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This page documents features of Warlpiri grammar.

Parts of Speech

Symbol Part of Speech
<n> Noun
<adj> Adjective
<v> Verb
<prevb> Preverb
<mod> Clitics and Particles
<vaux> Auxiliaries
<cnjcoo> Coordinating Conjuctions


Nominals are an open class, and their meanings form a continuum. Some nominals are translatable as nouns in English, while other nominals translate as adjectives in English. The uses of nominals aren't fixed. For example, the adjective "pampa" meaning "blind" can also mean "the blind one". Thus the nominal part of speech covers both English nouns and adjectives.


  • marlu<n><sg> ↔ marlu "kangaroo"
  • pampa<adj><subst><erg> ↔ pampa-rlu "the blind one"
  • pampa<adj><erg> ↔ pampa-rlu "blind"
  • mari<adj> ↔ mari "sad, sorry, mournful"


Verbs are a small, closed class. They denote a variety of physical and mental actions, states and emotions. They can't appear in isolation; instead they must have a tense inflection or nominalizing affix attached.

  • ka<vaux><pres><subj3sg> ↔ ka "is going" (3rd person singular)
  • ka<vaux><pres><subj3du> ↔ ka-pala "(two) are going" (3rd person dual)
  • ka<vaux><pres><subj3pl> ↔ ka-lu "(several) are going" (3rd person plural)

See page 150 of "A Learner's Guide to Warlpiri"


Preverbs are compounded with verb roots (normally placed before the verb), resulting in a large extension of the variety of verbs. Preverbs add meaning such as manner, direction and result, quantification, means or properties. They act phonologically like nominals, and some may act as nominals in isolation.


  • marlaja<prevb> ↔ marlaja "because of"
  • jurnta<prevb> ↔ jurnta "away from"
  • mari-jarrimi<prevb> ↔ mari-jarrimi "feel sorry for, pity"

See page 124 of"A Learner's Guide to Warlpiri" for Dative Preverbs.

Clitics and Particles

Warlpiri has a rich array of particles and clitics, which express propositional attitudes, set relations, and other relations. Particles often have scope over the whole close, while clitics usually have scope over what they are attached to. Clitics can be considered as particles that have a phonological requirement that they attach to words.

  • kuyu<n>+wiya<mod> ↔ kuyu-waja (where "waja" gives emphasis)
  • ngurrju<n>+wiyi<mod> ↔ ngurrju-wiyi (where "wiyi" means "first")
  • kakarrara<n>+mpayi<mod> ↔ kakarrarampayi (where "mpayi" means "far")


Auxiliaries supplement the meanings associated with both the verb and the nominals, and adds meaning to the sentence in a variety of ways.

  • ka<vaux><adm><subj3sg> ↔ kalaka "might; liable to"
  • ka<vaux><cni><subj3sg> ↔ kajilpa "hypothetically"
  • ka<vaux><pres><subj3sg> ↔ ka (used in positive statements)
  • ka<vaux><neg><subj3sg> ↔ kulaka (used in negative statements)

Coordinating Conjuctions

There appear to be a small number of coordinating conjuctions in Warlpiri.

  • manu<cnjcoo> ↔ manu "and"

Nominals: Number

Warlpiri has singular pronomials that refer to one person or things (no ending; <sg>), dual nominals that refer to two persons or things (by attaching -jarra to a nominal; <dual>), and plural pronomials that refer to more than two persons or things (by attaching -patu to a nominal; <plural>).

