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Verb Stems

Updated: 6-27-2011 11:17 AM

Primary Verb Stems

Primary Verb Stems With Two Elements

A primary verb stem is one that contains no other word stems inside it. Many primary verb stems have two identifiable elements, neither of which is a word stem itself. The first element is called an initial and the second element is called a final in accordance with their relative positions. Various kinds of elements can serve as initials in stems; in a primary stem, the initial is a root.


For example, in the stem of the word most commonly translated as runs, there are actually two elements – an initial root conveying direction (by, past, or along) and a final identifying the action (run).

bimibatoo  =  he/she runs by, along

Identifying stem-building elements. It is not possible to determine the composition of a particular word stem by looking at that stem in isolation. In other words, one cannot distinguish the various parts that make up the stem of a word or determine their meaning by looking at the one word alone. To discover the patterns of derivation, one must compare words that are in some way related in meaning in order to see if they also have a distinctive group of sounds in common (even if these are pronounced slightly differently owing to pronunciation rules). When such a group of sounds (or related sounds) is found to recur in a group of stems that are related in meaning, the group of sounds is identified with the meaning and is considered a stem-building element. For example, if one looks at several verbs that share the meaning run (it is important to determine that they are, in fact, different stems and not just different inflected forms of a single stem), one finds that a particular group of sounds recurs in each stem.

bimibatoo  =  he/she runs by, along

onjibatoo =  he/she runs from a certain place

bejibatoo  = he/she runs slowly

The recurring group of sounds in the verbs that share the meaning run can be identified as a stem-building element. Since this common element appears at the end of the stem, it is called a final.

-batoo  (run)

In this process of analysis and discovery, the identification of each element should be verified by examining as many different stems as possible that are related in meaning. The sounds, the meaning, and the relative position of the stem-building element should be the same or similar in each stem. For example, in some instances, one may find that two different elements are pronounced the same way but have different meanings.

This method of analysing families of stems that are related in meaning and form can also be used to identify the root of the stems. For example, if one examines the stems below, which are related in meaning and share the same group of sounds, one can identify two different roots.

bagami batoo  =  he/she arrives running

bagam ose  =  he/she arrives walking

beji batoo  =  he/she runs slowly

bed ose  =  he/she walks slowly

Analysis of the same group of stems also reveals a new final.

-ose   (walk)

The list of stems above also presents examples of the way sounds in an element may change when they combine with other elements. In the word bejibatoo (runs slowly), the two elements are joined by a connective i necessitated by a pronunciation rule. The root ends in j when it appears in front of this connective, but otherwise ends in d, as in the stem bedose (walks slowly). Many of these kinds of variations are determined by regular pronunciation rules that are not discussed in this outline.

The meanings of roots and finals. Many roots can be translated by adjectives or adverbs in English; others call for the use of a different verb; still others have no single-word equivalent. The following list of English words and phrases is intended to give some indication of the variety of concepts and ideas that can be conveyed by roots Ojibwe:

  • good;
  • up against something;
  • sticky;
  • fast;
  • flat;
  • cold;
  • testing;
  • in plain view;
  • five;
  • in a certain place;
  • sticking out of a surface;
  • in a certain manner.

Verb finals usually identify a state, process, or action, and can often be translated in English by verbs or by phrases that describe the means by which an action or event comes about. The list below gives some indication of the variety of ideas that can be conveyed by distinct finals Ojibwe:

  • be;
  • grow;
  • blown by wind;
  • with a tool;
  • by heat;
  • fly;
  • stand;
  • by mouth;
  • by cutting with blade.

The final not only adds a certain meaning to the verb stem, but also determines whether the word is a noun or a verb. If the word is a verb, the final often determines its class – whether it is animate intransitive, transitive animate, or one of the other verb types.Verb types are often paired by transitivity and gender; that is, animate intransitive verbs are paired with inanimate intransitive verbs, and transitive animate verbs are paired with their transitive inanimate counterparts. The difference between an animate intransitive verb and its inanimate intransitive counterpart usually lies in their finals, as may be seen in the following pairs:

miskwaa  =  it (inanimate) is red

miskozi  =  it (animate) is red

jaagide  =  it (inanimate) burns

jaagizo  =  it (animate) burns

Similarly, the difference between transitive animate verbs and their transitive inanimate counterparts lies in their finals. In the three sets of transitive inanimate verbs below, the root through appears with several finals, each indicating a difference in the manner in which the action of the verb – to go through – is carried out:

ozhaaboshkaan  =  he/she goes through it with foot or body

ozhaaboga’aan  =  he/she chops through it (literallyhe/she goes through it by chopping)

ozhaabonaan  =  he/she goes through it by using the hand (as in putting a needle through cloth)

In the transitive animate counterparts of these verbs, some slight differences may be observed in the finals. In the first two cases below, something has been added to the finals that appeared in the transitive inanimate verbs; in the last case, the final is the same as that in the transitive inanimate verb.

ozhaaboshkawaan  =  he/she goes through him/her/them/ (or some animate thing) with foot or body (as in getting through a crowd)

ozhaaboga’waan  =  he/she goes through it (some animate thing) by chopping

ozhaabonaan  =  he/she goes through it (some animate thing) by using the hand

Some roots and finals may themselves consist of smaller parts.

