Nuer Field Project

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

Lesson 38

In this lesson the adverbial system of time and action words modifying verbs is introduced.

You to a friend: Maali̲, mä̲ä̲dä̲? Ci̲ bɛ̲ŋ wanama nɛy?
Are you at peace, my friend? When did you come here?
Friend: Maalä̲, dä̲maar. Payä̲ bɛ̲n ni̲ ɛn tä̲ä̲mɛ pa̲ny.
I am at peace, my brothers. I just came even right now.
You: Bi̲i̲ wïnïth?
Where did you come from?
Friend: Ba̲a̲ kä̲ Gambɛila.
I came from Gambɛlia.
You: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲, ci̲ wä̲ kä̲ Gambelia mëëdan kä̲ payi̲ lu̲ny jɔk tä̲ä̲mɛ,
Oh, you went to Gambeila some time ago and now you're just coming back,
  /ke̲ni̲ kɔn mɛ̲t wä̲ thï̲n?
had you not ever gone there before?
Friend: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲, cä̲ wä̲ kä̲ Gambelia kä̲ January, kä̲ ɤä̲n /ka̲n mɛ̲t wä̲ thï̲n.
Yes, I went to Gambeila in January, but I had never gone there.
You: Gambeila gɔaa? Ɛ we̲c mi̲ gɔaa? Nhɔki̲ jɛ?
Is Gambeila nice? Is it a good village? Do you like it?
Friend: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲n, gɔaa ɛlɔ̲ŋ kä̲ tha̲a̲ŋ guä̲thni̲ kɔ̲cɛ ɛthe̲y.
Yes, it is very good but some of the times it is very cold.
You: Ŋa̲cä̲ jɛ i̲ kɔ̲cɛ ɛthe̲y kɛ ɤöö cɛ thia̲k kä̲ Ethiopia.
I know it that it is very cold because it is close to Ethiopia.
  Yä̲n ci̲ lɔcdä̲ tɛɛth kɛ ɤöö ci̲ ja̲l a gɔaa, kä̲ ci̲ lu̲ny wanɛmɛ a gɔaa kɛ mal.
I am glad because you journeyed well, and you have returned here, well in peace.


  1. Read the dialogue with the informant. Watch question intonation.


There are very few true adverbial words in Nuer. Some so-called adverbs occur as prepositional phrases, some as nouns, others as verbs.

  1. Pure adverbs if time occur in one form and directly precede the verb in 2nd and 3rd Aspects. Note: [lɛɛr] follows the verb.
  2. There are pure adverbs of intensification, modifying adjectival verbs mostly, which are characteristically initiated by the vowel ɛ-. A majority of verbs have their own intensifying adverb. [Ɛlɔ̲ŋ] is common to all. What has become almost idiomatic to mean an emphatic "yes" is the expression [ɛpu̲c pɛ̲ny] which means "very really", "absolutely", "really and truly".
  3. There are adverbial verb-action particles which may occur in all 3 aspects as their meanings will permit. They are also used as imperatives with the verb stem. It is impossible to translate them literally. In the 1st Aspect these particles are conjugated and the verb appears as a stem.

    [Pay] -- [Pay] has the meaning of "immediacy" and is translated "just". It occurs in 1st and 2nd Aspect.

    1st Aspect

    Payä̲ mi̲th. Paynɛ mi̲th.
    Payi̲ mi̲th. Paykɔ mi̲th.
    Panɛ mi̲th. Payɛ mi̲th.
      Paykɛ mi̲th.

    This means that the person has just eaten. The 2nd Aspect does not commonly occur. E.g. [Cɛ pay mi̲th.]

    [Lɛ] -- [Lɛ] has the meaning of repitition or to indicate a succession of events. it is difficult to translate. At times it might be translated "again" but the context must warrant it. e.g. Ce wä̲ kä̲ cɛ lɛ bɛ̲n. -- He went and he came again. However, the meaning is to indicate the succession of related events not necessarily resultant the one to the other. One might say [Ke̲nɛ lɛ li̲w] -- He didn't die. Now obviously it does not mean he didn't die again, but it shows a related event to something else, he was ill, for instance, but he did not die. However, when [lɛ] is conjugated in 1st Aspect or is used as an imperative it has the meaning of "again".

    1st Aspect

    Lɛ̈lä̲ ɛ ri̲t. Lɛ̈lnɛ ɛ ri̲t.
    Lɛli̲ ɛ ri̲t. Lɛ̈lkɔ ɛ ri̲t.
    Lɛlɛ ɛ ri̲t. Lɛ̈lɛ ɛ ri̲t.
      Lɛlkɛ ɛ ri̲t.

    Imperative: [Lɛli̲ ɛ ri̲t!] Turn it again.

  4. Certain words occur only in the imperative in their conjugated forms, but occur also in 2nd and 3rd Aspects as well. These words are words of haste.
    2nd - 3rd Aspects:
  5. Adverbial clauses are commonly used to express quality or manner. This clause is introduced by the adverbial clause sign [a]. The 1st Aspect of the verb follows. Adjectival verbs are not conjugated, other verbs are.
  6. What would be adverbs of place, in Nuer are nouns in the locative case.
  7. Seasonal words and calendar words are all nouns and occur in noun grammatical environments or with adverbial qualifying time particles. This system is divided into definite and indefinite time and has various complexities and irregularities. The chart in the appendix outlines this system.
    "Indefinite Time" means unidentified time, as for example, last year, this year, next year. "Definite time" identifies the time.
    In indefinite time there are 3 possible grammatical environments as follows: In definite time past, present and future time are expressed. Time particles are used to indicate which category of time is meant. The present time words are the most erratic, sometimes eliminating the particle altogether.
Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others