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Short Notes on Ojibwe Grammar

(last updated 06.13.04)



Writing System
Stress in Ojibwe Words
Parts of Speech

Noun Gender and Plural
Noun Forms
Noun Possessive
Dependent Nouns
Noun Locative
Noun Diminutive
Noun Pejorative
Noun Vocative
Noun Preterit
Demonstrative Pronouns
Personal Pronouns
Verb Categories and Inflections
1. Verbs animate intransitive (vai)
Verb Tenses
2. Verbs transitive animate (vta)
3. Verbs transitive inanimate (vti)
4. Verbs inanimate intransitive (vii)
Verb Order, or Form
Independent Order (A form)
Conjunct Order (B form)
Plain Conjunct
Changed Conjunct
Participle (C form)
Imperative Order
"Yes/no" Questions and Negations
Content Questions


Algonquin language family is the most populous and widespread Native language family in North America. Before the arrival of Europeans Algonquin languages were widespread in eastern and some western regions of the USA and in Southern Canada. Many Native American nations belong to Algonquin language family, speaking relative languages and dialects.
One of the most widespread Algonquin languages is Anishinaabe language – Anishinaabemowin. It belongs to the Central Algonquin group and includes three dialects: Ojibwe, Ottawa (Odaawaa) and Potawatomi (Boodewaadamii). Anishinaabe is a name, which these three nations call themselves. The most populous Anishinaabe nation is Ojibwe. Ojibwe is also one of the most populous Native nations in North America. But nowadays only 25% of Ojibwe people speak their own language as native one.



Writing System (Fiero system)

Ojibwe speakers in different communities use lots of different writing systems. The most popular and easy writing system is Double Vowel Writing System, or Fiero System. There are long a short vowel sounds in Ojibwe language. The system is called 'double vowel' because it uses two vowel letters written together (aa, ii, oo) to indicate long vowel sounds.

Fiero system is one of the easiest writing systems developed for Ojibwe language. In Fiero system almost every letter represent only one sound. It means that it can be read only one way.

Combinations of two or more letters widely used in English to represent a single sound are almost absent in Fiero system. There are only six letter combinations which represent one sound each in Fiero system.

There are no sounds l, r, v, f in Ojibwe language; and letters f, l, q, r, u, v, and x in Fiero system.



Stress in Ojibwe Words

All words consist of syllables, which are basic sound units. Any syllable should contain one vowel (long or short) and 0, 1, 2, or 3 consonants:

bezhig (one) = be-zhig [1st syllable:cons.+vowel - 2nd syllable:cons.+vowel+cons.]
amik (beaver) = a-mik [1st syllable:vowel - 2nd syllable:cons.+vowel+cons.]
bakade (he is hungry) = ba-ka-de [1st syllable:cons.+vowel - 2nd syllable:cons.+vowel - 3rd syllable:cons.+vowel]
bwaan (Dakota) = bwaan [1 syllable:cons.+cons.+vowel+cons.]

Every pair of syllables (counting from the start of the word) forms so called metrical foot, the first syllable of which is weak (unstressed), and the second - strong (stressed):

1st metr.foot:(weak syllab. + strong syllab.) + 2nd metr.foot:(weak syllab. + strong syllab.), etc.

There are some rules as well:

1. Only short vowels could be weak. If a long vowel takes position which must be occupied by a weak syllable, then this syllable with a long vowel is treated as a separate metrical foot consisting of only one (=strong) syllable (see: esiban, jiimaan).

2. The last syllable of a word is always stressed (see: bakadewin).

In the examples below metrical feet are in brackets, strong vowels marked bold:

he is hungry

In every word there is the most stressed vowel (the main stress). This is the strong syllable in the third metrical foot counting them from the end of the word.*

ningii-waabamasiig - I didn't see them
metrical feet are: (ningii)-(waa)(bama)(siig)

The third metrical foot from the end is -waa-, it consists of only one strong syllable (there must be a week syllable after -gii- to form the standart weak-strong metrical foot, but there is the long (strong) vowel /aa/ after it. That makes -waa- a separate metrical foot, consisting of only one strong syllable. Being the strong syllable of the third metrical foot from the end, long /aa/ in -waa- takes the main stress.

If the word contains less metrical feet (one or two), then the main stressed syllable is the first strong syllable from the beginning of the word (the one which is farther from the end).

* This is correct for Odawa dialect maybe, but not quite correct for Ojibwe itself. Things are a bit more complicated. See My own notes about stress in Ojibwe.

Note. In Odaawa dialect weak vowels in words could be completely omitted. This is called vowel syncope. So they say: mik instead of amik (beaver), bkade instead of bakade (he is hungry), bkadewin instead of bakadewin (hunger), esban instead of esiban (raccoon), etc.



Parts of Speech

There are four parts of speech in Ojibwe language. They are: nouns, pronouns, verbs, and particles. Each of those parts of speech could be divided into several categories.

Nouns are divided into two genders to represent living and non-living beings and things. They could be modified by adding different prefixes and suffixes to them, which are used to indicate if the thing or being belongs to someone, if it is small, or used to indicate location or direction, etc.