For example:

  • kurdu<n><sg><abs> ↔ kurdu "child"
  • kurdu<n><du><abs> ↔ kurdu-jarra "two children"
  • kurdu<n><pl><abs> ↔ kurdu-patu "several children"

Case Suffixes

Warlpiri is an ergative-absolutive language, in contrast to English, which is a nominative-accusative language. The main grammatical and semantic case suffixes used in Warlpiri include the following:

case name ~meaning tag possible forms pirli "rock" (2 vowels) warlkurru (>2 vowels) "axe"
absolutive subject of intransitive verbs and object of transitive verbs <abs> pirli<n><sg><abs> ↔ pirli warlkurru<n><sg><abs> ↔ warlkurru
dative "to" <dat> -ku pirli<n><sg><dat> ↔ pirli-ku warlkurru<n><sg><dat> ↔ warlkurru-ku
ergative "agent of a transitive verb" <erg> -ngku, -rlu pirli<n><sg><erg> ↔ pirli-ngku warlkurru<n><sg><erg> ↔ warlkurru-rlu
allative "onto" <all> -kurra pirli<n><sg><all> ↔ pirli-kurra warlkurru<n><sg><all> ↔ warlkurru-kurra
comitative "with" <com> -ngkajinta, -rlajinta pirli<n><sg><com> ↔ pirli-ngkajinta warlkurru<n><sg><com> ↔ warlkurru-rlajinta
elative "out of" <ela> -ngurlu pirli<n><sg><ela> ↔ pirli-ngurlu warlkurru<n><sg><ela> ↔ warlkurru-ngurlu
locative "at, in on" <loc> -ngka, -rla pirli<n><sg><loc> ↔ pirli-ngka warlkurru<n><sg><loc> ↔ warlkurru-rla

Derivational Cases

Derivational cases are suffixes showing properties of case inflection and of derivation.

Suffix Meaning Example
-warnu associative, resultative wurdujarra-yinja<assoc> ↔ wurdujarra-yinja-warnu "fiancee"
-panu excessive wawirri<excess> ↔ wawirri-panu "many kangaroos"
-ngawurrpa denizen of nyiya?<deniz> ↔ nyiya-ngawurrpa? "inhabitant of what place?"
-wardingki inhabitant of ngurra<n><inhab> ↔ ngurra-wardingki "inhabitant of (the) home"
-piya like, simile-former jarrampayi<n><like> ↔ jarrampayi-piya "like a lizard"
-kurlangu possessive kata<n><poss> ↔ kata-kurlangu "having hair"
-wangu privative, negative wirntinja-warnu<n><priv> ↔ wirntinja-wangu "uninitiated person"
-kurlu, -parnta, -manji proprietive, having wawirri<n><prop> ↔ wawirri-kurlu "with (possessing) a kangaroo"
-jangka source (elative, from) japu<n><src> ↔ japu-jangka "from the shop"

Verb Tense

In Warlpiri, there are five classes of verbs (V1, V2, V3, V4, and V5) of varying size, and the most common tenses are the nonpast (present), future, past, and imperative. The tag <tv> will be used for transitive verbs, and the tag <iv> will be used for intransitive verbs.

Verb Class Verb Root Gloss Present Future Past Imperative
Class 1 wangkami talk wangkami<v><iv><pres> ↔ wangkami wangkami<v><iv><fti> ↔ wangkaji wangkami<v><iv><past> ↔ wangkaja wangkami<v><iv><imp> ↔ wangkaya
Class 2 pakarni hit pakarni<v><tv><pres> ↔ pakarni pakarni<v><tv><fti> ↔ pakaku pakarni<v><tv><past> ↔ pakarnu pakarni<v><tv><imp> ↔ pakaka
Class 3 yinyi give yinyi<v><tv><pres> ↔ yinyi yinyi<v><tv><fti> ↔ yungku yinyi<v><tv><past> ↔ yungu yinyi<v><tv><imp> ↔ yungka
Class 4 ngarni eat ngarni<v><tv><pres> ↔ ngarni ngarni<v><tv><fti> ↔ ngalku ngarni<v><tv><past> ↔ ngarnu ngarni<v><tv><imp> ↔ nganja
Class 5 yani come yani<v><iv><pres> ↔ yani yani<v><iv><fti> ↔ yanku yani<v><iv><past> ↔ yanu yani<v><iv><imp> ↔ yanta


Pronomials in Warlpiri not only dependent on person and singular/plural, but the number also depends on whether the subject is inclusive or not.

