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Ojebway Language:

A Manual for missionaries
and others employed among the Ojebway Indians
by Edward F. Wilson, 1874


The Verb

The Neuter Verb
The Negative
The Dubitative
The Formation of the Participle
A List of Verbs of each Paradigm
A Comperaive Table, shewing the inflection of all six Paradigms
The Verb ezhah, he goes, inflected throughout
Modifications of the Neuter Verb
The Dubitative. (Neuter.)
General Exercises on the Neuter Verb


The Verb.

It is now time that we should enter upon the most intricate part of the Ojebway Language.

I will proceed to point out the principal features in the conjugations of the verb. And, first of all, a grand line must be drawn between the verb neuter and the verb transitive.

The neuter verb is comparatively simple and easy of acquirement, but the transitive verb presents an enormous amount of matter with which it will require the greatest patience, and a considerable effort of memory, to grapple: the reason being that within its voluminous inflections are included as the persons, singular and plural, of the objective case of the pronoun, being introduced sometimes as affixes, sometimes as prefixes, sometimes by a complete change in the body of the verb. Thus, in learning the neuter verb, we have, I go, thou goest, he goes, we go, you go, they go - and have done; but when we commence the transitive verb, we soon find ourselves in a maze of I see you, you see me, he sees me, he sees us, they see me, they see them, he sees it, it sees him, he sees his brother, his brother sees me, - on, on to bewilderment.

The student will, I think, agree that, under these circumstances, it is best to confine our attention for the present to the perusal of the neuter verb; after which we will take up the transitive verb, and lastly the impersonal paradigms.

The Neuter Verb.

The neuter verb has six paradigms, distinguished from one another by the last syllable of the 3rd pers. sing. present, indicative, which ends respectively in -AH, -A, -E, -O, -UM, and -IN.

Of these, most verbs of the 3rd and forth paradigms (viz., those ending in -e and -o) drop this end syllable in the first and second person sibgular; the rest retain them. Thus: I, thou, he says, nindekid, kidekid, ekido. I, thou, he sleeps, nenebah, kenebah, nebah.

Notes on the Constraction of Moods, Tenses, Persons, the Negative, Modifications, and the Dubitative.


Each of the paradigms has six moods (counting the participle as one).

The Indicative Mood. - I do, I have done, I will do, &c.

The Conditional Mood. - I would do, I would have done, &c.

The Imperative Mood. - Do this or that, let us do it, &c.

The Subjunstive Mood. - Generally used with the conjunctions to, that, if, when, &c.

The Participle. - Some grammarians will perhaps quarrel with us for calling this part of the language the participle of the verb, parhaps it would more properly be defined as a distinct part of speech. The fact is, it is verb, noun, and adjective in one, and it also supplies the place of the relative pronoun. Thus: I who walk, neen pamoosáyaun. He, who goes, ween azháud. A talking bird, káhkedood penáshe. A lazy fellow, katemíshkid. A thief, kahmóodishkid. I who am a thief, kahmóodishkeyáun. As I go along, ane-ezháhyaun. That which I make, wazhetóoyaun. See Formation of the Participle.

The Periodical Subjunctive. - Signifies, whenever one does such or such a thing. Thus: Akedoyaunin, whenever I say.

To express The Infinitive, to do so and so, we must use the subjunctive in the indefinite person with che-. Thus: To go, che-ëzhaung. It is time to wake up, me uhpee che-kooshkóosing.


The indicative mood has six tenses, most of which may be used also in the other moods.

The Present. - Ezhah, he goes, or he is going.

The Perfect. - Ke-ëzhah, he went, or he has gone.

The Future. - Tah-ezhah, he will go.

The Future-Perfect. - Tah-ge-ezhah, he will have gone.

The Bun Tense. - Ezháhbun, he used to, did go.
Note. - This cannot properly be called a past tense, for in the subjunctive mood and participle it often has the meaning of habit, custom, or even of indecision. Thus: Me uhpée che wéesening, it is time to dine; me uhpée chewéeseningebun, it is the proper time to dine. Again: Kishpin ezhahyaun, if I go; kishpin we-ezhahyaunbaun, if I may want to go. I believe the use of this tense is quite peculiar to the Indian language.