Pronouns could be divided into personal pronouns, which indicate persons (like: I, you, he, etc); demonstrative pronouns, which are used to point out things (this, that); and some other kinds.

Verbs is the most important part of speech in Ojibwe language. Verbs are used to indicate actions and qualities and conditions of things (like color, or size, etc). In Ojibwe verbs are very often used in such cases where in English we use adjectives or adverbs. Ojibwe verbs flex. They change their form by adding prefixes and suffixes according to person who performs the action and person whom this action affects, tense, or relation of action which they describe with other actions and words in a statement, etc. Verbs as well as other Ojibwe words can contain several roots and add special particles called preverbs, combining all their meanings into one idea. This is the most difficult and most informative part of speech in Ojibwe.

Particles could be divided into different groups mostly according to their meaning and European understanding of parts of speech. There are particles used as numerals in European languages, particles, used as adverbs, or particles used as conjunctions, etc. Particles are the only words in Ojibwe language which do not change their form.



Noun Gender and Plural

Animacy, or grammatical gender, is one of the most important grammar categories in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe language). There are two genders in Ojibwe language: animate and inanimate.
To animate gender belong nouns for people, animals, some plants and some objects which can house spirit (the sun, the moon, stars, some nature objects, and religious and cultural items). All other nouns belong to inanimate gender.
Usually, but not always, it is rather easy to predict gender logically. Though sometimes it is out of some logical reason.

Animate Nouns
Inanimate Nouns
 inini  man  waakaa'igan  house
 ikwe  woman  adopowin  table
 makwa  bear  waasechigan  window
 mitig  tree  zhoomin  grape
 giizis  sun, month  mitig  stick
 animikii  thunder  aanakwad  cloud
 miigwan  feather  zaaga'igan  lake
 odaabaan  car  miikana  road
 akik  kettle  onaagaans  cup

Animate nouns in plural take an ending /-ag/, but inanimate nouns - /-an/. A vowel in the ending can be different, but consonants /-g/ and /-n/ always indicate the gender.

Animate Nouns Inanimate Nouns
 English  Singular  Plural  English  Singular  Plural
 bear  makwa  makwa-g  fire  ishkode  ishkode-n
 wolf  ma'iingan  ma'iingan-ag  dish  onaagan  onaagan-an
 beaver  amik  amik-wag  plant  mashkiki  mashkiki-wan
 fish  giigoonh  giigoon-yag  river  ziibi  ziibi-wan
 rabbit  waabooz  waaboz-oog  box  makak  makak-oon
 ice  mikwam  mikwam-iig  paddle  abwi  abwi-in

Noun gender is very important. Depending on this category different verbs and demonstrative pronouns are used – animate or inaniamte. You can see from the example that with an animate noun bakwezhigan (bread) an animate verb "bring" and a pronoun "that" are used, but with an inanimate noun mazina’igan (book) – an inanimate verb and a pronoun:

Biish a'aw bakwezhigan. - Bring me that bread. (animate)
Biidoon i'iw mazina'igan. - Bring me that book. (inanimate)

Note. In different Anishinaabemowin dialects the same noun can belong to diffrent genders. E.g. they consider bakwezhigan (bread) - animate in Minnesota, and inanimate in Southern Ontario, etc.

Note. Sometimes inanimate nouns could be treated as animate ones. In some stories or fairytales (or when used as names for people), inanimate objects are treated as alive and can perform actions including those directed towards other inanimate or animate objects - people, things; then they are treated as animate nouns using vai, vti, and vta verbs with them.



Noun Forms

In Ojibwe language nouns besides their main form can appear in several other forms: possessive, locative, diminutive, pejorative, vocative, preterit and obviative.

Noun Possessive

Possessive form indicates that the noun is possessed by someone. It forms by adding to a noun possessive suffixes and prefixes, meaning: my, your, his, her, etc:

 nin-jiimaan  my boat (inanimate noun)
 gi-jiimaan  your (s) boat
 o-jiimaan  his/her boat
 nin-jiimaan-i-naan  our (exc) boat (-i- before suffix - connecting vowel)
 gi-jiimaan-i-naan  our (inc) boat
 gi-jiimaan-i-waa  your (pl) boat
 o-jiimaan-i-waa  their boat

Some nouns in Possessive take additional suffix /-iim/ (in example: -m). There is no rule indicating which nouns take it and which - don’t. You should remember such words. (In some regions this suffix in not used at all. E.g., I think they don't use it in White Earth.)

 ni-zhooniya-m  my money (animate noun)
 gi-zhooniya-m  your s. money
 o-zhooniya-m-[an]  his/her money
 ni-zhooniya-m-i-naan  our (exc) money (-i- between suffixes - connecting vowel)
 gi-zhooniya-m-i-naan  our (inc) money
 gi-zhooniya-m-i-waa  your pl. money
 o-zhooniya-m-i-waa-[n]  their money

Note. In square brackets there is a suffix of another grammatical category - obviative.

  • Dependent Nouns

    In Ojibwe there are dependent nouns which are never used without possessive form. These are kin terms and body parts. They are considered out of sense without possessive. There are some examples:

     nim-baabaa  my father  nim-baabaa  my father
     ni-maamaa  my mother  gi-baabaa  your s. father
     nin-gosis  my son  o-baabaa-[yan]  his/her father
     nin-daanis  my daughter  nim-baabaa-naan  our (exc) father
     ni-mishoomis  my grandfather  gi-baabaa-naan  our (inc) father
     n-ookomis  my grandmother  gi-baabaa-waa  your pl. father
     ni-saye  my elder brother  o-baabaa-waa[n]  their father

    Note. In square brackets there is a suffix of another grammatical category - obviative.



    Noun Locative

    This form is used to express location. In locative form nouns answer the questions: where? where to? where from?, etc.
    Locative forms with suffixes: /-ang, -ing, -ong/ (a vowel in a suffix depends on a stem of a noun).

    Noun Locative
     oodena  town  oodena-ang  to town/in town
     onaagan  dish  onaagan-ing  on dish
     makak  box  makak-ong  in box/on box
     mitig  tree  mitig-ong  on tree
     zaaga’igan  lake  zaaga’igan-ing  in lake/on lake

    atoon o’ow onaagaaning - put that (inanim.) on a dish
    namadabin apabiwing - sit on a chair
    adaawewigamigong nind-izhaa - I’m going to the store
    ningii-bimosemin miikanaang - we were walking on the road



    Noun Diminutive

    This form indicates a small size of an object.
    It is made by adding a suffix /-ens/ to a noun, or depending on a stem: /-ins, -oons, -ns, -s/.

    Noun Diminutive
     ziibi  river  ziibi-ins  little river, creek
     miigwan  feather  miigwan-s  little feather
     aamoo  bee  aamoo-ns  little bee
     wajiw  mount  wajiw-ens  little mount
     gekek  hawk  gekek-oons  little hawk



    Noun Pejorative

    This form describes a noun in a pejorative way, as "damn", useless, etc.
    It forms with a suffix /-iish/.

    i’iw jiimaaniish - that damn boat



    Noun Vocative

    Vocative form is used to address people. Addressing a group of people suffix /-dog/ is used:

    Boozhoo, anishinaabedog - Hallo, my fellow Natives
    Bizindamog inashke, abinoojiiyidog - Listen to it, children!

    Vocative form of kin terms used to address relatives. But in this case it's a shortening of kin term without any suffixes:

    Ninga /mother/		-	Ning! /mom!/
    Mishomis /grandfather/	-	Misho! /grandfather!/
    Nokomis /grandmother/	-	Noko! /grandmother!/, etc.

    Names could also appear in a vocative form. As it is with kin terms, names also shorten when addressed.



    Noun Preterit

    Preterit is a verb mode, indicating some events which happened long ago and do not happen any more. The same way preterit suffixes are used with nouns to indicate that things do not exits any more, they are gone, missing or could not be used any more. When referring to a person they indicate that the person is deceased. Noun preterit suffix is /-ban/.

    nimookomaaniban - my knife, that I used to have;
    nimashkimodibaniin - my bags, that I used to have;

    nimishoomisiban - my late grandfather;
    nimishoonisibaniig - my late grandfathers.




    Demonstrative Pronouns

    Ojibwe language has three sets of demonstrative pronouns expressing distance - this (the closest), that (further), that over there (the furthest). Different demonstrative pronouns are used with animate and inanimate nouns:

     That over there

    The form of demonstrative pronouns vary in different dialects and communities. These are demonstrative pronouns used in Minnesota Ojibwe.



    Personal Pronouns

    There are seven personal pronouns in Ojibwe:

     niin   I, me
     giin  you
     wiin  he, she
     niinawind  we (exc.); we exclusive, we without you – me and them
     giinawind  we (inc.); we inclusive, we with you – me and you (singl. or pl.)
     giinawaa  you pl., you all
     wiinawaa  they




    Verb Categories and Inflections

    There are two main features of Ojibwe verbs, which affect their inflections - transitivity and animacy.


    Take a look at these examples:

    1) I walk, you go, he is standing, we are living;
    2) It works, it rains, it is shining, it is falling;
    3) I see him, you hear me, he knows us, I remember you;
    4) I see it, you hear it, he knows it, I remember it.

    Can you see the difference between the first two and the last two lines?
    Verbs in the last two lines are used with words him, me, us, you, it. These words are called objects. Objects could be also nouns: I see a boat, you hear a bird, he knows John. Such verbs which can take objects are called transitive verbs. Verbs in the first two lines can't take objects (just logically) - these are intransitive verbs, they have only subjects (those, who are doing actions are called subjects.)

    In English it is not vital to know if a verb is transitive or intransitive. In Ojibwe it is. In English you can say: I eat, I eat it, I know, I know him, I know it. We use the same verbs both with and without objects. We just don't care about it.

