiful', 'to be handsome' (to be something to be looked at)
  • bale 'to be a fist'; (with genitive subject) 'to punch'
balie 'to be punchable', 'to have a punchable face' (to be one who ought to be punched, a common pejorative word)
  • buja 'to be a boot', (with genitive subject) 'to crush under a boot'
buji 'to be a bug', 'to be vermin' (to be something to be crushed under a boot) [*bujiabuji]
  • vuja 'to hunt', 'to be a hunter'
vuji 'to be prey', 'to be a game animal' (to be something to be hunted) [*vujiavuji]

The prefix a- indicates being at a particular place.

  • tio 'to be that'
atio 'to be there' (≈ 'to be at that')
  • mala 'to be a house'
amala 'to be at home' (≈ 'to be at house')

The ornative prefix o- indicates having or being equipped with something.

  • bani 'to be money'
obani 'to be rich' (≈ 'to be with money')
  • oba 'to be a room, chamber'
osoba 'to be chambered' (≈ 'to be with room(s)')
  • talu 'to be fur, body hair'
otalu 'to be furry, hairy' (≈ 'to be with fur, body hair')
  • ulu 'to be muscle'
uolu 'to be muscular' (≈ 'to be with muscle', with metathesis turning /ou/ into /uo/)

Verbals with inherent gender / rank distinctions

Many verbals semantically encode gender within their meaning. In some cases, there are pairs of words, such as the following.

  • nini 'to be a mother / aunt'
  • nana 'to be a father / uncle'

In this instance, the divide along genders is easy for non-Ngolu to conceptualise. However many other concepts are also divided by gender, or, more accurately, rank, and this frequently has to do with the Ngolu's strict cultural taboos around gender and rank. For example, Ngolu men and women are expected to sing, dance, dress and urinate differently.

  • laha 'to sing', 'to be a singer' (of a kali, to sing in the manner appropriate to kali)
  • lasa 'to dance', 'to be a dancer' (of a kali, to dance in the manner appropriate to kali)
  • miia 'to wear' (of a kali, to dress in the manner appropriate to kali)
  • kele 'to urinate' (of a kali, to urinate while sitting or squatting)
  • uaie 'to sing', 'to be a singer' (of a muja, to sing in the manner appropriate to muja)
  • bata 'to dance', 'to be a dancer' (of a muja, to dance in the manner appropriate to muja)
  • uara 'to wear' (of a muja, to dress in the manner appropriate to muja)
  • zatu 'to urinate' (of a muja, to urinate while standing)

In other instances, certain actions may be proscribed for a certain rank. For example, methods of cooking that involve mixing ingredients together is seen as befitting only a kali and the word for this type of cooking, kela is restricted to kali. Muja are allowed to cook, but only in order to make food edible (ie. heating it but not mixing different ingredients together or adding spices) and this type of cooking is referred to as bisa, which is not restricted to a particular rank.

Similarly, for religious reasons, violence and killing of any kind are acceptable only for muja and therefore words such as the following are restricted to occurring with muja subjects: vuja ('to hunt'), ttio ('to hit'), tioru ('to kick') uo ('to kill deliberately', 'to murder'), xagu ('to execute'), zaha' ('to fight physically'), aiuo ('to shoot').

Some other words appear only with kali subjects, such as haua which means 'to sob', 'to howl', 'to cry audibly'. It is perfectly acceptable for muja to cry, but they are expected to be silent. The kali-verbal iavu means 'to weave' or 'to make clothing', which again is work for a kali to perform. However, to make clothing which is suitable for combat is work for muja and the word for this is iavuja, which is a muja word.

Verbals may also specify the gender/rank of an argument other than the nominal. For example, the word bale means 'to be a fist', specifying a muja in the role of the genitive possessor. Similarly, items of clothing specific to one gender can only appear with possessors in the corresponding gender.

When a subject (or another argument) does not match the gender/rank specified in the verbal, there must be paraphrasing. There are generally two ways this is done, with ko and with hui.


Ko is a verbal meaning 'to be similar'. It can be placed before a gendered verbal when the subject (or other relevant argument) does not match. For example, the word for enemy is uako. It is a muja verb, perhaps best translated as 'to be a muja enemy'.

uako jus uni
be.enemy NOM.3s.DEF.ICS GEN.1s.ICS
"be enemy" "the inaccessible being" "my (inaccessible)"
He's my enemy. — [ICS]

There is no direct equivalent for a kali who is an enemy. To express the idea of a kali being an enemy, what is essentially said is "S/he is like an enemy."

ko uako jus uni
be.similar be.enemy.MUJA NOM.3s.DEF.ICS GEN.1s.ICS
"" "be enemy" "the inaccessible being" "my (inaccessible)"
She's my enemy. — [ICS]

