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Noun Gender and Plural
Locative Form
Possesssed and Dependent Nouns
Diminutive Nouns
Pejorative Nouns
Preterit Nouns
Vocative Nouns


Noun Gender and Plural

GENDER. Nouns have gender – animate or inanimate. Nouns referring to people, animals, trees, and spirits belong to the animate gender. Some non-living things are also included in the animate gender, although most nouns referring to non-living things are classified as inanimate.

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

A noun and any demonstrative that accompanies it must agree in gender. Thus a demonstrative used with an animate noun must be in the animate gender; a demonstrative used with an inanimate noun must be in the inanimate gender.

wa'aw inini - this man (animate)
o'ow waakaa'igan - this house (inanimate)

a'aw ikwe - that woman (animate)
i'iw adopowin - that table (inanimate)

Verbs also take on different inflections to show agreement with nouns. In the examples below, the form of I see varies in accordance with the gender (animate or inanimate) of the noun involved.

Inini niwaabamaa - I see a man (animate)
Waakaa'igan niwaabandaan - I see a house (inanimate)

NUMBER. Nouns have number; that is, they can be either singular or plural. The plural is formed by the addition of a suffix to the stem. Different suffixes are used to indicate the plural of animate and inanimate nouns. The animate plural suffix ends in -g and the inanimate plural suffix ends in -n. Most stems require a connective (a, wa, o, ii, oo) between the stem and the last sound of the suffix.

Animate Nouns Inanimate Nouns
 English  Singular  Plural  English  Singular  Plural
 bear  makwa  makwag  fire  ishkode  ishkoden
 wolf  ma'iingan  ma'iinganag  dish  onaagan  onaaganan
 beaver  amik  amikwag  plant  mashkiki  mashkikiwan
 fish  giigoonh  giigoonyag  river  ziibi  ziibiwan
 rabbit  waabooz  waabozoog  box  makak  makakoon
 ice  mikwam  mikwamiig  paddle  abwi  abwiin

The form of a demonstrative and a verb will also indicate the number of the noun to which they refer:

Onizhishin i'iw mazina'igan. - This book is nice.
Onizhishinoon iniw mazina'iganan. - These books are nice.

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 AI, TI, and TA verbs with them.



Locative Form

The locative form of a noun is used to express ideas of location. The locative form is indicated by a suffix.

oodena - town
oodenaang - to/at/in the town

The actual form of the locative suffix varies from noun stem to noun stem. Each stem requires a particular connective sound between the stem and the last part of the suffix.

Noun Locative
 oodena  town  oodenaang  to/at/in the town
 onaagan  dish  onaaganing  at/on the dish
 makak  box  makakong  in/on the box
 mitig  tree  mitigong  to/at/in/on the tree
 zaaga’igan  lake  zaaga’iganing  to/at/in/on the lake

atoon o’ow onaaganing - put that (inanim.) on a dish
namadabi apabiwing - he is sitting on a chair
adaawewigamigong nind-izhaa - I’m going to the store
ningii-bimosemin miikanaang - we were walking on/along the road



Possesssed and Dependent Nouns

Possessed nouns. Nouns can also be inflected to indicate a grammatical relationship of possession. The possessor is shown by a personal prefix or a personal prefix and personal suffix added to the possessed noun.

 (n)in-jiimaan  my boat (inanimate noun)
 gi-jiimaan  your (singl) boat
 o-jiimaan  his/her boat
 (n)in-jiimaan-inaan  our (exc) boat
 gi-jiimaan-inaan  our (inc) boat
 gi-jiimaan-iwaa  your (pl) boat
 o-jiimaan-iwaa  their boat

In addition to the personal prefix, a possessed noun may have a basic suffix showing its gender, number, and, if applicable, obviative or locative form.

A personal suffix may appear between the stem and the basic suffix to show that the possessor is plural or, if third person, obviative.

gi-jiimaan-an - your(singl) boats
gi-jiimaan-iwaa-n - your(pl) boats

Some possessed nouns take on the possessive suffix -(i)m immediately after the stem but before any inflectional suffixes.

