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Cree Possession

On our parts of the body and kinship terms worksheets, you may notice that all the Cree words begin with N. Ni- or Nit- is a Cree prefix that means "my." Possessive prefixes can be used with almost any noun in Cree. For most nouns, the possessive prefixes are ni-, ki-, and o- before a noun that begins with a consonant, and nit-, kit-, and ot- before a noun that begins with a vowel.

cîmân (a boat) nicîmân (my boat) kicîmân (your boat) ocîmân (his or her boat)
astotin (a hat) nitastotin (my hat) kitastotin (your hat) otastotin (his or her hat)

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 Cree. That means you must use a possessive prefix with one of those words. You cannot say *mis, "an older sister," or *askasiy, "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 "Mâna mimis kisewâtotawew," which means "usually one's older sister is nurturing." Or you could say "Maskasiy mohcihk," which means "somebody's fingernail is on the floor."

For these words, the possessive pronouns are slightly different. The pronouns are ni-, ki-, 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.

*mis (root noun, not used alone) nimis (my older sister) kimis (your older sister) omisa (his or her older sister) mimis (one's older sister)
*askasiy (root noun, not used alone) naskasiy (my fingernail) kaskasiy (your fingernail) oskasiy (his or her fingernail) maskasiy (one's fingernail)
*ohkom (root noun, not used alone) nohkom (my grandmother) kohkom (your grandmother) ohkoma (his or her grandmother) mohkom (one's grandmother)
*iyaw (root noun, not used alone) niyaw (my body) kiyaw (your body) wiyaw (his or her body) miyaw (one's body)

Three things to take note of:

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

2) The "mi-" form is rarely used to refer to people in most Cree dialects. It's much more common to use the suffix -imâw, such as "ohkomimâw" ("she who is someone's grandmother"), or the word awiyak with the third-person form, such as "awiyak ohkoma" ("somebody or other's grandmother.")

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

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