The closest analogue in English would be with words such as 'midwife', which has no easy male equivalent. In Ngolu, it is as though one simply says 'He's like a midwife.' Similarly, in the following example, there is no word equivalent to a woman's fist, only a man's fist. Therefore, she made something like a man's fist.

ti li ko bale uji
be.PRF begin be.similar be.MUJA.fist GEN.3s.DEF.ICS
"be finished" "start" "be like" "be a (man's) fist" "of the inaccessible being"
She made a fist. — [ICS/SUB]

Hui is similar to ko except it is filled with contempt and criticism. It is a verbal which could be translated as 'to shamefully break gender taboos by approximating |…|'. There is essentially no grammatical difference between ko and hui - the former is simply neutral and the later conveys strong condemnation of breaking taboos.

hui miia ja
break.gender.roles wear.KALI NOM.3s.DEF.ACS
"break gender roles" "wear" "the accessible being"
He's (shamefully) cross-dressing. — [ACS/DOM]

hui laha
break.gender.roles sing.KALI
"break gender roles" "sing"
There's a man (shamefully) trying to sing like a woman.

hui miia ja
break.gender.roles wear.KALI NOM.3s.DEF.ACS
"break gender roles" "wear" "the accessible being"
He's (shamefully) cross-dressing.

hui ttio ju je
break.gender.roles strike NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.ACS
"break gender roles" "hit" "the inaccessible being" "the accessible being"
She (shamefully) hit him.

Particles and Grammatical Affixes

Particles are words which cannot be classified as either nominals or verbals. Most of them are equivalent to conjunctions, introducing clauses. In many cases, the line between verb and particle is a little blurred and difficult to find and research is still ongoing.


Au and teu

Au and teu are used to order the events multiple clause sentence. Au introduces the clause in which the first action took place and is thus roughly equivalent to 'first' or 'after' whereas teu introduces a later action and is thus equivalent to 'then' or 'before'. They are usually used as correlative conjunctions, with both present in the sentence.

au kau nu teu loe (nu)
first;after eat NOM.1s.ICS second;before sleep (NOM.1s.ICS)
"first" "eat" "I" "then" "sleep" ("I")
First I ate, then I slept. — [ICS/DOM]

I ate before I slept. / After I ate, I slept.

The order of the clauses can be reversed.

teu loe nu au kau (nu)
second/before sleep NOM.1s.ICS first/after eat (NOM.1s.ICS)
"then" "sleep" "I" "first" "eat" ("I")
Before I slept, I ate. — [ICS/DOM]

I slept after I ate.

Sometimes the first of the two conjunctions is omitted.

loe nu au kau (nu)
sleep NOM.1s.ICS first/after eat (NOM.1s.ICS)
"sleep" "I" "first" "eat" ("I")
I slept after I ate.— [ICS/DOM]

I slept, but first, I ate.

Au is also a verbal occa


Ha forms polar (yes/no) questions. For examples, see Polar Questions

It also introduces the protasis of realis conditional sentences, see Conditionals.


Hai is used to introduce the apodosis of an irrealis conditional sentence. For examples, see Conditionals.


Haizuo is an emphatic form of hai. It introduces the apodosis of an irrealis conditional sentence. For examples, see Conditionals.


The clitic particle i- appears on the beginning of any part of the predicate when it is preceded in a sentence by any non-predicate element. For example, in the following sentence, hu mala is the predicate.

hu mala na
move NOM.1s.ACS
"go" "be house" "I"
I'm going home. — [ACS/SUB]

Topicalised arguments can be brought forward in the sentence to before the verb phrase. The verb phrase must now be marked with i-.

na i-hu mala
NOM.1s.ACS PRED-move
"I" "go" "be house"
As for me, I'm going home. — [ACS/SUB]

The predicate phrase can even be split, with arguments appearing inside it.

hu na i-mala
move NOM.1s.ACS
"go" "I" "be house"
I'm going home. — [ACS/SUB]

In extreme cases, there can even be more than one split in a predicate phrase, with i- necessary each time the predicate is resumed.

bio na i-hu leuis i-mala
want NOM.1s.ACS PRED-move COM.2s.ICS
"want" "I" "go" "with you" "be house"
I want to go home with you. — [SUB]

Of that last example, the normal word order would be bio hu mala na leui.

When added to words beginning with a syllabic i, the prefix i- becomes j- ...

xu tie j-iio
NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.this.1
"the thing which" "be this" "be fish"
This, well, this is a fish!muja

... but before a non-syllabic i, it remains i-.

xu omo g-unis i-iaha
NOM.3S.DEF.INAN be.pair.of.eyes COP-GEN.1s.ICS PRED-be.painful
"the thing which" "be a pair of eyes" "be mine" "hurt"
As for my eyes, they're sore. — [ICS/DOM]


Lo appears to be a short form of the comitative complementiser lejo. It introduces an adverbial clause.




