Jun 20

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Introduction to Trarsani 3: Verbs and Basic Sentence Structure


Verbs are a breeze to identify.  If it ends in ai (ay), it’s a verb.  Likewise, if it’s a verb, it ends in ai or ay.  I imagine that at one time there were exceptions, but as Trarsani has been evolving as a language for longer than humans have even had language, those kinks have long since been ironed out.

In English-speaking countries, we teach our children that verbs are “action words,” and that’s a pretty good description.  The subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about, and the verb is what the subject is doing.  If the Trarsani saw verbs in exactly the same way as we do, then that would be about all there is to say about them.  However, that’s not the case, so we have to look a little deeper

Adjectives as verbs

The Trarsani also describe verbs as “action words,” but instead of thinking of “action” as “doing,” they think of it as “doing or being.”  We do almost the same thing when we say, “The apple is red.”  The apple isn’t really doing anything, it’s just being red, just as when you say, “My husband is an idiot.”  In Trarsani, when something is red, it is being red, and is therefore a verb.  Let’s review some words from the last lesson.


Word Roman transcription Translation
zhilai (to be) good
irai (to be) red
budozai (to be) ugly

So, if there were an apple on Trarsa, “The apple is red,” would be just “apple irai.”  This might sound weird to the stubborn English speaker, but such a thing does exist on Earth.  For example, in Vietnamese, “The grass is green” is “Cỏ là xanh.”  Cỏ là is grass, xanh means is being green.  These are a case of what we call stative verbs.  They represent a state, not an action.  In fact, we have other ones in English.  Consider, “Bob knows John.”  Bob isn’t actually doing anything, but we’re familiar enough with that usage to think of it as such, and only a grammar geek such as myself even realizes the difference.

Verbs as nouns

We also use verbs as nouns: the second comingCome is a verb, but here we use the -ing form as a noun.  This is called a gerund.  Incidentally, we also use them as adjectives: the coming apocalypse.  It’s a similar thing, but we call it a participle just so we’re using a different word.  We have already explained how verbs and adjectives are essentially the same in Trarsani, so we’ll not pursue that any farther right now.

In English, we think of the gerund as a noun; in Trarsani, they do not make that transition.  It is still seen as a verb.  In A Hierarchy of Gods, Ritee and Nekalee mention kashirai and mloshai in connection with lovemaking.  The former refers to the particularly intense euphoria afterwards, and the latter to a specific technique, as if kashirai weren’t good enough.  One describes a state, the other something you do, and therefore in Trarsani thinking, they are both verbs.  I’m sure the average English speaker can deal with this easily enough, but thinking deeply about the grammar might pop some fuses.

Koi- verbs

Just as we can turn a verb into a noun with the nee- prefix, we can effectively turn a noun into a verb.  Koi is generally an assertive word, and turns a noun into an action meaning “do” or “make” whatever.  To make it obvious that the result is a verb, we add -ai to a word ending in a consonant or -tai to a word ending in a vowel.  Note that when we add -ai, it is not placed beneath the final consonant, but added as a new “syllable” using the void character.


Root Word Roman transcription Translation Koi-verb Roman transcription Translation
thek bread koi-thekai (make) bread
sheetha shower koi-sheethatai (take a) shower
fotat shoe koi-fotatai (put on) shoes
deelath function koi-deelathai (perform a) function


The whole notion of tenses works differently in Trarsani, and that is gist for the next lesson.  However, simple past and simple future are, well, simple enough to mention here.


Word Roman transcription Translation
po- marker of simple past tense
zo- marker of simple future tense

These are particles, and are added to the front of a verb just as the mee- and nee- prefixes were added to nouns in part 2.

We have notions of perfect tenses and so on.  When we say, “The pie would have been eaten,” we are using a certain combination of words to express not just past tense, but a conditional aspect and passive voice all in one confused mess.  In English, it is hard to separate out which word has which meaning, since it is the whole phrase that is important.  Trarsani separates this out quite nicely, as we’ll see next time.  If you want to get in the mood (grammarians: pun intended) check out this.

