Grammatical Information

[fairly far along but still under construction]

  1. Introduction
  2. Nouns
    1. Number
    2. Possessive Categories
    3. Inalienable Possession
    4. Stem Changes
    5. Possessive Prefix Class
    6. Vocatives
  3. Numbers and Quantifiers
  4. Postpositions
    1. Object Marking
    2. Incorporation
  5. Verbs
    1. Tense/Mode/Aspect and Negation
    2. The D-Effect
    3. The Human/Non-Human Distinction
    4. The Unspecified Object Prefix
    5. Absolutive Noun Classification
    6. Classificatory Verbs
    7. Situation Aspect
    8. Verb Structure
    9. Derivations


This document provides information about the grammatical categories, terms, and notation used in the dictionary. It is not a general sketch of Carrier grammar.



Most Carrier nouns are not marked for number: the same form serves for one, two, three or more. A very few nouns have distinct singular (1), dual (2), and plural (3 or more) forms. Most nouns that are marked for number distinguish a singular form from a duo-plural (2 or more).

Nouns that refer to things that normally come in pairs, such as the eyes and legs, have singulative forms that are used to make clear that the speaker is referring to only one member of the pair.

Possessive Categories

The categories and their abbreviations are as follows:

First person singular, e.g. ‟my mittens”.
First person dual, e.g. ‟the mittens of the two of us”.
First person plural, e.g. ‟our mittens”, where there are three or more of us.
Second person singular, e.g. ‟your (one person) mittens.
Second person plural, e.g. ‟your (two or more people) mittens.
Third person singular, e.g. ‟his/her/its mittens”.
Third person plural, e.g. ‟their mittens”.
Reflexive, e.g. ‟his/her own mittens”. This is used when the clause has a third person singular subject that is the same as the possessor of the noun.
Disjoint Reference. This means ‟his/her/its” but is used in place of the plain third person singular or the reflexive when the clause has a third person singular subject that is not the same as the possessor of the noun.
Reciprocal, meaning ‟each other's”. This is very rare on nouns but not uncommon as the object of postpositions.
This is the plural disjoint reference form, meaning ‟his/her/its”, used when the clause has a third person plural subject disjoint from the third person singular possessor of the noun.
The areal means ‟it's” and is used when the third person possessor is saliently areal or spatial.
Indefinite. This means ‟someone's” or ‟a(n)” and is used almost exclusively with inalienably possessed nouns, e.g. 'ugan, ‟someone's arm, an arm”.

Inalienable Possession

A noun is said to be inalienably possessed if it must have a possessive prefix attached, indicating to whom it belongs. For example, the stem meaning ‟arm” is -gan. gan, however, is not a word that can be used by itself. It is necessary to indicate whose arm it is, e.g. sgan ‟my arm”. To refer to an arm without indicating whose it is, it is necessary to say 'ugan ‟someone's arm”. In general, body parts and kinship terms are inalienably possessed. When a noun is inalienably possessed, it is entered with a preceding hyphen. Thus, ‟arm” is entered as -gan. Such hyphens are ignored in alphabetization with the exception that forms with leading hyphens are listed after otherwise identical forms without leading hyphens.

Stem Changes

For many nouns the stem to which the possessive prefixes are attached is not the same as the free form. For example, ‟fish” is lhukw when free, but has the stem -lukw when possessed, as in nelukw ‟our fish”.

Possessive Prefix Class

Nouns are marked for possession by prefixes. There are three main classes of noun, which take different sets of prefixes. Which nouns belong to which class is largely, though not entirely, predictable. Most nouns whose stem begins with a consonant other than glottal stop belong to class 1. Most nouns beginning with glottal stop or /h/ belong to class 2. Most nouns beginning with a vowel belong to class 3. However, some nouns beginning with glottal stop belong to class 1, and a few nouns beginning with a consonant other than glottal stop belong to class 2. In most cases the noun class is not indicated. In these cases it is safe to assume that the noun belongs to the class predicted by the above rules.

Within class 1 the second person singular prefix takes three forms. The usual form of the prefix is /n/, which becomes /m/ before nouns beginning with /m/. Before nouns beginning with /m/ or /n/, the prefix is /nyu/.


The vocative is the form of a noun used to address someone. The only nouns that have a special vocative form are the kinship terms that refer to someone older than the speaker. The vocative form is always the same as the indefinite possessed form.

