Mahican VTA Independent Indicative Inverse


Theme Signs (Direction Markers)

The TA verbs studied thus far either take ‘no object’ or take a third person object:

Nuyah naawąąw.   
I saw him.  (3rd person object; VTA Direct Indicative)

Nuyah naamun.   
I saw it.  (3rd person object; VTI Indicative)

Nuyah nŭmíitθih.   
I am eating.  (No object; VAI Indicative)

It is raining. (No object; VII Indicative) 

VTAs however allow inflection for objects other than a 3rd person object.

This is done is by using a special inverse theme sign -ukw.

The inverse theme sign tells us that the 3rd person participant should be interpreted as the subject of the verb. It inverses the relations of prefixes to the subject and endings to the object such that inverse forms use prefixes to indicate the object of the verb and the endings reflect the subject. Direct forms, using the theme sign ąą always have a third person object. Inverse forms using the theme sign ukw always have a third person subject.

Hint: When hearing a Mahican verb, the prefix indicates a person, the verb stem supplies the action of the verb, then comes the theme sign which informs the listener exactly who is doing what to whom.
As soon as you hear ukw think ‘naakmah’ “he” is the person doing something to the person specified by the prefix.

The direct direction marker -ąą tells us that the 3rd person participant should be interpreted as the object of the verb.

Direct: (nu) + (stem) + (ąą) + (endings)          =>           I ---- him  

(nu) + (ahwąąn) + (ąą) + (w)           =>     (Me,I) + (love) + (direct) + (he, him, her or she)

Me, I love in the direction of him, her
Inverse: (nu) + (stem) + (ukw) + (endings)          =>           He or she -— me  

(nu) + (ahwąąn) + (ukw) + (w)           =>     (Me,I) + (love) + (inverse) + (he, him, her or she)

Me, I love from the direction of him, her

Another way to think of it:

(me)-(direct verb)-(him) 
{Me love by him} literally
I love him
(me)-(inverse verb)-(him) 
{Me love from him} literally
He loves me

Inverse mode uses prefixes to indicate the object and the suffixes and obviation markings belong to the subject of the verb phrase.

The inverse theme sign simply tells us to how to interpret the prefixes, stem and endings of a verb. The change of direction does not change the markings for obviation but does indicate that the it is the subject who is obviative.

Direct Mode

wu(verb stem-ąą)-wan
(He)-(direct verb)-(him obviative) 
He (obviative) loves him.

Inverse Mode

wu(verb stem-ukw)-wan
(He)-(inverse verb)-(him obviative)
He (obviative) loves him.

Monotransitive verbs (VTAs) have two partipants, an animate subject and an animate object. When both participants are 3rd persons, the second mentioned third person is the marked for obviation . As shown above it does not matter which direction marker is used, the second mentioned 3rd person is the obviative one.

So when using inverse mode, remember that the order of participants is the same as in the direct mode form. The obviative markings are determined by the order of the participants. The use of the inverse direction marker will shift the interpretations of subject and object, but keeps the markings as they were.

Inverse mode verbs are noteworthy for several reasons:

(1) Using inverse mode is the primary way one can inflect a verb to say things like ‘he saw me’ or ‘he saw you’.

(2) Inverse mode forms can be objective (noun optional) or absolute (noun required), reflecting the definite versus indefinite status of the 3rd person subject. Remember that direct forms indicate the subject using prefixes and that inverse forms use the endings to indicate the subject. The dog chased the cat (objective inverse) vs A dog chased the cat (absolute inverse).

Remarks on the Algonquian Independent Indicative Author(s): Ives Goddard Source: International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 40, No. 4, (Oct., 1974), pp. 317-327 Published by: The University of Chicago Press

(3) A 3rd person prefix on an inverse form indicates that there will be two 3rd person participants. The obviative participant is interpreted to be the subject, and the non-obviative participant is interpreted as the object. This comes in handy when the subject must be an obviative noun or person, for example a dependent noun.

His father saw him.  
Naakmah óoxan wunaawkaan.   

Also inverse mode allows one to select the focus of a narrative keeping it on one person, or shifting the focus to another person, which is one way the obviative system may be used:

He saw his father and his father saw him.   

Wunaawąąn ooxan wąąk ooxan wunaawkaan. 

(4) Inverse mode allows one to use an inanimate 3rd person subject (It, they)

For phrases such as “The falling rocks hurt him.”
(To be discussed next chapter)

(5) Inverse forms are not passives.

He saw you.  
The subject = he and the object = you.   