Sentence structure

Basic sentence structure

Canonical Trarsani sentence structure is subject-object-verb, as in many Asian languages (Hindi, Korean, Japanese).  Note that when I say “object,” it really means all the rest of the sentence, which may include things besides formal objects.  Let’s take a look at a few examples to get your feet wet.  As we’re getting into some areas that diverge a lot from English, I’ll not throw in the actual Trarsani words at this point, but use English words in Trarsani sentence structure to illustrate the differences.


English Word Order Trarsani Word Order
The bird is in the tree. Bird in-tree exists.
John knows Betty well. John of-Betty well know.
I paint with watercolors. I using-watercolors paint.
Nekalee is an engineer. Nekalee engineer is.
Alice went through the mirror. Alice through-mirror did-go.
I speak Trarsani. I using-Trarsanzik habitual-speak.

There are a couple of details here that I need to clarify.  Note the using in two of the examples.  This is to indicate the instrumental case, and while generally interpreted in English from the context, is more explicit in Trarsani.  We see this in Earth languages, too.  “I speak Russian” in Russian is, “Я говорю по-русски.”  Ya govoryu po-russki.  The по- is the instrumental case marker making that phrase mean, literally, “using Russian.”

Incidentally по- (po- in the Roman alphabet) is (almost) the same sound as the past tense marker in Trarsani, and I once got them confused.  Weird, huh?

Also notice the habitual- marker in the last example.  This is an aspect marker, indicating that the activity is one which happens regularly, but not necessarily continuously.  The difference between having it and not would be the same difference in English between “I am speaking Trarsani” and “I speak Trarsani.”  Again, more about this next time.  (Actually, I’m a bit nervous about how to write that installment.  There is a lot to cover, and most of it is alien, pun intended, to English speakers.)


Like English, and probably like most languages, Trarsani has clauses, and they deserve a more detailed look so that you understand them before it’s too late.  The internal structure of a clause is the same as a sentence: subject-object-verb.  In fact, the verb serves as cue to identify the end of one clause and the beginning of the next.

Let’s pick apart a couple of sentences.  You loved diagramming in high school, right?  Actually, I hated it.  My love of grammar came later.

Sentence structure showing placement of verbs

As you can see, the structure of the clause matches that of the sentence.  The second you is understood; it would sound silly to start the sentence, “You you.”  But this brings up an important point.  There is a vast array of particles to adjust the meaning of words, and, as in English, speakers normally use only what is necessary to get the meaning across.  There could be a direct-object marker on me, but that’s understood.  I’ll mention this again in the next installment.

Of interest is the when-.  In actual Trarsani, the speaker would be unlikely to use a time marker here.  Instead, she would use a marker for the causative aspect.  Again, more about that next time.

Let’s look at a slightly more complicated example.  At one point in A Hierarchy of Gods, Nekalee is quite shaken up and mixes English words with Trarsani sentence structure.  She intends, “You don’t have to pretend not to look at me,” but it comes out, “Not you not at-me to-look must pretend.”


Here we see the negation marker, which we talk about more below.  It occurs twice, in the overall sentence, you do NOT have to pretend, and in the clause, NOT to look at me. These are distinct uses of negation, and both are critical to meaning of the sentence.  However, once again, the second you is understood.

There is some degree of protocol about the order in which clauses appear: instrumental-dative-accusative, but I’ll save that for next time.

Where do adjectives go?

Well, it depends.  If it is a real adjective, it follows the rules of a clause as demonstrated above.  Let’s say the bird in the aforementioned example is a pretty one.  It would become “Bird being-pretty in-tree exist,” in which case the “adjective” comes after the noun because it is a verb that completes the phrase.  If it is a qualifier or quantifier, such as many birds: “Many bird in-tree exist.”  In this case, the “adjective” goes before the noun.  I’m not sure when I’ll get to words like many and other, but I’ll have to eventually.

