Nuer Field Project

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

Lesson 30

Nuer verbs occur in two separate categories when considered in their relationship to their objects. They are divided into Transitive and Intransitive which will be explained here.

A woman is talking to her child and says:

Woman: Gatdä̲, ci̲ mi̲th mïdan? Kuä̲n a thïn rɛy duëël.
My child did you eat a little while ago? There's porridge in the House.
  Kä̲ cä̲ re̲c bu̲̩l kɛ kui̲cdu̲, ŋotɛ maac. /Ke̲n buɔ̩th i̲ nä̲k?
And I roasted fish for you, it is still on the fire. Has hunger not killed you?
Child: Cä̲ mi̲th, madi̲n. Cä̲ mi̲th kɛ kuä̲n, ci̲ tha̲a̲ndɛ duɔth, Cä̲ re̲c cam kɛɛliw, tä̲ä̲mɛ cä̲ riä̲ŋ.
I've eaten, mother. I ate porridge, some of it remains. I ate the fish completely, now I'm full.
Woman: Cak a thï̲n rɛy dia̩r. Ruɛ̲th kɛ. Thu̲k kɛ kɛn diaal.
There's milk in the milk gourd. Drink them. Finish them all of them.
Child: Diaar a ni̲?
Where is the milk gourd?
Woman: Bi̲ jï̲n ɛ wä̲ jɛ̲k rɛy duëël thaar duëël gɛ̲kä̲ diëny.
You will find it in the house in the back of the house beside the baby-basket.

Further examples of Transitive-Intransitive verbs.

  1. Cä̲ maath kɛ pi̲w. -- I drank (with) water (and not something else).
    Cä̲ pi̲w math. -- I drank (the) water.
  2. Cä̲ thuɔ̲k kɛ la̲t. -- I finished (with) work (and not something else).
    Cä̲ la̲t thu̲̩k. -- I finished (the) work.
  3. Cä̲ ruac kɛ ruac. -- I talked (with) talk (and not something else).
    Cä̲ jɛ lar. (Cä̲ jɛ lat.) -- I said it.
  4. Cä̲ lä̲t kɛ la̲t. -- I worked (with) work (not something else).
    Cä̲ la̲t la̲t. -- I worked (the) work.
  5. Cä̲ gɔa̲r kɛ warɛgak. -- I wrote (with the) letter (and not something else).
    Cä̲ warɛgak gɔ̲r. -- I wrote (the) letter.
  6. Cä̲ piɛ̲th kɛ bɛl. -- I planted (with) dura (and not something else).
    Cä̲ bɛl pith. -- I planted (the) dura.
  7. Cä̲ ciöt kɛ ciöt. -- I called (with a) call (and not something else).
    Cä̲ jɛ cɔl. -- I called him.
  8. Cä̲ puaak kɛ gat. -- I bathed (with) the child (and not something else).
    Cä̲ gat puɔk. -- I bathed (the) child.
  9. Cä̲ tëk kɛ tëk. -- I lived (with) life (and not something else).
    Cä̲ jɛ tɛ̲k. -- I lived him i.e. made him to live.



  1. [iö] is a difficult diphthong spoken between the -o as in "toe" and the -u of "foot".


  1. Most Nuer verbs have a Transitive and Intransitive stem. e.g. [cam] means "to eat" and grammatically it requires an object. [mi̲th] also means "to eat" but like "to dine" it does not require an object to complete it. However, this transitive intransitive idea in Nuer has a wider scope in actual meaning than does the English idea. It is also subtle and a bit difficult to grasp in every instance. Grammatically, the transitive verb many either stand alone or take an object in the form of a prepositional phrase.
    Definition of meanings:
    1. Transitive: The transitive form of the verb indicates a definite and specific object without reference to anything else.
    2. Intransitive: The intransitive form of the verb indicates a specific, contrastive object when it is followed by a prepositional phrase or clause introduced by the preposition [kɛ].
      • [Cɛ kuä̲n cam. ] -- He ate (the) porridge. Trans. specific object but not necessarily contrastive with anything else.
      • [Cɛ mi̲th kɛ kuä̲n. ] -- He dined with (on) porridge (and not something else). Intransitive. A specific object but in contrast with all other possible foods.
  2. As can be observed throughout these lessons, both types of verbs, transitive and intransitive, occur in all 3 aspects and in the various moods of the verb. But each is a unit in itself and must be learned separately. There is no way of predicting a transitive form from an intransitive form or vice-versa. They are, for the most part, totally unrelated phonemically.
    Most Nuer verbs occur in both these grammatical environments and are sometimes strange sounding to foreign ears.
  3. [tha̲a̲ŋ] is a noun meaning "some" i.e. less than half of the minority. It has no plural. A second word [ri̲w] is a noun meaning "some" i.e. half or more, or the majority. When these words are suffixed with the possessive adjective endings the resultant meaning follows this pattern:
  4. The verb [ruɛ̲th] is used with drinking milk only, in E. Nuer.
  5. The verb [ŋot] is the Nuer equivalent of "lissa" in Arabic. It means both "still" and "not yet" depending on how you look at it!
  6. Double verbs are common in Nuer speech particularly in connection with the verbs [bɛ̲n] and [wä̲]. They take the place of an infinitive in English when used as the direct object of the verb.


A verb in the 2nd Aspect may follow a verb in any of the 3 aspects to make a double verb construction.

Word Order:

Intransitive verbs -- the two verbs occur together. Transitive verbs -- The 1st Aspect has the direct object of the double verb in between the two verbs (see example above). In all instances the object may be anything from a word to a clause.

Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others