Phrases and clauses

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Phrases and clauses are groups of words in Toki Pona grammar.

Phrases[edit | edit source]

[head] [modifier] [modifier] ⋯
Word order of a Toki Pona phrase
English Wikipedia has an article on

In grammar, a phrase is a group of consecutive content words. Phrases in Toki Pona are considered to be split by particles, and sometimes by prepositions.

The first word in a phrase is the head, and the others, if any, are modifiers.

Because the word "phrase" outside of grammar can refer to any short expression (as in the Phrase Book, which includes full sentences), this structure is sometimes specified as a content phrase. Phrases may also be called noun phrases, especially in subject, direct object, or prepositional phrase position.

If a phrase is used as its own sentence fragment, it is called an interjection.

How to tell heads from modifiers[edit | edit source]

The head of a phrase is the main word, which in English would be called a noun or verb.

Changing or removing the head usually drastically changes the meaning of the sentence. For example, changing "red dogs" to "red books" affects the core meaning more drastically than changing it to "small dogs", so "dogs" is the head of the phrase. If the head is removed, the new phrase, "red", also describes something completely different.

A modifier is an elaborating word, which in English would be called an adjective or adverb.

Changing, adding, or removing a modifier usually just changes the precision of the meaning. For example, "red dogs" and "many big yellow dogs" are both describing different groups of the same general thing. This becomes clear if all modifiers are removed.

In Toki Pona, the head always goes first, followed by modifiers. This can make it easier to find the head word of a Toki Pona phrase.

lipu loje

red books
(lit. 'book(s) red')

soweli jelo suli mute

many big yellow dogs
(lit. 'animal(s) yellow big many')

Modifier order[edit | edit source]

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English adjectives have an order that feels most natural and easy to interpret, such as "many big old red (dogs)" instead of "red old big many (dogs)". Whether similar rules exist in Toki Pona is debatable. Often, the last modifier in a phrase will be a personal pronoun. A word with a preposition sense may also be saved for last, to avoid creating an ambiguity where subsequent modifiers could also be read as a prepositional phrase.

Lexicalization[edit | edit source]

Toki Pona does not define fixed compound phrases. Constructing phrases and sentences that are clear in context is an important skill for expression in Toki Pona.

Clauses[edit | edit source]

English Wikipedia has an article on

Clauses are parts of a sentence with a subject and predicate.

In standard use, sub-sentence clauses only occur with la, which splits the sentence into a context phrase or context clause, and a main clause.

The word ni can function as if it introduces a relative clause, but grammatically it is a new sentence, not a clause.[1]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]