Noun Structure

Nouns are made up of a stem together with a prefix and a suffix. Noun stems can be monosyllabic, with a CVC structure. VC, CV, and V stems occur, as well as multisyllabic and compounded stems.


Stems are inflected with a mandatory set of prefixes denoting animate, inanimate, and possessed nouns.

Animate nouns refer to people, to things that are considered to have volition, such as some natural phenomena, or to things that have been elevated to person status, such as pets. What is inflected as animate can vary by idiolect. The most restrictive use of animacy is to designate only kin as animate. The following shows which things are most likely to have animate inflection:

Animacy Scale
<— Kēleñi kin Kēleñi non-kin Īrāñi & humans natural forces, pets animals, natural objects tools everything else —>
<— more likely ———————————————————————————— less likely —>

Inanimate nouns refer to things, events, places, qualities, and abstractions. Occasionally, animate nouns are demoted to inanimate for the purposes of insult. More often, nouns that would be inanimate are promoted to animacy in acknowledgement of honorary personhood. This especially happens in stories. So while a rock would normally be inanimate, a talking rock would not be. Likewise, a storm might be inanimate, but a storm that kills several people might not be.

Possessed nouns refer to those inanimates that are considered to be part of a person, such as body parts. Possessed nouns that are no longer associated with a person, such as detached body parts, will be inflected as inanimate. Body expressions (smile, frown, etc) can also be possessed. However, communications (sigh, groan) are usually inanimate, but can be possessed in certain contexts. Since motion can be considered an expression, it can be possessed in certain contexts, such as when talking about someone's manner or style of motion. Kinship terms are not generally possessed.

The prefixes are:

  before C before V
animate ma m
inanimate ja j
1p possessed le l
2p possessed ri r
3p possessed sa s


Stem suffixes denote number: non-plural and plural. The non-plural varies between -a, -e, and a null suffix. Which is used depends on the form and final consonant of the stem. The plural suffixes are -i and -ien. -ien is only used with animates.

Generally, the null suffix is used with stems ending in:

-e is used with stems ending in:

Regular stems ending in -īk or -īw do not use the non-plural -e suffix. For example, the stem -kīw- "skin" would not use the -e suffix, but the derived stem -kīwīk- "leather" would.

-a is used everywhere else, especially:

The plural suffix -i assimilates with stems ending in vowels. For example:

Other Suffixes

Stems can have other suffixes attached. These suffixes will occur between the stem and the number suffix. Productive suffixes include:

Common non-productive suffixes include:

There are also a few prefixes, none of which are productive:


A combination of prefix and suffix determines the inflection of the noun stem.

inanimate ja-   +   non-plural -a/-e/-   =   inanimate singular noun
inanimate ja-   +   plural -i   =   inanimate plural noun
inanimate an-   +   non-plural -a/-e/-   =   stative noun
inanimate an-   +   plural -i   =   inanimate collective noun
animate ma-   +   non-plural -a/-e/-   =   animate singular noun
animate ma-   +   plural -i   =   animate collective noun
animate ma-   +   reduplication of initial consonant + plural -ien   =   animate plural noun

Both animates and inanimates have three numbers: singular, collective, and plural. These could also be termed non-plural, collective plural, and distributive plural. There is also the stative inflection, which has no number and is neither animate nor inanimate.


Nouns that are inherently singular include things that can be counted, pieces or parts of things, instances of a feeling or experience, and events. Singular nouns are used with modifying numbers up through four. Possessed nouns, even those that denote paired objects, are singular.


Collective nouns include inherent aggregations of parts, powders, liquids, and gases. Collectives are also sets, series, or expanses, and can optionally be used for large scale natural phenomena. Collectives can be used to refer to a generic when discussing something that applies to all members of a set.


Plural is a distributive plural, and refers to multiple distinct entities that are not grouped.


Stative nouns include abstractions, qualities, and attributes. The stative can be used to refer to a generic when discussing the essence of something. Also, the stative is the preferred 2nd opject of PA.

Stative nouns will often modify other nouns. In this situation, the stative noun will change its inflection to agree with the other noun. Sometimes the modified noun is omitted, and so only the changed stative is left.


Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns make more distinctions in number than nouns do. Where nouns have merely a singular, a collective, and a plural, pronouns come in singular, dual, paucal (or collective), and plural. The dual is used for pairs and dyads. The paucal is generally used to refer to a set of closely bonded individuals, such as in a marriage or small kingroup, and other groups that act collectively. The plural is used to refer to larger unrelated groups of people. Thus the paucal has lost its strict numerical value and become a collective plural, while the plural remains a non-collective plural. Kēlen culture approves of collectives, so the paucal is actually more widespread than the plural.

Furthermore, the first person pronouns come in both exclusive and inclusive varieties. Exclusive excludes 2nd person, and inclusive includes it. Or, first person exclusive refers to 'me and him or her, but not you', or first person plus third person, and first person inclusive refers to 'me and you and maybe him or her, too', or first person plus second and/or third person.

  Singular Dual Paucal Plural
1p liēn liēnne 1 + 3 lēim 1 + (3 + 3) liēþ 1 + 3 + 3
  (inclusive) liēr 1 + 2 ñēim 1 + (2 + 2) ñiēþ 1 + 2 + 3
2p riēn riēnne 2 + 2 rēim 2 + (2 + 2) riēþ 2 + 3
3p sāen sāenne 3 + 3 sāim 3 + (3 + 3) sāeþ 3 + 3 + 3

There are two modifiers that can modify pronouns, tēna and āñ. tēna can modify any non-singular pronoun to add emphasis by specifying "both" or "each". āñ can modify any pronoun, turning it into a reflexive form.

Reduced and Relative Pronouns

There are four reduced pronouns. One is used only as a relative pronoun, the others appear in both roles.

1p le
2p ri
3p anim. ma
3p inan. (relative only) ja

le is often used in place of singular, dual, and paucal forms of 1p, exclusive and inclusive. This is considered a polite usage. ri can be used in place of singular, dual, and occasionally paucal forms of 2p, but is considered impolite. ma is often used in place of any of the 3p animate forms, and is neutral as far as politeness is concerned, though in some contexts it could be interpreted as impolite. Most often the reduced forms occur in oblique phrases and not as an object of a relational.

These forms can all be used as relative pronouns, though the 3rd person reduced pronouns are the most prevalent relative pronouns. Also, there is a special relative pronoun ien which is only used to relativize the object of the relational SE.

Definite Pronouns

Inflected nouns can be definite or indefinite. Generally definiteness is clear in context. When one wants to explicitly state that a noun is definite, one can use one of three definite pronouns. These are , þō, and āke. They mean 'this', 'that', and 'the other' respectively. They generally follow the noun they modify, but can immediately precede it. They can also be used to reference a previously mentioned noun. However, in certain contexts, the noun they are assumed to modify is 'place', so they can also be interpreted as:

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can be used alone or in conjunction with a noun.

Indef. PN as standalone as modifier
janaren everything every
jannarien - every
jawae nothing no
janahan anything, something any
manaren everyone, everybody every
mannarien - every
mawae noone, nobody no
manahan anyone, anybody, someone, somebody any
honnarien every kind, every manner every kind of, every manner of
howae no kind, no manner, no-how no kind of, no manner of
honahan any kind, some kind, any manner, some manner any kind of, any manner of

Singular nouns can be modified by the indefinite pronouns janahan (inanimate) and manahan (animate).

Collective nouns can be modified by the indefinite pronouns janaren (inanimate), manaren (animate), jawae (inanimate), and mawae (animate).

Plural nouns can be modified by the indefinite pronouns jannarien (inanimate), mannarien (animate), honahan, howae, and honnarien.

For example, mēli manaren would refer to everybody as one set of people, while mēlien mannarien would refer to everybody as multiple sets of people.


Quantifiers are modifiers that express quantity. These have different forms when used alone as opposed to used as a modifier.

modifying form + + + + standalone form
nāra all of the whole set of all all janāra whole, all of it/this/that
tēna - all, both, each in the set - - -
ān tēna only one only one - - -
none of none in the set no not jawāe none of it/this/that
some of some of the set few some, little japē something, some of it/this/that
pē pē very little of very few in the set very few very little jañīña very little of it/this/that
ām enough of enough of the set enough enough jaŋŋīra enough of it/this/that
āmīwe not enough of, too little of not enough in the set, too little of the set not enough, too little not enough, too little jāmīwe not enough of it/this/that, too little of it/this/that
much of much of the set, many in the set many much, lots of janāe much of it/this/that, lots of it/this/that
ŋō very much of very much of the set, very many in the set very many very jaŋō very much of it/this/that
nāpie too much of too much of the set, too many in the set too many too much janāpie too much of it/this/that

Noun Phrases

Simple noun phrases consist of a single noun.

