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Miskito grammar

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Miskito grammar

This article provides a grammar sketch of the Miskito language, the language of the Miskito people of the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, a member of the Misumalpan language family. There also exists a brief typological overview of the language that summarizes the language's most salient features of general typological interest in more technical terms.


  • Phonology 1
    • Phonemes 1.1
    • Suprasegmentals 1.2
    • Phonotactics 1.3
  • Noun phrase 2
    • Determiners and quantifiers 2.1
    • Ligature 2.2
    • Possession 2.3
    • The plural 2.4
    • Adjectives 2.5
    • Pronouns and adverbs 2.6
    • Postpositions 2.7
    • Relationals 2.8
  • The verbal group 3
    • Overview 3.1
    • Conjugation 3.2
    • Use of tenses 3.3
    • Switch reference and non-finite verb forms 3.4
    • Periphrastic tenses 3.5
  • Syntax 4
    • Word order 4.1
    • Propositional structure 4.2
    • Information structure 4.3
    • Valency 4.4
    • Negation 4.5
    • Questions 4.6
    • 4.7 Sentence mood particles
    • Coordinating conjunctions 4.8
    • Relative clauses 4.9
    • Complement clauses 4.10
    • Conditional and concessive clauses 4.11
    • Circumstantial clauses 4.12
  • Lexicon 5
    • General 5.1
    • Derivation 5.2
    • Lexical compounds 5.3
  • See also 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8



Short Long
Front Back Front Back
High i u î û
Low a â
  • The exact status of vowel length is not clear; long vowels are not consistently indicated in Miskito writing.
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Voiceless plosives p t k
Voiced Plosives b d
Fricatives s (h)
Nasals m n ng [ŋ]
Liquids l, r
Semivowels y w


Word stress is generally on the first syllable of each word.

H has been included on the above consonant chart out of deference to the orthography and previous descriptions, but may in fact represent a suprasegmental feature rather than a consonantal phoneme (except in loanwords such as heven 'heaven'). Occurrence of h is restricted to the stressed syllable in a word, and its realization consists of the devoicing of adjacent vowel and consonant phonemes within that syllable. In spelling it is customary to place the letter h at the end of the syllable so affected.
  • lih 'turtle'
  • naha 'this'
  • pihni 'white'
  • banhta 'roof'
  • walhwal 'four'
  • banghkaia 'to fill'


Syllables may have up to two consonants preceding the vowel nucleus, and two following it. This may be represented by the formula (C)(C)V(C)(C). Examples of monosyllabic words:

  • ba 'definite article'
  • yâ? 'who?'
  • an? 'how many?'
  • wal 'two'
  • plun 'food'
  • puls! 'play!'
  • praks! 'close it!'

Within words of more than one syllable interior clusters may therefore contain more than two consonants (rarely more than three), but in such cases there is generally a morpheme boundary involved:

  • wamtla 'your house'
  • alkbia 'he will take it'

Simplification of underlying consonant clusters in verb forms takes place, with stem consonants disappearing when certain suffixes are added to verb stems of certain phonological shapes:

  • sab-aia 'perforate' → Imperative sa-s, Negative imperative sa-para, Future II 2 sa-ma, 3 sa-bia, Different-subject participle 3 sa-ka
  • atk-aia 'buy' → Imperative at-s, Negative imperative at-para, Future II 2 at-ma, 3 at-bia, Different-subject participle 3 at-ka

Noun phrase

Determiners and quantifiers

Common determiners and quantifiers
Some determiners Some quantifiers
  • ba definite article
  • na proximal definite article
  • kum indefinite article
  • kumkum plural indefinite article
  • naha 'this'
  • baha 'that'
  • naura 'close by'
  • bukra 'over there'
  • ani 'which'
  • dia 'what'
  • kumkum 'some'
  • uya, ailal, manis 'many'
  • wala 'other'
  • sut 'all'
  • an 'how many'
  • kum 'one'
  • wâl 'two'
  • yumhpa 'three'
  • walhwal 'four'
  • matsip 'five'

The demonstratives naha, baha, naura, bukra and the interrogative determiners ani and dia precede the noun they determine and require the ligature (see below).

  • naha araska 'this horse'
  • baha araska 'that horse'
  • ani araska? 'which horse?'

The indefinite article and most quantifiers follow the noun and do not require a ligature.

  • aras kum 'one horse, a horse'
  • aras kumkum 'some horses'
  • aras an? 'how many horses?'
  • aras yumhpa 'three horses'

The general article ba and the proximal article na stand at the end of the noun phrase and require no ligature. The proximal article expresses proximity.

  • aras ba 'the horse'
  • wâl na 'these two'
  • papiki atkan araska na 'this horse that my father bought'

Optionally the article may be combined with other determiners or quantifiers, and with the ligature (which seems to convey a greater degree of definiteness).

  • naha araska na 'this horse'
  • baha araska ba 'that horse'
  • aras kum ba 'the one horse'
  • araska ba 'the horse in question, the horse which...'

The article is even used sometimes with pronouns, although not required.

  • Witin ba patkira sa. 'He is guilty.'