Meaning Word Form
I, me ngaju(lu) ngaju<prn><pers><p1><sg> ↔ ngaju
ngaju<prn><pers><p1><sg> ↔ ngajulu
you nyuntu(lu) nyuntu<prn><pers><p2><sg> ↔ nyuntu
nyuntu<prn><pers><p2><sg> ↔ nyuntulu
he/she/it; to him/her/it nyanungu nyanungu<prn><pers><p3><sg> ↔ nyanungu
we (you & me) ngali(jarra) ngali<prn><pers><p1><du><incl> ↔ ngali
ngali<prn><pers><p1><du><incl> ↔ ngalijarra
we (him/her/it & me) ngajarra ngajarra<prn><pers><p1><du><excl> ↔ ngajarra
we (you & me & other(s)) ngalipa ngalipa<prn><pers><p1><pl><incl> ↔ ngalipa
we (them & me) nganimpa nganimpa<prn><pers><p1><pl><excl> ↔ nganimpa
you (both/two) nyumpala nyumpala<prn><pers><p2><du> ↔ nyumpala
you (more than 2) nyurrarla nyurrarla<prn><pers><p2><pl> ↔ nyurrarla
they/them (both/two) nyanungu-jarra nyanungu-jarra<prn><pers><p3><du> ↔ nyanungu-jarra
they/them (more than 2) nyanungu-rra/nyanungu-patu nyanungu<prn><pers><p3><pl> ↔ nyanungu-rra
nyanungu<prn><pers><p3><pl> ↔ nyanungu-patu

Auxiliary system

In Warlpiri, there are many auxiliaries, which provide a central piece of grammar. It may occur only in initial or second position in the sentence, and depending on its composition, it may either be an independent phonological word or a clitic.

Tense-like Auxiliaries

Auxiliary Meaning Example
ka Present ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rna-jana

ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ karnajana

kapu Future ka<vaux><fti><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ kapu-rna-jana
lpa Imperfect ka<vaux><pii><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ lpa-rna-jana
Ø Perfect ka<vaux><prf><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ rna-jana
yinga Causal ka<vaux><caus><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ yinga-rna-jana
kuja Relative ka<vaux><rel><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ kuja-rna-jana
kajilpa "if", "when" ka<vaux><cni><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ kajilpa-rna-jana
kala Usitative ka<vaux><usi><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ kala-rna-jana
kulaka Negative ka<vaux><neg><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ kulaka-rna-jana
kalaka Admonitive ka<vaux><adm><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ kalaka-rna-jana

Subject Auxiliaries

See Pronomials section for meaning of tag names.

Auxiliary Meaning Example
rna 1st person singular subject ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rna-jana
n(pa) 2nd person singular subject ka<vaux><pres><subj2sg><obj3pl> ↔ ka-n-jana
ka<vaux><pres><subj2sg><obj3pl> ↔ ka-npa-jana
Ø 3rd person singular subject ka<vaux><pres><subj3sg><obj3pl> ↔ ka-jana
rli 1st person dual inclusive subject ka<vaux><pres><subj1duincl><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rli-jana
rlijarra 1st person dual exclusive subject ka<vaux><pres><subj1duexcl><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rlijarra-jana
rlipa 1st person plural inclusive subject ka<vaux><pres><subj1plincl><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rlipa-jana
rna-lu 1st person plural exclusive subject ka<vaux><pres><subj1plexcl><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rna-lu-jana
n(pa)-pala 2nd person dual subject ka<vaux><pres><subj2du><obj3pl> ↔ ka-n-pala-jana
ka<vaux><pres><subj2du><obj3pl> ↔ ka-npa-pala-jana
nku-lu 2nd person plural subject ka<vaux><pres><subj2pl><obj3pl> ↔ ka-nku-lu-jana
pala 3rd person dual subject ka<vaux><pres><subj3du><obj3pl> ↔ ka-pala-jana
lu 3rd person plural subject ka<vaux><pres><subj3pl><obj3pl> ↔ ka-lu-jana

Object Auxiliaries

See Pronomials section for meaning of tag names.

