lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

Nutshell 4. Some important sorts of words

Compound words

Rule One

A compound word is constructed from a two-word sentence (predicate and object). The compound consists of the following parts:

Illustration of the compounding of words. Explanation see text.
  1. Prestem:
    1. the object’s prestem
    2. the object’s inner case
    3. the object’s poststem
    4. an optional separator: -, ~ or ^
    5. the predicate’s prestem
  2. Inner case
  3. Poststem: the predicate’s poststem
  4. Outer case

Note that the object’s stem comes before the predicate’s; and also that the information about the predicate’s inner case and the object’s outer case are lost. The separator can be used, for example, if the word boundary would be unclear otherwise, or for placing the second part of the word on a new line.

The object becomes the compound’s head, the predicate becomes the modifier, and the object’s inner case becomes the epenthetic case. We will symbolise compounding with .

Interlinear glosses of compounds consist of the head’s gloss, the epenthetic case, the modifier’s gloss, and the inner and optionally outer cases. In later units, in examples where compounds’ structures are not relevant, they are not always resolved.

  mustà runày. runa-mustà.He has to run.
must-fact1 run-fact-acc2. run-fact-must-fact1.

This compound contains the information ‘the action of running is the X of being allowed to’. The missing case descriptor X has to be added from context. Thus, compounds are always a bit ambiguous.

Rule Two

In the relationship between the original predicate and object, the rules of sentence grammar are retained as far as applicable. (Forget this for the moment; we’ll get back to it in the next nutshell.)

Rule Three

The original predicate is demoted from a word in its own right to a modifier of the head. Regarding all outward relationships, cases (i.e. the compound’s inner case [not to be confused with its epenthetic case] as well as the outer cases of its objects) refer to the head.

  avallowàr sweetÌy.the location of being-allowed-to-eat sweetsa place where one may eat sweets; a place for eating sweets
eat-fact-allow-loc1 sweet-acc-acc2.
nenamustà lÌwel.having-to-run because of the lionHe has to run, because of the lion.
run-fact-must-fact1 lion-acc-caus2.

In other words, first modify the head (we are not talking about a real action of eating but the permission to eat; we are not talking about a real action of running but the necessity to run), then add inner case and objects as if they were inner case and objects of the head (it’s about the location of eating, as opposed to the location of allowing; it’s about eating sweets, as opposed to allowing sweets).


We can already express a number of subtleties with cumulative or partitive brackets or coordinations, yet there is a way of further down-toning one of the two words.

  waiterè femaleÌe. femaleÌ waiterèy. waiterefemaleè.a female waiterwaitress
waiter-nom1 female-acc-nom2. female-acc1 waiter-nom-acc2. waiter-nom-female-nom1.

By inverting the bracket before compounding, femaleà. becomes the modifier, while the more important ‘waiter’ remains a word in its own right and becomes the head. The inner case of the compound, referring to the waiter, is of course a nominative. Other useful verbs for this sort of construction include numerals to form equivalents of singular and plural (see Grammatical number below).

The modifier can and should be omitted if the information it conveys is irrelevant, or if it is clear from context. Do not translate ‘waitress’ as waiterefemaleè. or ‘brother’ as siblingemaleè. by default; the gender-neutral waiterè. and siblingè. will do most of the time.

We will frequently mention that everything ‘irrelevant or clear from context’ has to be omitted. This rule is elaborated on in the appendix, on the pragmatics pages.

  One final example:
cupÌ coffeeÌUl. coffeeÌ cupÙly. cupUlcoffeeÌ.a cup for coffeecoffee cup
cup-acc1 coffee-acc-fin2. coffee-acc1 cup-fin-acc2. cup-fin-coffee-acc1.


nonexistence (‘zero’) negatornà.notto make nonexistent, to undo, annul, destroy
opposition (‘minus’) negatorkà.oppositionto turn into the opposite

The two negators are verbs conveying a property, or something rather similar to a property: nonexistence or opposition, respectively. They can thus be seen as adjectival verbs, with nonexistence or opposition in the accusative being conferred on the dative: nì. is something made into nothing, something undone; nÌ. is something with the property of nothingness, an action not done, a nonexistent thing. The difference between dative and accusative is more distinct than with most adjectives: something that has never existed cannot be made nonexistent and therefore needs the accusative.

nonexistencethe action or thing made nonexistent

But then, the dative/accusative distinction is often lost again because we can easily form compounds with negators. The resulting sentences have lost the objects’ outer cases; they differ from their positive counterparts only in a suffix-like negation.

nà xOájy axileÌsi. xOajná axileÌsi.Achilles isn’t listening.
not-fact1 hear-fact-acc2 Achilles-acc-dat3a. hear-fact-not-fact1 Achilles-acc-dat2a.
nà RÌcjy. RycjnÙ.(adjective of possession)colourless (never having had colour)
not-fact1 colour-acc-acc2. colour-acc-not-ben1.
nà RÌcji. RycjnÙ.colourless (having lost its colour)
not-fact1 colour-acc-dat2. colour-acc-not-ben1.

When we speak about an action being made undone, we actually mean its consequences: ‘unknot’ does not mean making the action of knotting nonexistent, but either its effect (cons) or its content, the knot (acc).

  knotìli. knotilnà.to unknot
not-fact1 knot-cons-dat2. knot-cons-not-fact1.

Negators are a good illustration of Rule Two of sentence grammar, namely the rule that an object is not simply a subordinate word, but a subordinate word plus all of its own objects. The sentence hearáy axileÌsi. does not just negate ‘listen’ but ‘Achilles listens’, leaving open the possibility of other people listening. hearáy axileysì lionÌOl. means ‘It is not true that he listens because of the lion [but he might still be listening for some other reason]’.