Ligature is a useful term (with precedents in other languages) for describing a grammatical feature of Miskito traditionally referred to with less accuracy in the Miskito context as 'construct'. A ligature is a morpheme (often -ka) which occurs when a noun is linked to some other element in the noun phrase. In Miskito, most of the elements that require the presence of ligature are ones that precede the head noun:


  • baha araska 'that horse'


  • araska karna'ba 'the strong horse'

possessive dependents:

  • Juan araska 'Juan's horse'

relative clauses:

  • María atkan araska ba 'the horse that María bought'

Ligature takes a variety of forms:

Forms of ligature
Form Examples
-ka suffix
  • aras 'horse' → araska
  • kabu 'sea' → kabuka
  • pyuta 'snake' → pyutka
-ika suffix
  • kipla 'rock' → kiplika
-ya suffix
  • tasba 'land' → tasbaya
  • tala 'blood' → talya
  • silak 'needle' → syalak (< *si-a-lak)
  • utla 'house' → watla (< *u-a-tla)
-ka suffix + -a- INFIX
  • duri 'boat' → dwarka (< *du-a-r-ka)
-ya suffix + -a- INFIX
  • sula 'deer' → swalya (< *su-a-l-ya)
  • plun 'food' → pata
  • dyara 'thing' → dukya

Some nouns take no ligature morpheme; these mostly denote parts of the body (e.g. bila 'mouth', napa 'tooth', kakma 'nose') or kinship (e.g. lakra 'opposite-sex sibling'), although there is only an imperfect correlation between membership of this morphological class and semantic inalienability (see also relationals below).


A noun phrase possessor precedes the possessed noun with ligature (unless inalienable, see above).

  • Juan araska 'Juan's horse'
  • Juan napa 'Juan's tooth'

The possessor may be a personal pronoun if it is emphasized.

  • yang araski 'my horse'
  • man nani nampa 'your (pl.) tooth'

Such pronouns may be omitted. In either case, personal possessors are grammaticalized as morphological indices.

  • araski 'my/our (exc.) horse'
  • nampa 'your (sg./pl.) tooth'
Possessive indices
preposed particle suffix form infix form
1 -i -i- 'my, our (exc.)'
2 -m -m- 'your (sg./pl.)'
3 ai 'his, her, its, their'
1+2 wan 'our (inc.)'

Ai and wan precede the noun, with ligature unless inalienable.



  • ai araska 'his... horse'
  • ai bila 'his mouth'
  • wan araska 'our (inc.) horse'
  • wan bila 'our (inc.) mouth'

The indices for first or second person are generally suffixed to the -ka or -ya ligature when either is present (with loss of final -a before -i):



  • araski 'my... horse'
  • tasbayi 'my land'
  • araskam 'your horse'
  • tasbayam 'your land'

Otherwise they are mostly infixed after the infixed ligature -a-:



  • waitla 'my house'
  • swailya 'my deer'
  • wamtla 'your house'
  • swamlya 'your deer'

Nouns of the inalienable class (with no ligature) take the same possessive indices, which may again be either suffixed...


  • bili 'my/our (exc.) mouth'
  • bilam 'your mouth'

...or infixed.


  • naipa 'my/our (exc.) tooth'
  • nampa 'your tooth'

Some nouns infix in the first person but suffix in the second, and there are some other miscellaneous irregularities.



  • kaikma 'my/our (exc.) nose'
  • dwairka 'my/our (exc.) boat'
  • kakmam 'your nose'
  • dwarkam 'your boat'

The plural

Number is not a morphological category in Miskito. Plural number is indicated in noun phrases by the particle nani placed after the noun or pronoun. Nani is optional with numerals.

  • yang nani 'we (exc.)'
  • baha nani 'those'
  • naha watla nani na 'these houses'
  • karna uplika nani ba 'the strong people'
  • aras (nani) yumhpa 'three horses'


Adjectives used attributively usually follow the head noun and do not require a ligature:

  • aras pihni ba 'the white horse'

but some (including past participles) precede it, in which case the noun, unless inalienable, takes its ligature:

  • karna araska ba 'the strong horse'
  • pruan uplika nani ba 'dead people'

Pronouns and adverbs

The personal pronouns differentiate three persons and also have an exclusive/inclusive distinction in the first person plural. The general plural morpheme nani is added to form plurals (except with yawan). Use of these pronouns is optional when person is indexed in the possessed form, relational or verb group.

Personal pronouns
Singular Plural

yang 'I/me'

man 'you'

witin 'he/him, she/her, it'

yang nani 'we/us (exclusive)'

man nani 'you'

witin nani 'they/them'

yawan 'we/us (inclusive)'

The pronouns are not case-specific, and may, under comparable conditions, be marked by the same postpositions as other noun phrases.