Slightly more complicated noun phrases consist of two or more nouns in apposition. Here, it matter whether the nouns are of the same inflection or not. Noun phrases consisting of two or more nouns in juxtaposition with the same inflection refer to the same entity. The order of the nouns in the noun phrase is syntactically irrelevant. Possessed nouns are considered to be inanimate singular, so any modifying nouns referring to the possessed noun would also have to be inanimate singular, though not possessed.

Two or more nouns of differing inflections in juxtaposition do not refer the same entity. Instead, the first is considered to be the main or topic noun, and the modifying noun is considered to be a part or attribute of that noun. This whole::part relationship is the same relationship that the relational PA expresses.

More complex noun phrases can consist of a noun or noun phrase modified by an indefinite pronoun or some other modifier.

Even more complicated noun phrases consist of a prepositional particle word followed by a noun phrase. So:

The prepostions are listed below.

λi This is used as a status marker for proper names.
This is used to associate something with an animate noun.
nīkan This is used to associate an animate noun with an inanimate or stative noun.
ānen This is used to associate two nouns that are not in a relationship. It can also be used as an instrumentative marker.
sū, rū, rā These are all locative phrase markers


The λi- prefix is used as a status marker when referring to personal names. It primarily occurs when the name is in the topic position. It can occur in front of any name that speaker wishes to show respect for.

sele lewēra λi-mālren; N.1p(name) LI Mālren 'I am called Mālren.'

ōrra ñamma λi ānenānte maλāta ā λi xējelke; PAST LI Ānenānte A LI Xējelke 'Xējelke killed Ānenānte.'

tō jāo sete sawēra λi waxāon tō ōrra ñamma anwaxāon antaxōni tēna sū āke ā λi ārōn; CONJ SE+3p.pc.ben N.1p(name) LI Confusion CONJ PAST MOD(all) PREP PN(there) A LI Lord 'Thus their name is Confusion, for the Lord made confusion of all languages there.'

is used for associating an animate noun with another animate noun. It inflects for person as follows:

maxāna jē liēn 'my friend'
maxāna jē riēn 'your friend'
maxāna jē sāen 'his/her friend'
maxāna jē sāim 'their friend'
maxāna jē maxāna 'a friend's friend'

This particular associative relationship can be abbreviated using the set of reduced pronouns:

maxāna jē liēn >maxāna jē le >maxān-ēle
maxāna jē riēn >maxāna jē ri >maxān-ēri
maxāna jē sāen >maxāna jē ma >maxān-ēma
maxāna jē sāim >maxāna jē ma >sāim maxān-ēma
maxāna jē maxāna > maxāna maxān-ēma

Note that the word order changes with the use of an abbreviated form and a redundant modifying noun phrase.

can also be used to associate an animate with a proper-name location, as in makerāon jē sarāpa 'ruler of Sarāpa'.


nīkan is an inflecting preposition and is used when associating an animate with a stative or an inanimate. It inflects for person as follows:

jaxūra nīkanle 'my door'
jaxūra nīkanrie 'your door'
jaxūra nīkamma 'his/her door'
jaxūra nīkamma sāim 'their door'
jaxūra nīkan maxāna 'a friend's door'

This particular associative relationship can also be abbreviated:

jaxūra nīkanle > jaxūra-nle
jaxūra nīkanrie > jaxūra-nrie
jaxūra nīkamma > jaxūra-mma
jaxūra nīkamma sāim > sāim jaxūra-mma
jaxūra nīkan maxāna > maxāna jaxūra-mma

Again, note that the word order changes with the use of an abbreviated form and a redundant modifying noun phrase.


ānen is used to associate two nouns that are not in a WHOLE:PART relationship. It is generally used as a comitative preposition.

jatēwa ānen jacūti
'table with cups'

ānen modified by is negative:

jatēwa ānen jacūti wā
'table without cups'

ānen modified by ēmma means 'except (for)':

ancēli ānen jacūti ēmma
'the dishes except for cups'

, , and

Location is marked by these three prepositions. The locative phrase can then be further elaborated with a set of locative modifiers.


marks location at a place, marks direction to a place, and marks direction from a place.

sū jatāsa 'at the market-square'
rā jatāsa 'to the market-square'
rū jatāsa 'from the market-square'

Modifiers can be used to add more information. Locative phrases with modifiers can reduce the NP to ja and make the phrase into a single word.

The following table of locative modifiers refer to a point of reference regardless of the position of an implied observer.

hāl NP hāl NP hāl NP hāl
  at the front of NP, in front of NP to the front of NP away from the front of NP
  sūjahāl rājahāl rūjahāl
  at the front (of it), in the front (of it) to the front (of it) away from the front (of it)
īr NP īr NP īr NP īr
  at the back of NP, behind the NP to the back of NP away from the back of NP
  sūjīr rājīr rūjīr
  at the back (of it), behind (it) to the back (of it) away from the back (of it)
ōl NP ōl NP ōl NP ōl
  at the top of NP, on top of the NP to the top of NP away from the top of NP
  sūjōl rājōl rūjōl
  at the top (of it), on top (of it) to the top (of it) away from the top (of it)
  at the bottom of NP, underneath the NP to the bottom of NP away from the bottom of NP
  sūjatā rājatā rūjatā
  at the bottom (of it), underneath (it) to the bottom (of it) away from the bottom (of it)
  at or on the inside of NP, in NP into NP  
  sūjamē rājamē  
  at or on the inside (of it), in (it) into (it)  
ēmma NP ēmma   NP ēmma
  at or on the outside of NP, out of NP   out from NP
  sūjēmma   rūjēmma
  at or on the outside (of it), out (of it)   out from (it)

The following table of locative modifiers refer to a point of reference in relation to the position of the speaker or an implied observer.

tēsa NP tēsa NP tēsa NP tēsa
  at the (observer's) left of NP to the (observer's) left of NP away from the (observer's) left of NP
hūta NP hūta NP hūta NP hūta
  at the (observer's) right of NP to the (observer's) right of NP away from the (observer's) right of NP
  at (the observer's) this side of NP to (the observer's) this side of NP away from (the observer's) this side of NP
  sūjanū rājanū rūjanū
  at (the observer's) this side (of it) to (the observer's) this side (of it) away from (the observer's) this side (of it)
kiē NP kiē NP kiē NP kiē
  at (the observer's) other side of NP, beyond NP to (the observer's) other side of NP, to beyond NP away from (the observer's) other side of NP, from beyond NP
  sūjakiē rājakiē rūjakiē
  at (the observer's) other side (of it), beyond (it) to (the observer's) other side (of it), to beyond (it) away from (the observer's) other side (of it), from beyond (it)
ālme   NP ālme NP ālme
    (from the observer's position) to across NP (to the observer's position) from across NP
    rājālme rūjālme
    (from the observer's position) to across (it) (to the observer's position) from across (it)

Finally, there is a group of modifiers that restates what the locative prepositions do. These are āñ, , and pēxa. āñ has added meaning with and , while the other two simply do not occur with the other prepositions.

The locative modifiers can refer to a more exact location:

āñ NP āñ NP āñ NP āñ
  in the middle of NP, amid NP, among NP into the middle of NP, to among NP surrounding NP, around NP
  sūjāñ rājāñ rūjāñ
  in the middle (of it), amid (it), among (it) into the middle (of it), to among (it) surrounding (it), around (it)
    to the vicinity of NP, near to NP, towards NP  
    to the vicinity of (it), near to (it), towards (it)  
pēxa     NP pēxa
      away from NP
      away from (it), gone away

is often combined with other locative modifiers to add an emphatic meaning. This emphasis implies that an NP is in physical contact with the object of the locative phrase. pēxa is also often combined with other locative modifiers to add explicit distance, so that tēsa pēxa means 'far to the left'. In keeping with the irregular nature of āñ, āñ pēxa generally means 'all throughout'.

Note that the noun phrase corresponding to the place is always fully inflected. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Formal Kēlen allows four nouns to be stripped of inflection in a locative phrase. These are the nouns jamāra, jatāsa, jakēra, and janāol. Some dialects of Kēlen allow this to happen to a larger number of nouns.

 rā jamāra'to the house'
orrā-māra'(to) home'
 rā jatāsa'to the market-square'
orrā-tāsa'to market'
 rā jakēra*'to the temple'
orrā-kēra'to temple'
 rā janāol'to the fire'
orrā-nāol'to the funeral-fire' (said of a corpse)

* jakēra nowadays means 'holy thing' rather than 'holy place, temple', so rā jakēra is technically incorrect. The correct phrase for 'to the temple' would be rā jakērroþa.

Last modified: August 05, 2011