Numbers and Quantifiers

The numbers, and some quantifiers (‟all”,‟many” and ‟most”) agree in category with the noun phrases that they count. There are five categories:

This category includes human beings and dogs, as well as other beings considered sufficiently human-like, such as spirits, angels, sometimes other animals.
This category includes places and under some circumstances periods of time.
This category consists primarily of events; that is, it is used to count the number of times something happens. It is also used to count most periods of time, such as days.
This category includes abstract things like kinds.
This category includes everything else.


Object Marking



Tense/Mode/Aspect and Negation

The basic paradigm of a Carrier verb consists of eight nine-member subject paradigms. These consist of the imperfective, perfective, future, and optative paradigms, each in the affirmative and negative. Of these only the future is a true tense. The imperfective and perfective are viewpoint aspects while the optative is a mood.

Imperfective Affirmative

The Imperfective Affirmative describes an event regarded as incomplete. Much of the time it corresponds to the English present tense, e.g. hujun ``they are singing''. However, it can be used to describe past events as well if they are viewed as ongoing, e.g. hujun whe beni hoolel ``While they were singing she fainted.''

Perfective Affirmative

The Perfective Affirmative describes an event regarded as complete. Much of the time it corresponds to the English past tense, eg. hejun ``they sang''. However, if the event is viewed as ongoing even if it is in the past, the Perfective is not appropriate.

Future Affirmative

Future Affirmative forms usually express a definite belief that something will happen in the future, e.g. hutijun ``they are going to sing''.

Optative Affirmative

The Optative is somewhat like the subjunctive in European languages but does not have any close English analogue. In general, it expresses the uncertainty of the speaker as to whether the event described will take place, has taken place, or is taking place. For example, ts'oojun can mean ``let's sing'' or ``we may sing''. In addition to such uses as the main verb, optative forms are frequently found in a variety of more complex constructions, e.g. ts'oojun neyulhni ``he told us to sing'') and ts'oojun ait'oh ``we can't sing''. The Optative Affirmative is very common.

Imperfective Negative

The Imperfective Negative indicates that something viewed as ongoing is not happening or did not happen, e.g. husjun ``they are not singing.''

Perfective Negative

The Perfective Negative indicates that an event did not happen, e.g. ts'ijun ``we did not sing'' or ``we have not sung''.

Future Negative

The Future Negative usually expresses a definite belief that an event will not happen, e.g. tisjun ``she is not going to sing''.

Optative Negative

The Optative Negative is the negative of the Optative Affirmative. Its main use is to express negative wishes, e.g. ts'oosjun ``let's not sing''. It is rarely used.

These categories are indicated by the following abbreviations:

FAFuture Affirmative
FNFuture Negative
IAImperfective Affirmative
INImperfective Negative
OAOptative Affirmative
ONOptative Negative
PAPerfective Affirmative
PNPerfective Negative

The following paradigm of the verb ``to go around by boat'' exemplifies the basic paradigm of a Carrier verb. Note that in the Perfective Affirmative the usual first person singular subject prefix /s/ does not appear. Instead, we have the suppletive form /i/. For the oldest speaker of Lheidli dialect this suppletion is obligatory. For younger speakers, either the suppletive form or the regular form may be used. The equivalent regular form is nus̲uskui.

1nutuzeske nutuzadukenuzteske
2nutuzanke nutuzehkenutuzehke
3nuteske nuhuteskenuhuteske
3nus̲ukui nuhuz̲kuinuhuz̲kui
1nuskelnidukel nuts'ikel
1noskenoduke nuts'ooke
3noke nuhookenuhooke

The D-Effect

The D-Effect is a set of phonological interactions in Athabaskan languages between two /d/-final prefixes, the /d/-valence prefix and the first person dual subject marker, and the following consonant, which is either the initial consonant of the verb stem or a valence prefix.

The set of interactions between either the final /d/ of the first person dual subject marker or the /d/ valence prefix and the following consonant, is referred to as the D-Effect. These interactions take place only with certain following consonants, as illustrated below.