To generally introduces consequences. It often roughly means 'so' or 'therefore'. In these cases, it may replaced by the more emphatic toua.

ba lalu to(ua) ka tina ixu muanaiti
be.very rain therefore be.PROS become.large NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL
"be very" "rain" "so" "be going to" "become large" "the things which" "be stream"
It's raining hard, so the streams are going to swell.

It is used in conjunction with ha (and sometimes hai or haizuo) to form conditional clauses where it introduces the apodosis. See Conditionals for examples.

It is also frequently used to replace i- in introducing a main clause after a subordinate clause other than a conditional clause.

akuo lalu to tina ixu enio
LOC.TEMP.C rain then become.large NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.plant
"when" "rain" "then" "become large" "the things which" "be plant"
When it rains, (then) the plants grow.


Toi is used to introduce the apodosis of an irrealis conditional. For examples, see Conditionals.






Phrase Structure

Verbal Phrases

A verbal phrase has the following structure:


When multiple verbals are stacked one after the other, the head is on the left and modifiers on the right.

mala tta be.large
"be house" "be large"
is a large house / are large houses

jiio ttiu
run be.quick
"run" "be fast"
runs quickly / run quickly

is a fast runner / are fast runners

vujas ala
hunt be.bird
"hunt" "be a bird"
hunts birds / hunt birds

is a bird hunter / are bird hunters

In many cases, verbals with more grammatical than semantic content are followed by much more semantically rich modifying verbals. In these cases, the preceding words are nevertheless heads and the following words modifiers.

bas ali g-eji taqu
be.very be.friend.( COP-DAT.3s.DEF.ICS.REL be.king
"be very" "be friend" "be to inaccessible being who" "be the king"
is a good friend / are good friends of the king

ti huna
be.PRF drink
"be finished" "drink"
drank / has drunk / have drunk

toto kas euo tta
be.really be.PROS be.pair be.large
"be in fact" "be going to" "be two" "be large"
are actually going to be two big ones

buua tio vaxu zara be.that.3 be.table write
"be one top of" "be that, over there" "be a table" "write"
is / are on top of that desk over there

Each complex verbal phrase comprised of more than one verbal has its own case structure which defines how the cases are used in a sentence. The case structure is determined by the rightmost verbal which shares the same nominative argument as the leftmost verbal in the phrase.

$$$$$$$ [examples to come]

Nominal Phrases

A nominal phrase has the following structure:


An unadorned nominal on its own functions as a pronoun.

"the inaccessible being"
he, she

"of the thing"

Adorned nominal phrases consist of a nominal followed by a verbal phrase. In this case, the nominal acts as the head of a relative clause in which the verbal phrase sits.

ju xagu
NOM.3s.DEF.ICS.REL execute
"the inaccessible being who" "execute"
the executioner

uxi tukaue
GEN.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.collar.indicating.the.owner.of.a.slave
"of the thing which" "be a slave's collar"
of the slave's collar

Clause Structure

With unmarked word order, a clause generally has the following structure:


A PREDICATE consists of a verbal phrase and an ARGUMENT consists of a nominal phrase or a subordinate clause.

In many cases, one or more arguments may precede the predicate or may even appear in the middle of the predicate, dividing it into two or more pieces.

Unmarked word order:

Predicate Argument
ti kau nu izi tiau azi akuala
"be finished" "eat" "I" "some things which" "be food" "using a thing which" "be a knife"
I ate food with a knife. — [ICS/DOM]

Instrumental argument fronted:

Predicate Argument
azi akuala i-ti kau nu izi tiau
"using a thing which" "be a knife" "be finished" "eat" "I" "some things which" "be food"
With a knife, I ate food. — [ICS/DOM]

Instrumental argument fronted, nominal argument partially fronted:

Pred... Argument
...icate Argument
azi akuala i-ti nu i-kau izi tiau
"using a thing which" "be a knife" "be finished" "I" "eat" "some things which" "be food"
With a knife, I ate food. — [ICS/DOM]

Predicate-Only Clauses

The simplest clauses in Ngolu consist of nothing but a verbal or a verbal phrase used as the predicate. There are no obligatory arguments in Ngolu and all may be omitted from the clause and left to context, even the subject.

It's raining. / It rains.

"be good"
It's good.

A verbal with no arguments indicates an activity or state without specifying the identity of any participants. Essentially, Ngolu is a pro-drop language. With prior context, omitted arguments can be understood as referring to someone or something already discussed. With no prior context, however, verbal-only sentences are simply understood with a "someone or something" as the subject.

He, she or it is eating. (with context)
Something or someone is eating. (without context)

He or it is hunting. / He or it is a hunter. (with context)
Something or someone is hunting. / There's a hunter. (without context)

Simple declarative or existential statements are frequently verbal-only.

"be a fire"
It's a fire. / There's a fire. / Fire!

