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toki pona page 9 - complex adjectives and contexts

The vocabulary for this page:

word meaning
pi “of” (regroups adjectives/adverbs)
la “if/when” (introduces context)
luka hand, arm
linja long flexible object, string, rope, hair
palisa long solid object, branch, stick
selo outer form, shell, skin, boundary
sijelo body, physical state, torso
len cloth, clothes, layer of privacy
lete cold, raw
musi entertaining, artistic, fun, game

Time to introduce two other particles in this language: “pi” and “la”.


The word “pi” works by grouping several adjectives or adverbs together. Normally, all modifiers in a phrase apply to the first word. For example:

jan wawa – strong person

jan wawa ala – no strong people

If you need to say “weak people”, you need to negate “wawa”, but not “jan”. That’s where “pi” comes in handy:

jan pi wawa ala – weak person/people (“of no strength”)

This also goes with other words:

jan wawa mute – many strong people

jan pi wawa mute – very strong person/people

It is also useful for using common phrases:

jan toki utala – a speaker warrior

jan pi toki utala – a critic

If you prefer using the “toki [adjective]” structure for describing topics of conversation (see page 4 for that), then “pi” would also be used for specifying topics that use several words:

sina toki pi ma tomo mama sina. – You talk about your hometown.

pi with colors

Also, “pi” is frequently used for combined colors (these were described in page 8):

sewi pi pimeja walo li ike tawa mi. – I don’t like gray skies.

I believe it’s also okay to omit “pi”, but that might be ambiguous:

sewi pimeja walo li ike tawa mi. – I don’t like gray skies.

Some might interpret the latter as “skies that have both white and black” instead.

pi with unofficial words

The word “pi” is also used for phrases that use unofficial words.

ma tomo Wasintan li ma tomo lawa pi ma Mewika. – (the city of) Washington is the capital (“main city”) of the United States.

While “pi” is often defined as similar to the English word “of”, its usage is different. It is only necessary when you’re grouping several words together. So, for example, “the language of good” is still “toki pona”, rather than “toki pi pona”.


The word “la” allows to combine two sentences to form conditions and introduce context.

[sentence A] la [sentence B].

In the context of [sentence A], [sentence B].

In the most common case, translates to something like:

If/when [sentence A], then [sentence B].

For example:

moku ni li pona la mi pana e ona tawa sina. – If this food is good, I’ll give it to you.

ona li moli la ni li ike tawa jan ale. – If they die, it will be bad for everybody.

But there are also other uses. It can replace “lon [phrase]” when talking about location or time (more on that in the next page):

o kalama ala lon tomo lipu. – Be quiet in the library.

tomo lipu la o kalama ala. – In the library, be quiet.

It can also introduce perspective, much like “tawa”:

ni li pona tawa mi. – This is good for me. / I like it.

mi la ni li pona. – (From my point of view / In my opinion), this is good.

Or be used to link multiple sentences:

tan ni la… – Because of this, …

ni la… – In the context of all this, …

The usage of “la” is very flexible, and some people use it for cases other than those described before. Since toki pona is a very context-sensitive language, the most important rule is just “try to get your point across”.

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 official book, different online courses and my personal style differ on how to place punctuation in sentences that use “la”.

The official book uses a comma before “la” when it combines two sentences and uses no punctuation otherwise.

The “12 days of sona pi toki pona” video series uses no punctuation in all cases (and so did the “o kama sona e toki pona!” course).

I personally prefer using the comma after “la” for aesthetic purposes, but in this series, no punctuation will be used. Regardless, the presence or absence of commas in toki pona texts is largely aesthetic, as the functions they serve in English and other languages (separating clauses, listing things) are done either with separate sentences or by adding extra particles in toki pona.


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

And try to translate the following sentences into toki pona.


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