Shemspreg sentences

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Syntax is the study of how words are combined into phrases and sentences. In this chapter I will focus on the structure of sentences; there are references throughout this grammar to phrases of various sorts, so I will not treat them here. I begin by describing simple sentences and sentences using the verb es 'to be' and elaborations of these simple sentence types; I then discuss coordinate and other complex sentences.

Simple sentences

With respect to basic sentence structure, Shemspreg is much like English, though not identical. The basic word order for transitive sentences is Subject + Verb + Object (SVO). Transitive sentences are sentences with a subject, a verb, and a direct object.

maater thees sos tekom.

maater thee -s so -s tek -om
mother suckle -PRES 3s -GEN child -OBL

'The mother is suckling her child.'

ej edi tree abelesom.

ej e- d -i tree abel -es -om
1s:NOM PERF- eat:0 -PAST three apple -PL -OBL

'I ate three apples.'

owi skekwi echwosom.

owi ske- kw -i echwo -s -om
sheep PERF- see:0 PAST horse -PL -OBL

'The sheep saw horses.'

While SVO is the normal word order in Shemspreg transitive sentences, other orders are also common to focus or place emphasis on a particular constituent.

so wiro epi abelesom.

so wiro e- p -i abel -es -om
that man IMPF- pick:0 -PAST apple -PL -OBL

'That man was picking apples.'

abelesom epi so wiro.

abel -es -om e- p -i so wiro
apple -PL -OBL IMPF- pick:0 -PAST that man

'It was apples that that man was picking.'

abel-epi so wiro.

abel e- p -i so wiro
apple IMPF- pick:0 -PAST that man

'Picking apples is what that man was doing.'

The sentences below are examples of intransitive sentences, which have a subject and a verb, but no object. As with transitive sentences, there is some flexibility of word order when sentence elements other than the subject appear.

me swekru-vraater weses.

me swekru fraater wes -es
1s:GEN brother stay.overnight -PRES

'My brother-in-law is staying overnight.'

so gwegumi ad domomswe.

so gwe- gum -i ad dom -om =swe
3s:NOM PERF- come:0 -PAST at house -OBL =REFL

'He arrived at his (own) house.'

owi weuri oochu en arum.

owi we- wr -i oochu en aru -m
sheep PERF- turn.away:0 -PAST swiftly in field -OBL

'The sheep swiftly turned away into the field.'

oochu weuri owi en arum.

oochu we- wr -i owi en aru -m
swiftly PERF- turn.away:0 -PAST sheep in field -OBL

'The sheep swiftly turned away into the field.'

en arum weuri owi oochu.

en aru -m we- wr -i owi oochu
in field -OBL PERF- turn.away:0 -PAST sheep swiftly

'The sheep swiftly turned away into the field.'

Ditransitive sentences require two arguments besides the subject. In such sentences one distinguishes between a direct object, which is inflected for oblique case as in a simple transitive sentence, and an indirect object, which occurs in Shemspreg as a prepositional phrase.

gwena dodoi yaam kwonom ad tekom.

gwena do- do -i yaam kwon -om ad tek -om
woman PERF- give:0 -PAST already dog -OBL to child -OBL

'The woman already gave a dog to the child.'

wiro stetli chestrom an dezhomom.

wiro ste- tl -i chestro -m an dezhom -om
man PERF- place:0 -PAST knife -OBL on ground -OBL

The man put the knife on the ground.

gwena meles meltom ad me.

gwena mel -es melto -m ad me
woman tell -PRES story -OBL to 1s:OBL

'The woman is telling me a story.'

'BE' sentences

There are three kinds of sentences which use the verb es 'be'. They are: i) equational sentences, ii) existential sentences, and iii) possessive sentences.

Equational sentences

Equational sentences are sentences which assert that the subject is characterized by some property or identity, or that it is located in some place. In English these sentences generally have the form: NP be AP/NP/PP.

John is a man.

The milk is sour.

The mouse is in the bowl.

Equational sentences in Shemspreg work similarly to those of English; the noun phrase subject is equated with some property or identity by means of the verb es 'be'. The Shemspreg equivalents of the English sentences above are given below.

Jan es wiro.

Jan es wiro
John be:PRES man

'John is (a) man.'

glakt es suuro.

glakt es suuro
milk be:PRES sour

'The milk is sour.'

muus es en kwerom.

muus es en kwer -om
mouse be:PRES in bowl -OBL

'The mouse is in the bowl.'

