Hmong Glossary of Grammar

Hmong Glossary of Grammar

A usable glossary of grammar with examples.

     A note for understanding Hmong grammar: Languages are like different brands of cars. They all have the same basic parts, with the same basic functions. Each one is a little different, though. Generally, you can’t take a part out of one brand and just install it in another type of car. The same is true with words. It is almost always impossible to give a one hundred percent accurate, word for word, English – Hmong – Hmong – English translation. Instead of trying to assign strict English meaning to each word, try to keep an open mind and carefully study and understand the word in its own context. This will help you to grasp Hmong grammar a little easier.

Grammar Concepts

Basic Grammar With Examples.

Economy of words.

A Hmong grammar rule of thumb is, if you don’t need it, don’t use it (also called parataxis and verb serialization).

     When we look at the English language, we will see that it is a very complex language with a lot of rules requiring that you say things a certain way for a sentence to be considered ‘correct.’ For example, the sentence, ‘We live in a time which is difficult and stressful.” But what words could you take out and still understand the same idea? What if we were to say, “We live in a time difficult, stressful.” Even if it sounds funny, do you still understand it?

     With the Hmong language, many times, words are strung together because it is not viewed as necessary to include certain conjunctions (or connecting words.) Here are some examples. The words in parentheses are words that are optional or even would not normally be used.

Kuv no no.

I am very cold. ( The word ‘cold’ is used twice with nothing in between the two words to show that one is extra cold.)
Kuv no no.

Nws ntshai heev (uas) ua rau nws tshee.

He was very scared (which) made him shiver.
Nws ntshai heev uas ua rau nws tshee.

Peb nyob rau (ib) lub sijhawm (uas) txom nyem (thiab) nyuaj siab kawg.

We live in (a) time (which) is destitute (and) stressful extremely.
Peb nyob rau ib lub sijhawm uas txom nyem thiab nyuaj siab kawg.

Just to try and add some meaning, if someone were to come over to your house and saw you eating, they now have context. They SEE that you are eating. Thus, you could say,

Kuv noj mov.

I (am) eat (ing) food.
Kuv noj mov.

The fact that you are in the process of doing it is understood by both of you already, so it does not need to be said.

But if they called you on the phone, maybe they aren’t aware that you are in the process of eating. They have no context. If you want to tell them you are in the process of eating, it becomes necessary to use an additional word to be more specific.

Kuv tab tom noj mov.

I currently (am) eat (ing) food.
Kuv tab tom noj mov.

Noun Classifiers

Explain the type or class of noun.

First, as a reminder, a noun is a person, place, or thing. For example, a cat, France, or an idea are all nouns. Water is also a noun. But in English you can’t say, “a water.” That is not enough information. You have to explain what kind of water it is. Is it a glass of water? Is it a puddle of water? These words are similar to noun classifiers in Hmong, but Hmong grammar requires that you use them even when it often seems abstract or unnecessary.

In general, noun classifiers are used when you are referencing something specific. Below is an example to help you understand the most basic difference between using a classifier and not using one. The classifier is italicized.

Peb tham txog tus menyuam.

We are talking about the child.
Peb tham txog tus menyuam.

Peb tham txog menyuam.

We are talking about children.
Peb tham txog menyuam.

As you can see, when you remove the noun classifier, ‘tus,’ it becomes general. As a general rule (which always has exceptions), you would use a classifier when you are making a specific reference. Here are a list of examples of when you would use a classifier used along with some of the most common Hmong noun classifiers.

When referring specifically to people or things in the same way you would use the word ‘the’ in English.

Lub tsev.

The house.
Lub tsev.

Tus dev.

The dog.
Tus dev.

When using a demonstrative, or ‘pointing word’ to point to a single object.

Lub tsheb no.

This car.
Lub tsheb no.

Tsob ntoo ntawd.

That tree.
Tsob ntoo ntawd.

When referring to a single thing someone or something possesses.

Lawv leej tub.

Their son.
Lawv leej tub.

Nws phau ntawv.

His/her book.
Nws phau ntawv.

With a number or quantity.

Ntau tsab ntawv.

Many letters (postal, not alphabet).
Ntau tsab ntawv.

Rau tus dev.

Six dogs.
Rau tus dev.

