Introduction to Syntax

Introduction to Syntax

Otoe-Missouria syntax (formation of sentences) is relatively straightforward but also takes some getting used to if you are used to English.  A lot of information will be given here and it will take some time to become familiar with all of it.  Also bear in mind that Otoe-Missouria syntax goes hand-in-hand with morphology (formation of words).  This page will not go into much detail on morphology, but you will see its use in the syntax.  Click here for more information on Otoe-Missouria morphology.

First, it needs to be pointed out that there are some differences between how men and women speak Otoe-Missouria. The most common difference is how sentences are ended. Otoe-Missouria syntax often uses “oral punctuation” at the end of sentences. For example, men end their declarative sentences (statements) with ke. This sort of acts like an oral period. Women would use ki. For example:


Pi ke. – It is good. (male speaker)

Pi ki. – It is good. (female speaker)


Another difference is how questions are said. Men would end their questions with je and women would use ja. For example:


Pi je? – Is it good? (male speaker)

Pi ja? – Is it good? (female speaker)


The use of this “oral question mark” is sometimes optional. In a more familiar settings (such as being around friends and family), the “oral question mark” can be omitted. The reason this can work is because the speaker also isn’t using the “oral period” to make a statement which leaves open the possibility that it is a question.

Another kind of “oral punctuation” is the imperative (command). For this one, both sexes use re to issue a command, however women pronounce it slightly different.  Men pronounce re as “ray” (or the shorter “reh”) whereas women pronounce the “e” in re like the “a” in “apple”. For example:


Nąnge re! – Run!




Otoe-Missouria does not have gender-specific pronouns.  English has words like he, him, she, and her.  Otoe-Missouria does not.  So any time something translates to something like “He went to the store,” it could also translate to “She went to the store.”  You specify gender by letting the listener know who you are referring to.  For example, you can say something like, “The man went to the store.”  The gender in any follow-up sentences will be understood.

A huge help to new learners is to understand that verb roots in Otoe-Missouria always refer to the third-person singular.  This means that the root form of a verb refers to he, she, or it doing something.  For example, a verb like manyi is often simply translated as “walk” but it actually says “he/she/it walks”.  For example:


Manyi ke/ki. – She walks.


If a verb has an object (transitive verb), then the verb root not only defaults to he, she, or it doing something, but they are doing it to him, her, or it.  For example:


Ujį ke/ki. – He it hit him.


Any time an Otoe-Missouria verb is listed as simply “run” or “see”, they refer to he, she, or it, and where appropriate, him, her, or it.

These are the easiest sentences in Otoe-Missouria.  Here are a few examples:


Suje ke/ki. – It is red.

Xąnje ke/ki. – It is big.

Thabeda ke/ki. – She is smart.

Pi ke/ki. – He is good.

Wahire ke/ki. – She is sick.



In English, plural is usually indicated by placing an “s” on the end of a noun (IE “cat” and “cats”).  In Otoe-Missouria, plural is mostly conveyed from the verb.  For example, the term udwąinge can be rendered into English as either “cat” or “cats.”  It is the verb that will tell the listener if the noun is plural or not.  For example:


Udwąinge aata ke/ki. – I see a cat.

Udwąinge waata ke/ki. – I see the cats.


The prefix wa- (roughly translated “them”) is used to tell whether the noun is plural.



Often the subject in a sentence is built into the verb via conjugation.  If that is the case, the you only need your conjugated verb to say what you need.  But if you need to specify your subject, then you would use the SUBJECT-VERB format.

For example:


Tom walks


Here are some examples:


Tom manyi ke/ki. – Tom is walking.

Hinage nąnge ke/ki. – The woman is running.

Wange yąwe ke/ki. – The man is singing.

Udwąinge thewe ke/ki. – The cat is black.



A slightly more complicated sentence would follow the pattern of SUBJECT-OBJECT-VERB. An example would be:


Bill Tom sees (Bill sees Tom.)


Here are some examples:


Bill Tom ada ke/ki. – Bill sees Tom.

Tom Bill ujį ke/ki. – Tom hit Bill.

Wange sunge gųnra ke/ki. – The man wants the horse.



A more complicated sentence would follow the pattern of SUBJECT-DIRECT OBJECT-INDIRECT OBJECT-VERB.  For example:


Tom horse Bill gave (Tom gave a horse to Bill.)


Here are some examples:


Tom sunge Bill uk’ų ke/ki. – Tom gave the horse to Bill.

Hinage mąðexga iyinge uk’ų ke/ki. – The woman gave money to her son.



Otoe-Missouria is a descriptive language.  This means that many terms are often mini-descriptions composed of nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.  These mini-descriptions are treated as an entire concept and simply fill in the appropriate place in a sentence.  For example:


Sunge sewe ke/ki. – The horse is brown.


Here we have two words.  We have sunge (horse) and sewe (brown).  This part is a little tricky.  The term sewe is actually a verb that is better translated as “is brown”.  To English speaking minds, brown is simply brown.  Getting used to a concept like “is brown” takes some time.  Sunge sewe can be its own stand-alone sentence.  But it is treated as one concept and can be plugged into the syntax model:


(Tom) (horse-is brown) (Bill) (gave)

Tom sunge sewe Bill uk’ų ke/ki.


The above example used a simple description with sunge sewe, however the same rule applies to mini-descriptions that refer to specific terms.  For example, the term namanyi translates to car, but it is composed of na (wood) and manyi (walk/move).  This term originally referred to wagons but has come to also refer to modern cars.  A phrase like Na manyi ke/ki could translate as “The tree is walking” and can be a stand-alone sentence.  Yet when used as one concept, it can be plugged into the appropriate spot:


Tom namanyi Bill uk’ų ke/ki. – Tom gave Bill a car.


We can expand on this and refer to the size and color:


Tom namanyi suje Bill uk’ų ke/ki. – Tom gave Bill a red car.


What we call adjectives in English are verbs in Otoe-Missouria.  This includes numbers, colors, and the like.  They can be conjugated to suit your needs.  They can also be used together to describe something, but knowing the order that they can be expressed can be tricky.  A good rule of thumb is that the more a term refers to an intrinsic (essential) value of something, the closer it is placed to the word it is describing.  We do the same thing in English when we say something like “three big black dogs.”  As we get closer to the word “dogs,” the more intrinsic the value.  Otoe-Missouria does the same thing and often it is a mirror image of how English expresses it.  Where English has “three big black dogs,” Otoe-Missouria renders it “dogs black big three.”  Here are some examples:


chi suje – red house

chi xąnje – big house

chi danyi – three houses

chi suje xąnje – big red house

chi suje danyi – three red houses

chi xąnje danyi – three big houses

chi suje xąnje danyi – three big red houses


Each of these phrases can be used as one concept and plugged into a sentence:


Tom chi suje xąnje danyi Bill uk’ų ke/ki. – Tom gave three big red houses to Bill.

Chi nuwe waata ke/ki. – I see two houses.

Chi xga arasda je/ja? – do you see the white house?


This covers our basic introduction to Otoe-Missouria syntax.  Please visit our grammar page to see more information on building more complex sentences.