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4 Palauan Pronouns


At various points in the preceding three chapters we have had occasion to mention something about the pronouns of Palauan. We found it necessary to introduce many different facts about Palauan pronouns simply because the use of pronouns is so closely tied up with problems of the spelling and the grammar. Thus, in 1.5.d we discussed how the different sets of Palauan pronouns are to be spelled; in 2.4 we examined some of the distributional characteristics which pronouns share with nouns, in addition to showing why the distinction human vs. non-human is important to pronoun usage; and, finally, in 3.23 we analyzed the possessor pronouns (or suffixes) extensively. There are still many facts about Palauan pronouns which we have not presented; this will be done in the present chapter.

As we saw in 1.5.d, some Palauan pronouns are spelled as separate words, while others are spelled as part of another word. We shall call the former type independent pronouns, whereas the latter type will be referred to as affix pronouns.1 Affix pronouns never occur alone but must always be attached to the beginning or end of a word; in the former case they are prefixes, while in the latter case they are suffixes. These two terms have already ap­peared in the text and should be familiar to you: in 2.5, for ex­ample, we discussed the human plural prefix rȩ- (as in rȩngalȩk ‘children’), and in 3.3 we described the different sets of possessor suffixes (as in bilek ‘my clothes’, kȩruk ‘my medicine’, etc.).

As we have already seen in the preceding chapters, pronouns have the same distributional features as nouns and refer to various persons like ‘I, you, he, they, etc’ First person pronouns and second person pronouns make reference to the participants in a conversation and identify the speaker(s) (‘I, we’) and the hearer(s) 79(‘you’), respectively. Third person pronouns do not refer to any of the participants in a conversation but identify the person(s) or thing(s) being talked about (‘he, she, it, they’). First, second and third person pronouns can be either singular or plural, though the third person plural pronoun refers to human nouns only. In ad­dition, there are two first person plural pronouns—inclusive and exclusive (cf. 3.2). The distinctions among Palauan pronouns can therefore be summarized as follows:

(1) 1st pers. sg. 1st pers. pl. incl.
    1st pers. pl. excl.
  2nd pers. sg. 2nd pers. pl.
  3rd pers. sg. 3rd pers. pl. (human only)

Though some special comments will be necessary in a few cases, we will be able to use the above seven categories to describe all of the pronoun sets of Palauan. To save space, we will also adopt the abbreviations given above.


There are two sets of independent pronouns which can occur in the position of sentence subject. One is called non-emphatic and the other emphatic. Before explaining the difference between these types, let us list the forms occurring in each:

(2)   Non-emphatic Pronouns Emphatic Pronouns
  1st pers sg          ak          ngak
  2nd pers sg          kȩ          kau
  3rd pers sg          ng          ngii
  1st pers pl incl          kȩdȩ          kid
  1st pers pl excl          aki          kȩmam
  2nd pers pl          kom          kȩmiu
  3rd pers pl          tȩ          tir

Though we can see some similarities (especially in the consonants) between corresponding non-emphatic and emphatic forms, there is no predictable way of deriving one set from the other. While the emphatic pronouns are always stressed (cf. 1.4.2) and are pronounced as they are spelled, the non-emphatic ones are never stressed and sometimes show a slight variation in pronunciation. For example, when ‘you (sg.)’, kȩdȩ ‘we (incl.)’, and ‘they’ appear before vowel-initial verbs, their final ȩ is lost in the pro­nunciation, as in ulȩmes [kulǝmεs] ‘you saw’, kȩdȩ ousbech  80[kǝðouspεɂ] ‘we need’, and omȩngur [tomǝŋur] ‘they are eating’. The unpronounced ȩ is always spelled, however. Furthermore, when ak ‘I’ and aki ‘we (excl.)’ follow words ending in a full vowel, the a is not pronounced, as in e le ak [εlεkh] ‘because I…’ and a lȩko ak [alǝgokh] ‘I intended to…’ If, however, the pre­ceding word has a final ȩ, this schwa is deleted and the following a is pronounced, as in ak [makh] ‘so I…’. Finally, we know from expressions like kom osiik [komosiykh] ‘you are looking for’, kom ua ngarang? [komwaŋaraŋ] ‘how are you?’ and kom smechȩr [komsmεɂǝr] ‘you are sick’ that the correct form of the second person plural non-emphatic pronoun is kom; if the word following kom begins with an m, however, only a single m is actually pronounced, as in kom mȩrredȩl [komǝr̄εðǝl] ‘you are the leaders’.

When they appear as sentence subject, the non-emphatic and emphatic pronouns are used in very different ways. Observe the following brief dialogs:

(3) A: Kȩ mo ȩr ker?
    ‘Where are you going?’
  B: Ak mo ȩr a stoang.
    ‘I’m going to the store.’
(4) A: Ng tȩcha a mo ȩr a stoang?
    ‘Who is going to the store?’
  B: Ngak a mo ȩr a stoang.
    ‘Í’m going to the store.’

As we can see, A’s questions in 3 and 4 above are very different and therefore elicit different types of responses from B. In 4, A assumes (or knows) that from among a certain group of people, one person is going to the store; his question to B asks for the identity of that one person. B uses the emphatic pronoun ngak ‘I’ in his answer to emphasize the fact that it is he himself (and not Droteo, or Toki, or anyone else who might be around) who is going to the store. In other words, the use of an emphatic pro­noun as subject implies a contrast (or opposition) between the person who actually perform some activity and any other persons who might be available to perform it but who for some reason do not. This kind of contrastive emphasis is indicated in the pronunciation of the English equivalent of 4B by an especially strong stress on the subject pronoun (the accent mark is used to point this out). Another situation in which 4B would be appro­priate is the following: 81

(5) A: A Droteo ng mo ȩr a stoang?
    ‘Is Droteo going to the store?’
  B: Ng diak. Ngak a mo ȩr a stoang.
    ‘No. Í’m going to the store.’

In the dialog above, B uses the emphatic pronoun in his response in order to express an opposition between himself and Droteo as persons who might be available to go to the store.

It is also possible for B’s response in 4 to be shortened to the emphatic pronoun itself or to a short sentence of the form ng + emphatic pronoun, meaning ‘it’s—.’ Note the following dialog:

(6) A: Ng tȩcha a mo ȩr a stoang?
    ‘Who is going to the store?’
  B: (Ng) ngak.
    ‘(It’s) me.’

B need not mention the activity of going to the store in his re­sponse, since this activity is clearly stated in A’s question. Another similar dialog is the following:

(7) A: A Toki a milȩnga a ngikȩl.
    ‘Toki ate fish.’
  B: E kau?
    ‘And (how about) you?’

In the dialog above, B can ask A what A ate simply by using the emphatic pronoun kau ‘you’; since A has already talked about someone eating something, it is clear that B is likewise referring to the activity of eating.

The third person emphatic pronouns ngii ‘he, she’ and tir ‘they’ can be used in B’s responses in dialogs like 47 above if both A and B know whom the pronoun refers to. Observe the conversations below:

(8) A: Ng tȩcha a silsȩbii a blai?
    ‘Who burned down the house?’
  B: (Ng) ngii.
    ‘(It’s) him.’
(9) A: Tȩ rua tȩcha a silsȩbii a blai?
    ‘Who burned down the house?’
  B: (Ng) tir.
    ‘(It’s) them.’

Now that we have seen how the emphatic pronouns are used as sentence subject, let us return to a discussion of 3, which con­tains a non-emphatic pronoun as subject in B’s response:82

(3) A: Kȩ mo ȩr ker?
    ‘Where are you going?’
  B: Ak mo ȩr a stoang.
    ‘I’m going to the store.’

While the emphatic pronoun ngak ‘I’ of 4B involves contrastive emphasis, the non-emphatic pronoun ak ‘I’ of 3B does not. In 3, A is not asking B to single out the particular person who, from among a certain group of people, is performing some activity; therefore, B’s answer does not provide this kind of information. Instead, A simply wants to know where B is going: automatically assuming that B is the only person involved in the activity, A concentrates on finding out the place B is going to. In his re­sponse, B uses the non-emphatic pronoun ak ‘I’ because he does not need to provide A with any new information about the subject of the sentence; ak ‘I’ is merely old information, and the new information of 3B is supplied by the relational phrase ȩr a stoang ‘to the store’.

We can therefore characterize the difference between non-emphatic vs. emphatic (subject) pronouns as follows. The infor­mation supplied by a non-emphatic pronoun is old—that is, both speaker and hearer know about it, and it is no longer of interest to them. On the other hand, the information provided by an em­phatic pronoun is new—something previously unknown or un­expected.

Because non-emphatic pronouns express old information, they can only be used as sentence subjects in situations where their referents are clear. This is the case in the following short dialogs, where the non-emphatic pronouns under consideration have been italicized:

(10) A:   A Droteo a mlo ȩr a Guam ȩr a elii.
    ‘Droteo went to Guam yesterday.’
  B: Ng mo lmuut ȩl mè ȩr oingarang?
    ‘When is he coming back?’
(11) A: A John mȩ a Mary a me ȩr a blik ȩr a klukuk.
    ‘John and Mary are coming to my house tomorrow.’
  B: chad ȩr a Merikel?
    ‘Are they Americans?’
(12) A: A Toki ng oureor ȩr ker?
    ‘Where does Toki work?’
  B: Ng oureor ȩr a bangk.
    ‘She works at the bank.’ 83

While the sentences spoken by B in 1012 above are perfectly natural as part of a conversational exchange, they would sound very strange if spoken in isolation or “out of context”.

