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A preverb[a] is a type of content word that may precede the main verb of a sentence. Preverbs generally make distinctions in grammatical mood or aspect, and they are often compared to auxiliary verbs in European languages.

When used as a preverb, a word can have a different sense than it would elsewhere in the sentence. For example, in mi ken pali e ona, ken is a preverb. It means "I am able to make it". However, in mi ken e ona, ken is the main verb instead. There, it means something else ("I allow it").

Stacking[edit | edit source]

Preverbs may be stacked to convey more complex meanings.

mikama wilemoku

mi kama wile moku.

I come to need to eat.
I got hungry. / I'm getting hungry.

jan liopen wile lukin kama sonatoki pona

jan li open wile lukin kama sona toki pona.

People start to want to try to come to know (how) to speak well.

miken kamasona e ni2 ijo ijo ijo

mi ken kama sona e ni:

I can come to know this: [1]

Modifiers[edit | edit source]

Preverbs can also be modified. In standard usage, only ala is able to modify preverbs.

ona li wile ala sona 

ona li wile ala sona.

They don't want to know.

Adding a after a preverb is possible. Some might see this as modification.

ona li wile a sona 

ona li wile a sona.

They want to know. (emphasis on "want")

Caution: The subject of this section is nonstandard and will not be understood by most speakers.
If you are a learner, this information will not help you speak the language. It is recommended to familiarize yourself with the standard style, and to be informed and selective about which nonstandard styles you adopt.

Outside of standard usage, some users include more semiparticles and even some content words to modify preverbs.

ona li wile kin sona 

ona li wile kin sona.

They also want to know. ("also" modifies "want", not "they")

ona li wile taso sona 

ona li wile taso sona.

They just want to know.

ona li wile lili sona 

ona li wile lili sona.

They somewhat want to know.

ona li wile mute sona 

ona li wile mute sona.

They really want to know.

Ambiguity[edit | edit source]

In standard Toki Pona, preverbs are not marked with any particle. For nonstandard styles, see Preverb marking.

Like prepositions, this makes preverbs a bit ambiguous. For example, mi kama wawa can mean "I became strong" if kama is a preverb and wawa ("to be strong") is the main verb. Or, it can mean "I intensely arrived" if kama is the main verb and wawa is a modifier.

Questions[edit | edit source]

In A ala A questions, the preverb may be the repeated word.

sina wile ala wile sona

sina wile ala wile sona?

Do you want to know?

List of preverbs[edit | edit source]

Usage Word Preverb sense Notes
pu[2] awen

to continue to…
to keep …ing
to stay


to come to…
to become

Expresses a change of state: going from not doing or being something, to doing or being it.

to be able to…

sona to know (how) to…

to want to…
to need to…

"To need to…" is also commonly expressed with the word o.
lukin to try to…

to try …ing

Cognate with English "looking to…"
Common alasa[3]
Uncommon open[3]

to start to…
to start …ing

As a preverb, open has a large overlap in meaning with kama.
pini[3] to finish …ing

Note that while tawa got described as a preverb by one source[3], it is very rare. Prepositional use of tawa (including the transitive prepositional phrases) also sometimes gets misattributed to preverb usage.

Other words have been proposed or are found as preverbs in minority usage, but will not always be understood.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Also pre-verb, auxiliary verb, auxverb, helper verb.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. jan Peton. (14 June 2022). "nasin tenpo pi kamalawala Kanse". lipu kule.
  2. Lang, Sonja. (25 May 2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 9.