Action – Object – Modifier in Hmong

Often in English when we talk about an action we add modifying words to that action to show in what manner it was completed. For example, if you say, ‘kick him’ it has one meaning, but if you say, ‘kick him out‘ it has an entirely different meaning because of that modifier ‘out.’ A few more examples are:

Stand up. Sit down. Run it over.

In Hmong there are similar patterns to this used very frequently. The general pattern is below:

Action + Object + Modifier.

Action – What is being done?

Object – What is the action being done to? In other words, what receives the action?

Modifier – How was the action done?

The action and the object are often straightforward and easy to understand, but the modifier can be confusing. Below are some of the patterns with examples.

Modifier as a directional word

Sometimes the modifier to the action shows the direction the action happened. For example:

tsa nws sawv

raise him up (rise)
tsa nws sawv

ntiab nws tawm

chase him out (exit)
ntiab nws tawm

txib nws mus

send him away (go)
txib nws mus

rub nws los

draw him toward (come)
rub nws los

You can also replace the object with something other than, ‘nws.’ See below:

ntiab tub sab tawm

chase thief out (exit)
ntiab tub sab tawm

How was the action done?

Xob tua qaib tuag. Lighting strikes the chicken dead.
Xob tua qaib tuag.

Sometimes the modifier after the object will describe the manner in which the action was carried out. See below:

Xob tua qaib tuag tas.

Lightning shot chicken dead completely.
Xob tua qaib tuag tas.

So in the above example the word, ‘tua – shoot’ is used where in English we would say ‘strike.’ It is the action. The action is done to ‘qaib,’ which is chicken. Finally, we add a modifier after the word chicken, being ‘tuag – dead’ to show that they were shot dead. ‘Tas’ is added as an additional modifier to add a sense of completeness, as in the chickens all died or were completely dead. We can add the negative modifier below to see how the meaning changes:

Xob tua qaib tsis tuag.

Lightning shoot chicken not dead.
Xob tua qaib tsis tuag.

So, what is different? Now the modifier shows that the chicken was hit by lightning but didn’t die (unlikely).

Below are some additional examples.

lawv noj tshais tas

they ate breakfast done
lawv noj tshais tas

ua haujlwm tsis tu ncua

do work unceasingly
ua haujlwm tsis tu ncua

cawm kuv dim

save me saved
cawm kuv dim

Action + (negative) + Modifier

Occasionally Hmong will use leave out the object if it isn’t needed or wanted in the sentence. These examples can either be positive or negative depending on whether you use or leave out the negative marker ‘tsis.’

cav tsis yeej

fight not win
cav tsis yeej

tua raug

shoot hit (the target)

nrhiav tsis pom

search not see
nrhiav tsis pom

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