As we noted in 2.6, all Palauan nouns (or, more properly, noun phrases—cf. 3.6) must be introduced by the word a, unless they consist of pronouns. Thus, the independent pronouns (non-emphatic or emphatic) discussed in this section are never preceded by a. We noted also in 2.6 that Palauan verbs (or, more properly, verb phrases—see 5.2) are always introduced by a unless the sentence subject is a pronoun. As the examples in this section show, we must now qualify this statement to read as follows: the verb phrase of a sentence is always preceded by a except when the sentence subject is a non-emphatic pronoun. If the sentence sub­ject is an emphatic pronoun, however, as in 4B and 5B above, the verb phrase is indeed introduced by a. The occurrence or non-occurrence of a before the verb phrase of a sentence is summarized below:

(13) Sentence Type Example
  a.   non-pronominal subject + verb phrase. A sȩchȩlik a smechȩr. ‘My friend is sick.’
      A Satsko a smechȩr. ‘Satsko is sick.’
  b. emphatic pronoun subject +verb phrase. Ngak a smechȩr. ‘Í’m sick.’
      Ngii a smechȩr. ‘Shé’s sick.’
  c. non-emphatic pronoun subject +verb phrase. Ak smechȩr. ‘I’m sick.’
      Ng smechȩr. ‘She’s sick.’

Notice that the emphatic pronouns illustrated in 13b behave like the independent nouns sȩchȩlik ‘my friend’ and Satsko of 13a in requiring that the following verb phrase be introduced by a. Because of this fact, many linguists would argue that the emphatic pronouns are truly independent words, while the non-emphatic pronouns of 13c are actually prefixes. If the non-emphatic pro­nouns were indeed prefixes, then the nonoccurrence of a before the verb phrases of 13c could be explained. Assuming that this analysis were correct, it would appear more proper to spell the non-emphatic pronouns as part of the following verb—e.g. akmong ‘I’m going’, ngsmechȩr ‘she’s sick’, tȩme ‘they are coming’, etc. The 1972 Palauan Orthography Committee decided against spelling the non-emphatic pronouns as part of the following word, 84however. The present system of spelling the non-emphatic pro­nouns as separate words nevertheless has some merits: in sen­tences like the following, for example, it is easy to analyze the structure and identify the morphemes because they are spelled as separate words:

(14) a.   Ak ko ȩr a sesmechȩr.
    ‘I’m rather sick.’
  b. Tȩ, di mililil ȩr a Guam.
    ‘They only fooled around in Guam.’
  c. A John a dimlak lȩbo e le ng mle smechȩr.
    ‘John didn’t go because he was sick.’


In 4.2 above we saw how the emphatic pronouns of Palauan can function as sentence subjects. In this and the following sections we will describe further environments in which the emphatic pronouns are observed to occur. Perhaps the most common of these is after the word ȩr. Recall that in 2.7 we distinguished between the specifying word ȩr, which identifies a specific object, and the relational word ȩr, which expresses certain types of re­lationships (mostly spatial and temporal) and has a large range of English equivalents, including ‘to, at, in, out of, because of, etc.’ We find that the emphatic pronouns of Palauan can occur fol­lowing both of these ȩr’s.

In the sentences below, an emphatic pronoun functions as sentence object and follows the specifying word ȩr:

(15) a. Kȩ mȩlasȩm ȩr ngak?
    ‘Are you challenging me?’
  b. Ng tȩcha a milȩngȩlebȩd ȩr kau?
    ‘Who was hitting you?’
  c. Ak ulȩmes ȩr {ngii / tir} ȩr a party.
    ‘I saw {him/her / them} at the party.’
  d. Ak dirk mȩluchȩs ȩr ngii.
    ‘I’m still writing it.’

Since Palauan pronouns always refer to specific persons or things, it is not surprising that the specifying word ȩr should precede the object pronouns in the examples of 15. Note that the sen­tences of 15, especially those with third person emphatic pronouns 85as objects, would sound very strange when uttered in isolation. It is not difficult, however, to find contexts in which they would be completely natural; 15d, for example, is appropriate as part of B’s response in the dialog below:

(16) A: Kȩ mla mo mȩrek ȩr a babier?
    ‘Have you finished (writing) the letter?’
  B: Ng diak. Ak dirk mȩluchȩs ȩr ngii.
    ‘No. I’m still writing it.’

You may have noticed that although we have been speaking of the emphatic pronouns in object position, the specific pronoun objects of 15 (ȩr ngak ‘me’, ȩr ngii ‘him/her/it’, etc.) do not seem to have the implication of contrastive emphasis which we observed for emphatic pronouns in subject position (cf.4.2 above). Un­fortunately, we cannot explain why this should be the case. Even though the “emphatic” pronouns do not imply contrastive em­phasis in all environments, we will continue to use the term as a convenient way of identifying the pronoun set ngak ‘I’, kau ‘you’, ngii ‘he/she/it’, etc.

In the following sentences, an emphatic pronoun follows the relational word ȩr:

(17) a. A sensei ȩr ngak a me ȩr a party.
    ‘My teacher is coming to the party.’
  b. A delmȩrab ȩr tir a kmal kikiongȩl.
    ‘Their room is very dirty.’
  c. A beab a tilobȩd ȩr ngii.
    ‘The mouse came out of it.’

In 17a-b, the sequences ȩr ngak ‘my’ and ȩr tir ‘their’ are possessor phrases (cf. 3.8), while in 17c the relational phrase ȩr ngii ‘out of it’ refers to the place (hole, box, etc.) from which the mouse emerged. Like the examples of 15, these sentences do not have any implication of contrastive emphasis.


Another environment in which the emphatic pronouns are used (but without any implication of contrastive emphasis) is in coordinate noun phrases (see 25.4). A coordinate noun phrase is one which consists of two (or more) nouns joined by the word ‘and’. Coordinate noun phrases have the same distribution as other noun phrases and can therefore occur as sentence subject 86or object, or can follow the relational word ȩr. These three uses are illustrated in the sentences below, in which the coordinate noun phrases consist of sequences of human or non-human nouns joined by ‘and’2:

(18) a. A Toki mȩ. a Droteo a mlo ȩr a stoang.
    ‘Toki and Droteo went to the store.’
  b. Tȩ mȩnga a ngikȩl mȩ a kukau mȩ a diokang.
    ‘They eat fish and taro and tapioca.’
  c. Ng sidosia ȩr a Toki mȩ a Droteo.
    ‘It’s Toki and Droteo’s car.’

Sentences with coordinate noun phrases represent a shortened or condensed way of expressing information: for example, Palauan speakers would use 18a rather than something like the following, in which mlo ȩr a stoang ‘went to the store’ is repeated twice:

(19)   A Toki a mlo ȩr a stoang, mȩ a Droteo a mlo ȩr a stoang.
    ‘Toki went to the store, and Droteo went to the store.’

The relationship between sentences like 18a and 19 will be ex­plained more carefully in chap. 25, where a complete analysis of the word ‘and’ is given.

If a coordinate noun phrase contains one or more pronouns, the members of the emphatic pronoun set are always used. Observe the following sentences:

(20) a.   Ngak mȩ a Helen a kausȩchȩlei.
    ‘Helen and I are friends.’
  b. Tir mȩ a rȩchad ȩr a Merikel a blȩchoel ȩl kauchȩraro.
    ‘They and the Americans always treat each other as enemies.’
  c. A Droteo a kautokȩtok ngii mȩ a Toki.
    ‘Droteo and Toki are arguing.’
  d. Kȩ mlo ȩr a party kau mȩ a tȩchang?3
    ‘With whom did you go to the party?’

As the examples of 20 show, a coordinate noun phrase is not preceded by a if the first word in it is a pronoun. For an analysis of sentences 20c-d, which have coordinate noun phrases (ngii mȩ a Toki ‘he and Toki’, kau a tȩchang ‘you and who?’) in sentence-final position, see 17.5. Note that the English equi­valents given for 20c-d do not reflect the structure of the Palauan sentences, which, if translated literally, would correspond to ‘Droteo is arguing—he and Toki’ and ‘You went to the party—you and who?’ 87


The emphatic pronouns occur in special expressions of the form di + (mle +) emphatic pronoun to indicate that a given person is or was the exclusive participant in some activity. In other words, these expressions imply that one and only one individual is involved in the action in question; by excluding the possibility that other persons may be involved, these expressions produce a kind of contrastive emphasis. They are very similar in meaning to English expressions like ‘(by) myself, (by) himself, etc’ Note that di means ‘only’ or ‘just’ (see 24.6, ex. 46) and that mle ‘was’ precedes the emphatic pronoun if the action of the sentence took place at some time in the past. Some typical sentences containing these expressions (italicized) are given below:

(21) a.   A ngȩlȩkek a sȩbȩchel ȩl mo ȩr a che ȩl di ngii.
    ‘My child is able to go fishing (all) by himself/on his own.’
  b. A John a di mle ngii ȩl mȩsuub ȩl oukita.
    ‘John studied the guitar by himself.’
  c. Ng di mle ngak ȩl mȩruul ȩr a blik.
    ‘I built my house (all) by myself.’
  d. A ta ȩr tir a di mle ngii ȩl mȩkodir ȩl oba a dub.
    ‘One of them killed himself with a grenade.’