Pronouns do not denote specific actions such as ‘to run’ or ‘to turn green’. They refer to actions, so to say, by pointing rather than naming.

Relative pronouns

The target of a relative pronoun is an action denoted by another nearby word. For example, wà. refers to the stem of its own predicate.

  speaká wìe.The sender of speaking is its recipient.He is talking to himself.
speak-fact1 PIn−1-dat-nom2a.

The stem of this pronoun is a placeholder for the stem of its predicate speakà., hence wì. here denotes ‘the recipient of speaking (the speaking named in the predicate)’. This is how we express English reflexive pronouns. Note that this sentence is almost, but not exactly, the same as speaká speakìe.. The latter does not necessarily imply that the two ‘speakings’ are the same and thus means something like ‘He speaks to the one being spoken to’. We will further examine the identity (or nonidentity) of actions in the next nutshell, in the chapter on Rule Four of sentence grammar.

Here is the complete list of relative pronouns:

LevelType IType II
VerbThe target is the stem ofVerbThe target is the stem of
nType I level n does not occur because it would refer to itself.à.its immediately preceding sibling
n−1wà.its predicatefà.its predicate’s immediately preceding sibling
n−2và.its predicate’s predicateqà.its predicate’s predicate’s immediately preceding sibling
n−3zà.its predicate’s predicate’s predicatesà.

In addition to reflexivity, these pronouns can be used to translate person, possessive adjectives (not to be confused with adjectives of possession), and other interesting things. Recall that the parole has level zero.

In interlinear glosses, ‘PI’ and ‘PII’ represent relative pronoun stems of types I and II, respectively, and the level is given in subscript. Hovering the mouse over the gloss also tells you to which action the pronoun refers – unfortunately, not on smartphones.

  First person singular:
nená y.The content of running is the sender of the parole.I am running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-nom-acc2a.
  First person plural:
nená vèny.… is the sender of the parole, among others.We are running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-partnom-acc2a.
  Second person singular or plural:
nená y.… is the recipient of the parole.You are running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-dat-acc2a.
  Second person plural:
nená vìny.… is the recipient of the parole, among others.You (including others not present) are running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-partdat-acc2a.
  Possessive adjective:
nená tortoiseÌy U.The sender of the parole is the beneficiary of tortoise-making.My tortoise is running.
run-fact1 tortoise-acc-acc2a PIn−3-nom-ben3.
  Examples of type II pronouns:
áv veì sweetÌy. likeà y.The content of liking is the content of eating.I am eating a sweet. I like it.
eat-fact1 PIn−2-nom-dat2a sweet-acc-acc2. like-fact1 PIIn−1-acc-acc2.
greetá axileysè tortoiseynì friendèni fyì crabÌe.The recipient of being friends is the tortoise.Achilles greets the tortoise and its friend, the crab.
greet-fact1 Achilles-acc-nom2a tortoise-partacc-dat2 friend-partnom-dat2 PIIn−1-acc-dat3 crab-acc-nom3.

The last sentence is an example of a direct reference, the pronoun and its target word having matching inner cases. The pronoun describes the content of making a tortoise, which is none other than the tortoise from two words prior. (Recall how we argued bracketes.) Conversely, the inner case of the pronoun in the penultimate example corresponds to the outer case of an object of its target word, namely to ‘sweet’, and therefore refers to this sweet – this is an indirect reference or a reference via the predicate.

What has been stated of compounds’ modifiers is also true for pronouns: they can and should be omitted if the information they convey is irrelevant, or if it is clear from context.

Demonstrative pronouns

These two pronouns point to actions in the world. To point to people or things, we use them with an inner accusative just like nominal verbs.

NameVerbGlosspoints toTranslation with various outer cases
Plot cases (e y i)Causative (el), persuasive (Ol)Temporal (aR), episodic (oR)Locative (ar), scenic (or)
definite pronountà.thisa certain actionthis/that (one)thereforeat this/that timehere/there
indefinite pronoungwà.anyan undefined actionsomeone/anyone, something/anythingfor some/any reasonsome/any timesomewhere/anywhere

Brackets with gwà. are usually partitive: gwÌ tortoiseÌyn. ‘anything from the set of tortoises’ is usually more appropriate than gwÌ tortoiseÌy. ‘anything, which is a tortoise’.

Third-person pronouns are translated with definite or relative pronouns, maleÌ. or femaleÌ., or – and this is the best option – left out.


Here are some important numeral verbs:

kà.opposition−1 (same as the opposition negator)
nà.not0 (same as the nonexistence negator)
mlà.severalmore than 1
Rà.eacheach (separate, respective)
crà.1⁄4few, little, a bit
dmà.3⁄4much, many
jnà.1⁄1every, all, the whole

These are adjectival verbs meaning ‘make/become one individual, make/become two individuals’, etc. The inner accusative is again the most useful case. They form brackets or coordinations.

  roomÌ trÌy.rooms, (which are) three individualsthree rooms
room-acc1 three-acc-acc2.

Weighting numerals with various outer cases translate adverbs such as ‘seldom’ (1/4ÌaR., temp) and ‘everywhere’ (— znÌar., loc); the nonexistence negator can be used likewise: ‘nowhere’ (— nÌar.).

Grammatical number

We can get close to the idea of grammatical number (singular and plural) by demoting a numeral to a compound modifier, just as we did with the feminine ‘waitress’ above.

  roomÌ rÌy. roomÌy. roomyrÌ.a/the room
room-acc1 one-acc-acc2. one-acc1 room-acc-acc2. room-acc-one-acc1.
roomymlÌ.(the) rooms

Don’t be tempted to translate grammatical number like this on principle; in most situations, the number of things is irrelevant.