There is no evidence that these verbs have any passive quality requiring translation such as ‘you were seen by him’, as I would recommend against thinking of inverse verbs in these terms. When a personal pronoun is used with the singular subject of a verb in the inverse, it is always “naakmah.” If inverse forms were passives, that pronoun would be the pronoun corresponding to the person encoded by the prefix. Silently thinking the word ‘naakmah‘ before an inverse form may be helpful, as a hint to learning this mode.

Naakmah kŭnaawukw.  
Him, you seen by him.  

Yoda style translation may also be helpful in the study of these forms.

Saw you, he did.   

(6) Passive forms do exist in Mahican, when the subject is indefinite. VTAs build these forms using a modified inverse theme sign (ukaa) for all forms except for the 3rd person, which uses the X-subject form of the direct indicative mode paradigm: (stem)-ąąw.

I was seen (naaw)-(ukaa)

He was seen.   

(7) Subordinative and conjunct inverse forms do exist and will be discussed as we encounter them.

Conjugation paradigms with examples:

Inverse Indicative Mode

(stem)-(ukw)-(w endings)

Has an animate 3rd person subject ‘He’

The inverse object may be any person.

He -------------------------------------- me  
He -------------------------------------- you  
He (obviative)  ---------------------- him   
He -------------------------------------- us  
He -------------------------------------- you (pl)  
He (obviative)  ---------------------- them  

These forms are neither objective or absolute except for the 3rd person forms which are objective and take an obviative ending.

("He" The animate noun => him) and the plural ("They" The animate nouns => him).   

Absolute forms for the 3rd person forms will be discussed below.

These forms are constructed using the inverse theme sign (ukw) instead of the direct theme sign ąą. The w endings are added to the marker. This theme sign (ukw) tells us that the usual pattern of prefixes and endings to indicate the subject and object of the verb are reversed. The w endings tell us that the participants are animate and the pattern of the endings tell us which person is participating as the object of the inverse verb. (he-me / he-you / he-him etc)

VTA Inverse Indicative Mode Objective Forms (Singular Subject)

Structure Paradigm Meaning
nu-(stem)-(ukw)-w nu-(stem)-ukw He — me
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-w ku-(stem)-ukw He — you
wu-(stem)-(ukw)-wan wu-(stem)-ukaan He (obviative) — him
nu-(stem)-(ukw)-wunah nu-(stem)-ukoonah He — us (exclusive)
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-wunah ku-(stem)-ukoonah He — us (inclusive)
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-unookw ku-(stem)-ukoonookw He — us all (inclusive)
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-uwah ku-(stem)-ukoowah He — you (pl)
wu-(stem)-(ukw)-uwąąwan* wu-(stem)-ukoowąąn* He (obviative) — them
X Form N/A

* optionally some speakers may use the shorter 3rd sg ending for plural subjects:
wu-(stem)-(ukw)-wan => wu-(stem)-ukaan

Example using the verb mihkoomaaw vta remind s.o., bring something to s.o.’s mind

He reminds me  

He reminds you   

He (obv) reminds him   

He reminds us  

He reminds us  

He reminds us all

He wants you (pl)  

He (obv) reminds them  

Note the 3rd person form, the ending (ukaan) is formed by (ukw)-(wan) which contracts to (ukaan).


Niimanaaw numawih-naawukw.   
The man is going to see me. 
He sees you.  
Niimanaan wŭnaawkaan.   
The man (obv) saw him.  

ahwąąnaaw love s.o.

Pxaanum ndahwąąnukw.  
The woman- she loves me.  
She loves you.  

Wtahwąąnkaan Pxaanmaan.  
The woman (obv) loves him.  
(when two animate 3rd person parties are involved, the one marked as obviative drives the verb in the inverse modes)  

Awąąsus ndahwąąnŭkóonah.  
The child loves us.  

Awaan ktahwąąnukóonah.  
Someone loves us.  

He loves you (pl). 

Niimanaan wtahwąąnkoowąąn tkwaxak.  
The man loves them- the loves of bread.  

Particularities for certain stem types:

Stems that end in (aw) blend with (ukw) to form (ąąkw)

Stems ending in (uw) blend with (ukw) to form (ookw)


Aąpchiiw ngunθútąąkw.   
He always listens to me.  

She listens to you.      

She will be listening to you.  (note change in syncopation pattern when the preverb is added)

He wanted to bring me.  

One VTA stem ends in (x) and it contracts with (ukw) also.
(x) + (ukw) => (xookw)

kwxaaw vta be afraid of s.o.

Ngwáxąąw. Naakmah kwáxookw?  
I am afraid of him. Is he afraid of you?  