Other pronouns and deictic adverbs
Pronouns Place adverbs Other adverbs
  • naha 'this'
  • baha 'that'
  • nahara, naura 'here'
  • bahara, bukra 'there'
  • naku, nan 'like this'
  • baku, ban 'like that, so'
  • mahka, nanara 'now'
  • bara 'then'
  • yâ? 'who?'
  • dia? 'what?'
  • dikia? 'what? (construct)'
  • ani? 'which one?'
  • anira? 'where?'
  • nahki? 'how?'
  • ahkia? 'when?'
Negative polarity
  • diara apia 'anything'
  • upla kumi sin 'anybody'
  • kumi sin 'any' (det.)
  • plis kumi sin 'anywhere'
  • pyu kumi sin 'ever'


Dative complements are marked by the multi-purpose enclitic postposition ra, which is also a locative (doing duty for both dative and spatial meanings of English 'to', as well as 'in'). The same marker is also often used with direct objects.

  • Locative ra: Nikaragua ra aulna. 'I am going to Nicaragua.' Honduras ra iwisna. 'I live in Honduras.'
  • Dative ra: Yang María ra buk kum yabri. 'I gave Maria a book.' "I María-ra book one gave.'
  • Accusative ra: Yang María ra kaikri. 'I saw María.' "I María-ra saw."

This and other postpositions are placed after the last element in a noun phrase, e.g.

  • aras ra 'to the horse'
  • aras pihni ra 'to the white horse'
  • aras pihni kum ra 'to a white horse'
Some postpositions
ra (enclitic) 'to, in, at...'

(see above)



'to, as far as'


  • Bilwi wina Limpira kat 'from Bilwi to Lempira'
  • utla wina 'out of the house'
wal 'with (general)'
  • Pedro tuktika ba wal 'with Pedro's child'
  • rais bins wal 'rice with beans'
  • baha lalahka wal 'with that money'
ni 'with (instrumental)'
  • baha lalahka ni 'with this money'
  • bip tawa ni '(made) of leather ("cow skin")'


Relationals are quasi-nouns expressing some relationship (often spatial) to their possessor complement. Many of the relationals perceivably originate in locatives (in -ra) of nouns designating parts of the body employed metaphorically to convey spatial or other relations.

For example, utla bilara literally means 'in the mouth of the house'.

  • utla bila-ra 'inside the house'

Relationals index pronominal complements in the same way as nouns index their possessors.

  • ai bila-ra 'inside him/her/them'
  • (yang) bili-ra 'inside me'
  • (man) bilam-ra 'inside you'

Some examples of relationals in use:

  • Witin yang ninira balan. 'He came behind me.'
  • Man nani kainamra Bilwi ra wamna. 'I will go to Bilwi before you (pl.).'
  • Witin dur lamara takaskan. 'He paused near the door.'
  • Naha batilka utla bilara mangkaisna. 'I will put this bottle inside the house.'
  • Upla aihkika witin dukiara but munan. 'Most people voted for him.'
Some relationals
Spatial relations Other relations
  • bila-ra 'in, inside'
  • pura(-ra) 'on, on top of'
  • mununhta-ra 'under'
  • kaina-ra 'in front of'
  • nina-ra 'behind'
  • tila-ra 'between, among'
  • lama-ra 'near'
  • dukia-ra 'for, about'
  • mapa-ra 'for, against, as regards'
  • watlika-ra 'instead of'
  • tawan 'because of'

The verbal group


Verbs are conventionally cited with the infinitive suffix -aia. The stem of many such verbs (obtained by subtracting the infinitive ending) are monosyllabic (bal-, dim-, tak-, dauk-, kaik-, bri-, wi-, pi- etc.); a few are non-syllabic (e.g. w- 'go').

  • balaia 'come'
  • waia 'go'
  • dimaia 'go in'
  • takaia 'go out'
  • daukaia 'make'
  • munaia 'do'
  • briaia 'have'
  • kaikaia 'see'
  • aisaia 'speak'
  • wiaia 'tell'
  • walaia 'hear'
  • piaia 'eat'
  • yapaia 'sleep'

Finite forms include several tenses and moods, in each of which the person (but not number) of the subject is marked by suffixes. The tenses themselves have characteristic suffixes which combine with the subject-indexing suffixes.

In addition to synthetic (simple) tenses, there is also a considerable range of periphrastic (compound) tenses. These are formed with a non-finite form of the main verb followed by an auxiliary verb.

Some of the synthetic tenses represent original periphrastic tense structures that have become welded into single words. This helps to explain why there are two different forms each in the present, past and future. (The sample verb used is pulaia 'play', stem pul-, given here in the third-person form of each tense.)


Present tenses:



Past tenses:



Future tenses:



In addition to a subject index which form part of a verb's suffix, for transitive verbs the verb group includes an object index in the form of a preverbal particle marking the person (but not the number) of the object. The subject markers vary somewhat according to the tense, but the most usual forms are shown in the following table (see below for more details).

Subject and object indices
Person Subject suffixes Object


1 -na ai
2 -ma mai


1+2 wan

Presence of the personal pronouns (yang, man, witin, yawan, yang nani...) referring to the indexed subject or object is optional (i.e. there is pro-drop).

  • Mai kaikisna. 'I see you.'

The absence of an object index preceding a transitive verb signals a third person object:

  • Kaikisna. 'I see him/her/it/them'
  • Waitla kaikisna. 'I see my house.'

Other participant roles may be expressed by personal pronouns with the appropriate postpositions, e.g.

  • Yang ra tri paun aiks. 'Give me three pounds.'
  • Man wal aisaia want sna 'I want to talk to ("with") you.'