Also, if we are asking a question that is searching for a specific answer or an answer that is a number.

Tus qaib twg? Tus no.

Which chicken? This one.
Tus qaib twg? Tus no.

Pes tsawg lub? 3 lub.

How many? 3.
Pes tsawg lub? 3 lub.

Learn More about Noun Classifiers

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Noun classifiers lesson

Hmong Alphabetical Glossary

Hmong Language Function Words With Examples.

Explanation of format:

Grammar function word

Short explanation

Longer explanation including important details explaining how to use the word in a sentence.

Hmong sentence example

Loose translation into natural English.



If …then

The word ‘ces’ is similar to the word ‘then’ in English when used in a specific grammar setting. First, a conditional statement is made such as ‘if you go to the store…’ after that the word ‘ces’ is used to mean ‘then,’ and finally a concluding statement is made to show what will happen if that previously statement is true or realized, such as ‘then I am coming with you.’ It can be summarized as “If/when +conditional statement + ces + what happens when statement is realized.”

Yog peb noj ces peb yuav tsau plab.

If we eat then we will be full.
Yog peb noj ces peb yuav tsau plab.

Thaum peb kawm ntawv ces peb yuav paub ntau.

When we study then we will know a lot.
Thaum peb kawm ntawv ces peb yuav paub ntau.



Haphazardly, not seriously.

This word is is an adverb used before a verb to imply that the action is not done seriously. One’s heart is not really being put into it.

“Koj kho koj lub tsheb lov?” “Kuv lam kho xwb os.”

“You are fixing your car, huh?” “I am just fooling around.” (Lit: I’m haphazardly fixing it.)
“Koj kho koj lub tsheb lov?” “Kuv lam kho xwb os.”

Lam kawm kom paub mentsis xwb.

Barely study so as to just know the minimum.
Lam kawm kom paub mentsis xwb.

Kuv lam hais.

I’m just kidding.
Kuv lam hais.

Lam tau lam…

Lam tau lam.

Haphazardly, not seriously.

An extended version of the word ‘lam’. Appears to have the same meaning as just using ‘lam’. Generally you would is it in this format: [subject] lam tau lam [verb being done haphazardly]

Nws lam tau lam kawm lus Hmoob xwb.

He only halfheartedly studies Hmong.
Nws lam tau lam kawm lus Hmoob xwb.

Txhob lam tau lam sib yuav.

Don’t get married on a whim.
Txhob lam tau lam sib yuav.




In the simplest sense, this word means ‘already,’ and is generally used to express that an action has been completed or will be completed. It is usually placed at the end of a thought.

Kuv noj mov lawm.

I have eaten already.
Kuv noj mov lawm.

Thaum nws txog lawm peb yuav mus ua ke.

When he arrives [completed action] we will go together.
Thaum nws txog lawm peb yuav mus ua ke.


Meaning 1: Mine. Possessive.

The word ‘li’ is used after a pronoun like ‘kuv’ or ‘koj’ to express the thought of ‘mine’ or ‘yours,’ in English.

Kuv li.


Nws yog peb li.

It is ours.

The word ‘li’ can be used between the one that possesses and the thing possessed to express possession in Hmong.

Kuv li tsheb.

My car.

Koj li nyiaj tas lawm.

Your money is all gone.

You can also replace ‘li’ with the noun classifier to accomplish the same goal.

Kuv lub tsheb.

My car.

Koj cov nyiaj tas lawm.

Your money is all gone.

Meaning 2: Similar, like, as.

The word ‘li,’ in Hmong is used as a marker to show that the word or concept to the left of it is similar to or the same as the word or concept to the right of it. It could be thought of as an equals sign in math.

Nws noj li npua.

He eats like a pig.

Kuv tsis txeev nstib ib tug neeg li koj.

I have never met a person like you.

The word ‘li’ is probably most frequently used in common question and comparison phrases. In the following examples, notice the literal, word for word translation to see how they are actually broken apart.

Vim li cas?

Why? Literal: for-the-reason as how/what?

Zoo li yuav los nag.

Looks like it’s going to rain. Literal: looks-like as will come rain.

Ua li.

Ok. Literal: Do as (that).

Cia li mus.

Go. Literal: Let (you) = go.

Meaning 3: Intensifier.

