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Noun phrases

Noun phrases identify and describe people, things, places, concepts, and other entities. Noun phrases are made up of several parts, which occur in the following order:

determiners – head noun – modifier words – adjectives – possessive

Except for the head noun, all elements are optional.

Head nouns

The head noun identifies the entity described by the noun phrase, e.g.

arbol – tree
kat – cat
kofi – coffee
tem – time

A head noun by itself can be a complete noun phrase. Nouns looks the same regardless of whether they are used as the subject or object of a verb – case is not marked (WALS 21, 28, 49; APiCS 57). Nor do they change to express number or quantity – these are instead expressed using a quantifier (see below) or referring from the context.

Note that there are no articles – and English words ‘a/an’ and ‘the’ have no equivalent in Lugamun. Usually the context makes it clear whether the noun refers to something already known or something new.

Mi miru kat den laste . Kat li side ni sima cat. – Yesterday I saw a cat. The cat sat on a roof.

In the first sentence, since no kat was mentioned before, one can assume – if there is no additional context – that the cat is not yet known: ‘a cat’. In the second sentence, since kat is mentioned again and there is nothing to suggest otherwise, one can assume that the same cat is meant: ‘the cat’.

Though this might feel unfamiliar at first, usually no articles are needed to get the meaning across.

Should you on occasional really feel the need to make it clear that something not yet known is meant (‘a’/‘an’), you can use the determiners un ‘one’ or eni ‘any’: un kat – ‘a/one cat’.

Should you feel to need to make it clear that something is already known and identifiable, you can use a demonstrative such as ta ‘that’:

Kat li side ni sima ta cat. – The cat sat on a that roof / the roof (over there).

However, such needs will probably arrive rarer than you might think at first.


Determiners give information about how many, how much, or which entities the phrase that follows refer to. In Lugamun, most determiners can be used with verbs as well as with nouns – but in this section we will cover their meaning before nouns. They always precede the word to which they refer.

In Lugamun, two types of determiners can be distinguished.

  • Quantifiers express how much or how many of some entity are meant – they are mostly about quantity, hence the name.
  • Selectors indicate to which individuals a phrase refers to – they select a certain individual or a subgroup of individual entities, hence the name.

Lugamun’s quantifiers are:

  • no – no
  • ol – all (the), the whole of, completely, fully
  • xi – indeed. This doesn’t really change the quantity, it just puts stress on the noun phrase and emphasizes that something is indeed, truly the case or that it’s really the mentioned participant who is involved in the specified act.
  • yo – plurality indicator that can be used if plurality is important and not already indicates in any other way – indicates that two or more individuals or items are meant: yo kat – '(the) cats’.
  • ingi – many, much, a lot, very
  • malo – few, little
  • xye – some (a certain, not exactly specified part or proportion of)

The first four quantifiers are also called “short quantifiers” (with just two letters), while the last three are “long quantifiers” (with three or more letters). This distinction is relevant when it comes to the order of determiners within a noun phrase.

Xi and no are also used to reply to yes/no questions – in this context they are usually translated as ‘yes’ and ‘no’. And they are used as the positive and negative form of a verb known as copula, as will be discussed later.

XXX Translate samples showing how these quantifiers can be used:

  • for ingi: Many children came. We don’t have much time! They have a lot of money.
  • for malo: Few people understand this correctly. We have little time to do it.
  • for no: No man is an island
  • for ol: All my friends hate her. All visitors must register in advance. We were all alone.
  • for xye: Some pupils didn’t show up.

Numbers such as un ‘one’, do ‘two’, tri ‘three’ can be considered quantifiers when placed before a noun – they will be covered in a later chapter.

Ol can be followed by a number to express ‘all of the given quantity’, e.g. ol do ‘both’, ol tri ‘all three’.

XXX Trans: All three restaurants in this street are excellent.

Lugamun’s selectors are:

  • si – this, these. This refers to things or persons that are nearby (physically or conceptually).
  • ta – that, those. This refers to those that are farther away.
  • ke – what. Used in questions to asks about which individual is meant.
  • eni – any, whichever. This expresses that it does not matter to which specific individual one refers.
  • aru – (a) certain, some. This refers an individual know to exist, but about which otherwise nothing in particular is known or considered worth mentioning.
  • kada – every, each, either. This is quite similar to ol, but focused on each individual separately rather than all of them together.
  • otra – other, another
  • sama – same

The last two selectors (otra and sama) are also called “identity selectors”, while the other ones may be called “general selectors”. This is relevant when it comes to the order of determiners within a noun phrase.