VTA stems ending in (h) contracts with (ukw) and other suffixes beginning with u to form oo
(h) + (ukw) => (hookw)

anihaaw vta treat s.o. so
nąąthaaw go after s.o. to get or fetch s.o. (Prince) ; stem = (nąątahw)
kaxkąątaahaaw vta break the bones, legs of s.o.; stem = kaxkąątaahw
skwusaaw vta cut s.o.; stem = (sukwusw)

He treated me so. 

I hit him. (direct, indicative mode) 

He hit me. (inverse mode)  nu(nąątahw)ukw  

He broke my leg.  

I cut him up. (direct, indicative mode)
He cut me up. (inverse mode)


VTA Special Stems

Structure Inflection Result Example Inflected Meaning
(stem-uw)-ukw (stem)ookw paasuwaaw mbaasookw He brings me
(stem-aw)-ukw (stem)ąąkw kŭnuθtáwaaw ngunθútąąkw He listens to me
(stem-x)-ukw (stem)xookw kwaxaaw ngaxookw He fears me
(stem-h)-ukw (stem)hookw anihaaw ndunihookw He treats me so

Only one VTA is irregular, as far as I know: anaaw vta say to s.o.

VTA Irregular Verb

Direct objective Direct absolute Inverse objective
ndunąąw ndunah +noun ndukw
ktunąąw ktunah +noun ktukw
wtunąąn anaaw +obv-noun wtukaan
ndunąąnah ndunáhnah +noun ndukoonah
ktunąąnah ktunáhnah +noun ktukoonah
ktunąąwah ktunáhmah +noun ktukoowah
wtunąąwąąn anaak +obv-noun wtukoowąąn

The (n) in the verb stem drops before ukw in forms with a prefix on the stem.
When a preverb takes the prefix, the (n) does not drop.


He intends to say to me.

Negative Inverse Indicative Mode

In the related language Munsee Delaware, negative inverse forms are not specified for a objective or an absolute inverse subject. In other words, the negatives endings with w endings do not exclusively refer to objective inverse subjects. (Reference Ives Goddard Delaware Verbal Morphology)

I am not sure if the same holds true for Mahican but would assume it does.

VTA Negative Inverse Indicative Objective Forms Singular Subject

Paradigm Meaning
ustah nu-(stem)-ukoow He — me not
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoow He — you not
ustah wu-(stem)-ukoowiin* He (obv) — him not
ustah nu-(stem)-ukoowiinah* He — us not (exclusive)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiinah* He — us not (inclusive)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiinookw He — us all not (inclusive)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiiwah He — you (pl) not
ustah wu-(stem)-ukoowiiwąąn* He (obv) — them not

ukoowiin contracted from -ukoowiiwan
ukoowiinah contracted from -ukoowiiwunah
ukoowiiwąąn contracted from -ukoowiiwąąwan


Ustah kŭnaawkóow.   
He saw you not.  

Ustah ngiisih-naawukoow.   
He was not able to see me.  

Niimanaaw ustah kpaasookoow.   
That man did not bring you.  (note contraction -uw-ukw to -ookw)
Ustah ngataaw-naawŭkoowiinah.   
He intends not to see us. 

Ustah awaan kunaawkóowiinah.   
Noone saw us.  

Ustah wunaawŭkoowiiwąąn.  
He does not see them.  

Ustah wunaawŭkoowiin.  
He does not see him/her.  

Because Mahican has different forms for 3rd person plural versus singular and marks differently for sg and pl obviative participants, there is no ambiguity in the inverse 3rd person objective forms as is the case in Munsee Delaware for example.

Plural Subject Inverse Indicative Objective Forms

(They-me They-you etc)
(stem)-(ukw)-(w endings, plurals)

These forms are built from the singular forms using the plural and obviative endings where appropriate. Contractions follow usual patterns. Some forms remain the whether the object is plural or not.

VTA Inverse Indicative Objective Forms (Plural Subject)

Structure Paradigm Meaning
nu-(stem)-(ukw)-wak nu-(stem)-ukaak They — me
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-wak ku-(stem)-ukaak They — you
wu-(stem)-(ukw)-wah wu-(stem)-ukwah They (obviative) — him
nu-(stem)-(ukw)-wunąą-ak nu-(stem)-ukoonąąk They — us (exclusive)
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-wunąą-ak ku-(stem)-ukoonąąk They — us (inclusive)
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-wunookw ku-(stem)-ukoonookw They — us all (inclusive)
ku-(stem)-(ukw)-uwąą-ak ku-(stem)-ukoowąąk They — you (pl)
wu-(stem)-(ukw)-wąąw-ah wu-(stem)-ukoowąą They (obviative) — them
X Form N/A

They see me.