The grammatical structures found in the examples of 21 are rather complicated and will not be explained until chap. 15.


In this section we will look at yet further ways in which Palauan emphatic pronouns can be used. Since the grammatical structures involved are very complex, we will postpone detailed discussion of them until later chapters. Observe, for example, the following sentences, in which the emphatic pronouns have been italicized:

(22) a. Ng dimlak lȩngak a silsȩbii a blai.
    ‘It wasn’t me who burned down the house.’
  b. Ng dimlak ltir a milkodir a bilis.
    ‘It wasn’t them who killed the dog.’
  c. Ngii di ȩl chad a sȩbȩchel ȩl mo ȩr a skuul.
    ‘Any person has the right to go to school.’
  d. A hong a longuiu ȩr ngii a Droteo.
    ‘The book is being read by Droteo.’

Examples 22a and 22b are emphatic sentences which deny that 88some person or persons were connected with a particular event; both of these sentences contain dimlak ‘wasn’t, weren’t’, which is the past form of the negative verb diak ‘isn’t’ (see chap. 18). In sentence 22c, the subject noun phrase ngii di ȩl chad is used to refer to people in general and has English equivalents like ‘any person, anybody, anyone (at all), etc’ Finally, in 22d, ȩr ngii is a special type of phrase which adds nothing to the meaning but which is required when the subject of a passive sentence (see 19.7) is singular.


There are several situations in which Palauan third person non-emphatic pronouns appear in sentences as a result of certain grammatical processes. Observe, for example, the following pairs of sentences:

(23) a.   A Droteo a mla mei. ‘Droteo has come.’
  b. Ng mla me a Droteo.  
(24) a. A ralm a mȩkȩlȩkolt. ‘The water is cold.’
  b. Ng mȩkȩlȩkolt a ralm.  

While the a-sentences have their subjects at the beginning (as we would expect), in the b-sentences the subjects have been shifted to the right of the verb phrases (mla me ‘has come’ in 23 and mȩkȩlȩkolt ‘cold’ in 24). If we consider the a-sentences to be basic, we can simply say that the b-sentences are derived from them by a process of subject shifting. When a sentence subject is shifted in this way, a trace of it remains in its original position in the form of a non-emphatic pronoun. In the b-sentences above, the sentence­initial third person singular non-emphatic pronoun ng stands for the singular subjects Droteo and ralm ‘water’, which have been shifted out of their original position. If the shifted subject is human plural, then the third person plural non-emphatic pronoun ‘they’ appears as a trace of it in sentence-initial position. This is illustrated in the following pair of examples:

(25) a. A rȩsȩchȩlim a mla mei. ‘Your friends have come.’
  b. Tȩ mla me a rȩsȩchȩlim.  

When the non-emphatic pronouns ng and appear as the result of subject shifting, we will refer to them as pronominal traces. In the b-sentences of 2325 above, the verb phrase is not introduced 89by a precisely because it is preceded by a nonemphatic pronoun (cf. the discussion at the end of 4.2 above).

It is very difficult to describe the meaning difference between the a- and b-sentences of 2325. Often, the members of pairs like 2325 seem to be interchangeable, but sometimes the fol­lowing subtle distinction is observed. While the a-sentence con­veys totally new and unexpected information, the b-sentence merely confirms that something expected has happened. Thus, for example, both members of 23 say that Droteo has arrived, but their implications are different: in 23a, the speaker had no idea that Droteo would come, while in 23b he was waiting for or expecting Droteo’s arrival.

The sentences below are also formed by the process of sub­ject shifting and therefore show a pronominal trace in initial position:

(26) a. Ng mȩringȩl a chimal a Droteo.
    ‘Droteo’s hand hurts.’
  b. Ng klou a ultutȩlel a babier.
    ‘The letter is (very) important.’
  c. Ng lluich mȩ a etiu a rȩkil a Toki.
    ‘Toki is twenty-nine years old.’
  d. Ng suebȩk a rȩngul a Droteo.4
    ‘Droteo is worried.’
  e. Ng ngar ȩr ngii a party ȩr a blil a Toki.
    ‘There’s a party at Toki’s house.’
  f. Ng diak a urerek ȩr a elȩchang.
    ‘I don’t have any work now.’
  g. Ng soak a Toki.
    ‘I like Toki.’
  h. Ng chȩtil a kohi.
    ‘He dislikes coffee.’

In sentences 26ad the shifted subjects chimal a Droteo ‘Droteo’s hand’, ultutȩlel a babier ‘importance of the letter’, rȩkil a Toki ‘Toki’s age’, and rȩngul a Droteo ‘Droteo’s heart’ are all noun phrases of possession which designate a specific third person possessor (cf. 3.6). For 26ac, the corresponding sentences with (non-shifted) sentence-initial subjects are also correct and accept­able, though some speakers seem to prefer using sentences with shifted subjects. Thus, with 26a, for example, compare the follow­ing, which is identical in meaning:

(27) A chimal a Droteo a mȩringȩl.
  ‘Droteo’s hand hurts.’ 90

Can you supply the sentences with (non-shifted) sentence-initial subjects from which 26bc are derived?

Another very common Palauan sentence type is derived from sentences like 26ad. With 26d, for example, compare the follow­ing, which has the same meaning:

(28) A Droteo a suebȩk a rȩngul.
  ‘Droteo is worried.’

This sentence has been derived from 26d by taking the specific possessor Droteo, which was originally shifted to the right of the verb phrase as part of the shifted subject rȩngul a Droteo ‘Droteo’s heart’, and moving it back to sentence-initial position, where it replaces the pronominal trace ng. This process, which we will call preposing of possessor, is widespread in Palauan and will be dealt with fully in 17.3.

For sentences 26dh, which have the shifted subjects rȩngul a Droteo ‘Droteo’s heart’, party, urerek ‘my work’, Toki, and kohi ‘coffee’, Palauan speakers do not regularly use the corresponding sentences with (non-shifted) sentence-initial subjects. In other words, subject shifting seems to be required (or obligatory) in certain types of sentences: these include sentences like 26d, which contain special expressions with reng ‘heart’, sentences like 26ef, which have the affirmative and negative expressions of existence ngar ȩr ngii ‘there is/are’ and diak ‘there isn’t/aren’t’ (see 18.22.1), and sentences like 26gh, which contain possessed forms of the nouns of liking—soak, soal, etc.—and disliking—chȩtik, chȩtil, etc. (cf. 3.11 and see 17.1). In 26ef, notice that the shifted subjects are followed by the relational phrases ȩr a blil a Toki ‘at Toki’s house’ and ȩr a elȩchang ‘now’. These sentences show that we were correct in stating that the sentence subject is shifted to the right of the verb phrase rather than to the very end of the sentence. It just so happens that in sentences like 23b, 24b, 25b, 26ad, and 26gh, shifting the sentence subject to the right of the verb phrase also placed it in sentence-final position, since these sentences have no relational phrases.

The process of subject shifting is also used to form certain types of Palauan questions. In the pairs of examples below, the a-sentence is a statement of fact, while the b-sentence is a yes-no question. Yes-no questions ask whether such-and-such is the case and can be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

(29) a. A Droteo a mla mei.
    ‘Droteo has come.’ 91
  b. Ng mla me a Droteo?
    ‘Has Droteo come?’
(30) a. A rȩsȩchȩlim a mla mei.
    ‘Your friends have come.’
  b. Tȩ mla me a rȩsȩchȩlim?
    ‘Have your friends come?’

As you can see, the yes-no questions of 29b and 30b have been derived from the corresponding statements of 29a and 30a by shifting the subject to the right of the verb phrase; this process leaves a pronominal trace in sentence-initial position. You will notice that although the order of words in 29b and 30b is exactly the same as that in 23b and 25b, respectively, the over-all pronun­ciation of these sentences shows an important difference: in the yes-no questions of 29b and 30b, the pitch (or intonation) of the voice rises sharply at the end of the sentence, while in the state­ments of 23b and 25b, no such rise in pitch is heard, but rather a slight lowering. The following yes-no questions are similar in structure to 29b and 30b:

(31) a. Ng klȩbokȩl a bȩchil a Droteo?
    ‘Is Droteo’s wife pretty?’
  b. Ng lmuut ȩl me a Cisco ȩr a klukuk?
    ‘Is Cisco returning tomorrow?’
  c. Ng mlo dȩkimȩs a ears?
    ‘Did the sail get wet?’

What are the statement sentences which correspond to the yes-no questions of 31?

In addition to the yes-no questions of 29b, 30b, and 31, there are also yes-no questions of the following type in Palauan:

(32) A Droteo ng mla mei?
  ‘Has Droteo come?’
(33) A rȩsȩchȩlim tȩ mla mei?
  ‘Have your friends come?’
(34) A bȩchil a Droteo ng klȩbokȩl?
  ‘Is Droteo’s wife pretty?’

