The Arapaho Language : Grammar

Arapaho is very different from English. The language typically combines many different meaningful elements into a single word. Thus the English sentence "I am going to buy a new car in town" (10 separate words) would be stated as follows in Arapaho:

heetwoonotiibeenoo woteeniihi'

This sentence can be broken down into the following meaningful elements:

heet-woon-otiib-ee-noo    woteen-iihi'
future-new-car-possess-I   town-adverb

In order to learn and understand Arapaho, a detailed knowledge of the various meaningful elements (morphemes) and the ways and order in which they are combined in the word is essential. In the following, a brief explanation of the general grammar of Arapaho will be provided.


The heart of the Arapaho language is the verb. Many Arapaho "nouns" are really verbs. The word "cup" in Arapaho translates as "it holds things" and the word "giraffe" translates as "it has a long neck." Likewise, Arapaho verbal construction often replace English adjectives:

tall-verb suffix-he
"he is tall"

As the example about buying a new car shows, Arapaho verbs also tend to incorporate elements similar to English adverbs, prepositions, and so forth into the verb. Linguists call languages such as Arapaho "polysynthetic" languages.

Verb Categories

Arapaho verbs have four different categories: on the first level, there is a distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs. Among the intransitive verbs, there is a distinction between animate and inanimate subjects. These are called AI and II verbs. Using the word for "tall," we have:

tall-verb suffix-it
"it is tall"

Notice that the root "heen-/heey-" stays the same roughly, while a different verb suffix is added prior to the final segment representing "he" "it" or some other person or thing.

Among the transitive verbs, there is a similar distinction between actions on animate objects and actions on inanimate objects. These are called TA and TI verbs. Compare:

see-TA suffix-I-you
"I see you"

see-TI suffix-I-it
"I see it"

Verb Modifications

To indicate "tense" - whether an action happened in the past or will happen in the future, for example, prefixes are added to the Arapaho verb. Likewise, to indicate "aspect" - whether an action is or was ongoing or completed, prefixes are added. Additional prefixes indicate things like uncertainly about an action, or things such as "wanting" an action to happen, "wishing" it would happen, and so forth. Using examples based on the above verbs, we have:

"I still see you"

"I saw you"

"I would like to see you"


The other main type of word in Arapaho is the noun. Arapaho nouns are much simpler than the verbs. They have singular and plural forms, but unlike languages such as German, Russian or Latin, there are not many changes in the form of the noun depending on whether it is a direct object, indirect object and so forth.

The nouns are divided between animate and inanimate nouns. As you might expect, "mother" is animate, while "house" is inanimate. However, "ax" is also animate. There are many such words in Arapaho, so the distinction here cannot be predicted based on "real life" - it must be learned. A few animate nouns:

wox          bear
woxuu      bears

3owo3nenitee          Indian
3owo3neniteeno'     Indians

nih'oo3oo          White Man (also "spider")
hinono'ei             an Arapaho


Most Arapaho sentences consist of a verb and a noun. Other items, such as independent adverbs, demonstratives, or various unchanging words such as "oh!" or "finally!" (called particles) also occur. Following are some Arapaho sentences:

heentoo3i' neeceeno' niiinone'
heentoo-3i'  neecee-no'  niiinon-e'
 located-they  chief-plural  tepee-at
"The chiefs are in the tepee"

nih'otoonootowoo wonooyoo koonoh'e'enoo'
nih-'otoon-oot-owoo  wonooy-oo  koonoh'-e'en-oo-'
past-buy-TI verb suffix-I-it   new-adjective   all-know-II verb suffix-it
"I bought a new computer."

(the Arapaho word for computer translates as "it knows everything"!)