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Reference document

Internal Structure of Nouns and Verbs

Rule #24

Nouns and verbs

  • are always chunkable,
  • always begin with one (and only one) base,
  • always contain one (and only one) ending,
  • may contain one or several posbases between the base and the ending, ▪ may end with one or two tails after the ending.


  • ᓄᓇᖃᕐᖄᑐᕕᓃᑦ
  • ᓇᑦᓯᕕᓂᕐᑐᕈᒪᕗᖓᓕ

We know that there are different types of bases and different types of endings. There are also different types of postbases:

  • Noun makers: +ti, +vik, /giaq, …
  • Noun extenders: +miuq, /viniq, /aaluk, …
  • Verb makers: /liaq-, +siuq-, /qaq-, …
  • Verb extenders: /guma-, /gasuk, /gunnaq-, …
  • Tense postbases: /lauq-, /rqau-, /langa-, …
  • Post-tense postbases: /rquuq-, …
  • Negation postbases: /ngngit-, …
  • Post-negation postbases: +mmi-, …

In order to understand how these different types of chunks are combined into words, we need to introduce two new notions.

First, the notion of scope.

Within a word, the scope of a chunk is the part of the word over which the meaning of the chunk operates.

The linear order of chunks correlates with their scope: postbases with a more narrow scope appear closer to the base than postbases with a less narrow scope.

Here is the rule to remember:

A chunk has scope over everything to the left in the same word.


In the noun nuna-qa-rqaa-tu-vini-it,
/it has scope over nuna-qa-rqaa-tu-viniq,
/viniq has scope over nuna-qa-rqaa-tuq,
+tu(q) has scope over nuna-qa-rqaaq-,
/rqaaq- has scope over nuna-qaq-,
/qaq- has scope over nuna.

Scope relations can be represented in a number of ways:

In English, scope relations are reversed with respect to Inuktitut.

This is why the order of chunks is often the mirror-image of the order of words in the English literal translation:

It is most often impossible to change the order of postbases in a word. When it is possible, the meaning of the word also changes.


  • natsi-vini-lik natsi-li-viniq
    (there is some seal meat) ≠ (there used to be a seal)
  • nanu-alu-lik nalu-li-aluk
    (there is a big polar bear) ≠ (there are many polar bears)

Then, we need to introduce the notion of stem.

A stem is a word part that

  • consists of one or more chunks,
  • begins with a noun base or a verb stem, and
  • requires an ending to become a complete word form.

These are the general rules for building nouns and verbs in Inuktitut:


Recursive types of postbases are underlined.

Extenders are highly recursive. Up to five extenders can be encountered successively.

Post-tense and post-negation postbases are few, but some of them are frequent:

A handful of postbases make exceptions to the rules stated above.

  • Verb maker /it- always adds to a noun in the locative case.
  • Verb maker /uq- always adds to a noun in the allative, translative or simulative case.

Verb extenders +turi-, +niraq-, /guma- and /ujaq- may follow a tense postbase:

Note that Inuktitut has many homophonic postbases: apparent exceptions may not be real. For example, /lauq- can be found to the right of /ngngit-. In this case, /lauq- is not a tense postbase, but a post-negation postbase indicating politeness.

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