Chapter 8: Transitive Verbs

8.0 Transitivity

All the sentences we have seen so far are intransitive, and consist of a verb or some other type of predicate (nominal or adjectival) and a subject noun, which generates absolutive affixes on the verb or predicate. (There are often additional constituents, as well.)

'Oy 'ixim. There is corn.
'Oy jtz'i'. I have a dog.
Avu'un li na e. The house is yours.
Teyot ta ch'en. You are in the cave.
Ik'a' li lobol e. The fruit is rotten.
I'abtej li Xun e. John worked.

We have seen a few sentences with explicit agents. (The agent is the person doing the action: Who did it?) But the agent is always introduced by means of the preposition ta or the relational particle 'o.

Ibat ta vinik li tzeb e. The girl went with (that is, married) the boy.
Vo'on ixi' 'o li 'unen e. The boy was frightened by me.

There are also transitive sentences, which consist of a transitive verb, an agent (the actor), and a patient or object (which corresponds to the person or thing undergoing the action). The object is specified as a response to questions like, "Who did it happen to? What happened?" In Tzotzil, a transitive verb carries affixes that refer to the agent and the patient (in the same way that intransitive verbs and the intransitive predicates carry "absolutive" affixes that refer to the subject of the sentence).

8.1 Transitive Verb Commands

We have already seen a few imperative sentences with transitive verbs. The imperative form of a transitive verb uses the suffix -o. (In the notation that we develop here, transitive verb roots will be written with a word-initial dash to distinguish them from intransitive verb roots, which will be written with a word-final dash).

K'elo li na e! Look at the house! -k'el, "look"
'Ich'o lavote. Take your tortilla! -ich', "take, carry"
Paso perton. Pardon me. (Literally: Make pardon.) -pas, "make, do"
'Ak'o perton. Pardon me. (Literally: Give pardon.) -ak', "give"

Commands can be made more urgent (and polite) by adding the "desiderative" particle me, which signifies desire.

Chapo me lavikatze. Please get your load ready.
Tzoyo me lak'ok'e. Light your fire (quickly).
'A'yo me k'op. Listen to the words. -a'iy, "hear, listen, understand, feel"

In those imperative sentences, the agent (who performs the action) is the addressee: the second person, 'you'. The object of the verb's action is a noun. Imperative verbs can also combine with directionals.

8.2 Transitive Verbs with Auxiliaries

There is a construction that combines a transitive verb (with both a subject and an object) with an intransitive "auxiliary" root, which adds a sense of motion (or lack of motion) and intention to the action denoted by the transitive verb. Consider the following examples with the auxiliary tal- "to come."

Tal jk'el li k'in e. I came to see the party.
Mi tal amil vakax li vo'ot e? Did you come to kill the cow?
Ma'uk. 'Ali Xun e, ja' tal smil li vakax e. No. It was John, who came to kill the cow.
Mi tal ava'iy mantal? Did you come to hear the orders?
Mo'oj. Tal kich' jtak'in. No, I came to receive my money.
Much'u tal yak' li tak'in e? Who came to give money?
Ja' ital li Petul e. Peter did.

In these examples, the subject is marked on the (transitive) verb by means of prefixes that are identical to the possessive prefixes.

Vowel-Initial / Consonant-Initial
j- / k-


a- / av-

"he, she"

s- / y-

With those prefixes, verbs can formed, as shown below:

Tal jk'el. I came to see it.
Tal kak'. I came to give it.
Tal ak'el. You came to see it.
Tal avak'. You came to give it.
Tal sk'el. He came to see it.
Tal yak'. He came to give it.

Verbs with auxiliaries can occur with any aspect or tense: neutral, perfective, imperfective, or stative. The auxiliary verb, and not the main verb, carries the affix that indicates tense/aspect. The forms are the following: x- "neutral," ch- "imperfective," -em "stative," Ø- (null) "perfective."

Mi chtal ak'el k'in 'ok'ob e? Are you coming to see the party tomorrow?
Mu xa bu xtal jk'el. I am not coming to see it.
Mi 'ay xa yich' vo' li 'unen e? Has the child already gone to be baptized?
Chba 'ox yich' volje, pero muk' ibat.

He was going to yesterday, but never went.
Ja' to chba yich' 'ok'ob. He is going to go tomorrow.

Note that the temporal particles (e.g., to, xa, and 'ox) directly follow the auxiliary. They can also follow the imperfective aspect marker, ta, as already seen with intransitive verbs.

Ta 'ox xba jman kantela, pero ch'abal stojol. I was going to buy candles, but I didn't have the money (literally: the price wasn't there, didn't exist). kantela, "candle" -tojol, "price, wage, expense"

The intransitive verbs bat- "go" and 'ay "go and return" have the shortened form ba and 'a, which are used as auxiliaries.

Mi 'a amaj li 'ixim e? Did you go to beat the corn?
Muk' xi'ay. 'Ali jkrem e, batem xa smaj. I didn't go. My son has gone to do it.
K'usi talem apax li'e? What have you come here to do?
Talem jk'an tak'in. I have come to ask for (literally: wanting) money. -k'an, "to want, need, request"

8.3 Direct Objects of Transitive Verbs

K'usi tal spas li Xun e? What did John come to do?
Tal smilot. He came to kill you.

Bu chba jmalaot? Where am I going to wait for you?
Chba amalaon ta be. You are going to wait for me on the road.

-mala, "wait"

If the direct object of a transitive verb is in the first or second person, the verb should carry an absolutive affix corresponding to the direct object. In the presence of an auxiliary verb, the direct objects always engender absolutive suffixes.

Chba s-mil-on. He is going to kill me.
Chba s-mil-ot. He is going to kill you.
Chba s-mil-Ø (null). He is going to kill him.
Chtal a-mil-on. You're coming to kill me.
Chtal a-mil-Ø (null). You're coming to kill him.
'A j-mil-ot. I went to kill you.
'A j-mil-Ø (null). I went to kill him.

Note that the same absolutive suffixes that are used to indicate the subjects of intransitive verbs (or stative predicates) are used to indicate the objects of transitive verbs. (Languages that use a single marker for these two functions are called ergative languages.) It is worth pointing out that the prefixes marking the subject of a transitive verb are identical to the possessive prefixes--both of which are called "ergative." According to the tradition in Mayan linguistics, the "pronominal" affixes of noun possessors and agents of transitive verbs make up Group A. The absolutive affixes--which indicate the themes of stative sentences, the agents or patients of intransitive verbs, and the patients (objects) of transitive verbs--make up Group B. (In Tzotzil, there are in fact two Group B's: one of prefixes and another of suffixes.)

When a verb's subject and object are indicated by affixes on the verb, there is no possibility of ambiguity as long as either the subject or the object is first or second person. In such cases, it is always clear who is the agent and who (or what) is the patient.

'A amaj li Xun e. You went to hit John.
'Ali Xun e, 'a amaj. It was John who you went to hit.
Chtal smajon li Xun e. John is coming to hit me.
'Ali Xun e, chtal smajon (li vo'on e). It is John who is coming to hit me.

Only when the agent and the object are both third person will a transitive verb be ambiguous. In such cases, constituent order (V O S) is of the utmost important. The subject is either fronted or comes at the end of the sentence.

Ba smaj Xun li 'Antun e. Anthony went to hit John.
'Ali 'Antun e, ba smaj li Xun e. It was Anthony who went to hit John.

Similarly, interrogative words (which are always fronted) can question the identity of the subject or the object. As long as one of the two is in the first or second person, no ambiguity will arise.

Buch'u 'a smajot? Who went to hit you?
Buch'u 'a amaj? Who did you go to hit?

Chopol ti k'usi ba jk'el. What I went to see was bad.
Chopol ti k'usi ba sk'elon. What went to see me was bad.

But in cases where the subject and the object are both third person, the verbal affixes do not provide enough information to determine which noun is subject and which is object.

Buch'u ba smaj? Who went to hit him? Or: Who did he go to hit?

Quite often, the interpretation given to an ambiguous sentence of the kind mentioned above depends upon the meaning of the nouns and verbs involved.

K'usi ba sman li Xun e? What did John go to buy?

John, being animate, does the buying of something inanimate (k'usi) and is therefore subject.

Much'u ba sman li 'ixim e? Who went to buy corn?

Corn, being an inanimate thing, cannot buy a person, and is therefore object, although the grammatical structure of ths sentence does not specify whether 'ixim is subject or object of the verb -man "to buy". Later we will examine a few syntactic resources that Tzotzil provides to avoid such ambiguity.

Intransitive verbs also occur with auxiliaries, but with special suffixes.

Chba 'abtej-k-on. I am going to work.
Mi 'a xa ve'-ik-ot? Did you go to eat?

These forms will be discussed in section 9.4.

8.4 The "Quasi-Subjunctive" Use of Transitive Verbs

The simple form of a transitive verb is a complex composed of the verb's stem, an ergative prefix (indicating the subject), and an absolutive suffix (indicating the object). Josh Smith (n.d.) has called this simple form "quasi-subjunctive" due to the fact that this form is not used freely, but only to express a desire, a goal, or an objective. The auxiliary verb construction makes this interpretation clearer.

Chmuy ak'el li mut e. You climb up to see the bird.

mut, "bird"

The construction chmuy ak'el literally means: "you rise to see it"--in other words, "you rise in order for you to see it."

The same subjunctive meaning can be seen in constructions where the verb is subordinated to another sentence, expressing the proposition of the action denoted by the principal verb.

Bu batem lavajnil e? Where has your wife gone?
Ba smeltzan vaj jve'. She went to make tortillas for me to eat.

-meltzan, "make, fix, create"
Li' ch'och jmil mut jti'. I am going to enter here and kill a bird toeat.
-ve', "eat (tortillas, bread, etc.)

-ti', "eat (meat, beans, etc.), bite"

In this example, the verb jti' is subordinate to the noun mut. The construction suggests that the bird is obtained "in order to be eaten by me." With the relational particle 'o (which, as we have seen, signals an instrument or agent) more complex subordinate constructions are formed.

'Ali jkrem e, ba ssa' tal te', jmaj 'o li jtz'i' e. My son went to look for (and bring back) a stick for me to hit the dog with.
-sa', "seek, look for"
Sa'o tak'in aman 'o bek'et. Look for money to buy meat with.

(In the speech of many Zinacantecos, the second verb in these constructions requires a temporal prefix, as we will see later.)

Note that the imperative of a transitive verb with an auxiliary is marked twice: first on the intransitive verbs (with the suffix -an on the auxiliary) and second by the suffix for transitive imperatives.

'Ochan ava'iy li k'op e. Come in to hear the discussion.
'Och 'a'iyo li k'op e. Come hear the discussion.

With verbs of perception (for example, -a'iy "understand, hear, listen," and -il "to see") a construction that combines an imperative verb with a "quasi-subjunctive" verb is frequently used.

K'elo avil (=k'elavil). Look. (Literally: Look and see.)
Chopol li bek'et e; mano avil. The meat is bad; (if you don't believe me) buy it and see for yourself.
'A'iyo ava'i li son e. Listen (so you can hear) the song.

son, "song, piece"

(In final position, the y of -a'iy is lost).

The simple form of a transitive verb is also used in more clearly subjunctive constructions. A construction of this type uses the imperative form of -ak' "to give": 'ak'o, literally: "give it," in other words, "would that, let it be that..." Another construction uses the particle chak (often pronounced as chk, without a vowel), which means: "he wants, would that, he desires...".

Ch'abal jtak'in; 'ak'o sman stuk sbek'et. I have no money; let him buy his meat himself.
Timi pukuj e, 'ak'o ya'i pus jlikeluk.

If he is so brave, let him feel the sweat bath (i.e., jail).
Chak jti' bek'et. I want to eat meat.
Chak aman akaro, lek. You want to buy a car; that would be good.
Chak sjam li sna e, chi'och. Open your door and I'll come in.

In effect, the construction

'ak'o + simple form of transitive verb

is the imperative of the third person.

'Ak'o smaj. Would that he would hit it!
'Ak'o smajon. Would that he would hit me!
'Ak'o smajot. Would that he would hit you!
'Ak'o me smil ta jmoj. Kill him once and for all!

-moj, numeral classifier: "[golpe]"

ta jmoj, "once, forever"

Imperatives of the first person plural are also formed with the ergative prefix j-/k- and the plural suffix -tik.

Jmajtik ch'e. Let's hit him! Jmantik. Let's buy it!

(There is no form with a second person object, since the imperative of the first person plural includes the listener:

Kich'tik ch'e. Let's you and me take it!

See Section 9.1.)

8.5 Time and Aspect with Transitive Verbs

Transitive and intransitive verbs occur in the same tense forms. What is important to note is the position of the various person and tense/aspect markers.

Jmanoj jka'. I have bought my horse.
Yich'oj xa vo' li 'unen e. The boy is baptised.
Jbaik'oj pox. I have bought medicine. (More accurately: I am in the state resulting from having taken medicine).
-bik', "take"
pox, "shot, medicine"
Smakoj yajnil li krem e. The boy is courting his fiance. (Literally: He has already covered his fiance.)
-mak, "close, wrap up, cover"

The stative form of a transitive verb denotes the state that results from performing some action. This is formed with the stative suffix -oj which is added to the verb stem. Pronominal objects engender absolutive suffixes that follow -oj.

Kilojot 'onox. I have always seen you. (In other words: I know your face.)
Smajojon lek; yech'o i'och ta chukel. He has hit me a lot; that's why he went to jail.

-chuk, "tie up, jail"

chukel, "to be in jail"

With perfective and imperfective aspect there are certain complications. These forms are indicated by means of prefixes that can be represented in the following manner:

Imperfective Aspect:
ta + x-

Perfective Aspect:
l- (before a nominal prefix)
-i (before an isolated verb root)

Neutral Aspect:

These rules apply to both transitive and intransitive verbs.

Ta xibat. I'm going.
Ta xabat. You're going.
Ta xbat. He's going.

Libat. I went.
Labat. You went.
Ibat. He went.

The forms taken by transitive verbs whose objects are in the third person (and therefore do not engender absolutive affixes) are the following:

Ta j-maj I hit it.
Ta x-k-ich' I receive it.

Ta x-a-maj. You hit it.
Ta x-av-ich'. You receive it.

Ta s-maj. He hits it.
Ta x-ich'. He receives it.

(Note that the aspectual prefix x- is lost before j and s for euphonic reasons. Also the prefix of the third person with vowel roots, y, disappears after the aspectual x-.) There are also shortened forms, which result from the contraction of ta + x to ch-.

Ta j-maj.



(The form tzmaj is a contraction of ta smaj.)

One must keep in mind that the absolutive prefixes are vowels: i- in the first person, and a- in the second person. In Zinacantec Tzotzil, a first or second person object is marked with absolutive prefixes (and not with suffixes) in the perfective and imperfective forms, except when the subject of the verb is in the second person. (Since the ergative prefix of the second person is a- or av-, prefixing another vowel would result in an unacceptable vowel cluster.) These precepts can be clarified with the following examples:

Ta x-a-j-maj. I hit you.
Ta x-a-k-il. I see you.

Ta x-a-s-maj. He hits you.
Ta x-a-y-il. He sees you.

Ta x-i-s-maj. He hits me.
Ta x-i-y-il. He sees me.

In all of these cases, the object of the verb is reflected in absolutive prefixes. However, compare the following forms:

Ta x-a-maj-on. You hit me.
Ta xa-av-il-on. You see me.

Thus, according to the above-formulated rules, the perfective forms are the following:

I-j-maj. I hit him.
I-k-il. I saw him.

L-a-j-maj. I hit you.
L-a-k-il. I saw you.

L-i-s-maj. He hit me.
L-i-y-il. He saw me.

L-a-s-maj. He hit you.
L-a-y-il. He saw you.

A-maj. You hit him.
Av-il. You saw him.

A-maj-on. You hit me.
Av-il-on. You saw me.

Note that the perfective prefix i- disappears before the ergative a-.1

Given the multiplicity of forms, students should remember that the subject of a transitive verbs is indicated by an ergative prefix (of the same form as a possessive prefix), while the direct object of a transitive verb is indicated by an absolutive affix (whether prefix or suffix). Someone who already knows how to speak Tzotzil should take note of the regular system that underlies the actual forms. A verb alone, whose affixes contain the stamp of its subject and object, can stand alone as an entire sentence.

Chajmaj. I am going to hit you.
Liyil. He saw me.

The word 'oy, which we already know signals existence, also occurs with verbs of explicit aspect. The word 'oy in the following examples expresses an occasional or habital action.

'Oy xbat. He goes once in a while.
'Oy chbat. There's the possbility that he'll go.
'Oy ibat. 'Oy batem. He has gone. There have been ocasions when he went.
Mi 'oy xaman 'ixim. Do you typically buy corn?
Mi 'oy aman 'ixim. Have you ever bought corn?
'Oy kiloj li mar e. Have you had the opportunity to see the sea.

8.6 Transitive Verb Roots

Mi chati' bek'et? Will you eat (in other words: do you want) meat?
Mi chave' vaj? Will you eat tortillas?

There are various Tzotzil verbs that are translated by the English word "eat." The use of a particular form depends on the type of food that is being eaten, particularly according to its consistency. For example, -ve' is applied to tortillas, bread, and pastries. The verb -ti' is applied to meat, beans, chiles, and tomatos.

Ta jlo' lo'bol. I am going to eat fruit.
Mi chalo' batz'i lo'bol? Do you want to eat bananas?
-lo', "eat (fruit, etc.)"

The verb -lo' is used with smooth foods, such as fruits and vegetables. The derived word, lo'bol, is the generic name for fruit. Thus, for example, batz'i lo'bol "true fruit" means "banana." In the same way ti'bol means "meat."

Chak jk'ux manya chenek'. I want to eat nuts.

manya chenk', "nuts"

chenek', "beans"

-k'ux, "crunch, chew"

The verb -k'ux is used with hard foods, that is, with foods that are crunched or chewed. Laughlin (1975: 200) notes that the word k'uxbol means either "yeast for fermenting sugar cane liquor" or "someone who, according to common belief, is sacrificed for the construction of bridges or electrical plants."

Lavote, mi chalek' 'o 'atz'am? Do you want to eat (lick) salt with your tortillas?
'atz'am, "salt"
Mi chavuch' kajve? Do you want to drink coffee?
Mi 'oy avuch'bol? Do you have something to drink?

-lek', "lick, eat (salt)"

-uch', "drink, have"

-'uch'bol-il, "drink (alcoholic)"

The root ve' is peculiar, considering that it is used as both a transitive verb (with the meaning "to eat tortillas, bread, etc.") and an intransitive verb (with the general meaning "eating").

Mi lave' xa? Have you eaten already?
Live' xa. I ate already.
K'usi alajes? What did you eat?
Ijve' kaxlan vaj. I ate bread (transitive).

kaxlan vaj, "bread (literally: honky bread)"

-lajes, "to finish, to consume"

From the general verb ve'- one can form the noun ve'el "food," which has the possessed forms [a]-[e].

'Oy ve'el skwenta nupunel. There is food for the wedding. Li'e ja' ave'el t'ul. Here is your rabbit food. Ta jk'an jset' ve'lil. I want some food. Tzk'an sve'lilal xa li vaj e. The tortillas lack something.

A verb root frequently produces two verb stems: one transitive and one intransitive. The stem ve' is anomalous; with both uses, transitive and intransitive, the subject of the verb remains the same: it is the person or the animal that eats something.

Chve' li Xun e. John eats.
Tzve' vaj li Xun e. John eats tortillas.

On the other hand, it is more common for the grammatical subject of an intransitive stem to correspond to the object of a transitive verb root derived from the same stem. Consider the example of laj- "to finish" (intransitive) and -lajes "to finish" (intransitive). The suffix -es produces causative verb roots (transitive) from intransitive verbs.

Ilaj li vaj e. The tortillas are finished.
Vo'on ijlajes li vaj e. I finished the tortillas.
Ik'ak' li jna e. My house burned down.
Isk'ak'es jan li Xun e. John burned down my house.

Iyul ta jjol k'usi li sbi e. His name popped into mind.
Ijyules ta jjol k'usi li sbi e. I remembered his name.

In these examples, the subject of an intransitive verb comes to be the object of a corresponding causative verb, which additionally requires an agent. The situation can be diagrammed as follows:


Many of the intransitive verbs that we have already encountered also function as transitive stems (causative) without any additional suffix.

Ijam li na e. The door opened. Intransitive Verb, jam-
Isjam li na e. He opened the door. Transitive Verb, -jam

Ichap li 'ikatzil e. The load is prepared. Intransitive Verb, chap-
Ijchap li kikatz e. I prepared my load. Transitive Verb, -chap

We can represent verbs of this type without a hyphen, to indicate that they can be either intransitive or transitive with a causative meaning. Of the verbs that we have already encountered, both of the following are of the same type:

mak, "close"
k'as, "break, twist"

There are other verbs that show the same pattern, but which have an additional causative form, with an explicit suffix, -es.

Itup' li k'ok' e. The fire extinguished.
Ijtup' li k'ok' e. I extinguished the fire.

We can represent these verbs with parentheses:

tup'(es), "to extinguish"
lik(es), "to rise, get up"
ch'ay(es), "to lose, throw out"
toy(es), "to rise, to elevate"

There are also verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive, with different, but related, meanings.

Chinop li' to e. I'm accustomed to this place.
Ta jnop bu chibat. I'm thinking of where I'll go. I'm deciding where I'll go.

nop-, "to be accustomed to"

-nop, "to think, appoint, decide"

From the intransitive verb nop- a causative stem is derived with -es.

Chisnopes li' to e. He is going to get me used to being here.

The following examples are similar:

Iskuch li 'ikatzil e. He carried the load.
Ikuch li vayel e. He tolerated dream.
-kuch, "to carry"

kuch-, "to bear or tolerate, to be bearable or tolerable"

Ispas li yakil vo' e. He brewed the chicha. Ipas li yakil vo' e. The chica is brewing. -pas, "to make, fabricate, do"

pas-, "to ferment, brew"

The use of these roots as intransitive verbs has been called the middle-voice, because the grammatical subject of the verb is the semantic patient, and because there is no specific agent. (In Tzeltal, the intransitive form generally carries a middle -h-, and the transitive from does not: Tzeltal -mak "to close something" and mahk- "to close.")

Here we can note that various compound nouns derive from transitive verbs with their objects. In combination with the agentive prefix j-, these compounds denote social entities.

jmakbe, "highwayman, cuttthroat" j- mak -be "one who closes the road"
j'ak'chamel, "witch" j- 'ak' -chamel "one who gives illness"
jk'ux'ak'al, "charcoal-eater" j- k'ux -'ak'al "one who eats charcoal"

As shown by the translation for jk'ux'ak'al, there are similar compounds in English, for example: bankrobber, "one who robs banks," or homewrecker, "one who wrecks homes--in other words, an adultress."

There are other types of systematic relations between transitive and intransitive verbs. For example, pairs of verbs are derived from nominal roots by means of the suffixes -Vj/-Vn.

Mu jk'an xik'opoj. I don't want to talk.
Mu jk'an jk'opon li kajnil e. I don't want to talk to my wife.
Ta jk'an chivula'aj. I want to go visiting.
Ta jk'an chajvula'an. I want to visit you.
K'u yu'un tol cha'elk'aj? Why do you steal so much?
K'u yu'un chavelk'an tak'in? Why do you steal money?
'elek'-il, "stolen goods"
'elk'aj-, "to steal"
-elk'an, "to steal (something)"

k'op, "word, talk"
k'opoj-, "to talk, to chat"
-k'opon, "to talk to (someone)"

jvula'al, "visitor"
vula'aj-, "to go visiting"
-vula'an, "to visit (someone)"

In these examples, the relationship between the intransitive and the transitive verb resembles the relationship between ve'- and -ve': the grammatical subject is constant (corresponding to the agent), but the transitive verb requires an explicit object.


Another similar pair is: tz'ibaj-, "to write, to know how to write," and -tz'iba "to write, to inscribe (something)."

Verbs derived from the adjective k'ixin "hot," also have characteristics similar to those already mentioned. However, the relationship between the intransitive and the transitive verb is of the middle-voice/caustive sort.

Mi chak'ixna lavote? Are you going to warm up your tortillas?
Ik'ixnaj xa. They're already warm.

k'ixnaj-, "to be warm"

-k'ixna, "to warm (something)"

Causative and intransitive verbs can also be formed by means of other lexical recourses we have already encountered. "Inchoative" verbs, which denote the beginning of some state, are formed from adjectives with the suffix -ub (or -ib after syllables with u and with a few more roots). Inchoative verbs are of course intransitive.

tzAj(al), "red"
tzajub-, "to get red"

lek(il), "good"
lekub-, "to get better"

k'un(il), "smooth"
k'unib-, "to become smooth"

muk'(ta), "big"
muk'ib, "to get bigger"

'Ipon to'ox pero lilekub xa. I was sick, but I'm better already.
Mi chk'unib to li balamile, toj tzotz? Is the land going to get any smoother, because it's pretty rough.

Causative forms (transitive) are formed from these verbs by means of the suffix -tas.

Ta jmuk'ibtas li jna e. I am going to add on to my house.
Chapok, chavach'ubtas li karo e. You are going to wash it, you are going to renovate the car.
'ach', "new"

'ach'ub-, "to rejuvenate"

-'ach'ubtas, "to renovate"

-pok, "wash"

Other adjectives produce inchoative forms with -aj (in some cases -ij), and finally produce causatives with the additional suffix -es.

Ibik'taj xa li 'abtel e. The work has diminished.
Pero ta to xabik'tajes mas. But you are going to reduce it even more.
I'ipaj li 'unen e. The boy has got sick.
Pero te nan much'u iyipajes. But perhaps someone made him sick.

Mu xtakij li jk'u' e. My clothing isn't dry.
Yechuke, chatakijes ta k'ok. You should dry it by the fire.

yechuke, "it should be"

'ip, "sick"
'ipaj-, "to get sick"
-ipajes, "to make (someone) sick"

takin, "dry"
takij-, "to dry"
-takijes, "to dry (something)"

bik'it(al), "small"
bik'taj-, "to get smaller"
-bik'tajes, "to make (something) smaller"

(One can see that the word bik'taj- demonstrates the very common pattern: the vowel of a word's second syllable disappears with the addition of a suffix.)

Similarly, the "positional" roots provide intransitive and transitive verbs, which respectively denote "to be in such a position (or some form)" and "to put in such a position (or form)." (In other words, the pairs are of the middle-voice/causative type.) We already know about cases of positional roots playing the role of numeral classifier. For example, the classifier -vo', which is used to count people, derives from the positional root *vA', from which one also forms verb stems.

Chva'i li na e. The house is going to be raised.
Ta jva'an li na e. I am going to raise the house.

-vo', numeral classifier: "person, biped, standing"
va'i-, "to be standing, to stand up"

-va'an, "to raise, to make stand up"
Bu xu' xkoti li karo e? Where can the car be parked?
Kotano te yo' e. Park it there.

-kot, numeral classifier: "four-legged thing, animal, furniture, etc."

Another word that we already know derives from the positional root lak "boiling":

Chlaki xa lakajve e. Your coffee is boiling. Mi ta jlakan to yan? Should I boil more (coffee)?

From positional roots of the form CVC, one forms intransitive verbs of the form CVCi-, which mean: "to be in the position, form, or state of [FILL IN THE BLANK]." Transitive stems take the form -CVC; they mean: "to put in such a position, etc." Adjectives take the form CVC-Vl (with the suffix -Vl repeating the vowel of the root).

Va'alon. I am standing.
Kotol li karo e. The car is (parked) in its place.
Lakal xa li vo' e. The water is boiling.

On the other hand, there are other numeral classifiers that are not derived from positional roots, but, conversely, are derived from verbs. For example, the classifier -p'is "measure, glass" derives from the transitive stem -p'is "to measure."

P'iso cha'-p'is pox. Measure out two shots of liquor!
Javo li si' e! Chop the firewood!
Javem xa li si' e. Ikom ta cha'-jov. The wood is already chopped; it is in two parts.

jav, "to chop in half"

-jov, numeral classifier: "half, part"

Jav is one of those stems that does double-duty as both an intransitive (jav-) and a transitive stem (-jav). It is often the case that a positional or verbal root with the hypothetical vowel A in middle position will form verb stems with a and numeral classifiers with o.

jAv, "to chop in two"
jav-, "to break in two"
-jav, "to chop (something) in two"
jov, numeral classifer: "part"

vA', "standing, bidepal"
va'i-, "to be standing"
-va'an, "to make (something or someone) stand"
-vo', numeral classifier: "person"

This is an opportune time to consider another class of transitive verbs, derived form a noun root with the suffix -in. These stems, which are called "usitatives," again show the intimate connection between the mechanism for grammatical possession (represented by the system of possessive prefixes) and the ergative system for marking the agent in transitive verbs (by means of the same prefixes).

Ja' jk'u li' e. That is my clothing.
Ku'un li k'u'ul li' e. The clothing is mine.
Ijk'u'in (li k'u'ul) le' e. I wore that (clothing) there.

k'u'-ul, "clothing"

-k'u'in, "to take possession of (something), to use (something) as clothing"
Ja' jkumpareot. You are my compadre.
Laj jkumpareinot. I'm done with you as my compadre.
Lajkumparein. I made you my compadre.

kumpare-il, "compadre"

The form lajkumparein can be analyzed in the following way:

l- a- j- kumpare -in
Perfective 2nd Person Object 1st Person Agent compadre Usitative Suffix

Mi ja' avantz li Maruch e? Is Mary your lover? Mi ja' avantzin li Maruch e? Is it Mary that you've taken as a lover?

'antz-il, "lover"

-antzin, "to make a lover of (someone)"

Here we can see that the suffix -in, starting from a possessible noun, creates a transitive stem that has the following meaning: "to cause the object to enter into the state of being possessed by the agent." Or, in the case of the noun N in the verb derived from the form -N-in, it means: "to cause the object to be the agent's N." With the relational noun 'u'un-il one forms a verb with the general meaning: -'u'unin "possessor, to take possession of (something, someone)":

Ku'un li 'osil e. This land is mine.
Iku'unin li 'osil li' e. I made this land mine.

The relational noun 'u'un-il can be thought of as a noun without any semantic content, with the expection of its usage as a syntactic vehicle for some possessive prefix. Equally, the verb -u'unin is a "dummy verb," a pseudo-verb that provides a syntactic hook on which to hang an ergative prefix.

8.7 Word Order: Negative and Interrogative Forms

Previously, I explained that the ordinary constituent order of a transitive sentences was the following:

V(erb) O(bject) S(ubject)
1 2 3
ismaj sbankil li Xune
John hit his brother.

In this case, it is the agentive subject as final constituent which gives the verb its ergative prefix.[2]

We have already seen that only the subject can be fronted in transitive sentences with both object and subject in third person.

Ismaj sbankil li Xun e. John hit his brother.
'Ali Xun e, ismaj sbankil. John, he hit his brother.

But we also know that interrogative pronouns are always fronted (and that this fronting occurs before subject fronting). For example, if we want to form a question about the subject of a transitive sentence, we can imagine an underyling form of the sentence like the one in the following diagram:

Ismil Petul ?

The following form results from this underyling sentence:

Buch'u ismil li Petul e? Who killed Peter?

But if we form a question about the object, as in the following diagram:

Ismil ? Petul

the same sentence results, but with a different meaning.

Buch'u ismil li Petul e? Who did Peter kill?

It is possible to front the final noun of both sentences, in which case, the fronted noun would be the object in the first and the subject in the second.

'Ali Petul e, buch'u ismil? Peter, who killed him?
Or: Peter, who did he kill?

The same ambiguity results from emphatic forms with ja', because the scope of ja' can be either of the nouns in the sentence. Consider, for example, the following diagrams:


[Original had arrow pointing to John in both cases. I assume this was an error.]

Similarly, a negative sentence with ma'uk is formed in the following manner:

Ma'uk Xun ti ismil li 'Antune.

This sentence is ambiguous. It can mean: "It wasn't John who killed Antonio" or "It wasn't John who Antonio killed." But this ambiguity disappears when one of the constituents is a pronoun of the first or second person. In this case, the verbal affixes clarify its meaning.

Mu vo'onikon ijmil li 'Antune. I wasn't the one who killed Antonio.
Mu vo'onikon lismil li 'Antun. It wasn't me who Antonio killed.

As we have seen, it is possible to negate (or question) not only the subject or the object, but also other constituents in these sentences.

Mi te ismil sbankil ta na? Was it in the house that he killed his brother?
Mu teyuk ismil.

Mi ta 'ek'el ismil sbankil? Was it with a hatchet that he killed his brother?
Mu ta 'ek'eluk. No, it wasn't with a hatchet.

The ordinary negative forms of transitive verbs are equivalent to the negative forms of intransitive verbs. There is a "volitional" negative form with mu + NEUTRAL ASPECT.

Mu jk'an. I don't want it.
Mu xak' vaj. Don't give tortillas.
Mu xismaj. Don't hit me.

There are also forms with muk' (bu).

Muk' bu ta jk'an tak'in. I won't want (i.e., won't ask for) any money.
Muk' sk'anoj yabtel. He hasn't asked for work.
Muk' bu lakil. I didn't see you.
Muk' chisk'opon. He won't talk to me.

8.8 "Ditransitive" Constructions

There are also verbs that are called "dative" or "ditransitive" because they generally require not only a subject and an object, but also an additional dative noun: an "indirect" object. In Tzotzil, an indirect object can accompany a verb only if the direct object ("the patient") is a third person noun and not a first or second person pronoun. The indirect object, the dative noun, generally denotes a person or an animal (in other words, animate things), and answers the question: "Who received it? Who was it given to?"

A prototypical example of a ditransitive verb is -ak' "to give."


To indicate the presence of an indirect object, the suffix -be is added to a verb. It is the indirect object (and not the direct object) which engenders the absolutive affix. In other words, the absolutive affix on the verb is a reflection of the dative constituent. The direct object, a noun, is not marked on the verb whatsoever.

The final e of the suffix -be disappears before the absolutive suffix -on.

Chavak'bon tak'in. You will give me money.


Only the suffix -be indicates that the absolutive affix corresponds to the dative constituent, the indirect object, and not the patient. I will give other examples.

K'usi layalbe? What did he tell you?
Mu k'usi liyalbe. He didn't tell me a thing.

-al, "say, tell"
Mi chamanbon cha'-p'ej lo'bol? Will you buy me two fruits?
Mu xu' xajmanbe, ch'abal stojol. I can't buy you any, (because) I don't have the money (literally: the price).
Chajsa'be jset'uk vo'. I will find you some water.
Mu pwersauk. 'Ali Xun e, liyak'be xa vo'. It isn't necessary. John already gave me some.

The relationship between a (simple) transitive sentence and its corresponding ditransitive sentence can be represented in the following diagram.


Imperative sentences are also formed with ditransitive constituents. The e of the dative suffix -be disappears before the -o of the imperative.

'Ak'bo te' un. Give him wood! (In other words: Smack him with a stick!)
Chonbon lapixol che'e. Sell me your hat!
-chon, "to sell"
'Albon jp'eluk rason. Give me a word of "reason" (that is, advice).
'Albon k'usi xi. Tell me what he said.

chi-, "to say"

There are three Tzotzil verbs that can be translated as "to say" and each has different syntactic and semantic characteristics. The verb -al is used to report indirect conversations. With the dative suffix -be, it includes the listener of the conversation as an indirect object of the verb. Thus, there are two stems: -al "to say," -albe "tell." The intransitive verb chi- is used to identify the speaker when a direct conversation is reported verbatim. The transitive verb -ut is used to report direct conversations; however, it requires a direct object as a noun to denote the listener. Consider the following hypothetical conversation.

Xun: Chibat ta jna. Bu chabat?
Chep: Vo'one chikom. K'u chba apas ta ana e?
Xun: Chba jve' kot.

In the context of this conversation, I will present some sentences in which the different Tzotzil verbs that mean "to say" are used:

'Ali Xun e, iyalbe li Chepe ti ja' chbat ta sna. John told Joseph that he was going to return to his house.
'Ali Xune, isjak'be li Chep e bu chbat li stuk e. John asked Joseph where he was going.
-jak', "to ask, request"
'Antun: Xun, k'usi layalbe li Chep e? John, what did Chep tell you?
Xun: "Chikom," xi. "I'm staying," he said.
'Antun: K'usi avalbe? And what did you tell him?
Xun: "Chba jve' kot," xkut komel. "K'usi chba apas," xiyut. "I am going to eat tortillas," I told him. "What are you going to do?" he said to me.

The verb chi- is somewhat irregular: it also occurs with neutral aspect. Also, the third person form is xi (and not the expected ***xchi).

Xichi. I say (often: I say to myself).
Xachi. You say.
Xi. He says.

An indirect conversation is sometimes reported by means of the particle la, which signifies that the information came from someone else (that is, hearsay).

Jayib 'ora chtal? When is he coming?
Ta la xtal ta chib 'ora. He is coming at two (so they say).
Mi jk'ulej mi ch'abal stak'in. Is he rich, or does he have no money?
Jk'ulej la. (They say) he's rich.
Mi lek li k'in e? Was the party good?
Ji' la. Muk' xi'ay. So they say; I wasn't there.
Mi ch'abtej li Xun e? Will John work?
"Chi'abtej," xi. Yu'un la ch'abtej. "I'm going to work," he said. Because he is going to work (they say).

The majority of Tzotzil-speakers carefully distinguish between those propositions that are hearsay and those that are not.

Zinacantecos use the word xi in order to give verbal instructions, on etiquette and proper speech.

Kolaval, xi. You should say: "Thank you."
Timi ijnup ta be, k'usi chkalbe? If I see him on the street, what do I say to him?
"Chibat," xi. Say to him: "I'm going."

The verb -ut means: "to say, to tell, to scold." It is also used to say "to be in a relationship with someone."

K'usi chavut li Xun e? What do you say to John? (In other words: what is your relationship with John?)
Ja' skrem yitz'in jtot; ja' jbankil ya'el. He is the son of my father's little brother; he seems like my older brother.
ya'el, "it seems, it looks like"
Mu xavuton! Don't scold me!

Negative imperatives are formed with the negative particle mu plus the neutral aspect of the second person. Often, one adds the desiderative particle me, which expresses desire.

Mu me xabat! Don't go please!
Mu me xamil! Don't kill him!
Mu xavak'be! Don't give it to him!
Mu me xavalbon k'usi xi! Don't tell me what he said!

K'usi xi is equivalent to k'uxi, a compound that also means "what, how?" This also serves as a greeting.

Mi chabat? Are you going?
Ja' ti k'uxi li yan e. It depends what the others say.
K'uxi. What's up?
Mu k'uxi. Nothing. (Informal Greeting)
K'uxi ibat 'o li k'op e? How did things go?

In "quasi-subjunctive" constructions, the verb -ak' "to give" with the dative suffix -be also plays a role related to the usage of the imperative 'ak'o.

'Ak'o sk'el k'in! Let him see the party!
'Ak'bo sk'el k'in! Show him the party!

The same construction occurs with non-imperative sentences.

Liyak'be kil li sna e. He showed me his house. (Literally: He gave me that I would see his house.)
Batz'i lek li jchob e; chakak'be avil. My cornfield is good; I will show it to you.
Kiloj xa. 'Avak'bon kil volje. I saw it already. You showed it to me yesterday.

The following construction is very similar.

'Albo ya'i k'uxi li moletik e. Tell him what the elders said.
Mu to bu avalbon ka'i. You still haven't told me.
Chakalbe ava'i tana. I will tell you later.

It is very important to note that the indirect object of the first verb corresponds to the subject of the second verb, that is to say, the verb that is in the "quasi-subjunctive" form. These constructions will receive more detailed consideration in section 9.5.

Due to its very general meaning, the dative form -ak'be "give (to someone)" appears in many common expressions. If the name of a weapon functions as the object, this verb means "attack (with a weapon)." If the instrument is not specified -ak'be means "to have sexual relations with someone."

Ikak' machita. I attacked with my machete. (Literally: I gave my machete.)
Ikak'be machita li chon e. I attacked (literally: gave it to) the snake with my machete.
Lek ikak'be. I gave it to her good (for example, a beating, rape, etc.).


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