Existential sentences

Existential sentences are sentences which assert that some state of affairs exists. In English, existential sentences are introduced by "There is/was...". In Shemspreg, they are introduced by (so) es .... Some examples of existential sentences are given below.

so es muus en kwerom.

so es muus en kwer -om
3s:NOM be:PRES mouse in bowl -OBL

'There's a mouse in the bowl.'

es thevu leuk deyent.

es thev leuk dei -ent
be:PRES small light shine -PTC

'There's a small light shining.'

Possessive sentences

Possessive sentences are identical in form to existential sentences since they are also introduced by so es ... 'it is'. The possessor is expressed by a prepositional phrase headed by ad 'to'. Possessive sentences assert ownership, kinship, or a part/whole relationship, as the following sentences show.

so es dom ad me.

so es dom ad me
3s:NOM be:PRES house to 1s:OBL

'I have a house.'

so es poti ad Marim.

so es poti ad Mari -m
3s:NOM be:PRES husband to Mary -OBL

'Mary has a husband.'

so es ach ardi ad chestrom.

so es ach ardi ad chestro -m
3s:NOM be:PRES sharp point to knife -OBL

'The knife has a sharp point.'

Elaborations of simple sentences

Imperative sentences

Imperative sentences are used to give commands and make requests. In Shemspreg, there are two features which distinguish imperative sentences from simple sentences. First, imperative sentences often do not have an subject. Since an imperative is used to give an order, the implied subject of the sentence is either tu 'you (sg)' or or yu 'you (pl)', both of which are second person pronouns. Second, imperative sentences use the imperative verb form, which is simply the full grade of the verb without any inflection. While imperative sentences generally do not occur with a subject (which is always 2nd person), they may do so to make clear whether a single person or more than one person is being addressed. Some examples of imperative sentences are given below.

prech te maaterom!

prech te maater -om
ask:IMP 2s:GEN mother -OBL

'Ask your mother!'

ed abelom kirnosomwe!

ed abel -om kirno -s -om =we
eat:IMP apple -OBL cherry -PL -OBL =or

'Eat (an) apple or (some) cherries!'

Negative sentences

Forming negative sentences in Shemspreg is fairly straightforward; the negation particle ne is placed immediately before the verb. The examples below contain simple sentences from earlier in this chapter which have been negated by adding ne.

so wiro ne epi abelesom.

so wiro ne e- p -i abel -es -om
that man not IMPF- pick:0 -PAST apple -PL -OBL

'That man was not picking apples.'

me swekru-vraater ne weses.

me swekru fraater ne wes -es
1s:GEN brother not stay.overnight -PRES

'My brother-in-law is not staying overnight.'

Jan ne dodoi kwonom ad putlom.

Jan ne do- do -i kwon -om ad putlo -m
John not PERF- give:0 -PAST dog -OBL to boy -OBL

'John didn't give a dog to the boy.'

muus ne es en kwerom.

muus ne es en kwer -om
mouse not be:PRES in bowl -OBL

'The mouse isn't in the bowl.'

so ne es muus en kwerom.

so ne es muus en kwer -om
3s:NOM not be:PRES mouse in bowl -OBL

'There isn't a mouse in the bowl.'

ne prech te maaterom!

ne prech te maater -om
not ask:IMP 2s:GEN mother -OBL

'Don't ask your mother!'

Yes/no questions

Yes/no questions are formed by placing the verb before the subject of the sentence, in a pattern familiar from languages like German and French. Some examples are given below.

epi so wiro abelesom?

e- p -i so wiro abel -es -om
IMPF- pick:0 -PAST that man apple -PL -OBL

'Was that man picking apples?'

weses me swekru-vraater?

wes -es me swekru fraater
stay.overnight -PRES 1s:GEN brother

'Is my brother-in-law staying overnight?'

dodoi Jan kwonom ad putlom?

do- do -i Jan kwon -om ad putlo -m
PERF- give:0 -PAST John dog -OBL to boy -OBL

'Did John give a dog to the boy?'

es muus en kwerom?

muus es en kwer -om
be:PRES mouse in bowl -OBL

'Is the mouse in the bowl?'

es so muus en kwerom?

es so muus en kwer -om
be:PRES 3s:NOM mouse in bowl -OBL

'Is there a mouse in the bowl?'

peprichi tu te maaterom?

pe- prich -i tu te maater -om
PERF- ask -PAST 2s:NOM 2s:GEN mother -OBL

'Did you ask your mother?'


