Muipidan Morphosyntax

Noun Phrases


The basic personal pronouns distinguish the three standard persons, in five grammatical numbers:

  • Singular, for exactly one person;

  • Dual, for exactly two people, marked by -ndoge;

  • Paucal, for a small number of people (usually up to five or six), marked by -khïdoge;

  • Lesser plural, for a larger group of people, marked by -t’e;

  • Greater plural, for all the people in a group or too many people, marked by -p’oge.

The nominative forms are:

First Person

Second Person

Third Person




ayto, kinde, etc.









Lesser Plural




Greater Plural




The third person singular pronoun actually depends on the class of its referent; see Noun Classes. Ayto is the default if the class is unspecified or unknown, while kinde is used for an unspecified human referent. For non-humans, the singular is also used when referring to a uniform group of things, so that the class is still indicated.

Muipidan verbs clearly mark the subject person and number, so the subject pronoun is almost always left out if the referent is human. Nominative pronouns occur for contrast, when an utterance consists of only a pronoun, and a few other uses. For non-human subjects, the pronoun is usually retained to indicate the class.


Muipidan nouns are divided into twelve noun classes, and are inflected for definiteness, grammatical number, and class.

Definite nouns are marked by the suffix -do or -to at the end of the word, while indefinite nouns lack this suffix.


The same five grammatical numbers for pronouns can also be marked on nouns:

  • The singular is unmarked;

  • The dual is marked by a -mo suffix;

  • The paucal is marked by a -kos or -gos suffix;

  • The lesser plural is marked by partial reduplication;

  • The greater plural is marked by reduplication with a -p- or -pa- between the reduplicants.

However, only certain nouns make all of these distinctions — those referring to numerous, distinct things that are perceived as individuals, like people, houses, cattle, trees, stars, ideas, etc. Other kinds of nouns use a subset of the number forms:

  • Nouns that refer to a unique entity — the sun, the world, place names — can only appear in the definite singular.

  • Nouns that refer to uncommon things — cities, crowns, books, priests, etc. — don’t use the paucal, and the greater plural can only appear in the definite to mean all of the thing.

  • Nouns that refer to numerous, distinct things that are seen as interchangeable — coins, leaves, apples, etc. — don’t use the dual, with the paucal covering two items.

  • Nouns that refer to masses of small units — wheat, sand, hair, etc. — are generally still count nouns, with the singular referring to one unit; the lesser plural is the usual way to refer to a mass of these things, while the paucal means “a bit” and the greater plural means “too much” or “all”. Again, the dual isn’t used.

  • Nouns that refer to undifferentiated masses — water, clay, mud, etc. — can only appear in the singular, and require a measure word to be counted.

In general, the lesser plural is the least marked non-singular form; if a speaker doesn’t know the exact number of things but it’s probably more than one, the speaker will use lesser plural forms.

Nouns that refer to natural pairs — eyes, legs, sandals, etc. — are a special case. They use the singular when referring to both members of the pair. To refer to one of the pair, use the explicit numeral one with the noun: iïyte nin means “my eyes”, but iïyte ke nin means “my eye”. The other numbers can be used, but they refer either to many pairs or to a collection of unpaired things. For example, pundïbuïymo means either two pairs of sandals, or two mismatched sandals from different pairs, depending on the context. Which other numbers make sense depends on the type of noun, according to the above rules.

The lesser and greater plural are formed by some form of partial reduplication. There are two main paradigms:

  • Some nouns have simple plurals made with ordinary reduplication. To form the lesser plural, add a duplicate of the first syllable to the front of the noun; to form the greater plural, insert -pa- (harmonized to the first syllable only) between the duplicates, and voice the second copy’s first sound if it’s a stop consonant. Examples:

    • Singular huy “plot of land” has lesser plural huyhuy, greater plural huypïhuy.

    • Singular kay “spear” has lesser plural kaykay, greater plural kaypagay.

    • Singular huhnuse “written character” has lesser plural huhuhnuse, greater plural hupïhuhnuse.

  • Some nouns have graded plurals, where the second consonant, always a stop or nasal, is replaced by similar sounds from a different series in the plural forms. This is best explained by examples of the two gradation types.

    • If the second consonant is a voiced or unvoiced stop, the lesser plural uses the corresponding aspirated stop and the greater plural uses the corresponding ejective stop. Examples:

      • Singular oda “person” has lesser plural othoda, greater plural ot’aoda.

