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toki pona page 10 - pre-verbs, time and place

The vocabulary for this page – pre-verbs:

word meaning
kama coming, future, event
ken can, ability, possibility
open start, begin, open
pini end, finish, close
sona knowledge, to know (how to)
wile want, need, desire

Words not in this table can be used as pre-verbs as well, such as “awen” and “lukin”.

and regular words:

word meaning
lupa hole, door, window
nasin path, road, directive, way
nena hill, mountain, button, bump,nose
tenpo time, moment


Time to cover the last grammatical feature of toki pona: pre-verbs. These are words that are added before other verbs and modify their meaning.

The word “kama” is used both as a regular verb to mean “to come” and to express that something is a current event:

mi jo e moku. – I have food.

mi kama jo e moku. – I (got / am getting) food.

mi kama tan ma Losi – I come from Russia.

As a pre-verb, the word “ken” functions much like the English word “can”:

mi pali e tomo. – I work on a house.

mi ken pali e tomo. – I can work on a house.

It can be used on its own to mean “possibility”, “ability”:

ni li ken. – This is possible.

ken la ale li pona. – Maybe everything is okay.

The words “open” and “pini” express that the action is beginning or ending.

mi open pali e tomo. – I start working on a house.

mi pini pali e tomo. – I stop/finish working on a house.

The word “sona” by itself can mean “knowledge” or “to know”, but as a pre-verb, it means “know how to [do the action]”:

mi sona pali e tomo. – I know how to work on a house.

mi sona e ni. – I know this.

mi sona sitelen. – I know how to write/draw.

mi sona e sitelen. – I know a writing/picture.

ona li sona ala sona e toki Inli? – Do they know English?

When “kama” is added before “sona”, you get a phrase that means “to learn”:

jan lili li kama sona toki. – The child is learning how to speak.

mi kama sona e toki pona. – I am learning toki pona.

or alternatively:

mi kama sona toki kepeken toki pona. – I am learning how to speak in toki pona.

The word “wile” is used to express want or need for the following action or thing.

jan lili li wile moku. – The child (is hungry / wants to eat).

jan lili li wile e ijo musi. The child wants a toy (“amusing thing”).

wile sina li suli mute. – Your needs/desires are very big.

In addition to these words, the words “awen” and “lukin” can also be used as pre-verbs. “awen” as a pre-verb means “to keep/continue [doing something]” and “lukin” means “to look for, to seek, to try [to do something]”.

ona li lukin e lipu. – They are reading a book.

ona li awen lukin e lipu. – They are still reading a book.

mi jo e tomo. – I have a house.

mi lukin jo e tomo. – I’m searching for a house (to own).


The word “tenpo” is useful, because it’s at the basis of many phrases that allow one to define time at which something is happening. Since toki pona doesn’t have grammatical tenses, the way time is generally described is by using an additional phrase:

tenpo ni la mi moku. – (Right now, ) I eat.


mi moku lon tenpo ni. – I eat (at this time).

(As explained in page 9, such uses of “lon” and “la” are interchangable in other cases as well.)

The phrases “tenpo pini” and “tenpo kama” are commonly used to mean “past” and “future”.

tenpo pini la mi pali e ijo ike mute. – I did a lot of bad things in the past.

tenpo kama la o moku ala e kasi ni. – In the future, don’t eat this plant.

Of course, you can ask questions regarding time by using “tenpo seme”:

tenpo seme la sina pini e pali sina? – When will you finish your work?

Dialectal differences

This part of the document describes how certain toki pona courses differ in explaining certain ideas, or how communities differ in using them.

The words “open” and “pini” are used as pre-verbs by some in the toki pona community, but they’re not defined or used as such in the official toki pona book or the “o kama sona e toki pona!” course.


Now, try to figure out the meaning of these sentences.

And try to translate the following sentences into toki pona.


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