Rilin Morphosyntax


The verbal system in Rilin is agglutinative/fusional and ergative/absolutive. Verbs are marked for person, number, tense/aspect, mode, and voice. The pronominal system also distinguishes between three degrees of familiarity. The 1st degree indicates that the speaker’s relation to the 2nd or 3rd person implied is the most familiar, and the 3rd degree indicates the relation is the most formal. There is a distinction of degree in the 1st person only the plural. Also in the 1st person plural there is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive 1st person plural indicates that the 2nd person is included, and exclusive indicates that only a 3rd party is included. In the inclusive, you can “add” to the first person singular (“I”) either a plural 2nd person or a singular (“you all and me” = “we” vs. “you and me” = “we”). The same can be done with the exclusive (“him and me” = “we” vs. “them and me” = “we”).

All verbs in Rilin end in vowels. This is partially due to the difficulty that would arise with unacceptable consonant clusters involving stem-final consonants and the consonantal tense/aspect markers which must directly follow the stem. Most common verbs consist of 2–3 syllables or fewer. The general rule is that the more common the verb, the more likely it is to have fewer syllables.

Degree of Familiarity in Pronominal Suffixes

All verbs in Rilin are attached with a suffix that indicates all at once person, number, and something referred to as degree of familiarity. There are three degrees of familiarity; if one is very close to the 2nd or 3rd person being referred to, one uses the 1st degree of familiarity. If one is not at all close to this person or persons, one must use the 3rd degree, or most formal. And if one is neither very close nor very distant from this person or persons, one uses the 2nd degree. There are many social nuances to the use of all three of these degrees; the 3rd degree can be used to convey either coldness or respect; the 1st can be used to show either intimacy or disrespect. The 2nd degree is therefore considered the “safest” to use in most situations, except when either the 1st or 3rd is the obvious correct decision, such as when referring to one’s spouse or one’s national leader.

Issues with the First Person Plural

There are several ways to say “we” in Rilin. First of all, there is the exclusive/inclusive distinction. This is a pretty simple concept; what this means is basically whether the speaker (the one using “we”) is including the one they are speaking to (you) or not. Exclusive “we” does not include “you” while inclusive does. “we” = “you and I” vs. “we” = “she/he and I” also contrast with “we” = “you all and I” vs. “we” = “they and I” . To make matters more complex, any of these “we”s can be in any of the three degrees of familiarity, giving you in all 12 ways of saying “we”.

Person/Number/Familiarity (pnf) Suffixes

1st sg 2nd sg 3rd sg 1st pl incl w/sg 1st excl w/sg 1st pl inclusive w/p 1st pl exclusive w/pl 2nd pl 3rd pl
1st degree -ɪm -i -ap -(i)limɪ -(i)pɪ -(i)linɪ -(i)pɪn -in -apɛ(n)
2nd degree -- -y -ik -(i)xymɪ -(i)kɪ -(i)xynɪ -(i)kɪn -yn -ika(n)
3rd degree -- -a -ɛ/-ø -(i)zamɪ -ei -(i)zanɪ -ein -an -ɛla(n)


Pronominal suffixes are originally derived from the full pronoun forms, which are below. These are used in non-subjective positions and take all the same case markers as other nouns.

1st sg 2nd sg 3rd sg 1st pl incl w/sg 1st excl w/sg 1st pl inclusive w/p 1st pl exclusive w/pl 2nd pl 3rd pl
1st degree ɪmɪ li fa limɪ linɪ pɪn lin apɛn
2nd degree -- xy ika xymɪ xynɪ kɪn xy ikan
3rd degree -- zana ɛla zamɪ ei zanɪ ein zanan ɛlan

Above are the pronominal verb suffixes. These are attached just after the tense/aspect marker.

Tense and Aspect

(Default) Perfective Progressive Conative Habitual Iterative
Past -d- -z- -s- -p- -r- -ʐ-
Present -t- -g- -k- -b- -l- -ʂ-
Future -t-
+ doubling of pnf suffix vowel
+ doubling of pnf suffix vowel
+ doubling of pnf suffix vowel
+ doubling of pnf suffix vowel
+ doubling of pnf suffix vowel
+ doubling of pnf suffix vowel

Above are the suffixes used to mark tense and aspect. Note that both tense and aspect are fused into one morpheme (which is one way in which Rilin is a partially fusional language). Each of the three tenses combines with each of the five aspects, and each tense also has an “aspectless” or default version (default means no aspect is implied in the morpheme).

