Phonology and Phonotactics

p b f v m w
t d n l
ts dz
k g h [x]
y [j]
s r

i u
é [e] ó [o]
ë [ə]
e[ɛ] o [ɔ]
a [a]


Assimilation. Certain flexional endings that begin with consonants will cause changes in word-final consonants.

Word end Affix start Result Example
n, l, m, r n nn, ll, mm, rr
m t nt ronta < rom-ta
d, g n nn ganne < gad-ne
b n mm
b, d, g any voiceless stop pp, tt, kk varakka < varag-ta
b, d, g any voiced stop bb, dd, gg

Reduplication. Plurality on some nouns and most verbs is marked by reduplication. The reduplication for nouns is fairly straightforward, but for verbs it is more complex. The reduplicated syllable is always unstressed.

Noun Reduplication
Noun start Reduplication Example
CV-, where V is not i or u CëCV- tsëtsal < tsal
CV-, where V is i or u CiCV- sisula < sula

If a noun begins with a consonant cluster, the cluster is duplicated fully (unlike in verbs). Note, though, that yi reduces to i (sisyur < syur).

Reduplication on verbs is more complex first because the number of possible vowels in the reduplicated syllable is greater and second because closed syllables ending in resonants or s follow different rules.

Verb Reduplication
Verb start Reduplication Example
CV, where V is a, e, o, ë CëCV
CV, where V is é, i CiCV
CV, where V is ó, ói, au, u CuCV
CV, where V is ai, oi, eu, éu CeCV wewoi < woi
CVR, where R is n, m CaCVR
CVR, where R is l CuCVR susél < sél
CVR, where R is r CeCVR sesordó < sordó
CyV, CwV CiCyV, CiCwV
CVR, where R is s CiCVR or CësCVR këskóis < kóis

Note that the vowel for reduplication for syllables closed with resonants or s is indifferent to the actual vowel of the stem. The choice between CiCVR and CësCVR is unpredictable, though in general the CësCVR form is preferred for monosyllabic stems.

If a verb stem's opening syllable starts with a consonant cluster and is also closed, the habits of the second consonant of the cluster are chosen, tityar < tyar.

Few verb roots begin in vowels, and those that do take a different plural marking.

Word Classes

Word classes are fairly fluid in Tsrai. Adjectives are not distinguished from adverbs, and a plenty of verbs can also be used adverbially. Nouns are also often used as adjectives.

Nouns and verbs have the highest impedance for class switching, with various compounds available to create nouns from verbs (agent nouns, object nouns, etc.). There is, nonetheless, a substantial vocabulary of words that can be used as either a noun or a verb. The dictionary will point these out.

Word class determines morphology, so that bés dance when used as a noun takes the regular plural bésne, and as a verb takes the reduplicated form bësbés.

The Noun Phrase

The word order for noun phrases is:

Preposition - Number/Quantifier - Noun - Adjective - Demonstrative

Number. Except when paired with an explicit number or quantifier, nouns are marked for plurality, either by the suffix -ne, by reduplication or by suppletion. By far the marjority of nouns take -ne.

Suppletive Noun Plurals
Singular Plural
man gad órói
mouse sodi kibare
tree dzalli lilura (accent 2nd)
woman tas wanne


Unlike nouns, personal pronouns take different subject and oblique forms. The usual subject forms are unaccented proclitics, and the object forms enclitic. There is an accented form used when the subject or oblique pronoun needs to be focused.

Subject Object Focused
1sg un léu
2sg tsë tsë tsé
3sg we ó wayye
1pl nin nin ninna
2pl orré
3pl si é si

The oblique forms are used as the object of verbs and after prepositions (which are quite verbal anyway).

Lë ba ó I see him.
We raita kan un She went with me.

As arguments of the primary verb, the focused forms will still require the focus particle , but with prepositions (weakened verbs in most cases), the focused form alone is sufficient:

Léu fë leukka It's me who spoke.
Si leleukka dzal léu They spoke to me.

Reflexive. There is a single reflexive pronoun, mon, which works for all persons. It is not changed for number.

Lë tséu mon. I wash (myself).
Si tsetséu mon. They wash (themselves).


Tsrai demonstratives have a three-way division for proximate, distal and out of sight.

Determiner Pronoun
proximate, "this, these" dai dakka
distal, "that, those" war warka
out of sight sëlë sulka

The forms in the determiner column are used with nouns, the pronoun form is for independent demonstrative pronouns.

Nin bawé gad dai We see this man.
Nin bawé dakka We see this (person or thing).

The Verb

Number. Verbs change stem to mark the number of the subject, by the suffix -wé, by reduplication or by suppletion. Most take reduplication. The suffix -wé is most often found with open, monosyllablic roots, as bawé from ba see, and verbs that start with vowels.

Suppletive Verb Plurals
Singular Plural
hear dzoi migan
shout, yell kóg gibari

Tense. The basic verb stem has non-past tense, and can be used for present, general and future senses. The past tense is indicated with the suffix -ta, which is completely regular (taking assimilation rules into account). In those verbs that take the number suffix -wé the past tense suffix comes last, ba > bawé > bawéta.

Aspect. Tsrai relies on adverbs and helping verbs for most aspect marking. In particular, the adverb already is frequently used nearly as a perfect marker,

We rai né. She has gone.
Lë sordó né adón I have already read the book.

The experiential perfect, I have read that book, is marked with the adverb mën.

Postural Verbs

The basic set of sit, stand, and lie verbs are somewhat elaborated in Tsrai. These are very often used in verb chains. A few slots are filled with periphrastic forms using verb become.

dzig be sitting on the ground
kwoi assume a seated position on the ground
óid be sitting not on the ground
pé óid assume a seated position not on the ground
dalgoi sit, be located (of any grouped mass or matter)
laim assume a location (grouped mass)
fas be in, maintain a standing position
hurra assume standing position
gër lie, maintain a horizontal position
rabbë assume horizontal position
tsëg lie supine (face up), maintain a supine position
pé tsëg assume a supine position

Any of the fixed location verbs (i.e., not the "assume a position" ones) may be paired with adverbial dzwai happen to indicate low control, come to be in such-and-such a position, as in si dzidzikka dzwai they came to be sitting on the ground.

The supine pair is mostly used with animate subjects, but if an object has an obvious front side then it too may use tsëg and pé tsëg.

The grouped mass or matter verbs, dalgoi and laim, refer to things that naturally collect into a pile or more or less orderly jumble, including powdery (flour, sand) or mushy matter (dough), string and rope. It can be used of a person or animal sprawling, but probably not if they care about their dignity.


Basic word order is SVO.

Subject pronouns may be dropped if the context makes the subject clear.

Adjective Predicate Order. Simple adjective predicate sentences have a different order: Adjective (Adverb) Subject.

Tsis dakka This is small.

However, such adjective predication may also be expressed with the copular verb deu.

Dakka deu tsis This is small.


Yes-no questions may be indicated in three ways. First, with the pre-sentential particle kin. Second, with the post-sentential particle loi. Third, with both kin and loi.

Kin órói këskóis? Are the men sleeping?
Órói këskóis loi? Are the men sleeping?
Kin órói këskóis loi? Are the men sleeping?

Using both particles together is for formal or very careful speech. The final particle loi is somewhat more common than kin.


A focused constituent may be fronted, which which case it will be followed by the particle . A subject may also be focused this way.

Gad dai fë lë ba I see this man.
Wayye fë ba é She sees them.

The end of an intonation unit will coincide with , so it may make sense to use a comma after it, especially for anything but focused subjects.


Except for a few root adverbs, adverbs take the same form as adjectives, and follow the word they go with.

Lë kóista I slept well.
Gol moddai we He is very large

The main exception to this is the negative not which comes before the negated word. If an object is negated it will usually also be fronted,

Vó wayye fë, lë ba. I don't see him, it's not him I see.
Lë byori vó woi dakka. I believe this unwillingly.

Full-clause or sentence adverbs ("hopefully, unfortunately," etc.) come at the start of a clause, and are usually have full-word reduplication. The accenting of the second word is minimal.

Lau lau lë vó myan dwé dakka Really, I cannot understand this.
Tsagi tsagi tsë gyauta é. Foolishly, you asked them.

Noun phrases of time and location may also be used as adverbs. These are somewhat more likely to come at the head of the clause, but can fall in the normal post-verbal slot, too.

Vor dai sësó bés adréwé yor. Tonight the stars are shining brightly.

Control Verbs and Verb Chaining

Modals and the verbs used to create passive sentences are the control verbs. When these are used, the controlled verb takes neither number nor tense marking, but instead partakes of the number and tense of the control verb.

woi rai bau. I want to go home.
woita rai bau. I wanted to go home.
Si wewoita rai bau. They wanted to go home.

Most Tsrai prepositions are actually verbs, and these follow the same pattern.

We klóta rai ugri. She fell to the ground.
Si kuklóta rai ugri. They fell to the ground.

Object Clauses

With verbs of speaking, asking, commanding, as well as verbs of desire, the dependent clause is introduced with the conjunction di.

We woi di tsë sordó adón dai. He wants you to read this book.
Si leleukka di we rai bau. They said that he went home.

Note that the tense of the verb in indirect discourse is relative to the time of speaking, not the main verb.

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are created with the relative particle . If the head is the subject of the relative clause, is used alone:

Kin tsë ba gad hó kóis? Do you see the man who is sleeping?

For any other grammatical role, including direct object, the head requires a resumptive pronoun:

Gad hó tsë ba ó kóis. The man who you see (him) is sleeping.

Lexical Derivation and Compounding

Tsrai is primarily compounding, with few bound morphemes for producing new vocabulary.

See the full vocab.

Copyright (c) 2006-2019 William S. Annis