Chapter 6: Intransitive Verbs

6.0 Intransitive Verbs

The kinds of sentences that we have seen so far are comprised of a predicate (which can indicate existence, location, or a state) and a subject, which can either be a noun (possibly possessed) or a pronoun (which represents either the speaker--"I"--or the hearer--"you"). They are all of the following form:

Predicate Subject

We have also seen that the predicate of every previously mentioned sentence carries an absolutive suffix (although it can be null), which agrees with the subject in terms of person.


Intransitive verbs also appear in [compound] sentences with a predicate and a subject. As predicates, intransitive verbs also carry absolutive affixes that correspond to the subjects of the sentences. Intransitive verbs include three classes: Neutral Verbs, Active Verbs, and, in Mayan languages, Positional verbs.

  1. Neutral Verbs (What happened? He fell.)
  2. Active Verbs (What did he do? He worked.)
  3. Positional verbs (What position or form is he in? He is seated.).

In general, intransitive verbs in Tzotzil can be recognized by the affixes with which they combine.

6.1 Stative Forms of Intransitive Verbs

Batem ta Jobel li Xun e. John has gone to San Cristóbal.
bat, "to go"
P'ajem ta lum li k'u`ul e. The clothing has fallen to the ground.
p'aj-, "to fall"
`Ech'em ta chan-vun li tzeb e. The girl has passed through school (in other words, she has studied).
`ech'-, "to pass"
chan-vun, "school, to study" (literally: "to learn paper")
vun, "paper"
Chamem xa li jtot e. My father has already died.
cham-, "to die"
Komem ta na li jluk e. My sickle is in the house (Literally: It remains in the house).
kom-, "to remain"
Lubem li j`abtel e. The worker has gotten tired.
lub-, "to tire, to get tired"
K'ak'em xa li k'ajben e. The stubble has burned already.
k'ak'-, "to burn"
k'ajben, "stubble"
Sutem xa yajnil. His wife has already returned.
sut-, "to return"

A stative verb stem is formed from the root of an intransitive verb. (According to the notation introduced by Josh Smith, I will write intransitive verb roots with a hyphen at the end: e.g., bat- "go.") The best translation of this form of the verb is the "(present) perfect":

Batem. He has gone.

But the meaning of this form is, to be more precise, stative: the form with -em indicates that the subject is in the state resulting from the action, process, or the event denoted by the verb. The -em verb forms bear a strong resemblance to adjectives.

K'o` li lum e. The ground is fertile.
k'o`, "fertile, rotten"
K'a`em li lum e. The ground has already rotted; it has already become fertile.
k'a`-, "to rot"
lum, "ground, earth"

To say that something k'a`em "has rotted" (using the stative form of the verb k'a`-) is to say that it has undergone the process of rotting, but to say that it is k'o` "fertile" is simply to attribute to it the condition of being rotten.

Note the relationship between k'o` "fertile" (adjective) and k'a` "to rot" (intransitive verb), and the relationship between k'ok' "fire" (noun) and k'ak'- "to burn" (intransitive verb). The basic forms are k'A` and k'Ak respectively, from which the verbs are derived through a regular process (which engenders the vowel change).

If the subject of the verb is "I" or "you," the absolutive suffix combines directly with the stative suffix -em.

Lubemon ta jmek. I am very tried.
`Ech'emot ta `abtel. He has passed work (in other words, he has done religious or official work).
Buyot volje? Where were you yesterday?
Vayemon to `ox. I was sleeping today.
vay-, "to sleep"
Mi `abtejemot ta pinka? Have you worked on the farm?
`Ayemon ti vo`on e. I have gone, long ago.
`abtej-, "to work"
`ay-, "to go to (and come back from)"
vo`on, "long ago, in the past"

The word `abtej is clearly related to `abtel. (The root `abt can be seen in the Tzeltal word `abat "servant", but Tzotzil lacks such an isolated form.) Also, note that the article ti is used with vo`one, denoting a remote time.

Xanavemon jun k'ak'al. I have walked a day.
xanav-, "to walk"

This sentence is negated with muk' or with negative expressions with bu.

Mi lubemot to? Mi tzotzot xa? Are you tired yet? Are you strong already?
Muk' lubemon. Muk' bu `abtejemon. I am not tired. I haven't worked.
Bu li Xun e? Mi te xa ta Jobel? Where is John? Is he already in San Cristóbal?
Li` to. Muk' batem. He is here still. He hasn't gone.
Mu to bu k'ak'em li jchob e. `Oy to vo`. My cornfield still hasn't been burned (because) there still is no rain.
Mi tzotz `ip l ame`? Is you mother really sick?
Tzotz `ip, pero muk' chamem. Kuxul to. She is really sick, but she hasn't died. She's still alive.
me`-el, "mother, old woman"

The verb root cham- "to die, to get sick" is the basic root of chamel "sickness."

The negative forms of intransitive verbs are not formed with the suffix -uk. See the following examples:

Mi ch'ayem volje l atuluk' e? Did your turkey get lost yesterday?
tuluk', "turkey"
ch'ay-, "to get lost, be lost?"
Ma`uk. Ja` ch'ayem li jchij e. No (in other words, my turkey didn't get lost, but rather my sheep).
Ma`uk ch'ayem li jtuluk' e. What was lost was not my guajolote.
Mu vo`onikon ch'ayemon volje. I didn't get lost yesterday.

Locative or temporal constituents also appear in stative sentences. Furthermore, it is possible to front nouns.

