Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 2 General terms

This is part two of a beginner’s guide to Algonquianist terminology with a focus on Mi’gmaq. Here’s part one. In this part, I describe briefly a few terms that aren’t Algonquian-specific but which often come up when referring to parts of Mi’gmaq words: you can see a longer list at the wiki.


A morpheme is a part of a word that has a distinct meaning: for example, in English, dogs has two morphemes: dog refers to a particular type of animal and -s indicates that it’s plural. We can see the same thing in Mi’gmaq: mui’naq “bears” has a morpheme mui’n “bear” and a morpheme -aq “plural (animate)”. Some morphemes like dog or mui’n can stand as words by themselves, while others like -s or -aq can’t.* Conventionally, we write morphemes that don’t stand by themselves with a hyphen that indicates the side that attaches (e.g. pre- in preschool but -ation as in concentration).

*aq can also mean “and”, but that’s different from the plural one. 

Person/number marking (agreement, clitics)

Person/number marking (also referred to as agreement) is a way of indicating who the people are in a sentence by changing the form of the verb. This is just a list of terms used in talking about person/number/agreement — there are a lot of different verb forms that I am not going to give here, but you can see some of them in these three posts.



First person

I, me, we, us, you and me

ni’n, ninen, ginu

Second person

you, you guys, you and me

gi’l, gilew, ginu

Third person

he, she, it, they, him, her, them

negm, negmow

The obviative is sometimes referred to as a “fourth person,” and the inanimate is sometimes referred to as a “zeroth person”, which I believe is only really used in talking about Algonquian languages.




I, me, you, she, he, it, her, him

ni’n, gi’l, negm


we two, you two, they two, both of us

ninen, ginu, gilew, negmow*


we, us, you and me, you guys, they, them

ninen, ginu, gilew, negmow

*There are different dual forms for animate intransitive verbs though.

Person and number marking is often at least somewhat split on verbs. Plural markers such as -en, -an, or -ig can be found after person marking.




me and him/her/them (not you)



me and you (and maybe others)



Mi’gmaq/Algonquian nouns have two possible genders, animate (plural in -g, -ug, -aq, -ig) and inanimate (plural in -l or -n after /n/). Gender is somewhat related to meaning: humans, animals, plants, containers, and some other items are animate; other nouns are inanimate. Concepts expressed with abstract nouns in English (such as “happiness” or “imagination”) are generally verbs. Animacy is important in determining which final a verb or noun has.


A verb is intransitive when it involves just someone doing an action, and it’s transitive if it involves someone doing an action to another person or thing. Transitivity is important for determining which verbal final to use.


Negation comes in two parts in Mi’gmaq (I think it works slightly differently in other Algonquian languages): mu before the verb and -u/w either between the theme sign and the person marking or among the person marking. Sometimes the addition of the u/w causes the person marking to change slightly (I think -t becomes -g after a long vowel or diphthong).

e.g. elugwet “s/he works, is working”

mu elugwewg “s/he doesn’t work, isn’t working”


For more on tense and evidentiality, see the wiki.


Present doesn’t have a distinctive marking.

e.g. elugwet “s/he works, is working”

elugwet? “is s/he working?”


Past, also referred to as “direct”, indicates something about the speaker having direct evidence for what they’re saying, because you can’t use it in questions.

e.g. elugwep “s/he worked”

*elugwep? “did s/he work?”


Future, also referred to as “indirect”, indicates something the speaker only having indirect evidence for what they’re saying (such as hearsay), because you do use it in questions (the present can also be used with questions).

e.g. lugwetew “s/he will work”

lugwetew? “will s/he work?”


Adjectives in Mi’gmaq/Algonquian pattern with verbs, although sometimes people argue that they’re a distinct type of verb. For example, welei “I am good/well”, welein “you are good/well”, wele’g “s/he is good/well”.


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