Nuer Field Project

Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Pedagogical Grammar of Nuer Translation of Genesis in Nuer Others

Lesson 22

There are three basic verb aspects and each aspect has its own separate negative construction. These 3 constructions are explained in the succeeding 4 lessons.

Visitor: Dä̲muɔɔr a thï̲n wanɛmɛ tä̲ä̲mɛ?
Is your brother here present now?
You: Ɣëc, /cɛ tɛ̲ thï̲̲n. Cɛ wä̲ kä̲ Malakal mëëpan.
No, he is not present. He went to Malakal yesterday.
Visitor: Kä̲ jï̲̩n, /ci̲ bi̲ wä̲ kä̲ Malakal bä̲?
And you, will you not go to Malakal also?
You: E ŋa? Ɣä̲n?
Who? I?
Visitor: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲n, jï̲̩n. /Ci̲ bi̲ wä̲ jɔɔ?
Yes, you. Will you not go presumably?
You: Ɣëc, /cä̲ bi̲ wä̲ ni̲̩ni̲ ti̲ti̲.
No, I will not go these days.
Visitor: Ɣɔɔh, kä̲ bi̲ wä̲ ïnɛy.
Oh, But when will you go?
You: Kuä̲cä̲ jɛ. Bɛ jɔɔc. Thï̲lɛ ɤä̲ gua̲a̲th tä̲ä̲mɛ.
I do not know it. It will appear. I have no opportunity now.
  Kä̲ jï̲̩n, wu̲tɛ, go̲o̲ri̲ jɛ ɛn dä̲maar?
And you, man, do you want him, that is my brother?
Visitor: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲n, ɤä̲n göörä̲ jɛ, kä̲ thï̲lɛ mi̲ lɛlɛ tä̲ä̲mɛ.
Yes, I want him, but it doesn't matter now.
  Ɣä̲n /ka̲n ɛ ŋa̲c i̲ cɛ jiɛɛn.
I did not know it that he left.

Free Translation

Is your brother present here now? No, he isn't here. He went to Malakal yesterday. And you, aren't you going to Malakal too? Who? Me? Yes, you. Aren't you going? (it is my hope) No, I'm not going during these days. Oh, but when will you go? I don't know. We'll see. I have no time to go now. But fellow, do you want my brother? Yes. I want him, but it doesn't matter, never mind. I didn't know that he had gone.


-ɛ̈-, -ɛ̲̈-

  1. Both non-breathy [ɛ̈] and breathy [ɛ̲̈] occur. The sound resembles the English 'mat'. It is a tense sound and not relaxed.


Negatives are expressed by , a) a negative particle plur the verb or, b) a negative verb. The two most common negative verbs are [kui̲c] -- to be ignorant of and [thï̲l] -- to be-or-have-no.

1st Aspect: Negative

Each verb Aspect has its own negative particles to distinguish it from the positive forms. The 1st Aspect negative particle is [/ci̲]. This is the same as the 2nd Aspect positive particle except for a difference in TONE. In the 1st Aspect negative the whole tone register is raised to a higher pitch than in the positive. To our untrained ears this distinction is hard to hear, consequently it takes practice and constant listening.


The 1st Aspect negative may occur either in its unassimilated form, or it may be assimilated with the personal pronoun just like the 2nd Aspect positive verb particle. There is no difference in the forms. Therefore, in 1st Aspect negative, the verb itself is never conjugated (unlike the 1st Aspect positive), and in some instances the verb stem is a different stem than the positive stem.


As in the positive, the 1st Aspect negative indicate action, not time. It indicates action not going on regardless of time, or action assumed as not going on. Although tone is important in Nuer, it is not generally represented in writing. However, because the tone is of absolute significance in distinguishing between negative and positive expressions, the negative is indicated in writing by a slash before the negative particle, and is given a higher tone in speaking.

1st Aspect Negative

Informal Meaning Distinctive Meaning Emphatic Meaning
ɤä̲n /cä̲ tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci ɤä̲n tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ ɤä̲n thï̲n.
Jï̲n /ci̲ tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci jï̲n tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ jï̲n thï̲n.
Jɛn /cɛ tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci jɛn tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ jɛn thï̲n.
Kɔn /canɛ tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci kɔn tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ kɔn thï̲n.
Kɔn /can tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci kɔn tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ kɔn thï̲n.
Kɔn /cakɔ tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci kɔn tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ kɔn thï̲n.
Ɣɛn /cia tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci yɛn tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ yɛn thï̲n.
Kɛn /cikɛ tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci kɛn tɛ̲ thï̲n. /Ci tɛ̲ ni̲ kɛn thï̲n.
Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others