Although 32, 33, and 34 do not differ in meaning from 29b, 30b, and 31a, respectively, they do show a difference in the order of words. If we consider the latter sentences as basic, it seems as if the questions of 3234 are derived by moving the shifted subject back to sentence-initial position, but preceding the pronominal trace ng or This and other processes of question formation will be examined in much greater detail in chap. 20. 92


As we have seen in 4.7 above, the third person non-emphatic pronouns ng ‘he, she, it’ and ‘they’ can appear as pronominal traces for subjects which have been shifted from their original position. In this section, we will examine another way in which these non-emphatic pronouns can come to appear in sentences. Observe the examples below:

(35) a.   A Droteo a mlo ȩr a hospital e le ng smechȩr.
    ‘Droteo went to the hospital because he’s sick.’
  b. A rȩsȩchȩlik a mlo ȩr a hospital e le tȩ smechȩr.
    ‘My friends went to the hospital because they’re sick.’

The sentences of 35 each contain two parts (or clauses—see chap. 22): in the first clause the speaker describes an event which oc­curred, and in the second clause (introduced by e le ‘because’), he gives the reason for the event. Each of the two clauses in 35a and 35b has its own subject and verb phrase: for example, in the first clause of 35a, the subject Droteo is followed by the verb phrase mlo ‘went’, while in the second clause, the subject ng ‘he’ is fol­lowed by the verb phrase smechȩr ‘sick’. The third person singular non-emphatic pronoun ng ‘he’ of the second clause can only refer to Droteo, the subject of the first clause. Example 35b is identical in structure, except that the third person plural non-emphatic pronoun ‘they’ of the second clause refers to the plural subject rȩsȩchȩlik ‘my friends’ of the first clause.

In the examples of 35, a pronominal subject is used in the second clause in order to avoid having to repeat the full subject of the first clause. With 35a, for instance, compare the following example, in which Droteo is repeated as subject of the second clause:

(36) A Droteo a mlo ȩr a hospital e le a Droteo a smechȩr.
  ‘Droteo went to the hospital because Droteo is sick.’

Most Palauans would never use a sentence like 36 because repeti­tion of Droteo as subject of the second clause would seem clumsy or awkward, or even childish. The English equivalent of 36 would not be used for similar reasons. We can see, then, that if a Palauan sentence has two adjacent clauses whose subjects refer to exactly the same person (or thing), then the subject of the second clause must be a pronoun. If we assume a sentence like 36 to be basic because the full subject is specified in the second clause, we can say that 35a is derived from it simply by pronominalizing the 93second occurrence of Droteo. In other words, 35a is formed by the process of pronominalization, which replaces the second occur­rence of some fully-specified subject by the appropriate third person non-emphatic pronoun. When we say “appropriate”, we mean that the non-emphatic pronoun must agree in number with the fully-specified subject which it replaces: thus, ng ‘he’ of 35a replaces the singular subject Droteo, while ‘they’ of 35b sub­stitutes for the plural subject rȩsȩchȩlik ‘my friends’.

Some other sentences in which the second occurrence of a subject has been pronominalized are given below:

(37) a.   A John a mlo smechȩr mȩ ng mlo ȩr a hospital.
    ‘John got sick, so he went to the hospital.’
  b. A Toki a dilu ȩl kmo ng mong.5
    ‘Toki said she is going.’
  c. A lsȩkum a Droteo a me e ng me kie ȩr a blik.
    ‘If Droteo comes, he will stay at my house.’
  d. A lak losuub a rȩsȩchȩlik e tȩ mo fail ȩr a test.
    ‘If my friends don’t study, they will fail the test.’

The various grammatical structures found in the examples of 37 are beyond the scope of our present discussion and will be dealt with in later chapters. Before leaving these examples, however, we should note that pronominalization can only apply to the second (or rightmost) occurrence of the subject, but not to the first (or leftmost) occurrence. If we try to apply pronominalization “left­wards” rather than “rightwards”, we do not get a correct sentence with the intended meaning. With 37a, for example, compare the following:

(38) Ng mlo smechȩr mȩ a John a mlo ȩr a hospital.
  ‘He got sick, so John went to the hospital [to get him some medicine, etc.].’

Example 38 is different in meaning from 37a and can only make sense if ng ‘he’ of the first clause and John of the second clause are interpreted as referring to different persons; also, 38 would only be acceptable if both speaker and hearer knew whom the pronominal subject ng referred to.

So far we have only seen sentences in which pronominaliza­tion applies to the subject of the second clause. It is also possible for pronominalization to apply to an object or to a possessor fol­lowing ȩr, as in the following examples:

(39) a.   Ak lilȩchȩsii a babier e a Droteo a mlo send ȩr ngii.
    ‘I wrote the letter and Droteo mailed it.’ 94
  b. A lsȩkum a Droteo a mo ȩr a party, e ak mo omes ȩr ngii.
    ‘If Droteo goes to the party, then I’ll be seeing him (there).’
  c. A lsȩkum ak mȩsa a Droteo ȩr a klukuk, e ak longir a hong ȩr ngii.
    ‘If I see Droteo tomorrow, I’ll borrow his book.’

As these sentences show, an emphatic pronoun (rather than a non-emphatic pronoun) appears after the specifying word ȩr or the relational word ȩr when an object or a possessor is pronomina­lized. Similar to the above sentences is the dialog of 16, which we repeat here for convenience as 40:

(40) A: Kȩ, mla mo mȩrek ȩr a babier?
    ‘Have you finished (writing) the letter?’
  B: Ng diak. Ak dirk mȩluchȩs ȩr ngii.
    ‘No. I’m still writing it.’

In the above dialog, we can say that the ngii in B’s response results from applying pronominalization to a second occurrence of babier ‘letter’; the first occurrence of babier is to be found, of course, in A’s question. Thus we can see that pronominalization can apply between two separate sentences, as in the dialog of 40, or between clauses of one and the same sentence, as in 35, 37, and 39 above.


In the remaining sections of this chapter we will examine two types of Palauan affix pronouns in detail. A third type—the pos­sessor suffixes—was discussed extensively in 3.13 and needs no further consideration.

Palauan has a set of affix pronouns which appear as suffixes on verbs. Since these pronouns always identify the object of the verli—i.e., the person or thing affected by the action which the verb designates—they will be called object pronouns. As we might expect, the object pronouns show person-number distinctions identical to those found among the independent pronouns. In the list below, the most frequently-occurring form of each object pronoun is given; the emphatic pronouns (cf. 4.2 above) are also listed for purposes of comparison:

(41)   Object Pronouns Emphatic Pronouns
  1st pers sg           -ak           ngak
  2nd pers sg           -au           kau
  3rd pers sg           -ii           ngii 95
  1st pers pl incl           -id           kid
  1st pers pl excl           -ȩmam           kȩmam
  2nd pers pl           -ȩmiu           kȩmiu
  3rd pers pl           -tȩrir           tir

As you can see, the object pronouns and the emphatic pronouns are very closely related in form: except for the third person (hu­man) plural, all of the object pronouns can be derived from the corresponding emphatic pronoun simply by removing the initial consonant (ng or k) from the latter. Further similarities in form will be noted below.

For purposes of identification, we will use the term perfective verb to refer to any verb form which contains a suffixed object pronoun. The term “perfective” reflects the meaning of such forms, since any verb form with a suffixed object pronoun desig­nates an action which is brought to completion or perfection. In this section, we will not be particularly concerned with the mean­ing of perfective verbs, nor with the contrast between perfective and imperfective verbs; these topics will be taken up in chap. 12. Rather, we will focus most of our attention on the way in which object pronouns attach to verb stems to form perfective verbs.

In the list below the perfective forms of the Palauan verb mȩngȩlebȩd ‘hit’ are given. Each perfective form consists of the verb stem cholȩbȩd- followed by one of the object pronouns listed in 41. The object pronouns are always stressed (cf. 1.4.2).

(42) cholȩbȩdák ‘hits me’
  cholȩbȩdáu ‘hits you (sg.)’
  cholȩbȩdii ‘hits him/her/it’
  cholȩbȩdíd ‘hits us (incl.)’
  cholȩbȩdȩmám ‘hits us (excl.)’
  cholȩbȩdȩmíu ‘hits you (pl.)’
  cholȩbȩdȩtȩrír ‘hits them’

You will notice that the verb stem cholȩbȩd- which occurs in the perfective forms of 42 is phonetically quite different from the related (imperfective) verb mȩngȩlebȩd ‘hit’. Some of the phonetic changes observed between these two forms—for example, the appearance of the vowel o in the first syllable of the perfective verbs, or the alternation between the consonants ch and ng—re­quire lengthy explanation and will not be discussed until 5.5 and 6.3.12. Other changes, however, should not be difficult to under­stand because they involve the principle of vowel reduction ex­plained in 3.4. 96

Recall that all of the full vowels of Palauan can reduce to ȩ ([ǝ]=schwa) in unstressed syllables. This is precisely what happens to the vowel between l and b in the forms under discussion: in mȩngȩlébȩd [mǝŋǝlέbǝð], we have the stressed full vowel e [ε], but in cholȩbȩdíi [ɂolǝbǝðíy] this very same vowel has reduced to ȩ [ǝ] because it is no longer in a stressed syllable. The only remaining phonetic detail in the forms of 42 which we need to mention is the extra ȩ between the verb stem and the third person plural object pronoun -tȩrir: this ȩ is added to break up an unpronounceable sequence of consonants (cf. 1.4.5).