The Plulperfect. - Ke-ezhahbun, he had gone.

It will be noticed that the perfect, future, and future-perfect tenses are very simply formed from the present by a prefix. The pluperfect is formed in the same manner from the bun tense.


Of persons, there are four in the singular number, I, thou, he (or she), his; and four also in the plural, we (exclusive of the party addressed), we (inclusive of the party addressed), you, and they. There is also indefinite pronoun one, people, they, &c., expressed by a change in the termination of the verb.

Note. - The second third person, his (or him), is used when the noun governing the verb implies relation to a second party. Thus: his son is seen coming, enewh ogwissun pedáhsumoosáwun. John's father started yesterday, enewh osun owh John pecheenáhgo kemahjáhwun. In these sentences both the verb and the article agree with the subject. In the second third person, plural and singular are alike. Thus, the sentence above may mean also, His sons are coming. We may remark also on the two first persons plural. A soldier speaking to a civilian say, We (excl.) start to-morrow, Wáhbung ningah-mahjáhmin; but to a fellow-soldier of his own company, We (incl.) strat to-morrow, Wáhbung kegah-mahjáhmin. The second person plural is never used with a singular sense, as in some languages.

The Negative

Tha negative is formed from the positive, in the indicative conditional moods, by placing kahween, not, before the verb, and affixing -se. Thus: I do not go, kahween nind-ezhah-se. In the imperative, by placing kago before the verb, and affixing -kan, &c., as: Don't go, kago ezhahkan. In the subjunctive mood, and the participle, by using -se- without kahween, as: If I don't go, kishpin ezhahsewaun.


The modifications of the neuter verb are five: -

(a) The Excessive. - Which implies reproach for immoderate action, &c., and is formed from either of the four first paradigms by adding -shke to the end syllable. Thus: Menequa, he drinks, menequashke, he drinks too much.

(b) The Dissimulative. - Which implies pretence aping, playing at, and is formed from either of the four first paradigms by adding -kauso to the end syllable. Thus: Nebah, he sleeps, nebahkauso, he pretends to sleep.

(c) The Compassionate. - Which implies that an action exites pity, and is formed from a certain words of the four first paradims by adding -she to the end syllable. Thus: Nebahshe, he exites pity, being asleep.

(d) The Causative. - Which implies casuing, obliging, making do, and is formed from either of the four first paradigms by adding -aun to the end syllable, and prefixing the personal pronoun. Thus: Puhkuhda, he is hungry, o-puhkuhdaäun, he makes him hungry. Aslo (2) from the verbs of the fifth and sixth paradigms, by changing -um into -umooäun or -umoonaun, and -in into -emaun. Thus: Noondum, he hears; o-noondumoonaun, he makes him hear. Tuhgwishin, he arrives; o-tuhgwishimaun, he makes him arrive.

(e) The Frequentative. - Which implies frequent repetition, or in some cases, the doubling of an object, and is formed from any verb by doubling the first syllable; the rule for doing so depending not on the paradigm but on the letters contained in the first syllable of the verb, thus: uh-, duh-, guh-, &c., change into buhbuh-, duhduh-, guhguh-; boo-, goo-, woo-, &c., change into bahboo-, gahgoo-, wahwoo-; uh-, ah-, change into uhyuh-, uhyah-; bee-, ge-, wee-, &c., to bahbe-, gahge-, wahwe-; o- changes to wahwa-. Thus, e.g., muzhetáhgooze, he groans, muhmuhzhetáhgooze, he keeps groaning. Ahgwinda, it floats, uhyáhgwinda, it is floating about. Ménequa, he grinks, mahmenequa, he keeps drinking.

The Dubitative

Added to the foregoing modifications comes a very important form of the verb, which can scarcely be called a modification, since it runs through all varieties of the verb, whether neuter, transitive, or impersonal. By the use of this dubitative form a doubt is thrown upon whatever may be said; either it is a fable, or a story, or a report, or a matter of history, or perhaps an event, whether past or future, about which there is some uncertainty.

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