The D-Effect
ldlnidudlatnulatfloat around
ndnhoodudnihwhunihbe awake
yj'oonidujeh'oonuyehpick berries
zdznidudzootnuzootskate around

The condition in the case of /l/ is that /l/ be followed immediately by a vowel, that is, that it be the initial consonant of the verb stem. Where the /l/ is the valence prefix it will necessarily be followed by the initial consonant of the stem. In this case, the /d/ is invariably deleted without a trace. For example, the 3s of ``run around'' is nulgaih, with l-valence. The 1d is nidulgaih. Here the /d/ of the 1d subject prefix /id/ disappears.
Where there is no D-Effect from the 1d subject prefix /idud/, the final /d/ disappears without a trace, as illustrated below:
Disappearance of Final /d/ of /idud/
bnidubenubeswim around
tkunidutakunutalook for
t'laidut'ohlait'ohbe weak
tldidutledutlebe soft
chdiduchutduchutbe soft
ch'taduch'elhtech'elhshoot [FA]
knidukenukego around by boat
k'iduk'okuk'ok drink [childish]
ghdidughutdughutsaw wood
widuwusuwusbe ticklish

Whereas the final /d/ of the first person dual subject prefix is deleted if there is no D-Effect, this is not the case with valence /d/. When valence /d/ triggers no D-Effect, an epenthetic /u/ is inserted following the /d/ and it is retained.

The stem in ``To Spill Liquid on Oneself'' is /yul/ ``to handle liquid in an uncontrolled fashion''. The reflexive induces a /d/ valence prefix, which under the D-Effect rule yields /jul/. Compare ``To Spill Mushy Stuff on Onself', where the stem is /tle/ ``handle mushy stuff''. There is no D-Effect on /tl/. Rather than deleting, the valence /d/ survives and is followed by an epenthetic /u/. We can tell that the second /d/ of forms like /khadusdutle/ is a valence prefix because it follows inner subject prefixes like first person singular /s/.

To Spill Liquid on Oneself [PA]
Singular Dual Plural

To Spill Mushy Stuff on Oneself [PA]
Singular Dual Plural

The same phenomenon is seen in ``To Shoot Onself'', where the stem begins with /ch'/, and in ``To Arrive By Boat'', where the stem begins with /k/. In both cases, there is no D-Effect, so an epenthetic vowel is inserted and the valence /d/ is preserved.

To Shoot Oneself [PA]
Singular Dual Plural

To Arrive By Boat [PA]

Although the D-Effect itself does not differentiate between the /d/ of the first person dual subject prefix and that of the valence prefix, they behave differently in that only valence /d/ is preserved by epenthesis.

The Human/Non-Human Distinction

Third person subjects and objects of verbs and postpositions and third person possessors of nouns are treated differently according as they are human or non-human. For example, the third person duo-plural object marker hubu in hubunilh'en "he is looking at them" implies that "they" are human. If he is looking at several inanimate objects, the object marker must be the "singular" yu, i.e. yunilh'en "he is looking at him". In other words, yunilh'en means both "he is looking at him/her/it" and "he is looking at them" where "they" are non-human.

Human beings, dogs, and spirits always fall into the human category. Inanimate objects always fall into the non-human category. Other living things fall into the non-human category unless they are considered sufficiently human-like. Any living thing can be treated as human if in context it is endowed with human-like qualities. Thus, a bear, wolverine, bird, or ant that speaks and otherwise acts intelligently will be treated as human. Absent such special circumstances, conservative usage restricts the "human" category to dogs. Some people, however, extend this category to other domestic animals, such as cats and horses.

The Unspecified Object Prefix

The abbreviation uo stands for ``unspecified object'' and is used to mark transitive verbs in the form used without an overt noun phrase object. For example, 'usyi is an ``unspecified object'' form meaning ``I am eating'' and is used without a noun phrase indicating what is being eaten. It can form a sentence all by itself. The corresponding specified object form is usyi. This cannot form a sentence by itself, but must be used together with a noun phrase indicating what is being eaten, as in the sentence lhes usyi ``I am eating bread.''

