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A question is a sentence that asks for information. There are 3 main ways to form questions in Toki Pona.

Yes–no questions[edit | edit source]

X ala X[edit | edit source]

English Wikipedia has an article on
A-not-A question.

The main way to form a yes–no question is by repeating the main word in the predicate, with the word ala ("not") between the repetitions. This is called an A-not-A question and occurs in natural languages such as in the Sinitic languages and Korean.

sina moku ala moku

sina moku ala moku?

Do you eat? (literally, "you eat not/eat?")

ona li pona ala pona tawa sina

ona li pona ala pona tawa sina?

Are they good to you? (literally, "they are good not/good to you?")

In sitelen pona, ala is sometimes used as an extended glyph {ijo}ala(ijo) that continues below the repeated word:

ona li {pona}ala(pona) tawa sina

ona li pona ala pona tawa sina?

anu seme[edit | edit source]

English Wikipedia has an article on
tag question.

The phrase anu seme ("or what") marks a tag question, added to the end of a statement to make it a question. This expects the answer to be "yes", and prompts for confirmation. The English equivalent is taking a statement like "It's snowing." and adding a tag, like "It's snowing, isn't it?" or "It's snowing, right?"

jan Sonja proposed this in a forum post from 2003:[1]

sina kama anu seme?
(literally: you're coming or what?)
I think you're coming, but please correct me and tell me what is really happening.
aren't you coming?

According to her, this structure is parallel to "the way 'oder' can be used in colloquial German."[1] In German, the particle oder placed at the end of a sentence marks a tag question, which "may suggest confidence or lack of confidence, or may be confrontational, defensive, tentative, or rhetorical (not expecting an answer)".[2] In Toki Pona, anu seme is typically used in all of these ways and is extremely common in speech.

General questions[edit | edit source]

seme[edit | edit source]

The particle seme means "what?" or "which?" and is used to form general questions. It replaces the word in the sentence that the speaker wants information about.

sina moku e seme

sina moku e seme?

What are you eating? (literally, "you eat what?")

sina seme e kili

sina seme e kili?

What do you do with the fruit? (literally, "you what the fruit?")

seme li moku e kili

seme li moku e kili?

Who/What is eating the fruit?

seme can also modify other words.

jan-seme li moku e kili

jan seme li moku e kili?

Who (what person) eats the fruit?

jan li moku seme e kili

jan li moku seme e kili?

How is the person eating the fruit?

jan li moku e kili seme

jan li moku e kili seme?

Which fruit / What kind of fruit is the person eating?

anu[edit | edit source]

Caution: This subject is nonstandard and may not be understood by most speakers.
Toki Pona: The Language of Good suggests that the particle anu alone can be used to ask a question about alternatives. This was widespread in pre-pu Toki Pona, but it is controversial nowadays, as some speakers consider this construction nonstandard.

[citation needed]

te ona li lukin e waso anu soweli to   te ona li lukin e waso to

ona li lukin e waso anu soweli? — ona li lukin e waso.

They see a bird or an animal? [controversial] — They see a bird.

One way to rephrase this uses la:

te waso anu soweli la ona li lukin e seme to   te ona li lukin e waso to

waso anu soweli la ona li lukin e seme? — ona li lukin e waso.

As for a bird or an animal, what do they see? — They see a bird.

Answers[edit | edit source]

Yes–no questions[edit | edit source]

English Wikipedia has an article on
echo answer.

A positive answer to a yes–no question can be given by repeating the word asked about. This is called an echo answer.

te akesi li suwi ala suwi to   te suwi to

akesi li suwi ala suwi? — suwi.

Are lizards cute? — Yes. (literally, "cute")

Some speakers use lon as a confirmation ("yes") or "true". The Toki Pona Dictionary acknowledges this usage.[3]

te akesi li suwi anu seme to   te lon to

akesi li suwi anu seme? — lon.

Are lizards cute? — Yes. (literally, "true")

Other speakers find this use of lon improper, at least in certain situations, equivalent to saying "So true!" instead of an actual confirmation.

To say no, repeat the word asked about, followed by ala:

te sina wile ala wile moku e pipi to   te wile ala to

sina wile ala wile moku e pipi? — wile ala.

Do you want to eat bugs? — No. (literally, "do not want")

Or use the word ala on its own:

te sina wile ala wile moku e pipi to   te ala to

sina wile ala wile moku e pipi? — ala.

Do you want to eat bugs? — No. (literally, "not.")

General questions[edit | edit source]

A question asked with seme can be answered with a sentence providing the information that was asked for.

te ona li seme to   te ona li kepeken ilo to

ona li seme? — ona li kepeken ilo.

What are they doing? — They are using a tool.

History[edit | edit source]

This section contains historical information that is presented for completeness, and may not reflect current usage.

Yes–no questions[edit | edit source]

Despite the X–ala–X structure could theoretically be used to ask about any part of the sentence, in pu, it is only used for the head of a predicate. This limitation has become standard in the period since. The main exception is using a preverb instead of the main verb.

One of the very oldest Toki Pona lessons from 2001,[4] includes these examples, which may seem strange to modern readers:

meli ala meli li lawa e ma ni

meli ala meli li lawa e ma ni?

Does a woman rule that country? (literally, A woman / not a woman rules that country?)

iki li {jan-pona sina}ala(jan-pona sina)

iki[a] li jan pona sina ala jan pona sina?

Is she your friend? (literally, She your friend / not your friend?)

By 2005, the form was restricted to the head of a predicate[4], and the same form is used in pu.[5] As of 2023, the form anu seme is used for questions about the subject or object of a sentence.

anu seme[edit | edit source]

In 2005, the anu seme form was still a tag question.[6] In pu, however, the form is described as identical to the A-ala-A form and is presented as a synonymous alternative.[5] As of 2023, the anu seme form is still used as a tag question, though the question of whether pu's synonymous style was ever widely used is still unanswered. An avenue for future research.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Archaic form of the pronoun ona.

External links[edit | edit source]

Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Lang, Sonja (12 February 2003). New question type. Toki Pona Forums. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  2. "Tag questions". In Wikipedia. Retrieved 16 October 2023.
  3. Lang, Sonja (2021). Toki Pona Dictionary. Illustrated by Vacon Sartirani. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292362. p. 7.
  4. 4.0 4.1 jan Pije. Lesson Eight. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. lipu pi jan Pije.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lang, Sonja (2014). Toki Pona: The Language of Good. Tawhid. ISBN 978-0978292300. OCLC 921253340. Lesson 7.
  6. jan Pije. Lesson 12. Archived from the original on 9 February 2005. lipu pi jan Pije.