Skip to content


Upper Kuskokwim nouns are similar to English nouns. Their job is to name people, places and things. They are not as numerous as in English, however, and many of them are made from verbs. This process is described under Nominalized Verbs. It is possible to have many sentences without a proper noun (separate word) to indicate the subject (actor) of the object (one acted on) since subject and object pronouns are part of the verb, not separate words as they are in English. Notice how the two languages handle the following sentences:

English: The man caught a moose. (five words)
UKA: Dina dineje izdlanh. (three words) (STEM: -dlanh)
Man moose he/she caught
STEM: -dlanh

English: He caught a moose. (four words)
UKA: Dineje izdlanh. (two words) (STEM: -dlanh)
Man moose he/she caught

English: He caught it. (three words)
UKA: Yizdlanh. (one word) (STEM: -dlanh)
It he/she caught

Upper Kuskokwim nouns can be divided into two basic groups, those which are always possessed (owned) and those which may be possessed. The ones which do not have to be possessed again divide into two groups, the ones which change pronunciation and spelling when possessed and those which do not change. Examples of these groups follow:

1. Must be possessed (usually body parts):

Ch’ilo’ Something’s hand
Silo’ My hand
Nilo’ Your hand
Milo’ His/her hand
Dinalo’ Our hands
Yuhlo’ Your hands
Himilo’ Their hands

2a. May be possessed—noun changes (clothing, personal possessions, lake names)

Tameł Fishnet
Sitamela’ My fishnet
Nitamela’ Your fishnet
Mitamela’ his/her fishnet

Ts’ih Hat
Sits’igha’ My hat

Hwtł Sled
Sighwdla’ My sled

Minh Lake
Tomo mina’ Swan Lake

Note: Pronunciation of first and last consonants may change, and “-a” is added to the word.

2b. May be possessed—noun doesn’t change (items usually not personally owned)

Dineje Moose
Sich’i dineje
My moose
or Siy’ dineje

K’esh Birch tree
Sich’i k’esh My birch tree

Tin Trail
Sitin My trail

{ Note: The word does not change, but “ch’i” or “y” may be added to the pronoun. }

Pronouns (pn.)

Pronouns take the place of nouns and may be separate words, or may be joined to nouns, or incorporated into nouns. In nouns the pronoun indicates possession. In verbs it may mark the subject, the direct object, or the indirect object.

Separate Words:

Se I, me
Ninh You, your (sg)
Idenh He/she, him/her
Hwnhde Us
Yuhwnh You, your (pl)
Ihdenh Them, their
Jone This one
Yede That one

Incorporated Pronouns:
Subject and object pronouns can be seen in the verbs listed on the following pages. Because they are found within the verbs and sometimes combine with surrounding sounds, they may change the way they are pronounced and spelled, but they can usually be recognized as follows:

Object (direct and indirect) Subject
Si Me -s-, -is- I
Ni- You (sg) -n-, -e- You (sg)
Yi, Mi- Him/Her/It
Dina- Us Ts'i We
Yuh- You (pl) -uh- You (pl)
Himi-, Hiy- Them Hi- They

Another important pronoun is the “ch’i” or “y’ ” which serves as the indefinite object or possessor.

Ch’izis Something's skin
Ch’ika’ Its foot
Ch’isyunh I ate it (something)
Mega isyonh I ate bread
Tach’ighanełnech He placed it in the water
Tay’ghanełnech He placed it in the water (net)
Tameł taghanełnech He set a fishnet

Nominalized Verbs (nomv.)

Verbs can be changed into nouns by adding “e” on the end of the word. This may change the pronunciation and spelling of the last consonant in the verb.

Lik’wł “It is white”
Lik’wle “The white one”
K’onalmos “He rolled it around”
K’onalmoze “Snowtraveler”

Verbs (v.)

Verbs are the most complex and the most important words in Athabaskan. A complete description of how verbs are put together would take a book in itself and new discoveries are still being made by linguists.

In brief, a verb is composed of one or more prefixes followed by a stem which together gives meaning to the word. The prefixes mark subjects, objects, modes, tenses, adverbs, themes and classifiers. To understand how a verb is put together one must start at the end of the word (the stem) and work towards the front.

yos It is snowing
Zitan He is lying down
Ghiyoł He is walking along
Ghikał He is paddling along
Ghimał He is swimming along
chon It is raining
Zido He sits, or stays

The exception is when a suffix is added to modify the verb, such as when it is turned into a question or a noun.