Forms for a third-person subject, in addition to indexing specific subjects that are equivalent to 'he', 'she', 'it', 'they' or 'we (inclusive)', are also used with transitive verbs to indicate a non-specific subject, thus providing a passive-like construction.

  • Ai kaikan. 'He (etc.) saw me' but also 'I was seen.'

To indicate that a verb has a plural subject, a finite auxiliary, banghwaia, may be added at the end of the verb group, preceded by a same-subject participle.

  • Maria ra kaiki banghwri. 'We (exc.) saw María.'


The stem of a verb is obtained by removing the -aia suffix from the infinitive. Most verb stems end in a consonant, and are conjugated as follows (our sample verb is pulaia 'play').

Regular verb
Present I Present II Past I Past II Future I Future II Imperative
1 puluna pulisna pulatna pulri pulaisna pulamna
2 puluma pulisma pulatma pulram pulaisma pulma puls
3 and 1+2 puluya pulisa pulata pulan pulaisa pulbia

Verbs whose stems end in i (bri- 'have', wi- 'tell', pi- 'eat', di- 'drink', swi- 'allow') vary from the above paradigm in a few minor points. Bal-aia 'come' and w-aia 'go', have an irregular Present I tense. The verb yabaia 'give' is anomalous in a different way by having irregularly derived non-third-person object-indexing forms. Finally, the most irregular verb of all is the defective and irregular kaia 'to be'.

i-stem (piaia 'eat')
Present I Present II Past I Past II Future I Future II Imperative
1 pisuna pisna pisatna piri piaisna pimna
2 pisuma pisma pisatma piram piaisma pima pis
3 and 1+2 pisuya pisa pisata pin piaisa pibia
Balaia, waia
Present of balaia 'come' Present of waia 'go'
1 aulna auna
2 aulma auma
3 / 1+2 aula auya
Stems of yabaia 'give'
Object 1 2 3 1+2
Infinitive aik-aia

'give me/us'


'give you'


'give him/her/it/them'


'give us (inc.)'

kaia 'be'
Present Past I Past II Future I Future II Imperative
1 sna katna kapri kaisna kamna
2 sma katma kapram kaisma kama bas
3 / 1+2 sa kata kan kaisa kabia

Use of tenses

Present I expresses that an action is happening or about to happen at the time of speaking.

  • Yang miskitu aisuna. 'I am speaking Miskito.'
  • Yang naha minit takuna. 'I am about to go out this minute.'

Present II is a general present, indistinctly progressive or habitual.

  • Yang miskitu aisisna. 'I speak Miskito.'

Past I is a perfect.

  • Yang kwirku ba dakakatna. 'I have fed the pigs.'

As the nucleus of a main clause Past II is a simple aorist past. Connected to a following verb in a past or present tense within a switch reference chain, it functions as the different-subject participle (see below).

  • Yang María ra kaikri. 'I saw María.'
  • Yang buk nani ba sakri witin María ra yaban. 'I found the books and he gave them to María.' (or 'I having found the books...')

Future I expresses that an event is imminent.

  • Jon pruaisa. 'Jon is going to die.'

Future II is a general future. It is also used as an irrealis in subordinate clauses.

  • Man naha apilka pima kaka, man pruma. 'If you eat this apple, you will die.'
  • Yawan anira wabia? 'Where shall we go?'
  • Juan want kan Maria balbia. 'Juan wanted María to come.'

The second-person imperative ends in -s; its negative (prohibitive) counterpart ending in -para. A gentler order may be expressed using the Past II second-person form (ending in -ram). The first-person inclusive plural imperative ('Let's...') ends in -p(i).

  • Sturi nani kumkum yang nani ra ai wis! 'Tell us some stories!'
  • Baku pali saura ai munpara. 'Do not treat me like that!'
  • Umpira ai kaiks! 'Have pity on me!'

Switch reference and non-finite verb forms

Switch reference participles Negative participle Past participle Infinitive
Same subject Same subject anterior Different subject
past/present (= Past II)
Different subject future
Regular 1 puli pulisi pulri pulrika pulras pulan pulaia
2 pulram
3 / 1+2 pulan pulka
kaia 'to be' 1 si kapri kaprika kan kaia
2 kapram
3 / 1+2 kan kaka

The switch reference participles are used in verb or clause chains sharing the same subject; only the last verb adopts a finite tense form.

  • Utla wina taki kauhri. 'I fell coming out of the house.' ("Coming out of the house — I fell.")

These participles are also used in many compound verbs and periphrastic formations.

  • bri balaia 'to bring' ("to have and come")
  • puli kan 'he was playing'

The anterior participle further expresses that an event occurred before that expressed by the following verb.

  • Watla ra dimisi witin wal aisari. 'After entering the house I spoke to him.' ("Having entered the house — I spoke with him."

The different-subject participle in -ka signals a change of subject between it and the following verb, and is used when the latter is in a future tense.

  • Pedro buk nani ba sakka witin María ra yabia. 'When Pedroi finds the books, hej will give them to María.'

When the subject of the different subject participle is first or second person, the ending is -rika if the main verb is future.

  • Man yarika takbia. 'You will let it out.' ("You letting, it will get out.")

When the last verb of a different-subject chain is in the present or past tense, the preceding verb must be in the Past II tense.

  • Pedro buk nani ba sakan witin María ra yaban. 'When Pedroi found the books, hej gave them to María.'

The negative participle can be followed by a finite form of kaia to express any person-tense combination; alternatively these categories may be left implicit by omitting the auxiliary.

  • Man ai kaikras kapram. 'You did not see me.'
  • Man ai kaikras. 'You do/did/will not see me.'

The past participle, identical in form to the third-person of Past II, is used: (a) as a passive adjective;

  • Satail ba bip tawa ni daukan kan. 'The saddle is made of cow's hide.'

(b) in a periphrastic passive construction with kaia as auxiliary;

  • Yang kupran kapri. 'I was beaten.'

(c) in an idiomatic construction with daukaia 'make'.

  • Mai kaikan ai daukisa. 'I would like to see you.' ("Seen you makes me.")

The uses of the infinitive: (a) approximates that of infinitives in many European languages:

  • Aikuki la dauki banghwan tasba pis kum atkaia. 'They made a joint agreement to purchase a piece of land.'
  • Pedro ai muihni nani aikuki aisaia wan. 'Pedro went and spoke with his brothers.'
  • Diara sut brisma, dia mita wark pliki waia? 'You have everything, why go and look for work?'

(b) include several modal constructions.

  • Yang wamtla ra waia want sna. 'I want to go to your house.'
  • Yang wamtla ra waia sna. 'I have to go to your house.'
  • Yang wamtla ra waia kapri. 'I should have gone to your house.'

Note: Given the differences in terminology, the following comparative table for names of non-finite forms used in this article, Salamanca's Miskito school grammar and Green's Lexicographic Study of Ulwa (a related language with similar categories) may be found useful:

This article Salamanca Green
same subject simultaneous participle 'gerundio' 'proximate'
same subject anterior participle 'transgresivo'
different subject future participle 'conexivo' 'obviative'

Periphrastic tenses

The range of aspectual, modal and other notions that can be expressed is enlarged considerably by the availability of various periphrastic constructions in which a verb acting as auxiliary is placed after the main verb. The conjugated component can take a variety of tenses, including periphrastic ones, and the periphrases themselves may often be combined; thus chains of several auxiliaries are possible. Some representative examples of such periphrases follow:

Puli kapri 'I was playing' consists of the same-subject participle of pulaia followed by the first person of Past II of kaia 'to be', "playing was-I".

  • puli kapri 'I was playing' ("playing was-I")

Pulaia sna 'I am to play, I have to play' consists of kaia after an infinitive.

  • pulaia sna 'I am to play' ("play-to am-I")

This construction with the auxiliary in Past II can express an impossible condition: pulaia kapri 'I should have played' or 'I would have played'.

  • pulaia kapri 'I should/would have played' ("play-to was-I")

Combining the infinitive with other auxiliary verbs we obtain other modal constructions.

  • pulaia want sna 'I want to play' ("play-to want am-I")

The particle sip, with an anomalous distribution, is used in expressions of possibility and ability.

  • Witin sip sa utla kum paskaia. 'He can build a house.'
  • Witin sip utla kum paskras sa. 'He cannot build a house.'

Another type of construction consists of a conjugated main verb followed by a third-person form of kaia. Various tense sequences for the two verbs are possible and convey a range of nuances. Past perfect and future perfect can be expressed by placing both verbs in Past II or future II respectively.

  • pulri kan 'I had played'
  • pulamna kabia 'I shall have played'

By compounding the past perfect construction again with sa, and then kaka for 'if' (itself really a form of kaia), we obtain an unfulfilled hypothetical clause.

  • pulri kan sa kaka 'if I had played'


Word order

In Miskito sentences the verb (or verb group) regularly comes last. The subject, if expressed as a noun phrase, normally precedes objects and other constituents. In these examples the verb is in bold.

  • Jon pruaisa. 'Jon is going to die.'
  • (Yang) Honduras ra iwisna. 'I live in Honduras.'
  • (Yang) María ra kaikri. 'I saw María.'
  • Yâ baha daukan? 'Who did this?'
  • (Yang) María ra buk kum yabri. 'I gave Maria a book.'
  • Mairin ba tuktan ra li ni tahbisa. 'The woman is bathing the baby with water.'
  • Yang ra tri paun aiks. 'Give me three pounds.'

However, long or heavier constituents (here in bold) may follow the verb.

  • Yang want sna witin ra yabaia. 'I want to give it to him/her.'
  • Yâ win takbia ni champian pulanka ba naha mani? 'Who do you think is going to win the championship this year?'

Demonstrative and interrogative determiners, the possessive proclitics ai and wan, and certain adjectives, precede the noun, which takes the ligature in these cases.

  • baha araska 'that horse'
  • ani araska? 'which horse?'
  • ai araska 'his/her horse'
  • karna araska ba 'the strong horse'

Articles and quantifiers follow nouns.

  • aras ba 'the horse'
  • aras kum 'a/one horse'
  • aras uya 'many horses'
  • aras an? 'how many horses?'

