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pi in sitelen pona
pi in sitelen sitelen
Pronunciation /pi/
Usage 2023: Core (99% ↗︎ )2022: Core (98%)
Book and era nimi pu
Part of speech Particle
Codepoint 󱥍 U+F194D

pi is a particle used for regrouping modifiers. The entire phrase that follows it modifies the phrase that comes before it.

Function[edit | edit source]

In Toki Pona, words modify or describe the word they come after. When several words are used in a row, each new word describes the sum of all the words that come before.[a]

jan pona

jan pona

good person

jan pona mute

jan pona mute

many good people

The particle pi marks the following word as a new head, which takes its own modifiers.

jan pi(pona mute)

jan pi pona mute

very good person

The effect is similar to hyphenating adjectives in English, as described by the Toki Pona Dictionary. For this reason, pi needs to be followed by at least two content words. The particle is not needed if there is only one word following it.

waso kule tu

waso kule tu

two colorful birds

waso pi(kule tu)

waso pi kule tu[1]

two-colored birds

It is not possible to close a pi phrase, beyond using another particle or preposition or ending the sentence. Modifiers that apply to the first word but not to the words after pi are instead moved before the pi phrase:

jan pi(pana sona-ike)

jan pi pana sona ike

teacher who does a bad job of it (lit. 'badly-knowledge-giving person')

jan-ike pi(pana sona)

jan ike pi pana sona

teacher who is a bad person (lit. 'knowledge-giving bad person')

Multiple pi phrases[edit | edit source]

Even though it is not defined in pu, some speakers use multiple pi phrases modifying a single phrase. This carries a risk of ambiguity as to whether the second pi is contained within the first or not. For example, in the following sentence, it is unclear whether the book written in English or the information is about the English language.

lipu pi(sona mute) pi(toki [ijo ni li ike])

lipu pi sona mute pi toki Inli

English much-knowledge book

The two possible structures are:

Flat pi
lipu pi sona mute pi toki Inli
Nested pi
lipu pi sona mute pi toki Inli

In his lessons, jan Lope argues that, similarly to other particles when reduplicated, such as li and e, both pi phrases equally apply to the first word in the phrase rather than nesting.[2] As an example, he gives:

kulupu pi(kalama musi) pi(ma [ijo ni li ike]) li pona

kulupu pi kalama musi pi ma Inli li pona.

The English rock band is good.

There is ambiguity about whether it refers to an English band that plays some sort of music or a band from somewhere that plays English music. There is no consensus on this matter, and in practice both interpretations are possible. In fact, many speakers want it to be ambiguous so that clearer phrasing is used instead.

Using a single word between the pi does prevent the ambiguity, as the flat structure would contain an invalid single-word pi phrase. However, if you feel the need to stack this many modifiers, you might be better off rephrasing the phrase into a sentence:

kiwen pi(soweli pi kute suli)

kiwen pi soweli pi kute suli

big-eared animal rock

kiwen ni li sama soweli pi(kute suli)

kiwen ni li sama soweli pi kute suli.

This rock is like a big-eared animal.

soweli pi(kute suli) li lawa e kiwen ni

soweli pi kute suli li lawa e kiwen ni.

The big-eared animal owns this rock.

Misconceptions[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.[1]

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.

Nonstandard usage[edit | edit source]

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.

Prepositions and preverbs inside pi phrases[edit | edit source]

It happens that a pi phrase can be interpreted as being a prepositional phrase or having a preverb, like a predicate.

mi toki tawa ilo pi(lon poka mi)

mi toki tawa ilo pi lon poka mi.[3]

I spoke to the machine [that] was next to me.

Though it is not obvious how to harmonize this usage with the standard way in which pi is used, presented above, these sentences remain comprehensible to many.[citation needed]

pin't[edit | edit source]

Under construction This section needs work:

This section is not written in a neutral tone.

If you know about this topic, you can help us by editing it. (See all)

The use of the word pi is controversial. Many speakers believe it feels too engineered for Toki Pona's natural design, it creates more complexity and misconceptions than it is worth, and it encourages learners to find "the phrase" for any given word.[Is there an example of someone specifically asserting this position?]

sitelen pona[edit | edit source]

The sitelen pona glyph for pi (󱥍) is a bottom-left corner in an L-shape. It is very common to use pi as an extended glyph, as in the glyph is extended below the words that it is modifying: pi (ijo ijo).

sitelen sitelen[edit | edit source]

jan suli pi nasin musi. nasin musi is inside a pi container.

The sitelen sitelen glyph for pi (pi) functions as a container. It is distinguished by a "head" with two dots, which can be placed on any corner of the container as appropriate. It visually resembles and is derived from the pi syllabary glyph (PI).[4]

Like with any monosyllabic word, the word pi may also optionally be written with a syllable glyph (PI). However, this is uncommon with pi because it is a particle, and because the syllable glyph cannot act as a container.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Some speakers[citation needed] analyze all modifiers as applying to the first word instead, but the distinction often doesn't matter.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Lang, Sonja. (18 July 2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 8.
  2. jan Lope [jan-Lope]. "Toki Pona - Lessons and Dictionary". GitHub. Retrieved 8 November 2023.
  3. jan Kepe. (15 July 2023). "Nasi". utala musi pi ma pona. Retrieved 13 November 2023.
  4. Gabel, Jonathan (n.d.). [https://jonathangabel.com/toki-pona/pi/ Descriptions and Possessives with pi]. jonathangabel.com. Retrieved 3 May 2024.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Dictionaries[edit | edit source]