Ali Xun e, yulem xa ta Jobel. As for John, he has already arrived in San Cristóbal.
`A taj ka` e, mi k'otem xa `ox ta jun `ora? As for that horse, had it already arrived by one?

K'ot means "to arrive (to another place)"; yul- means "to arrive (here)." Thus,

k'otem ta Jobel

means "he has arrived in San Cristóbal," and this would be said if the speaker himself is not in San Cristóbal. But

yulem ta Jobel

has two meanings: either "he has arrived in San Cristóbal (if the speaker is also in San Cristóbal), or "he has arrived here from San Cristóbal" (if the speaker is not in San Cristóbal).

6.2 Other Forms of Intransitive Verbs

The sentences that we have seen contain a subject (a noun or a "pronoun"), and a main word (either the predicate or an intransitive verb), which combines with an absolutive suffix. The suffixes already mentioned belong to the following series:

-on "I"
-ot "you"
-Ø (null) "she, he, it"

I will write these prefixes with two hyphens because, although they precede the verb root, they never remain in initial position but instead are always preceded by other prefixes. For example, the imperfective forms of intransitive verbs combine the verb root with the prefix ch- and an absolutive marker that agrees with the subject. For example,

Chibat ta Jobel. I am going to San Cristóbal.
Chayul ta `ak'ubal. You are going to arrive at night.
Chlub ta `abtel li Xun e. John is getting tired from work.

These verbs can be analyzed in the following way:

Prefix Prefix Verb Root
ch- i- bat "I go."
ch- a- yul "You arrive."
ch- Ø- lub "He tires."

These forms are called "imperfective" because in their ordinary use they refer to actions or events in the present or future--in other words, to actions that are unfinished. To be more exact, these forms do not specify the tense but rather the "aspect" of an action--the fact that they have not come to an end. The imperfective forms of a verb can denote unfinished actions in the present or in the future as well as the past. (In the latter case, the particle `ox "at another time," which we have already discussed, would be used.)

Mi chabat xa? Are you going already?
Chibat li` ta jlikel e. I'll go in a moment.
likel, "moment"
ta jlikel, "in a moment"

(Note the temporal use of li` "here.")

Mi chalik xa? Are you getting up already?
lik-, "to rise, get up, begin"
Mi ch`abtej to li Xun e? Is John still working?
Chlaj xa li yabtele. His work is already finished.
laj-, "to finish"
Vo`on chivay xa. Me, I'm going to sleep.

Imperfective forms in the past tense denote actions that did not occur although they were planned:

Buyot volje? Muk' bu teyot ta Jobel.
Where were you yesterday? You weren't in San Cristóbal?
Teyon to `ox ta k'in. I was still at the party.
Chilok' `ox ta chib `ora. I was going to leave at two.
Pero ch'ayemon xa `ox ta pox. But (by two) I had already lost my senses to liquor.
lok'-, "to leave"
chib, "two"
pox, "shot, medicine"
Ch'abtej `ox lavie, pero chamem xa `ox smalel.
He was going to work today, but last night he died.

Note that the roots of intransitive verbs do not lose word-initial glottal stops with absolutive or imperfective prefixes.

Cha- `ech' ta jna. You are passing my house.
Chi- `abtej ta `ora. I am going to work now.

The imperfective forms refer to the beginning of an action or an event. The "stative" forms refer to the resulting state.

Chvay xa ta jun `ora. He was going to sleep at one.
Vayem xa ta jun `ora. He was asleep by one.
Vayem xa `ox ta jun `ora. At one he will be asleep already.
Chvay `ox ta jun `ora. He was going to sleep at one.

The particle `ox indicates that an action, event, or state (depending on whether it is the verb or the predicate) took place not at the moment but at another specific time, while the form of the verb indicates the character of the action: in progress, not begun, etc.

Mi chabat `onox ta Jobel tana? Do you always go to San Cristóbal today?
Chibat `ox, pero mu xa bu xibat. I used to go, but now I don't.

The word `onox "always" indicates that some action, which may be in doubt, truly did or will take place.

The negative forms of the imperfective use mu "no" with a neutral form of the verb, which takes the prefix x- instead of the imperfective ch-.

Mu xibat. I am not going.
Mu xabat. You are not going.
Mu xbat. He is not going.

These forms suggest that the subject does not want to go or rather wants to not go. They contrast with other negative forms with muk' or mu`yuk.

Mi chabat ta `olon? Are you going to the lowlands?
Muk' xibat. I am not (neutral sense).
Mi cha`ech' ta na. Will you pass by your house?
Mu`yuk. No (neutral sense).
Mi ch`abtej? Are you going to work?
Mu xi`abtej. I am not going to work (declaration of unwillingness).

In reality, the perfective form (with the prefix ch-) is analyzable as a compound of the neutral form (with the prefix x-) plus a particle ta that marks the imperfective. For example, the word chibat is a contracted form of ta xibat, which results from the contraction of ta + x- to ch-. The temporal particles, which follow the first word of a sentence, directly follow the shortened form or come between ta and the verb.

Mi chlok' xa li Xun e? Is John leaving already?
Ta xa xlok' li ` ta jlikel. He leave in a minute?
Mi ta `onox xajatav? Will you really flee?
Chijatav `onox. Really.
Chital xa, pero ta to xi`abtej jlikeluk. I'm really going now, but I will still work for a minute.
tal-, "to come"
jlikeluk, "a minute, a moment"

All the dialects of Tzotzil have ta as a signal of the imperfective, but there are other prefixes that replace or combine with ta. For example, in Tzeltal and some other dialects of Tzotzil, the word yak indicates the imperfective. In Zinacantec Tzotzil, yak plus ta indicates an action that follows or continues.