By 'wh-question' is meant the kind of question which is introduced by a word such as who, what, where, why and so forth. In Shemspreg, the "wh-words" are better named "kw-words", but I will keep the labels "wh-word", "wh-phrase", "wh-expression" and "wh-question" since they will be familiar to many English speakers. In Shemspreg, wh-questions are formed by fronting the wh-expression to the initial position of the sentence. The verb immediately follows the wh-expression. Some examples are given below.

kwi api abelesom?

kwi a- p -i abel -es -om
who PERF- pick:0 -PAST apple -PL -OBL

'Who picked the apples?'

kwim eskwi tu?

kwi -m e- skw -i tu
who -OBL PERF- see:0 -PAST 2s:NOM

'Who did you see?'

kwis kwon edi shuum?

kwi -s kwon e- d -i shuu -m
who -GEN dog PERF- eat:0 -PAST fish -OBL

'Whose dog ate the fish?'

kwinu gweguni so wiro?

kwinu gwe- gun -i so wiro
when PERF- come:0 -PAST that man

'When did that man arrive?'

kwicho es wech?

kwicho es wech
where be:PRES village

'Where is the village?'

kwige woses Jan kwonom?

kwige wos -es Jan kwon -om
why sell -PRES John dog -OBL

'Why is John selling the dog?'

kwimod gweguni so wiro?

kwimod gwe- gun -i so wiro
How PERF- come:0 -PAST that man

'How did that man arrive?'

Coordinate sentences

The particle =kwe 'and' may be used to join words or phrases together. It may also be used to join two or more complete sentences together in a coordinate sentence. When =kwe is used in this way, it immediately follows the first word of the second sentence, as the following examples show.

so ewidi kaaveyo esi chel, sokwe popoi som.

so e- wid -i kaave =yo e- s -i chel so =kwe po- po -i so -m
3s:NOM IMPF- know:0 -PAST coffee =SUB IMPF- be:0 -PAST cold 3s:NOM =and PERF- drink:0 -PAST 3s -OBL

'He knew that the coffee was cold, but he drank it (anyway).'

sos gwer wezhom, sos mej gemom deukentom, soskwe shemom oochu ferentom

so -s gwer wezho -m so -s mej gem -om deuk -ent -om so -s =kwe shem- fer -ent -om oochu
that -GEN heavy wagon -OBL that -GEN large load -OBL pull -PTC -OBL that -GEN =and human- bear -PTC -OBL quickly

'that (one) pulling a heavy wagon, that (one) a large load; and that (one) bearing a human quickly.'

Complex sentences

Complex sentences are those which have one or more other sentences embedded in them. Sentences that are embedded in another sentence are called subordinate clauses or dependent clauses, and the sentences they are embedded in are called main clauses. Embedded clauses can serve a number of functions; the most common of these are adverbial, conditional, complement, or modifying.

Embedded clauses are marked with a particle or a relative pronoun. A short list of particles is given below.

=yo 'as, while'
=ye 'if'
pos 'after'
pro 'before'
ge 'because'

In the sections which follow, I present examples of subordinate clauses filling various functions.

Adverbial clauses

Adverbial clauses are clauses which indicate notions such as when, where, how, because, and so on. Several different kinds of adverbial clauses are shown below.

[weyo ekni], esdi seno wiro swepent.

we =yo e- kn -i e- sd -i seno wiro swep -ent
1p:NOM =as IMPF- sing:0 -PAST IMPF- sit:0 -PAST old man sleep -PTC

'While we were singing, the old man sat sleeping.'

[pos so gwegumi], weuri we kwim so dustetli.

pos so gwe- gum -i we- wr -i we kwi -m so dus- ste- tl -i
after 3s:NOM PERF- go:0 -PAST PERF- find:0 -PAST 1p:NOM REL -OBL 3s:NOM wrong- PERF- place:0 -PAST

'After he left, we found what he had lost (lit: misplaced)'

Janos threukh weusi som [soyo estirgi].

Jan -os threukh we- ws -i so -m so =yo e- stirg -i
John -GEN friend PERF- visit:0 -PAST 3s -OBL 3s:NOM =as IMPF- be.sick:0 -PAST

Janos threukh weusi som [ge so estirgi].

Jan -os threukh we- ws -i so -m ge so e- stirg -i
John -GEN friend PERF- visit:0 -PAST 3s -OBL because 3s:NOM IMPF- be.sick:0 -PAST

'John's friend went to see him when he was sick.'

Conditional clauses

A conditional clause is an embedded clause which serves to present an assumption, which may be a real or hypothetical state of affairs, while the main clause presents the logical consequence of that assumption; these are often referred to in English as "if-then" statements. Conditional clauses in Shemspreg are normally marked with =ye 'if'. Some examples are given below.

tu feus kach [tuye ne edes].

tu feu -s kach tu =ye ne ed -es
2s:NOM become -PRES skinny 2s:NOM =if not eat -PRES

'You'll get skinny if you don't eat.'

[tuye ne edes] tu feus kach.

tu =ye ne ed -es tu feu -s kach
2s:NOM =if not eat -PRES 2s:NOM become -PRES skinny

'If you don't eat, you'll get skinny.'

