A Concise Kreyòl Grammar


a provisional version


Jacob Rabinowitz




Travay-sa-a, se pou onè  

Mistè yo, Mò yo ak Marassa yo.

Ay bobo!






There does not, to my knowledge, exist a good teaching grammar of the Kreyòl language. Albert Valdman produced an excellent English-Language introductory textbook in 1988 (Ann Pale Kreyòl ), and there is an up-to date (2002) French language equivalent by Robert Damoiseau (J’apprends le Créole haïtien) but these leave unanswered a host of questions about more complex sentence structures.


This is a concise grammar, which means I assume a basic knowlege of grammar on the part of the reader, and some small acquaintance with French. Ideally one would read this after a book like Valdman’s (which, for the Anglophone, is still the only game in town.) I have not explicated matters which would be resolved by consulting a dictionary.


The dictionary is: Haitian-English Dictionary, Bryant Freeman, La Press Evangélique, Port-au-Prince 2004. This is the only adequate dictionary that exists. Published under the auspices of the U. Kansas, it is not actually printed or distributed by them (this is what they told me on the phone.) I was able to purchase it only through Schoenhof’s in Boston


I was not able to consult all of the books out there on the subject of Kreyòl grammar, since these are extremely difficult of access. What I could find at the library of Columbia University and in the NY Public Library’s Schomburg Center I did consult. This was a pretty good sampling. Beyond this, I had only such information as I was able to gain through informal enquiry in the small group of Kreyòl linguists with whom I am personally acquainted. If there is work out there which does what I have not, or makes a better job of it than I have, I will be grateful for anyone who brings it to my attention by sending me a sample of the superior treatement.

But I’m not holding my breath. The works out there fell into two main categories: treatments by linguistics specialists, and “teach yourself” textbooks. I’m still not entirely sure what Linguistics is concerned with. It used to be all about phonology, and then it got very theoretical. I am not qualified to appreciate or criticise the concerns of this discipline. I can however say with certainty that they have nothing in common with the concerns of those who simply wish to read and speak a language.


As for the basic textbooks, they all suffer from the unconscious Jim-Crow assumption that Kreyòl is really just bad French. Thus the tense system is unfailingly presented in terms of absolute time (past, present, future) rather than the relative time system one finds in certain African languages. The failure to understand how the tenses work results in a bizarre over-application of te, which makes ridiculous such well known printed texts as the Bible translation into Kreyòl.


Another very central structural aspect of Kreyòl, one that has never been addressed, is the phenomenon I call repetition to show subordination. Now Kreyòl has no subjunctive, and manages very well in most cases without one, either by using the indicative or the infinitive. In this, Kreyòl is just like English. But in cases where subordination must be shown, that is, in complex sentences, Kreyòl will repeat a word (often te but it could be anything!) This phenomenon has been very oddly, and very completely, ignored.


This is the first in-depth grammar of Kreyòl. Indeed, it is a provisional version of that. Thus I will be extremely grateful to anyone who points out to me any errors in my book, or suggests improvements I should make.


Note: phrases in Kreyòl used in this book, that have not simply been made up gratia exempli, have the source book and page number  in parentheses. These references are:



Voodoo Song: my own forthcoming edition of Voodoo lyrics collected by Steve Deats


Valdman: Ann Pale Kreyòl, 1988.


Hall:  Robert Hall, (The American Anthropologist, vol. 55 no.2) Haitian Creole, 1953











I                       mwen, m’           we                    nou, n’

you                        ou  (“w”)           you (pl.)           nou, n’

he, she, it         li, l’                        they                 yo, y’


The pronouns are given here in their regular forms, followed by their contracted forms.


These are the only forms for the pronouns which exist in Kreyòl. They are used, whether in full or contracted form, as subjects, as direct and indirect objects, and to show possession. Examples:


Subject: M’ap kenbe. (I’m managing).

Indirect Object: Ba m’ visit. (Pay me a visit).

Direct object: Koute m’.  (Listen to me).

Posession: Kay-mwen (my house); Se pou li. (It’s his).


Note that nou or n’ is used both for the first and second persons plural.


The rules governing the contraction and alteration of pronouns are as follows:



m may appear for mwen at any time:


M’ byen.

I’m well.


Ayiti, se payi-m’.

Haiti is my country.



Ou  is pronounced like a “w”  when the next word begins with a vowel. (Many persons will write a w in place of ou in all cases. This usage should not be employed in formal writing.)


Ou ap we! (pronounced w ap we!”)

You’re going to see!


Li, Nou, Yo


We may find l’ for li when it is preceded or followed by a vowel:


L’ ale.

He went.


Sadrak renmen l’.

Sadrak likes her (a nasalized vowel does not count as a consonant. See below.)


li becomes ni after the nasal consonants “m,” “n” and “g.”


Se machin-ni

It’s his car.


Li vann ni

He sells it.