Sentence modifiers

Sentence modifiers always go at the beginning of a sentence or clause to change its meaning in some way.  There are four you should know.


Word Roman transcription Usage
eesh negation (not)
eek interrogative (question marker)
eeth intimacy marker
koi emphasis marker

Two of these require some comment: eeth and koi.

Although there are ways in many Earth languages to express degrees of intimacy and familiarity, I don’t know of anything quite like eeth. Real linguists: let me know if there’s something out there; I suspect perhaps in some of the central African languages.  It is fair to say that Trarsani love is more intense than human love; couples only just barely recognize themselves as separate people.  A sentence starting with eeth is a uniquely personal thing.

Koi places emphasis on the sentence or phrase, much like an exclamation mark.  The word also appears as a particle attached to a verb to make it an imperative.  When added to a koi- verb, it is duplicated in writing (koi-koi-) but in speaking, a strong volume emphasis is often placed on a single koi- instead.  We already discussed adding it to a noun to make it an action when I explained that it was an assertive word.

In a totally unrelated but still interesting context, the word koi, in addition to being a fish, is one of the Japanese words for love.  It’s the wanting-passionate-romantic kind of love.  For some reason, I keep thinking about that whenever I am faced with the Trarsani koi.

Compound sentences

We might say, “Susan went to the concert and Bob went to the store.” The word and is a coordinating conjunction that connects two independent simple sentences into one compound sentence. We have a list of them: and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet. Many of these words have other uses as well. We also have a long list of subordinating conjunctions, which includes after, because, if, though, whereas, and many more.

Now as for that compound sentence, it’s perfectly all right if you never say it in Trarsani because they aren’t likely to. But it’s possible, and to explain that we have to understand how Trarsani uses conjunctions.

They don’t. In fact, it’s arguable that the Trarsani language doesn’t have any. The roles of the subordinate conjunctions and some of the coordinating conjunctions are played by particles indicating verbal voice, mood, and aspect. If I forget to mention that next time, drop me a line. But there are four words that function as some of our conjunctions.


Word Roman transcription Usage
u and
oi exclusive or
ee or
eesh not

Math or computer geeks will immediately recognize these as logical operators, and that is exactly how the Trarsani see them, not as conjunctions in the sense that we think of them. If you are familiar with logic, the exclusive or means one or the other but not both. Given that these are logical operators, we have to think a little about operator priority.

When we say, “Bob and Carol or Ted and Alice,” we think of two pairs. One of them is Bob and Carol and the other is Ted and Alice. This phrase means one pair or the other. That’s because and has a higher priority than or, and so that grouping appears in our mind first. The Trarsani also place and higher. The table above lists the operators from highest to lowest priority.

If we want to change the priority, we use commas. “Bob, Carol or Ted, and Alice.”  In speaking, this is indicated by pauses to separate groups.  This means that three people are coming: Bob, Alice, and either Carol or Ted. Remember, Trarsani has no commas. When they want to elevate the priority of an operator, such as making the or come first, they double it. “Bob u Carol i Ted u Alice” means “Bob and Carol or Ted and Alice” just as in English, but “Bob u Carol i-i Ted u Alice” means “Bob, Carol or Ted, and Alice,” as the or is now elevated in priority to come before the ands.  I hope all that made sense.

This notion of repeating an operator (conjunction) to raise its priority gets us back to compound sentences. A conjunction (such as u) can be duplicated two or even three times (u-u or u-u-u) to raise it in priority enough for it to apply to entire simple sentences and thereby splice them together. Susan to-concert did-go u-u-u Bob to-store did-go. But this hardly ever happens. It’s easier just to replace the u-u-u with a long pause and leave it as two separate sentences. The Trarsani don’t go in for the niceties of fluent prose as we do.

Alternate sentence structures

I stated above that the subject-object-verb arrangement is the canonical Trarsani sentence structure.  Virtually all sentences you’ll run across follow that schema, but there are exceptions.  Generally, they are used only in certain specific cases.