They see you.


They love you.
Naakmąąwąh ngátaaw-nahnkaak.
They want to kill me.

Pxaanumaa wunaawukoowąą.
The women (obv) saw them.

Awąąs’sak ndahwąąnŭkóonąąk.
The children love us.

Awaaniik ktahwąąnukóonąąk.
Some people love us.

Kataaw-nahnŭkóowah niimanaak.

The men they want to kill you (pl).

Awąąs’sah wtahwąąnkoowąą poosiisak.

The children (obv) love them- the cats.

Examples with other stem types:

Naakmąąwąh ąąm kunθutąąkaak.   
They should listen to you    
kŭnuθtáwaaw listen to s.o.  (stem-aw)  

They are bringing me.  
[paashuwaaw bring s.o.]  (stem-uw)  

They said to me.    
(this verb drops (n) from the stem if prefixed)  

They intend to say so to me   
(non-prefixed forms do not drop the (n) from the verb stem)  

They say to you.  

Ndayoomah wtúkwah.  
My sons (pl obv) told him.  

Negative Plural Subject Inverse Indicative Objective Forms

VTA Negative Inverse Indicative Objective Forms (Plural Subject)

Paradigm Meaning
ustah nu-(stem)-ukoowiik They — me not
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiik They — you not
ustah wu-(stem)-ukoowiiwah They (pl obv) — him not
ustah nu-(stem)-ukoowiinąąk They — us not (exclusive)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiinąąk They — us not (inclusive)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiinookw They — us all not (all inclusive)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowiiwąąk They — you (pl) not
ustah wu-(stem)-ukoowiiwąą They (obv) — them not

(Reminder: Negative forms are not specified for objective or absolute subject)

Ustah ndahwąąnkoowiik.  
They love me not.

Ustah knaawkoowíik.   
They saw you not. 

Ustah ndahwąąnŭkoowiinąąk.  
They want us not.  

Singular vs plurals for inverse forms:

He sees him.  

Ustah wunaawkoowiin. 
He sees him not. 

He sees them. 

Ustah wunaawkoowiiwąąn. 
He sees them not. 

They see him. 

Ustah wunaawkoowiiwah. 
They see him not. 

They see them. 

Ustah wunaawkoowiiwąą.
They see them not. 

Word order variations:
wiikaanumaaw vta take pleasure, delight in s.o., like s.o.

Niin niimaanąą ustah wiikaanmukoowiiwąą pataatθak. 
Those men don't like potatoes.

Pataatθak niin niimaanąą ustah wiikaanmukoowiiwąą.
Those men don't like potatoes.

Ustah wiikaanmukoowiiwah niin niimaanąą pataatuθ.
Those men don't like (the) potato. 

Ustah wiikaanmukoowiiwąą niin niimaanąą pataatθak. 
Those men don't like (the) potatoes.

Inverse Mode, Absolute Forms

(Noun Required Construction)
(stem) + (ukw) + (m endings)

The direct mode for VTAs has a complete set of objective forms and a complete set of absolute forms. The inverse mode only has absolute forms for 3rd person forms.

In direct mode, absolute and objective forms affect the verb object:

Naawaaw niimanaan.
He saw a man. (absolute)

Wunaawąąn niimanaan.  
He saw the man.  (objective)

In inverse mode, it is the subject which is affected.

Niimanaan naawukw.  
A man saw him.  (absolute)

Niimanaan wunaawkaan.  
The man saw him.   (objective)

There are no 1st person or 2nd person forms for use with an absolute animate subject in inverse mode.

Passive forms built using (ukaa) with context clues may be used instead to speak of vague or indefinite subjects.
Demonstrative pronouns can provide some definiteness for the forms we have already discussed if desired.

VTA Inverse Indicative Absolute Forms

Noun Required Construction

Paradigm Meaning
nu-(stem)-ukw a, some noun(s) — me
ku-(stem)-ukw a, some noun(s) — you
—-(stem)-ukw a, some noun(s) — him
nu-(stem)-ukóhnah a, some noun(s) — us (excl)
ku-(stem)-ukóhnah a, some noun(s) — us (incl)
ku-(stem)-ukóhnookw a, some noun(s) — us all (incl)
ku-(stem)-ukóhmah a, some noun(s) — you (pl)
—-(stem)-ukaak a, some noun(s) — them

The subject of these absolute forms are not specified for number (subject could be one or many) and are unspecified for gender as well. Therefore these forms may be used for an animate or inanimate absolute 3rd person subject that could be singular or plural.
(Reference Ives Goddard Delaware Verbal Morphology)

Naawukw niimanaan.  
'A' man saw him.