XXX Translate samples:

  • avan ta – that cloud
  • si do ruma – these two houses
  • for ke: ?
  • for eni: Press any key to continue. Choose whichever dish you like.
  • for aru: Some people don’t know how lucky they are.
  • for kada: Each candidate has three attempts. I carefully listened to every word.
  • for otra: ?
  • for sama: ?

Since eni and aru refer to subgroups rather than expressing quantities, they can be combined with the quantifiers malo, xye, ingi, yo as well as with numbers. In such combinations, they are usually placed after yo (which, if present, always opens the noun phrase) but before other quantifiers.

XXX Translate samples:

  • eni do: ‘Price, quality, speed – choose any two.’
  • eni malo: ‘Any few people could have done a better job.’ (Any group of a few people…)
  • aru tri: ‘Certain three people didn’t keep return on time.’ (A mother might reproachfully say this to her three children.)
  • yo aru: ‘The company sells certain products that its customers don’t want to miss.’

XXX Order – usually at most one element of each group is present:

  • specific/short quantifiers: no, ol, xi, yo
  • general selectors: si, ta, ke, eni, aru, kada
  • broad/long quantifiers (malo, xye, ingi) + numbers
  • identity selectors: otra, sama

A long quantifier may be followed by a (rounded) number, e.g. malo mil – ‘a few thousand’.

XXX Explain better and more consistently how selectors are used “adverbially” (but without being considered adverbs in our terminology).

Note that especially ingi is also used as an intensifier before other words (verbs, adjectives or adverbs), hence combinations such as malo ingi ‘very few, very little’ or ingi ingi ‘very many, a very high number of’ may occur.

Other quantifiers may likewise be used before verbs and other words, e.g. xye ‘somewhat’.

(XXX Probably don’t allow/encourage this, as it could be confusing – Other deviations might be read with a de between them:

  • eni si – any of these
  • malo si – few of these)

Note: We place determiners before the noun because they are placed there by the clear majority of our source languages. Quantifiers such as ‘all’ and ‘many’ are placed before the noun by all source languages except for Swahili. Question particles such as ‘which’, selectors such as ‘this’, and similarity selectors such as '(an)other’ are placed before the noun by all source languages except for Indonesian and Swahili. The ordering of the determiners themselves follows the typical ordering used by our source languages.

Except for no and yo, all quantifiers can also be used standalone as pronouns, i.e. in place of a full noun phrase. In such cases the context makes it clear whether they refer to persons or to things.

XXX Translate examples:

  • ‘We had invited many people, and all came.’
  • ‘The boy has many toys, but few are his favorites.’
  • ‘I asked three people for the right answer, and each gave a different one.’

no alone should not be used as pronoun, since it is also used to negate verbs which could easily lead to misreadings. Instead the combination no eni can be used standalone for ‘none, not any’.

XXX Trans: ‘We had invited many people, but none came.’

no can also be used in the combination no de ‘none of’ without risks of misunderstandings:

XXX Trans: ‘She liked none of her gifts’

Like most quantifiers, selectors can also be used standalone (as pronouns):

Ti li miru ta? – Did you see that?

Determiners can be used in front of arbitrary nouns. Among the nouns they are most commonly used with are jen ‘human being, person’.

  • no jen – no one, nobody, anyone, anybody (in negated sentences)
  • malo jen – (a) few people
  • xye jen – some people, several people
  • ingi jen – many people
  • ol jen – everyone, everybody
  • yo jen – (the) people (in general)
  • eni jen – anyone, anybody (in positive sentences)
  • aru jen – someone, somebody
  • kada jen – each one, each person

They are also frequently combined with xos ‘thing’ (WALS 115; APiCS 102):

  • no xos – nothing, anything (in negated sentences)
  • malo xos – (a) few things
  • xye xos – some things, several things
  • ingi xos – many things
  • ol xos – everything
  • yo xos – things
  • eni xos – anything (in positive sentences)
  • aru xos – something
  • kada xos – each thing

Note that when the subject or object of a clause is negated, the verb is negated as well – eni is not used in negated sentences:

Mi no li miru no jen. – I didn’t see anyone.

Note that the absence of quantifiers does not mean that just one entity is meant. kat may mean ‘a/the cat’ or '(the) cats’, depending on context. If you want to unambiguously express the idea of just one cat, say un kat; if you want to express that there are two or more, say yo kat (or use another suitable quantifier).

Note: Among the world’s languages, the use of a plural suffix is most common, while a separate plural word is the second most common choice (WALS 33). Among creole languages, a plural word either preceding or following the noun is the most frequent option (more frequent than a plural suffix); plural words preceding the noun are more common than those following it (APiCS 23). Due to the analytic nature of our language, we prefer to use a plural word which can be analyzed a quantifier and is therefore placed before the noun. Hence we follow the typical example of creoles in this regard. We follow various of our Asian source languages (Mandarin, Indonesian, Japanese) in making the use of a plural marker optional. Among creole languages, plural marking is also most typically variable – plural markers is sometimes omitted, especially if the plurality is expressed in some other way (APiCS 22). In other languages, this is the second most common option after an obligatory plural (WALS 34).