The proflexive verb structure

In talking about the proflexive verb structure, we have to understand that proflexive verbs and the sentence structure normally associated with them are entirely different things, but as they almost always occur together, it makes sense to discuss them together.  Let’s work with the most frequently used proflexive verb sentence in the Trarsani culture: Fei tray-ka leekee I love you.  Bear in mind in the following discussion that fei tray-ka leekee is much, much stronger than I love you.  When Nekalee claims that it is impossible to express Trarsani love in English, she is exactly right.

First is the proflexive verb tray-ka.  You should know that I invented the word proflexive, because I needed word to describe a word that was built like the reflexive verbs you might know from the Romance languages, but isn’t.  Both combine a verb and a pronoun, but with the reflexive verb, the pronoun refers to the subject of the sentence, and in a proflexive verb, it refers to something else.

Also, instead of simply combining a verb and a pronoun, the Trarsani proflexive verb amplifies both.  Trai means to give, but it is a sense of very deep giving from the depths of one’s soul.  Ka, as you might remember from the last installment, means you.  So tray-ka means give-of-myself-to-you, but the give part becomes something like give-from-the-foundations-of-the-universe-until-the-end-of-time, and ka becomes you-and-only-you-forever-and-ever.  It says as much in one word as an entire Keats sonnet. Note that trai becomes tray- in the Roman transliteration to signify that the pronunciation shifts slightly toward the English tray, but not too far.

Leekee here is love (in the Trarsani understanding), but there is no particle attached to it to identify its grammatical role.  One can think of it as a direct object, and that generally works for English speakers, but let’s look at a few possibilities of what it could mean in canonical sentence structure if it had such a particle attached.


Trarsani expression English meaning
Fei fa-ka za-leekee trai. I give you love.
Fei fa-ka ta-leekee trai. I give to you using love.
Fei fa-ka doo-leekee trai. I give to you starting with love.
Fei fa-ka loo-leekee trai. I give to you habitual love.

The proflexive verb form is, then, ambiguous.  It could mean any of those, but that is intentional.  It is a better strategy to think of it as meaning all of them.  It is a very broad statement, the like of which doesn’t exist in English.

Shee- word structure

You know the w- words in English: who, what, when, where, why.  You can add how, though it actually starts with h. Spell it whow, and you’re fine.


sheekee what (is)
sheelo when (is)
shee-zanat when (is)
sheevo where (is)
sheezee who (is)
sheelee who (is mated with)
sheewo how (in what condition is)
sheeyo how (in what state is)
sheekoi how (to do)

Yes, the dot (hyphen) in shee-zanat is non-standard, but there you have it.  Shee-zanat and sheelo mean exactly the same thing.  The difference between sheewo and sheeyo can sometimes be subtle, and it may not always make a difference which you use.  If a friend was injured on a space mission, you might use sheewo to ask how serious his injuries are, and sheeyo to ask what his mission assignment is.  In A Hierarchy of Gods, Ritee once asks, “Sheevo Nekalee?”  Where is Nekalee?   It’s that simple.  The question words function sort of as a verb, but are not grammatically considered as such.

You can use shee- words in a clause as long as they are asking questions.  You can not use them as pronouns such as “The man who knew too much.”

This is also a good place to throw in fusion.  Trarsani is much more fluid than English, and words are sometimes put together in ways that surprise us.  If Ritee had also wanted to ask what Nekalee’s condition was, she could have said, “Sheevo-sheewo Nekalee,” meaning, “Where is Nekalee, and how is she?”   Fusions are fairly common with particles.  Nekalee uses one when she says that her arm is broken, indicating that she is both the owner of the arm (genitive) and agency by which it was broken (instrumental).  Let’s not get into that in any detail quite yet.


OK, that’s it for Part 3.  You have all the essentials of verbs and sentence structure.  If you are a religious person, you might want to pray that can figure out how to write Part 4 so that it makes any sense.  We’ll be getting to particles and all those tenses, aspects, moods, and cases.  Fun, fun, fun.

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