Yak chtoy stojol `ixim. The price of corn continues to rise.
toy-, "rise, incrase"
Yak to chi`abtej. I'm going to continue working still.

The root yak also appears in the verbal root yaket- "to continue, the be on the way."

Batz'i xyaket `abtel. The work is in progress.

The particle te, which we know as a locative and temporal particle, also occurs as an indicator of the imperfective. Together with ta or the shortened form of a verb with ch-, te has its normal meaning: "at such time, at such place."

Te chbat. He's going to go there. (Or: He will go at that time.)
Te chbat ta Jobel. He's going to go to San Cristóbal.
Te chik'ot ta `olon `osil. I customarily work in the lowlands. (Literally: I arrive there in the lowlands.)

But te also can replace ta, with a future sense. Te signals that the person speaking is in agreement with the action that occurs in the specified time or place.

Te xbat. Yes, he is going (since we are now in agreement).
Te xik'ot ta `olon che`e. Yes, I will go to the lowlands (for example, to work, according to an agreement).
Te xatal che`e. Go then (when it suits you).

Te has a determinate meaning above, which is coupled with the indication of some future occurrence.

The verbal prefix x- assimilates to the inital consonant of the verbal root. Before s, tz, or tz', the prefix x- becomes s-.

Te nan ssut tana. Perhaps he is returning today.
sut-, "return"
nan, "perhaps"
Mu stzul yok, ch'abal `ach'el. One's feet won't slip, because there isn't any mud.
tzul-, "to slip, to slide"
`ach'el, "mud"
Ta stz'ibaj li krem e, ja` chapal ta vun.
The boy is going to write, since he knows how (literally: because he is ready for paper.)
tz'ibaj-, "to write" (intransitive verb)

In the first and second person there is no assimilation because the absolutive prefix i- or a- comes between the prefix x- and the initial consonant of the verb root.

Ta nan xisut. Perhaps I will return.
Mu xitzul. I won't slip.
Ta xatz'ibaj vo`ot. You're going to write.

We have seen that ta + x- gives the shortened form ch-. Similarly, ta + s- gives the assimilated form tz-.

Tztzul yok tana. One's foot will slip.
Lek tztz'ibaj. He writes well.

A shortened form such as tztz'ibaj can then be analyzed as: ta + x- + Ø (null absolutive prefix) + tz'ibaj, which assimilates first to ta + s-tz'ibaj and finally to tz-tz'ibaj.

The double consonants ss, xx, and jj are not pronounced twice but are instead pronounced as a single consonant. This explains why intransitive verbs in the third person with an initial x or s further contract.

Ta to xxanav li ka` e. The horse is still going to work.
Ta xa ssut ta sna li j`ilol e. The curer is going to return to his house already.

In both cases, the double consonants are pronounced as if they were single: xxanav sounds like xanav, and ssut sounds like sut. In combination with the imperfective particle ta, these verbs produce the shortened forms chanav "he is going to work" and tzut "he returns." Students should learn the automatic processes that phonetically transform the grammatical formatives. Those who want to speak Tzotzil should take note of the structure hidden in the resulting forms.

tzut ta x-sut "He returns."
chanav ta x-xanav "He walks."
tztzul ta x-tzul "He slips."

There are also a few verbs beginning with y (which ultimately derive from roots with an initial *H), which lose the y when they combine with the prefix x-. Thus, for example, the verbs yoch- "to feel weak" and yul- "to arrive (here)" (from the hypothetical root Hul) contrast in the third person.

Chiyoch ta `abtel. I feel weak (that is, I suffer) from work.
Chiyul ta jna. I arrive at my house.

But note the following cases:

Chyoch yak'il li vob e. The strings on the instrument are weakening.
`ak'il, "string, fiber"
Chul ta sna. He is arriving at his house.

The form chul can be analyzed in the following manner: ta x-yul. But the y is a "false" y, derived from the hypothetical *H, and therefore disappears, leaving the form ta xul. The latter contracts to chul. On the other hand, the "true" y from yoch- does not disappear after x-, and the form chyoch is simply the shortened from of ta x-yoch. (In other dialects, for example, that of Chamula, yul appears as vul- "to arrive (here)"--more regular transformation corresponding to the hypothetical *H before the vowel u.)

6.3 The Perfective Form

The perfective form, which denotes an already finished action, uses another verbal prefix, which is l- in Zinacantec Tzotzil.

l- + Absolutive Prefix + Verb Root

When the subject of a verb is in the third person, there is no absolutive prefix, and the weak prefix i- (or no prefix at all) is used to mark the preterite.

Mi labat ta Jobel volje? Did you do to San Cristóbal yesterday?
Libat.I went.
Ta jayib `ora lalok'? What time did you leave?
Lilok' ta `ol k'ak'al. I left at noon.
jayib, "how much, how many"
`ol k'ak'al, "noon"

Mi i`och xa li j`ilol e? Has the curer entered already?
I`och xa. He has.
`och, "to enter"

Bu ibat l atot e? Where did your father go?
Bat ta `abtel. He went to work.

Much'u te ijatav ta te`tik? Who fled to the forest?
Ja` ijatav li j`elek' e. It was the thief who fled.