      • Singular tibe “bowl” has lesser plural tiphibe, greater plural tip’ïdibe.

    • If the second consonant is a nasal, the lesser plural uses the corresponding voiceless nasal and the greater plural uses /ᵐb/ — always /ᵐb/, even if the nasal is /n/. Examples:

      • Singular soma “god” has lesser plural sohmoma, greater plural sombasoma.

      • Singular senda “ball” has lesser plural sehnenda, greater plural sembasenda

    Notice that the plural forms undergo other predictable changes. The lesser plural features partial reduplication in addition to the gradation, while the greater plural has more extensive reduplication with voicing of the first consonant and insertion of a vowel that depends on the word’s harmony type.


Fully reduplicating a noun indicates either a diverse collection of X, or X and various things associated with it. For example, lihmülihmü means “an assortment of apples”, while kaseykasey means “kitchenware” (i.e. “spoons and such”). If the noun stem is only one syllable, the class suffix is typically reduplicated along with the stem: fumuyvumuy “various dogs”, kaytïkayte “soldier’s equipment” (i.e. “spears and such”).

Reduplicated nouns take singular agreement.

Noun Classes

Muipidan’s twelve noun classes each have a distinctive suffix on the noun, and trigger agreement from adjectives, demonstratives, and third-person pronouns. Definite nouns are always marked with the class suffix; indefinite nouns are always marked if dual, paucal, or counted by a numeral, and optionally marked otherwise. Marking the class suffix in indefinite singular nouns is most common with single-syllable noun roots and nouns that have been derived into an unexpected class.

The classes, which are named after their third-person pronoun, are summarized below:



Noun/Adjective Suffix

Typical Noun Meanings




Kin terms




Other words for people




Wild animals, fire




Domestic animals, cute things




Tools, weapons




Food, plants, specific places




Long rigid things, linear structures




Long flexible things, rivers, time




Flat things, land




Bulky things, buildings, collectives




Substances, abstractions




Small things, body parts, containers, and other miscellaneous nouns

They have the following dual and paucal forms:


Dual Suffix

Paucal Suffix





































It’s common for the same stem to be derived into multiple classes. Some common patterns:

  • Kin terms are derived into the kinde class to produce words for analogous non-familial relationships.

  • Words for tools and weapons in the k’ede class make words for the typical user when derived into the kinde class.

  • Words for plant-based food in the kato class make words for the plant they come from when derived into the kup’o class. But plant words not derived from food words usually fall in the kato class. Wheat behaves differently: the grains are ayto class, while the plant is kato.

  • Diminutives of words in any class can be formed by deriving the word into the moyto class.

The pronoun and demonstratives use common stems, which are sometimes identical or close to the noun suffix (e.g. pronoun pha- vs. suffix -pha, pronoun ay- vs. suffix -ay), but are completely different other times (e.g. pronoun thu- vs. suffix -s, pronoun k’e- vs. -tï-). The ndado and k’ede classes use the exact same noun suffix -tï; these classes take identical adjective agreement but different pronoun and demonstrative agreement.

If an explicit numeral appears, the noun takes its singular form and the class marker is required. For example:

Ete fumuykus.

e-te        fu-muy-kus  dog-DOM-PAUC

There are (a few) dogs here.

Ete fumuy tikim.

e-te        fu-muy   ti-kim  dog-DOM  one-five

There are six dogs here.

But *Ete fu tikim (without the class marker) and *Ete fumuykus tikim (with paucal marking in addition to the numeral) are invalid.


Muipidan has several series of determiners, which go immediately before the noun and agree with the noun’s class. They use the same stems as the pronouns, but the endings differ.


































































Determiners can also stand on their own as noun phrases, effectively omitting the modified noun.


Noun phrases are marked for case by clitics that attach to the first word of the noun phrase, which is usually the head noun or a determiner. Case clitics don’t attract stress — the stress stays on the first syllable of the root — and are affected by vowel harmony from the first vowel of the root. The nominative case is unmarked; the other core cases are:

  • The accusative case with o- (w- before a vowel), used for direct objects and destinations of movement.

  • The dative case with phu- (ph- before a vowel), used for the recipient or beneficiary of actions.

  • The genitive case with ni- (n- before a front vowel, ny- before a central or back vowel), used for possessors, wholes that are subdivided, and origins of movement.