4.9.1. The Zero (Ø) Object Pronoun

The perfective verb forms listed in 42 are used in sentences like the following:

(43) a. A sensei a cholȩbȩdau! ‘(Watch out!) The teacher is going to hit you (by accident)!’/ ‘The teacher will hit you (if you misbehave).’
  b. A John a cholȩbȩdii a Toki! ‘John is going to hit Toki!’/ ‘John will hit Toki (if she misbehaves).’
  c. A Droteo a cholȩbȩdȩ­tȩrir a rȩngalȩk! ‘Droteo is going to hit the children!’/ ‘Droteo will hit the children (if they misbehave).’

As 43b and 43c show, perfective verbs with a third person object pronoun suffix can be followed by a noun phrase which specifically identifies the object. A principle of “agreement” is involved, since -ii must be followed by a specific object which is singular (e.g. Toki), while -tȩrir requires a specific object which is plural (e.g. rȩngalȩk ‘children’). Thus, in 43b and 43c the object of the sentence is indicated in two places—as a suffix on the perfective verb and as a noun phrase following the perfective verb.

Now, with 43b and 43c, compare the following sentence, which is similar in pattern:

(44) A ngalȩk a cholebȩd a bilis!
  ‘The child is going to hit the dogs!’

The form cholebȩd in 44 is also a perfective verb form, but one which does not seem to have any object pronoun suffix. For this reason, we did not list this form in 42. In this form, the absence of 97any object pronoun suffix results in a particular meaning: cholebȩ can only be used if the object is non-human plural, as in 44. Because the form cholebȩd forms a set (or paradigm) with the other perfec­tive verb forms listed in 42, many linguists would attempt to assign cholebȩd a structure similar to that of the other perfective forms, which consist of verb stem + object pronoun. If cholebȩd is to have this very same structure, it will be necessary to propose a kind of “phantom” object pronoun for non-human plural objects, an object pronoun which is not realized as any actual sounds but which nevertheless has “structural significance” because it con­trasts with the other object pronouns. Using this analysis, linguists would say that there is a zero (symbol: Ø) object pronoun which is suffixed to perfective verbs when the object is non-human plural. Thus, all the perfective forms of a given verb would be identical in pattern, as indicated in the abbreviated list below:

(45) Verb stem +     Object pronoun
  cholȩbȩd +     ak ‘hits me’
  cholebȩd +     Ø6 ‘hits them (e.g., the dogs)’
  cholȩbȩd + ȩ + tȩrir ‘hits them (e.g., the people’)

From the above discussion, we can see that the third person object pronouns work somewhat differently from the third person pronouns of other pronoun sets. In 2.4, we observed that there is only a two-way distinction among third person non-emphatic pronouns: ‘they’ refers exclusively to human plural, while ng ‘he, she, it, they’ refers to all singulars as well as to non-human plural. By contrast, the third person object pronouns under consideration in this section show a three-way distinction: -tȩrir is used ex­clusively for human plural objects,-Ø is used for non-human plural objects, and -ii is used for all singular objects. Note that both the object pronouns and the non-emphatic pronouns highlight the significance of the distinction human vs. non-human, since in each set different pronouns are used for human vs. non-human plural ( vs. ng and -tȩrir vs. ).

4.9.2. Further Examples of Perfective Verb Forms

As we will see in 5.3, all Palauan verbs show three major distinc­tions of tense. Verbs in the present tense usually describe something that is going on at the time the speaker utters the sentence, but certain present tense verb forms can also refer to an imminent event, one which is just about to happen. Verbs in the past tense 98describe something which took place in the past, at a point in time which precedes that of the utterance. Finally, verbs in the future tense refer to something which will occur in the future, at some point in time which follows that of the utterance.

Perfective verb forms of course show the above-mentioned distinctions of tense. The forms choiȩbȩdak ‘hits me’, cholȩbȩdau ‘hits you’, etc. listed in 42 and illustrated in the sentences of 43 and 44 are all in the present tense. As the English equivalents of 43 and 44 indicate, Palauan perfective verbs in the present tense express events which are imminent or which appear likely to oc­cur; for this reason, the examples in 43 and 44 are interpreted as warnings or as precautionary suggestions. The past tense forms of the perfective verbs of 42 are chillȩbȩdak ‘hit me’, chillȩbȩdau ‘hit you’, etc. These simply refer to past events and have no connota­tion of warning or precaution, as in the examples below:

(46) a. A sensei a chillȩbȩdak.
    ‘The teacher hit me.’
  b. A ngalȩk a chillebȩd a bilis.
    ‘The child hit the dogs.’

There are many Palauan verbs whose perfective forms end in the object pronouns listed in 41. As a further example, let us observe the (future) perfective forms of olȩkiis ‘wake up someone/ something (naturally or intentionally)’,7 which are illustrated in the set of sentences below:

(47) a. A Droteo a mo okisák.
    ‘Droteo will wake me up.’
  b. A Droteo a mo okisáu.
    ‘Droteo will wake you (sg.) up.’
  c. A Droteo a mo okisíi a Toki.
    ‘Droteo will wake up Toki.’
  d. A Droteo a mo okisíd.
    ‘Droteo will wake us (incl.) up.’
  e. A Droteo a mo okisȩmám.
    ‘Droteo will wake us (excl.) up.’
  f. A Droteo a mo okisȩmíu.
    ‘Droteo will wake you (pl.) up.’
  g. A Droteo a mo okistȩrír a rȩngalȩk.
    ‘Droteo will wake up the children.’
  h. A Droteo a mo okíis a bilis.
    ‘Droteo will wake up the dogs.’ 99

The future perfective forms of olȩkiis given above consist of the future “marker” mo (which is actually the Palauan verb meaning ‘go’) followed by the present perfective forms okisak, okisau, etc. Notice that the verb stem oki(i)s- appearing in the perfective forms of 47 is phonetically quite different from the related (imperfective) verb olȩkiis ‘wake up someone/something (naturally or intentionally).’ In all the perfective forms, the sequence -lȩ- of olȩkiis has disappeared; furthermore, we recognize an alternation between ii and i. This alternation can be explained by the very same principle of vowel reduction which we cited in 3.4.2 to ac­count for the alternation between long and short vowels in nouns and their possessed forms such as oríik ‘broom’ and orikék ‘my broom’. In other words, the long vowel ii appears in stressed syllables in olȩkíis (the imperfective verb) and okíis (the perfective form for third person plural non-human objects), but reduces to short i when it appears in unstressed syllables in okisák, okisáu, etc.

In the discussion above we have seen how the object pronouns of 41 appear as suffixes in the perfective forms of verbs such as mȩngȩlebȩd ‘hit’ (see 42) and olȩkiis ‘wake up’ (see 47). Several other verbs whose perfective forms end in the object pronouns of 41 are mȩsebȩk ‘kick’ (perfective forms: sobȩkak ‘kicks me’, sobȩ­kau ‘kicks you’, silȩbȩkii ‘kicked him/her/it’, silȩbȩkȩtȩrir ‘kicked them’, etc.), mȩngimd ‘cut (someone’s hair)’ (perfective forms: kimdak ‘cuts my hair’, kimdau ‘cuts your hair’, kilȩmdii ‘cut his/her hair’, kilȩmdȩtȩrir ‘cut their hair’, etc.), and olȩchiis ‘chase’ (perfective forms: ochisak ‘chases me’, ochisau ‘chases you’, ulȩchisii ‘chased him/her/it’, ulȩchistȩrir ‘chased them’, etc.).

4.9.3. Verbs with Limited Perfective Forms

There are many Palauan verbs whose meaning determines that they can take only inanimate objects—i.e., ones that are non-human and non-living. For example, the actions described by verbs like mȩluchȩs ‘write’, mȩngitakl ‘sing’, mȩlasȩch ‘carve’, mȩngiis ‘dig’, mȩnguiu ‘read’, etc. can only be directed at things: in other words, human beings (and animals) cannot be ‘written’, ‘sung’, ‘carved’, ‘dug’, or ‘read’. For this reason, the perfective forms which such verbs can have are limited to those with the third person singular object pronoun -ii (in which case reference is made to an inanimate singular object) and to those with the third person plural non-human object pronoun (in which case re­ference is made to an inanimate plural object). Thus, the only 100possible (past) perfective forms for mȩluchȩs ‘write’ and mȩngitakl ‘sing’ are illustrated in the sentences below:

(48) a. A Droteo a lilȩchȩsii a babier.
    ‘Droteo wrote the letter.’
  b. A Droteo a liluchȩs a babier.
    ‘Droteo wrote the letters.’
(49) a. A Droteo a chilȩtȩklii a chȩlitakl.
    ‘Droteo sang the song.’
  b. A Droteo a chilitakl a chȩlitakl.
    ‘Droteo sang the songs.’

Forms like *lilȩchȩsak (‘wrote me’), *chilȩtȩklau (‘sang you’), etc. do not occur because they do not make any sense.

Some verbs which ordinarily take inanimate objects are occasionally observed to occur with human objects. For example, the (past) perfective forms of mȩleng ‘borrow’ are usually limited to those illustrated in the examples below:

(50) a. Ak lilȩngir8 a mlil a Cisco.
    ‘I borrowed Cisco’s car.’
  b. Ak lileng a mlil a Cisco.
    ‘I borrowed Cisco’s cars.’

