Lwaitel verbs


Basic and compound verbs

There are two types of verbs in Lwaitel: basic and compound. The basic verbs are a closed class; all the basic verbs are shown below (and described in more detail later in this section). Basic verbs can be used by themselves, or as part of a compound verb.

VerbMeaningIn compounds
swa beN/A
seeverbs of experience and emotion
pau be ableverbs relating to ability
naum goverbs of motion
hyam giveverbs relating to giving
get, takeverbs relating to getting
piunk put, take somewhereverbs relating to moving objects
chus makeverbs relating to making or changing properties
na start, becomeN/A
las stopverbs relating to stopping
maus sayverbs relating to making sounds or communicating
tap useN/A
lam do, happenmiscellaneous action verbs

Compound verbs are one of the basic verbs followed by some other word (the primary component). In some compound verbs, the primary component is a word that can be used on its own, usually as a noun or adjective; for instance, the compound verb lú ústelw "hear" is the primary verb "see, perceive" followed by ústelw, which means "ear"; and maus pemím "think" is maus "say" followed by pemím "head". In this case, though, the primary component isn't treated syntactically as a noun, so one wouldn't normally say *lú ústelwku ("perceive my ear") or *maus húli pemím ("say big head"). In other verbs, the word is only used as part of a compound verb; for instance, lú pútwe means "notice", but pútwe by itself doesn't mean anything. Many primary components can be used with multiple basic verbs to get related meanings (e.g., lam ústelw = "listen", maus pútwe = "point out"), but primary components generally can't be used with all basic verbs. Each compound verb is listed in the lexicon, alphabetized by its primary component; there's also a table showing all compound verbs.

In compound verbs, the basic verb conjugates, and the primary component has only one form. For instance, "I say" is mausku; "I think" is mausku pemím, not *maus pemímku or *mausku pemímku.

Adverbs can go between the components of a compound verb, but subjects, objects, and prepositional phrases can't. Multiple primary components can be used with the same basic verb, with no conjunction between, to refer to different aspects of the verb; for instance, maus hengút means "shout", and maus pútwe means "point out", so maus pútwe hengút means "point out by shouting". Multiple primary components can be used with a conjunction to refer to two different events with the same subject and main verb.


Agreement and inverse marking

Verbs agree with their arguments for person and obviation (I'm calling this argument the subject, though it doesn't always correspond to the subject in English). In writing and speech, this is expressed by an agreement suffix (with some irregularities, shown in the conjugation tables below) and in some cases direct/inverse marking; in sign language, this is expressed by the location of the sign for the verb.

Verbs in Lwaitel fall into two general categories. The verbs swá, , pau, naum, , las, and maus (and compound verbs using these verbs) always mark one argument, and don't use direct/inverse marking. In sign language this is expressed by pointing the sign at the location that's used for indexing the argument. If there's no subject, or if the only core argument is a clause, the verb does not have any suffix, and the sign is made pointing towards the speaker's non-dominant side (most common with swa and ). Any other verb used as an intransitive verb also behaves like this.

The verbs hyam, , piunk, chús, tap, and lam, in speech and writing, mark the more proximate of their arguments, and use a separate form (the inverse form) if the argument marked is what would normally be the object. If both arguments are the same proximity, the object is preceded by the preposition kwe. The inverse form is formed by reversing the sounds in the verb (sometimes with phonological changes):

hyam to give mai to be given something by
to get ik to be gotten by
piunk to put nguip to be put by
chus to make suit to be made by
tap to use pat to be used by
lam to do mal to have something done by

An argument is considered more proximate than another if it comes first in this list:

  1. Head of a relative clause, subject of an imperative sentence, or a question word
  2. First person (including the inclusive "we")
  3. Second person
  4. Noun marked with an
  5. Noun marked with al
  6. Noun marked with im
  7. Unmarked noun
  8. Indefinite noun (marked with –she on the verb; see next section)
  9. Clause as a core argument
  10. Noun marked with kwe in this sentence (or te for hyam)
  11. No argument in that position

For example,

Lánku wípi an.
lam-kudo-1 wípihit an.prox.
I hit him.

uses the first-person suffix because (I) is more proximate than an (him), and uses the direct form because is the one doing the hitting.