Absolutive Noun Classification

The terms d-class, n-class, and wh-class refer to categories in the system of noun classification. These refer roughly to things that are stick-like, round, and saliently two- or three-dimensional respectively. Some verbs, such as "to be big", allow all four possibilities:


Others allow fewer possibilities. For example, quite a few descriptive verbs contain an inherent /d/ even when in their generic form. For these verbs, the same form serves as generic and d-class. An example of this type is "to be red". Here are the forms of ``it is red'':


In a number of constructions wh-class forms are also used in reference to clauses. For example, ``I dislike beaver tail'' is Tsache ts'udusnuk.. Here the object of the verb ``dislike'' is the noun phrase tsache ``beaver tail''. ``I dislike eating beaver tail'' is Tsache usyi whuts'udusnuk. Here the verb ``I dislike'' takes the prefix whu because its object is the clause Tsache usyi ``I eat beaver tail''.

Classificatory Verbs

An important part of the Carrier lexicon is the set of classificatory verbs, used to describe the handling and location of objects of different types. The stems of classificatory verbs convey no information other than the type of object; what action is performed is determined by the choice of derivational prefixes. The following list illustrates the range of verbs that may be derived from the stem for handling two dimensional flexible objects (e.g. shirts).\enumfootnote{The two stem variants observed in these examples, chus̲ and chuz̲, reflect different aspects. The former is momantaneous, the latter continuous.

behanaitelhchus̲he is going to take it out
daidutelhchus̲ he is going to hold it up
dughaidutelhchus̲ he is going to hang it up
hookw'eitalhchus̲ he is going to put it on (the table)
hookw'enayitalhchus̲he is going to put it back on (the table)
hanaitelhchus̲he is going to bring it back
sghaitelhchus̲he is going to give it to me
nuyitelhchus̲he is going to carry it around
'atelhchus̲he is going to bury it
tatelhchus̲he is going to submerge it
natelhchus̲he is going to put it on the ground
yaiyutelhchus̲he is going to bring it ashore

The categories into which objects are divided are illustrated below where forms of ``he will give me'' appropriate to a variety of objects are given. In the first column are listed the abbreviations used for these categories in dictionary entries. Notice that some but not all of these bases permit cross-classification by means of the absolutive prefixes. Where a classificatory verb is also classified via the absolutive prefix system, this information is added to the abbreviation for the classificatory verb category. For example, the abbreviation lro-d means that the verb class is ``long, rigid object'' and that it is further marked by the d absolutive prefix.

he will give me

sdo-gennon-plural default object (chair)sghate'alh
sdo-n  non-plural n-class object (ball)sghante'alh
sdo-d  non-plural d-class object (name)sghadute'alh
sdo-wh  non-plural wh-class object (house)sghaoote'alh
mdo-genplural default objects (chairs) sghatelelh
mdo-n  plural n-class objects (balls) sghantelelh
mdo-d  plural d-class objects (names) sghadutelelh
mdo-wh  plural wh-class objects (houses) sghaootelelh
euo-geneffectively uncountable generic objects (sugar)sghatedzih
euo-n  effectively uncountable n-class objects (berries)sghantedzih
euo-d  effectively uncountable d-class objects (toothpicks)sghadutedzih
lro-genlong rigid object (canoe)sghatetilh
lro-d  long rigid d-class object (stick)sghadutetilh
bodybody (dog)sghatelhtelh
coccontents of open container (cup of tea)sghatekalh
2df2-dimensional flexible object (shirt)sghatelhchus̲
mushymushy stuff (mud)sghatetloh
liquidliquid (water)sghatelhdzoh
hayhay-like (hay)sghadutelhdzoh
fluffyfluffy stuff (down)sghatelhdzoh

The choice between the plural and non-plural default verbs is not entirely straightforward. A single object calls for the non-plural verb, three or more for the plural verb. Two objects usually, but not always, take the non-plural verb. The plural default verb is also used for certain single items namely ropes and fishnets, perhaps because these are considered to consist of multiple coils and meshes.

Situation Aspect

Aspect describes how an action, event or state relates to the flow of time. It differs from tense, which describes the relationship between the time at which an event occurs and the time of the utterance mentioning the event.

Carrier has a number of situation aspects, some of which may co-occur.

Habitual Aspect

Any Carrier verb that describes an activity has in principle a set of habitual aspect forms. The habitual is marked by the addition of the prefix na- together with the use of d-valence.

The habitual aspect is used to indicate that the activity described is a typical instance of a habitual activity. For example, if you call someone around noon and ask him what he is doing and he is eating lunch, he will respond na'usdai “I am eating” because he is eating a regular meal. Some verbs, such as “to pee” and “to defecate”, are generally used in the habitual because they describe things that everyone does on a regular basis. Non-habitual forms are appropriate when referring to instances that are not routine, such as giving a urine sample for medical tests.