The word, ‘li,’ can also be an intensifier that gives an ‘absolute,’ or ‘complete’ sense to the sentence. When used in the following negative examples it creates something similar to the English expression, ‘at all.’

Nws tsis paub dabtsi li.

He doesn’t know anything at all.

Tsis txhob yws li.

Don’t complain at all.

When used in a positive sentence, it gives the sense of ‘absolutely.’

Zoo kawg nkaus li.

Absolutely, positively, completely great!



Adds new information or comment to previously stated topic.

The word ‘mas’ is used to take a previously stated topic or thought and then add something new or add a comment about that thought. As a general rule of thumb, the words preceding ‘mas’ are the topic and the words that follow are the new thought or comment. If ‘mas’ starts the sentence then we can assume the previous sentence was the topic. It should be noted that when ‘mas’ comes at the end of a sentence, it is most likely an emotional particle with an entirely different meaning.

Koj txog lawm mas qhia kuv paub thiab.

When you arrive (mas) let me know.
Koj txog lawm mas qhia kuv paub thiab.

Kuv mas, kuv nyob zoo thiab.

As for me, (mas) I’m doing well.
Kuv mas, kuv nyob zoo thiab.

Cia li thov mas yuav muab rau nej.

Just ask (mas) and it will be given to you all.
Cia li thov mas yuav muab rau nej.



Take, take and…

Often times the word ‘muab’ which can mean ‘to take’ will be used in the sense of ‘he took the hammer and hit it,’ but it is used much more frequently and in ways one wouldn’t normally use it in English. It still has more or less the same basic meaning.

Muab xav li no.

Think about it like this (Lit: take the thought and think of it like this).
Muab xav li no.

Muab nws ntaus.

Beat him. (Lit: take him [and] beat [him])
Muab nws ntaus.



Only, exactly, absolutely

This is used after many types of words to make them more intense or extreme. It gives a sense of, “specifically that!”

Ib tug xwb. Ib tug nkaus xwb.

Only one. Absolutely only one.
Ib tug xwb. Ib tug nkaus xwb.

Zoo kawg nkaus.

Completely good to the extreme degree.
Zoo kawg nkaus.




Generally, the two things that are ‘with’ each other are expressed together without any information in between. For example, in Hmong, one would say, “I with my wife go to the store,” and not, “I go to the store with my wife.”

Kuv nrog kuv tus poj niam mus tom kiab khw.

I go to the store with my wife (lit: I with my wife go to the store.)
Kuv nrog kuv tus poj niam mus tom kiab khw.

Kuv nrog kuv cov phoojywg ua ke.

I am with my friends.
Kuv nrog kuv cov phoojywg ua ke.


Exactly, specifically.

Used after the word that is being emphasized, often at the end of a sentence.

Nws hais txog koj ntag!

He was talking specifically about you.

Koj yuav tsum ua li ntawd ntag.

You need to do specifically that.


Each …separately

This word is used to express each subject doing something separately or in its own way. The word nyias is generally used twice and wraps the action in the sentence.

Nyias noj nyias.

Each one eats on his own. (Lit: Each eat each).

Cov pojniam no nyias yuav ua neej raws li nyias pom zoo.

Each of the women here will lead their lives as they see fit.

Nyias…lawm nyias ib yam

Each … in his/its own way.

Nyias txawv lawm nyias ib yam.

Each one is different in their own way.

Kuv cov phooj ywg nyias nruj lawm nyias ib yam.

My friends each have their own different level of strictness.


Grammar word for asking yes or no questions.

The word ‘puas’ is used before the verb you would like to know about. It is used to ask a yes or no question. The speaker would respond with either the verb for ‘yes’ or the the word ‘tsis’ followed by the verb for ‘no.’

Koj puas noj? Noj.

Will you eat? Yes. (Lit. Eat).

Koj puas xav noj? Tsis xav.

Do you want to eat? No. (Lit. Not want).

Nws puas paub koj? Paub maj.

Does he know you? Yes

Puas tau… dua li?

Have/has…ever before?

These words wrap what you are asking. When asking if something has been done before.

Koj puas tau noj nqaij nab dua li?

Have you ever eaten snake meat before?

Puas tau muaj ib tug li nws dua li?

Has there ever been a person like him before?

Puav leej

All, all together.