Nasalized Vowels


Li also becomes ni after nasal vowels These occur when there is an “n” which is not pronounced, but is only used to add nazalization to the preceding vowel, in the manner well-known from French. This is the case with words ending  -an, -­en and on.  The “n” in words ending -un and -in is a fully pronounced consonant. The nasalized vowels are pronounced as follows:


for -an, the vowel is pronounced like the “a”  in “alms”

for -en,  the vowel is pronounced like the “a”  in “man”

for -on, the vowel is pronounced like the “o”  in “don’t”).


M’ pran ni.

I take it.


Fòk ou renmen ni.

You’ve got to love him.


The other pronouns do not alter their consonants as li does.


We may find n’ for nou when it is preceded or followed by a vowel:


N’ ale.

They (or “you-all”) went.


Ba n’ nouvel-ou.

Tell us your news.


Y’ is used for yo only when it is followed by a vowel:


Y’ ale.

They went.






A hyphen is used to connect all possessive pronouns, demonstratives and definite articles to a preceding noun. It is not used to connect an object prounoun Very often the possessive pronoun is given in shortened form. Examples:


definite article (bagay-la, the thing,) pa li-a (hers, i.e., the thing that belongs to her);


demonstrative adjective (wou-sa-a, this wheel);


possessive pronoun (papa-m’, my father).








The Definite Article


The singular definite article is la after a consonant (tab-la, “the table”) and a after a vowel (msye-a, “the gentleman.”) In the plural the definite article is always yo.



The Indefinite Article


This is invariably yon. (Yon moun, “a person.) There is no plural indefinite article. Gen moun nan lakou, “There are (some) people in the yard.” However, when an ambiguity might otherwise arise, one will find the definite plural article yo supplying the lack of an indefinite plural.


The Nasalized “N” and the Definite Article


A nasalized final “n” (see above under Pronouns) effects the form of the singular definite article which follows it.  (The plural definite article, yo, is not affected).  The singular definite article, a, becomes an:


blan-an “the foreigner”

maten-an “the morning

pantalon-an “the  trousers”


This is also the case after a word ending in an i preceded by a nasalized consonant:


zouti-a “the  tool,” but:


fanmi-an “the family”


After an -n that is not fully nazalized, -m, and -ng one uses lan or nan indifferently as the singular definite article


machin-nan/-lan “the car”

plim-lan/-nan “the pen”

madanm-lan/-nan “the lady”

moun-lan/-nan ‘the fellow”



There is some possibilty for confusion beween the plural definite article and the third person plural pronoun, since both prounous and definite articles take a hyphen. Eseye wòb-yo could mean “try on the dresses” or “try on (some of ) their dresses.”  “Try on their (definite) dresses,” which would theoretically be Eseye wòb-yo-yo, does not seem to exist in practice.

      However, phrases like wòb-ou-yo, “your (definite) dresses” are common.



Use of the Definite Articles


This is generally the same as in English. The article is frequently omitted before the names of familiar places:


Mari pral nan mache.

Marie is going to market.


The article comes after the subject even when this is complex:


Ki jan piti ki pral nan mache ak Mari-a rele?

What is the name of the child who is going to market with Marie?


Anpil moun ki t’ envite pou demen (wit Fevrye) yo, yo vini . . .

The other people who had been invited for the next day, February 8, they came . . . (Hall 101)






Nouns and Adjectives


Genitive Construct


Kreyòl uses a genitive contruct, like Hebrew or Arabic. This is probably best understood as the French possessive de (le livre de Jean, John’s book) with the de omitted


Gen yon zwazo ki grosè yon peyi.

There is a bird the size (of) a country. (Hall 122.)



Demonstrative Adjectives


These correspond to “this” and “these” in English. These are formed by placing sa between the noun and the article:


Li achte chemiz-sa-a.

He buys this shirt.


Kote timoun-sa-yo?

Where are these children.


“That”and “those” are expressed simply by adding the word la (“there”).


Timoun-sa-yo la.

Those children.


Interrogative Adjectives


Ki is the invariable interrogative adjective. Its meaning is “which” or “what.”

      (It does not mean the interrogative “who?” “Who?” is expressed by combining ki with moun, giving Ki moun? (= “who?”). Similarly Ki sa? is “What?”, Ki lè is “When?”, and so on.)


A few examples of ki showing the confusion that may arise with the relative pronouns:



Ki ti bebe ki malade?

Which (is) the baby who is ill? (Valdman 105)


The first ki is the interrogative adjective applied to ti bebe. The verb “to be” which  follows it is not expressed  (see “Existence” below.) The second ki is the relative subject pronoun (see “The Relative Clause” below.)


Ki chanm ou pito?

Which (is) the room (which) you prefer? (Valdman 105)


The ki is the interrogative adjective. The verb “to be” which  follows it is not expressed  (see “Existence” below.) The direct object relative “which” is not expressed (see “The Relative Clause” below.) The English translation “Which room do you prefer” is quite correct, and precisely mirrors the very streamlined Kreyòl phrase.