Ch’igheyon’ He ate
Ch’igheyone’ Did he eat?
Litswh It is yellow
Litswghe The yellow one

The first prefix in front of the stem is the classifier. There are four of them: ł, l, di, and ǿ (zero).

Yołtał He is carrying him
Ghilgwsh He is running
Ghidigirs He is crawling

The function of the classifier is not always clear but each verb has one. The “ł” classifier usually occurs in verbs where the subject is causing something to happen.

“l” Tu dinilghwts The water is boiling
“ł” Tu diniłghwts He is boiling water

When certain prefixes are added to the verb the classifiers will change.

“ǿ” Neyo He came
“di” No’ediyo He came back again

In the following section on Modes, examples are given with each subject pronoun and all three classifiers so that patterns formed when they come together may be seen.

The subject pronouns, except for first person plural (we) and third person plural (them), occur immediately before the classifiers. The markers were listed under the section on PRONOUNS and additional examples can be seen under the sections on MODES. One example is given here with a zero (ǿ) classifier so the subject pronoun occurs next to the stem.

Digighisdo’ I sat up
Digighendo’ You(sg) sat up
Digighe do’ He/she sat up
Digits’ighedo’ We sat up
Digighuhdo’ You (pl) sat up
Digihighedo’ They sat up

In the dictionary most of the examples are given with the third person subject (he/she). By studying the examples someone who does not speak the language can begin to predict how the verb will be pronounced with other subject pronouns. You will have to pay attention to what occurs on each side of the subject pronoun, however, as the pronouns may merge with some surrounding sounds.

The third prefix position in front of the stem marks the mode. In general Athabaskan verbs differ from English verbs in that they focus on what happens (the mode or manner) rather than when it happens (tense or time). Is the action still going on? Then it is not complete but imperfect (imperfective mode). Is the action moving along? Then it is progressing (progressive mode). Is it complete? Then you have the perfective mode. Is it just starting (inceptive mode) or will it be going on later (future mode)? The optative mode is used to express the idea that something should happen, or to let the action happen. With some verbs the stem may stay the same for all modes; with others, it changes.

Iłchonh It is raining Imperfective mode
Ghełchon’ It rained Perfective mode
Tałchon’ It starting to rain Inceptive mode
Tołcheł It will rain Future mode
Ghwchon’ Let it rain Optative mode

Yi’iltłich He is jumping Imperfective mode
Yi’oltłich He jumped Perfective mode
Yitaltłich He started jumping Inceptive mode
Yitoltłich He will jump Future mode
Yultłich Let him jump Optative mode

Many other prefixes can occur in front of the mode position to modify the verb in some way. Most of these should be thought of as part of the basic verb. They do not change when the subject or the mode are changed. The exception to this is the plural subject markers we (ts’i) and they (hi) and the marker used in the future and inceptive mode (ti) which all occur in front of the mode position. Another exception is the indirect object position which occurs toward the beginning of the verb.

Sinił’anh He sees me
Ninił’an He sees you (sg)
Yinił’anh He sees him
Dinanił’anh He sees us
Yuhnił’anh He sees you (pl)
Hiynił’anh He sees them

Some examples of the other prefixes that modify the basic meaning without changing the subject can be seen in the following examples.

Neyo He came
Neneyo He came there
Daneyo He came in
Teneyo He went out
No’ediyo He came again
Neno’ediyo He came there again
Dana’ediyo He came in again
Teno’ediyo He climbed down again
K’aghneno’ediyo He returned to there
Togheyo He walked in the water
K’o’isdiyo He walked around
Tazyo He left
Hwts’its’atazyo He started off from there

Imperfective Mode (imv.)
This mode indicates that the action is still going on. The action is incomplete. The imperfectives are the simplest verbs and may only consist of the subject pronoun and the stem, or in the case of the third person singular which is ǿ then may only be the stem. An example of this is “ne” (he/she said). Other imperfective verbs have only the classifier and the stem, such as:

Liyanh It is fat (“l” classifier)
Lik’wk It is white (“i” vowel is added to separate two consonants)

Imperfective verbs are identified by the absence of a marker (ǿ) in the mode position or a “ni” in the mode position. The stem used with the imperfective may also differ from those used with the other modes of the same verbs. Many imperfective stems end in “sh” or “nh”. Examples of both imperfectives with each of the four classifiers follow.

ǿ Imperfective Mode
“ǿ” classifier

Istrih I am crying
Etrih You (sg) are crying
Itrih He/she is crying
Ts’itrih We are crying
Uhtrih You (pl) are crying
Hitrih They are crying

“di” Classifier

Isdiyish I am breathing
Ediyish You (sg) are breathing
Idiyish He/she is breathing
Ts’idiyish We are breathing
Uhdiyish You (pl) are breathing
Hidiyish They are breathing


Iłt’as I am frying it
Ełt’as You are frying it
Yiłt’as He/she is frying it*
Ts’iłt’as We are frying it
Uhiłt’as You (pl) are frying it
Hiyiłt’as They are frying it*


Ch’idisjiyash I am singing
Ch’idelyash You (sg) are singing
Ch’idilyash He/She is singing
Ch’its’idilyash We are singing
Ch’iduhliyash You (pl) are singing
Ch’ihidilyash They are singing

“Ni” Imperfective Mode
“ǿ” Classifier

Ghedo’ He stayed
Neyo He came

{ *Note: The object (it) is marked by ǿ except when you have a third person singular (he/she) or plural (they) subject, then it is marked by “y”. }

Most verbs use only one of the perfective mode markers but some verbs will utilize two of them as in the words for sitting or staying, shown above. In this case, the “zi” indicates that the action is complete and is still in that condition (zido, he is sitting/staying). The “ghe” indicates that the action was complete but is no longer so (ghedo’, he stayed/sat).

Examples of each perfective mode are given below with the various subject pronouns and classifiers.

“z” Perfective Mode
“ǿ” classifier

Zisdo I sit
Zedo You (sg) sit
Zido He/she sits
Ts’izdo We sit
Zwhdo You (pl) sit
Hizdo They sit

“Di” Classifier

K’ozisdimanh I swam around
K’ozedimanh You (sg) swam around
K’o’isdimanh He/she swam around*
K’ots’isdimanh We swam around*
K’ozwhdimanh You (pl) swam around
K’ohisdimanh They swam around*

“ł” Classifier

Ziłyoy’ I scorched it
Zełyoy’ You (sg) scorched it
Yełyoy’ He/she scorched it*
Ts’iłyoy’ We scorched it*
Zwhłyoy’ You (pl) scorched it
Hiyełyoy’ They scorched it*

“l” Classifier

K’ozijigoch I ran around
K’ozelgoch You (sg) ran around
K’olgoch He/she ran around*
Mi’ił hinisyash I am talking to him
Mi’ił hineyash You (sg) are talking to him
Yi’ił heyash He/she is talking to him
Mi’ił ts’i heyash We are talking to him
Mi’ił hinuhyash You (pl) are talking to him
Yi’ił hiheyash They are talking to him*

*Note: Indirect object (him) is marked by “mi” except when you have a third person singular (he/she) or plural (they) subject, then it is marked by “yi”.

“di” Classifier

K’onisdinesh I am working
K’onedinesh You (sg) are working
K’o’edinesh He/she is working
K’ots’edinesh We are working
K’onuhdinesh You (pl) are working
K’ohedinesh They are working

“ł” Classifier

K’oniłtesh I am carrying it (bag or sack)
K’onełtesh You (sg) are carrying it around
K’o’ełtesh He/she is carrying it around
K’ots’ełtesh We are carrying it around
K’onuhłtesh You (pl) are carrying it around
K’ohełtesh They are carrying it around

“l” Classifier

K’onanisjimos I am driving it around (snowmachine)
K’onanelmos You (sg) are driving it around
K’onalmos He/she is driving it around
K’ots’inalmos We are driving it around
K’onanuhlimos You (pl) are driving it around
K’ohinalmos They are driving it around

Perfective Mode (pv.)
Perfective verbs indicate that the action is completed. They are marked by a “z”, a “ghe”, or a “ne” in the mode position. With a third person subject, which is ǿ, and a ǿ classifier, you may only have the mode and the stem on some verbs:

Zido He sits, stays
K’ots’ilgoch We ran around*
K’ozwhlgoch You (pl) ran around
K’ohilgoch They ran around*

{ *Note: “z” occurs as “s” before the “di” classifier. It merges with the “ł” and the “l” classifier where it would occur next to them. }

“ghe” perfective mode:

“ǿ” Classifier

Ch’ighisyon’ I ate something
Ch’ighenyon’ You (sg) ate something
Ch’igheyon’ He/she ate something
Ch’igheyon’ We ate something
Ch’ighwhyon’ You (pl) ate something
Ch’ihigheyon’ They ate something

“Di” Classifier

Ch’ighisdinun’ I drank it
Ch’ighendinun’ You (sg) drank it
Ch’odinun’ He/she drank it
Ch’its’odinun We drank it
Ch’ighwhdinun’ You (pl) drank it
Ch’ihodinun They drank it

“ł” Classifier

Yudighiłyesr I whistled
Yudighenłyesr You (sg) whistled
Yudighełyesr He/she whistled
Yits’udighełyesr We whistled
Yudighhłyesr You (pl) whistled
Yihudighełyesr They whistled

“l” Classifier

Nodighijininh I fell down
Nodighenlininh You (sg) fell down
Nodolinh He/she fell down
Nots’dolninh We fell down
Nodwhlininh You (pl) fell down
Nohdolninh They fell down

“Ne” Perfective mode

“ǿ” Classifier

Nenisyo I came there
Nenenyo You (sg) came there
Neneyo He/she came there
Nets’inedatł’ We came there
Nenwhdatł’ You (pl) came there
Nehinedatł’ They came there

Note that this verb has a singular stem “yo” and a plural stem “datł”.

“Di” Classifier

Nonisdiyo I came back again (returned)
Nonendiyo You (sg) came back
Ne’ediyo He/she came back
Nots’edidatł’ We came back
Nonwhdidatł You (pl) came back
Nohedidatł They came back

“ł” Classifier

Nenanił’enh I hid it
Nenanenłi’enh You (sg) hid it
Nenaneł’enh He/she hid it
Nets’inaneł’enh We hid it
Nenanwhł’enh You (pl) hid it
Nehinaneł’enh They hid it

“l” Classifier

Mik’ananjinech I found it
Mik’anenenlnech You (sg) found it
Yik’ananelnech He/she found it
Mik’anats’elnech We found it
Mik’ananwhlnech You (pl) found it
Yik’anahelnech They found it

Progressive Mode (prv.)
Progressive mode refers to action moving along. The progressive mode is used with motion verbs such as walking, running, swimming, carrying, crawling, etc. Not every verb has a progressive mode.

“ǿ” Classifier

Ghisyoł I am walking along
Gheyoł You (sg) are walking along
Ghiyoł He/she is walking along
Ts’odił We are walking along
Uhdił You (pl) are walking along
Hodił They are walking along

“di” Classifier

Ghisdigisr I am crawling
Ghedigisr You (sg) are crawling
Ghidigisr He/she is crawling
Ts’odigisr We are crawling
Uhdigisr You (pl) are crawling
Hodigisr They are crawling

“ł” Classifier

Nighiłmis I am rolling it
Nighełmis You (sg) are rolling it
Yinołmis He/she is rolling it
Ts’inołmis We are rolling it
Nuhłmis You (pl) are rolling it
Hiynołmis They are rolling it

“l” Classifier

Ghisjogwsh I am running
Ghelgwsh You (sg) are running
Ghilgwsh He/she is running
Ts’olgwsh We are running
Uhligwsh You (pl) are running
Holgwsh They are running

Inceptive Mode (inv.)
The Inceptive Mode refers to action just starting. This mode is formed by combining a “ti” with the “z” perfective mode.

“ǿ” Classifier

Taziskanh I left/started off by boat
Tazekanh You (sg) left
Tazkanh He/she left
Ts’itazkanh We left
Tazwhkanh You (pl) left
Hitazkanh They left

“di” Classifier

Ch’itazisdinun’ I began to drink
Ch’itazedinun’ You (sg) began to drink
Ch’itasdinun’ He/she began to drink
Ch’itazwhdinun’ You (pl) began to drink
Ch’ihitasdinun’ They began to drink

“ł” Classifier

Etaziłyił I started to catch it
Etazełyił You (sg) started to catch it
Yetałyił He/she started to catch it
Ts’etałyił We started to catch it
Etazwhłiyił You (pl) started to catch it
Hiyetałyił They started to catch it

“l” Classifier

Tazisjigoch I started to run
Tazelgoch You (sg) started to run
Talgoch He/she started to run
Ts’italgoch We started to run
Tazwhligoch You (pl) started to run
Hitalgoch They started to run

Future Mode (fv.)
The future mode refers to actions that will be taking place. It is formed by combining the “ti” with the progressive mode marker “ghi”. Although not every verb has a progressive form, every verb has a future form using the progressive marker with the “ti”.

“ǿ” Classifier

Ch’itighisyeł I will eat
Ch’itigheyeł You (sg) will eat
Ch’itoyeł He/she will eat
Ch’its’toyeł We will eat
Ch’ituhyeł You (pl) will eat
Ch’ihtoyeł They will eat

“di” Classifier

Ch’itighisdinunh I will drink it
Ch’itighedinunh You (sg) will drink it
Ch’itodinunh He/she will drink it
Ch’ituhdinunh You (pl) will drink it
Ch’ihtodinunh They will drink it

“ł” Classifier

Tinighiłmis I will roll it
Tinighełmis You (sg) will roll it
Yitinołmis He/she will roll it
Ts’itinołmis We will roll it
Tinuhłmis You (pl) will roll it
Niytinołmis They will roll it

“l” Classifier

Tighisjigwsh I will run
Tighelgwsh You (sg) will run
Tolgwsh He/she will run
Ts’itolgwsh We will run
Tuhligwsh You (pl) will run
Hitolgwsh They will run

Optative Mode (ov.)
The optative mode usually translates as “let something happen” or “something should happen”. Although it is possible to use this mode with all six subject pronouns, most examples tend to occur with certain subjects. This mode can combine with others by changing stems or including other markers such as the “ti” for future optatives. The marker for the optative is “ghw” which may be actualized as “u” when it combines with other syllables. Some examples with different classifiers are given below.

“ǿ” Classifier

Ch’ighwsdlatr I should boil it
Ch’ighdlatr You should boil it
Ch’ighwdlatr He should boil it

Ghwdo’ Let him stay
Miłdighune’ You should tell him
Dineghudreł Let it ripen
Ch’its’uyonh Let’s eat

“di” Classifier

Diginnoghwdeh He should get up
Dinginnoghudeh You should get up
K’oghwdimanh Let him swim around
Notighudighał You should carry it (future optative)
K’ots’udimanh Let’s go swimming

“ł” Classifier

Haninułch’ił Let him tear it up
Hułtse’ He should build it
Duł’an’ Let him get it
Sighułtał You should carry me
Nohwdeghułkoł You should start a fire

“l” Classifier

Hodultreł Let him break it
Nedeghwlzesh He should come
Ghwlgwsh He should run
Ch’ighuldzis You should dance

Postpositions (pp.)

These are the words that function like English prepositions but they come after the noun or pronoun that they modify. They are closely associated with the verbs and are sometimes thought of as part of the verb. They use the same pronoun markers as the direct object.

Simo ch’idlatr He is cooking it for me
Nimo ch’idlatr He is cooking it for you (sg)
Yimo ch’idlatr He is cooking it for him
Dinamo ch’idlatr He is cooking it for us
Yuhmo ch’idlatr He is cooking it for you (pl)
Hiyimo ch’idlatr He is cooking it for them

Here is a list of some of the other postpositions.

Mighwn By/near him or it
Mik’its’ On it
Mikok’ On surface of it
Mik’iz Beside it
Mik’ay Short of it
Mitok’ Back of it
Mitogh Under it
Meko For it (purpose)
Miti Among it (his pockets)
Mit’o With use of it
Miye Into it
Mits’e’ To it
Mits’in From it
Mi’ots’in Beyond it
Mik’i Behind it
Mich’o’ Without it
Mi’ With it
Madinh Lacking it
Mitl’ay Keep up with him
Minoghwł In front of him
Yotsets’ Back from (return)

Adjectives (adj.)