But we sometimes see perfective forms of mȩleng ‘borrow’ with a suffixed third person plural human object pronoun, as in the following:

(51) Ng sȩbȩchek ȩl longȩtȩrir a bebil ȩr a rȩchȩdam?
  ‘Could I borrow (the services of) a few of your men?’

4.9.4. Variant Forms of the Object Pronouns

In the perfective forms of certain verbs we observe object pro­noun suffixes which differ from those listed in 41. These variant forms, which occur much less frequently than those of 41, are best regarded as exceptional or irregular since there is no apparent way of predicting which verb stems they will attach to. For this reason, the foreigner learning Palauan has no choice but to memorize the correct distribution of these variant forms.

The perfective forms of a few verbs take the object pronouns given in 41, except that a consonant—ng or k—is inserted between the verb stem and the object pronoun suffixes. Note, for example, the (past) perfective forms of olȩkar ‘wake up someone/something (by creating a disturbance)9:101

(52) ulȩkȩrngák ‘woke me up’
  ulȩkȩrngáu ‘woke you (sg.) up’
  ulȩkȩrngíi ‘woke him/her/it up’
  ulȩkȩrngíd ‘woke us (incl.) up’
  ulȩkȩrngȩmám ‘woke us (excl.) up’
  ulȩkȩrngȩmíu ‘woke you (pl.) up’
  ulȩkȩrngȩtȩrír ‘woke them (hum.) up’
  ulȩkár ‘woke them (non-hum.) up’

Can you explain why olȩkar (the imperfective form) and ulȩkar (the past perfective form for third person plural non-human object) have the full vowel a between k and r, while all the other perfective forms show ȩ in this position? Another verb whose perfective forms have an ng inserted between the verb stem and an object pronoun suffix is mȩles ‘slice’. Because this verb requires non-human objects, the only occurring (present) perfective forms are dosȩngii ‘slices it’ and dmes ‘slices them’.

The perfective forms of omes ‘see’, mȩdȩnge ‘know’, oba ‘carry, take’, and mȩlai ‘bring, take’ have a k between the verb stem and most of the object pronouns. In the list below, the per­fective forms of these verbs are given in the present tense:

(53) Person and Number
of Object Pronoun
omes ‘see’ mȩdȩnge ‘know’
  1st pers sg mȩsȩkak mȩdȩngȩlkak
  2nd pers sg mȩsȩkau mȩdȩngȩlkau
  3rd pers sg mȩsa mȩdȩngȩlii
  1st pers pl incl mȩsȩkid mȩdȩngȩlkid
  1st pers pl excl mȩsȩkȩmam mȩdȩngȩlkȩmam
  2nd pers pl mȩsȩkȩmiu mȩdȩngȩlkȩmiu
  3rd pers pl hum mȩs(ȩ)tȩrir mȩdȩngȩltȩrir
  3rd pers pl non-hum mes mȩdȩnge
    oba ‘carry, take’ mȩlai ‘bring, take’
  1st pers sg obȩkak ngoikak
  2nd pers sg obȩkau ngoikau
  3rd pers sg oba nguu
  1st pers pl incl obȩkid ngoikid
  1st pers pl excl obȩkȩmam ngoikȩmam
  2nd pers pl obȩkȩmiu ngoikȩmiu
  3rd pers pl hum obȩ(ti)tȩrir ngoititȩrir
  3rd pers pl non-hum olab ngmai 102

The above paradigms for omes ‘see’, mȩdȩnge ‘know’, oba ‘carry, take’, and mȩlai ‘bring, take’ exhibit the following unusual features:

     (a) In all paradigms, no k is found in those perfective forms having a suffixed third person object pronoun.
  (b) In the paradigm of omes ‘see’, a ȩ sound is inserted be­tween the final s of the verb stem and the initial k of the object pronoun. Insertion of this ȩ is optional before -tȩrir.10
  (c) The third person singular perfective forms mȩsa ‘sees him/ her/it’ and oba ‘carries him/her/it’ appear to have a pro­noun suffix of the form -a. This form is extremely rare and is found only in these two verbs and in msa ‘give’ (cf. note 10).
  (d) All of the perfective forms of mȩdȩnge ‘know’ have a final l added to the verb stem.11
  (e) The third person singular perfective form nguu ‘brings/ takes it’ is difficult to analyze in terms of verb stem and suffixed object pronoun.
  (f) The third person plural human perfective forms obȩ(ti)tȩrir ‘carries/takes them’ and ngoititȩrir ‘brings/takes them’, have the extra syllable -ti-.12 This extra syllable is optional in the former word, but obligatory in the latter.

The perfective forms of certain verbs have third person singular object pronouns with the structure vowel + r. Some commonly-used verbs which take this type of suffix are given in the list below:

(54) Verb in Imperfective Form    Perfective Form (in Present Tense) with Third Person Singular Object Pronoun
  mȩleng ‘borrow’   longir ‘borrows it’
  mȩrkui ‘finish completely’   rokir ‘finishes it completely’
  olȩngȩseu ‘help’   ngosuir ‘helps him/her’
  oker ‘ask’   korir ‘asks him/her’
  omȩkoad ‘kill’   mȩkodir ‘kills him/her/it’
  omech ‘connect’   mȩchir ‘connects it’
  mȩluk ‘cut into pieces’   tukur ‘cuts it into pieces’
  mȩngam ‘break (long object)’   chumur ‘breaks it’
  mȩngȩsa ‘occupy, make busy’   chosȩngur ‘makes him busy’
  mȩlul ‘burn, barbeque’   durur ‘barbeques it’ 103
  omȩkdȩchor ‘build’   mekȩdȩchȩrur ‘builds it’
  mȩsuk ‘put in’   sukur ‘puts it in’
  mȩsib ‘plow’   sibur ‘plows it’
  mȩngut ‘wear out, make old’   chutur ‘wears it out’
  mȩchar ‘pay for, buy’   mȩchȩrar ‘pays for it’


Palauan has a special set of pronouns which appear as prefixes on verbs in a large variety of complicated grammatical constructions. Because many of these constructions express hypothetical events or situations—i.e., ones which are not real, but which are sup­posed, assumed, or imagined—the term hypothetical has come to be used as an identifying label for the pronoun prefixes as well as the verb forms to which they are attached. Observe the examples below:

(55) a. A kusuub e ak mo pass ȩr a test.
    ‘If I study, I’ll pass the test.’
  b. A losuub e ng mo pass ȩr a test.
    ‘If he studies, he’ll pass the test.’
  c. A dosuub e kȩdȩ mo pass ȩr a test.
    ‘If we (incl.) study, we’ll pass the test.’

The sentences of 55 do not describe facts or real happenings but instead mention hypothetical or imagined situations. In other words, rather than claiming that anyone is actually studying now (or that anyone will definitely study in the future), these sentences propose that if someone studied, then he would be able to pass the test. In the examples of 55, the italicized words kusuub ‘(if) I study’, losuub ‘(if) he/she studies’, and dosuub ‘(if) we (incl.) study’ are all hypothetical verb forms; they consist of a prefixed hypothetical pronoun (ku- ‘I’, lo- ‘he/she’, and do- ‘we (incl.)’) followed by the verb stem (-suub ‘study’).

Each of the hypothetical pronouns has several variant forms whose distribution depends on the type of verb to which they are prefixed. The main purpose of the following sections will be to summarize these variant forms and describe their distribution; the task of analyzing the many constructions in which they occur will be postponed until later chapters.

4.10.1. Hypothetical Pronouns with Imperfective Verbs

In the list below, the present tense hypothetical forms of the verb 104mȩlim ‘drink’ are given. The series of hypothetical pronouns (italicized) occurring in these forms is regularly attached to im­perfective verbs.

(56) Person and Number of Hypothetical Pronoun   Hypothetical Form of mȩlim ‘drink’
  1st pers sg   kulim   ‘(if) I drink’
  2nd pers sg/pl   chomolim   ‘(if) you drink’
  3rd pers sg/pl   lolim   ‘(if) he/she/it/they drink(s)’
  1st pers pl incl   dolim   ‘(if) we (incl.) drink’
  1st pers pl excl   kimolim   ‘(if) we (excl.) drink’

As you can immediately see, the hypothetical pronouns show fewer person-number distinctions than any of the other pronoun sets. The most striking feature is that there is no singular vs. plural distinction for the second and third person pronouns: chomo- ‘you’ can refer to one person or several persons, and lo- ‘he/she/it/they’ serves for any third person whatsoever, whether singular or plural, human or non-human.

The hypothetical forms of mȩlim ‘drink’ given in 56 above are derived simply by replacing the verb marker prefix mȩ- (see 5.4 and chap. 6) by various hypothetical pronouns. In exactly the same way we can derive the hypothetical forms of any imperfec­tive verb which begins with mȩ-. Note, for example, the following partial list:

(57) Imperfective Verb in mȩ- Hypothetical Forms
  mȩsilȩk ‘wash’ kusilȩk, chomosilȩk, losilȩk, etc.
  mȩnguiu ‘read’ kunguiu, chomonguiu, longuiu, etc.
  mȩluchȩs ‘write’ kuluchȩs, chomoluchȩs, loluchȩs, etc.
  mȩngiis ‘dig’ kungiis, chomongiis, longiis, etc.

For those imperfective verbs which begin with o- (which is actu­ally a variant of the verb marker - —see 6.1), the initial o- is dropped before adding the hypothetical pronouns of 56. The hypothetical forms of such verbs are illustrated in the partial list below:

(58) Imperfective Verb in o- Hypothetical Forms
  omes ‘see’ kumes, chomomes, lomes, etc.
  orrengȩs ‘hear’ kurrengȩs, chomorrengȩs, lorrengȩs, etc.
  osiik ‘look for’ kusiik, chomosiik, losiik, etc. 105

4.10.2. Hypothetical Pronouns as Agents

In all hypothetical verb forms, the prefixed hypothetical pronoun designates the doer (or agent) of some action (or, as we will see in 4.10.5 below, the person or thing characterized by a particular state or condition). Observe the use of the hypothetical verb forms in the examples below:

(59) a. Ng soak a ngȩlȩkek a losuub.
    ‘I want my child to study.’
  b. Ng chȩtik a chomolamȩch a dȩkool.
    ‘I don’t like you to smoke cigarettes.’
  c. A Toki a longȩlebȩd ȩr ngii a Droteo.
    ‘Toki is being hit by Droteo.’
  d. A babier a kuluchȩs ȩr ngii.
    ‘The letter is being written by me.’

In all of the sentences of 59, the italicized hypothetical pronouns either refer to or identify the agent. In 59a, the prefix lo- of losuub tells us that it is some third person who is expected to study, and the specific noun ngȩlȩkek ‘my child’ establishes this person’s identity. And in 59b, the prefix chomo- of chomolamȩch makes it clear that it is the person being spoken to who is getting scolded for smoking. Sentences 59c and 59d are passive sentences (see 5.6 and 19.7) in which the person or thing being affected by the action (Toki in 59c and babier ‘letter’ in 59d) appears in sentence-initial position and is followed by a hypothetical verb form which refers to or identifies the agent. In other words, in 59c lo- of longȩlebȩd tells us that it is some third person who is hitting Toki, and the specific noun Droteo gives the person’s exact identity. And in 59d, ku- of kuluchȩs makes it clear that it is the speaker who is engaging in the activity of writing the letter.

4.10.3. Hypothetical Pronouns with the Past Tense

The hypothetical forms of mȩlim ‘drink’ listed in 56 are in the present tense. If we compare the past tense hypothetical forms of this verb, we notice some changes in the prefixed hypothetical pronouns:

(60) 1st pers sg kullim ‘was drunk by me’
  2nd pers sg/pl (cho)mullim ‘was drunk by you’
  3rd pers sg/pl lullim ‘was drunk by him/her/it’
  1st pers pl incl dullim ‘was drunk by us (incl.)’
  1st pers pl excl kimullim ‘was drunk by us (excl.)’ 106

The hypothetical verb forms in 60 consist of a prefixed hypotheti­cal pronoun, followed by the past tense marker -l- (see 5.3.2), followed by the verb stem -lim.13 Notice that the hypothetical pronouns which are o- final in 56 are u- final in 60.14 In addition, the first syllable of the second person hypothetical pronoun chomu- is often dropped, resulting in mu-. A similar shortening of chomo- of 56 to mo- is found among many speakers, especially if particular constructions are involved. Thus, while most speakers use the “full” form chomo- if the hypothetical verb form is in a question such as

(61) a. Ngara ȩl tȩkoi a chomosuub ȩr a elȩchang?
    ‘What language are you studying now?’

many of these same speakers prefer the shortened form mo- if the hypothetical verb form is part of a relative clause (see chap. 23):

(62) a. A babier ȩl moluchȩs ȩr ngii a mo ȩr a Droteo.15
    ‘The letter you’re writing goes to Droteo.’
  b. A blai ȩl moruul ȩr ngii a kmal klou.
    ‘The house you’re building is very large.’

4.10.4. Reduced Variants of the Hypothetical Pronouns

The hypothetical forms of mo ‘go’ and me ‘come’ exhibit yet another set of hypothetical pronoun prefixes, as in the following:

(63)   mo ‘go’ me ‘come’
  1st pers sg kbo me
  2nd pers sg/pl chobo chome
  3rd pers sg/pl bo me
  1st pers pl incl bo me
  1st pers pl excl kibo kime

Notice that the m of mo ‘go’ changes to b in all of the hypothetical forms.16 A similar change is observed in the hypothetical forms of certain perfective verbs such as msa ‘give’ (kbsa ‘(if) I give (it to) him/her’, lȩbȩskak ‘(if) he gives (it to) me’, etc.) and mosii ‘shoot him/her/it’ (kbosii ‘(if) I shoot him/her/it’, lȩbosii ‘(if) he shoots him/her/it’, etc.). The italicized hypothetical pronouns of 63 appear to be reduced forms of those listed in 56. In other words, the full vowels in ku-, lo- and do- of 56 have reduced to the neutral vowel ȩ (schwa) to give kȩ-, lȩ-, and dȩ- of 63; and in kbo ‘(if) I go’, the prefix kȩ- has further reduced to k- before the verb stem 107bo ‘go’. In addition, the second syllable in chomo- and kimo- of 56 has been lost to give cho- and ki- of 63.

Several sentences containing the hypothetical forms of mo ‘go’ and me ‘come’ are now given (the hypothetical pronouns are italicized):

(64) a. A kbo ȩr a Guam, e ak mo kie ȩr a blil a Toki.
    ‘If I go to Guam, I’ll stay at Toki’s house.’
  b. A me a Droteo, e ng me kie ȩr a blik.
    ‘If Droteo comes, he’ll stay at my house.’
  c. Ng diak bo ȩr a party.
    ‘He’s not going to the party.’
  d. Ng diak chome ȩr a blik?
    ‘Aren’t you coming to my house?’

In the pronunciation of 64d, the initial ch of cho- ‘you’ is usually deleted following the final k of diak ‘isn’t’, which is then pro­nounced as [g] because of its intervocalic position (cf. 1.3.1). Therefore, diak chome is pronounced as [ðiagomε].

4.10.5. Distribution of the Reduced Variants

The reduced variants of the hypothetical pronouns given in 63 above have a very wide distribution. In the paragraphs below, we will discuss and illustrate the different environments in which they are observed to occur.

As opposed to the hypothetical forms of imperfective verbs, which take the longer variants of the hypothetical pronouns listed in 56 and 60, the hypothetical forms of perfective verbs (cf. 4.9 and 4.9.2 above) usually contain the reduced variants observed in 63. In the examples which follow, the italicized hypothetical pro­nouns are prefixed to perfective verb forms:

(65) a.   A hong a kbilsa a sȩchȩlik.
    ‘The book was given by me to my friend.’
  b. Ng dimlak kbosii a bilis.
    ‘I didn’t shoot the dog’.
  c. A blai ȩl silsȩbii a buik a blil a Toki.
    ‘The house which was burned down by the boy is Toki’s house.’
  d. A Droteo a dimlak ngai a ilumȩl.
    ‘Droteo didn’t bring the drinks.’
  e. A present a bilskak a Droteo.
    ‘The present was given to me by Droteo.’ 108
  f. A Satsko a dimlak ngȩsuir a Toki ȩl rȩmuul a subȩlel.
    ‘Satsko didn’t help Toki do her homework.’
  g. A kall ȩl kila a Droteo a mle bȩdȩrȩchuis.
    ‘The food which Droteo ate was spoiled.’
  h. A hong a chobilskak.
    ‘The book was given to me by you.’
  i. Ng tela ȩl biang a chomȩngilim?
    ‘How many beers did you drink?’
  j. Ng tela ȩl ngikȩl a chomȩkilang?
    ‘How many fish did you eat?’

In all of the above sentences except 65i and 65j, the italicized pronouns are reduced variants with which we are already familiar. In 65i and 65j we encounter still another variant of the second person hypothetical pronoun: in these examples, chomȩ- appears to be derived from chomo- by reduction of the full vowel o to ȩ.

So far we have only looked at the hypothetical forms of verbs like mȩsuub ‘study’, mȩlim ‘drink’, mȩluchȩs ‘write’, msa ‘give’, mo ‘go’, me ‘come’, etc., all of which designate actions or activities. Verbs which describe states or conditions rather than actions also have hypothetical forms, as the examples below illustrate:

(66) a.   Ng diak ksechȩr.
    ‘I’m not sick.’
  b. A mlik a diak klou.
    ‘My car isn’t that big/big enough.’
  c. A mubi a dimlak mȩkngit.
    ‘The movie wasn’t bad.’
  d. A ngar ȩr ngii a ududek, e ak mo ȩr a Guam.
    ‘If I had the money, I’d go to Guam.’

We can see from the above examples that the reduced variants of the hypothetical pronouns are used if the verb describes a state or condition. The italicized hypothetical pronouns in 66 either identify or refer to the person or thing characterized by the partic­ular state or condition. In 66a, for instance, the prefix k- makes it clear that it is the speaker of the sentence who is sick; and in 66c, the prefix lȩ- refers to the third person inanimate subject mubi ‘movie.’