One-Argument Clauses

Multi-Argument Clauses

Subordinate Clauses

Complementiser Clauses
Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial clauses are introduced by the particle lo, which may be derived from lejo, the comitative case of the copula 'zuo'.

bio kau nu lo juo (nu)
want eat NOM.1s.ICS ADV be.outside NOM.1s.ICS
"want" "eat" "I" "while" "be outside" ("I")
I want to eat outside. — [ICS/DOM]

Relative Clauses

Topic and Focus

Affirmation and Negation

The verbals ahe and kka indicate polarity, being positive and negative respectively. On their own, they are roughly equivalent to 'yes' and 'no'.

Positive sentences are generally unmarked and ahe generally appears only for emphasis.

ahe bo xu eni
be.indeed be.wanted NOM.3s.DEF.INAN DAT.1s.ICS
"be indeed" "be wanted" "the thing" "to me"
I do want it. — [ICS/DOM]

Negation is performed by means of kka.

kka ju xua uttia
be.not NOM.3s.DEF.ICS LOC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.tree
"be not" "the inaccessible one" "at the thing which" "be tree"
S/He's not at the tree.

kka mula ju ene
be.not be.liked NOM.3s.DEF.ICS DAT.1s.ACS
"be not" "be liked" "the inaccessible being" "to me"
I don't like him. — [ACS/SUB]

After a negative question or statement, ahe indicates a contradictory, positive answer whereas kka indicates a negative answer in agreement.

ha kka lalu
Q be.not rain
"?" "be.not" "rain"
Isn't it raining?

ahe (lalu)
be.indeed (rain)
"be indeed" ("rain")
Yes, it is (raining).

kka (lalu)
be.not (rain)
"be not" ("rain")
No, it's not (raining).

Negation (as well as affirmation) is generally performed in the predicate.

kka xeva ju eri azo
be.not be.seen NOM.3s.DEF.ICS DAT.3s.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.other
"be not" "be seen" "the inaccessible one" "to anyone who" "be other"
No one else saw her. (Literally: Anyone else didn't see her.)

To negate or affirm an argument, it is placed within an adverbial clause.

uo xi oko lo kka ja tehi los ahe ja mbuja
kill. deliberately ACC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL ADV be.not NOM.3s.DEF.ACS.REL be.Tehi ADV be.indeed NOM.3s.DEF.ACS.REL be.Mbuja
"kill deliberately" "the thing which" "" "while" "be not" "the accessible being who" "be Tehi" "while" "be indeed" "the accessible being who" "be Mbuja"
Not Tehi but Mbuja killed the dog.

Both kka and ahe have equivalent adverbial forms, kku and lahe respectively, which do not require the use of lo when negating or affirming an argument. The previous sentence may be expressed as follows.

uo xi oko kku ja tehi lahe ja mbuja
kill. deliberately ACC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL NOM.3s.DEF.ACS.REL be.Tehi NOM.3s.DEF.ACS.REL be.Mbuja
"kill deliberately" "the thing which" "" "while be not" "the accessible being who" "be Tehi" "while be indeed" "the accessible being who" "be Mbuja"
Not Tehi but Mbuja killed the dog.


Polar Questions

Polar questions are indicated with ha.

ha lalu
Q rain
"?" "rain"
Is it raining?

ha lai nas eue
Q be.loved NOM.1s.ACS DAT.2s.ACS
"?" "be loved" "I" "to you"
Do you love me? — [ACS]

Ha can occur at the end of a sentence, where it functions as a question tag.

lalu ha
rain Q
"rain" Q
It's raining, isn't it?

lai nas eue ha
be.loved NOM.1s.ACS DAT.2s.ACS Q
"be loved" "I" "to you" "?"
You love me, don't you? — [ACS]

Individual arguments in a sentence may be called into question by placing them inside an adverbial clause introduced by lo.

lai eue lo ha na
be.loved DAT.2s.ACS ADV Q NOM.1s.ACS
"be loved" "to you" "while" "?" "I"
Is it me who you love? — [ACS]

lai na lo has eue
be.loved NOM.1s.ACS ADV Q DAT.2s.ACS
"be loved" "I" "while" "?" "to you"
Is it you who loves me? — [ACS]

Alternative Questions

Alternative questions use two or more instances of ha.

Bio ha kau ha huna vu
want Q eat Q drink NOM.2s.ICS
"want" "either" "eat" "or" "drink" "you"
Would you like anything to (either) eat or drink? — [ICS/SUB]

Xevu eue lo ha ja mahu lo ha ju laiuiie
be.seen DAT.2s.ACS ADV Q NOM.3s.DEF.ACS.REL be.Mahu ADV Q NOM.3s.DEF.ACS.REL be.Laiuiie
"be seen" "to you" "while" "either" "the accessible one who" "be Mahu" "while" "?" "the accessible one who" "be Laiuiie"
Have you seen (either) Mahu or Laiuiie? — [ACS/DOM]

Content Questions

Embedded Questions

Any type of question may be embedded inside a complementiser phrase.

