Nuer Field Project

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

Lesson 23

This lesson attempts to explain the functions of the negative words [kui̲c] and [thïl]. These simple conversations exemplify their uses.

You: Mëëdan gu̲u̲r tëë kɛ jue̲y. Kä̲ tä̲ä̲mɛ, jaa thï̲n?
Some time ago your father was ill. But now is he present?
Visitor: Ɣëc, tä̲ä̲mɛ gua̲a̲r cɛ thïl. Cɛ li̲w.
No, now my Father has nothinged. He died.
You: Jɔk, wër no̲o̲ni̲ thu̲kɛr.
Jɔk, go bring the sugar.
Jɔc: Thïlɛ thu̲kɛr. Cɛ thu̲u̲k.
There is no sugar. It is finished.
You: Dä̲maar, jï̲̩n go̲o̲ri̲ ni̲ ŋu̲?
My brother, you want what?
Visitor: Ɣä̲n göörä̲ Jɔk.
I want Jɔk.
You: Jɛn a thï̲n duɛ̲ɛ̲l thä̲t mïndan.
He is present at the house of cooking (kitchen) a little while ago.
Visitor: Ɣëc, cä̲ wä̲ thï̲n, dä̲ thïlɛ jɛ tä̲ä̲mɛ. (or kä̲ thïlɛ jɛ thï̲n tä̲ä̲mɛ.)
No, I went there, but there is no him now. i.e. He is not there.
You: Jï̲̩n wu̲tɛ ɛ ŋu̲?
You man, what? i.e. What's the matter?
Man: Thïlɛ ŋu̲.
There is nothing the matter.
Child: Madi̲n, go̲o̲ri̲ ɤä̲?
Mother, do you want me?
Mother: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲n, cä̲ ji̲ cɔl, göörä̲ ji̲.
Yes, I called you, I want you.
Child: Kua̲cä̲ jɛ, madi̲n, bä̲ bɛ̲n ɛn tä̲ä̲mɛ.
I am not knowing it, Mother, I will come right now.
Mother: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲, thïlɛ mi̲ lɛlɛ, gatdä̲. /Cä̲ ji̲ go̲r tä̲ä̲mɛ, ci̲ la̲t thu̲u̲k.
Oh, never mind, my child. I do not want you now, the work is finished.
1st Person: Nɛy tɔtɔ görkɛ yio̲̩w. Thïlɛ kɛ yio̲̩w.
Those poeple want money. They have no money.
You: Kä̲ ɤä̲n, thïlɛ ɤä̲ yio̲̩w kɛ kui̲cdiɛn.
But I, I have no money for them.
1st Person: Kä̲ kɛn bikɛ ŋu̲ lɛl?
But what will they do?
You: Kua̲cä̲ jɛ. Ɛ wi̲cdiɛn, /ci̲ ɛ wi̲cdä̲.
I do not know it. It is their responsibility, not my responsibility.



  1. -ɔw- is a diphthong difficult to pronounce. Say the -ɔ and then close the mouth to a -u position finalizing with a -w. The temptation is to simply say -o.


  1. There is a verb "to know" and a verb "to not know". It is possible to make the verb "to know" into a negative by following the regular procedure for making verbs negative. But the negative verb, on the other hand, needs no negative particles. The verb "to know" is [ŋa̲c] and the verb to "not know" is [kui̲c].

    1st Aspect of kui̲c

    kua̲cä̲ jɛ or kuɛ̲cä̲ kuɛ̲cnɛ jɛ
    kui̲ci̲ jɛ kuɛ̲ckɔ jɛ
    kui̲cɛ jɛ kuɛ̲cɛ jɛ
      kuɛ̲ckɛ jɛ
  2. The verb meaning "to not be" or "to not have" is [thïl]. It occurs in all 3 aspects but its occurrence in the 1st Aspect predominates. It is used mainly in 3rd person singular, however it may occur in all persons. Looking at this word from the English translation it appears to be an awkward word to handle, but is is not awkward in Nuer sentence formation or in its own construction. It does occur in a couple of idiomatic sentences which are unnecessary to render literally.


The major contribution this word gives to Nuer is in expressing "to be without". [thïl] is used when the meaning is that on is without such and such a thing as his own possession. This is in contrast to the verb [tɛ̲] which, when used negatively, means that the object or person is not in the presence or temporary possession of someone at the time.


[thïl] may be used in any person of the 1st Aspect but the most common usage is to use it in the 3rd person singular in an impersonal manner. Thus, if you are speaking of yourself and mean " I do not have something" you say "there is no such and such a thing to me". This is what appears to be awkward in English, but in Nuer it follows an accepted sentence pattern. The sentence structure is the verb [thïlɛ], plus the indirect object which is a noun or pronoun showing to whom or to what something is minus, plus the direct object.

An alternate sentence form is to speak the subject first then follow with [thïlɛ] and the personal pronoun referring to the subject. This is very common and is a typical way of clarifying the subject.

Note: [thïlɛ] may be followed by a clause as well.

Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others