Adpositions and relationals follow the noun phrase.

  • aras ba wal 'with the horse'
  • aras ba kainara 'in front of the horse'

Auxiliaries follow main verbs.

  • puli kapri 'I was playing'
  • pulri kan 'I had played'
  • pulaia want sna 'I want to play'

The object proclitics ai, mai and wan precede the main verb.

  • mai kaikisna 'I see you'

The negative particle apia follows future-tense verbs, but precedes forms of kaia 'to be'.

  • Ai kaikma apia. 'You will not see me.'
  • Baha watla tawanki ra apia sa. 'That house is not in my village.'

In compound verbs, the conjugated element comes last.

  • aisi kaikri 'I read it' ("speaking I-saw")
  • bri aulna 'I am bringing it' ("having I-am-coming")
  • want sna 'I want it'
  • win takbia 'he/she/it will win'

Sentence particles follow the verb.

  • Man balma ki? 'Will you come?'
  • Yâ win takbia ni? 'I wonder who will win!'

In subordination structures the rule that places subordinate elements first is frequently overridden by a tendency to place long and heavy constituents last.

  • Watla ra dimisi witin wal aisari. 'After entering the house I spoke to him.'
  • Pedro buk nani ba sakan María ra yabri. 'When Pedro found the books, I gave them to María.'
  • Juan want kan Maria balbia. 'Juan wanted María to come.'

Relative clauses precede the head.

  • María atkan araska ba 'the horse that María bought'

Complement and circumstantial clauses may precede or follow the main clause.

  • Plawar abalkaisna brid daukaia mata. 'I am going to mix flour in order to make bread.'
  • Witin plun atkaia auya kan bara, ai yaptika ba balan. 'When he was about to buy food, his mother came.'

Propositional structure

While no systematic case marking differentiates formally between subjects and objects, there exist (apart from word order) certain option for achieving disambiguation.

One is to mark animate direct objects with the postposition ra.

  • María ra kaikri. 'I saw María.'

Another is to identify the agent of a transitive verb with the postposition mita. Since mita always occurs with agents of transitive verbs it might be viewed as a proto-ergative marker.

  • Puisin mita ikan. 'The poison killed him/her.'
  • Pedro mita María wamtlara brih wan. 'Pedro brought María to your house.'

Yet another way to identify the subject is for it to participate in a verbal periphrasis. Outwardly, the 'particle' bui is placed after such subjects. Bui is the same-subject participle of buaia 'get up', so the semantic route of this grammaticalization is, for example, from 'Who will get up and remove it?' to 'Who (subject) will remove it?' The use of bui allows an object to precede a subject (for topicalization) without this leading to ambiguity. Bui almost always occurs with subjects of transitive verbs and so may again be understood as a proto-ergative marker.

  • Prari bui duri abakan. 'The hurricane sunk the canoe.'
  • bui ai kangban? 'Who touched me?'

Information structure

A system of specialized postpositions is used to identify topics and focused constituents:

Lika is a particle that may follow a sentence constituent identifying it as sentence topic.

  • Baku lika yang maipara an man mampara sin aitani kabia. 'That way, it will be good for me and for you too.'
  • Yang nini lika Juan. 'My name is Juan.'
  • Pedro mahka wan, bara María lika takaskan. 'Pedro left, and/but María stayed.'

Sika may be placed after a definite noun phrase to foreground it; its effect is similar to that of focus clefting in English.

  • Naha sika diara nani na dawanka kabia. 'This is who is going to own these things.'
  • Witin sika yaptiki. 'She is my mother.'


Most verbs are built up from a monosyllabic lexical root ending in a vowel or a single consonant, to which an extension or stem consonant is very often added. The extensions correlate with transitivity: transitive stems have either -k- or -b- (unpredictably), while intransitive stems have -w-. There is also a valency-decreasing verb-prefix ai- which, added to transitive stems, produces unergative, reflexive, reciprocal or middle verbs. See the section on Derivation (below) for examples.

Miskito has periphrastic causative expressions using one or another of the causation verbs yabaia 'give', munaia 'make', swiaia 'let'. In these constructions, the verb of causation is subordinated to the verb of action.

  • Pedro tuktika ra swika pulbia. 'Pedro will let the child play.' "P. letting the child, (it) will play"


To negate a verb, the invariable negative participle in -ras is used either alone or followed by an auxiliary specifying tense and person.

  • Man ai kaikras. 'You do/did/will not see me.'
  • Man ai kaikras kapram. 'You did not see me.'

For the future tenses only, another option is to place apia after the future verb form.

  • Man ai kaikma apia. or Man ai kaikras kama. 'You will not see me.'

The second person imperative has its own special negative form, with the verbal suffix -para.

  • Baku yang nanira ai wipara. 'Do not speak to us like that!'

The verb kaia, having no negative participle, is negated by a preposed apia.

  • Yang aitani apia sna. 'I am not worthy.'

'Nothing', 'nobody' and so on are expressed using indefinite words, generally accompanied by sin 'also, even', usually in combination with negative verb forms.

  • Upla kumi sin balras. 'Nobody came.'
  • Yang upla kumi sin ra kaikras. 'I didn't see anybody.'
  • Muihki upla kumi ra sin diara wiras. 'My brother did not tell anybody anything.'
  • Pyu kumi sin sîka nît apia kaka dipara. 'Never take medicine if you do not need it.'


Question words
  • 'who'
  • dia 'what'
  • ani 'which'
  • an 'how many'
  • anira 'where'
  • ahkia 'when'
  • nahki 'how'
  • diakan 'why'

The sentence-final particle ki may, optionally, be used in either yes-no or wh-questions.

  • Man balma ki? 'Will you come?'
  • Buk an brisma ki? 'How many books do you have?'

With or without ki, in wh-questions the interrogative element either stands at the beginning of the question...

  • baha daukan? 'Who did this?'
  • Diakan man baku lukisma ki? 'Why do you think so?'

...or immediately precedes the verb.

  • Yawan anira wabia? 'Where shall we go?'
  • Inska ba wal dia daukamna ki? 'What shall I do with the fish?'

'who' as the agentive subject of a question may be followed by the bui marker (see above).

  • Yâ bui ai kangban? 'Who touched me?'

Indirect questions may be followed by saba (or sapa).

  • Witin wan dia daukan saba kaikaia. 'He went to see what he had done.'

In yes-no questions sentence-final ki is optional. Such questions may be answered with au 'yes' or apia 'no'.

  • Man sma ki? — Au, yang sika. 'Is it you? — Yes, it's me.'
  • Man nani naha sut kaikisma? 'Do you (pl.) see all this?'

Sentence mood particles

Sentence-final mood particles
  • bika surprise, exclamation
  • ni 'I wonder'
  • ki question, surprise

Mood particles may be placed at the end of a sentence (i.e. following the verb). See the example of ki above.

  • Yang baku sma bika! 'Why, you are like me!'
  • Wimna kaka laubia ni? 'I wonder if he'll get angry if I tell him.'

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions
  • bara, bamna, an 'and'
  • apia kaka, o, ar 'or'
  • sakuna, kuna 'but'
  • Kumi ba sirpi kan bara wala ba tara kan. 'One was small and the other was big.'
  • Juan an Pedro talia sa. 'Juan and Pedro are similar.'
  • Ai aisika, apia kaka ai yaptika wal aisaia sa. 'It is necessary to talk to his father or his mother.'
  • Witin aisan sakuna yang tanka briras. 'He spoke but I didn't understand.'

Relative clauses

There are two major constructions which may be used to form relative clauses in Miskito, the 'external head' strategy and the 'internal head' strategy.

In the external head strategy there is no subordination marker of any kind and the relative clause precedes the head noun, which takes a ligature, beside which it usually has an article too.

  • María atkan watla ba Bilwi ra sa. 'The house that María bought is in Bilwi.'
  • Naha tawanka ra truk kum bri uplika manis bara sa. 'In this town there are a lot of people who own a car.'

If the head is not expressed, an article following the relative clause serves to identify and delimit it.

  • Aras ra alkan nani ba bui asiki ra brih wan. 'Those who caught the horse took it to my father.'

In the internal head construction, the head noun is not extracted from the place it underlyingly occupies in the relative clause, which is bounded by an article as in headless external head clauses.

  • María watla atkan ba Bilwi ra sa. 'The house that María bought is in Bilwi.' (as if to say: "The María bought the house is in Bilwi.")

In the 'headless' counterpart of the internal construction, the place of the head within the relative clause is occupied by an interrogative pronoun.

  • Dia makama ba, yang maikamna. 'I will give you what you ask.'

Complement clauses

A complement clause may bear no subordination marker but merely be followed by the article ba functioning in practice as a nominalizer.

  • Yang nahwala waitna kum ra ikan ba nu takri. 'I have heard the news that a man was killed yesterday.'

Indirect questions end in saba (i.e. sa 'is' + ba article).

  • Witin wan dia daukan saba kaikaia. 'He went to see what he had done.'

The tense of complement clauses does not follow that of the matrix clause, but directly expresses a time relation in reference to the matrix.

  • Witin nani walan Pedro ba raya sa. 'They heard that Pedro was alive.' ("...that P. is alive")

Complement clauses that have no autonomous time reference ('irrealis') take Future II.

  • Juan want kan Maria balbia. 'Juan wanted María to come.'

Conditional and concessive clauses

Conditional ('if') clauses add kaka and precede the consequence clause. (Kaka is the third-person different subject participle of kaia 'be', literally "it being (the case that)".)

  • Man naha apilka pima kaka, man pruma. 'If you eat this apple, you will die.'
  • Yang naha tasba wina katna kaka, aiklabaia kapri. 'If I were from this land, I would fight.'
  • Witin nahwala sula kum kaikan kan sa kaka, ikaia kan. 'If he had seen a deer yesterday, he would have killed it.'

Concessive ('although') clauses may end in sin 'also, either, even', or in sakuna 'but'.

  • Aisikam nani balbia apia, yang witin nani ra bik takamna sin. 'Your parents will not come, even if I beg them to.'
  • Pedro win takaisa, witin saura pali sa sakuna. 'Pedro will win, even though he is very bad.'