Generic expressions referring to a whole class of entities in general are typically expressed without a quantifier (APiCS 30) – though it’s not wrong to use yo or ol if you prefer that and fear that misunderstandings might otherwise result).

Generic noun phrases are typically expressed using a noun phrase without a plural marker:

XXX Trans: Elephants are stronger than us.

The plural marker yo may also be used to express the associative plural “X and associates/family/company/companions etc.” (WALS 36; APiCS 24):

yo Tina – Tina and her family/friends/associates
yo Molina – the Molinas/the Molina family

XXX Explain how determiners are used before other words (verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc.) and give some examples.

Modifier words

Nouns and verbs can be placed after a noun, modifying the meaning of the main noun. Often such combinations have a more or less idiomatic meaning that’s listed in the dictionary, e.g. kaus sora ‘rainbow’ (literally: bow sky).

Even if not explicitly listed, the named of animal species and similar groups can be used as such modifier words in expressions such as kulin kat ‘cat food’ or haki jen ‘human right(s)'. In such cases, the modifying term (kat, jen) may be regarded as a noun or as an adjective – it doesn’t really matter.

If one regards them as nouns, the group of main noun and modifier noun can be regarded as having an omitted preposition between them, most often de ‘of’ or a ‘to, for’.

haki jen = haki de jen – right(s) of human(s) = human right(s)
kulin kat = kulin a kat – food for cat(s) = cat food
kaus sora = kaus ni sora – bow in the sky = rainbow

If the modifier is a verb, the main word and the modifier can be considered as having the selector ke ‘who’ between them.

jen safiri = jen ke safiri – person who travels = traveler

More on modifier words can be found in the section on spaced nouns.


Adjectives give further details about the noun they follow.

man hau – a good man

Note: Adjectives follow nouns because that’s the globally most common ordering (WALS 87).

Several adjectives can follow the same noun. The most specific adjective is usually placed first.

ona inglis daki – an intelligent English woman

In this case, ‘English’ is considered more specific than ‘intelligent’, since there are many different nationalities, while intelligence is a general property that’s more or less strongly present in every person.

On the other hand, adjectives such as sola ‘only, sole’ are quite nonspecific – they don’t tell you much about the noun to which they refer as such, but rather about its position in the world. Such adjectives are usually placed near the end of the noun phrase, after more specific adjectives.

Ya xi [doctor] hau sola ni [town]. – She’s the only good doctor in town.

When two adjectives are considered similarly specific, a comma or a conjunction such as va ‘and’ is placed between them.

ona inda va daki – a beautiful and intelligent woman

If there are three or more such adjectives in a row, va is usually only used between the last two of them, while a comma is used otherwise.

ona inda, daki va tari – a beautiful, intelligent, and rich woman

Note that each adjective refers to the nearest noun to the left of it. This is still the case if a noun phrase is attached to another noun phrase using a preposition such as de ‘of’.

[lover] grande de buku – a great lover of books / a great book lover
[lover] de buku grande – a lover of great books

Ya xi mama de si tri [child wonderful]. – She is the mother of these three wonderful children.
Ya xi mama [wonderful] de si tri [child]. – She is the wonderful mother of these three children.

XXX The following is likely obsolete – better find another (new?) particle to use here.

While adjectives typically follow nouns, they can also be used after the impersonal pronoun yan '(the) one’. This pronoun replaces a noun known from the context:

Mi yau yan hara. – I want the green one.
Yan gran xyende hau. – The big one looks good.
Tina [drive car] lal, [while] mi [drive] yan blu. – Tina drives a red car, while I drive a blue one.

Note: Most languages allow adjectives to be used without noun and without any marking (WALS 61). This works well in languages with articles, such as Spanish (Quiero el verde – ‘I want the green one’), but without articles it could be ambiguous and hard to understand. The next most frequent option is to have such adjectives marked by a preceding word, which therefore seems preferable.

Possessive noun phrases

There are two kinds of possessives: possessive noun phrases and possessive pronouns. The latter will be explained below. Possessive noun phrases are introduced by the proposition de ‘of’, which is follow by the possession. The whole phrase is added after the noun phrase that specifies the “possession”.

ruma de man – the man’s house

“Possession” here is meant in a very wide sense that simply expresses a relationship of belonging.

mama de ona – the woman’s mother

en/grammar/noun_phrases.txt · Last modified: 2022-11-14 19:59 by christian

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