Subject/object clauses

Subject and object clauses are sentences which fill the grammatical functions of subject and object. Subject clauses may be finite clauses, as in the following:

[soyo kores] nidheghwes me.

so =yo kor -es ni- theghw -es me
3s:NOM =SUB make.noise -PRES down- anger -PRES 1s:OBL

'That he makes so much noise annoys me.'

But it is more usual to see participial phrases as subject clauses.

[sos korent] nidheghwes me.

so -s kor -ent ni- theghw -es me
3s:NOM -GEN make.noise -PTC down- anger -PRES 1s:OBL

'His making so much noise annoys me.'

Object clauses usually appear as finite clauses rather than as participial phrases.

so emli [akwayo pekwes].

so e- ml -i akwa =yo pekw -es
3s:NOM IMPF- say:0 -PAST water =SUB cook -PRES

'She said that the water is boiling.'

so ewidi [kaaveyo esi chel], sokwe popoi som.

so e- wid -i kaave =yo e- s -i chel so =kwe po- po -i so -m
3s:NOM IMPF- know:0 -PAST coffee =SUB IMPF- be:0 -PAST cold 3s:NOM =and PERF- drink:0 -PAST 3s -OBL

'He knew that the coffee was cold, but he drank it (anyway).'


Modal verbs are verbs which indicate something of the speaker's attitude toward a situation, including the speaker's belief in its reality or likelihood. There are two modal verbs in Shemspreg; pot- and som-. The modal verb som- has the meanings of necessity or obligation, which in English are expressed with modal verbs like 'must' and 'should'. The modal pot- expresses possibility or permission, which in English are expressed by modals like 'may' and 'can'.

Modal verbs take complement clauses; these complements may occasionally be participle phrases, but are more usually full subordinate clauses. These subordinate clauses are marked with the particle =yo. An interesting feature of constructions with modal verbs is that very often the subject of these sentences is a non-referential third person pronoun:

so potes [Janyo poos glaktom].

so pot -es Jan =yo poo -s glakt -om
3s:NOM NEC -PRES John =SUB drink -PRES milk -OBL

'John must drink milk./John should drink milk.'

A more familiar construction with a referential subject is also possible:

Jan potes [soyo poos glaktom].

Jan pot -es so =yo poo -s glakt -om
John NEC -PRES 3s:NOM =SUB drink -PRES milk -OBL

'John must drink milk./John should drink milk.'

Other verbs which often take complement clauses include wel- 'want', aazh- 'need', woid- 'know', sekw- 'see', and chleu- 'hear'. Complements consisting of a participle phrase are common with these verbs.

Jan weles [soyo domeyes].

Jan wel -es so =yo dom- ei -es
John want -PRES 3s:NOM =SUB house- go -PRES

'John wants to go home.'

Jan weles sos domeentom.

Jan wel -es so -s dom- ei -nt -om
John want -PRES 3s -GEN house- go -PTC -OBL

'John wants to go home.'

Relative clauses

Relative clauses modify nouns in much the same way that adjectives do; for this reason, they are also called modifying clauses or adjectival clauses. Relative clauses always have understood in them a noun phrase indentical with the one they are modifying in the main sentence, and so they are relative to it. Relative clauses in Shemspreg are always introduced by relative pronouns which substitute for the noun phrase missing in them; this relative pronoun is an inflected form of kwi.

ej eskwi wirom [kwi paas owisom].

ej e- skw -i wiro -m kwi paa -s owi -s -om
1s:NOM IMPF- see:0 -PAST man -OBL REL feed -PRES sheep -PL -OBL

'I saw the man who feeds the sheep.'

emlai soyo's thevu leuk deyent [kwim we ne sekwes]

e- ml -a -i so =yo es thevu leuk dey -ent kwi -m we ne sekw -es
IMPF- say.0 -PASS -PAST 3s:NOM =SUB be.PRES small light shine -PTC REL -OBL 1p not see -PRES

'They say that there's a small light shining which we don't see.'

ej edi patatom [kwim Hasan dodoi ad Sinanom].

ej e- d -i patat -om kwi -m Hasan do- do -i ad Sinan -om
1s:NOM PERF- eat.0 -PAST potato -OBL REL -OBL Hasan PERF- give -PAST to Sinan -OBL

'I ate the potato that Hasan gave to Sinan.'


  1. Introduction to Shemspreg
  2. Shemspreg sounds
  3. Shemspreg nouns
  4. Shemspreg pronouns and other particles
  5. Shemspreg verbs
  6. Shemspreg adjectives
  7. Shemspreg sentences