Málku wípi an.
mal-kudo.inv-1 wípihit an.prox.
He hit me.

also uses the first-person suffix because is still more proximate, but uses the inverse form to indicate that is the one being hit, rather than the one doing the hitting.

In sign language, direct/inverse marking is not used; rather, the sign for these verbs starts pointing to the subject, and then moves to point to the object.


Verbs mark the definiteness of one argument. For transitive verbs, if the object is indefinite, the suffix –she is added to the verb after the agreement suffix. For intransitive verbs, if the subject is indefinite, the suffix –she replaces the agreement suffix. In sign language, the non-dominant hand is placed palm-down over the location used for indexing the indefinite noun. If both the subject and the object of a transitive verb are indefinite, the subject takes the determiner swashe and the verb takes the normal agreement marker as if the subject were definite. If the suffix –she is used without an explicit object, that implies that the object isn't something that would be implied by the discourse; this is essentially an anti-passive (in non-inverse voice) or a passive (in inverse voice). (TODO: if an argument is nga, does it still take -she?)

Tense and aspect

Lwaitel has two main aspects that are distinguished grammatically, primarily based on whether the event is in sequence with other events:

If there isn't a sequence of events in the first place, the perfective is used for past non-habitual non-stative actions, and the imperfective is used for everything else.

When using swá as a modal verb, swá is marked for subject, mood, and definiteness, and the other verb is marked for voice.

Other tense and aspect distinctions can be made with adverbs (although these can be left out if implied from the context):


Lwaitel has two moods: indicative and subjunctive. The subjunctive is marked by changing the first vowel in the verb to i (because of this, doesn't change in the subjunctive). In sign language, the subjunctive is marked by putting the non-dominant hand flat on the top of the head. The subjunctive is used when the clause is modified with certain other verbs (particularly ) or adverbs, and is generally used when those verbs add some uncertainty to the clause or talk about something that isn't true.

Situations where it's used and not used:

Imperative and infinitive

Imperative (and hortative) verbs use the bare form, i.e., non-subjunctive and not marked for subject, and pointing to the left for sign language, though they still can get direct/inverse marking. In sign language, the hand is moved slightly towards the listener. An explicit subject pronoun (commonly chí "you" or kat "we") or noun phrase can be added. Negative infinitives (prohibatitves) place mún before the verb, unless the main verb is lám, in which case mún replaces lám (this is done instead of adding úni). Mún by itself means "don't do that". The interjections sák "look out" and kál "go away" are sort of like irregular imperatives, except they can't take arguments.

The infinitive is formed in the same way as the imperative (except for the interjections and mún and hand movement); it can be preceded by a demonstrative and used as a noun. However, many places an infinitive would be used in English, Lwaitel uses a full clause. (TODO are infinitives used ever?)


In speech and writing, the participle of a basic verb is the same as its infinitive, and the participle of a non-basic verb is formed by turning the basic verb into an unstressed clitic (written as a separate word); participles are marked for direct vs. inverse, but not mood or subject. In sign language, participles are formed the same way as finite indicative verbs (including showing their arguments). Participles can be used after swá and in other words that take the same kind of arguments as swá. Participles of non-basic verbs can also be used attributively at the end of a noun phrase; for basic verbs, the word hes is required before the verb. (TODO is this last sentence the same for sign language?)


Negation uses the adverb úni. The adverb unún can be used to contrast with a negative sentence.

Swá (to be)

The verb swá, in any of its forms, is usually followed by a predicate noun or adjective or prepositional phrase (if there is one, it must go directly after swá, except adverbs can go between). If it's followed by a noun phrase, the noun phrase includes a demonstrative only if it's something that's been mentioned in the conversation already, or if the noun phrase is an infinitive (to distinguish from the use of swá as a modal verb); if there's no demonstrative, it's usually assumed to be indefinite. It can also be used by itself, meaning "exist" (usually in the form swáshe). As explained above, it can also be used as a modal verb to form the imperfective aspect.

If swá is followed by a prepositional phrase or possessed noun, and the object of the preposition or the possessor is indefinite, and the subject isn't indefinite, the indefiniteness is marked on swá as if it were an object.

The no-subject version is used to talk about the weather, the time, the lighting ("it's dark in here"), and probably other things. Swá cannot have an ordinary object (except when used as a modal verb).

Some other verbs take arguments in the same form as swá, including being able to take participles. In that case, the main verb gets the marking that swá would get. These verbs are marked "v.s." in the lexicon.

Swáshe is also a determiner indicating indefiniteness (when this is not indicated on the verb).


No subjectswa swí 
1st personswáku swíku 
1st and 2ndswáket swíket 
2nd personswáchi swíchi 
Thisswan swin 
Thatswal swil 
Otherswaim swí 
Indefiniteswáshe swíshe 

(verbs of experience and emotion)

, by itself, means to perceive (see, hear, feel, etc.). It usually implies sight unless something about the context suggests otherwise. If it's necessary to clarify that one is actually seeing using their eyes, use lú sáki. When combined with other words, it can be used to describe mainly things relating to experience, perception, thought, and emotion, though there are some verbs that describe those things that don't use (e.g., lám sáki "look", and maus pemím "think").

The grammatical subject of lú is the thing seen or experienced, rather than the experiencer as it would be in English (though many verbs can also take no subject, or sometimes always take no subject). never has a grammatical object. The experiencer is marked with the preposition "hu"; if no experiencer is specified, it defaults to:

The verb can be used to make the experiencer the subject.

If is used by itself, the aspect depends on the context.

can modify sentences as well as nouns. When it modifies sentences, it can go in any position in the sentence except inside phrases (e.g., noun phrases, other verb phrases, dependent clauses, prepositional phrases), and it does not get an agreement suffix. Sometimes it makes the other verb in the sentence subjunctive.

If (in its bare form or in a variant referring to perception) modifies a sentence, it can indicate some amount of uncertainty (it looks that way, but is it really?), especially when the main verb is in the subjunctive. If this meaning is not desired, the verb can be preceded by the particle hwel. This also shifts the focus away from the fact that you saw something, and onto the thing that you saw. If in most forms referring to emotions modifies a sentence, describes the experiencer's attitude towards whatever the sentence is expressing (in this case, the verb is not in the subjunctive); if is preceded by hwel, the rest of the sentence is assumed to be new information.

Examples of how to use


No object/Sentence
1st personlúku líku 
1st and 2ndlúket líket 
2nd personlúchi líchi 
Thislun lin 
Thatlul lil 
Otherluim  

Pau (to be able, verbs of ability)

Pau, by itself, means "to be able to"/"can" (situational modality, not epistemic). It's optionally followed by a second word in the phrasal verb, and then necessarily followed by a participle. Unlike other cases, the direct/inverse marking of the participle, and which argument is marked on the verb, isn't determined by obviation, but rather by which argument the speaker considers the statement to be a property of, for example:

An ngish úmpuku penk'itúp petwánchi pauku láleletes man tánku.
anprox ngishrock úmpu-kucan't-1 penk=itúppart=lift petwánchibecause pau-kucan-1 láleletestoo mankind_of tánku.strong.
I can't lift the rock because I'm not strong enough.

An ngish úmpwen ngep'itúp petwánchi swan láleletes tánku.
anprox ngishrock úmpu-encan't-prox ngep=itúpinv.part=lift I/me petwánchibecause swa-enbe-prox láleletestoo tánku.heavy.
I can't lift the rock because it's too heavy.

If one argument is general and unspecified (e.g., "I can't lift things" or "This rock can't be lifted"), then the agreement suffix is replaced with the suffix –nge.

Pau has a negative form, umpu, which is used to indicate that whatever's specified is impossible (as opposed to not doing something being possible). The question form is still pau pikuni.


Bare formpau piu úmpu ímpi 
1st personpauku piuku úmpuku ímpiku 
1st and 2ndpauket piuket úmpuket ímpiket 
2nd personpauchi piuchi úmpuchi ímpichi 
Thispaun piun úmpwen ímpyen 
Thatpaul piul úmpelw ímpeyl 
Otherpaim pim úmpwi ímpi 
Generalpaunge piunge úmpunge ímpinge 
Participlepu- úmpu 

Naum (to go, verbs of motion)

Naum, by itself, means to go. The destination, if included in the sentence, is marked with the preposition shi. If the destination is indefinite, and the subject is definite, the indefiniteness is marked on the verb.

Naum is intransitive. Verbs where the subject is moving something else (e.g., "put") don't use naum; instead they mostly use piunk.

There's a special form, naunge, for describing the shape of lines and paths. Paths can be described in terms of how one would move along them (go forward a ways, then turn right, keep going forward, etc.), but with every instance of a form of naum replaced by naunge. In this case, the path or line can be an argument to the sentence without a preposition. Naunge (and verbs starting with naunge) can be used in the conjugated form where a participle is required.


Bare formnaum *nium 
1st personnaunku niunku 
1st and 2ndnaunket niunket 
2nd personnaunchi niunchi 
Thisnaun niun 
Thatnaumel niumel 
Othernaumi niumi 
Pathnaunge niunge 
Participlenem- 

Hyám (to give)

Hyám, by itself, means "to give"; combined with other words it can form related meanings. Hyám usually takes three core arguments: the giver (subject), the thing given (direct object), and the receiver (indirect object). Therefore, the rules about verb forms are a bit different:

This verb also has a reciprocal form, meaning "give each other". This can be used similarly to hyám, or it can be followed by a participle of a verb other than hyám.


Bare formhyam *him mai * mihyám *mihím 
1st personhyánku hínku maiku míku mihyánku mihínku 
1st and 2ndhyánket hínket maiket míket mihyánket mihínket 
2nd personhyánchi hínchi maichi míchi mihyánchi mihínchi 
Thishyan hin maihen míhen mihyán mihín 
Thathyámel hímel maihel míhel mihyámel mihímel 
Otherhyámi hími maim mim mihyámi mihími 
Participlehyem- mi-  mihyám 

: to get

by itself means to get or to take (but not to take or bring something somewhere; that meaning of take would be piunk).

also act as an auxilary verb: kí lú is like , but the experiencer is the subject (the original subject becomes the object); kí naum is like naum, but the destination is the subject (the original subject becomes the object); kí piunk is like piunk, but the destination is the subject (the original subject is preceded by kel). can also be followed by a compound verb that uses , naum, or piunk as its base verb, in which case the participle is used. These are sometimes necessary in imperative sentences, relative clauses, and as an argument to pau.

When signing, the sign moves from the thing gotten to the receiver, rather than the other way around.


The indicative and subjunctive are the same for phonological reasons.

Bare form ik
1st personkíku íkku 
1st and 2ndkíket íkket 
2nd personkíchi íkchi 
Thiskin íken 
Thatkil íkel 
Other íki 
Participleki- ek-

Piunk: to put

By itself, this can mean to put something somewhere (with the something being the object and the somewhere being a prepositional phrase), or it can mean to take something somewhere (same arguments). In general it's used for verbs that involve someone moving an object.

Similar to naum, the destination is marked with the preposition shi, but the definiteness of the destination isn't marked on the verb.


Bare formpiunk *pink nguip *ngip 
1st personpiunkku pínkku nguipku ngípku 
1st and 2ndpiunkket pínkket nguipket ngípket 
2nd personpiunchi pínchi nguipchi ngípchi 
Thispiunken pínken nguipen ngípen 
Thatpiunkel pínkel nguipel ngípel 
Otherpiunki pínki nguipi ngípi 
Participlepenk- ngep- 

Chús (to make)

By itself, chús means to create, and can also be used as a causative. In its meaning "to create", it's an ordinary transitive verb.

As a causative, its subject is the causer. It can take a hem clause as its object, or it can be directly followed by an adjective or participle, or it can be mixed in to the sentence like and maus. If it's mixed in to the sentence, then it's in the direct voice. If it's followed by an adjective or participle, then the object is the one the adjective or participle applies to (in the case of a participle, this is the more-proximate argument). The adjective/participle form is generally preferred if the verb is swa or , or if it's an intransitive verb or one where which argument is which is fairly unambiguous. The mixed-in form is preferred if the causer is less focused and less topical than the other arguments, or if negation is involved.


Bare formchus *chish suit *sheet 
1st personchúsku chíshku suitku sheetku 
1st and 2ndchúsket chíshket suitket sheetket 
2nd personchúschi chíshchi suitchi sheetchi 
Thischúsen chíshen suin shin 
Thatchúsel chíshel suitel sheetel 
Otherchúshi chíshi suichi shíchi 
Participleches- set- 

(start, become)

By itself, is an intransitive verb that means "to come into existence", or an impersonal verb meaning "to start". can also be followed by an adjective or a noun, in which case it means "to become", "to change into". It can also be used to form other aspects.