The prefix i-, which signals the third person perfective, is very weak, and usually disappears completely, leaving only the bare verb stem.

`Och li Xun e. John entered.
Sut tzna. He returned to his house.

(The form tzna can be analyzed as a contraction of ta sna, which results from the process already seen: ta + s- gives tz-.)

The perfective forms of Tzotzil verbs are usually equivalent to the past tense in English: they denote actions that have come to a finish‹in other words, actions that took place some time in the past. Nevertheless, it is possible to speak of an action that will finish in the future.

Mi lik'ot ta `olon, chi`abtej. Upon arriving to the lowlands, I am going to work.
Ja` to chibat mi iyul mantal. I am not going until the order comes. (Literally: I will only go if the order arrives.)
ja` to, "notŠ until, until now"
mantal, "an order, a command"
Mi laj `abtel, chiyakub. When the work finishes, I'll get drunk.
yakub-, "to get drunk"

In these sentences, the particle mi has the meaning "if." (The word timi "if" also exists.) In combination with the perfective form of a verb, mi produces a clause with the meaning "once such an action is finishedŠ" The perfective form focuses upon the completion of the action or event, although at the moment of speech the action has not occured.

Ilaj `ox `ok'ob. I will be finished tomorrow.
Lalok' xa `ox lik'ot `ok'ob. When I finish tomorrow, you will have left already.

The particle `ox, with the perfective form of a verb, expresses the completion of an action in either the future or the past.

I`och xa `ox ta `ol k'ak'al volje. By noon tomorrow I will have entered.
Mi li`ot to `ox e, mi labat `ox? At that time: are you still going to be here.
Or: Will you have gone?
Or: Were you still there, or had you left already? [double-check original here]

A mi clause with the perfective form of a verb has a temporal meaning: "when such a thing happensŠ" But a clause introduced by (ti)mi with an imperfective verb has a truly conditional meaning: "if such a thing happensŠ".

Timi chabat ta k'in, chibat `uk. If you go to the party, I will go too.
Timi `oy pukuj, chijatav. If there are demons, I am going to run away.
Timi chlaj `abtel tana, `ok'ob tzut tzna li j`abtel e.
If the work finishes today, tomorrow the worker will return to his house.

This type of clause also occurs with stative forms of intransitive verbs.

Timi vayem li jchamel e, chisut no`ox. If the sick person is sleeping, I will return immediately.
no`ox, "just, only"
Timi lubemot to `ox e, mu xa`abtej. If you are still tired (then), you are not going to work.

No`ox "only" (which sometimes shortens to nox) has various usages. Like the temporal particles, no`ox follows the first word of a sentence: the predicate, if a verb, or an emphatic word (such as ja` or te).

Mi te no`ox chakom ta Jobel? You are going to go to San Cristóbal only. (Literally: There in San Cristóbal only you will remain.)
Ja` no`ox chvabaj li Xun e. Only John is going to play.
vabaj-, "play"

Mi `ip li Xap e? Is Sebastian sick?
Lubem no`ox ta `abtel. He is just tired (due to work).

Bu `oy si`. Where is there firewood?
Ja` no`ox `oy ta jna. There is some only in my house.

6.4 Review of Intransitive Verb Forms

The exact meaning of a verb depends as much on the indicated form as it does on the meaning of the root. The concept of the verb "to sleep," for example, includes:

  1. the state of being asleep
  2. the event of remaining asleep.

The various forms of the verb vay- "to sleep" denote:

  1. the fact that some is going to sleep but has not gone to sleep yet (imperfective)
  2. the fact that the event of going to sleep has already occured (perfective); and
  3. the fact that someone has entered the state of sleep (stative).

The various forms are summarized below:
Chvay xa. He is going to sleep already.
Ivay xa. He went to sleep.
Vayem xa. He is asleep.

Chvay to. He is going to sleep still.
Ivay to. He remained asleep (after being awakened).
Vayem to. He remains asleep.

The case of cham- "to die" is somewhat different. If the event (of dying) has already come to a finish, someone has died (perfective). If they are dead, they are in the state resulting from dying (stative). However, if someone is going to die, and if the process remains incomplete, the person is sick.

Ta xa xcham. He is going to die (i.e., he is gravely ill).
Icham xa. He died already.
Chamem xa. He is dead.

Chcham to. He is still going to die (in other words, he is going to become gravely ill).
Icham to. He died nevertheless. (In other words, he was sill alive some time after getting sick, but he finally died.)

As another example, consider the verb `och- "to enter," which appears to denote a specific moment or definite event. The imperfective is the appropriate aspect when the moment of entering has not yet come, while the perfective denotes the moment of entering and the stative denotes the state of being inside. Here I will give a few examples based on the expression `och ta `abtel (literally: "enter work" but essentially meaning "to begin an cargo").

Chi`och ta `abtel lavie. Now I am going to start (literally: enter) my cargo (but I still haven't done so).
Li`och ta `abtel lavie. Today I start my cargo.
Ochemon ta `abtel lavie. Today I started my cargo.

Below is a summary of the forms of the intransitive verb:

Stative Pefective Imperfective
-emon ta xi- / chi- li-
-emot ta x- / cha- la-
-em ta x- / ch- (i)-

The prefixes and suffixes combine directly with verb roots.

We have seen the negative form constructed from mu plus the neutral aspect (called "aorist" ) of the verb (with x-).

