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Ojibwe Possession

On our parts of the body and kinship terms worksheets, you may notice that all the Ojibwe words begin with N or In. These are Ojibwe prefixes that mean "my." Possessive prefixes can be used with almost any noun in Ojibwe. For most nouns, the possessive prefixes are ni-, gi-, and o- before a noun that begins with a consonant, and ind-, gid-, and od- before a noun that begins with a vowel. The first-person prefix ("my") is usually in- before the consonants d, g, j, z, and zh, though.

makak (a basket) nimakak (my basket) gimakak (your basket) omakak (his or her basket)
jiimaan (a boat) injiimaan (my boat) gijiimaan (your boat) ojiimaan (his or her boat)
azheboyaanaak (an oar) indazheboyaanaak (my oar) gidazheboyaanaak (your oar) odazheboyaanaak (his or her oar)

However, certain nouns (including most body parts and kinship terms, and some words for personal objects like clothing) have inalienable possession in Algonquian languages like Ojibwe. That means you must use a possessive prefix with one of those words. You cannot say *misenh, "an older sister," or *shkanzh, "a fingernail." It isn't grammatically correct. There is an indefinite prefix, M- or Mi-, which you can use to be abstract or if the possessor is unknown to you (i.e. if a body part has been severed, or has hit you from behind.) You could, for example, say "Moozhag mimisenh zhawenjige," which means "usually one's older sister is nurturing." Or you could say "Mishkanzh naawisag dazhisin," which means "somebody's fingernail is lying on the floor."

For these words, the possessive pronouns are slightly different. The pronouns are ni-, gi-, o-, and mi- before a root noun that begins with a consonant, and n-, k-, w-, and m- before a root noun that begins with a vowel. The first-person prefix ("my") is still usually in- before the consonants d, g, j, z, and zh.

*misenh (root noun,
not used alone)
nimisenh (my older sister) kimisenh (your older sister) omisenhyan (his or her older sister) mimisenh (one's older sister)
*shkanzh (root noun,
not used alone)
nishkanzh (my fingernail) gishkanzh (your fingernail) oshkanzh (his or her fingernail) mishkanzh (one's fingernail)
*ookomis (root noun,
not used alone)
nookomis (my grandmother) kookomis (your grandmother) ookomisan (his or her grandmother) mohkom (one's grandmother)
*iiyaw (root noun,
not used alone)
niiyaw (my body) giiyaw (your body) wiiyaw (his or her body) miiyaw (one's body)

Four things to take note of:

1) In some Ojibwe dialects, nin- and nind- are used instead of in- and ind-. Ojibwe is a very widely spoken language and the dialects can be very different from each other. Learn the prefixes that are correct for your own community.

2) When animate words use the third person form ("his or her"), there is not only a prefix (o- or w-) but also a suffix (-an) at the end of the word. This is not true for inanimate words.

3) The "mi-" form is rarely used to refer to people in most Ojibwe dialects, but is still common when referring to severed body parts (such as chicken legs.)

4) Notice that "his or her grandmother" is ookomisan in Ojibwe, not wookomisan. That's because w is never pronounced before an oo in Ojibwe. There are other exceptions to the prefix pattern on this page as well. Every language, including Ojibwe, has irregular words. If you make a mistake, a Ojibwe speaker will probably still understand you, just like an English speaker understands a person who says "fighted" instead of "fought."

Click here for a pronunciation guide.
Click here for more Ojibwe language resources.
Learn more about the Ojibwe Indian tribe.

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