Zau nu vejo ha ti uaizue ji tavi
be.ignorant NOM.1s.ICS TOP.C Q be.PRF find ACC.3s.DEF.ICS.REL be.child
"be ignorant" "I" "about that" "?" be.PRF "find" "the being who" "be child"
I don't know if the child has been found. — [ICS/SUB]



Marking of time (tense and aspect) is not obligatory in Ngolu and may always be left up to context. For our purposes here, we shall not distinguish between actions (e.g. kill) and states (e.g. want, be a house) as temporal marking is identical for both. The word action will be used henceforth and should be understood to mean "action or state".

uo ju xi
MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"kill" "the person" "it"
He kills / killed / will kill / is killing / has killed [...] it.muja

Relative tenses

When time needs to be indicated, it is most often done by means of a verbal indicating a "relative tense" (aspect). These are relative to a contextually understood time in question, the "reference time". The three basic "relative tense" markers are ...

  • ti "perfect" (PRF), indicating an action that occurred before the reference time
  • zo "progressive" (PROG), indicating an action underway at the reference time
  • ka "prospective (PROS), indicating an action occurring after the reference time

By default, the reference is the present, the time in which the utterance is made. However, if another time is contextually understood, any of these may refer to events in the past, present or future.

ti uo ju xi
be.PRF MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be prior" "kill" "the person" "it"
He killed / has / had / will have killed it.muja

zo uo ju xi
be.PROG MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be underway" "kill" "the person" "it"
He is / was / will be killing it.muja

ka uo ju xi
be.PROS MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be going to" "kill" "the person" "it"
He is / was / will be going to kill it.muja

Absolute tenses

The prefix e- attached to the beginning of any of these aspect markers creates an absolute tense marker. The e- sets the reference time to the current moment in which the utterance is made. This is usually only used to disambiguate or to emphasise a time frame.

  • eti "past" (PST), indicating an action that occurred in the past
  • ezo "present" (PRES), indicating an action underway in the present
  • eka "future (FUT), indicating an action that will occur in the future

eti uo ju xi
be.PST MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be earlier" "kill" "the person" "it"
He killed / has killed it (earlier / before / already).muja

ezo uo ju xi
be.PRES MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be now" "kill" "the person" "it"
He is killing it (now).muja


There are also compounds formed from two time words that indicate continuation from one time frame to another using a linking -e-. This linking -e- is probably not related to the e- of absolute temporal reference, but to the e- prefix of dative case nominals and the derivation prefix e- that can be added to verbals indicating motion towards something.

  • tiezo (PRF.PROG), indicating an action that starting before the reference time and continuing up to it
  • zueka (PROG-PROS), indicating an action continuing from the reference time and extending to a later time
  • etiezo (PRF.PROG), indicating an action that started in the past and continues to the present
  • ezueka (PROG-PROS), indicating an action that starts in the present and will continue into the future.

tiezos oila na xiies oge
"have been doing" "read" "I" "this thing which" "is a book"
I have been reading this book. — [ACS/SUB]

Perfective and imperfective

In addition, the word bie contrasts with zo. Whereas zo specifies that an action is underway at the reference time, essentially taking a "snapshot" of the interior of an action, after its beginning and before its completion, bie specifies perfectivity, metaphorically painting a picture of the whole completed action without permitting a look inside. On its own, it does not specify whether the completed action occurs before or after the reference time, but it does explicitly specify that the action is not underway at the reference time.

Both bie and zo may be suffixed to other verbals indicating time in order to explicitly distinguish the imperfective (progressive) aspect from the perfective aspect, while also specifying time.

perfectivity: undefined imperfective (progressive) perfective
undefined time - zo bie
relative time past ti tizo tibie
past→present tiezo - -
present zo -
present→future zueka - -
future ka kazo kabie
absolute time past eti etizo etibie
past→present etiezo - -
present ezo -
present→future ezueka - -
future eka ekazo ekabie

Note that zo appears twice in the table although it really only has one function; it specifies an action underway at the reference time (i.e. concurrent with it), which itself may be unspecified.

The reduplicated forms zozo ('these days', 'in those days') and ezozo ('these days') do not appear in the above table as they indicate a loosening of the bounds of the reference time or current time. The reference or current time can be tightened or emphasised with bazo ('right now', 'right then', 'at that/this very moment') or ebazo ('right now', 'at this very moment').

Resultative perfect

The word bue indicates a resultative perfect, functioning similarly to ti in that it describes an action occurring prior to the reference time, however the focus of bue is not on the action itself, but on the resulting post-action state at the reference time.

bue kaxa xu giloxuo
RES.PRF break(INTR) NOM.3s.DEF.INAN window.pane
"is in the resulting state" "break" "the thing which" "is a window pane"
The window is broken.