Primary Verb Stems With Three Elements

Some primary stems are composed of three elements – a root that serves as the initial, an intervening element called a medial, and the final. One or more medials may appear between the root initial and the final.


Medials. Medials usually refer to things or kinds of things and may be divided into several groups.

Classificatory medials. Many medials loosely describe or classify the thing associated with the verb and are consequently called classifiers. In each of the following examples, the medial gives some indication of the nature of the thing that is the subject of the verb:

ginwegad  =  it (something sheet-like) is long

ginwaabiigad  =  it (something string-like) is long

ginwaabikad  =  it (something of metal or stone) is long

ginwaakwad/ginwaakod =  it (something of wood or stick-like) is long

In the preceding list of examples, the roots and the finals are the same; the medials, however, differ.




+ FINAL (root)











There is a parallel verb without a medial that can be used to describe any kind of inanimate subject. Note that its final (-aa) differs from the finals that appeared in the previous examples:

ginwaa  =  it is long

Body-part medials. Some medials refer to body parts. Thus many verbs that describe or in some way involve a part of the body contain a medial that refers to that part of the body. For example, each of the following Western Ojibwe verbs describes a person with a swelling in some part of the body. In each verb, the medial names the body part. The final is -e.

baagishangwane  =  he/she has a swollen nose

baagigaade =  he/she has a swollen leg

baagiingwe  =  he/she has a swollen face

As in the previous list of examples, the roots and finals remain the same; the body-part medials differ.




+ FINAL (root)









Other types of medials. There are many medials that do not fit into the two groups discussed above. Some, for example, identify natural features. In the following Swampy Cree examples, a single root appears in three stems – one containing a classificatory medial, one containing a body-part medial, and one containing a medial that identifies a natural feature.

Denominal medials. Some verb roots have a noun stem as a medial. Such medials are called denominal medials. The use of denominal medials is a form of noun incorporation because the noun stem is taken into the body of the verb as a medial.

The noun stem may undergo some changes when incorporated. In the following example, the first sound of the noun stem is dropped when the noun stem is taken into the verb as a denominal medial:

makizin  =  moccasin, shoe

aandakizine  =  he/she changes shoes

Primary Verb Stems With One Element

Some primary stems cannot be broken down into identifiable units that can be traced in other stems. The following word stem is an example:

Abi  =  he/she sits, is at home

Secondary Verb Stems

A secondary stem is made up of an underlying word stem and one or more stem-building elements. The secondary stem will often belong to a different word class or type than the original stem and will have a meaning different from, but related to, that of the original stem. In a secondary stem, the underlying word stem serves as the initial and appears with a final. Medials are optional.

INITIAL + MEDIAL(S) + FINAL (word stem)

Some of the finals used in secondary stems are the same as those used in primary stems. In the following set of examples, the primary verb stem go home serves as the initial of a secondary stem with the final run:

giiwe  =  he/she goes home

giiwebatoo   =  he/she runs home

There are other finals used in secondary derivation that rarely appear in primary derivation. For example, -aw or -amaw can be added to a transitive inanimate stem to form a double-object transitive animate stem, often with the meaning do (something to) it for him/her.

odoozhtoon  =  he/she makes it

odoozhitamawaan   =  he/she makes it for him/her

Secondary stems can themselves undergo derivation, resulting in chains of finals in stems. Even further layers are possible.  

Transitivized verb stems. In a transitivized verb stem, a transitive final is added to an underlying verb stem, allowing inflection for an object or an additional object.

anokii  =  he/she works

odanokiitawaan   =  he/she works for him/her

Detransitivized verb stems. In a detransitivized verb stem, an intransitive final is added to an underlying transitive stem. Such detransitivized stems eliminate the idea of a specific object by directing the action of the verb to a generalized goal. The final suffixes in detransitivized verb stems in Ojibwe are most often -ge and -we.

omawadisaan  =  he/she visits him/her

mawadishiwe  =  he/she visits people

Verbs of undergoing. In an intransitive verb of undergoing – a verb in which the subject undergoes some action by an unspecified agent–an intransitive final is added to an underlying transitive stem. Such verbs are often translated in English by the passive voice or the use of an indefinite subject. The finals most often used in such verbs in Ojibwe are -gaade and -gaazo.

odoozhibii’aan  =  he/she writes (on) it

ozhibii’igaade  =  it is written (on); “they” write (on) it

Other finals added to transitive stems contain the inverse direction marker. The underlying verb usually expresses ideas of perception or evaluation.

ogikendaan  =  he/she knows it

gikendaagozi  =  he/she is known to..., is suspected of. . .