  • The locative case ma- (m- beore a vowel), used for stationary locations and temporary possessors.

  • The instrumental case i- (y- before a vowel), used for the means of performing an action, conjoining noun phrases, and equating two noun phrases.

Case forms of pronouns

Singular and lesser plural pronouns have special inflections for case. In general, these forms consist of a stem related to the case clitic plus a (harmonizing) suffix for the person and number. The suffixes are:



First Person



Second Person



Third Person



The resulting forms are:







First Singular







Second Singular







Third Singular







First Plural







Second Plural







Third Plural







Pronouns in other numbers form their cases like regular nouns — the case clitic attaches to the beginning of the nominative form and harmonizes with its first syllable. For example, ne-nandoge is “from/of us two”, pho-kokhïdoge is “for/according to you few”, etc.

The Instrumental Case

To state equivalence or class membership, as you would with “to be” in English, juxtapose the topic in the nominative with the complement in the instrumental:

Moyphe ï-fu.

moy-phe   ï-fu     
that-DOM  INSTR-dog

That’s a dog.


Adjectives inflect like nouns in Muipidan, but lack the lesser and greater plural forms. In a noun phrase with one or more adjectives, only the last adjective is required to be marked for class, definiteness, or dual or paucal number. If the noun is a lesser or greater plural, the adjectives must not be marked for number — they look singular — but the last adjective must be marked for class and definiteness.

Nouns can freely be used as modifiers for other nouns, usually with the meaning “like X” or “characterized by X”. Modifier nouns act like adjectives in that they attract the definiteness and class suffixes from the noun they modify, but they mark number independently of the head noun. In cases where the inherent class of the noun is important to distinguish related words or homonyms, the suffix for the inherent class can be included in addition to the agreement suffix, with the original suffix coming first.

Adjectives can be freely used as nouns, to indicate “something that is X”. They can go into any class, depending on the semantics of the expected referent; if no particular class is intended, the ndado class can be used generically.


  • A noun phrase marked by a demonstrative (ayki “this” or ayphi “that”) must also be marked definite.

  • Other determiners (ayk’i “some”, aybi “many”, genitives) generally take indefinite noun phrases, but the noun may be marked definite if the referents are currently visible or highly topical; when using a genitive to talk about a person’s family members or social relations, the noun is normally definite if the listener personally knows the referent.

  • Proper nouns must be marked definite when talking about them, but must not be marked definite when addressing them directly.

  • While an indefinite noun in the greater plural means a large number or an overabundance, a definite noun in the greater plural implies all of something.


The citation form of the verb is the third-person singular present tense form: es “he is here”, kaslahnes “she shouts”, sades “it shines”.

Finite Verbs

Finite verbs are constructed from the finite stem, which is the citation form without the final -s.

The main verb of a clause agrees with its subject in person and number. For regular verbs, add these endings to the finite stem:

First Person

Second Person

Third Person













Lesser Plural




Greater Plural




Only human subjects ever take greater plural verb agreement; animal or inanimate greater plural subjects take the lesser plural agreement instead.

Verbs also have a set of reflexive forms for when the object is the same as the subject. The regular endings are:



First Person



Second Person



Third Person



A finite verb can be negated by inserting -fï- between the stem and the person suffix (written and pronounced as -vï- if the stem ends with a voiced sound).

Imperative Constructions

Blunt imperatives use the finite second-person forms, but reassert the pronoun after the verb:

Hup’a ko!

Go away! (addressed to one person)

Hubïkmuda kondage!

Go away! (addressed to two people)

Hubïk’a kot’e!

Go away! (addressed to a group of people)

The lesser plural form can be used as a general plural as well. Usage of more specific numbers in imperatives is specifically used if addressing a subset of a larger group. So to tell two people to go away, hubïk’a kot’e would likely be used if they’re the only two people present besides the speaker, while hubïkmoda kondage would be used if the speaker is singling out the two people from a larger group and telling only those two people, not the rest of the group, to go away.

A similar construction with the non-singular first-person forms can be used as a hortative:

Hubïnda nat’i!

Let’s get out of here! (me and several other people)

Hubïmmuda nandage!

Let’s get out of here! (me and one other person)

For a more polite command or hortative, you can use the optative instead:

Ka u-hube!

Please go! (addressed to one person)

Kakmoda u-hube!

