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Updated: 6-28-2011 7:48 AM

Preverbs are prefixes added to verbs to indicate secondary ideas such as time and direction. They create thousands more word forms for each word stem. Preverbs are not words by themselves, though many preverbs have corresponding stand-alone verb forms. Some preverbs are word parts that occur only as preverbs; these include tense and subordinating prefixes. Other preverbs are related in form and meaning to verb roots.

Preverbs are written with a trailing hyphen to separate them from the following verb or from another preverb.

Inflectional affixes and initial change processes that would normally occur on a verb, take place on preverbs when present.

More than one preverb can be used with a verb. And the preverbs follow a specific order when more than one preverb is present.

Relationship of preverbs and roots

Many preverbs are the same or nearly the same in both pronunciation and meaning as verb roots. The most obvious difference between the two is that when a preverb is taken out of a verb, the remaining element is still a real word, whereas when the root is taken out of a word, the remaining element is no longer a word or word stem and the stem collapses. Thus, in the first example below, the root izhi- in Western Ojibwe, meaning in a certain way, to a certain place, is an essential element of the stem and cannot be taken away. In the second example, its related preverb, which has the same meaning, is an element that has been added to an existing stem (bagidin-).

nindizhiwidoon  =  I take it to a certain place

nindizhi-bagidinaan  =  I put it down in a certain place

Types of Preverbs

The Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe identifies four types of preverbs: 1-4. Preverb 1 (pv1) are aspectual, subordinative and tense or modal preverbs. Preverb 2 (pv2) are directional preverbs. Preverb 3 (pv3) are relative preverbs, and preverb 4 (pv4) are lexical preverbs, which includes manner, quality and number.

 Preverb Order



Tense and Mood




Manner, Quality, and Number


PV1: Tense, Modal and Aspectual Preverbs

 Tense and Mood

Preverbs indicating tense and mood are added to verbs as a prefix to indicate time other than the present, other ideas relating to the completion of the action, or such ideas as intention, possibility or obligation. If a personal prefix is used with the verb, the preverb follows it. In some varieties of Ojibwe, the personal prefix for the verb blends with the tense and mood preverb, making it difficult to distinguish between them. The basic forms of the most common tense preverbs for independent verbs are given below.




completed action (past tense)


future (after a personal prefix) 


future (not after a personal prefix)


desiderative (future intentive)


modal (possibility, obligation -- would/should/could) 


(rare) potential 









In some variations of Ojibwe, a preverb other than the past-tense preverb gii- may be used with a past-tense negative verb. This preverb takes the form onji-.


Aspectual preverbs encompass references to the beginning or ending of events, the frequency or habituality of events or the efforts and desire of the subject to bring about the event.



start, begin, start off


sufficient, suitable, enough





Subordinative preverbs only occur with the conjunct order of verbs, where they subordinate one verb to another verb or particle.

Subordinating preverbs only appear on conjunct verbs and mark the verb as being in a particular kind of subordinate clause. Sometimes subordinating prefixes combine with tense prefixes. Among the most common subordinating prefixes are the timeless (or aorist) prefix e- and the relative prefix gaa- (Ojibwe).



that, so that, in order to

gaa- (changed form of gii-)

when, where, who


PV2: Directional Preverbs

Directional preverbs indicate the space and time orientation of the action in relation to the speaker or to a reference point established by the speaker.



toward the speaker, this way, here, hither


going about


going away, going along, in progress, on the way, coming up to in time


go over to

bi-biindge   =  he/she comes inside

ando-wiisini  =  he/she goes over to eat


PV3: Relative Preverbs

Relative preverbs relate the event to surrounding circumstances, such as where it takes place, the way it takes place, the reason it takes place, and how often or how many times it has taken place. Relative preverbs refer to ideas of manner, place, number, or other such adverbial ideas, but usually relate these ideas to specific words or phrases outside the verb. These more specific words or phrases are said to be the antecedents of the relative preverbs.



since, a certain length, as long as, as far as


a certain extent, as much as


in a certain way, to a certain place, thus, so, there


from a certain place, for a certain reason, because


in a certain place, of a certain time, there


a certain number, so many, every

onji-googii  =  he/she dives from a certain place

daso-biboonwe   =  he/she is of a certain age (literally he/she is of a certain number of winters)

 PV4: Lexical Preverbs

This group of preverbs includes the most root-like (or word-like) preverbs, which can express a wide range of meanings.

Manner, Degree and Intensity

This group of preverbs indicate the various manners and degrees of intensity in which an action is carried out.



big, great, very


with, in company with




Numeric preverbs indicate units of time and measurement. They often have corresponding stand-alone root words.

niizho  =  two



Preverbs of quality include preverbs that indicate a negative quality or an evaluative quality such as good or bad.



in vain, without result


not able to, not before


good, nice, well