Mu xibat. I am not going (I am unwilling or unable).
Mu x`abtej. He doesn't work (he refuses).
Mu xtal. He isn't coming (we can't convince him to).

The imperfective and perfective forms are also negated with the negative particle muk' plus the neutral aspect x-. Here, the distinction between perfective and imperfective appears to be neutralized:

Mi chabat? Are you going?
Muk' chibat. I am not going.

Mi labat? Did you go?
Muk' xibat. I didn't.

These appear to be the preferred forms, although the following forms are also heard:

Muk' chibat. I am not going to go.
Muk' libat. I didn't go.

I am not sure whether there is a difference between the forms with explicit aspect and those with the neutral x-.

The forms with mu in the second person also serve as negative imperatives, often with the additional particle me (which gives a desiderative emphasis).

Mu me xabat! Don't go!
Mu xa`abtej! Don't work!

The positive imperative is formed with a verb root and the suffix -an.

Batan! Go!
Lok'an! Leave!
`Abtejan! Work!
Vayan me! Go to sleep!

6.5 Forms Derived from Intransitive Verbs

Ilok' xa tal li karo e. The car already left for here.
`Och' `ech'el tzna li t'ul e. The rabbit entered his house.
t'ul, "rabbit"
Li`on ta jol na. Lip'it muyel tal. Here I am on the roof of the house. I jumped up here.
Chmuy xa ta te` li mut e. The bird climbed the tree.
Chjatav `ochel. He is going to flee inside.
Lap'aj komel ta `ach'el. You fell in the mud (and remained there).

Many monosyllabic intransitive verbs that denote some type of motion (or the lack of motion, as in kom- "to remain") form nouns with the suffix -el. These nouns add a directional sense to the sentence when they follow the main verb of a clause. For example, the verb `och- "to enter" forms the noun `ochel. The sentence

Chjatav `ochel.

means, "He fled and entered," or, better said, "He fled entering." The root tal (from tal- "to come") or the suffixal form talel serves as a directional with the meaning: "through here, coming."

Chmuy tal / chmuy talel. He climbed up here.

Other forms have meanings that are slightly peculiar. In Zinacantec Tzotzil, the noun that signals direction away from here ("going") is based not on bat- "to go" but rather on `ech- "to pass." Thus, one hears `ech'el (or the shortened form `el).

Chisut `ech'el tana. I am going to return (to the place from whence I came).
Lok'em `ech'el li Xun e. Johns has already left (from here).

The form batel, from bat- "to go," has the expected meaning in other dialects of Tzotzil, but in Zinacantec Tzotzil, this words means: "at times, occasionally."

Chik'ot batel ta Chamu`. I occasionally go to Chamula.
Chipaxyaj batel ta `ak'ubal. I occasionally go out at night (e.g., hunting, to walk around).
paxyaj- "hunt, walk around"

The most general directional nouns--talel "through here" and `ech'el "from here," as well as the "immobile" directional komel "remaining"--can supplement another more specialized directional.

Ch`anilaj lok'el talel li tz'i` e. The dog left for here running. (The person speaking is outside, and the dog runs in his direction.)
Ivil yalel komel li xulem e. The buzzard swooped down (and remained there).
yal- "to descend"
vil- "to fly"
Li`ipaj yalel `ech'el. I got sick when I came down from here (for example, when I went to the lowlands from the highlands).
Pero lilekub xa k'otel. But upon arriving, I improved.
lekub- "to improve"

Verbs such as yul- and k'ot-, which appear to denote events ("the moment of arriving, the arrival"), provide "directional" nouns with the meaning "upon arriving, arriving." See the following:

I`ok' sutel. Upong arriving, he wept.
`ok'-, "to cry"
Liyakub vayel. I got drunk when I slept (at sleeping time).

(The class of verbs that produce directional nouns is limited; vay- "to sleep" is the only verb that has a "directional" usage without a meaning that involves motion‹with the exception of the motionless verb kom- "to remain.")

Nouns formed from the suffixing of -el to intransitive verb roots have various uses. We have already seen a few specialized usages:

cham-, "to do, to fall gravely ill"
chamel, "sickness"
jchamel, "a sick person"

yakub-, "to get drunk"
jyakubel, "a drunk"
yakubel, "drunkenness"

`ach'-, "to get wet"
`ach'el, "mud"
lik-, "to begin, to rise"
likel, "moment, instant"

Nouns with specialized meanings also derive from other intransitive verbs that we have seen:

`och'-, "to enter"
`och'el ta na, "ceremony for the receiving a bride-to-be into the house of the groom-to-be"

lub-, "to get tired"
lubel, "fatigue"

k'a`-, "to rot"
k'a`el, "venereal disease"

These nouns have lost their verbal character and function as ordinary nouns.

Toj tzotz li jlubele. I'm very tired. (Literally: My fatigue is great.)
Tol chajatav ta syakubel. He usually runs off when he is drunk (literally: in his drunkenness).
tol, "often, a lot"

(Tol is a shortened form of toyol "high," which modifies predicates and verbs as an intensifier.) In these examples the nouns with -el carry possessive prefixes.

Another more clearly verbal construction uses a derived noun with -el with a possessive prefix. Consider the following example sentences with intransitive verbs:

Nax to liyul. I arrived early. (Literally: I arrived earlier today)
K'usi `ora i`och? When (what day) did he enter?
Volje i`och. Yesterday.
Jayib `ora lalik? What time did you get up?
Jun `ora to lilik. I got up at one.

In these sentences a temporal expression precedes and modifies the verb. In initial position, the temporal expression is the focus of the sentence.

Liyul nax. I arrived early.
Nax to liyul. I've been here since earlier today (literally: earlier still I arrived).
Mi sob chajulav? Are you going to get up early (with emphasis)?

The meaning of a fronted temporal expression can be seen in negative forms.

Muk' xiyul nax. I didn't arrive earlier (in other words, I didn't arrive).
Mu xa bu nax liyul. It wasn't early when I arrived.

Muk' xijulav ta sob. I didn't get up early.
Mu masuk sob chijulav. It was early in the morning when I got up.

(Note that in the last sentence, the negative particle mu combines with mas "more, very," and the aspect of the verb is not affected.) In sentences with a fronted temporal word fronted, the verb appears to be the "subject" and the temporal expression the "predicate"; the sentence predicates the temporal quality, represented by the predicate, with respect to the event or the action denoted by the verb: "the moment in which I got up was not early," etc.

A noun derived with -el can also be the subject of a temporal predicate.

Nax to syulel. He arrived early. (Literally: His arrival was early.)
Mi nax to avochel ta `abtel? Did you begin work early? (Literally: Was your entrance to work early?)
Naka to kochel. I just started.
naka, "just"
naka to, "just a moment ago"

Mi nax ajulavel? Has it been long since you got up?
Naka to jlikel. I just got up a moment ago.

It is obvious that the "possessive" prefix together with the derived noun agrees with the true subject of the verb. That is to say, a verbal noun of the form:

s-yul-el "his arrival"

is related to the sentence:

Iyul (i-0-yul). He arrived.

The verb's true subject appears explicitly as the subject of an intransitive verb, or as the grammatical possessor of the form derived with -el.

Iyul li Xun e. John arrived.
Nax to syulel li Xun e. John arrived early. (Literally: John's arrival was earlier.)

Here we have another example of the highly developed usage of grammatical possession in Tzotzil. Note that there is a similar construction in English: "John's arrival, "my arrival," etc.

There is another verbal suffix, -ebal, which occurs with intransitive verbs (especially with yul- and tal-) with the explicit meaning "the moment in which something happens." Thus:

Talebal xa li vo` e. It's about to rain. (Literally: the rain is about to come.)
Yulebal xa li j`abtel e. The workers are about to arrive.
Jayib `ora chayul `ok'ob? What time will you arrive tomorrow?
Chiyul ta jun `ora. I will arrive at one.
Lok'ebal xa `ox li Xun e. John will be about to arrive at that time.

These words derived with -ebal do not permit possessive prefixes. They function in isolation as predicates. Thus, these words with -ebal carry nominative suffixes.

Jayib `ora chalok' tana? What time will you leave later?
Batz'i lok'ebalon xa. I am about to leave.

6.6 Complete Sentences with Intransitive Verbs

In sentences like the following, the predicate is an adverbial expression and the subject is a complete phrase.

Sob to lik'ot ta ch'ivit ta Jobel. It was early when I arrived at the market in San Cristóbal.
Muk' bu sob lik'ot ta ch'ivit ta Jobel. It wasn't early when I arrived at the market in San Cristóbal.

The phrase

lik'ot ta ch'ivitŠ

denotes an event and a more complex sentence asserts that the event did or did not occur earlier. Other adverbial expressions function in the same manner.

Jset' mu icham. He almost died. (Literally: Little he didn't die.)
jset, "a little"
Nat i`och ta ch'en. He went deep into in the cave.
Jal ikom ta nom. He remained isolated for a long time.
jal, "a long time"
nom, "far away"
Skotol k'ak'al chvay ta be. Every day he sleeps on the road.
Sjunul k'in mu xvay. During the party he didn't sleep.

(The forms of -kotol "all" and -junul "all, complete, entire" are considered in the following chapter.) The negative form of these sentences negate not the verb, but rather the adverb, its modifier.

Muk' bu nat i`och. He went in, but not very far.
Mu jaluk ikom. He remained for a long time. (Literally: It wasn't for long that he remained.)
Mu skotoluk k'ak'al te chvay. He didn't sleep there every day.
Mu sjunluk k'in. Ivay `onox jun k'ak'al.
It wasn't for all of the party (that he sleep). He always sleep one night.

One can see that the subjects of these sentences are entire sentences, modified by adverbial expressions.

(The distance) that he went into the cave: it is great.
(The time) when he remained isolated: it was great.

The following sentences illustrate another class of structures:

`Ip xa isut ta na. He returned to his house sick.
Jyakubel liyul ta k'in. I arrived to the party very drunk.
Vayem lakom ta te`tik. You remained sleeping in the forest.

A similiar meaning is expressed by means of the temporal conjunction k'alal "when."

K'alal isut ta na, `ip xa. He was already sick when he returned to the house.
Jyakubelon k'alal liyul ta k'in. I was sick when I arrived at the party.

Compare the following sentence, with the particle mi "whether/if":

Jyakubelon mi liyul ta k'in. When I arrive at the party, I will be drunk.
Vayemot k'alal lakom ta te`tik. You were sleeping when you remained in the forest. [where does footnote end?]

The structure of sentences with k'alal can be represented in the following manner:


On the other hand, in other sentences only the principal verb carries an absolutive affix, and the additional predicate goes without an absolutive suffix.