Customary Aspect

The customary aspect indicates that something happens “customarily” or “usually”. Many verbs have a special stem for customary aspect. For example, nuts'uke means ``we are going around in a boat'' while its customary counterpart nuts'ukuih means ``we customarily go around in a boat''. The only difference is in the stems: ke vs. kuih. If a verb does not have a distinct customary stem, it is expressed by putting the particle lhih after the verb.

Momantaneous Aspect

Momantaneous aspect describes events that are treated as occuring at a single point in time. For example, if someone walks over to your house, although the walk takes place over a period of time, we think of the person arriving\ at your house at a single point in time.

Progressive Aspect

Progressive aspect describes motion in progress toward a goal. For example, if you call me on my cell phone as I walk somewhere and ask me what I am doing, when I say that I am walking somewhere, I will use the progressive aspect form usyalh because as we speak I am on my way. If I were merely walking around, not on my way somewhere, I would instead answer using a non-progressive form like nusya ``I am walking around''.

Continuous Aspect

Continuous aspect describes events that are treated as occuring over a period of time. For example, if I take a walk, it extends over a period of time.

Semelfactive Aspect

Semelfactive aspect describes events that consist of a single act as opposed to similar events that consists of multiple acts.

Distributive Aspect

Distributive aspect is used when a set of events distributed in time or space are described as part of a single task. For example, there are two forms that mean ``they are skinning'', the non-distributive ghahuges and the distributive ghanuhuguz. Suppose that there are three people. If they are all helping to skin the one beaver, we use the non-distributive form and say tsa ghahuges. If, however, there are three beaver and each person is skinning one of them, we use the distributive form and say ta tsa ghanuhuguz.}

Verb Structure

The Carrier verb is based upon a stem, which is invariably the last syllable of the verb. This is the part that contributes the basic meaning of the verb. For example, the stem of nuske ``I am going around by boat'' is ke. The same stem is seen in related forms, such as nuts'uke ``we are going around by boat''. We may associate the meaning ``go by boat'' with the stem ke.

The stem may change according to the tense and mode of the verb, whether it is affirmative or negative, and the aspect. For example, ``I am going to go around by boat'' is nuteskelh. Here the stem is kelh. The corresponding negative, meaning ``I am not going to go around by boat'', is nutuzeske. Here the stem is ke. To say ``we customarily go around by boat'' we say nuts'ukih. Here the stem is kih.

The various stems may be associated with an abstract root. For example, we may say that the root meaning ``to go around by boat'' is ke. At least historically, the various stems were derived from a root by adding suffixes. For example, the future affirmative stem kelh is derived from the root ke by adding the suffix lh. The system for deriving stems from roots is complicated, and it is not entirely clear whether it is still functioning today as it once did. At the very least, the root is a useful name for a set of related stems.

This dictionary contains a Root List and a Stem List. The Root List lists the roots known for the language and explains their meanings. Since there may be more than one root with the same form, roots have subscript numbers. For example, the root meaning ``to go around by boat'' is listed as ke₁ since there is another root, listed as ke₁, meaning ``for two people to sit or be located'', as in the form huz̲ke ``they are sitting''.

The Stem List tells you what roots a particular stem is associated with, in which tense/mode, negative, and aspect forms. For example, the stem kelh is listed as associated with the root ke₂ in the FA tense/mode/negation combination and the continuous aspect. The relationship among roots, stems, and individual verb forms is shown by this diagram.


The Errative

From virtually any verb it is possible to derive a verb meaning to do the same thing with an unintended, often undesirable, result. Such errative verbs are signalled in the glosses in the dictionary by the phrase in error. The range of meaning of such verbs is, however, somewhat broader than this gloss may suggest. To take a concrete example, suppose that we make the errative of a verb meaning ``I placed''. The errative may mean that I placed the wrong object, that I put it in the wrong place, that I placed it in the wrong manner, e.g. that I did it carelessly and damaged it, that placing it did not fulfill the intended purpose, or that I did everything exactly as intended but that the action backfired on me and that for some reason it had an undesirable result. An example of the latter would be putting a pie on the windowsill to cool only to have a passerby steal it.