Summary Paradigm Tables: The Decoder Ring of Cree Verbs (y- and th-dialects)

In English, we don’t waste much time with verb conjugations. We can cover almost every possibility (for the simple present, at least) with just one rule: “For 3rd person singular subjects (he/she/it), add an S to the verb stem.”

Try it out by plugging a verb stem into the blanks in the following tables. If the verb requires a direct object (someone or something that it acts on), it is transitive. If the verb doesn’t need a direct object, it is intransitive. English doesn’t use animate/inanimate categories: that cuts our work in half. In fact, many English verb stems can be used either transitively or intransitively. Pretty simple. If we need to know who did what to whom, we just have to look at the pronouns. 

English Intransitive Verb Conjugation Summarysingularplural
1st personI ___We ___
2nd personYou ___[same as 2nd singular]
3rd personHe/she/it ___sThey ___
English Transitive Verb Conjugationsingular subject plural subject
1st personI ___ somethingwe ___ something
2nd personyou ___ something[same as 2nd singular]
3rd person he/she/it ___s somethingthey ___ something

But Cree doesn’t use separate pronouns like English does. In fact, the full complexity of Cree verb tables can be overwhelming when the English system is the only one you know.

Lucky first-language speakers who are immersed in the language from birth learn all these forms by osmosis. The average second-language learner might wish for a decoder ring. A really determined second-language learner – such as Ben Godden – might invest countless hours in his secret laboratory building himself a decoding system (what linguists might call this a summary paradigm table).

Luckily, Ben has not only invested the hours, he has also shared his work. By clicking a simple download link, we can each be the first kid on our block to own our own Cree verb decoder table (summary verb paradigm). And we don’t even have to mail in our box tops (with self-addressed, stamped envelope). Thanks, Ben: you give new meaning to the word âhkamêyimow! 

Get your own copy right here, right now (by downloading and printing the PDF links – updated in 2022 thanks to Aaron Fay): 





Have a look at some of Ben’s other work in Cree by visiting his blog at itī kā-nīhithawasinahikāniwik / itē kā-nēhiyawasinahikēhk (Cree Story Writing) Blog

3 Responses

  1. Hello,
    I’m Marlene Kirwin and I’m currently in a beginner Nehiyaw course taught by Ruben Quinn in Edmonton. I came across your beautiful chart here, but I just want to confirm how to use it. Can I put any verb in the blanks?

    1. Hi Marlene, Cree verbs come in four main forms: VTA, VTI, VAI and VII. You need to refer to different sections of the decoder for each verb type.

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