Note. There is no rule indicating which nouns take it and which - don’t.

 ni-zhooniya-m  my money (animate noun)
 gi-zhooniya-m  your s. money
 o-zhooniya-m-[an]  his/her money
 ni-zhooniya-m-inaan  our (exc) money
 gi-zhooniya-m-inaan  our (inc) money
 gi-zhooniya-m-iwaa  your pl. money
 o-zhooniya-m-iwaa-[n]  their money

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


Dependent Nouns. In Ojibwe, two groups of nouns, which include the names of body parts and relatives, always appear in possessed form with a personal prefix. These nouns are known as dependent nouns because their stems cannot appear alone but only with a personal prefix.

(n)in-dengway - my face
ni-ninj - my hand
ni-kaad - my leg
ni-misad - my stomach
ni-shtigwaan - my head
(n)in-dooskwan - my elbow
(n)in-gidig - my knee
ni-pikwan - my back
(n)in-dinimaangan - my shoulder
(n)in-zid - my foot

(n)im-baabaa - my father
ni-maamaa - my mother
ni-mishoomis - my grandfather
n-ookomis - my grandmother
(n)in-gosis - my son
(n)in-daanis - my daughter
ni-sayenh - my older brother
ni-misenh - my older sister
ni-shiime - my younger brother/sister



Diminutive Nouns

A diminutive suffix can be added to a noun stem to indicate that the thing/being referred to is of small size or physically immature relative to other items of its kind or members of the group identified by the noun.

The diminutive suffix ends in -ns and its form very depending on noun stems (-ens, -ns, -oons, -iins)

ziibi (a river) - ziib-iins (a small river, a creek)
miigwan (a feather) - miigw-aans (a small feather)
nishiime (my younger brother) - nishiime-ns (my little younger brother)
wajiw (a mountain) - wajiw-ens (a small mountain, a hill)
gekek (a hawk) - gekek-oons (a small/little hawk)




Pejorative Nouns

A pejorative suffix can be added to a noun stem to indicate that the thing or the person named is in some way unsatisfactory or in disfavour.

The pejorative suffix is -(i)sh.

jiimaan-ish - useless boat
mookomaan-ish - useless knife

Note. The pejorative suffix may also indicate affection.



Preterit Nouns

A preterit suffix can be added to a noun stem to indicate past state or absence. For example, a preterit suffix added to a noun that refers to a person indicates that the person is deceased. In some varieties of Ojibwe, a preterit suffix added to a noun that refers to a thing indicates that the thing is missing or no longer usable.

The preterit suffix is /-(i)ban/.

nimishoomis-iban - my late grandfather
nimishoomis-iban-iig - my late grandfathers

nimookomaan-iban - the knife I used to have, the thing that used to be my knife
nimashkimod-iban-iin - the bags I used to have, the things that used to be my bags



Vocative Nouns

There are special vocative forms used in addressing people by name or, in some cases, by designations indicating kinship. These often involve shortening the full word.

Ninga (my mother) - Ning! (mom!)
Nimishoomis (my grandfather) - Misho! (grandfather!)
Nokomis (my grandmother) - Noko! (grandmother!)
Aabitagiizhigokwe (Half-of-the-sky-woman, personal name) - Aabitagiizhigok!

In formal speech, a vocative plural suffix may be added to the noun stem designating the group addressed. A basic suffix does not appear.

Boozhoo, nindanishinaabe-dog - Hallo, my fellow Natives
Bizindamog inashke, abinoojiiy-idog - Listen to it, children!




Only animate nouns have obviative forms in Ojibwe. The obviative suffix ends in -n. As is the case with the plural suffixes, the actual form of the obviative suffix varies with each noun stem. The connective (a, wa, o, ii, oo) used for each stem is the same as that used for the plural form of that stem.

These are excerpts from Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002. CO stands for Central Ojibwe (Eastern Ojibwe and Odawa), and WO stands for Western Ojibwe (North-Western Ojibwe).

Both Ojibwe and Cree distinguish between two third persons in a sentence or a narrative by means of a mechanism 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. In the sentences below, the obviative ending on the noun is underlined.

CO Zhaanh gii-waabmaan Panaaswen. - John saw Fred.
WO John ogii-waabamaan Fredan. - John saw Fred.

Since the grammatical relationship between the two nouns is indicated by their inflections and by the inflection on the verb, the word order can be varied without changing the essential meaning of the sentence, as is shown in these Western Ojibwe variations on the same sentence.

Ogii-waabamaan John Fredan. - John saw Fred.
John Fredan ogii-waabamaan. - John saw Fred.
Fredan John ogii-waabamaan. - John saw Fred.

(Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002.)

Once a particular third person has been marked as obviative, it can be referred to without being named or being confused with the proximate third person, as all the words that agree with it have an obviative inflection. Similarly, all the words that agree with the proximate noun have a proximate inflection. Thus, while the sentence John saw Fred as he was walking on the road is ambiguous in English (it is not clear whether it was John or Fred who was doing the walking), it could not be so in Cree or Ojibwe because the suffix on the verb was walking would indicate which of the two third persons was performing the action. If the verb was walking referred to John, it would have a proximate suffix; if it referred to Fred, it would have an obviative suffix. In the examples below, the obviative suffixes are underlined.

CO Zhaanh gii-waabmaan Panaaswen bmosed miiknaang.
WO John ogii-waabamaan Fredan e-bimosed miikanaang.
John saw Fred as he (John) was walking on the road.

CO Zhaanh gii-waabmaan Panaaswen bmosenid miiknaang.
WO John ogii-waabamaan Fredan e-bimosenid miikanaang.
John saw Fred as he (Fred) was walking on the road.

("Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002.")

Note. Using the passive voice to make a chosen proximate third person (of a narrative) always proximate is usual in Ojibwe. It is considered better to use the passive voice instead of making changes between chosen proximate and obviative persons in a narrative depending on who is performing an action.

Ningoding idash odinaan omiseyan: "Nimisenh! mii sa zhayiigwa ji-bakediyang."
And so once he said to his elder sister (obviative): "O my elder sister! the time is soon at hand when we shall part from each other."

"Aaniin nangwana, nishiim," odigoon.
"Very well, so let it come, my little brother," he was told (passive voice).

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. In the examples below, the two third persons are both subjects of the verb and proximate.

CO Zhaanh miinwaa Panaaswe gii-bmosewag miiknaang.
WO John ya’aa dash Fred gii-bimosewag miikanaang.
John and Fred were walking on the road.

(Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002.)

Another context where obviation is required is possession. When one animate third person grammatically possesses another, the possessor will be the proximate and the possessed will be the obviative.

In the first set of examples below, older brother is obviative because of its relationship to another animate noun or third person in the sentence – Mary. The verb has an obviative suffix to match the obviative suffix of older brother, the noun to which it refers.

CO Nbaawan Maaniinh wsayenyan.
WO Nibaawan Maanii osayenzan
Mary’s older brother is sleeping.

(Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002.)

In Central Ojibwe/Odawa and in Cree, an obviative noun does not show number; the singular and the plural forms are the same. In Western Ojibwe, the distinction is made between the singular and the plural of obviative nouns; animate nouns can take on either a singular or plural obviative suffix.

WO osayenzan - his/her older brother
WO osayenza’ - his/her older brothers

(Native Languages: Ojibwe and Cree - Resource Guide, Grades 1 to 12, 2002.)

Demonstratives and verbs also indicate obviation; when they relate to a noun or pronoun that is obviative, they take on the obviative inflection.

With obviative nouns only plural inanimate demonstrative pronouns are used regardless to real number.

a'aw mooz - that moose (proximate)
iniw moozoon - that moose/those mooses (obviative)




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