Adjectives are words with modify nouns. There are very few adjectives in the Upper Kuskokwim Language. A few examples are as follows:

Chwh Big
Łech’a chwh A big dog
Goya Small
Tso’ goya A small beaver
Gwnh Dried
Nilane gwnh Dried meat
Hwts’aka Narrow
Hwna’ nwts’aka A narrow river
Dedak Thick
Tinh dedak Thick ice
Deyuk Wide
Dedas Heavy (wood)
Deyus Wooly
Dilisr Hard, solid
Ditr’ets’ Abrasive
Dach’wk Sharp pointed
Goya Small, young (animate)
Higoya Small, little amount
Hwlkich Slippery
Zrunh Good
Hwzrunh Good place
Hwnoya Lonely
Tlak’a Worn out
Tish Strength
Dina Tish Strong man, leader
Ghwnh Dried

Adverbs (adv.)

Adverbs are words which modify verbs. Adverbs are more numerous than adjectives but not as numerous as nouns and verbs. The adverbs are more complex than nouns but not as complex as verbs. Adverbs specify time, location, direction and how action takes place. Some examples of each are given below.

Kodet Now
K’adi’onh Yesterday
Nida’di’onh Long ago
Yełkondi’ Tomorrow
Shanh Summer
Shando Last summer
Shandoda’ Next Summer
Hwsh Winter
Hwydo Last winter
Hwydoda’ Next winter
Hwyts’in’ Fall (season
Hwlek’it Springtime

Jot Here*
Yet There*
Yodigi Up there
Yodigit Right up there*
Hondogh Where (general)
Nisi Forward, in front
Noygi Back inside
Yih In the house
Ni’ogh Outside

*Note: The “t” on the end of the word indicates a specific location

Yoni’ Up river
Yodo’ Downriver
Yotsin Towards the river
Ts’enan Straight Across the river
Yonan Across the river (on other side)
Yongw Behind speaker (away from river)
Yongi Away from stream (further back
Tl’eyihts’in Right side (facing downriver or upriver)
Idits’in Left side (facing downriver or upriver)
Nełch’ots’in On both sides
Dodigi Upwards (uphill)
Nodigi Upwards
Yodigi Upwards
Yodigu Up there (sky)
Yodigut Up there (mountain top)

Dred Slow
Hotw Slowly
K’wsjala Almost
Ts’eługh Fast, hurry, quickly
Ch’uda Again
Dentsa First
Tiya’ More
Hikogh Enough
Srukogh Enough
T’iyats Intensely, really
Ch’itey To much
Tr’ulo Be ready

Postpositions can be used with adverbs. Adverbs can also be nominalized like verbs by adding “e”.

Dodo’ Downriver
Dodots’in From downriver
Dodots’ine The one from downriver
K’odet Now
K’odede A new one
Nude This one (specific)
Nughde This one (general)
Yede That one (specific)
Yughye That one (general)

Conjunctions (conj.)

Conjunctions are words used to connect two sentences or phrases. They are similar to English conjunctions.

En But
Sits’e’ ine en tododinik He was helping me but he got tired.
Ts’ihighne So
Mi’ił duł ditił’eł tsihighne dojole k’at. I want an axe so I can get wood.
Deno While
Ts’e’ And
Hwye’ił And then


The following abbreviations are used in the dictionary. Most denote the different kinds of words listed. The classification of some words may be changed following a complete study of Upper Kuskokwim. Following each entry in the dictionary an identification as to the kind of word is given in parenthesis

(adj) Adjective—modify nouns
(adv) Adverb—modify verbs
(conj) Conjunction—connect sentences and phrases
(fv) Future verb—action will happen
(imv) Imperfect verb—action still happening
(inv) Inceptive verb—action starting. Sometimes ‘inc.’
(n) Noun
(nv) Negative verb
(ov) Optative verb—action should happen
(part) Particle—used to build sentences but never alone
(pl) Plural—two or more people
(pn) Pronoun
(pp) Postposition—similar to English prepositions
(prv) Progressive verb—action moving along
(pv) Perfective verb—action complete, finished
(sg) One person
U.K. Upper Kuskokwim Athabaskan
(v) Verb
ǿ Zero or nothing—used in explaining pronouns and classifiers where the absence of any marker is important.