    In Ojibwe if a verb is intransitive, you can't use an object with it. At all. If you need to add an object you need, or if talk about an object even without naming it, you have to use an appropriate transitive verb:

    wiisini - eat (intransitive verb)
    niwiisin - I eat
    niwiisin opin - I eat potato - incorrect phrase; opin is an object, you can't use intransitive verb with it.
    nindamwaa - I eat him/her (transitive verb)
    nindamwaa opin - I eat potato - correct phrase; transitive verb is used with the object. (potato is animate noun in Ojibwe - he)


    The second thing which affects verbs is animacy. To know the gender of nouns you use with verbs is also vital. For intransitive verbs with animate subjects (subjects which are animate nouns) you need to use animate intransitive verbs:

    niwiisin - I eat (without saying what you eat);
    (n)indagaashiinh - I'm small;
    ninibaa - I sleep.

    With inanimate subjects you need to use inanimate intransitive verbs:

    gimiwan - it is raining;
    bangishimo - it is sunset;
    agaasaa - it is small.

    Transitive verbs are also affected by animacy. But for transitive verbs you need to know the gender of an object. If you need to add an animate object you need to use an animate transitive verb:

    niwaabamaa - I-see-him/her (=i see him, or i see her)
    niwaabamaa nimaamaa - I-see-him/her my-mother (=i see my mother)
    (n)indamwaa opin - I-eat-him/her potato (=i eat potato)

    And if you need to add an inanimate object, you need an inanimate transitive verb:

    niwaabandaan - I-see-it (=I see it)
    niwaabandaan waakaa'igan - I-see-it house (=I see a house)
    nimiijin wiiyaas - I-eat-it meat (=I eat meat)

    So once again:

    wiisini - eat (intransitive verb)
    niwiisin - I eat
    niwiisin opin - I eat potato - incorrect phrase; opiniig is an object, you can't use intransitive verb with it.
    nindamwaa - I eat him/her (animate transitive verb)
    nindamwaa opin - I eat potato - correct phrase; transitive verb is used with the object. (potato is animate noun in Ojibwe - he) animate transitive verb is used with animate noun.
    niwiisin manoomin - i eat wild rice - incorrect phrase; manoomin is an object, you can't use intransitive verb with it.
    nindamwaa manoomin - i eat wild rice - incorrect phrase; manoomin is not alive, it is it, not he, so you can't use i eat him/her verb with it.
    nimiijin - I eat it (inanimate transitive verb)
    nimiijin manoomin - i eat wild rice - correct phrase; transitive verb is used with the object. inanimate transitive verb is used with inanimate noun.

    That's why there are four verb categories in Ojibwe:

    Verbs animate intransitive (vai)
    Verbs inanimate intransitive (vii)
    Verbs transitive animate (vta)
    Verbs transitive inanimate (vti)

    This way there are usually three or four different verbs for the same action in Ojibwe language, belonging to defferent categories. For example, there are three different verbs 'eat', three different verbs 'know', three different verbs 'see', 'hear', etc.



    1. Verbs animate intransitive (vai)

    Verbs animate intransitive (vai) – are used with an animate subject and no object:

    wiisini		he eats, he is eating
    niminikwe		I drink, I am drinking
    aakoziwag	they are sick
    baapi		he laughs, he is laughing
    gibakade		you (singular) are hungry

    Verbs conjugate i.e. change their form depending on person and number.
    Personal pronouns are not used in conjugation. Personal prefixes and suffixes (affixes) are used instead:

     I, me  ni-(verb)
     You s.  gi-( verb)
     S/he  (verb)
     We (exc)  ni-( verb)-min
     We (inc)  gi-( verb)-min
     You pl.  gi-( verb)-m
     They  (verb)-wag

    The main verb form of Ojibwe verbs is 3d person singular. It means that a verb itself stands in 3d person singular and is translated as: wiisini – (he) eats, minikwe – (he) drinks, etc. That’s why in 3d person singular vai verbs don’t take affix.

    Personal prefixes change slightly depending on the sound following after them:

    ni- before w, n, m;
    nin- before d, g, j, z, zh;
    nim- before b;
    nind- before any vowel;
    gi- before any consonant;
    gid- before any vowel.

    Note. In Minnesota subdialects in nin-, nind-, nim- variations of ni- prefix first /n/ is often omitted and prefix looks like in-, ind-, im-. Usually the first /n/ is omitted when the word standing before the word with this prefix ends in a consonant:

    "Niminwendam," indikid - I said, "I'm glad." but:
    "Nimino-ayaa," nindikid - I said, "I'm okay."

    Further to the west in Manitoba the first /n/ in the first person prefix is never omitted. But to the east in Michigan and Ontario (Odaawaa dialect) the first person prefix looks like n-, nd-. They also use long prefix in this region: ndoo- (or nda-, ndi-.)

    wiisini - eats
    izhaa - goes
     ni-wiisin  I eat  nind-izhaa  I go
     gi-wiisin  you eat  gid-izhaa  you go
     wiisini  s/he eats  izhaa  s/he goes
     ni-wiisini-min  we (exc) eat  nind-izhaa-min  we (exc) go
     gi-wiisini-min  we (inc) eat  gid-izhaa-min  we (ins) go
     gi-wiisini-m  you pl. eat  gid-izhaa-m  you pl. go
     wiisini-wag  they eat  izhaa-wag  they go

    For more examples see Verb Paradigms.