Auxiliary Meaning Example
ju 1st person singular object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj1sg> ↔ ka-rna-ju
ngku 2nd person singular object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj2sg> ↔ ka-rna-ngku
rla 3rd person singular object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj3sg> ↔ ka-rna-rla
ngali(ngki) 1st person dual inclusive object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj1duincl> ↔ ka-rna-ngali
ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj1duincl> ↔ ka-rna-ngalingki
jarrangku 1st person dual exclusive object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj1duexcl> ↔ ka-rna-jarrangku
ngalpa 1st person plural inclusive object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj1plincl> ↔ ka-rna-ngalpa
nganpa 1st person plural exclusive object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj1plexcl> ↔ ka-rna-nganpa
ngku-pala 2nd person dual object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj2du> ↔ ka-rna-ngku-pala
nyarra 2nd person plural object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj2pl> ↔ ka-rna-nyarra
palangu 3rd person dual object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj3du> ↔ ka-rna-palangu
jana 3rd person plural object ka<vaux><pres><subj1sg><obj3pl> ↔ ka-rna-jana

Directional Endings on Verbs

Warlpiri has a set of endings that attach to verbs and indicate the orientation of the action referred to by the verb with respect to the speaker or another point of reference. The tags <twrds>, <away>, <across> can be used to indicate the meanings "towards speaker", "away from speaker", and "past the speaker", respectively.

Directional Ending Meaning parnkami "run" yani "come/go" karrimi "stand"
rni towards speaker parnkami<v><iv><pres><twrds> ↔ parnkamirni yani<v><iv><pres><twrds> ↔ yanirni karrimi<v><iv><pres><twrds> ↔ karrimirni
rra away from speaker parnkami<v><iv><pres><away> ↔ parnkamirra yani<v><iv><pres><away> ↔ yanirra karrimi<v><iv><pres><away> ↔ karrimirra
mpa past the speaker parnkami<v><iv><pres><across> ↔ parnkamimpa yani<v><iv><pres><across> ↔ yanimpa karrimi<v><iv><pres><across> ↔ karrimimpa

Double Dative

Verbs like 'yinyi' "give" or 'warrirni' "look for" refer to an action that implies a goal. With these verbs, Warlpiri uses a nominal followed by a dative ending, and in the sentence there may be another nominal with a dative ending referring to the individual for whom the action is being performed. This results in the double dative.

Another use of the double dative (applying the dative to the auxiliary and the object) is when verbs can have two different meanings: 'achieved goal' and 'unachieved goal':

Single Dative Gloss Form 1 Form 2 Double Dative Gloss Dative Form 1 Dative Form 2
Ngarrkangku ka jarntu luwarni. The man is shooting a dog. ka<vaux><pres> ↔ ka jarntu<n><sg><abs> ↔ jarntu Ngarrkangku karlajinta jarntu-ku luwarni. The man is shooting at a dog (trying to shoot the dog). ka<vaux><pres><obj3sg><obj3sg> ↔ karlajinta jarntu<n><sg><dat> ↔ jarntu-ku
Malikirli ka kurdu yarlkirni. The dog is biting the child. ka<vaux><pres> ↔ ka kurdu<n><sg><abs> ↔ kurdu Malikirli karlajinta kurduku yarlkirni. The dog is biting at the child (trying to bite the child). ka<vaux><pres><obj3sg><obj3sg> ↔ karlajinta kurdu<n><sg><dat> ↔ kurdu-ku
Kurdungku ka jarntu pakarni. The child is striking the dog. ka<vaux><pres> ↔ ka jarntu<n><sg><abs> ↔ jarntu Kurdungku karlajinta jarntu-ku pakarni. The child is striking at the dog (trying to strike the dog). ka<vaux><pres><obj3sg><obj3sg> ↔ karlajinta jarntu<n><sg><dat> ↔ jarntu-ku

Other sources that give a general overview of the grammar