Like , maus, and chús, when this verb modifies a sentence, it can appear in any position in the sentence.


Bare formna
1st personnáku níku 
1st and 2ndnáket níket 
2nd personnáchi níchi 
Thisnan nin 
Thatnal nil 
Othernaim  

Lás (stop)

Lás means to stop doing something. It can be followed by a participle indicating what to stop doing, or an adjective.


Bare formlas lish 
1st personlásku líshku 
1st and 2ndlásket líshket 
2nd personláschi líshchi 
Thisláspen líshpen 
Thatláspel líshpel 
Otherláspi líshpi 

Maus (verbs of communication)

Maus, by itself, basically means "to say", but it's a bit more general than that; it doesn't imply anything about the means of communication (it can also mean "to write"). Books, signs, pieces of paper, etc. can also be used as a subject, similarly to English ("this book says that..."). If the subject of maus is a word or a sentence, then it means "to mean". Maus can have an object, but it doesn't affect agreement, direct/inverse marking, or sign position. It can also modify a whole sentence, like , though it's still conjugated.

Also related is the preposition swámes, "according to". This preposition indicates the source of information, or it can be used without a noun to indicate that one heard the information from somewhere (rather than expriencing or deducing it oneself).

maus can be preceded by hwel to indicate that the main focus is on the thing said, not the fact that someone said it.

Maus lautwe "ask" and maus kísh "answer" can be used to distinguish sentences like "I asked what his name was" vs. "I said what his name was".


Bare formmaus *mius 
1st personmausku miusku 
1st and 2ndmausket miusket 
2nd personmauschi miuschi 
Thismausen miusen 
Thatmausel miusel 
Othermaushi miushi 
Participlemes- 

Táp: to use

When this is the only verb in the sentence, it indicates the default action given the object (for instance, if the object is a pen or pencil, it means to write or draw). Unlike other verbs, tap doesn't form phrasal verbs; the object that I'm referring to is a real noun phrase. Some specific uses:

When there is another verb in the sentence, táp/pát acts sort of like a preposition indicating an instrument, except that it's conjugated to agree with whoever's using it. In that case, the used object should come directly after táp/pát if it's not omitted (inferred from context). When used this way, if the object of táp is a clause (starting with hem), it means roughly the same thing as "by" in English, indicating how something is done.


Bare formtap *chip pat *pit 
1st persontápku chípku pátku pítku 
1st and 2ndtápket chípket pátket pítket 
2nd persontápchi chípchi pátchi pítchi 
Thistápen chípen pan pin 
Thattápel chípel pátel pítel 
Othertápi chípi páchi píchi 

Lám: to do

Lám can, like other verbs, be part of a phrasal verb; verbs formed this way are typically ones where there's no more specific basic verb that fits.

Lám can be followed by a noun phrase or pronoun that represents an action, in which case it means "do". The noun phrase indicating the action is not the direct object; this verb can be used transitively, in which case the direct object is whoever or whatever was affected. When used with an indefinite (-she) and unspecified subject, in means to happen.

Lánchi lau.
lam-chido-2 lau.what.
What did you do?

Lánku an hi mauschi.
lam-kudo-1 anprox hiwhere maus-chi.say-2.
I did what you asked me to.

Lánchi lau an myau.
lam-chido-2 lauwhat anprox myau.cat.
What did you to to the cat?

Málchishe lau.
mal-chi-shedo.inv-2-indf lau.what.
What happened to you?

Lámshe lau.
lam-shedo-indf lau.what.
What happened?

When it doesn't have a word following it, it means to do that (a pro-verb). Like the previous case, whoever or whatever was affected can be the object.


Bare formlam *lim mal *mil 
1st personlánku línku málku mílku 
1st and 2ndlánket línket málket mílket 
2nd personlánchi línchi málchi mílchi 
Thislan lin málen mílen 
Thatlámel límel mal mil 
Otherlámi lími máli míli 
Participlelem- mel- 
Prohibitativemun mun mal  