Cardinal Numbers in Tok Pisin

Numbers in Tok Pisin occur with and without –pela suffixed to them:

    1                       wan                                  wanpela
    2                      tu                                       tupela
    3                      tri                                      tripela
    4                      foa                                    fopela
    5                      faiv                                   faipela
    6                      sikis                                 sikispela
    7                      seven                               sevenpela
    8                      et                                       etpela
    9                      nain                                 nainpela
    10                    ten                                    tenpela

Those without –pela attached correspond to the names of the numbers in English and are used for mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and for counting money and telling the time, some of which will be presented in more detail later. Numbers beyond ten are not constructed as in English although one may occasionally hear the shorter ones with –pela attached to them, e.g.

    elevenpela                 eleven
    eitinpela                     eighteen
    twentipela                 twenty

Sometimes an older method of counting beyond ten is resorted to in modern contexts to make sure that there is no ambiguity or doubt about what is said. For example, on aircraft where the noise level is high the hostess might say The journey will take thirty-five minutes and will use tripela ten faiv minit for thirty-five . The numbers in this older method of counting are based on ten (except for the hundreds) and are regularly derived. Consider, for example:

    11                    wanpela ten wan
    12                   wanpela ten tu
    18                   wanpela ten et
    26                  tupela ten sikis
    54                  faipela ten foa
    80                  etpela ten
    100                wan handet

In the classroom nating, not or siro is used for nought or zero but outside it in everyday life the idea of nothing is expressed by i no gat wanpela (lit. there is not one). Approximations are given by samting olsem, e.g. Em i gat samting olsem fotisikis kina He’s got about K46 (lit. something like K46).

Personal Pronouns in Tok Pisin

The principal pronouns in Tok Pisin are:

Tok Pisin Refers to English
mi the speaker I, me
yu the person spoken to you
em the person or thing spoken about he, she, it
him, her, it
yumi the speaker and person(s) spoken to we (incl.), us (incl.)
mipela the speakers and person(s) with him and not including the person spoken to we (excl.), us (excl.)
yupela the persons spoken to you (pl)
ol the persons spoken about they, them

There are four important differences between these Tok Pisin pronouns and English ones:

1. There are no separate pronouns for he, she, it in Tok Pisin. These are all em. Thus Em i go long taun can mean either he went to town or she went to town;

2. In most carefully spoken varieties of Tok Pisin all the subject pronouns (except mi and yu) are followed by the special particle i which occurs between the pronoun and the verb, for example as in:

  • Mi wokabaut.
  • Yu wokabaut.
  • Em i wokabaut.
  • Yumi i wokabaut.
  • Mipela i wokabaut.
  • Yupela i wokabaut.
  • Ol i wokabaut.

In other varieties this particle is regularly omitted so that Em i wokabaut becomes Em wokabaut.

This particle is a most important part of the special structure of Tok Pisin and is usually referred to as the Predicative Particle or Predicate Marker. Its position relative to other items in sentences will be illustrated and discussed as they are introduced later. For teaching purposes it will be used after all pronouns except mi and yu in the first few units until learners get used to it. Then no further attention will be paid to it and it will be left out or used depending on context, speed of utterance and/or other factors operating at the time;

3. Most Tok Pisin speakers distinguish between yumi and mipela which are both represented as we in English. To distinguish the Tok Pisin forms in English yumi is said to be we (inclusive), that is we, including the person spoken to and mipela is said to be we (exclusive), that is we, excluding the person spoken to. Thus Mipela i go long taun means We (that is, my friends and I but not you) are going to town whereas Yumi go long taun means You and my friends and I are going to town;

4. Tok Pisin pronouns do not change form like English ones do when they occur as objects of verbs or prepositions (like long or bilong). Thus whereas in English one says He sees me and not He sees I, in Tok Pisin one says Em i lukim mi where mi is the same form as one uses in the beginning of sentences like Mi lukim em I see him.

Pronouns: dual and trial

In Tok Pisin it is customary to refer to the number of persons or things involved in any action, especially if there are only two or three. This is done by adding the numerals tupela and tripela to the pronouns mi, yu, em, yumi. Thus the set of pronouns given in the last table should now be expanded to include at least the following:

Tok Pisin Refers to English
mitupela the speaker and the person with him but not including the person spoken to we (two) (excl. )
yumitupela the speaker and the person spoken to we (two) (incl. )
yutupela the two persons spoken to you (two)
emtupela the two persons spoken about those (two)
mitripela the speaker and the two persons with him but not including the person spoken to we (three) (excl.)
yumitripela the speaker and the person with him and the person spoken to we (three) (incl.)
yutripela the three persons spoken to you (three)
emtripela the three persons spoken about those (three)

Reference to four, five , six, etc. can ‘be made in the same way by adding fopela, faipela, etc.