Please go! (addressed to two people)

Kak’a u-hube!

Please go! (addressed to a group of people)

Kanda u-hube!

Let’s go! (me and several other people)

Kammoda u-hube!

Let’s get out of here! (me and one other person)

The Infinitive

The infinitive serves as an action nominalization, and is used frequently in auxiliary constructions. In regular verbs it’s formed from the finite stem by a regular alteration of the last vowel:

  • If the stem is one syllable, no change is needed.

  • Otherwise, if the stem ends with two vowels or if the consonant before the final vowel is a nasal or fricative that isn’t part of a cluster, drop the final vowel.

  • Otherwise, replace the vowel with the corresponding end-of-word vowel from Vowel Harmony.

If the last consonant of the stem is m, n, s, or f, the stem vowel drops entirely.

The infinitive can be used as a noun, representing the process of doing the action.

The infinitive is always in the ndado class. It inflects for class and definiteness like other nouns, but has no number inflections (it’s treated as a mass noun).

The bare verb can’t take a subject in the normal way; it needs a genitive oblique, which normally comes after the verb and before other verb arguments.

But it can take other arguments and obliques in the normal way.

An infinitive can be negated using the adjective na, meaning “absent”, which always becomes nate to agree with the ndado-class infinitive.

A verb can be used attributively by putting its infinitive in the locative case after the noun it describes.

Auxiliary Constructions

The Four Primary Constructions

There are four basic auxiliary constructions that mark a combination of tense with aspect or mood. Verbs are divided into three classes based on the auxiliary verbs they use in the imperfect construction:

  • The myas-class verbs are usually statives: es “to be”, etc.

  • The sis-class verbs are usually prolonged actions: letmes “to ascend”, etc.

  • The klos-class verbs are usually single, abrupt actions: plekas “to clap”, etc.

But some verbs have the “wrong” class for their semantics — e.g. sades “shine” is klos-class despite being a prolonged action — and the class dictates the forms used, not the semantics.

The four constructions are:

  • The imperfect, used for actions viewed as background or ongoing in the past.

    • Myas-class verbs use myas + the locative case.

    • Sis-class verbs use sis + the locative case.

    • Klos-class verbs use klos + the accusative case.

  • The perfect, used for actions viewed as foreground or completed in the past. With stative verbs, the perfect implies that the state no longer holds, and gives a sense of remoteness from the time when it used to.

    • All verb classes use hnas + the genitive case.

  • The optative, used for future events that the speaker hopes for or views positively.

    • Myas- and sis-class verbs use kas + the accusative case.

    • Klos-class verbs use imis + the accusative case.

  • The timitive, used for future events that the speaker fears or views negatively.

    • All verb classes use mavos + the accusative case.

The Passive

The passive uses the auxiliary verb tos, followed by a special passive form of the lexical verb — which is identical to the first-person singular finite form — rather than a case form of the infinitive.

The original agent of the verb can optionally be included as an argument in the instrumental case.

The Causative

The causative uses the auxiliary verb moys. If the original agent is present in the causative sentence as a noun phrase, the conjugated auxiliary moys is followed by the infinitive of the main verb and then the original agent. If the original agent is present as an anaphor, it’s marked on the main verb using the subject agreement suffixes.

When the causative is applied to an intransitive verb, the original subject switches to the accusative case. When it’s applied to a transitive verb, the original agent switches to the instrumental case, while the original patient stays in the accusative.

Serial Verb Constructions

Muipidan uses serial verb constructions to express finer aspect/mode distinctions. In these constructions, both verbs are marked for person/number agreement, but only the first verb takes auxiliaries or negative marking.

Verb Arguments and Adjuncts

Verbs tend to be picky about which case forms they accept for their arguments, but less picky about how many arguments they take — non-subject arguments can often be dropped freely if the missing argument is clear from context. In addition, any verb can have dative, locative and instrumental adjuncts (indicating the beneficiary, location and means of the event, respectively) added if it makes sense semantically.

Verbs of motion can take any or all of the following adjuncts: an accusative to indicate the destination of movement, a genitive to indicate the origin of movement, an instrumental to indicate the path of movement or means of travel, and a locative to indicate a place that encompasses the entire movement.

