Nuer Field Project

Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Pedagogical Grammar of Nuer Translation of Genesis in Nuer Others

Lesson 27

This lesson introduces the comparison of so-called adjectival and adverbial expressions. Since there are very few "pure" adjectives or adverbs in Nuer the idea of comparison is spoken by using adjectival verbs.

This conversation occurs between 2 school boys:

1st boy: Bi̲i̲ydä̲ gɔaa ni̲ jɛn kä̲ bi̲i̲ydu̲.
My cloth goods -- it from your colth. i.e. is better than
2nd boy: Ɣëc, /ci̲ ɛ jɛn. Bi̲i̲ydu̲ kuiyɛ. Gɔaa ni̲ du̲ŋdä̲.
No, it is not so. Your cloth small. Goods-mine.
1st boy: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲, kä̲ kä̲mni̲ ɤä̲ bi̲i̲ydu̲.
Oh, so give me your cloth.
2nd boy: Ɣëc /cɛ bi̲ gɔaa kɛ ɤöö di̲t ni̲ ɤä̲n kä̲ ji̲. bɛ lɔr puɔ̲nydu̲
No, it won't be good because bigs-I from you. It will be loose on your body. i.e. I am bigger than you.
1st boy: Ɛ jɛn, kä̲ bä̲ ji̲ la̲r duɔ̲ɔ̲r. /Cu̲ bi̲i̲ydä̲ lo̲k. Kuiy ni̲
It is so, and I will tell you something. Don't dislike my cloth. Smalls--i.e. I am
  Ɣä̲n kä̲ ji̲, kä̲ di̲t ni̲ jï̲n kä̲ ɤä̲. Kɛ kui̲c nɛmɛkä̲
I from you, and bigs-you from me. Because of this smaller than you. i.e. you are bigger than me.
  gɔaa ni̲ bi̲i̲ydä̲ kɛ kui̲cdä̲, dä̲ gɔaa ni̲ bi̲i̲ydu̲ kɛ kui̲cdu̲. /Ci̲ ɛ jɛn inɔ?
goods-my colth for me, and goods-your cloth for you. i.e. my cloth is better for me. i.e. your cloth is better for you. Is it not like that?
A person might say: Nɛmɛ gɔaa ni̲ jɛn kä̲ kɛn diaal. Ɣä̲n göörä̲ nɛmɛ
This goods-it from them all. I want this i.e. this is better than them all.
  pa̲ny kɛ ɤöö nɛmɛ le̲nyɛ ŋɔak diaal kɛ gɔɔy ɛpu̲c.
really because this exceeds all things in goodness truly.



  1. -ua- is a diphthong not difficult except when preceded by r- as in [ruac]. Draw the lips close together ot say ru-.


  1. "Comparative" is a mis-nomer in Nuer because there are no individual words expressing comparison. The idea is expressed by the adjectival verb in a construction which uses the emphatic word order and the emphatic particle [ni̲] to explain the 2nd degree of comparison. The pattern of the sentence is as follows:
    Verb stem + ni̲ + subject + kä̲ (used as the comparer or as "from" in the sense of "from the point of reference of") + the object or person to which the comparison is being made.


    Jiath ɛmɛ di̲t ni̲ jɛn kä̲ jiath ɛmɔ.
    This tree is bigger than that tree. Literally: Tree this bigs it from (the point of reference which is) tree that.

    Wu̲t ɛmɛ jue̲ydɛ bɛc ni̲ jɛn kä̲ jue̲y wu̲tä̲ nɔmɔ.
    This man his sickness pains - it fromthe sickness of that man.

    Dho̲o̲l ɛmɔ bä̲r ni̲ jɛn kä̲ nyɛm ɛmɔ.
    Boy that talls-he form girl that. i.e. That boy is taller than that girl.

    Gat ɛmɔ kuiy ni̲ jɛn kä̲ gat ɛmɛ.
    Child that smalls-he from child this. i.e. That child is smaller than this child.

    Ciɛw ni̲ ti̲ti̲ kä̲ tɔtɔ.
    Thins-these from those. i.e. These are thinner than those.

    Ti̲ti̲ jiä̲k ni̲ kɛn ɛlɔ̲ŋ kä̲ ti̲ti̲.
    These bads-them very from these. i.e. These are worse than these.

    Rie̲y du̲ŋ wu̲tä̲ nɔmɔ ciak ni̲ jɛn kä̲ rie̲y wu̲tä̲ ni̲mi̲.
    Canoe belonging of man that shorts-it from canoe of man that over there. i.e. The canoe belongs to that man is shorter than the canoe of that man over there.

    Ti̲ti̲ gɔw ni̲ kɛn kä̲ nyi̲nku̲n.
    These good-them from yours. i.e. These are better than yours. Note: "good" has a plural verb form [gɔw].

  2. In the above examples the preposition [kä̲] is followed by nouns or pronouns. This is not the limit of this prepositional construction, however, [kä̲] can also be followed by a clause.
  3. The degrees of comparison are indicated by the use of the verb in the 1st Aspect as follows:
    Positive -- [Gɔaa] It good. i.e. It is good. -- Good.
    Comparative -- [Gɔaa ni̲ jɛn kä̲ du̲ŋdu̲] Goods-it from yours. i.e. It is better than yours. -- Better
    Superlative -- [Gɔaa ni̲ jɛn kä̲ kɛn diaal] Goods-it from they all. i.e. It is better than all of them, it is best. -- Best
    The superlative idea is expressed by comparing the desired object or person with, [kɛn diaal] everything, or any other object modified and qualified by [diaal].
  4. There is a dependent clause expression which is used constantly in Nuer to indicate a polite way of saying "what I think you'd better do is..." This clausal expression is [gɔaa ni̲ɤöö] literally meaning "it is better that..." This clause may be completed by any type of independent clause or imperative.
  5. There is a verb meaning to surpass which can also indicate the superlative idea due to its meaning. The word is [le̲ny]. It takes a direct object, and may be followed by a prepositional pharse [kɛ...] to express the way in which someone or something is surpassed.
Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others