Could this be confused with naawukw from the objective mode set?

He saw me.

No, because the objective form does not require a noun, and if a noun was added an obviative ending would not be used since there would only be one 3rd person participant. The obviative ending here on niimanaaw signals the participation of two 3rd persons making it clear this is a absolute mode 3rd person form and not an objective mode 1st person form.

I found many instances of forms with double consonant prefixes, sometimes followed by a short vowel. It is therefore permissible to say and write 1st and second persons forms as:

He saw me.

Could this phrase has two translations?

Niimanaaw óoxan naawukw.   
The man's father saw me.  

No, because an obviative possessed noun could not be considered to be absolute or indefinite, since it refers to a definite person, so the translation of ‘A man’s father saw him’ makes no sense.

More absolute examples:

Naawkaak niimanaan.   
'A' man saw them.  

Nahnukw poosíisan.  
''A'' cat killed him.  

(When two animate 3rd person parties are involved, the one marked as obviative drives the verb in inverse modes)

Examples using an absolute inanimate inverse subject:

Xíikan nahnukw.  
''A'' knife killed him.  
(inanimate nouns do not take obviative endings)  

Xiikanan nahnkukw.   
Knives killed him.  
(Absolute forms do not add plural endings that pertain to the verb object (interpreted subject in inverse mode))
(The (an) on xiikan is the inanimate plural ending)

Xíikan nahnkaak.  
''A'' knife killed them.  
(inanimate nouns do not take obviative endings)  

Xiikanan nahnkaak.   
Knives killed them.  
(Inanimate nouns do not take obviative endings.)   

The same verb form is used for a plural subject as for a singular subject. The required noun will use singular or plural or obviative endings as appropriate. The verb will not add an obviative ending since absolute forms do not allow for that.

Niimaanąą ahwąąnkaak pataatθak.   
Some men love (the) potatoes. 
Obviative subject -absolute plural verb - proximate object

Niimanaan ahwąąnkaak pataatθak.
A man loves (the) potatoes.

Niimanąą ahwąąnukw pataatuθ.
Some men love (the) potato. 

Niimanaan ahwąąnukw pataatuθ. 
A man loves (the) potato. 

VTA Negative Inverse Indicative Absolute Forms

The negative forms use the negative suffix with m endings.
(ukw) – (oowii) + (m endings)

Noun Required Construction

Paradigm Meaning
ustah nu-(stem)-ukoow a, some noun(s) — me not
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoow a, some noun(s) — you not
ustah —-(stem)-ukwoowih a, some noun(s) — him not
ustah nu-(stem)-ukoowíhnah a, some noun(s) — us not (excl)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowíhnah a, some noun(s) — us not (incl)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowíhnookw a, some noun(s) — us all not (incl)
ustah ku-(stem)-ukoowíhmah a, some noun(s) — you (pl) not
ustah —-(stem)-ukoowíik a, some noun(s) — them not

Negative forms in inverse mode are interchangeable as far as use for objective and absolute sets are concerned. Otherwise said, negative inverse forms do not specify for an objective versus an absolute subject. This means one a choice to use a verb form that adds endings according to the interpreted subject (objective forms) or forms that use endings for a plural interpreted object (absolute forms).


Ustah naawkóowih niimanaan.  
''A'' man saw him not. (or some men...)  (from the objective set)
Ustah naawkoowíik niimanaan.  
''A'' man saw them not. (from the absolute set)

Pxaanmaak ustah nŭnaawkóow.  
Some women see me not.  (prefix added for clarity)

Pxaanmaan ustah naawkóowih.  
Some women see him not.  

Poosiisak ustah numawih-nahnukoowihnah.  
Cats are not going to kill us.  

Ustah ahwąąnkoowíik pxaanmąą.  
Women don't love them.  
(This m ending form references 'them' non-ambiguously)  
Ustah wtahwąąnkoowiiwah niin pxaanmaan.   
That woman does not love them. 

Ustah ahwąąnkoowih pxaanmaan.  
(The or A) woman does not love him. 

Ustah awaan naawkoowíhnah.  
Noone saw us (excl).  
(nu)-(naaw)-(ukw)-(oowii)-(hnah)  m ending set  

Ustah awaan naawkoowíinah.  
Noone saw us (excl).  
(nu)-(naaw)-(ukw)-(oowii)-(wunah) w ending set  

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