To show that something or someone is all or is entirely a certain way. Generally it is used in this pattern: (noun or subject) + puav leej + verb. Take note that after the word puav leej is almost always a verb.

Cov tsiaj txhu puav leej tsis txawj hais lus.

All of the animals are not able to speak.

Lawv puav leej yog Hmoob.

They are all Hmong.


… and see.

‘Seb’ has the basic meaning of ‘…and see.’ It is used to show that an action will lead to the answer of some question or unknown. ‘Seb’ is use between the action that will be taken and the question or implied question to be answered.

Mus nug seb nws puas tuaj?

Go ask and see if he will come?

Mloog seb lawv yuav hais li cas.

Listen and see (hear) what they will say.

In the below scenario, the question is implied. In the context, they are asking if the meat is rotten. The suggestion is to go taste and see (if it is rotten.)

Cov nqaij tod puas lwj kas lawm?

Is that meat rotten?

Koj mus saj saib seb.

You go and try it and see (if it is rotten).


Reciprocal action.

This word is used before any verb when you want to express that the action is reciprocal or is being done together/ back and forth.

Sib ntaus.

Fight (eachother)

Nws puag kuv. Wb sib puag.

She hugged me. We hugged each other.

Tab tom


The word, ‘tabtom,’ is used to express an action in progress. It is used before the verb. However, since the most basic sentence can imply an action in progress by default, one should only really use tabtom when it is specifically emphasizing that an action is in progress.

Kuv tabtom noj mov.

I am eating. I’m in the process of eating.

However, notice the sentence below.

Kuv noj mov.

I am eating. I’m in the process of eating. (Depending on the context, it can also mean, ‘I eat,’ or even, ‘I will eat.’)


Got, achieved / can

The word, ‘tau’ by itself means, ‘got’ or ‘achieved’ and is therefore past tense by nature because ‘got’ means it has already happened.

Kuv tau tsheb lawm.

I got a car (already).

Nws tau pojniam lawm.

He got a wife (already).

Kuv tau noj lawm.

I ate already. (Lit. I achieved eating already.)

You can, however, use ‘tau’ in the same sense to refer to a future event, as in the following example.

Xyoos tom ntej kuv yuav tau ib lub tsheb lawm.

Next year I will have gotten a car already.

When ‘tau’ is used after a verb it shows that that verb can be done, but not that it has been done already.

Nws noj tau.

He can eat (it).

Kuv khiav tau.

I can run.

Nws dhia tsis tau.

He can’t jump.

Thiaj, Thiaj li

Therefore, then.

Used to express, ” if this happens then this happens.”

Nws tuaj kuv thiaj li mus tsev.

He came and then I went home.

Tib si

All, Entirely, whole.

This word is usually used at the end of a sentence and expresses something being complete, in it’s entirety.

Lawv tuaj tas tib si.

They all came.

Tej tsheb no nws kho tau tib si.

He was able to fix all of these cars.

Txawm tias… los, Txawm… los

Even though, even if, although

Txawm tias koj tsis hlub kuv los, kuv hlub koj.

Even if you don’t love me, I love you.

Txawm yog nws nyob ntawm no los, kuv mam hais los xwb.

Although he is right here, I am going to say it.


Therefore, then.

Nws nrhiav tsev lawm. Nws txawm nkag rau hauv.

He found a house. He therefore entered it.


Ever. In the past.

The word ‘txeev’ is used before the verb you are asking about.

Koj puas txeev mus Tsheej Maim?

Have you ever gone to Chiang Mai?

Nws txeev ua tub sab.

He had been a thief (before).


Be, become.

Generally, the word ‘ua’ means, ‘to do.’ However it can also mean ‘to be or become.’

Nws txeev ua tub sab.

He had been a thief (before).

Koj ua tau kuv tus phoojywg.

You can be my friend.


So that…

This is used to say ‘something happened SO THAT something else will happen.’

Kuv qhia koj xwv koj qhia lwm tus.

I teach you so you can teach others.

Koj npaj zoo xwv koj thiaj ua zoo.

You prepare well so that you do well.


Certainly. For sure.

Yog tias koj ua zaub mov ces kuv yeej yuav noj!

If you make food I will certainly eat it.

Zuj Zus


Often used to express something that increases or decreases. Used with a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

Phem zuj zus.