  • Past, Present, Future—These are pretty straight forward. They can indicate actions taking place any time within the frame of past/present/future. While the suffixes for the past and present are different, the future can only be distinguished from the present by the doubling of the first vowel in the following pronominal suffix. This means that in order to create the future (instead of the present), one must use the correct suffix (say, -t-) and double the first vowel in the pronominal suffix (the suffix showing person/number/familiarity (pnf)). So -tik indicates present, while -tiik is future.
  • Perfective—The perfective aspect views the event of the verb as a single whole. The action is conceived as a unit, as opposed to in the progressive aspect, where the event is viewed as unfolding or dynamic.
  • Progressive—Contrasts with perfective aspect; the progressive aspect emphasizes the continuous, dynamic quality of an action that is a process rather than a single event.
  • Conative—The conative expresses an action is one is “trying” to do, but does not quite complete.
  • Habitual—The habitual expresses an action that happens many times over a long period of time—a “habit”, like its name implies. “I go shopping once a month.” In Rilin the verb would be in the habitual. In the above sentence, the habitual aspect is emphasized by the qualifying phrase “once a month”.
  • Iterative— The iterative aspect denotes an action that happens over and over again within a short frame of time. “She beat him with a pan over and over.” This contrasts with the habitual which describes something happening over and over within a comparatively large frame of time, such as would be used in the phrase “She beat him with a pan every Friday.”


There are two distinct voices in Rilin: active and passive. The active voice is the default, and is not marked. The passive voice is marked with –ak, a suffix which must immediately follow the tense/aspect marker.

bɛsu-k-ak-ap ‘It is being eaten.’

eat--pres:prog--pass.--3rd:sg:3rd deg.


There are two basic modes in Rilin, indicative (for events actually happening in reality), and irrealis, for verbs describing things that aren’t happening in reality. The uses of irrealis are many and varied. They can be anything from an expression of a wish (“I wish it were (but it's not)”) or subjective opinion (“I think X is Y.”) to a contrafactual conditional (“If it were (but it's not), then X.”). Within irrealis are included command forms or imperatives of verbs, since it is implied with the imperative that the action isn’t already taking place. Irrealis is also used with various “modal” verbs (as in English with “should”, “would”, “could”, etc.).

The suffix for irrealis is –ky, or in very formal speech, -kʌ.
There is no suffix for indicative, since it is the default.

There are two ways of forming the imperative (command form). The most common is the “shortened” version in which –ky is applied directly to the end of the verb stem with no tense/aspect or pnf marker. The other way is to fully conjugate the verb with the t/a and pnf markers. The latter way emphasizes the person implication and the imperative in general (i.e. Do this! vs. You do this now!).

bɛsuky! ‘eat!’

bɛsukiky! ‘you eat now!’, ‘you better be eating now!’ (Note use of progressive present.)

In colloquial speech, the infinitive form of the verb is often used to imply the imperative. This trend is becoming more widespread in modern Rilin.

bɛsuǃ ‘eat!’

Order of Suffixes

The order in which one must attach the verbal suffixes is very fixed.

Verb stem--Tense/Aspect marker-Voice marker--Person/number/familiarity marker--Mode marker

Note that some of these will not necessarily exist on every verb, but tense/aspect and person/number/familiarity are required for every conjugated verb, except for the shortened version of the imperative (see).

The Verb “to be”

The verb “to be” (ʃy) as a copula only exists in non-present tenses. In the present tense, the subject and the predicate (be it adjectival, nominal, or a prepositional phrase) are simply juxtaposed. Note that neither subject noun nor predicate noun ever take ergative or absolutive case markers when juxtaposed or used in a copular phrase with “to be”.

Fa ma ɪmɪdi. 'She is my mother.'

ʃydap ma ɪmɪdi. 'She was my mother.'

Elan uɾænʌn. 'They are queens.'

ʃydelan uɾænʌn. 'They were queens.'

ʃytee uɾænʌ. 'She will be a queen.'


Nouns in Rilin are divided into two categories: animate and inanimate. While these terms generally correspond to “living” vs. “non-living”, there are several examples of non-living entities being classified grammatically as animate. Such entities include certain forces in nature, certain emotions, and certain things that naturally move but are not actually life-forms or at least normally conscious life-forms. Many of these non-living entities may also be classified as inanimate. It all depends on the intentions and implications that the speaker wants to convey. To speak about the ocean as an animate entity is to personify it in a way—it is more poetic to speak about the ocean as an animate. But grammatically, the rules are not rigid as to how to classify these types of nouns.

There are two different case systems—one for animates and one for inanimates. The case system reflects the major structure of the Rilin verbal system—ergative/absolutive. That is, the subject of an intransitive verb (absolutive case) is treated the same (in marking, etc.) as the object of a transitive verb. The agent of a transitive verb (ergative case) is treated differently.

Namiɛt bewutik. ‘Nami is chanting.’

Above, Nami (the animate subject) is marked with the absolutive case (-ɛt) because the verb bewu (to chant) is intransitive.

Namias tiʔeɛt bɛsutik. ‘Nami is eating the apricot.’

In the second sentence, Nami (the agent) is marked with the ergative; this is specifically because of the verb (eat) which is transitive (i.e. it has a direct object, the apricot). The apricot (tiʔe), is marked with the absolutive because it is the direct object of this transitive verb.

Animate Case Markers

  • Absolutive – -ɛt
  • Ergative – -as
  • Prepositional – -u
  • Dative – -ø
  • Genitive – -di
  • Possessive – -mu

Inanimate Case Markers

  • Abs. – -ɛt
  • Erg. – -ɛs
  • Prep. – -la
  • Dat. – -ø
  • Gen. – -mi
  • Poss. – -o

N.B. : With any forms of to be (which only has copulas in non-present tenses), no ergative or absolutive case endings are used on nouns. So “It is soft” would be simply fa øʂa, not *faɛt øʂa.

Prepositional Case

This is the case that is generally used when the noun is the object of a preposition. However it can also be used to fully replace a preposition or to be used as an instrumental-type case (showing the instrument of an action). This is especially common in poetry.

bɛsuzɪm (na) Namiu. ‘I ate with Nami.’

butʃiozik (pa) itæla. ‘He/she was killed by an arrow.’

Dative Case

This case marks indirect objects of verbs.

Gadɪm bin lɛpɛnɛt Namiø. ‘I gave the apples to Nami.’

Genitive vs. Possessive

The genitive and possessive cases are similar but not the same. The genitive refers to something to which the head noun is generally related. The possessive marks something that the head noun actually has ownership and/or direct control over. While one has an association with one’s sibling or one’s city, one does not usually own them, so the genitive would be more appropriate in describing these relationships. When it comes to something like one’s body parts or physical property, however, the possessive is perfectly suited. In general, if you have control over something and own it, it is possessed by you. But if you are related to it, and you and it are equal entities on the same plane, the relationship should be described using the genitive case.

There is a great deal of subtlety involved, however, when distinguishing when to use one or the other case. Children, for example, are referred to by their parents in the possessive only when they are babies or younger children. Once they reach an age of about 10-12 years, it’s generally considered appropriate to use the genitive. Thus the distinction between genitive and possessive can have social implications as well. For example, it would be considered very rude and creepy to refer to one’s lover or spouse using the possessive. But likewise, it would be considered odd to refer a pet goldfish in the genitive.


The regular pluralisation of nouns in Rilin is created with –n or -ɛn (for words ending in vowels and consonants, respectively). The plural suffix precedes the case markers on a noun.

Some irregular plurals include:
-y on some common nouns such as mas (bed), bun (foot), and im (eye).

  • masy ‘beds’
  • buny ‘feet’
  • imy ‘eyes’

Other common irregular plural is –(i)k. this is often used with nouns denoting people.

ma ‘mother’ → mak ‘mothers’


There are two articles in Rilin: the definite article (corresponding roughly to English ‘the’) and the partitive article, meaning roughly “some (of a whole)”.

Unlike other adjectives and modifiers in Rilin, the articles must agree in number with the noun they are modifying. The pluralization is regular, being in –n.

Articles always precede the noun they are modifying, as well as any other adjectives that may be placed before the noun (usually adjectives follow the noun they modify, but there are exceptions to this rule).

With the definite article, there are two different forms, one for animates and one for inanimates. For animates, there is lu with a plural of lun. For inanimates there is bi with a plural of bin.

The partitive article is vy and its plural is vyn. These forms can be used for animates and inanimates alike. When vyn the plural partitive is used, it means a group of some units out of an even larger group.

  • vy mula ‘some water’
  • vy fi ‘some wine’
  • vyn dijɛn ‘some boys (of a larger group)’
  • vyn lɛpɛn ‘some apples (out of a larger group)’
  • bi lɛpɛ ‘the apple’
  • bin lɛpɛn ‘the apples’
  • lu dɛlɛ ‘the sister’
  • lun dɛlɛn ‘the sisters’
  • lun mak ‘the mothers’

Word Order and Syntax

Word order in Rilin is considerably free, largely due to the case system. Neutral order, however, is generally VSO, though SVO is common as well.

bɛsutik lu dijɛas bi lɛpɛɛt. = VSO

lu dijɛas bɛsutik bi lɛpɛɛt. = SVO

‘The boy eats the apple.’

For oblique arguments in other cases, there is even more freedom. But the most common placements are as follows: Dative noun phrases generally follow the direct object absolutive noun phrase. Prepositional phrases are usually placed after the verb. Nouns in the genitive or possessive case generally follow the head noun (i.e. the possessed thing/thing related to). Adverbs usually follow the verb, adjective, or other adverb that they are modifying, as do adjectives with the noun they are modifying.

‘lɛmwatiik eɾui’ = ‘He will die eventually.’

‘mɛɾiona ikamu qʌʂ βy zynæ’ = ‘Her kitchen is simply too small.’

‘lu dɛlɛ ɪmɪdi løn kyilɛse’ = ‘My sister is an intelligent woman.’

There are, however, exceptions to this rule: one is, as is stated above, the articles, which precede the noun they modify. Others include certain adjectives, many of which are common in use:

bɛɾɛ ‘acceptable, good’ … ‘fa bɛɾɛ ma’ = ‘She is a good mother.’

uɛki ‘fun, nice’ … ‘æjaʃaky taŋ uɛki æjaɛt’ = ‘Sing that one fun song.’

βy ‘small’ … ‘taŋ lu βy hyn qawynmu ɪmɪdi’ = ‘That’s my neighbor’s little baby.’

buʐ ‘large; powerful’ … ‘ynitap buʐ qatnaiɛt’ = ‘He has a large office.’

zynæ ‘simple, mere’ … ‘gan fa zynæ mabai’ = ‘But it’s just an oyster.’

maɾa ‘great, grand; whole’ … ‘fa maɾa ʐiqæ’ = ‘It’s a great festival.’ … ‘bɛsudik bi maɾa ɬɯxøɛt’ = ‘He ate the whole roast pepper.’

ynu ‘very’ (adv.) … ‘fa ynu øʂa’ = ‘It's very soft.’


There are various types of negation in Rilin. First of all, there is the distinction between clausal negation (negating an entire sentence or phrase) and individual negation (negating an individual word). Sometimes the line between the two is unclear and it becomes possible to use either form, though the connotations and emphasis of each usage is different.

The clausal negation bɛ is placed before the entire clause. When this negative is used, the entire clause or phrase is negated.

æjaʃate bewæɛt ɪfɪnʃɛdi ‘She is singing a hymn of Ifinŝe.’
bɛ æjaʃate bewæɛt ɪfɪnʃɛdi ‘She is not singing a hymn of Ifinŝe.’

With the individual negation, the word following the negative particle ga is what is being logically negated. For practical purpose, this often leads to the same basic meaning. However, the emphasis here is greatly changed.

While bɛ æjaʃate bewæɛt ɪfɪnʃɛdi simply means ‘She isn't singing a hymn of Ifinŝe’, ga can be used in various different positions to negate various parts of the affirmative clause.

ga æjaʃate bewæɛt ɪfɪnʃɛdi ‘She is not singing a hymn of Ifinŝe (she is reading one)’.

æjaʃate ga bewæɛt ɪfɪnʃɛdi ‘She isn't singing a hymn of Ifinŝe (she is singing an aria about her)’.

æjaʃate bewæɛt ga ɪfɪnʃɛdi ‘She isn't singing a hymn of Ifinŝe (she is singing a hymn of Dema)’.

So the position of ga determines what exactly it being negated, which in turn determined what the emphasis of the negation is.


A simple negative response to some proposition or question in colloquial speech is either iɫɛ or la(ka). Iɫɛ is stronger and/or less colloquial.

Noity lɛpɛɛt? 'Do you want an apple?'
La. 'Nah.'


Noity ko butʃiotapkyǃ? 'Do you want him to get killed!?' Iɫɛǃ 'No!'

Comparatives and Superlatives of Adjectives

Formation of the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives is generally fairly regular.

All adjectives ending in either a consonant or one of the following vowels form a comparative with -o:
-i -ɪ -e -ɛ -ø -u -ɯ -y

naɾɪ 'clean' > naɾɪo 'cleaner'
mim 'cute' > mimo 'cuter'

All adjectives ending in the following vowels form a comparative in -wʌ:
-a -æ -o -ɔ -ʌ

ɯʃtʌ 'frustrated' > ɯʃtʌwʌ 'more frustrated'

All adjectives ending in consonants have a superlative form in -æ:

kɪs 'slender' > kɪsæ 'most slender'

All adjectives ending in vowels have a superlative form in -nɪs:

tuɾɛ 'soft' > tuɾɛnɪs 'softest'

There are a few exceptions to these rules. Several very common adjectives have irregular comparatives and superlatives:

  • bɛɾɛ 'good' > pɾo 'better' > 'best'
  • biqʌ 'bad' > bu 'worse' > 'worst'
  • βy 'small' > nymma 'smaller' > nimyma 'smallest'
  • buʐ 'big'> gaʃ 'bigger' > kʌʃʌ 'biggest'
  • 'late' > dæp 'later' > dæmpa 'latest'

There are also negative comparative and negative superlative forms for adjectives, which correspond to English “less X” and “least X”. All adjectives have regular formation for these:

  • myi 'smooth' > bɛmyi 'less smooth' > bɛhɛmyi 'least smooth'
  • ɡæstɛ 'difficult' > bɛɡæstɛ 'less difficult' > bɛhɛɡæstɛ 'least difficult'
  • uɛki 'nice, good' > bɛuɛki 'less nice' > bɛhɛuɛki 'least nice'

All adjectives form negative comparatives and superlatives this way.

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses in Rilin are created with relative pronouns and juxtaposition.

itɪm lu lømɛt ‘I see the woman’

lu lømas bækik vy fiɛt ‘the woman is sipping some wine’

itɪm lu lømɛt laas bækik vy fiɛt ‘I see the woman who is sipping some wine’

In this way, one clause is effectively embedded in another, functioning within it as an patient.

The pronouns must take case markers just like full nouns. So in the above example, the antecedent of the relative pronoun in the relative clause is the agent of that clause, therefore the ergative marker is used. But the antecedent (the woman) is functioning as the patient of the entire clause (in which the relative clause is embedded), so lømɛt is in the absolutive case.

Relative Pronouns:

  • la ‘who’
  • lai ‘why’
  • xʌs ‘how; what attribute(s)’
  • koi ‘how; in what manner/by which means’
  • ba ‘what’
  • no ‘when’
  • ɬø ‘where’

Interrogative Clauses

There are two ways in which indicative statements can be transformed into interrogative clauses.

Yes/No Questions

In order to form a yes/no question from an indicative clause, the interrogative particle læ is positioned after the main verb in the predicate. If there is no verb in the clause, the particle is placed at the end of the predicate adjective, noun, or prepositional phrase.

kɾaiŋapik fysɛt. ‘She tried to bite a blow dart.’

kɾaiŋapik læ fysɛt? ‘Did she try to bite a blow dart?’

ukenɛt vɛskɛ. ‘Uken is insane.’

ukenɛt vɛskɛ læ? ‘Is Uken insane?’