However, the additional predicate is understood as referring to the same subject. From the sentence:

`Ip libat ta jna. Being sick, I went to my house.

one understands that:

`Ipon. I was sick.

although the adjective `ip does not carry an affix in the original sentence. Consider the following conversation:

‹Lalok' ta k'in ta `ak'ubal. Mi jyakubel lak'ot ta ana?
I left the party at night. Were you drunk when you arrived at your house?
‹`I`i, kuxulon. No, I was sober.
‹Pero ch'ayem yilel lalok'. But you seemed like you were ready to pass out when you left.
yilel, "appears that way"
ch'ayem, "pass out" (literally: lost)
‹Bweno, pero kuxul livay. Yes, but I was sober when I went to sleep.

In these constructions, the first predicate provides the principal commentary on the topic, the subject. This predicate combines with the intransitive verb which in turn carries an explicit absolutive prefix, thereby qualifying the meaning of the main predicate.

The word yilel is related to the root -il "to see" (a root that can also be seen in j`ilol "curer, seer"). Yilel means "apparently, it seems that, it looks as if", as in the following examples:

`Ipot yilel. You look sick.
Ibat xa ta Jobel yilel. It looks like he has gone to San Cristóbal.
Vayem to yilel. Apparently he is still sleeping.

Yilel can also be fronted, as an adverb:

Yilel te to ta ch'ivit. He appears to be in the market still.
Yilel to mu xtal. It looks like he isn't coming.

Another similar construction is the following:

Yochel ta x`abtej. He is beginning to work.
Yochel ta xlok' `ajan. The corn is starting to leave.

The work -ochel (from `och "to enter") appears to have an entire sentence as its grammatical possesor and it is this possesssor which gives the possessive prefix y-. The combination means "it is the entrance of S" (where S stands for sentence) or "S begins." The word yolel functions in a similar manner, with the meaning of "in the process of, in the midst of." (See also yak, yaket.)

Yolel ch`abtej. He is working.
Yolel chyakub. He is getting drunk.
Yolel `abtel. The work is under way.
Yolel `ak'ot. The dance is in progress.
`ak'ot, "dance"

Another construction employs forms of intransitive verbs whose subjects do not engender absolutive affixes.

Toj k'asel liyal ta lum. I broke something falling to the ground. (In other words, when I fell to the ground, I hurt myself.)
k'as, "to break something"
Ch'ayel ik'ot sjol. He got upset. (Literally: His head became lost.)
Batel xa chibat. I am still going far away.

Reduplication of verbal nouns with -el indicates a process or a repetetive and continous action:

Solel toyel toyel stojol. The price keeps rising (again and again).
solel, "only, simply"
Lok'el lok'el sk'oplal. Jokes about the surgeon are constantly coming up (literally: leaving).

These nouns with -el can also carry explicit absolutive suffixes when they function in isolation as predicates.

Toj k'aselon ta jmek. I am very shaken up?
Toj k'aselot yilel, toj k'asel avok. You seem hurt: your leg is broken.

These absolutive suffixes disappear in combination with another verb, as in:

Toj k'asel lik'ot ta jna. I was really shaken up when I arrived at my house.

Note the position of the absolutive suffix with reduplicated forms:

Te no`ox ch'ayel ch'ayelon ta Mejiko. Whenever I go to Mexico I get lost.
Solel talel batelon tajmek. I only come and go, come and go.

6.7 Intransitive Sentences with Instrument or Agent

Lilaj ta ton. I hurt myself on a rock (literally: I finished myself.)
Chacham ta bala timi chabat. If you go, you will die from a bullet.
Ali ixkirvano e, tztz'ibaj ta makina. The writer is writing on a typewriter.
Ali me`el e, mu xanav ta karo. The old woman doesn't want to go (literally: to walk) by car.

We already know that ta is the only Tzotzil preposition. Ta combines with various types of nouns in order to incorporate temporal and locative constituents into a sentence, as we have already seen. Phrases that specify instrument are also formed with ta. (There are even sentences with two or three different constituents that all use the preposition ta.)

Lijach' ta `ach'el ta te`tik ta byernex.
I slipped in the mud in the forest on Friday.
jach', "to slip, to fall"
Ta `ak'in ta `olon `osil chi`atej ta `asaluna.
In the lowlands I work with a hoe at cleaning time.
`ak'in, "to clean (as in a cornfield)"
`asaluna, "hoe"

Clauses with ta can indicate various types of cause, instrument, or agent in relation to an action.

Ijam ta `ak'in li na e. The house was opened by the wind.
jam-, "to open"
`ik', "wind"
Lilaj ta `utel. They really scolded me. (Literally: I finished myself from scolding.)
`utel, "scolding"
Ibat ta vinik li tzeb e. The girl married a man. (Literally: the girl went with a man).
Ch`ok' ta vi`nal li `unen e. The girl cried from hunger.
vi`nal, "hunger"
vi`naj, "to be hungry"
`ok'-, "scream, cry"
Chjatav ta pox li `antz e. The woman fled from the liquor (because she didn't want to drink any.)

These instrumental constituents with ta can be fronted and negated when they serve as the focus of a complex sentence.

Mi ta machita ilaj mi ta bala? Did he die from a machete or a bullet?
Mi ta `ik' ijam li na e? Was it from the wid that the house opened?
Ma`uk, tz tz'i` ijam. No, by a dog.

Mi ta karo chak'ot ta Tuxta? Is it by car that you are going to (literally: arriving in) Tuxtla.
Mu ta karouk. Ta kok chik'ot. Not by car, but by walking.

Again, note that the complement of ta lacks the article li, although it is definite. On the other hand, there is a construction to express the instrument or the cause of an action, or event, that permits the use of articles. This construction uses the related word `o.

Lixi` `o li chon li`e. I was scared by this snake.
`Ali chon li`e, lixi` `o. It was because of the snake that I got scared.


Lixi` ta chon. I was scared by a snake.

In these sentences, the ordinary order of constituents is the following:

Verb `o Instrument Subject

where the subject produces absolutive affixes on the verb. If there is no ambiguity (if the "instrument" or the subject is in the first or second person), the instrument or the subject can be fronted. (And remember that when two definite nouns with li occur in sequence, only the last article survives. The rest disappear.)

Chijatav ta pox li vo`on e. I fled because of the liquor.
Chijatav `o li pox e. Because of the liquor, I fled.
Vo`on chijatav `o li pox e. I was the one who fled from of the liquor.
`Ali poxe, chijatav `o (li vo`on e). It was because of the liquor that I fled.
Pox chijatav `o. It's the pox that I fled from.

Mi vo`on chaxi` `o? Was it me you were afraid of?
Mu vo`otikot chixi` `o. It wasn't you I was afraid of.
J`ik'al chixi` `o. It was a spook that I was afraid of.

When the subject and the instrument are nouns (in the third person) there exists the possibility of ambiguity, which is avoided through circumlocution.

`Ali `unen e, ixi` `o li chon e. The child was scared by the snake.
Chon ixi` `o li `unen e. It was a snake that the child was scared of.
`Ali chon e, ixi` `o li `unen e. The snake was scared of the child.
Ja` ixi` li chon e. It was the snake that was scared.

Note that the construction with `o always indicates instrument or cause, while a clause with ta can also denote a time or place.

Mi laxi` ta vo`? Were you scared by the water?
Or: Were you scared near the water?
Lixi` ta vo`tik. It was scared during the rainy season.
vo`tik, "rainy season"
Lixi` `o li vo` e. I was scared of the water.

It is also possible to question the instrument/agent/cause.

K'usi chi` `o li `unen e? What was the child scared of?

(The root xi`- "to be afraid," in the imperfective form of the third person gives ta xxi`, which reduces to chi`).

Much'u chajatav `o? Who are you fleeing from?

K'usi lalaj `o? What did you hurt yourself on?
Lilaj ta ton. It was a rock.

Much'u ixi`? Who was afraid?
Much'u ixi` `o? Who was he afraid of?

In the last question, we already know who is afraid, and we are asking who the person fears. On the other hand, the following sentence is ambiguous.

Much'u ixi` `o li jmak-be?
jmak-be, "assassin, highwayman"

There are two possible interpretations:

  1. Who was the bandit afraid of?
  2. Who was afraid of the bandit?

(The speech context will generally resolve this ambiguity.)

The word `o also relates one sentence to another, in the following way:

Ch'abal `asaluna. There isn't a hoe.
Chi`abtej ta `asaluna. I work with a hoe.
Ch'abal `asaluna chi`abtej `o. There isn't no hoe for me to work with.
K'usi laxi` `o? What frightened you?
Ch'abal k'usi lixi` `o. Nothing frightened me.

There is a relation of subordination between two sentences of the form:

Ch'abal [`asaluna [chi`abtej ta `asaluna] ]
There isn't a hoe I work with a hoe
Ch'abal [`asaluna chi`abtej `o]

The word `o replaces the clause ta `asaluna in the second sentence. A similar subordinate relation can be seen in the following sentences:

`Oy mayol. There is a constable.
Chbat ta mantal li mayol e. The constable will give a mandate.
mayol, "constable"
mantal, "command, mandate"
`Oy mayol chbat ta mantal. There is a constable who is going to give a mandate.

Here the repeated noun in the second part of the sentence--mayol--is the subject of the verb chbat which simply disappears without leaving a word like `o as a trace.

`Oy [mayol [chbat mayol ta mantal]]
There is a constable the constables will give a mandate

`Oy [mayol chbat ta mantal]

These two processes of subordination can combine in a single complete sentence.

`Ali `asaluna li`e, ch'abal jtojbalal ch`abtej `o.
As for that hoe, there isn't a work who will work with it.

The phrase ch`abtej `o results from the disappearance of two constituents from the underlying sentence:

ch`abtej [ta `asaluna] [li jtojbalal e].
ch`abtej `o Ø

Therefore, a sentence like:

Ja` chcham `o. Because of this, he is going to die.

results from a process of subordination of two sentences:

Ja` X.It is X.
Chcham ta X. He is going to die from X.

where X represents something already known. The following example sentence results from the same process:

Vo`on chi` `o. He is afraid of me.

(Remember that the pronouns vo`on and vo`ot contain the basic predicate ja`.)

The word `o is also used in other contexts. With verbs, `o can signify "forever".

Ibat `o. He left (and hasn't returned).
Ilaj `o. It is finished forever.
Lital `o. I'm here for good.
Ilaj `o k'op. The argument ended for good.

With the number jun "one," and with other expressions like j-tos "one class/type" or j-chop "a family/pair/group" or j-jot "one side", one uses `o in the sense of "another, different."

Jun `o xa ital. It was the other one who came.
Jchop `o lak'u`e. Your clothing is different.
Jjot `o chk'opoj. He talks differently (literally: from another side).
k'opoj-, "talk, converse"
Jtos xa `o le`e. That is a different kind.


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