Secondary Verb Stems With Final Suffixes That Extend Meaning

Some finals do not change the stem type of the underlying stem, but extend the meaning of the original verb stem.

Verbs of addiction.A verb of addiction, which is used to indicate a habitual state or action, often with a negative flavour, is usually formed by adding an intransitive final suffix to an underlying verb stem. The final suffix in such verbs in Ojibwe is -shki.

gitimi  =  he/she is reluctant to do something

gitimishki  =  he/she is habitually lazy

gimoodi  =  he/she is stealing

gimoodishki  =  he/she is a thief

Verbs of pretending. A verb of pretending, which is used to express the idea that someone is pretending to be or to do something, is usually formed by adding an intransitive final suffix to an underlying verb stem or noun stem. The final suffix in such verbs in Ojibwe is -kaazo.

abinoojiinh  =  child

abinoojiinhkaazo  =  he/she pretends to be a child

Anishinaabe  =  Native person

Anishinaabekaazo  =  he/she pretends to be a Native person

Secondary Verb Stems With Final Suffixes That Change Nouns Into Verbs

Some finals change the underlying noun stem into a verb stem. A few common verb stems of this type are illustrated below.

Verbs of being. A verb of being can be formed by adding an intransitive final suffix to an underlying noun stem. The most common finals used are -(w)i and -(w)an. In some language varieties, a construction using a noun and a separate verb is preferred.

Anishinaabe  =  Native person

Anishinaabewi  =  he/she is a Native person

bingwi  =  ashes

bingwiiwan  =  it is covered with ashes (literally it is ashy)

Verbs of diminutive action. In some varieties of Ojibwe, a diminutive verb is used to indicate that an action is performed on a relatively small scale or that someone small is involved in the action. In Ojibwe, a diminutive verb can be formed by making the underlying verb stem into a diminutive noun and adding a suffix for a verb of being.

bimibatoo  =  he/she runs

bimibatoonswi  =  he/she runs a little

Verbs of abundance. A verb of abundance, which is used to express the idea that the thing referred to in the underlying stem is present or is present in abundance, can be formed by the addition of a secondary final to a noun stem (or, less commonly, a verb stem). In Ojibwe, the final of such verbs is -kaa.

zagime  =  mosquito

zagimekaa  =  there are (a lot of) mosquitoes

manoomin =  wild rice

manoominikaa  =  there is (a lot of) wild rice

Verbs of making or processing. A verb of making or processing can be formed by the addition of a secondary suffix to a noun stem (or, less commonly, a verb stem). In Ojibwe, the final is -ke.

naboob  =  soup

naboobiike  =  he/she makes soup

jiimaan  =  canoe

jiimaanike  =  he/she makes canoes

Verbs of possession. A verb of possession can be formed by the addition of a secondary suffix to a possessed noun with a third-person prefix (and the possessive suffix, if required). The final of such verbs is -i.

zhooniyaa  =  money

ozhooniyaaman  =  his/her money

ozhooniyaami  =  he/she has money

waakaa’igan  =  house

owaakaa’igan  =  his/her house

owaakaa’igani  =  he/she has a house(s)

Compound Verb Stems

Two kinds of stems have traditionally been treated as compounds: stem compounds and preverb compounds.

Stem Compounds

A stem compound is formed by the addition of a noun stem or verb stem to the front of a verb stem. The resulting compound verb stem extends the meaning of the original verb stem. Inflectional suffixes are added to the end of the compound stem; most inflectional prefixes are added to the front of the compound stem. The pattern of this kind of compound verb stem is:

WORD STEM + VERB STEM (noun or verb stem)

Naawakwe  =  it is noon

wiisni  =  he/she eats

naawkwe-wiisni  =  he/she eats the noon meal

ojiinidiwag  =  they kiss each other

giizhigad  =  it is a day

ojiinidiwi-giizhigad  =  it is New Year's Day

Preverb Compounds

A preverb compound is formed by the addition of a word- or root-like prefix to a verb stem. As in the stem compounds, the first element of the compound modifies the verb stem to which it is added. Inflectional suffixes are added to the end and most prefixes to the front of the compound stem. More than one preverb may appear in a verb. The overall pattern of this type of compound stem is: