What we come to understand at home

Ebyénsetoyak Edayak

What we come to understand at home

Donald and Dolores Perrot



Lesson 1:  Dokin!  Wake Up!. 5

Animate vs. Inanimate. 6

Idioms…. 7

Lesson 2:  Gzinjén! Wash up!. 9

Body Parts. 10

Conversation Sample. 11

Lesson 3:  Biskonyén!  Get Dressed!. 13

Making Inanimate Things Plural 15

Lesson 4:  Gzhéba wisnewen! Breakfast! 17

Expressing “we” with verbs. 18

Using Animate Nouns. 19

Using Animate and Inanimate Verbs. 20

Phrase Work Exercise. 21

Lesson 5:  Ézhyét éje mikchéwit – He/She is going to where he/she works. 23

Telling Time. 24

Other Time Words. 25

Lesson 6:  Wi Skonowat Gi Penojék – Those kids are going to school 27

A School Day Conversation. 28

Information Questions. 30

Lesson 7:  Éje giwéyak – As we go home. 32

Expressing our feelings. 35

Lesson 8:  Ge Wisnemen Let’s Eat. 38

Table Manners. 38

Lesson 9:  Ge Binjegémen! Let’s Clean Up!. 42

Colors in Potawatomi 44

Lesson 10:  Gda nwéshmomen – We should rest. 46

Zhewébze and Zhewébek. 48

Wabdan, Wabma and Wabmek. 49

Lesson 11:  Cho mno yési. I don’t feel good. 50

Manipulating Body Parts. 52

Lesson 12:  Wi Ne Mban!  Go to Sleep!. 54

You are More Important than Me. 56

A Good Night Song. 57


Growing up in a traditional community, I did not go to school to learn my language.  I learned it at home.  I was surrounded by it from my mother’s womb.  I learned to speak naturally as a toddler, listening to the baby talk and colloquialisms of the day.  I was able to converse in 5 Neshnabék languages by the time I was six.  Multilingualism was the norm of day, when everyone spoke each other’s language and could understand what was said in one language while responding in another.  Mutual communication and respect of each other’s differences was inherent among us.

I first learned English at the age of 6…at school.   I did not just take English lessons.  I was immersed in it.  Every communication I had with my teachers, my peers, the bus drivers, the lunch ladies, the aides and custodians, all had to be in the target language:  English.  So I learned quickly, not because I had a set of 12 easy lessons, but because it was required for my survival. 

I remember with some sadness the first time I met Neshnabék people who did not speak their language.  As a young man, I approached a group of people who clearly looked “Indian” to me, only to find with much dismay that they could not understand any of the languages that I spoke.  They only understood English.  That first experience led to many, and I have witnessed first hand the decline and near disappearance of the languages of my childhood.

I have been steadfastly working with anyone who will take the time to learn the Potawatomi language for most of my life, from that first group of Neshnabék who asked me to translate what I had said to them, until this very moment of publishing this particular manual.  Having observed all of this, I have this statement to make:

This language must be returned to the home.

It was only by survival that it was permitted to go into language classrooms and departments and classes and lessons.  That had to be, temporarily, because it was so far gone, it needed to be pulled out of the fire, so to speak.  But the time has come to return it to the home.  This manual is intended to be used AT HOME, by families who are dedicated to learning, remembering, and using this language. 

Nin se Neaseno

A.k.a. Donald A Perrot

Lesson 1:  Dokin!  Wake Up!

Let’s start with a pretty basic Potawatomi word:


Nin means I, Me, My, or Mine, depending on how you use it.  This is a really great place to start, because: 

                Potawatomi is not English.

Words, and Particles (which are pieces of words), do not work the same way in Potawatomi as they do in English.  So Nin, and it’s particle “n”, does the same work as the English words I, Me, My, or Mine.

Nin ashtekMy turn
Nin ma i waboyanThat’s my blanket
Nin gézheMe too
Ngi dokiI woke up
Ngi neshkaI shook myself awake/became aware
Ngi bsegwiI got up
Nétem nwi madmoI will pray first or first I will pray
Shote nde jibdebI’m sitting here
Ndo mbagenMy bed
Ndo mbagen nwi mneschegéI will straighten my bed
Mbagnek nde jibdebI am sitting on the bed
Megwa mbagnek nde yéI am still in bed

Let’s glean from these phrases:

NounsVerbs“Nin” usesOther Words
Waboyan – blanketDoki – wake up/awakenNin – I, me, my, mineGézhe – too, also, or and.
Mbagen – bedNeshka – come to an awarenesss, fully awakenNgi – N+gi. Particles that mean “I” did something in the past.Shote – Here
 Bsegwi – get up/ariseNde – N+de.  Particles that mean “I” am presently doing something.Mbagnek – Bed Locative
 Madmo – prayNdo – N+do.  Particles that mean “my.”Nétem – First
 Jibdebe – sit (jibdeb is the nin form)Nwi – N+wi.  Particles that mean “I” will do something in the future.Mégwa – still, again, more
 Mneschegé – straighten, put in order Ma – a connecting particle
 Yé – location verb – be in a place Ashtek – a turn, take a turn
   I – that

From our gleaning, we should have the following discussion about this language:

  1. There are more verbs than nouns in Potawatomi.  Many beginner students will often ask “What is the word for…….”, and we encourage you to ask “how do I say” or “how do I use” rather than “what is the word for.”  Potawatomi is action oriented.  Many noun words are actually verb participles describing what the thing does.  Many adjectives and other concepts are verbs in Potawatomi. 
  2. Examine carefully how Nin is used.  The actual word Nin only appears in certain phrases.  When using it with verbs, the particle “n” is used for Nin. 
  3. Mbagen and Mbagnek – Potawatomi is not English.  English uses a lot of prepositions.  Potawatomi does not use prepositions the same way.  Mbagnek is a form of Mbagen that is called a Locative.  It means the location of the bed, and could be translated as “on the bed” or “at the bed.” 
  4. Mégwa has three listed meanings.  Please do not get stuck on one-word definitions or assume that each word has one meaning.  Consider words in English that have more than one meaning; the same thing exists in every language, so be flexible in your mind.  Mégwa is not “the word for” again, there are other words that can mean “again.”
  5. Ma is a connecting particle.  It does not have its own meaning; it takes its meaning from the words around it.  You will see this particle again.
  6. I is listed as “that,” but it is not the only word for “that.” The word “O” can also mean that.  These two tiny words will launch us into a discussion of animacy and inanimacy. 

Animate vs. Inanimate

Potawatomi grammar divides the world into two categories:  That which is alive, and that which is not alive. 

ANIMATE:  That which is alive, that which moves independently, that which grows, that which is connected to its source of life, that which is capable of moving or growing.

INANIMATE:  That which is not alive, that which does not move, that which cannot move independently, that which does not grow, that which has been disconnected from its source of life.   Note:  Something that is “dead” is not necessarily inanimate.  Inanimate is Not Alive, “dead” is not a proper explanation of this state. 

NOUNS CAN CHANGE ANIMATE STATES:  Many objects change animate states depending on how they are used.  In particular, plant foods and spiritual objects can take on animate or inanimate characteristics depending on the context. For example, pipes, drums, clouds, most fruits, dance bustles, snowshoes, shawls, feathers, vehicles, and thrown objects can change states of animacy.  Whether or not a noun is animate or inanimate in the moment depends on the action surrounding it. 

Now that you know that, let’s look at this word, Mbagen, an inanimate word.

Mbagen yawenIt is a bed
Mbagen ode yawenThis is a bed
Mbagen i yawenThat is a bed
Ode mbagenThis bed
I mbagenThat bed
Ndo mbagenMy bed
Nin ma ode mbagenThis is my bed
Nin ndebendan i mbagenI own that bed
In another lesson we will learn how to describe something animate.


An idiom is a word or phrase in a language that makes sense in that language but doesn’t translate well into other languages.  English is full of them.  We make a lot of stuff in English.  We make coffee, we make toys, we make tables and chairs, we make the bed, we make up our minds, we make sense, we make a fuss over something, we make messes, we make war, we make peace, we make music.  Each of these phrases makes sense in English, but they do not translate out well in Potawatomi. 

Let’s look at these two: 

Gapi ngi wzhetonI made coffee
Mbagen ngi mneschegéI made the bed
Gapi nwi o wzhetonI will go make coffee
Mbagen nwi o mneschegéI will go make the bed
WzhetonA verb of physically making something
MneschegéA verb of straightening up or putting things in order

Finally, here are some traditional morning words for you to enjoy and use:

BozhgezhépReally early morning, very early time of the morning, morning star time, around 3-4 in the morning.
GezhépEarly morning but still pre-dawn
MokékDawn – when the dark lightens and the colors begin to appear
WaséyabekSunrise – When the sunlight breaks through
GzhébaEarly morning after sunrise
WabenFull Morning, no more darkness, all is visible

Let’s see what you have learned!  Try to figure out these phrases based on what we just studied.

  1. Nin gézhe nde jibdeb shote
  2. Nwi madmo
  3. Gezhép ngi doki
  4. Gzhéba ngi neshka
  5. Nin ndebendan ode waboyan
  6. Gapi nde wzheton
  7. Nétem nwi bsegwi
  8. Mokék ngi madmo
  9. Waboyan ode yawen
  10. Gapi ode yawen
  11. Waboyan nwi o wzheton
  12. Waboyanek nde jibteb
  13. Waséyabek nwi doki
  14. Nétem nwi o mneschegé
  15. Nétem gapi nwi o wzheton
  16. Nin ndebendan ode gapi wnagen
  17. Nin ma i gapi
  18. Mégwa nde jibdeb shote
  19. Mégwa nde mneschegé
  20. Mégwa gapi nde wzheton

Lesson 2:  Gzinjén! Wash up!

Let’s look at another pretty basic Potawatomi word: 


Gin means you or your, again, depending on how you use it.  Gin is used when “you” is one person. We will learn more about plural pronouns later.  Most often when we use “you” in a sentence, we are either asking you a question, or telling you to do something.  Let’s talk about simple questions and commands.

Gin je?And you?
Gin ashtekYour turn
GzinjinWash your hands
Gwi o bkes ne?Will you go take a shower?
Ggi gziyabdé ne?Did you brush your teeth?
Gmbiwé ne?Are you wet?
Gin ma ne ode gziyabdenatek?Is this your toothbrush?
Gdo gzinjé’wenYour towel
Gdo gzinjéwgasYour washcloth
Babwijkén éje gzinjikWait at the sink
BkesonTake a shower/bath
Gzigwén                        Wash your face
NoskwetsonComb your hair
Gwinsesén kadéngénBraid your hair

Let’s glean from these phrases:

NounsVerbs“Gin” UsesOther words
Gziyabdéwen – toothbrushGzinjin – wash your handsGin – you, yourJe – a connecting particle
Gzinjé’wen – towelBkeso – Bathe, take a shower, take a bathGwi – G+wi.  Particles that mean you will do something in the futureNe – a Yes/no question mark
Gwinsesén – your hairGziyabdé – Brush teethGgi – G+gi.  Particles that mean you did something in the past.Ma – connecting particle
 Mbiwé – to be wetG- attached to a verb means you are doing something in the present. Ashtek – a turn
 Gzigwé – Wash your faceG- attached to a noun is a short way of saying something is yours.Ode – this
 Babwijké – waitGdo – G+do. Particles that mean something is yoursO – that, or go do something
 Noskwetso –comb, style, or fix one’s hair Éje gzinjik – a participle meaning sink
 Kadéngé – Braid  

From our gleanings, we shall have the following discussions about Potawatomi:

  1. Like Nin, Gin appears by itself rarely, and is most often a particle “g.”  When giving a command or instruction (imperative form), the “g” isn’t used at all, and is implied in the form. 
  2. Potawatomi is not English.  We don’t have a sink, we go to the place we wash our hands.  Éje gsinjik is a Participle, which means it is a verb that acts like a noun in a sentence. 
  3. Potawatomi is not English.  Many adjectives like Mbiwé are verbs in Potawatomi. 
  4. The tiny word “o” has more than one use.  When used with an animate noun, it means “that.”  But when placed between a pronoun/tense marker and a verb, it means someone is going to “go” do that thing. 
  5. There are two kinds of questions.  When using the particle “ne,” you are asking a question that can be answered by a simple yes or no.  There are more complicated questions that ask for information, which we will learn later.
  6. Body parts make for interesting grammar.  Let’s explore this in more detail.

Body Parts

In Potawatomi grammar, most body parts are considered inanimate.  This is because the body, which is animate, is the sum total of its parts, and individual body parts do not function on their own without the rest of the body. 

Body parts are also considered “inalienably possessed,” which has nothing to do with aliens, but means simply that they cannot be given away.  This means you will very rarely see words for body parts on their own without referencing WHO the body part belongs to. 

When using body parts in conversations, there are construct forms of body parts.  When using these, the construct forms often form body-based verbs.

Body PartConstruct FormSample VerbCommand Form
Nibden – My teethYabdé –  teethGziyabdé – Brush teethGziyabdé’on
Nenji – my handNejé – handGzinjé – wash handsGzinjin
Nzet – my footZedé – footGzinzedé – wash feetGzinzedén
Njash – my noseJané – noseGzinjané – wipe noseGzinjanén
Ndon – my mouthDoné – mouthGzindoné – wipe mouthGzindonén

While there are many obvious patterns in Potawatomi, there are also exceptions.  Not every body part falls into this pattern.  The word for My Heart, Ndéh, is considered animate. 

Conversation Sample

Babwijkén éje gzinjik Wait at the sinkShote nde babwijgé I’m waiting at the sink
Gzigwén Wash your faceNgi gish gzigwén I already washed my face
Oh?  Ggi bkes ne? Oh? Did you bathe?Éhé ngi gish bkes Yes I already bathed
Gziyabdé’on Brush your teethNgi gish gziyabdé I already brushed my teeth
Gdébwé ne? Are you being truthful?Ummm…nemetsena?
Ode ne gziyabdéwen? This your toothbrush?Éhé Yes
Cho mbiwési ode This is not wet.Ummm…  
Gziyabdé’on ngi ket I said brush your teeth.Ahau nwi gziyabdé’on OK I will brush my teeth.

A few last pointers…

“Gish” attached to a verb means something is finished or has already happened. 

“Éhé” is one way to say yes, and “Cho” means no.  To make a “not” verb, add a si to the end of it.  We will keep practicing this.

“Ngi ket” means “I said.”  There are lots of other ways to express speech in the language, this is just a start.

“Gdébwé ne?” Is a simple way to question someone as to their truthfulness.  Débwéwen means Truth.

Let’s see what you have learned!  Try to figure out these phrases based on what we just studied.

  1. Nin ma ode gzinjé’wen
  2. Ngi gish bkes
  3. Nde gzingwé
  4. Gbabwijké ne éje gzinjik?
  5. Ggi gish noskwetso ne?
  6. Nwinsesén nwi o kadéngé
  7. Ode ne gdo gzinjéwgas?
  8. Nin ndebendan ode gziyabdéwen
  9. Gin gdebendan ne i gziyabdéwen?
  10. Gin ashtek o bkeson
  11. Ndébwé
  12. Débwén!
  13. Babwijkén ngi ket!
  14. Ode se njash
  15. Jibdeben
  16. Dokin!
  17. Neshkan!
  18. Gwi doki ne?
  19. Mégwa ne mbagnek gde yé?
  20. Madmon

Lesson 3:  Biskonyén!  Get Dressed! 

Let’s continue to focus on these two words: 

                Nin and Gin.

Here are some phrases about getting dressed:

BiskonyénGet dressed
GiskonyénGet undressed
Bisken odePut this on
Gisken iTake that off
AskonyénChange your clothes
Bisken i biskewagenPut on that shirt/jacket
Bisken i wiwkwanPut on that cap
Bisken i mjegodéPut on that dress
Zenba biskewagen nde biskemI am wearing a ribbon shirt
Ndo mishatsowen nwi biskemI will wear my regalia
Mkesnen ne gwi biskem?Will you wear shoes?
I wiwkwan ne ggi biskem?Did you wear that hat?
Gisken i wiwkwanTake off that cap
Askon i biskewagenChange that shirt
Ode se ndo moshwéThis is my shawl
Nin ma node biskemwenenThese are my clothes
Askon gdo badoshkgadékChange your underwear
Séchken nwi wzhetonI will make a woman’s traditional blouse
Mjedasnen gwi wzhetonen ne?Will you make leggings?
Ndo gbedi nwi o askenI will go change my pants
Gokmedasnen nwi o biskenI will go put on socks

Let’s break down these phrases and see what we have:

NounsVerbPronoun UsesOther words
Biskewagen – a shirt, jacket, or coatBiskonyé – get dressedCommand forms have “you” impliedOde – This
Wiwkwan – capGiskonyé – Get undressedNgi – N+gi. Particles that mean “I” did something in the past.I – That (inanimate)
Mjegodé – DressBisken – put something onNde – N+de.  Particles that mean “I” am presently doing something.Ne – a Yes/no question mark
Zenba – ribbonGisken – take something offNdo – N+do.  Particles that mean “my.”Ma – connecting particle
Mishatsowen – regalia or fancy clothingAskonyén – change clothingNwi – N+wi.  Particles that mean “I” will do something in the future.O – that, or go do something
Mkesnen – shoesAsken – Change a specific article of clothing.  Askon is the command form.Gwi – G+wi.  Particles that mean you will do something in the futureNode = These (inanimate things)
Moshwé – ShawlBiskem – wear somethingGgi – G+gi.  Particles that mean you did something in the past.Badoshkgadék – Underwear.  This is a participle.
Séchken – woman’s traditional blouseWzheto – To make somethingG- attached to a verb means you are doing something in the present.  
Mjedasnen – leggings N- or G- attached to a noun is a short way of saying something is mine or yours. 
Gbediyen – pants Gdo – G+do. Particles that mean “your” 
Gokmedasnen – socks   

From our gleaning, we have the following lessons to learn:

  1. Plenty of nouns to work with this time, eh?  There are nouns in this language, there are just more verbs, so we started with verbs.
  2. Much of this lesson is a review of concepts we have already learned.  We are just putting the pronouns into new contexts. 
  3. Most articles of clothing are considered inanimate, especially in the context of getting dressed or undressed.  However, be aware that many dance articles and special accoutrements can be animate when in use, such as shawls, bustles, snowshoes, and gloves.               
  4. Badoshkgadék is a participle, which is a verb that is functioning as a noun in a sentence.  Badoshkgadék, translated as underwear, means That which is worn between you and your clothes.
  5. There is a difference in the verbs when we get dressed or undressed generally, and we when we interact with specific articles of clothing.  When we do something with a specific article of clothing, it is called “transitive” because the action transfers from the person to the object. 
  6. There are clothing items that are singular and clothing items that are plural. Most of the time when you make something inanimate plural, an extra “n” sound is added. Let’s explore this further:

Making Inanimate Things Plural

OneMore than One
Gokmedas (sock)Gokmedasnen (socks)
Gokmedasen (sock)Gokmedasnen (socks)
Mjedasen (legging)Mjedasnen (leggings)
Mjegodé (dress)Mjegodéyen (dresses)
Mkesen (shoe)Mkesnen (shoes)
Gbedi (pants)Gbediyen (pants)
Biskewagen (shirt or jacket)Biskewagnen (shirts or jackets)
Mishatsowen (regalia or fancy clothes)Mishatsownen (fancy clothing)
Wiwkwan (cap)Wiwkwanen (caps)
Moshwé (shawl)Moshwéyen (shawls)
Séchken (traditional blouse)Séchknen (traditional blouses)

Let’s see what you have learned!  Try to figure out these phrases based on what we just studied.

  1. Ode se ndo mjegodé
  2. Ndo mjegodé nwi o bisken
  3. Ndo mjegodé nde biskem
  4. Séchken ne gwi wzheton?
  5. Nwi o askonyé                 
  6. Ndo gokmedasnen nwi o asken
  7. Node ne gdo mkesnen?
  8. Gisken gdo mkesnen     
  9. Gisken gdo biskewagen
  10. Ode mishatsowen ngi wzheton
  11. O askonyén
  12. Waboyan nwi o bisken
  13. Mégwa ne i biskewagen gde biskem?
  14. Séchken ode yawen
  15. Ode se ndo mishatsowen
  16. Gisken gdo mkesnen shote
  17. Mneschegén node biskemwenen
  18. Mbiwé ode wiwkwan
  19. Ndo gzinjé’wen nde biskem mteno!  (mteno means “only”)
  20. Babwijken, nwi o biskonyé! (giskonyé or askonyé)

Lesson 4:  Gzhéba wisnewen! Breakfast!

Let’s look at our first 2 plural pronouns:

                Ninan and Ginan

Ninan means we, us, or ours.  Ginan means we, us, or ours.  They are used in different contexts depending on who is talking and who is listening.  Ninan is used when the speaker wants to exclude someone from the statement, usually whoever is considered “you.” Ginan is used when the speaker wants to include everyone in the statement. 

Wawnon ngi zaskokwadanenI fried eggs
Wawnon ngi zaskokwadamenWe- fried eggs
Penyek nwi zaskokwanakI will fry potatoes
Penyek nwi zaskokwanamenWe- will fry eggs
Gapi gde wzhetonYou are making coffee
Gapi gde wzhetomenWe+ are making coffee
Gwi gapiké ne?Will you make coffee?
Gwi gapikémen ne?Will we+ make coffee?
Negshisen nde gisnenI am cooking sausages
Negshisen nde gisamenWe- are cooking sausages
Bidi nde giswaI am cooking chicken
Bidi nde giswamenWe- are cooking chicken
Wawnon nde wisenI am eating eggs
Wawnon nde wisnemenWe- are eating eggs
Wawnon nde mijenI am eating eggs
Wawnon nde mijnemenWe- are eating eggs
Wawnon gde mijnemenWe+ are eating eggs
Ge wisnemenLet’s eat
Penyek nde mwaI am eating potatoes
Penyek nde mwamenWe- are eating potatoes
Penyek gde mwamenWe+ are eating potatoes

From these phrases let’s glean the following:

NounsVerbsNinan/Ginan usesOther words
Wawnon – eggsZaskokwadan – fry something inanimateN+gi+verb+men means we- did somethingNe – yes/no question mark
Penyek – PotatoesZaskokwana – fry something animateN+wi+verb+men means we- will do something 
Negshisen – sausagesWzheton – make somethingG+de+verb+men means we+ are doing something 
Gapi – coffeeGapiké – make coffeeG+wi+verb+men means we+ will do something 
Mkekwabo – another word for coffeeGisen – Cook something inanimateGe+verb+men means Let’s do something 
 Giswa – Cook something animate  
 Wisen – Eat  
 Mijen – Eat something inanimate  
 Mwa – Eat something animate  

There are 2 major themes in these phrases: 

  1. How to use “we” with verbs
  2. The difference between animate and inanimate nouns and verbs

Expressing “we” with verbs

There is a pattern for expressing “we” with verbs:  n(or g) + tense particle + verb + men.  You probably were not expecting math, but when you learn patterns, you don’t have to memorize long lists of phrases.  If you know your verb, and you know your pronouns, then you can quickly make conversation, just like you do in the language you use daily. 

Use Ninan when you want to exclude your listener from what you are doing.  For example:  wawnon ngi zaskokwadamen would mean We fried eggs but not you, just us, you didn’t do it.  Use Ginan when you want to include your listener.  For example:  wawnon gde mijnemen would mean we are all eating eggs including you.  When you use something like “Ge wisnemen,” meaning “Let’s eat,” this is a Ginan form, everyone is included. 

Using Animate Nouns

Pen yaweIt is a potato
Pen ode yaweThis is a potato
Pen o yaweThat is a potato
Ode penThis potato
O penThat potato
Ndo penMy pen
Nin ma ode penThis is my potato
Nin ndebenma o penI own that potato

When something animate becomes plural, a -k sound is attached to the end.  Do not assume that all nouns that end in -k are animate plurals.  Some are locatives, and some are participles. 

Pen – potatoPenyék or PenikAnimate noun
Bidi – chickenBidikAnimate noun
Shkishek – eyesShkishgwénInanimate noun
Badoshkadék – underwear Inanimate Participle
Bémadzet – PersonBémadsejekAnimate Participle
Mbagnek – at the bed Locative
Kakawsoyak – Popcorn Inanimate Participle
Gigo – fishGigoyekAnimate noun
Gishek – dayGishgwénInanimate noun
Wigwam – houseWigwamenInanimate noun
WIgwamek – at the house Locative
Nene – manNenwikAnimate noun
Kwé – womanKwékAnimate noun
GIgabé – boyGigabék or GigabéyekAnimate noun
Gigyago – girlGigyagok or gigyagoyekAnimate noun

Using Animate and Inanimate Verbs

When you interact with things in Potawatomi, grammar requires you to consider whether they are alive or not.

Wawen nde zaskokwadanI am frying an eggInanimate
Wawnon nde zaskokwadanenI am frying eggsInanimate plural
Wawnon nde zaskokwadamenWe are frying eggsInanimate plural – the verb is more worried about the people being plural than the eggs
Pen nde zaskokwanaI am frying a potatoAnimate
Penik nde zaskokwanakI am frying potatoesAnimate plural
Penik nde zaskokwanamenWe are frying potatoesAnimate plural – the verb is more worried about the people being plural than the potatoes

It is very easy to memorize words and phrases, but this is not how you learn to speak a language.  When we were babies, first born into this world, our incredible minds that we were given were like empty sponges.  They soaked up all the sound and meanings and nuances all around us.  As little toddlers, we pretty much understood everything that was spoken to us, and as we grew and stood on two legs, we suddenly began making noises and those noises had meaning, and then one day, we surprised our parents by shouting out something we heard them say.  We might not have known the full meaning, but we knew that it meant something by the reaction we got!  And we kept talking and kept talking, until language was fully formed in our brains, and meaning and symbolism settled in. 

Learning a second language is going through this process all over again, except our minds are not empty sponges waiting to soak something up, they are full and overloaded sponges that can only take so much more at a time.  In order to truly learn a second language, we do not just memorize words and compare them to our first language, we must learn the patterns of the second language (called grammar), the meaning of the words (vocabulary), and the symbolism of the language (culture). 

We should not be satisfied with a one word definition of a word in the language.  Each of these words mean so much more than their simple English definition, and they can have multiple meanings based on the context.   We should not be satisfied with learning one phrase, but we should be able to pull apart the pieces of that phrase and use it to create more phrases that have meaning and context.

Phrase Work Exercise

Here are some phrases that are missing a piece.  Make as many phrases as you can out of these building blocks.  Look on the next page for some ideas for words…or use ones you already know.

  1.  Hé! Nasana!  ______________________ nde zaskokwadamen shote!

Hey! Be careful! We are frying ____________ here!

(make sure that whatever you are frying is inanimate)

  • Hé! Nasana!  _______________________ nde zaskokwanamen shote!

Hey! Be careful! We are frying ______________ here!

(make sure that whatever you are frying is animate)

  • Mbekté ne?  __________________ ngi gisamen

Are you hungry?  We cooked ___________________.

(something inanimate)

  • Mbekté ne? __________________ ngi giswamen

Are you hungry? We cooked ___________________.

(something animate)

  • Cho ____________ ngi wisnesi

I didn’t eat ________________ (inanimate)

  • Cho ____________ ngi mwasi

I didn’t eat ________________ (animate)

  • ____________________ ngi mijnemen

We ate ___________________________ (inanimate)

  • ____________________ ngi mwamen

We are ________________________ (animate)

Some Animate and Inanimate foods for use in the exercise: 
Bidi – chickenBidi wiyasen – pieces of chicken
Gigo – fishMshimnen  – apples, processed or not so fresh
Gokosh – pigGokosh wiyasen – pieces of pork, can be ham
Dé’menek – fresh strawberriesDé’menen – not so fresh strawberries, or processed strawberries (cut, frozen, mashed, etc)
Seksi – deerBashkmen – jam
Penik – potatoesPkwéshgen – bread
Shegagoshek – onionsSeksi wiyas – pieces of venison
Kojések – beans (whole)Mbop – soup
Msesé – turkeyPeniwabo – potato soup
Bné – turkey (another word)Bidi mbop – chicken soup
Mshimnek – fresh applesMshimnabo – apple juice
Mdamnek – CornKojésen – mashed or fried beans
Participle foods:  treat these like inanimate singular nouns
Washkpek – Sugar, something sweet
Dékyak – Ice cream, something cold
Waskek – Pepper, something spicy
Zisbakwet – Maple Sugar
Kakowzoyak – Popcorn
Bneksegnek – Hominy

Lesson 5:  Ézhyat éje mikchéwit – He/She is going to where he/she works

Let’s look at another Potawatomi word:


Pronounced Ween.  It means someone else.  It can mean He, She, Him, Her, It, His, or Hers.  There is no gender attached to it.  It is simply a third person in the conversation.  Nin, Gin, Win.  Me, You, someone else.  That someone else can be a person, an animal, or any animate being.

MikchéwiHe/She is working
MIkchéwitHe/she is working OR the one who is working
Gi mikchéwiHe/she worked
Wnago gi mikchéwiHe/she worked yesterday
Wi mikchéwiHe/she will work
Wabek wi mikchéwiTomorrow he/she will work
Nétem wi mikchéwiFirst, he/she will work
Shote wi mikchéwiHe/she will work here
Mégwa wi mikchéwiHe/she is still working
Gi gish mikchéwiHe/she has finished working
Ibe gi mikchéwiHe/she worked there
Mikchéwi o n’os ngomMy father is working today
Mikchéwi o ngyé ngomMy mother is working today
Égmegishek émikchéwit o nmeshomesMy grandfather works every day
Gbégishek gi mikchéwi o nokmesMy grandmother worked all day
GméyamgetIt is raining
BonimgetIt is snowing
MnogishgetIt is a nice day
NgwankwetIt is cloudy
Gi gméyamgetIt rained
Wi bonimgetIt will snow

Let’s break these phrases apart in detail:

NounsVerbsWin usesOther words
N’os – my fatherMikchéwi – workingThe verb alone is in we form. Wnago – Yesterday
Ngyé – my motherGméyamget – it is rainingA -t at the end of a verb may be usedWabek – tomorrow
Nmeshomes – my grandfatherBonimget – It is raining Ngom – Today
Nokmes – my grandmotherMnogishget – It is a nice day Egmegishek – every day
 Ngwankwet – it is cloudy Gbégishek – All day
   Ibe – There
REVIEW:  Find the words shote, nétem, mégwa, gish, o, gi, wi in previous lessons.

We can learn the following from that breakdown

  1. Terms for our relatives are relative.  Just like our body parts always belong to us, so do our relatives.
N’osMy father
G’osYour father
W’osenHis/her father
N’osnanOur father (not yours)
G’osnanOur father (all of ours)
G’oswaY’all’s father (we will learn ginwa in the next lesson)
W’oswanTheir father (we will learn winwa in the next lesson)

This is a pattern that will be repeated, and we will practice it.

  • Unlike the other pronouns thus far, you don’t do much to a verb when He/she is doing something.  Sometimes you add a -t.  Sometimes you add a -wak.
  • The verbs listed for weather are not animate, and Win has nothing to do with them, even though they end in -t.  Many weather verbs are considered inanimate, and they describe a condition of the atmosphere, not what someone or something is doing.
  • We have 5 important new words in this lesson, which you will need going forward:
GbégishekAll day

These words can easily be practiced with the verbs and the tenses.

Telling Time

In Potawatomi, we can tell time by traditional words, or we can tell time by the clock.  Let’s start by learning numbers 1-12:

Nyannen5Mdatso shech ngot11
Ngotwatso6Mdatso shech nish12

To tell time to the hour, use “dbegenék.”  Ngot dbegenék = One O’Clock, and so on.

Other Time Words

GezhépEarly morning (pre-dawn)
GzhébaEarly morning
Bwamshe NawkwékBefore noon
GizhaptadbeketAfter midnight
BgozhgezhépVery Early Morning

Most time words fall into the category of Locative.  They mark a location in time.  This helps us know how to use them.  Here are some simple review phrases, which can help us review what we have learned so far: 

Nyanno dbegenék ngi dokiI woke up at 5:00
Géshep gi doki o n’osMy father woke up before dawn
Wi gméyamget gizhnawkwékIt will rain in the afternoon
Nin gézhe ngi doki gezhépMe too I woke up before dawn
Nawkwék ngi gish mikchéwiI finished working at noon
Zhak dbgenék wi mikchéwi o ngyéMy mother will work at 9:00
Ge wisnemen bgeshmokLet’s eat at sundown

Another fill in the blank exercise…How many phrases can you make out of these statements? 

  1. Egmegishek __________________________
  2. Gbégishek gi _________________ o nmeshomes
  3. _____________ ngi mikchéwi
  4. _____________ ngi mikchéwimen
  5. Gzhéba ngi __________________
  6. Wabek ne gwi __________________?
  7. Cho ngi ____________________ ngom
  8. Nwi ________________ nyanno dbegenék
  9. ________________ ngi biskem wnago
  10. Wawnon ngi ____________________ gzhéba
  11. Shote nmikchéwimen _______________________
  12. Ibe ngi bkes ________________________
  13. Nétem nwi ____________________________
  14. Gi gméyamget _____________
  15. _____________________ gi wisnet o ngyé
  16. _____________________ gi wzheton o nene
  17. Cho ngi mikchéwisimen ________________________
  18. Cho gi mikchéwisit o ______________ ngom
  19. Ggi _________________ ne wnago?
  20. Mégwa ________________ o gigyago

Lesson 6:  Wi Skonowat Gi Penojék – Those kids will be going to school

Our final 2 pronouns are:

Ginwa and Winwa.

Ginwa is the plural “you.”  It is often translated as y’all for convenience.  Winwa is They, Them, or Their.  Like Win, it has no attached gender. 

The difference between Gin and Ginwa:

Ggi bkes ne?Did you take a shower?Ggi bkesom ne?Did y’all take a shower?
Gwi mikchéwi ne?Will you work?Gwi mikchéwim ne?Will y’all work?
Wawnon ne gwi gisen?Will you cook eggs?Wawnon ne gwi gisam?Will y’all fry eggs?
Dokin!Wake up!Dokik!Wake up y’all!
Gégo bsegwikenDon’t get upGégo bsegwikékDon’t get up y’all

What do we notice here?

  1. When talking about Ginwa, an extra -m appears at the end of most of the verbs.  This happens in most simple verbs, and when interacting with an inanimate object. 
  2. When giving a command, instead of ending with an -n, the imperative verb ends with a -k when a command is given to more than one person
  3. Gégo! Spoken sharply means “stop” or “don’t.”  It is an idiom.  In other phrases, the word “gégo” can mean “something.”  But for purposes of telling someone NOT to do something, Gégo+verb+ken for one person, and Gégo+verb+kék for more than one person.

The difference between Win and Winwa:

Gi mikchéwi o neneThat man workedGi mikchéwik gi nenwikThose men worked
Gi wisnet o kwéThat woman ateGI wisnek gi kwékThose women ate
Gi doki o gigabéThat boy woke upGi dokik gi gigabékThose boys woke up
Gi bsegwi o gigaygoThat girl got upGi bsegwik gi gigyagoyekThose girls got up
Mjegodé gi wzheton o ngyéMy mother made a dressMjegodé gi wzhetonawa gi n’okmesekMy grandmothers made a dress

What do we notice here?

  1. When He/she becomes They, an extra k is added to the end of the verb.  It seems that certain endings are used in multiple ways and contexts. That means the listener needs to pay attention to the context of what is being said.
  2. When there is an inanimate object in the sentence, the verb ending changes to -awa if “they” are interacting with it. 

A School Day Conversation

Wgyéwan:  Hau, ge wisnemen! Gzhiwtam ne éskonoyék?Mom:  Ok, Let’s eat!  Are y’all ready for school?
Wdansen:  Ni pi je ndo mkesnen?Daughter:  Where are my shoes?
Wgwesen: Ni je wa je wisneygo?Son:  What are we gonna eat?
Wdansen: Ni je tso yawek?Daughter:  What time is it?
Wgyéwan:  Noég mine apte dbegenék, wawnon, negshisen mine kesanen gwi wisnemen, shkwadémek éték gdo mkesnen.Mom:  It’s 7:30, we are having eggs, sausage, and toast, and your shoes are by the door.
Wgwesen:  Abdek mami she nwi bya skonogemekSon: I have to arrive early to school
Wgyéwan:  NI JE WI SHE?Mom:  WHY?
Wgwesen:  Mamkaj msenegen nwi mkan égi ngetoyanSon:  I have to find a book I lost
Wdansen:  Mégwa ne kesanen gdeton?Daughter:  Do you have more toast?
Wgyéwan: Ode msenegen ne?Mom:  This book?
Wgwesen:  Oh, éhé, i yé i.Son:  Oh, yes, that’s it.
Wdansen:  Néné, megwa ne kesanen?Daughter:  Mom, More toast?
Wgyéwan:  Ézhi éték dopwenekMom:  Over there it’s on the table
Wgwesen:  Sneget éwawidayan ode msenegenSon:  It’s difficult to read this book
Wgyéwan:  Abdek kenomagwet gwi najdoMom:  You must ask your teacher
Wdansen:  Ni pi je ndo mkesnen?Daughter:  Where are my shoes?
Wgyéwan:  Shkwademek ngi ketMom:  By the door I said
Wgwesen:  Ni pi je ndo wiwkwan?Son:  Where’s my hat?
Wgyéwan:  Taswenek éték i.  Kyénep!  Byéwak o mbusen.  Bidkesnek!Mom:  It’s in the closet.  Hurry!  The bus is coming.  Get in your shoes!
Wdansen:  Cho mkesnen ngi mkanasiDaughter:  I didn’t find my shoes.
Wgyéwan:  Dbabdan shkwadémek nek she ézhi!Mom:  Check by the door look there!
Wdansen:  OH, néné, mkesnen ngi mkanen. Daughter:  Oh, mom, I found my shoes!
Wgyéwan:  Ahau, ZAGJESÉK!! Gaga wi byéwak o mbusen!  Bsedok gi kenomagéwjek mine dadokmebek!Mom:  Oh, GET OUTSIDE!  The bus is coming soon!  Listen to your teachers and behave!
Wgwesen mine wdansen:  Ok, bama nagech gwabmenan!  Gdebanmenan!Son and Daughter:  Ok, we will see you later!  We love you!

Let’s look at some of the vocabulary from this conversation:

NounsVerbsOther wordsParticles
Wgyéwan – Their MotherWisne – eatHau – greeting, acknowledgementGe – about to do something
Wdansen – Her daughterZhiwta – get readyNoég – 7Ne – yes/no question
Wgwesen – Her sonSkono – go to schoolMine – and, again, or alsoNi pi je – This combination of particles means “where”
Mkesnen – shoesYawek – it isApte – HalfNdo – N+do = my, unless the noun has a -nan at then end, then it’s “our.”
Negshisen – sausagesÉték – It is at a locationDbegenék – O’clockNi je – This combination of particles means “what” or “who.”
Kesanen – Toast (pieces)Byé/Bya – come or arriveShkwadémek – at/by the doorWa je – something happens in the future, or has a purpose
Shkwadém – doorMkan – find somethingAbdek – Have to, mustNi je tso – This combination of particles means “how many”
Skonogemek – schoolNgeton – Lose something.  Nnegton – variantMami – early or soonGwi – g+wi = you will do something, y’all will do something, or we will do something.  Check the verb.
Msenegen – book or paperSneget – be difficultMamkaj – Must or have toGdo = G+do = Your, unless the noun has a -nan at the end, then it’s “our.”
To – have or put somethingWawidan – read somethingMégwa – still or moreShe – a connecting particle
Néné – momBama – WaitOde – thisNwi = n+wi = I will do something, we will do something, check the verb.
Dopwen – TableNajdo – Ask someoneÉhé – yesNi je wi – This combination of particles means “how” or “why”
Mbusen – Bus (slang)Dbabdan – check on somethingÉzhi – Over thereÉgi – a factive + past tense, what comes after should be a truthful conjunct
Kenomagwet – one who teachesBidkesen – get in shoesDopwenek – at/by/on the tableI yé i – particle idiom that means “that’s it”
Kenomagewjek – teachersNek – look at something (slang)Taswenek – at/by/in closet or cabinetO – that animate thing
 Kedo – say somethingKyénep – Hurry!Wi – something will happen in the future
 Zagjesé – go outsideGaga – soonGi – past tense in front of a verb, those animate things with a plural noun
 Wabma – see someoneCho – No 
 Ndebana – Love someoneZhi – there 
 Bsedwa – Listen to someoneNagech – Later 
 Dadokmeben – Behave  

Information Questions

The best way to learn about asking questions involving information is to see it in conversation.

  1. There is a difference between asking for affirmation and asking for information.  If you can answer the question with a yes or a no, it’s asking for affirmation.  If you have to supply a who, what, when, where, or why, then it’s asking for information. 
  2. When asking a simple yes/no question, just pop a “ne” in the sentence.  Try, if possible, not to end the sentence with a “ne.”  Also, do not slip a “ne” between the tense and the verb.  If you do, you have changed the verb to mean you are starting to do something. 
  3. When asking an information question, a completely different kind of verb pattern is used.  This pattern is called Conjunct or Subordinate.  It means that it can’t stand alone, it has to be used in certain situations or be connected to another verb or phrase. 
  4. If you were to walk into a room full of people, and with no prompting or context, suddenly announce: “To buy milk,” it wouldn’t make sense.  But if you said, “I’m going to buy some milk,” that would make sense. 
  5. If someone asked you, “Where are you going?” and you answered, “to buy milk,” it would make sense in the conversation, although randomly announcing “to buy milk” would not. 
Nwi zhya – I will goÉzhyayan – to go (me)
Gwi zhya – You will goÉzhyayen – to go (you)
Wi zhyéwak – He/she will goÉzhyat – to go (he/she)
Nwi zhyamen – We- will goÉzhyayak – to go (us but not you)
Gwi zhyamen – We+ will goÉzhyaygo – to go (we including you)
Gwi zhyam – Y’all will goÉzhyayék – to go (y’all)
Wi zhyék – They will goÉzhyawat – to go (they)
  •  The question words Who What When and Where in English are created in Potawatomi by particles.  Here are particle combinations that are used to ask information questions:
Wégni jeWhat?
Wéni je?Who?
Ni je?What or Who?
Ni je na?Why or How? Also an idiom for How are you
NI pi je?Where?
Ni je pi ?When?
NI je tso?How many?
Ni je étse?How much?
Ni je wi zheWhy?

Here are some information questions.  Answer them in Potawatomi with appropriate information:

  1. Ni pi je ézhyayen?  Where are you going?
  2. Ni pi je ézhyat o gg’oswa? Where is y’all’s father going? 
  3. Ni je ézhechkéyen?  What are you doing?
  4. Ni je émikchéwit shote ngom?  Who is working here today?
  5. Ni je pi ébyayen?  When are you coming?
  6. Ni je pi ébkezoyék?  When are y’all gonna bathe?
  7. Ni je wi she ézhechkéyen ode?  Why are you doing this?
  8. Ni je pi éwisneygo? When do we eat?
  9. Ni je tso yawek?  How many is it? Or What time is it?
  10. Ni je étse dbegenék? How much on the clock?  Or What time is it?
  11. Ni je na ginwa?  How are you all?
  12. Ni pi je wéj byayen?  Where did you come from?
  13. Ni je ézhyat zhi? Who is going there?
  14. Ni je pi ga dokiyen? When did you wake up?
  15. Ni je émadmoyen?  What are you praying?
  16. Ni je ézhewébek zagech?  What is happening outside? Or What is the weather?
  17. Ni je ga zhechkéyen éskonoyen?  What did you do at school?
  18. Ni pi je ga wje ngetoyen gwiwkwan?  Where did you lose your cap?
  19. Ni pi je ga wje mkanayen ndo wiwkwan?  Where did you find my cap?
  20. Ni pi je ézhyawat?  Where are they going?

Lesson 7:  Éje giwéyak – As we go home

There is a verb in Potawatomi that means “to return home”:  Giwé.  It is used very simply like this:

Nde giwéI am returning home
Ngi giwéI returned home
Ngi giwémenWe- came home
Gwi giwémenWe+ will return home
Gda giwémY’all should go home
Nge giwéI am about to go home
Wi giwét o penojéThat boy will return home
Da giwét o gnikanYour friend should go home
Gi giwéwat nmeshomes mine n’okmesMy grandfather and grandmother went home
Ni je pi égiwéyen?When will you go/come/return home?
Ni je pi égiwéyékWhen will y’all go/come/return home?
Ni je na égiwéyen?How will you go home?
Ni je wi she égiwéyen?Why are you going home?
Wéni je ga giwét?Who went home?
Wéni je wa giwéwat?Who will go home? (plural)
Wéni je ode gawet?Who is this one who went home? (participle)

Now let’s try something new.  We will make a compound question:

                Ni je wa zhechkéyen éje giwéyen?                           

                What will you do when you go home?

Notice that we used 2 conjunct verbs, and connected them with particles.  This is not hard to do, but does require a bit of thinking, because you have to consider who is doing each part of the action.

                Ni je wa zhechkéyen wa je giwét o gyéyom?

                What will you do when your mother gets home?

Wgwesen:  Ahau, nin se nde giwé!Son:  Oh, I’m home!
Wgyéyen:  Gidkesnen! Ni pi je gshimés?Mom:  Get out of your shoes!  Where is your younger sibling
Wgwesen:  Wika she wi byéwak.  Wi bosego égiwét ngi ndenekSon:  She is coming late.  She told me she has a ride home
Wgyéyen:  Oh? Ni je ébosegot?Mom:  Oh? Who is giving her a ride?
Wgwesen:  NemetsenaSon:  I don’t know
W’osen: Ahau, shote éyéyan!Dad: Ok, here I am!
Wgyéyen:  Oh, byéjémshenMom:  Oh, come kiss me
W’osen:  Ngwes nde wabma.  Ni pi je o ndanes?Dad:  I see my son.  Where is my daughter?
Wgwesen:  Wika she wi byéwak.  Wi bosego weye ngi ndenekSon:  She is coming late. She told me she has a ride from someone
W’osen:  Oh?  Wégwéndek se weyeDad:  Oh?  I wonder who it is
Wgyéyen:  Ahau, ngi gish gisen, mdamnabo mine zaskokwaték ngi wzhetonMom:  Ok, I’m done cooking, I made corn soup and frybread
W’osen mine wgwesen:  OH, MBEKTÉMENDad and son:  Oh, WE ARE HUNGRY
Wgyéyen:  Kyétnam ne?Mom:  Really?
W’osen:  Gdansénan ne gda babwi’amen?Dad:  Should we wait for our daughter?
Wdansen:  Ahau, wika she nde giwé!  Shote nde yéDaughter:  Ok, I’m home late!  I’m here!
W’osen:  Ni pi je ga wje éyéyen?Dad:  Where have you been?
Wdansen:  Igwan o wadokwet ngi bosego, dawéwgemek égi zhyayak éje gishpnedoyak zenba wa je wzhetoyak mjegodéyenDaughter:  My best friend gave me a ride, we went to the store to get ribbon to make dresses
Wgyéyen:  Gda ndenen bwamshe ézhechkéyen gégoMom:  You should tell me before doing something
Wdansen:  Ahau, I yé i nwi zhechkéDaughter:  ok, I will do
W’osen:  Ahau, ge wisnemen. Dad:  Ok, let’s eat

We can glean a lot of vocabulary from this exchange:

NounsVerbsOther WordsParticles
Wgwesen: His/her sonGiwé – to go/come homeAhau – greeting, acknowledgementSe – connecting particle
Wgyéyen – His/Her motherGidkesnen – Get out of your shoesNin – I, Me, My, MineNde – Nin is presently doing something
Gshimés – Your younger siblingByéwak – he/she is coming or arrivingWika – lateNi pi je – combination asks Where?
W’osen – his/her fatherBosego – receive a ride, from “bos” to rideNemetsena – I don’t know, an Idiom.Wi – something will happen in the future
Ngwes – My sonNdenek – be told something by someoneShote – hereShe – connecting particle
Ndanes – my daughterYé – To be in a placeWeye – someoneNgi – Nin did something in the past
Mdamnabo – corn soupByéjémshen – come kiss me.  Jéma – to kiss someoneWégwéndek – Whatever, I wonder, expression of curiosity, an idiom.Ni je – combination asks Who or What?
Zaskokwaték – fry bread (participle)Wabma – See someoneGish – finish, or already done somethingO – That when that thing/person is animate
Gdansénan – our daughterGisen – cook somethingMine – and, again, alsoNe – yes/no question particle
Wadokwet – Best friend (participle of widoko)Wzheton – make somethingKyétnam – really, very, of a suretyGda – You or we should do something (check verb ending)
Dawéwgemek – storeMbektémen – We are hungry, from bkedé – be hungryIgwan – idiom used when one wants to be particular about explaining somethingGa wje – a purpose or direction in the past
Zenba – ribbonBabwi’a – Wait for someoneBwamshe – beforeWa je – a purpose or direction in the future
Mjegodé – dressZhya – goGégo – somethingNwi – nin is doing something in the future
 Gishpnedo – buy somethingI yé i – idiom meaning that’s it or it what it isGe – something will happen in the immediate future
 Ndena – tell someone something Éje – purpose or direction in the present
 Zhechké – do something  
 Wisne – to eat  
  1. There are a couple of participles in this exchange:
    1. Zaskokwaték – that which is fried, used for frybread.  The full word for frybread is Zaskokwaték pkwéshgen, but who says all that?
    1. Wadokwet – one who is Widoko
      1. Widoko is a verb that cannot be defined with simply one word.  It means to communicate and interact meaningfully with one another in a culturally appropriate setting and with good feelings all around.  From this word we derive the word Widoktadwen:  Community, which means so much more than just “community.”
  2. There are many idioms in this exchange, which are all marked.  Idioms are expressions in one language that make perfect sense in that language but are difficult to translate, explain, or use in another language.

Expressing our feelings

NgeshadesI am happy
NgeshadzemenWe- are happy
Gshades ne?Are you happy?
NshkadesI am angry
NshkadzemenWe- are angry
Gshkades ne? Néshkadzet                                 Are you angry Mad person  
NtagesI am sad
NtagzemenWe- are sad
Gntages ne?Are you sad?
NdotmesI am busy
NdotmezmenWe- are busy
Gdotmes ne?Are you busy?
NdewkwesI am tired
NdewkwezmenWe- are tired
Gdewkwes ne?Are you tired?

Many adjectives in English are verbs in Potawatomi, and that means that many words we use to express our character traits, feelings, or emotions are verbs in Potawatomi.  Many, but NOT ALL, of these verbs end with a -ze.  When using these verbs, most of them do this:           

NminwéwesI am ambitious
GminwéwesYou are ambitious
MinwéwzeHe/she is ambitious
NminwéwzemenWe- are ambitious
GminwéwzemenWe+ are ambitious
GminwéwzemY’all are ambitious
MinwéwzikThey are ambitious

Here are some more verbs you can practice with: 

BékadzeBe calm or patient
ZégzeBe afraid
YabyétzeBe lazy
GkadzeBe rich
GdemagzeBe poor or pitiful
NinozeBe weak
MishkwezeBe strong
NodagwzeBe noisy
AdkwadzeBe anxious
MénshezeBe shy or embarrassed
KyébadzeBe naughty or mischievous
MamkazeBe surprising
KiwadzeBe lonely
MnowabmenagwzeBe good looking
NchiwnagwzeBe fierce or ugly looking

First, a review exercise:  What do these mean?

  1. Ni je wi she énshkadziyen?
  2. Ni je wi she énshkadziyan?
  3. Ni je wi she énshkadzet?
  4. NI je wi she énshkadziyak?
  5. Ni je wi she énshkadziygo?
  6. NI je wi she énshkadziyék?
  7. NI je wi she énshkadzewat?

Now a thinking exercise:  Answer these questions with an appropriate Potawatomi response?

  1. Gnshkades ne?
  2. Ni je wi she énshkadziyen?
  3. Gntages ne?
  4. Ni je wi she éntagziyen?
  5. Gshades ne?
  6. NI je wi she égshadziyen?
  7. Gdotmes ne?
  8. Ni je wi she éwdedmezyen?
  9. Gdewkwes ne?
  10. Ni je wi she éndewkwezyen?

Lesson 8:  Ge Wisnemen Let’s Eat

To help you have a family dinner, here are the words for some of your family members: 

N’os My dad   NoshéMy aunt (mom’s sister) 
DédéDad/DaddyNzheshéMy uncle
NgyéMy momNshegwesMy aunt (dad’s sister)
Néné Mom/MommyNitawesMy cousin
N’okmisMy grandmother  NshiméMy little brother/sister 
GokoGrandmaNshiMy lil’ bro/sis
NmeshomesMy grandfather  NidgekoMy sister
MeshoGrandpaNmeséMy big sister
NdewémaMy older brother (for girls)NikanMy brother/friend
NdanesMy daughterNgwesMy son
NsezéMy older brother (for boys)NijanesMy child
NoseméMy grandchildNosemésMy little grandchild

To make these words mean “your”, you must insert a “G” sound to stand for “Gin” which means “You.”  G’os=Your dad, Gdédé=Your daddy, G’oko=Your grandma, Gnoshé=Your aunt, Gnitawes=Your cousin.

Table Manners

 N’os, mishen gi penik  (My Dad, give me the potatoes)

Goko, nénmoshen i mbedé (Grandma, hand me the butter)

Nidgeko, byénenmoshen i waskek (My Sister, pass me the pepper)

Néné, nénmoshen i ziwtagen (Mommy, hand me the salt)

Mesho, byédweshen anet mbish (Grandpa, bring me some water)

Nshimé, mishen i kche émkwan (My little sibling, give me the big spoon)

Ndanes, byédweshen anet gapi (My daughter, bring me some coffee)

Nitawes, nénmoshen ni zawjisésen (My cousin, hand me the carrots)

Ngwes, mina i nonagnabo se o gshimé (My son, give the milk to your little brother/sister)

Nijanes, nénmo i mbop se o gnitawes (My child, hand the soup to your cousin)

Our vocabulary matrix: 

NounsVerbsOther wordsParticles
Penik – potatoesMishen – give meAnet – someGi – Those in front of an animate noun, past tense in front of a verb
Mbedé – ButterNénmoshen – hand me I – That (when “that” is inanimate)
Waskek – PepperByénenmoshen – Pass me Ni – Those in front of an inanimate plural noun, also an interrogative
Ziwtagen – saltByédweshen – bring me O – That in front of an animate noun, Go do something in front of a verb
Mbish – waterMina – give something to someone  
Kche émwakn – big spoon   
Gapi – coffee   
Zawjisésen – carrots   
Nonagnabo – milk   
Mbop – soup   

When verbs end with -shen, they can mean it’s an action that reverts back to me (give me, hand me, pass me), or they can have to do with lying down (zhashgeshen – lay down, weshen – rest, pekshen – fall down). 

Here are some practice phrases for eating and drinking:

ZéschegénSet the table
Gbekté ne?    Are you hungry?
Cho gbektési ne?   Aren’t you hungry?
MbektéI’m hungry
Kyét nam she mbekté  I’m really hungry
Cho mbektési   I’m not hungry  
Gbektém ne?   Are you all hungry?
MbektémenWe are hungry
GbektémenWe all are hungry
Cho mbektésimenWe are not hungry  
Bkedé ne o?Is he/she hungry?
Bkedéwak ne gé winwa?  Are they hungry?
Gashknabagwé ne?   Are you thirsty?
Éhe ngashknabagwé  Yes I’m thirsty
Cho ngashknabagwésiI’m not thirsty
Gashknabagwém ne?  Are you all thirsty?
NgashknabagwémenWe are thirsty
GashknabagwémenWe all are thirsty
Cho ngashknabagwésimen  We are not thirsty
Gashknabagwé ne o?  Is he/she thirsty?
Gwi mnekwé ne?   Do you want a drink?
Gwi mnekwém ne?   Do you all want a drink?
Wégni je émnekwéyen?  What are you drinking?
Wégni je émnekwéyék?  What are you all drinking?
Ménkwén ode   Drink this
Gnedwéndan ne ode mijem? Do you want this food?
Mégwa ne?    Want more?
Mégwa ne gapi?   Want more coffee?
Mégwa ne mbish?   Want more water?
Mishen émkwanGive me a spoon
Byédweshen bkedjigenBring me a fork
Ni pi je i koman?Where is that knife?
Byénenmoshen i kwabegenPass me the dipper/serving spoon
Nénmoshen ziwtagenHand me the salt

Here is a review of Wisne, Mwa and Mijen.

Wégni je émijyen?  What are you eating?
Ode pen nwi mwa  I will eat this potato
Penyék ne gwi mwak? You want to eat some potatoes?
Peniwabo ne gwi mijen? You want to eat some potato soup?
Mshimenek gwi mwak You will eat apples
Mshimenek nde mwak I’m eating apples
Bidi nde mwa  I’m eating chicken
Wiyas nde mijen  I’m eating meat
Wégni je émijyak pkonyak? What are we eating tonight?
Mdamnabo émijyak pkonyak We are eating corn soup tonight
Gokosh wiyasen émijyak pkonyakWe are eating pork chops tonight
Wégni je éwisneyak pkonyak?What are we eating tonight?
Zaskokwadék gwi wisnemen pkonyakWe will eat frybread tonight
Mnejimnen mine zawjisésen éwisneyak pkonyak   We will eat peas and carrots tonight
Hau, nge wisen  Ok, I’m going to eat
Hau, nge wisnemen  Ok, we (not you) are going to eat
Hau, Ge wisnemen  Ok, Let’s eat (all of us)
Gwi wisen ne?  Will you eat?
Gwi wisnem ne?  Will you all eat?
Gi wisen ne?   Did you eat?
Gi wisnem ne?  Did you all eat?
NdépsenyéI’m full.
Ngi gish wisen  I’ve finished eating/I’ve already eaten
Ngi gish wisnemen  We already ate
Ngi gish wisnemen bwamshe ébyayak shote    We ate before we came here (exclusive, not you)
Nde mijnenjiganjegé  I’m eating with fingers
Gégo mijnenjiganjegéken Don’t eat with your fingers
Nwi widopwangémen pkonyakWe will eat with others tonight (company)
Gwi widopwangémen pkonyakWe all will eat with others tonight
Ndanes nwi widopma I will eat with my daughter
Ndenim nwi widopma I will eat with my husband
Ndekwéyom nwi widopmaI will eat with my wife

Your assignment for this lesson is to have dinner!  Use as much of the language as possible while eating with your family or your friends. 

Lesson 9:  Ge Binjegémen! Let’s Clean Up!

Ahau, ge binjegémen!Ok, let’s clean up!
Mnéschegén i dopwenStraighten up the table
Byédon i mbop mkwemitaswenek Bring the soup to the refrigerator
Byédon ni mskwéwnagnen taswenek Bring the red dishes to the cabinet
Ton zhi i zaskokwadék  Put the frybread there
Ni pi je ga wje toyen i ziwtagen?Where did you put the salt?
Ziwtagen ndeton shoteI have the salt here
Dopwenek étémget i waskekThe pepper is on the table
Ézhiwton mkwemitaswenek ga shotmegoPut away what we didn’t eat in the fridge
Zagjewébdon ni wabshkyagzidon’egnen Toss out those white napkins
Zigwébdon ni gzidon’egnen Throw away those napkins
Ni pi je ndo zawgzinwnagjegas?Where is my brown dish rag?
Zagech ézhiwton i zigwébnekek Put the garbage can outside
Zagech ézhiwton i mamgengéwkekPut the recycling bin outside
Majipton i wnagagzinjegéwen Start the dishwasher
Zhishchegén i mchik bwamshe égzizgengéyen  Sweep the floor before you scrub it
Bindon éjegzinjik bwamshe égzinwnagéyenClean the sink before you wash those dishes
Gégo pamséken shote njeshek ngi gzizgengén i mchikDon’t walk around here I just scrubbed the floor
Gégo pamsékék shote njeshek ngi gzizgengén I mchikDon’t walk around here (to more than one person) I just scrubbed the floor
Mamgenen ni mkekwen Recycle those boxes  (reuse those boxes)
Gégo ngetoken ode wizaw mkekwenDon’t lose this yellow box
Mamgenen ni skebygamodésen Recycle those green bottles (reuse those bottles)
Taswenek ézhiwton ni zhabwémodésenPut those see through bottles in the cabinet
Ggi gish gzinwnagé ne? Are you finished with the dishes?
Ahau, ge o nwéshmomenOk, Let’s go rest.

Our vocabulary matrix from these phrases:

NounsVerbsOther wordsParticles
Dopwen – tableBinjegé – to cleanAhau – ok, greeting, acknowledgementGe – something will happen in the near future
Mbop – soupMnéschegé – to straighten up, put in orderI – “that” when that is inanimateMskwé – red
Mkwemitaswen – fridgeByédon – bring a thingMkwemitaswenek – locative for fridgeZaw – brown
Taswen – a closet, cabinet, or cupboardByédonen – bring more than one thing. Not used for commands.Taswenek – locative for taswenWizaw – yellow
Wnagnen – dishesTon – put itZhi – thereNi pi je – particles meaning “where”
Zaskokwadék – frybread (participle)To – have it or put itShote – hereGa wje – past purpose or direction
Ziwtagen – saltTé – to be in a place if it is inanimateDopwenek – at/on the tableGa – something that happened
Waskek – pepper (participle)Ézhiwton – put something awayNi – those, if those are inanimateNdo – my
Ga shotmego – leftovers (participle – what we didn’t eat)Zagjewébdon – throw something outside, toss something outWabshkya – whiteZaw- brown
Gzidon’egnen – napkins, face clothsZigwébdon – discard something, pour something out, throw awayZagech – OutsideNgi – Nin did something in the past
Gzinwnagjegas – dishragMajipton – start something mechanicalBwamshe – beforeOde – wizaw
Zigwébnekek – garbage canZhishchegé – sweepGégo – stop, don’tZhabwé – something is clear or see-throughg
Mamgengéwkek – Recycling binGzizgengé – scrubNjeshek – just happenedGgi – Gin did something in the past
Wnagagzinjegéwen – dishwasherBindon – clean somethingSkebgya – greenNe – yes/no question marker
Mchik – floor, ground, horizonGzinwnagé – wash dishesGish – finished, already happenedO – in front of a verb, it means go do something
Éjegzinjik – sink (participle – where we was our hands)Pamsé – walk around  
Mkekwen – boxesMamgengé – recycle  
Modés – bottleNgeto – lose something  
 Nwéshmo – Rest  

What we can learn from these phrases:

  1. Mamgengé is a verb meaning to pick up something discarded to reuse it.  This is an old concept to Potawatomi folk, and is now used as a verb for “recycling.”
  2. Most commands listed here are for one person.  When assigning a chore to more than one person, be sure to use the plural form. 
  3. “To” is a unique verb in that it can mean “to have” or “to put.”  It is a relative of the verb “té,” which is the inanimate form of “to be in a place.” 
    1. Ton zhi is a command form – put something there
    1. Ndeton means I have it
    1. Ézhiwton is a command form – put something “away” (put it away is an idiom in English and is hard to translate into Potawatomi)
    1. Ni pi je ga wje toyen – Where did you put it?
    1. Étémget –  it is in a place
    1. Éték – it is in a place (a variant form)
  4. Notice the color prefixes.  There are two ways to express colors in Potawatomi, by prefix or by verb.  Yes, colors are verbs in Potawatomi.  Let’s explore this in further detail:

Colors in Potawatomi

SkebgyaGreen, sometimes blue

These colors can appear as verbs describing objects, or as prefixes attached to objects.

Mskoze o bnéshiThat bird is red
Mskwabnéshi nde wabmaI see a red bird
Mskwanen i wnagenThat dish is red
Mskwéwnagen ndetonI have a red dish
Wabshkyamget i dopwenThat table is white
Wabdopwen gdebéndan ne?Do you own a white table?
Wizawamget i pkwakwetThat ball is yellow
Wizawapkwakwet ne gdeton?Do you have a yellow ball?
Zawamget i émkwanThat spoon is brown
Ni pi je i zawémkwan?Where is the brown spoon?
Wabshkyak gi penikThose potatoes are white
Wabshkyapenik ngi gishpnenakI bought white potatoes
Mkedémget i dabyanThat car is black
Medagwéndan i mkedéwdabyanI like that black car
Wjepkwamgetnon ni mkesnenThose shoes are blue
Shkwadémek éték ni wjepkwamkesnenThe blue shoes are by the door
Wjepkwadék i mkekwenThe box is purple
Gégo ngetoken i wjepkwadémkekwenDon’t lose the purple box

Other Chores….

Nda zibiyéngéI should do the laundry
Bkes atsek nda bindonI should clean the bathroom
Mchik nda zosopjegénI should vacuum the floor
Biskemwenen nda zhoshkwé’anI should iron the clothes
Dabyan nda gzibingé’anI should wash the car
Nemosh nda shemaI should feed the dog
Waboyan nda pe’egwadonI should patch up that blanket
Dawéwgemek nda zhyaI should go to the store
Wshkewmkesnen nda wzhetonenI should make new moccasins
Nda jigagwné’géI should shovel snow
Nda biske’anenI should chop wood (small pieces)
Nda msénkéI should chop wood (large pieces)

YOUR CHALLENGE:  identify the chores that need doing at your home….and who is going to do them!

Lesson 10:  Gda nwéshmomen – We should rest   

This lesson shall discuss other miscellaneous household activities

Wabnotakjegen gde wabdamenWe are looking at the TV
Wabnotakjegen gde kewabdamenWe are watching the TV
Wabnotakjegen gde kanabdamenWe are staring at the TV
Notakjegen gde bsedomenWe are listening to the radio
Msenegen nde nebyégé’anI am writing a letter
Msenegen nde wawidanI am reading a letter or a book
Msenaksegen nde kewabdamenWe- are watching a movie
Gda mbwach’ewémen nomekWe should visit a while
Byéwidbemshen émbwach’ewéygoCome sit by me and we will visit
Nishwabtek dbégasnen nwi wawjigéI will read for 20 minutes
Ni je wa zhewébek gojek wabek?What will it be like outdoors tomorrow? (weather)
Kewabdan ode wa je zhewébzewenWatch the news
Wi gméyamget wabekIt will rain tomorrow
Wi bonimget wabekIt will snow tomorrow
Wi ngwanket wabekIt will be cloudy tomorrow
Wi ksenyamget wabekIt will be cold tomorrow
Wi gshatémget wabekIt will be hot tomorrow
Ni je ga byédot o bébamodot?What did the mail carrier bring?
Gégo ne byédot o bebamodojgét?Did the mail carrier bring anything?
Mkekwen gi byédot o bébamodotThe mail carrier brought this box
Gda bodwénashenYou should make a fire for me
Byéwidbemshen jig-shkwewdéCome sit with me by the fire
Gojek gda o chikasomY’all should go play outside
Wawatesiyek nde wabmamen épabmiséwatWe see fireflies flying about
Negosek nde kanabmakI am staring at the stars (star gazing)
Skonozhechkéwen ngi gizhtonI finished my homework

Here is miscellaneous vocabulary to go with our miscellaneous activities

NounsVerbsOther wordsParticles
Wabnotakjegen – tv, device that makes noise that you look atWabdan – see/look at somethingNomek – for a whileGde – you or we are doing something, check verb ending
Notakjegen – Radio, device that makes noise, can be a speaker or cd playerKewabdan – watch somethingNishwabtek – 20Gda – you or we should do something, check verb ending
Msenegen – paper, book, letter, bill, magazine, etc.Kanabdan – stare at something, study itGojek – outdoorsNwi – I or we will do something, check verb ending
Msenaksegen – movie, moving picture, tv show, videoBsedon – listen to somethingWabek – tomorrowNi je – combination asking who or what
Dbégasen – minuteNebyégé – to writeOde – thisWa je – future purpose or direction
Zhewébzewen – news, happeningsWawidan – read somethingGégo – somethingWi – something will happen in the future
Bébamodot – mail carrier, delivery personMbwach’ewé – visitO – “that” if it’s animate, go do something if in front of a verbGa – past purpose or direction
Bébamodojgét – mail carrier, delivery personByéwidbemshen – come sit by me Jig – by, near, next to
Mkekwen – boxWawijgé – to read Ngi – I or we did something in the past, check verb ending
Shkwewdé – fireZhewébek – to happen, an inanimate form  
Wawatesiyek – firefliesZhewébze – to be a certain way, personal happenings, an animate form  
Negosek – starsGméyamget – it is raining  
Skonoédazhechkéwen – homeworkBonimget  – it is snowing  
 Ngwankwet – it is cloudy  
 Ksenyamget – it is cold  
 Gshatémget – it is hot  
 Byédot – bring something  
 Bodwana – make a fire for someone  
 Chikaso – play  
 Kanabma – stare at someone  
 Gizhton – finish something  

Let’s take a closer look at these phrases:

  1.  Modern day events are difficult to describe in an ancient language, but it can be done. 
    1. A radio is a device that makes noise, so notakjegen
    1. A TV is a device that makes noise that we watch, so wabnotakjegen
    1. Skonoédazhechkéwen does not literally mean homework, it refers to “school doings.”  Whatever was assigned at school that needs doing.
    1. A mail carrier or delivery person is someone who walks around carrying a load.  Hence Bébamodot or Bébamodojegét.
    1. Msén is wood.  We make paper from wood.  Msenegen is pretty much anything made from paper, including books, bills, letters, paper, magazines, newspaper, etc.  We can get specific if we want, for example, Gizo-msenegen would be a calendar, or a “moon-paper.”  But we don’t have to.
    1. Msenatsegen is a moving picture.  Pulling from the books and the pictures, all on paper, now brought to life on the screen, it’s a moving story on screen.  As it has evolved, it can now refer to a video in any form.
  2. The “seeing” verbs can be in animate or inanimate form, depending on what you see.  Wabma is seeing someone, Wabdan is seeing something.  Kewabma is watching someone, Kewabdan is watching something.  Kanabma is staring at or studying someone, Kanabdan is staring at or studying something. 
  3. Zhewébze and Zhewébek are idiomatic verbs.  They refer to things that are happening. 

Zhewébze and Zhewébek

Gmnozhewébes ne?Is it going well for you?
Éhé mnozhewébesYes I’m doing well             
Ngi mnozhewébzemen shote ngomIt went well for us here today
Gi mjezhewébes ngomIt went badly for me today
Ni je ézhwébziyen?What’s the matter with you?
Ni je ézhwébzet o?What’s the matter with him/her?
Ni je ga zhewébek?What happened?
Ni je wa zhewébek?What will happen?
Ni je ézhwébek?What is happening?
I yé i ga zhewébekThat’s what happened
I yé i wa zhewébekThat’s what will happen
I yé i ézhwébekThat’s what’s happening
Ni pi je ga zhewébek?Where did it happen?
Ni je pi ga zhewébek?When did it happen?

Wabdan, Wabma and Wabmek

Potawatomi verbs do not function the same way English verbs do, and sentences in Potawatomi are not formed the same way they are in English.  Instead of using the order of the words to show who is doing what, we use the verb itself. 

Msenegen nwabdanI see a paper
Mko nwabmaI see a bear
Mko nwabmekA bear sees me
Msenegen nde kewabdanI am watching a paper
Mko nde kewabmaI am watching a bear
Mko nde kewabmekA bear is watching me
Msenegen nde kanabdanI am staring at/studying a paper
Mko nde kanabmaI am staring at/studying a bear
Mko nde kanabmekA bear is staring at/studying me
Msenegen nde dbabdanI am checking on a paper
Mko nde dbabmaI am checking on a bear
Mko nde dbabmekA bear is checking on me
Tetagen nnodanI hear a bell
Mko nnodwaI hear a bear
Mko nnodwekA bear hears me
Tetagen nde bsedonI am listening to a bell
Mko nde bsedwaI am listening to a bear
Mko nde bsedwekA bear is listening to me


Shema (feed someone) and Shemgo (be fed) are similar to Wabma and Wabmek.  Try using them in phrases and sentences. 

Lesson 11:  Cho mno yési. I don’t feel good.

NdaknogaI am sick
Gdaknoga ne?Are you sick?
Yaknogé o penojéThe baby is sick
Yaknogék gi gigabéyekThe boys are sick
NdaknogamenWe are sick
Ngi zhashkegwéI vomited
Gi zhashkegwé o ngwesMy son threw up
NzhapkawesI have diarrhea
Zhapkawze o gigyagoThe girl has diarrhea
NdewkwéI have a headache
NdewkwesI am tired
Dewkweze o ndenimMy husband is tired
Kikibgosh o penojéThe baby is very sleepy
Ndakmetem nmesetMy stomach hurts
Nde zostemI am coughing
Ngi jechamI sneezed
Zostep o gigyagoThe girl has a cough
Jechamo o gigabéThe boy has the sneezes
Ngi wépodagoI got hit
Ngi knéshkakI was knocked senseless (fainted, concussion)
Ngikij janéI have a sore nose
Ndakmetem njoshMy nose is sore
Ngijij wibtanéI have sore teeth
Ndakmetem nibetMy tooth is sore
Ndakmetem nibdenMy teeth are sore
Ngi bokjanéshenI broke my nose
Ngi bokkadéshenI broke my leg
Ngi boknekéshenI broke my arm
NmeskwiwjanéI have a bloody nose
NmeskwiwtogéMy ears are bleeding
Mshkekiwnene nwi o wabma nomekI’m going to go see the doctor in a little while
Mshkekiwgemek nge zhyaI am going to the clinic/hospital

Let’s have a look at some of these unique words:

NounsVerbsOther wordsParticles
Penojé – babyYaknogé – to be sickO – “that” with an animate noun, “go do” in front of a verbNe – question particle
Gigabyéyek – boysZhashkegwé – to vomitGi – “those” with animate plural noun, “past” with a verbNgi – I “did” something, or we “did”, check verb
Ngwes – my sonZhapkawze – have diarrheaNomek – in a little whileNde – I or we are “doing something”
Gigyago – girlDewkwé – have a headache Nwi – I or we “will do” something
Gigabé – boyDewkweze – be tired Nge – I or we are “about to do” something
Ndenim – my husbandKikibgosh – be sleepy  
Nmeset – my stomachYakmetem – a body part is sore  
Njash – my noseZostep – to cough (very irregular verb)  
Jané – nose constructJechamo – to sneeze  
Wibtané – teeth constructWépodago – to get hit  
Nibet – my toothKnéshkak – rendered unconscious  
Kadé – leg constructGikij – a body part is sore *requires body part construct form  
Neké – arm construct  Bok – a body part is broken *requires body part construct form  
Togé – ear construct wtewgéMeskwiw – a body part is bleeding *requires body part construct form  
Mshkekiwnene – doctorWabma – see someone  
Mshkekiwgemek – clinic/hospitalZhya – go  

What can we learn?

  1. Yaknogé is irregular.  Because it begins with a Y, the “de” tense makes a contraction.  This often happens with verbs that start with Y or W.  A related verb, Yakmetem, which is specific to the body part that is sick or hurt, does the same, and becomes Ndakmetem.
  2. Many sickness verbs are irregular.  Zostep is a verb of coughing, but to say I am coughing, you say “nde zostem.”  Jechamo is a verb that drops the “o” at the end, so Nde jecham means I am sneezing.  Zhapkawze changes the ending to Nzhapkawes if you want to say “I have diarrhea.”
  3. There are other words for sickness, such as Napnewen or Pené’éwen.  These words for sickness describes a long-term chronic illness.  Yaknogéwen is a short term acute illness. 
  4. Knowing how to use and recognize body part construct forms is important when describing various conditions.  Let’s look at this in detail:

Manipulating Body Parts

To Review:  In Potawatomi grammar, most body parts are considered inanimate.  This is because the body, which is animate, is the sum total of its parts, and individual body parts do not function on their own without the rest of the body. 

Body parts are also considered “inalienably possessed,” which has nothing to do with aliens, but means simply that they cannot be given away.  This means you will very rarely see words for body parts on their own without referencing WHO the body part belongs to.  To get around this in conversations, there are construct forms of body parts.  When using these, the construct forms often form body-based verbs.

Body PartConstruct Form
Nibden – My teethYabdé –  teeth
Nenji – my handNejé – hand
Nzet – my footZedé – foot
Njash – my noseJané – nose
Ndon – my mouthDoné – mouth

Let’s look at body part constructs vs. descriptive verbs:

NgikijdebéMy head is soreNdakmetem ndep/nshtegwanI have a sore head
NgikijjanéMy nose is soreNdakmetem njashI have a sore nose
NgikijnekéMy arm is soreNdakmetem nekI have a sore arm
NgikijkadéMy leg is soreNdakmetem nkatI have a sore leg
NgikijdonéMy mouth is soreNdakmetem ndonI have a sore mouth
NgikijyabdéMy teeth are soreNdakmetem nibdenI have sore teeth
NgikijzetéMy foot is soreNdakmetem nzetI have a sore foot

Let’s use this opportunity to highlight some of these unique verbs:

Ngi jechamI sneezedNgi zostemI coughed
Ggi jecham ne?Did you sneeze?Ggi zostem ne?Did you cough?
Gi jechamoHe/she sneezedGi zostepHe/she coughed
Ngi jechamenWe- sneezedNgi zostepmenWe- coughed
Ggi jechamenWe+ sneezedGgi zostepmenWe+ coughed
Ggi jechamom ne?Did y’all sneeze?Ggi zostebem ne?Did y’all cough?
Gi jechamokThey sneezedGi zostemwikThey coughed
Ngi zhashkegwéI threw upNgi zhapkawesI had diarrhea
Ggi zhashkegwé ne?Did you throw up?Ggi zhapkawes ne?Did you have diarrhea?
Gi zhashkegwéHe/she threw upGi zhapkawzeHe/she had diarrhea
Ngi zhashkegwémenWe- threw upNgi zhapkawzemenWe- had diarrhea
Ggi zhashkegwémenWe+ threw upGgi zhapkawzemenWe+ had diarrhea
Ggi zhashkegwém ne?Did y’all throw up?Ggi zhapkawzem ne?Did y’all have diarrhea?
Gi zhashkegwékThey threw upGi zhapkawzikThey had diarrhea
NdaknogaI am sickNdewkwéI have a headache
Gdaknoga ne?Are you sick?Gdewkwé ne?Do you have a headache?
YaknogéHe/she is sickDewkwéHe/she has a headache
NdaknogamenWe- are sickNdewkwémenWe- have a headache
GdaknogamenWe+ are sickGdewkwémenWe+ have a headache
Gdaknogam ne?Are y’all sick?Gdewkwém ne?Do y’all have a headache?
YaknogékThey are sickDewkwékThey have a headache

One more:  To say I caught a cold, you say “Ngi tkech.”  This is an idiom.

Assignment:  Use these phrases to describe the last time you or a family member were sick. 

Lesson 12:  Wi Ne Mban!  Go to Sleep!

Gi askonyé ne?Did you change your clothing?
Gi gsiyabdé ne?Did you brush your teeth?
Gi gsingwé ne?Did you wash your face?
Gi bkes ne?Did you bathe?
Chomshe ngi gsiyabdésiI didn’t brush my teeth yet
Chomshe ngi bkesosiI didn’t bathe yet (take a shower yet)
Chomshe ngi gsingwésiI didn’t wash my face yet
Chomshe ngi askonyésiI didn’t change my clothing yet
NkikibgoshI’m sleepy
Kikibgoshe o penojéThe baby is sleepy
Nwi o weshenI will go rest
Nwi o mba pkonyakI will go sleep tonight
Wi ne mbanGo to sleep (to one)
Wi ne mbakGo to sleep (to more than one)
O nweshmon!Go rest!
Gégo gwaskse’oken mbagnek!Don’t jump on the bed!
Mbéwa ne o penojé?Is the baby sleeping?
Gégo dokneken o penojé!Don’t wake up the baby!
Gwi o mba ne?Are you going to go sleep?
Bédbekok ngi mbaI slept all last night
Nwi o mbamenWe are going to sleep (not you)
Gwi o mbamenWe are going to sleep (all of us)
Gwi o mbam ne?Are you all going to go to sleep?
Mbéwak gi gigyagoyekThe girls are sleeping
Ni pi je ga je mbayen dbekok?Where did you sleep last night?
Nwi o mno apwéI will go have a good dream
Ggi apwé ne dbekok?Did you dream last night?
NounsVerbsOther WordsParticles
Mbagen – bedAskonyé – change clothingChomshe – Not yetGi – past tense
Penojé – babyGsiyabdé – brush teethGégo – Don’t/StopNe – question mark
Gigyagoyek – girlsGsingwé – wash faceMbagnek – on the bedSi – attaches to end of verb to make it negative
 Bkezo – batheBédbekok – all last night0 – “go do” used in front of a verb
 Kikibgoshe – be sleepyDbekok – last nightNe – “start” used in front of a verb
 Weshen – rest O – “that” used with a noun
 Mbé – to sleep (irregular verb) Gwi – you will do something
 Gwaskse’o – Jump Nwi – I/we will do something
 Mbéwa – He/she is sleeping Gi –“those” used with animate nouns
 Mba – I/you are sleeping Ga je – past tense purpose or direction
 Dokna – wake someone up Mno – Good (must be used with a noun or verb)
 Mbayen – I sleep (conjunct)  
 Apwé – Dream  

Notice the way certain particles change when used in different situations.

  1. “ne” is a question mark when used in a sentence, making it a yes/no question.  But when you put “ne” between the subject and the verb, this changes the verb to make it mean “start doing something.”  Wi ne mban means Go to sleep, because one does not fall asleep instantly, this is a command to start the process of falling asleep.
  2. “o” is a demonstrative meaning “that” when used with an animate noun.  But when you put “o” between the subject and the verb, this changes the verb to make it mean “go do something.” Nwi o mba means I will go sleep, implying I am going to go somewhere else to do it.
  3. “gi” is a demonstrative meaning “those” when used with an animate plural noun.  But when you add it to a verb and a pronoun, this changes the verb to put it into past tense. Ngi mba means I slept. 

Mbé/Mba is a highly irregular verb:        

Nwi mbaI will sleep
Gwi mbaYou will sleep
MbéwaHe/she is sleeping
Nwi mbamenWe (-) will sleep
Gwi mbamenWe (+) will sleep
Gwi mbamY’all will sleep
Wi mbéwakThey will sleep

You are More Important than Me

In English, we say “I see you.”  In Potawatomi, we say “You I see.”  This is because “you” are more important than “me,” so “you” get to be first in the sentence.  Because “you” should come first, we use inverse verbs to keep “you” in the front.

GdebanenI love you (you I love)
GdebanemYou love me
GwabmenI see you (you I see)
GwabemYou see me
GnodwenI hear you (you I hear)
GnodwemYou hear me
GbsedwenI am listening to you (you I listen to)
GbsedwemYou listen to me
GnestotonI understand you (you I understand)
GnestotwamYou understand me               
Gkenmen ne?Do I know you?
Gkenmem ne?Do you know me?
Ggi wabmenI saw you (you I saw)
Ggi wabemYou saw me
Ggi nodwenI heard you (you I heard)
Ggi nodwemYou heard me
Ggi kenmenI knew you (you I knew)
Ggi kenmemYou knew me

A Good Night Song

This is set to the melody of Brahm’s Lullaby, which can be found on the internet.  The words are simple, but because they are in imperative form, there is a difference if you are singing to one child or more than one child.

To one child More than one child 
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Gaga she éwi mbayenSoon you will be sleepingGaga she éwi mbayékSoon you will be sleeping
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Éwi mno apwéyenAnd you will dream wellÉwi mno apwéyékAnd you will dream well
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Gaga she éwi mbayenSoon you will be sleepingGaga she éwi mbayékSoon you will be sleeping
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Wi ne mbanGo to sleepWi ne mbakGo to sleep
Éwi mno apwéyenAnd you will dream wellÉwi mno apwéyékAnd you will dream well

This concludes these 12 lessons on daily activities.  It is our hope that you will be able to incorporate these lessons into your home and your daily life.  In order to revitalize our language, we must bring the language out of the classroom and into our homes.  The language should not be compartmentalized, used only in certain situations, but we should come to enjoy using it in every aspect of our daily life.

Bama mine gwabmenem….

(See y’all later…)

Author: neaseno

I was born on Powers Bluff in Wood County, Wisconsin, into a traditional community of Neshnabek. I was raised speaking only native languages, and learned to speak English upon entering school at the age of 6. As of this writing, I am one of 5 remaining Heritage Fluent Speakers of Potawatomi.

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