Bue is frequently prefixed to the following word (for example buekaxa instead of bue kaxa). Its passive equivalent hi- is always prefixed.

Time word stacking

More than one time word can be used together.

eka ti uo ju xi
be.FUT be.PRF MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"will" "be prior" "kill" "the person" "it"
He will have killed it.muja
eti ka uo ju xi
be.PST be.PROS MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"was" "will" "kill" "the person" "it"
He was going to kill it.muja

These are usually compounded together.

ekati uo ju xi
be.FUT.PRF MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"will be prior" "kill" "the person" "it"
He will have killed it.muja
etika uo ju xi
be.PST-PROS MUJA.kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"was going to" "kill" "the person" "it"
He was going to kill it.muja

Distance from reference time

The precise distance from the reference time can be indicated using adverbial clauses with lo followed by the unit of time, (e)ti or (e)ka and an ordinal number, which begins with t-.

li zaxa lo laqu ti teuo
begin be.ill ADV be.year be.PRF be.second
"becomes" "is ill" "while" "is year" "is earlier" "is second"
S/he fell ill two years before/ago.

This sentence could be translated somewhat more literally as "S/he fell ill while there was the second previous year." Note that replacing ti with eti would force the interpretation with "ago" as it would set the reference time to the present moment.

Bie bilo lo noila ka tahu
be.PFV die ADV be.month be.PROS be.first
"is completed" "dies" "while" "is month" "is about to" "is first"
S/he died one month later. / S/he will die in one month.

A more literally translation could be "S/he died while there was the second coming year." Note again that replacing ka with eka would force the interpretation with "in one month" as it would set the reference time to the present moment.

In the following example, in which a duration is specified rather than a specific time, the adverbial clause contains only the length of time.

tiezo tuhu jas eni lo vane laqu
be.PRF-PRES be.known NOM.3s.DEF.ACS DAT.1s.ICS ADV be.five be.year
"has been till now" "is known" "the person" "to me" "while" "are five" "is year"
I have known him/her for five years. — [ICS/DOM]

Another means of conveying the same information is to place the time specifiers after the tense or aspect marker and then introducing the rest of the sentence with to.

eti euo laqu to li zaxa
be.PST be.two be.year thus begin be.ill
"was" "be two" "be year" "then" "become" "be ill"
Two years ago, s/he fell ill.

... kas ahu noila to bilo be.month thus die
"is going to" "is one" "is month" "then" "die"
One month later, s/he died.

tiezo vane laqu to tuhu jas eni
be.PRF-PRES be.five be.year thus be.known NOM.3s.DEF.ACS DAT.1s.ICS
"has been till now" "are five" "is year" "then" "is known" "the person" "to me"
I have known him/her for five years. — [ICS/DOM]

Miscellaneous time words

There are a range of other verbals which indicate time in a similar way. Here are some examples.


  • ariu "yesterday"
  • aku "today"
  • anu "tomorrow"


  • auo "by day"
  • eio "by night"

Distance in time

  • ttie / ettie "just" (similar to ti but specifies a very short distance of time)
  • tieka / etieka "about to" (similar to ka but specifies a very short distance of time)
  • ti ti / eti ti "a long time ago" (reduplication for distance into the past)
  • ka ka / eka ka "eventually" (reduplication for distance into the future)

Other aspectual differences

  • hua "always", "permanently" [gnomic]
  • niu "habitually" [habitual]
  • guegue "repeatedly", "again and again" [iterative]
  • egue "again"
  • tara "suddenly"
  • li "starts", "begins", "commences"
  • bi "stops", "ceases"
  • ligue "resumes"


Demonstratives distinguish three degrees of distance associated with the three grammatical persons.

  • tie 'this' or 'these' near the speaker [1st person - proximal]
  • tia 'that' or 'those' near the listener [2nd person - medial]
  • tio 'that' or 'those' away from both speaker and listener [3rd person - distal]

When speaking to someone of the same or higher rank and referring to the something that is close to both speaker and listener (such as a house that both are inside), the 2nd person tia 'that' is used. Only persons of higher rank may use the first person form tie in such situations.

xu tia mala
"the thing that" "is by you" "is a house"
this house — [SUB]
xu tie mala
"the thing that" "is by you" "is a house"
this house — [DOM]

The association between the grammatical persons and the demonstratives is strong, with words, statements and actions made by a person frequently being referred to using the appropriate demonstrative. For example, a commonly used phrase for "therefore" is texi tie (literally 'because of this (by me)') when the reasoning is based on what the speaker just said, but when the reasoning is based on what their interlocutor just said, this phrase is texi tia (literally 'because of that (by you)').


The demonstrative verbals tie, tia and tio form very common contractions with third person definite nominals, transforming the above examples as follows:

  • xu tia malaxuua mala 'this house' / 'that house' (by you)
  • xu tie malaxuue mala 'this house' (by me)
  • texi tietexiie 'so / therefore / because of what I said'
  • texi tiatexiia 'so / therefore / because of what you said'

Here is a table of forms:

ICS Sg. ICS. Pl. ACS Sg. ACS Pl. Inan. Sg. Inan. Pl.
Nominative Proximal juue ijuue jaie ijaie xuue ixuue
Nominative Medial juua ijuua jaia ijaia xuua ixuua
Nominative Distal juuo ijuuo jaio ijaio xuuo ixuuo
Accusative Proximal jiie ijiie jeie ijeie xiie ixiie
Accusative Medial jiia ijiia jeia ijeia xiia ixiia
Accusative Distal jiio ijiio jeio ijeio xiio ixiio
Dative Proximal ejiie iejiie ejeie iejeie exiie iexiie
Dative Medial ejiia iejiia ejeia iejeia exiia iexiia
Dative Distal ejiio iejiio ejeio iejeio exiio iexiio
Ablative Proximal juiie ijuiie jaiie ijaiie xuiie ixuiie
Ablative Medial juiia ijuiia jaiia ijaiia xuiia ixuiia
Ablative Distal juiio ijuiio jaiio ijaiio xuiio ixuiio
Locative Proximal juaie ijuaie ajaie iajaie xuaie ixuaie
Locative Medial juaia ijuaia ajaia iajaia xuaia ixuaia
Locative Distal juaio ijuaio ajaio iajaio xuaio ixuaio
Genitive Proximal ujiie iujiie ujeie iujeie uxiie iuxiie
Genitive Medial ujiia iujiia ujeia iujeia uxiia iuxiia
Genitive Distal ujiio iujiio ujeio iujeio uxiio iuxiio
Possessive Proximal ujuue iujuue ujaie iujaie *uxuue *iuxuue
Possessive Medial ujuua iujuua ujaia iujaia *uxuua *iuxuua
Possessive Distal ujuuo iujuuo ujaio iujaio *uxuuo *iuxuuo
Vocative Proximal ejuue eijuue ejaie eijaie exuue eixuue
Vocative Medial ejuua eijuua ejaia eijaia exuua eixuua
Vocative Distal ejuuo eijuuo ejaio eijaio exuuo eixuuo
Causal Proximal tejiie teijiie tejeie teijeie texiie teixiie
Causal Medial tejiia teijiia tejeia teijeia texiia teixiia
Causal Distal tejiio teijiio tejeio teijeio texiio teixiio
Benefactive Proximal kuajiie kuaijiie kuajeie kuaijeie kuaxiie kuaixiie
Benefactive Medial kuajiia kuaijiia kuajeia kuaijeia kuaxiia kuaixiia
Benefactive Distal kuajiio kuaijiio kuajeio kuaijeio kuaxiio kuaixiio
Instrumental Proximal ajiie aijiie ajeie aijeie axiie aixiie
Instrumental Medial ajiia aijiia ajeia aijeia axiia aixiia
Instrumental Distal ajiio aijiio ajeio aijeio axiio aixiio
Comitative Proximal lejiie leijiie lejeie leijeie lexiie leixiie
Comitative Medial lejiia leijiia lejeia leijeia lexiia leixiia
Comitative Distal lejiio leijiio lejeio leijeio lexiio leixiio
Topical Proximal vejiie veijiie vejeie veijeie vexiie veixiie
Topical Medial vejiia veijiia vejeia veijeia vexiia veixiia
Topical Distal vejiio veijiio vejeio veijeio vexiio veixiio
Essive Proximal ojuue oijuue ojaie oijaie oxuue oixuue
Essive Medial ojuua oijuua ojaia oijaia oxuua oixuua
Essive Distal ojuuo oijuuo ojaio oijaio oxuuo oixuuo
*rare, theoretical



Movement is expressed in a variety of ways in Ngolu.

One of the most common methods for talking about movement is using the words hu and mia. There is no distinction between coming and going but rather a distinction between the perfective hu, meaning 'come' or 'go', and the imperfective mia, 'be one one's way', 'be coming', 'be going'. The destination may be indicated by a subsequent modifying verbal or by a dative argument. The origin is indicated by an ablative argument.

hu mala nu
move.PFV NOM.1s.ICS
"go" "be house" "I"
I go / 'm going home. — [ICS/DOM]

hu nu exi mala
"go" "I" "to the thing which" "be house"
I go / 'm going home. — [ICS/DOM]

mia mala nu
move.IPFV NOM.1s.ICS
"be on the way" "be house" "I"
I 'm going / on my way home. — [ICS/DOM]

kua hu nui
be.JUSS move.PFV ABL.1s.ICS
"should" "go" "from me"
Please get away from me. — [ICS/DOM]

Another method for expressing movement is to affix the copula prefix g-, m-, n- to a dative or ablative nominal.

g-exi mala nu
"go to the thing which" "be house" "I"
I go / 'm going home. — [ICS/DOM]

g-eue nu
"go to you" "I"
I'll come to you. — [DOM]

e n-nui
"!" "go from me"
Get away from me! — [ICS/DOM]

The third way to express movement is to use an inceptive (inchoative) morpheme in conjunction with a word indicating location. For example, the verbal xa means 'to be inside' and the verbal atio means 'to be there (away from us)' - adding the infix -in- (perfective inceptive) or -ij- (imperfective inceptive) gives xina ('to go in', 'to enter') and xija ('to be on the way in'), atinio ('to go there') and atijo ('to be on the way there'). The free standing verbal li ('to begin, start, commence') may also be used, with li xa and li atio being equivalent to xina and atinio.

ti xina iju i-oba loe
be.PRF enter.PFV NOM.3p.DEF.ICS sleep
"be finished" "enter" "the inaccessible ones" "be room" "sleep"
They went into the bedroom.

bios atinio ja
want go.there.3 NOM.3s.DEF.ACS
"want" "go there" "the accessible one"
S/He wants to go there.

The inceptive infixes are frequently used with the verbals denoting location in the four cardinal directions: la, ta, gio, vo ('to be in the east', 'to be in the west', 'to be in the north', 'to be in the south' respectively) creating the perfective forms lina, tina, ginio and vino and the imperfective forms lija, tija, gijo and vijo. Direction within Qu, with its noticeable tube shape (with 'east/west' pointing along the tube and 'north/south' going around the circumference), is a much more salient feature than on Earth and referencing direction with motion is common. In certain circumstances, describing movement without reference to direction is regarded as too imprecise, such as when men are discussing hunting in the forest where there may be no obvious landmarks to identify as the destination of a movement.

La, ta, gio, vo may be used to modify another verb of motion with or without taking an inceptive infix.

lina gio inais ixi vaku
go.east.PFV ABL.1p.ACS NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.babirusa
"go east" "be in the north" "from us" "the things which" "be babirusa"
The babirusas moved (east)-northeast away from us.muja [ACS]

Additionally, there is yet another prefix e- which may be related to the e- prefix at the beginning of nominals in the dative case. Words with this prefix indicate perfective movement and include etie ('to come here') etia ('to go/come there/here by you') and etio ('to go there'). These words are slightly more commonly used than their equivalents atinie, atinia and atinio.




Conditional sentences in Ngolu use particles to indicate the condition clause (protasis) and the result clause (apodosis). These particles differ depending on whether the condition is possible (realis) or hypothetical (irrealis).

REALIS ha to
haizuo (emphatic)
to (possible only when apodosis clause appears second)

Realis examples:

has anu lalu to kka vuja ja
if be.tomorrow rain then be.not hunt.MUJA NOM.3s.DEF.ACS
"if" "be tomorrow" "rain" "then" "be not" "hunt" "the accessible one"
If it rains tomorrow, (then) he won't hunt.

(to) ttio nu ue ha vai tiaia
(then) hit NOM.1s.ICS ACC.2s.ACS if stay do.that.2
("then") "hit" "I" "you" "if" "keep" "do that which you are doing"
I'll hit you if you keep doing that.muja [DOM]

Irrealis examples:

hai(zuo) g-ua na to(i) hales eji jo nio mo
if.IRR be-NOM.2s.ACS NOM.1s.ACS then.(would) ask DAT.3s.DEF.ICS ACC.C happen be.what
"imagine if" "be you" "I" "then (would)" "ask" "(to) the inaccessible one" "that" "happen" "be what"
If I were you, (then) I'd ask him/her what happened. — [ACS]

toi bi xo nu hai(zuo) hues abani
then.would stop work NOM.1s.ICS if.IRR be.more
"then would" "stop" "work" "I" "if would" "be more" "be rich"
I would stop working, if I were richer. — [ICS/DOM]

toi ti hu na leui hai(zuo) (ti) mahu (xu) (ene)
then.would be.PRF move NOM.1s.ACS COM.2s.ICS if.IRR (be.PRF) be.known (NOM.3s.DEF.INAN) (DAT.1s.ACS)
"then would" "be finished" "move" "I" "with you" "if would" ("be finished") "be known" "it" "to me"
I would have come with you if I had known that. — [SUB]






Social Stratification and Language Use

Ngolu society is heavily stratified into five social divisions. These social divisions, or strata, are hierarchical and from highest to lowest are as follows.

  • 5. ju taqu - the king
  • 4. iju balu - the king's men
  • 3. iju muja - initiated men
  • 2. iju kali - free citizens
  • 1. iju tuva - slaves and prisoners (ixu tuva in the speech of muja, balu and taqu)

Language use is, to a large extent, determined by the strata of the speaker, addressee and third person referents.

Speech Crime