    Note. If a vai verb ends in a short vowel /i/ or /o/, this vowel will be dropped in 1 and 2 person singulars:

    wiisini (he eats)          -    niwiisin (I eat), giwiisin (you eat)
    gawishimo (he lies)     -    ningawishim (I lie), gigawishim (you lie).

    If a vai verb starts with /o/, this vowel will lengthen into /oo/ taking personal prefix:

    onjibaa (he is from such a place)     -    nindoonjibaa (I am from such a place)



  • Verb Tenses

    There are only three tenses in Ojibwe: Present, Past and Future.

    Present Tense is used to express actions which happen in present, or now, or actions just past. Present tense never used to express future actions in Ojibwe. Present tense doesn't have any tense prefix.

    Past Tense expresses past actions, which happened longer time ago that just now. Past tense forms by adding the past tense prefix /gii-/. The past tense prefix stands after personal prefixes:
    wiisini - eats
    izhaa - goes
     nin-gii-wiisin  I ate  nin-gii-izhaa  I went
     gi-gii-wiisin  you s. ate  gi-gii-izhaa  you s. went
     gii-wiisini  s/he ate  gii-izhaa  s/he went
     nin-gii-wiisini-min  we (exc) ate  nin-gii-izhaa-min  we (exc) went
     gi-gii-wiisini-min  we (inc) ate  gi-gii-izhaa-min  we (inc) went
     gi-gii-wiisinim  you pl. ate  gi-gii-izhaa-m  you pl.  went
     gii-wiisini-wag  they ate  gii-izhaa-wag  they went

    Future Tense expresses all future actions, even 'future in the past' actions. It is formed in two different ways:
    1) Simple future is formed with the prefix /ga-/ for 1st and 2nd person and with the prefix /da-/ for 3d person.
    2) Future with meaning of wish or want, is formed with the prefix /wii-/.
    Future with /wii-/ is usually translated as «want to do smth.» or «going to do smth.», and future with /ga-/ and /da-/ - as «will (definitely) do»:

    wiisini - eats
    izhaa - goes
     nin-ga-wiisin  I will eat  ni-wii-izhaa  I am going to go
     gi-ga-wiisin  you s.  will eat  gi-wii-izhaa  you s. are going to go
     da-wiisini  s/he will eat  wii-izhaa  s/he is going to go
     nin-ga-wiisini-min  we (exc) will eat  ni-wii-izhaa-min  we (exc) are going to go
     gi-ga-wiisini-min  we (inc) will eat  gi-wii-izhaa-min  we (inc) are going to go
     gi-ga-wiisini-m  you pl.  will eat  gi-wii-izhaa-m  you pl.  are going to go
     da-wiisini-wag  hey will eat  wii-izhaa-wag   they are going to go

    Note. Verb tenses are formed the same way for all verb categories.



    2. Verbs transitive animate (vta)

    Verbs transitive animate (vta) – are used with an animate subject and an animate object:

    nindamwaa opin – I eat potato (opin/potato (singl) – animate noun)
    nindamwaag opiniig – I eat potatoes (opiniig/potatoes (pl))
    nimbaabaa niwaabamaaI see my father
    giwaabamaa a’aw ikwe – you (singl) see that woman
    niwaabamaanaan a’aw ma’iingan – we (exc) see that wolf
    giga-waabaminsee you later (gi-ga-waabam-in – I will see you)

    This is the most difficult verb category. Vta verbs change their form depending on both subject and object person and number. Variety of forms could reach some hundreds or more. There are some examples:

    (waabam - see someone)

    I see myself - niwaabamidiz
    I see you (singl.) - giwaabamin
    I see him/her - niwaabamaa
    I see you (pl.) - giwaabamininim
    I see them - niwaabamaag

    you (singl.) see me - giwaabam
    you(singl.) see yourself - giwaabamidiz
    you(singl.) see him/her - giwaabamaa
    you(singl.) see us - giwaabamimin
    you (singl.) see them - giwaabamag

    s/he sees me - niwaabamig
    s/he sees you (singl.) - giwaabamig
    s/he sees himself/herself - waabamidizo
    s/he sees another one - owaabamaan
    s/he sees us (excl.) - niwaabamigoonaan
    s/he sees us (incl.) - giwaabamigoonaan
    s/he sees you (pl.) - giwaabamigoowaa
    s/he sees them - owaabamaan

    Examples of more vta verb inflections see in Verb Paradigms.