The subject of the verb (regardless of its case) appears before the finite verb by default, and the direct object follows the entire verb complex by default. As other arguments and adjuncts are added, they usually pile up after the direct object, but up to one adjunct can be moved to the position immediately after the finite verb in an auxiliary construction (called forward position). Moving an adjunct into forward position decreases its focus; i.e. surprising or new information would usually be left at the end of the clause.


Adverbs, which are distinguished from adjuncts by their lack of case marking, usually go in forward position, and block adjuncts from going there.

Derivational Morphology


The circumfix o- -ytos added to an adjective makes a verb that means “to become X”: osaytos “settle down” from satado “quiet”.

Verb Derivations

The suffix -gïso added to a verb stem makes an intensive verb, indicating the action occurs with greater strength: letmegesüs “shoot upwards” from letmes “ascend”, mollwagïsos “do over and over” from mollwas “do again”. If the verb stem is short, the suffix tends to consume the last vowel of the stem and combine with the last consonant: langïsos “overflow” from lames “flow”, sat’ïsos “shine brightly” from sades “shine”. This usually patterns like the second-person singular form of the verb — compare langa “you flow”, sat’a “you shine”.

Repeating an entire finite verb indicates that the verb is happening “here and there” or “all around”. As with serial verb constructions, only the first copy takes auxiliaries.


Third person verb endings are used as nominalizations indicating a particular person or group of people who do something or the act of them doing it. For example, ungïsohmoda “argument” (literally “two people speak intensely”); tongïsopada “defense force” (literally “they all protect”); sevühmüda “parents” (literally “the two of them have a child”).

The resulting nouns are in the ndado class if the noun refers to the action itself; if it refers to the people, then singular, dual, and paucal forms get kinde or hmudo class while lesser and greater plural forms get kup’o class. The base form of these nouns is always grammatically singular, regardless of the number of entities they refer to, with higher grammatical numbers (referring to multiple groups) produced by altering the noun suffix in the usual way.

The prefix se-, added to a verb infinitive, is a nominalizer that produces nouns and adjectives referring to the recipient of an action. It harmonizes with the first vowel of the verb stem, and the primary stress stays on the first syllable of the root, as with case clitics. The resulting noun or adjective takes the usual nominal morphology after the verb infinitive.

The tool used to perform an action can be formed with the suffix . Like the intensive, this also patterns like the second-person singular form of the verb. These nouns are always k’ede class.

Noun Derivations

The suffix -na (from the adjective natado “missing”) creates an adjective meaning “lacking X” or (in the ndado class) a noun meaning “absence of X”.

The suffix -phïy denotes a place characterized by something: flophïy “flood plain” from flo- “greenery”, kayphïy “armory” from kay- “spear”, etc. Words with this suffix are always in the kato class, regardless of their meaning.


Basic Word Order

Simple declarative sentences follow SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT order.

Dependent clauses usually preserve the older VERB-SUBJECT-OBJECT word order, with the subject coming after the finite verb in the clause. (This becomes AUX-SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT if the clause uses an auxiliary construction.) When the subject appears here, the clause can’t have anything in forward position.

Yes-no questions also use VERB-SUBJECT-OBJECT (or AUX-SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT) order.

Possessive Clauses

Clauses that declare possession can take two forms in Muipidan. The first is using the existential verb es plus the possessor in the locative, and indicates temporary possession or custody.

The typical word order depends on whether the possessed noun is definite or indefinite.

Ma-pesekende es loda.

ma-pese-ken-de     e-s       loda
LOC-girl-PERS-DEF  exist-3s  leaf

The girl has (is holding) a leaf.

Lodak’ïdo es ma-pesekende.

loda-k'ï-do    e-s       ma-pese-ken-de   
leaf-PLNT-DEF  exist-3s  LOC-girl-PERS-DEF

The girl has (is holding) the leaf.

The second is using the possessor in the genitive, and indicates ownership.

Loda ne-pesekende es.

loda  ne-pese-ken-de     e-s     
leaf  GEN-girl-PERS-DEF  exist-3s

The girl has (owns) a leaf.

Predicating Mental States

Clauses that declare a person’s mental or emotional state use the verb myas plus an indefinite noun referring to that state in the locative.

If the state is directed towards someone or something, the target of the state is placed in the dative after the finite verb.

Myas pho-kahokïn ma-pya

mya-s  pho-kaho-kïn     ma-pya  
be-3s  DAT-scribe-PERS  LOC-love

He’s in love with a scribe