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.
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.)
Nws ntshai heev (uas) ua rau nws tshee.He was very scared (which) made him shiver.
Peb nyob rau (ib) lub sijhawm (uas) txom nyem (thiab) nyuaj siab kawg.We live in (a) time (which) is destitute (and) stressful extremely.
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.
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.
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 menyuam.We are talking about children.
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.
Tus dev.The dog.
When using a demonstrative, or ‘pointing word’ to point to a single object.
Lub tsheb no.This car.
Tsob ntoo ntawd.That tree.
When referring to a single thing someone or something possesses.
Lawv leej tub.Their son.
Nws phau ntawv.His/her book.
With a number or quantity.
Ntau tsab ntawv.Many letters (postal, not alphabet).
Rau tus dev.Six dogs.
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.
Pes tsawg lub? 3 lub.How many? 3.
Hmong Alphabetical Glossary
Hmong Language Function Words With Examples.
Explanation of format:
Grammar function word
Longer explanation including important details explaining how to use the word in a sentence.
Hmong sentence exampleLoose translation into natural English.
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.
Thaum peb kawm ntawv ces peb yuav paub ntau.When we study then we will know a lot.
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.)
Lam kawm kom paub mentsis xwb.Barely study so as to just know the minimum.
Kuv lam hais.I’m just kidding.
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.
Txhob lam tau lam sib yuav.Don’t get married on a whim.
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.
Thaum nws txog lawm peb yuav mus ua ke.When he arrives [completed action] we will go together.
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.
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.
Kuv mas, kuv nyob zoo thiab.As for me, (mas) I’m doing well.
Cia li thov mas yuav muab rau nej.Just ask (mas) and it will be given to you all.
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 nws ntaus.Beat him. (Lit: take him [and] beat [him])
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.
Zoo kawg nkaus.Completely good to the extreme degree.
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 cov phoojywg ua ke.I am with my friends.
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.
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?
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?
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).
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.
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
Used to express, ” if this happens then this happens.”
Nws tuaj kuv thiaj li mus tsev.He came and then I went home.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
WORDS I HOPE TO ADD ONE DAY
- Muab… los
- zoo li
- tuaj… tuaj
- tuaj vs los
- los tau
- 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.