Worse and worse.

Zoo zuj zus.

Better and better.

Siab zuj zus.

Taller and taller.

Qhia ib qho zuj zus.

Teach little by little.


  • Muab…coj
  • Muab… los
  • zoo li
  • xws
  • ces
  • es
  • tuaj… tuaj
  • tuaj vs los
  • los tau
  • dua
  • twg
  • uas
  • xyov
  • Ho
  • Personal pronouns
  • Different ways to use “li”

Leave a comment in the section below if you have a grammar word you would like an explanation for! If it is good, I will try to add it to this glossary.

11 Comments on “Hmong Glossary of Grammar”

  1. I am really struggling to understand proper usage for “los tau.” I sort of get it after question words (thaumtwg los tau = anytime, whenever; qhovtwg los tau = anywhere, wherever) but I don’t quite grasp the concept after verbs. For instance, talking about the ministry (direct quote from WOL): “Yog tias lwm phau ntawv ho phim dua, ces siv los tau.” Wouldn’t it make more sense to say: “Yog tias lwm phau ntawv ho phim dua, ces siv phau ntawd?” To me, this sentence as translated sounds like “then use whatever.” Do you have any thoughts on that, or am I just overthinking it?

    1. Hi James! This is an amazingly good question and a really difficult concept! Generally speaking when the word ‘tau’ by itself comes after a verb it takes on the meaning of ‘can’ instead of ‘get’ or ‘achieve.’ So while ‘tau noj’ means ‘ate,’ ‘noj tau’ means ‘can eat.’ This is kind of what is happening when you add ‘los tau’ after something.

      You touched on something with your two examples above about ‘whenever’ or ‘wherever,’ but you may not know that it is not the ‘los tau’ that is changing them. It is really context that changes them. So for example- ‘Koj noj dabtsi?’= What are you eating… but, ‘Koj puas noj dabtsi?’ = Will you eat anything/ Do you want to eat anything. Sooooooo… finally when we add ‘los tau’ to the end of it, it becomes like saying ‘anything + can’ or ‘anything is ok’ or ‘it can be anything’… In the previous example you could answer ‘Kuv noj dabtsi los tau,’ and it would be like saying ‘Anything is a viable option.’

      So in the quote from WOL, it could be translated back literally as: “If other book fits more, then use+can” And naturally as: “If another book is more appropriate, then you can use that.” Just for comparison, the translation you suggested would translate naturally as: “If another book is more appropriate, then use that book.” The difference is subtle, true, but important.

      Finally, and this is just my opinion, but I think the only difference between using ‘los tau’ and ‘tau’ after a verb is that ‘los tau’ just makes it sound more like ‘it is up to you’ while ‘tau’ just means ‘can’ as in ‘it is possible’. I would have to do more research to be sure about this. It is just a hunch.

      I hope all of this makes sense and is not more confusing. I rewrote it several times to make it more clear. Thanks for the great question, keep em’ coming!

  2. Thanks so much for the prompt reply, brother! Your explanation does make a lot of sense. And from how I have heard it used, I agree with your hunch about the sense of personal preference (“it’s up to you”) in “los tau.”

    Ua tsaug ntau nawb!

  3. What about just “los” by itself. I was told by someone that it can serve loosely as a conjunction—like in this sentence.

    Nej tsis tau pom dua los nej tseem hlub nws.​—1Pt. 1:8

    Can you please help me understand this more?

    1. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this usage of ‘los,’ though I see it a lot and I think I have picked it up over time. In this example, it is used as a conjunction to mean something like, ‘yet,’. It is almost like the sentence could be written, ‘Txawm nej tsis tau pom dua los nej tseem hlub nws.’ but the ‘txawm’ is implied. Does what I am saying make any sense?

  4. Hi James, I see a lot folks using the word “os” for example kuv pom koj os. Is this just an expression?

    1. Sort of. When you tag it onto the end of sentences it creates a sense of politeness. ‘Kuv pom koj os’ indicates that you are eager or somewhat emotive in regards to seeing someone, whereas without the os, the sentence seems very flat and the speaker implies indifference. The context is of course a major factor.

  5. how do you say old brother or brother, sister, father, mother, grandpa, gandma, uncle and anutie.

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