    3. Verbs transitive inanimate (vti)

    Verbs transitive inanimate (vti) – are used with an animate subject and an inanimate object:

    nimiijiin wiiyaas – I eat meat (wiiyaas/meat – inanimate noun)
    giwaabandaan o’ow jiimaan – you see that boat
    niwaabandaamin o’ow jiimaan – we (exc) see that boat
    niwaabandaanan iniw jiimaanan – I see those boats

    Vti verb conjugation depends on subject person and number and on object number.
    There are two classes of vti verbs depending on a verb stem ending, consonant (class 1) or vowel (class 2). Suffixes for these two classes differ slightly:

    (waaband- - see something)

    I see it - niwaabandaan
    you (singl.) see it - giwaabandaan
    s/he sees it - owaabandaan
    we (excl.) see it - niwaabandaamin
    we (incl.) see it - giwaabandaanim
    you (pl.) see it - giwaabandaanaawaa
    they see it - owaabandaanaawaa

    More examples of vti verb inflections see in Verb Paradigms.



    4. Verbs inanimate intransitive (vii)

    Verbs inanimate intransitive (vii) – are used with an inanimate subject and no object:

    waawiyeyaa – it is round
    waabishkaa – it is white
    michaa – it is big
    inaande – it is of such color
    bizhishigwaa – it is empty

    Note. To these verbs suffix /-magad/ could be added, it has no special sense and doesn’t change the sense of the verb:

    waawiyeyaa-magad – it is round
    inaande-magad – it is of such color

    Vii verbs have much less forms, than verbs of other categories:

    michaa - it is big
    michaawan - they (inaniamte) are big

    More examples of vii verb inflections see in Verb Paradigms.

    Among vii verbs there are also so called "weather" verbs:

    gimiwan - rain, it is raining
    zoogipon - snow, it is snowing
    zaagaate - sunny, it is sunny
    gizhaate - hot, it is hot
    gisinaa - cold, it is cold
    noodin - wind, it is windy
    waaban - dawn

    gii-gimiwan bijiinaago – it rained yesterday.
    da-zaagaate waabang – it will be sunny tomorrow.




    Obviative is a grammatical category, which deals with the second third person. It affects nouns as well as verbs.

    First of all let's start with what specialists in Ojibwe language say about obviative:

    "Ojibwe distinguish between two third persons in a sentence or a narrative by means of a mechanim called obviation. In the sentence John saw Fred, for example, there are two third persons - John and Fred. When a sentence contains two third persons in this kind of grammatical relationship, one of them is seen as the main one and is called proximate (as if it were somehow closer to the interest of the speaker) and the other one is seen as secondary and is called obviative. The obviative noun takes on an obviative inflectional suffix that distinguishes it from the unmarked proximate third person.

    When two third persons perform the same grammatical function - for example, when they are jointly the subject or the object of a verb - they are both proximate or obviative, depending on their relationship to the other animate third person in the sentence...

    Once a particular third person has been marked as obviative,.. all the words that agree with it have an obviative inflection. Similary, all words that agree with the proximate noun have a proximate inflecion..." (Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002. Ontario Ministry of Education.)


    "Lots of languages distinguish their third person forms according to different criteria that don't apply to first and second person forms. Think about English - you have "I' and "you" and these are used without regard to the sexual gender of the speaker, right? In other words, there's no difference in the use of "I" as to whether the speaker is male or female. But think about third person -- here you have to choose a gender-specific pronoun, "he" or "she". Well Ojibwe doesn't work this way - you never have to choose a specific pronoun based on sexual gender - but Ojibwe has a different system, so-called third and fourth person - now here's how this works - a speaker chooses a particular third person to be prominent in a particular span of discourse -- the third person, and all other non-1st, 2nd persons are then made secondary, so-called obviative [fourth-person] (this is as fundamental to Ojibwe as "he" and "she" is to English." (this is an explanation written by Randolph Valentine in First-Ojibwe Forum.)

    Simplier the meaning of obviative could be explained as a need to destinguish between two third persons in a statement. The reason for such need is that Ojibwe has a very flexible word order. It means that almost every word can take almost every place in a statement. In English we say "John saw Fred"; in Ojibwe it is possible to say "John saw Fred", "Fred saw John", "Jonh Fred saw", "Fred John saw", "Saw John Fred", and "Saw Fred John"; and all with the same meaning - "John saw Fred". Nouns can freely circulate around verbs. Usually it makes no mess because Ojibwe verbs contain information about all persons involved in the action. Phrases look like 'John i-see-you', or 'i-see-you John'. But when there are two third persons verbs look like 'he-sees-him' and it's impossible to say who sees and who is seen, with such a word order. That's why obviative is in need and that's why it affects only third persons and only animate third persons, when both of them are he or she.

    nimbaabaa onoondawaan ma'iinganan - my father hears the wolf
    nimbaabaa ma'iinganan onoondawaan - my father hears the wolf

    nimbaabaayan onoondawaan ma'iingan - wolf hears my father
    onoondawaan nimaabaayan ma'iingan - wolf hears my father

    Note. The most preferred Ojibwe word order in the second sentence however would be:
    nimbaabaa owaabamigoon ma'iinganan - my father is heard by the wolf.
    My father here is preferred to be proximate third person. And it creates necessity to use verb in passive voice. Using passive voice to make the proximate third person (of a narrative) proximate in any case is usual in Ojibwe language. It is considered better to use passive voice if needed, than make changes between chosen proximate and obviative persons in a narrative depending on who is performing the action.

