A preposition is a type of content word used to express spatial or temporal relations or to mark various semantic roles. The phrase formed by a preposition together and the complement that follows it is called a prepositional phrase. In Toki Pona, the words that can act as prepositions are kepeken, lon, sama, tan, and tawa.
Prepositions can be difficult to grasp for multiple reasons: these words have specific meanings depending on whether they are being used as prepositions or as transitive verbs. In terms of grammar, it is often ambiguous whether a word is being used as a preposition or as a simple modifier.
Prepositions vs. transitive verbs[edit | edit source]
In the sentence A li B e C, the subject A causes the direct object C to become C B.
In ona li tawa telo, the word tawa instead acts as a preposition. Given that tawa telo is a prepositional phrase meaning "toward water", this sentence translates as "They go to the water".
For another example:
kasi li lon ma ale
kasi li lon ma ale.
Plants exist at all of the land.
Plants are everywhere.
kasi li lon e ma ale
kasi li lon e ma ale.
Plants cause all the land to exist.
Plants created the Earth.
Modifiers[edit | edit source]
They don't go to the water.
Ambiguity[edit | edit source]
Because prepositions are not marked with any particle in standard Toki Pona, they are a bit ambiguous. For example, in ona li tawa telo, tawa telo can be taken as a prepositional phrase ("toward water"), or a noun phrase ("the going of water"; "fluid motion") if telo is taken as a modifier.
Word order[edit | edit source]
Some speakers limit prepositions to occurring at the end of a sentence.
Transitive prepositional phrases[edit | edit source]
This can be thought of in the same way as a normal transitive verb. In the sentence A li prep B e C, the subject A causes the direct object C to become C prep B.
ona li tawa telo e waso
ona li tawa telo e waso.
It moves birds to the liquid.
They sent a bird to the water.
kasi li lon ma ale e kon pona
kasi li lon ma ale e kon pona.
Plants cause good air to exist at all of the land.
Table of prepositions[edit | edit source]
li prep ijo
li prep e ijo
li prep A e B
|kepeken||using||to use||(controversial) see kepeken e||to make B use A|
|lon||at/in/on||to exist at/in/on||to create||to make B be at/in/on A|
|sama||like||to be like||to make alike||to liken B to A|
|tan||from||to be/come from||(rare) to blame||to make B be/come from A|
|tawa||toward||to go to||to move||to move B to A|