Common misconceptions

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This is a list of common misconceptions that learners tend to have about Toki Pona words.


li is not "is"[edit | edit source]

Beginners often have the misconception that li translates to "is", "are", or "to be". Notably, the series 12 Days of sona pi toki pona by jan Misali makes this claim[1], which was later corrected in his newer series toki pona lessons. The word "is" is a verb, whereas li is not. It is a particle that introduces a verb, regardless of whether the sentence would be translated with "is". For example:

mi pona 

mi pona.

I (›) am good.

ona li pona 

ona li pona.

They › are good.

ona li pona e ijo 

ona li pona e ijo.

They › improve » something.

It is more consistent to say that "to be good" and "improve" are both translations of pona. This pattern is true of all content words.

This is also why li cannot be used in a pi phrase. li is a particle that has higher priority than pi,[2] not a content word that could be used within a pi phrase.

pi[edit | edit source]

pi is not "of"[edit | edit source]

Some dictionaries, most notably the one featured in pu, define the word pi as meaning "of". This is misleading, as most senses of "of" don't translate into pi. This was acknowledged in the section "Notes on lipu pu" of the Toki Pona Dictionary.[3]

toki pi pona

toki pi pona

the language of good

It may be more helpful to think of every modifier as having an implied "of" before it:

kala utala suli

kala utala suli

fish of fighting of bigness

Possession[edit | edit source]

pi is not a possessive particle. It does not necessarily indicate ownership or translate the English suffix -'s, also known as the Saxon genitive. Any adjective can be interpreted as indicating possession regardless of the presence or absence of pi. pi serves the same purpose in a possessive context as it does in any other: to separate a group of modifiers from those preceding them.

tomo ona

tomo ona

their house

In this case, the word ona could name the owner of the house, and there is no pi.

tomo pi(jan [ale luka uta])

tomo pi jan Alu

jan Alu's house

Here, jan Alu owns the house; pi is used to separate the phrase jan Alu from the word tomo, preventing confusion. This is only because jan Alu is a multi-word modifier, and ona is a single-word modifier.

tomo ona ale

tomo ona ale

all their houses; all houses belonging to them

tomo pi(ona ale)

tomo pi ona ale

all-of-them house; house belonging to all of them

Possession is one of many possible interpretations of pi: what comes after pi simply modifies, describes, qualifies, or alters what comes before it.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. jan Misali. (14 December 2015). "12 Days of sona pi toki pona Day Two: Sentence Structure". jan Misali [@HBMmaster]. YouTube.
  2. jan Juli. (23 September 2022). "nasin toki pona". GitHub. Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  3. Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 8.