In the last two examples, there is no verb, so læ comes after the adjective vɛskɛ, which functions as the predicate.


Formation of so-called wh-questions (questions formed by words that in English usually begin with wh-) is done by using a variety of interrogative pronouns and adjectives. These are incidentally identical to the relative pronouns/adjectives discussed above.

  • la ‘who?’
  • lai ‘why?’
  • xʌs ‘how?; what attribute(s)?’
  • koi ‘how?; in what manner?/by which means?’
  • ba ‘what?’
  • no ‘when?’
  • ɬø ‘where?’

These pronouns are fronted to the beginning of the interrogative clause.

baɛt ukenas bɛsukik? ‘What is Uken eating?’

ukenas bɛsukik vy miɛlʌmuɛt. ‘Uken is eating some marzipan.’

xʌs ika? ‘How is she?’

Ika ynu biqʌ. ‘She’s very troublesome.’

Complement Clauses and The Complementizer

Like relative clauses, complement clauses consist of one clause “embedded” within a larger matrix clause. The embedded clause functions either as the patient or agent within the matrix clause. The complementizer is the “link” that connects the two clauses. In Rilin, the complementizer is ko.

Noitɪm ko ʃydapky deɣɛ. 'I wish she had been satisfied.' (Also note use of irrealis here; it is common in expressing a wish or opinion with a complement clause.)

Sotatɪm ko ika mim. 'I think she's cute.'

The Causatives

There are various ways of forming causatives in Rilin. Some causatives are totally different lexical items, like the words for ‘die’ and ‘kill (i.e. ‘cause to die’)’: lɛmwa ‘die’, zansa ‘kill’. There is no morphological similarity between these words, but the latter could be analyzed as the causative of the former. These are examples of lexical causatives.

lɛmwa 'die'
zansa 'kill'

bɛsu 'eat'
miʃɪ 'feed'

zai 'move'
ɡɪzwo 'make move, replace'

Then there is the causative prefix, which changes an intransitive verb to a transitive verb.

lai 'come'
xalai 'bring, make come'

zaɾyxia 'rust'
xazaɾyxia 'renounce'

As can be seen in the above example, the synchronic connection between the intransitive and the transitive version of a given verb are not always the same and are not always obvious.

Bound Derivational Morphemes

There are a number of these types of morphemes. They typically either change the part of speech of a word or some nuance of semanic quality.

For some morphemes beginning in vowels, the final vowel of the stem (it if has one) may be deleted before the suffix is added: bewu ‘chant’ → bewæ ‘hymn’

  • abstract quality
  • -ɾa
  • -do
  • n → adj
  • -se
  • -n
  • n/v → adj
  • -bai: relating to x
  • -i
  • -xɔ: x-ful
  • adj → n
  • -ʂʌ
  • n → n
  • -p(ɪ): thing made from x
  • v → n
  • -ɾa: gerund
  • -ky: instance of v
  • -s: thing related to v
  • : that which has been v’d
  • -ja: cute little things relating to x
  • n → v
  • -a, -i
  • -me: make x
  • n/v/adj → n
  • -nai: place of x
  • -la: agent/person related to x
  • adj → adv
  • -ʃo
  • other:
  • mo-: “hidden” x
  • -hV-: “emphasis”
  • -lɔ: “emphasis”

Reflexive Pronouns

When the patient of a verb refers to the same argument that is the agent, there is a special suffix added to the pronoun to indicate that it is a reflexive pronoun: . This always comes directly after the pronoun and before any case marker.

Itap faɛt. ‘He sees him (someone else).’
Itap fasɛt. ‘He see himself.’

bɛʐusik ikaɛt. ‘She was protecting her (someone else).’
bɛʐusik ikasɛt. ‘She was protecting herself.’

The reflexive morpheme is not used with the first or second persons, for the obvious reason that there is no need for distinction between the first/second person and itself.

Intensive pronouns are formed by simply addinɡ the intensive particle na after the pronoun.

bædɪm faɛt ɪmɪas naǃ ‘I drank it myself!’