It is even possible for nouns to take prefixed hypothetical pronouns in certain constructions. As the following examples show, the reduced variants are used in such cases:

(67) a.   Ng diak ksensei.
    ‘I’m not a teacher.’ 109
  b. Ak mo olȩngull se ȩl kbo krubak.
    ‘I’m going to take things easy when I get to be an old man.’
  c. Tȩ me ȩr a blik a {lȩtutau / lȩsuelȩb}.
    ‘They come to my house in the {morning / afternoon}.’

In 67a and 67b, the hypothetical pronoun k- is prefixed to the nouns sensei ‘teacher’ and rubak ‘old man’, which identify cate­gories or types of persons. And in 67c, the hypothetical pronoun lȩ- precedes the time words tutau ‘morning’ and suelȩb ‘afternoon’. The grammatical constructions found in the sentences of 67 will be dealt with elsewhere in the text.

4.10.6. Hypothetical Forms of Complex Verb Phrases

As we will see in, 5.3.3, and 19.7.2, Palauan has several types of complex verb phrases which consist of two, or possibly three, separate words. Some typical examples of such verb phrases include mo omes ‘go see, will see’, mo ungil ‘get better’, me mȩngȩt­mokl ‘come (in order to) clean’, mla mo mȩrek ‘has finished’, etc. When a complex verb phrase occurs in a construction which re­quires a hypothetical verb form, a hypothetical pronoun is often prefixed to each of its parts. Observe the following sentences:

(68) a.   A mubi ȩl kbo kumes ȩr ngii a mubi ȩr a Dois.
    ‘The movie which I am going to see is a German movie.’
  b. Ngara ȩl mubi a chobo (cho)momes ȩr ngii?
    ‘What kind of movie are you going to see?’
  c. Ng dirkak kbo kmȩrek ȩr a subȩlek.
    ‘I haven’t finished my homework yet.’
  d. A ngȩlȩkek a dirkak bo lungil17 ȩl smechȩr.
    ‘My child hasn’t gotten well yet.’
  e. A bo lsechȩr18 a Droteo, e ng diak lȩbo ȩr a skuul.
    ‘If Droteo gets sick, he won’t go to school.’
  f. A babier ȩl lebla bo mȩrek ȩr ngii a Droteo a mo ȩr a Toki.
    ‘The letter which Droteo has just finished (writing) goes to Toki.’

A similar case of multiple occurrence of hypothetical pronouns is found in 67b, where both the verb bo ‘become’ and the following noun (rubak ‘old man’) are prefixed with k-.

In the hypothetical forms of complex verb phrases such as those illustrated in 68 above, Palauan speakers often omit the 110first occurrence of the hypothetical pronoun. This occurs most often in rapid, casual speech and when the third person hypotheti­cal pronoun is involved. Thus, the following sentence is perfectly acceptable:

(69) A babier a bo loluchȩs ȩr ngii a Satsko.
  ‘The letter will be written by Satsko.’

Can you speculate why it would make no difference to omit the prefix lȩ- from bo in the example above?

4.10.7. Imperative Verb Forms

As we will see in 19.5, imperative verb forms are used to express orders or commands. Since commands are always directed at the person or persons being spoken to, they necessarily entail second person pronouns. Therefore, it should not be surprising that Palauan imperative verb forms are nothing more than hypotheti­cal verb forms which have a prefixed second person hypothetical pronoun.

In 4.10.3 above, we saw that the second person hypothetical pronoun chomo- is shortened to mo- in certain constructions. This shortened form mo- also appears in the hypothetical forms of imperfective verbs when they are used as imperatives. Observe the following sentences:

(70) a. Mosilȩk ȩr a bilem!
    ‘Wash your clothes!’
  b. Monga ȩr a ngikȩl!
    ‘Eat the fish!’
  c. Monguiu ȩr a hong!
    ‘Read the book!’

In the examples of 70, the prefixed hypothetical pronoun mo-identifies the agent—i.e., the person who is expected to carry out the action in question.

If the imperative verb form is perfective, the second person hypothetical pronoun appears as m-, as in the examples below:

(71) a. Mngilmii a imȩlem!
    ‘Finish up your drink!’
  b. Mlȩchȩsii a babier!
    ‘Write the letter!’
  c. Mkȩtmokl a delmȩrab!
    ‘Straighten up the rooms!’ 111
  d. Mtȩchȩlbȩtȩrir a rȩngalȩk!
    ‘Bathe the children!’
  e. Mchȩlebȩd a bilis!
    ‘Hit the dogs!’

In all of the imperative verb forms of 71, the prefixed second person hypothetical pronoun is pronounced as a separate sylla­ble—i.e., as [ṃ] (cf. 1.3.5).

4.10.8. Propositive Verb Forms

As we will see in 19.6, propositive verb forms are used when the speaker proposes or suggests that he and the person spoken to do some action together. As the examples below illustrate, Palauan propositive verb forms are nothing more than hypothetical verb forms with first person plural inclusive hypothetical pronouns:

(72) a.   Dorael!
    ‘Let’s go!’
  b. Domȩngur ȩr tiang!
    ‘Let’s eat here!’
  c. bo dolim a biang!
    ‘Let’s go drink a beer!’
  d. kiiȩsii a kliokl e dolȩngull kung.
    ‘Let’s dig the hole (now) and rest later.’

Can you explain the distribution of do- vs. dȩ- in the sentences of 72?

4.10.9. Summary of Hypothetical Pronouns

The list below summarizes the many variant forms of the hypo­thetical pronouns which we have had occasion to mention in the sections above:

(73) Person and Number of Hypothetical Pronoun Variant Forms
  1st pers sg ku-, kȩ-, k-
  2nd pers sg/pl chomo-, mo-, chomu-, mu-, cho-, chomȩ-, m-
  3rd pers sg/pl lo-, lu-, lȩ-, l-
  1st pers pl incl do-, du-, dȩ-
  1st pers pl excl kimo-, kimu-, ki-


Tia a mlil (a) tȩchang?     ‘Whose car is this?’

*9. Olȩkar is a causative verb related to the intransitive action or state verb mȩkar ‘wake up, be awake’. See 7.3 and 9.2.2 for further details.

*13. Strictly speaking, -lim is not a verb stem but rather a sequence consisting of the -l- allomorph of the imperfective marker (see 5.5) and a reduced form of the verb stem ŋim ‘drink’.

*14. For a possible explanation of this change from o to u, see chap.5, note 4.

A babier ȩl chomoluchȩs ȩr ngii a mo ȩr a Droteo.
‘The letter yóu’re writing goes to Droteo.’ 500

a.     A kall ȩl kbe kuruul ng kȩlel a tȩchang?      ‘For whom is the food which I’m coming to prepare?’
b.   A blai ȩl be longȩt-mokl ȩr ngii a Toki a blil a Droteo.     ‘The house which Toki is coming to clean is Droteo’s house.’

In the sentences above, the verbs following kbe and lȩbe are also hypothetical verb forms. Further examples of this kind, in which two adjacent verbs each have prefixed hypothetical pronouns, will be considered in 4.10.6 below.

1. These two terms are taken from Mancill and Woods 1969:46.

2. Recall that and a following a are pronounced [ma].

3. Many speakers pronounce the coordinate noun phrase in this sen­tence with [mǝ] between the two nouns. In other words, it appears as if the question noun tȩcha ‘who?’ is optionally preceded by a in this construction. A similar phenomenon is found in noun phrases of possession containing tȩcha, as illustrated in the following sentence:

4. When the possessed form of reng ‘heart’ is used with the verb suebȩk ‘fly’, we obtain the special meaning ‘(someone) is worried’. For a discussion of other special expressions with reng, see 17.4.

5. In this sentence, ng could refer to someone other than Toki if that person’s identity were clear from the context. Therefore, 37b might also mean ‘Toki said that he is going.’

6. Because there is a Ø-suffix in cholébȩd [ɂolέbǝð], the stress remains on the second syllable; therefore, the vowel e [ε] of this syllable does not reduce to ȩ [ǝ].

7. Olȩkiis is a causative verb related to the intransitive action verb mȩkiis ‘get up, wake up (naturally); stand up’. See 5.1.1 and 9.2.2 for further details.

8. Notice that the third person singular object pronoun appears as -ir in this perfective form. See 4.9.4 below for more details.

10. The inserted ȩ under discussion here is the only sound which differ­entiates certain perfective forms of omes ‘see’ from those of omes ‘give’. The perfective forms of the latter verb are mȩskak ‘gives (it to) me’, mȩskau ‘gives (it to) you’, msa ‘gives (it to) him/her’, mȩstȩrir ‘gives (it to) them’, etc.

11. Another verb in which l appears in the perfective forms is mȩnga ‘eat’—kolii ‘eats it’.

12. This added syllable seems to be a kind of reduplication (see 11.11).

15. For certain speakers, replacing mo- by chomo- in a sentence like this results in a kind of contrastive emphasis (cf. 4.2 above). Thus, we also have the following:

16. For a technical explanation of this alternation between m and b, see 6.2.1. Note, further, that Palauan speakers also change m to b in the hypothetical forms of me ‘come’ when certain types of gram­matical constructions are involved. In the sentences below, for example, we have relative clauses (see chap. 23):

17. Notice that the third person hypothetical pronoun lȩ- further reduces to l- before the vowel-initial (state) verb ungil ‘good’

18. Reduction of lȩ- to l- is also observed in this word.

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