Circumstantial clauses

Circumstantial clauses generally end in a subordinating conjunction of some sort. Sometimes the article ba precedes the conjunction, which may take the form of a preposition...

  • * Witin plun atkaia auya kan bara, ai yaptika ba balan. 'When he was about to buy food, his mother came.' (bara = ba + ra)

a relational...

  • Baha daukaia dukiara diara manis nit sa. 'In order to do that, many things are needed.'
  • Plawar abalkaisna brid daukaia mata. 'I am going to mix flour in order to make bread.'
  • Plun piras kainara ai mihta sikban. 'Before eating food he washed his hands.'

or a noun.

  • Yang buk kum aisi kaiki kapri taim, man bal dimram. 'When I was reading a book, you came in.'



As regards origin, the Miskito lexicon consists of the following principal components:

  • words of native Miskito origin;
  • a considerable number of loans from surrounding languages of the related Sumo group;
  • a large number of loan words from English;
  • a smaller number of words borrowed from Spanish.


Some derivational affixes:

Affix Function Meaning Examples
-ira suffix (1) adjectives from nouns (with ligature) abundance
  • tawa 'hair' → taw-ira 'hairy'
  • kipla 'rock' → kipl-ikakipl-ik-ira 'rocky'
(2) adjectives from nominalized adjectives in -(i)ka superlative
  • karna 'strong' → karn-ikakarn-ik-ira 'very strong'
  • sirpi 'small' → sirpi-kasirpi-k-ira 'very small'
  • tara 'big' → tar-katar-k-ira 'very big'
-s suffix adjectives from nouns (with ligature) privative, '-less'
  • napa 'tooth' → napa-s 'toothless'
  • tangni 'flower' → tangni-katangni-ka-s 'flowerless'
  • walpa 'stone' → walpa-yawalpa-ya-s 'stoneless'
-(i)ka suffix nouns from adjectives abstract nouns, '-ness' (cf. ligature)
  • karna 'strong' → karn-ika 'strength'
  • ingni 'bright' → ingni-ka 'brightness'
-(i)ra suffix nouns from adjectives abstract nouns, '-ness'
  • sirpi 'small' → sirpi-ra 'smallness'
  • siksa 'black' → siks-ira 'blackness'
-aika suffix nouns from verbs (1) instrument
  • pahb-aia 'sweep' → pahb-aika 'broom'
(2) place
  • plap-aia 'run' → plap-aika 'track'
-anka suffix nouns from verbs action (nominalized past participle)
  • pahb-aia 'sweep' → pahb-anka 'act of sweeping'
-ra suffix nouns from verbs action
  • plap-aia 'run' → plap-ra 'running'
reduplication + -ra suffix nouns from verbs (1) agent, '-er'
  • plap-aia 'run' → pla-plap-ra 'runner'
(2) undergoer
  • raw-aia 'get better, be cured' → ra-raw-ra 'patient'
-b- or -k- suffix (1) verbs from verb roots transitive verb
  • dak-b-aia 'cut (tr.)'
  • ra-k-aia 'cure (tr.)'
(2) verbs from adjective roots
  • rat-ni 'wet (adj.)' → rat-b-aia 'wet (tr.)'
-w- suffix verbs intransitive verb
  • dak-w-aia 'break (intr.)'
  • ra-w-aia 'be cured'
(2) verbs from adjective roots
  • ing-ni 'bright' → ing-w-aia 'shine'
ai- prefix intransitive verbs from transitives reflexive or middle
  • sak-b-aia 'stretch (sth.) out' → ai-sak-b-aia 'lie down'
  • srung-k-aia 'cover' → ai-srung-k-aia 'cover oneself'

Lexical compounds

Miskito has a large number of light-verb constructions or compound verbs which consist of two words but express meanings that are lexically determined for the construction as a whole, e.g.

  • aisi kaikaia 'read' ("speak and see")
  • bri balaia 'bring' ("have and come")
  • bila walaia 'obey' ("hear word")
  • kupya baikaia 'get angry' ("split heart")

A similar construction is used in verbs that are loans from English: the borrowed lexeme is an invariable element (ilp, wark, want...) followed by a Miskito verb, e.g.

  • ilp munaia 'help' ("do help")
  • wark takaia 'work' ("go out work")
  • want kaia 'want' ("be want")

Nominal compounds are much less common.

  • bip mairin 'cow' ("beef/bovine female")

See also


  • Richter, Elke (no date). Observaciones acerca del desarrollo lexical miskito en Nicaragua. [1]
  • Salamanca, Danilo (no date). Gramática escolar del Miskito/Manual de Gramática del Miskito. Draft version formerly on the Internet.

External links

  • Ethnologue
  • Diccionario Miskito by Danilo Salamanca
  • Lengua Miskito (PROEL: Promotora Española de Lingüística) — short page in Spanish containing several errors
  • Gospel Recordings Network: Miskito — sound recordings
  • A Lexicographic Study of Ulwa by Thomas Michael Green
  • Dictionary of the Ulwa Language (includes sentences translated into Miskito)
  • Bibliography
  • Miskitu Aisas (an unfinished Miskito course at Wikibooks)
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