    There is another situation (besides 'he-sees-him') in Ojibwe when two third persons are involved into statement and obviation is needed. These are animate nouns in posessive form, that belong to posessors standing in third person (that belong to him, her, or them). It's considered that the posessor is the main, proximate third person, even if it doesn't appear in the statement, so these nouns must appear in obviative form, as well as all their verbs and pronouns.

    Paul omaamaayan jiibaakwewan - Paul's mother is cooking.
    osayeyan bimosewan - his older brother is walking.

    Nouns in obviative take special suffixes. Noun obviative suffix is /-an/, or /-n, -yan, -wan/. For verb obviative suffixes see Verb Paradigms.

    Demonstrative animate pronouns are not used with nouns in obviative. With nouns in obviative are used only plural inanimate demonstrative pronouns regardless to real number.

    nisaye a'aw - that is my older brother (a'aw - 'that' animate)
    gisaye a'aw - that is your older brother
    osayeyan iniw - that is his older brother
    (iniw - 'that' animate obviative, or 'those' inanimate plural)



    Verb Order or Form

    Every verb in Ojibwe can appear in three orders, sometimes called verb forms. Each of those orders has its own set of paradigms:

  • Independent order, or A form is used in simple sentences and in main clauses of complex sentences.

    zaaga'iganing nindizhaa - I go to the lake.
    adaawewigamigong gidizhaa - you (singl.) go to the store.
    ogii-waabamaawaan gimaaamaayan - they saw your mother (obv.)

  • Conjunct order, or B form is used in subordinate clauses of complex sentences and in content questions.

    giwii-odamin ishkwaa-wiisiniyan - you (singl) will play after eating (= after you eat)
    gishpin gimiwang waabang, gaawiin niwii-izhaasii adaawewigamigong - if it is raining tomorrow, I won't go to the store.
    aaniin ezhi-bimaabiziyan? - how are things? (=how are you living?)
    aandii ezhaayan? - where are you going?

    Besides usual B form, or plain conjunct, there is also B form with an inital vowel change, also called changed conjunct, and so called C form, or participle.

    Two variants of B form are used in different types of subordinate clauses. Changed conjunct is also used in content questions.

    aaniin pii gaa-ni-maajaa? - when did he leave?

    Difference in using between these two B forms appears because of the difference in their meanings. Though in diffrent communities plain conjunct could be used in cases where in other communities changed conjunct is used and vice versa.

    B form without initial vowel change (plain conjunct) has hypothetical meaning, it describes something that haven't happen yet, and you don't know for sure if it happens. It is very often preceded with the word 'when' in translation, or at least 'when' could be easily placed before it without any real change of its meaning.

    giishpin gimiwanzinook noongom, giwii-babaamosemin mitigwaakiing - if it doesn't rain today, we will go for a walk to the forest.

    B form with an initial vowel change (changed conjunct) has a 'real' meaning. Verbs in it describe real situations, not just 'if' or 'when'. In translations it is usually preceded with words: 'because', 'while', 'even though', 'whenever', 'in order to'.

    Aanawi waa-gimiwang noongom, giwii-babaamosemin mitigwaakiing - even though it rains today, we will go for a walk to the forest.

    Participle, or C form is a verb form which is used instead of a noun, naming an object. Participles also often work as English adjectives, qualifying nouns (sharing this role with preverbs). Since almost all equivalents of English adjectives are verbs in Ojibwe, combining with nouns to qualify them, they often turn into participles:

    Niwaabamaa a'aw memengwaa mekawaadizid. - I see that beautiful butterfly.

    Participle answers the question "who?", or "what?" The correct sense of it could be translated as "someone/something, who/which is doing smth", or "someone/something, who/which is smth":

    Niwaabamaag degoshingig. - I see those who arrived.

    Participles are very widely used in Ojibwe. Besides nouns there are also some names for people, objects, animals, e.g., "gekinoo'amaaged" (teacher), gekinoo'amaawind" (student), "bemisemagak" (airplane), "detebised" (wheel), etc., which are used as nouns, but in fact are participles and are inflected as verbs not nouns:

    gekinoo'amaaged - he who is a teacher
    gekinoo'amaageyaan - I who am a teacher
    gekinoo'amaageyan - you (singl.) who are a teacher, etc.

  • Imperative order is a form of a verb which is used to give commands.

    biindigen - enter!
    zaaga'an - go out!
    izhaadaa - let's go!

    There are three kinds of imperative in Ojibwe, or three modes of imperative - immidiate imperative, delayed imperative, and prohibitive imperative.

    Immidiate imperative is used to give commands which must be executed immediately.

    biidoon i'iw mazina'igan - you (singl.) bring that book!
    biidooyok iniw mazina'iganan - you (pl.) bring those books!

    Examples of immidiate imperative see in Verb Paradigms.

    Delayed imperative expresses commands, which must be executed in some future time.

    wiisinikan - eat later! (to singl.)
    wiisinikeg - eat later! (to pl.)

    Prohibitive imperative expresses prihibitive 'don't do' commands.

    gego zaaga'nken - don't go outside! (to singl.)
    gego zaaga'ankegon! - don't go outside! (to pl.)
    gego doodangen - don't do it! (to singl.)

    Examples of prohibitive imperative see in Verb Paradigms.

    Note. To say the truth, not only Imperative has three modes, but both Independent and Conjunct Orders also have set of modes: neutral, or indicative mode (usual mode used most often), preterit mode, dubitative mode, and dubitative-preterit mode. And each of those modes has its own paradigm set. In these short notes we encounter only neutral (indicative) mode of the Independent and Conjunct Orders.



    "Yes/no" Questions and Negations

    "Yes/no" questions, which need "yes" or "no" answer are formed using special question marker - a word ina or na. It always stands after the first word in questions:

    giwiisin ina? – are you eating?
    giminikwe na? – are you drinking?
    ginamadab ina? – are you sitting?
    gigii-anokii na bijiinaago? – did you work yesterday?
    giwii-izhaa na adaawewigamigong waabang? – will you go to the store tomorrow?

    Negations are formed with a word gaawiin – «no, not» and a negative suffix /-sii/ or /-zii/ for vai and vta, /-siin/ or /-ziin/ for vti and vta, /-sinoon/ or /-zinoon/ for vii. A consonant in a suffix depends on a stem ending - 's' after a vowel and 'z' after a consonant:

    gaawiin niwiisinisii – I’m not eating
    gaawiin niminikwesii – I’m not drinking
    gaawiin ningii-anokiisii bijiinaago – I didn’t work yesterday
    gaawiin niwii-izhaasii adaawewigamigong waabang – I won’t go to the store tomorrow

    Negative suffix is added at the end of a verb in singular. But in plural it is usually put before plural suffix for vai verbs or between singular and plural parts of a suffix of vti’s and vta’s:

    gaawiin wiisini-sii-wag – they are not eating
    gaawiin niwaaband-an-ziin - I don’t see it
    gaawiin niwaaband-an-ziin-an – I don’t see them
    gaawiin niwaabam-aa-sii - I don’t see him
    gaawiin niwaabam-aa-siin-aan – we (exc) don’t see him



    Content Questions

    Content questions are questions with words: who, what, when, where, why, etc. These questions are formed in a different way than "yes/no" questions. Verbs in these questions stand in B form (or conjunct order). Initial vowel change in B form (changed conjunct) occurs in this case:

    /a/ becomes /e/,
    /aa/ becomes /ayaa/,
    /e/ becomes /aye/,
    /i/ becomes /e/,
    /ii/ becomes /aa/,
    /o/ becomes /we/,
    /oo/ becomes /waa/,
    /ji/ becomes /ge/,
    /ga/ becomes /ge/.

    Note. Though B form with an initial vowel change is used in different regions usually in the same cases, it could be formed differently in different subdialects. This rule of an initial vowel change occurs in its complete form only in Minnesota Ojibwe. In other subdialects it is very much reduced and often replaced with other grammatical changes (preverbs e-, gaa-, etc.)

    Initial vowel change affects also past and future tense prefixes: /gii-/ changes into /gaa-/, /ga-/ into /ge-/, and /wii-/ into /waa-/. Initial vowel change affects the first syllable of a verb, making no difference of what this first syllable actually is - tense prefix, preverb or a verb itself.

    aaniin ezhinikaazoyan? – what is your s. name (how are you called)?
    aaniin ezhinikaazod? – what is his/her name (how is s/he called)?
    aandi ezhaayan? – where are you s. going?
    aaniish pii gaa-dagoshing? – when did s/he arrive?

    aaniin – what, how
    aandi - where
    aandi onji – where from
    aniish pii – when

    In answers A form (independent order) is used:

    aaniin ezhinikaazoyan? – ojiig nindizhinikaaz
    what is your s. name? – my name is Marten

    aaniish pii gaa-dagoshinan? – ningii-dagoshin bijiinaago
    when did you s. arrive? – I arrived yesterday

    Note. Questions with 'where'.
    In Ojibwe verbs can contain so called relative roots, which always show initial vowel change in B form. Izhi- and onji- are most often used examples of such roots. These roots force initial vowel change of a verb in B form.
    Questions with 'where' (despite other wh-questions) don't need initial vowel change in a verb (B form without initial vowel change is used there). But in these questions mostly verbs with relative roots are used. So initial vowel change occures in where-questions very often. Though it is not a grammatical rule for where-questions, but a result of using words with relative roots.

    Note. Questions with 'when'.

    In different Ojibwe dialects differnt B forms are sometimes used in these questions. E.g. changed conjunct is used in Manitoba Ojibwe an Odawa, but at least in several Minnesota communities plain conjunct is used in this case.



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