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Potawatomi Possession

On our parts of the body and kinship terms worksheets, you may notice that all the Potawatomi words begin with N. This is a Potawatomi prefix that means "my." Possessive prefixes can be used with almost any noun in Potawatomi.

For most nouns, the possessive prefixes are n-, g-, and w- before a noun that begins with a consonant, and nd-, gd-, and wd- before a noun that begins with a vowel. Some speakers use nde-, gde-, and wde- as prefixes for any noun, and this is also correct:

jiman (a boat) njiman or ndejiman (my boat) gjiman or gdejiman (your boat) wjiman or wdejiman (his or her boat)
mkwan (a spoon) ndmkwan or nde-mkwan (my spoon) gdmkwan or gde-mkwan (my spoon) wdmkwan or wde-mkwan (my spoon)


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 Potawatomi. That means you must use a possessive prefix with one of those words. You cannot say *mes, "an older sister," or *zet, "a foot." It isn't grammatically correct.

For these words, the possessive pronouns are slightly different. With only a few exceptions, the pronouns are n-, g-, and w- regardless of whether the noun begins with a vowel or consonant, and forms like nde- are never used.

*mes (root noun,
not used alone)
nmes (my older sister) gmes (your older sister) wmesyen (his or her older sister)
*zet (root noun,
not used alone)
nzet (my fingernail) gzet (your fingernail) wzet (his or her fingernail)
*okmes (root noun,
not used alone)
nokmes (my grandmother) kokmes (your grandmother) okmesen (his or her grandmother)
*ibet (root noun,
not used alone)
nibet (my tooth) gibet (your tooth) wibet (his or her tooth)

Two things to take note of:

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

4) Notice that "his or her grandmother" is okmesen in Potawatomi, not wokmesen. That's because w is never pronounced before an o in Potawatomi. There are other exceptions to the prefix pattern on this page as well. Every language, including Potawatomi, has irregular words. If you make a mistake, a Potawatomi 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 Potawatomi resources.
Learn more about the Potawatomi Indian tribe.


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