Fronted Adjectives


Though adjectives are typically placed after the noun they modify, these six adjectives always go in front of the noun:


gran big

ti small  

bèl beautiful,

bon good

vye old

gwo big


Skin and Hair


This is a matter of great interest to the Haitian, and the specific terms are well worth mastering:


blan, moun wouj  white or foreign

milat light skinned with straight silky hair and Caucasian features

grimo light skinned with curly hair

marabou dark skinned with straight silky hair and Caucasian features

grenn kinky haired

kwòt kinkyhaired; with uncombed, unkempt hair

gridap kinkyhaired; with short kinky hair (on a woman).






In contrast to English, no linking verb is used for a present-tense predicate consisting of an adjective, a preposition of place, or an adverbial phrase.


Li Bon.

He’s good.


Yo nan lakou-a.

The are in the yard.


Li sizè nan maten.

It’s six in the morning.


This holds true even in complex sentences:


Bouki, m’a mete ou deyo, men se pou ou promèt mwen ou kit sòt . . .

Bouki, I’ll let you out, but you have to promise me you’ll stop (sc. being a) fool . . . (Hall 123)





Se, (“he/she/it is, the French c’est”) is employed at the head of a sentence to  mean “it is” or “they are.”


Se yon kabrit; se Kabrit.

It’s a goat; they’re goats.


It is also used when the predicate is a noun or an adjective that acts as a noun.


Li se (yon) Ayisyen/ (yon) jounalis/ (yon) gason/ (yon) grimo

He’s a Haitian/ a journalist/ a boy/ a light-skinned-curly-haired-boy. 


Note that when the predicate is a nationality, a religion, or some other qualification that is particular to humans, the use of the indefinite article becomes optional. One is equally likely to hear the phrase “he’s a priest” rendered by li se yon pè and li se pè.


Se, like any other Kreyòl verb, indicates contemporaneity, not tense. In conversation it will usually be rendered by an English present, and in narrative by a past.


Malis menm tonbe nan kache, men se pièj li tan Nonk Bouki.

Malis went into hiding, but he set a trap for Uncle Bouki. (Hall 116)



Se is combined with te to show anterior existence (see “Te” below).


Neg-sa-a, se te yon mon moun.

That fellow was a good man. (Valdman 97)




Ye appears when the subject has been moved to, or is repeated at, the end of the sentence. Shifting the place of the subject is particularly common in questions, for in Kreyòl as in English, a question ordinarily entails reversing the word order.


Kote ou ye?

Where are you?


Ki jan li ye?

How is she?


Ye also appears after the subject when the subject is reiterated, which may be done either for clarity or to achieve a stylistic effect:


Mari, se nan lakou-a li ye.

Marie, she’s in the courtyard.


. . . yon ban ti moun anpipèt te gentan al fwape pòt kote tòtu-a ye a.

. . . a group of naughty children had already gone to knock on the door (of the room) where the tortoise was. (Hall 165)


In this last sentence note that the a after the ye is the definite article for pòt.



When anterior existence must be shown, ye is combined with te:


La Plenn du nord m’ te ye . . .

I was in Plaine du Nord . . . (Voodoo song,)



We note here that Kreyòl has no future form of the verb to be. Therefore one must create a future by adding ava or ap to another verb and making the point of future existence obliquely.


Anterior Existence: Te


Te acts as the verb “to be” for the anterior tense. Unlike se, it is expressed for every sort of predicate.


Li te malad.

He was sick.


Li te mèt lekòl.

He was a school teacher.


Yo te lavil.

They were in town.



The Contemporaneous Verb


The bare verb in Kreyòl does not indicate a specific tense: rather it indicates that one action is contemporaneous with another action or a suggested context. We may render the contemporaneous verb into English with the simple present, the gnomic present,  or the simple past.

      The simple present will tend to be the preferred translation for conversation, the gnomic present for proverbs and general statements, and the simple past for narration. Only context will tell which rendering is to be preferred.


The simple present: Yo pentire kay-yo, means “They paint their house.”   (The ongoing present, “they are painting their house, requires the marker ap: Y’ap pentire kay-yo. See “Ap” below).


The gnomic present: Gabi vann rad nan mache-a. “Gabi sells clothing in the market place.” Used for statements which are generally or proverbially true. Fimen move pou sante-ou. “Smoking is bad for your health.”


The Simple Past: Li plante pwa. “He planted beans.” Simple, completed action in the past.


The contemporaneous verb is identical in form, but not in use or meaning with the past participle, the imperative, and thethe infinitive.


The Past Participle:  Mayi-a plante. “The corn is planted.” This is a past participle (“planted”) modifying the subject(“corn”) with the verb “to be” (“is”) left (as is typical) unexpressed. The construction is clearly derived from the French passé composé.


Imperative:  Pran zouti-ou! “Take your tools!”  Note that the Kreyòl imperative does not express its subject with a  pronoun.

      (A more polite form for commands is the formula se pou ou + infinitive (“you ought to”)

      The imperative of the verb “to  be” is always left unexpressed: necessarily, for there is none.


Frè-mwen, byen ave m’, non!

My brother, won’t you be on good terms with me? (Hall 117-118)


Infinitive:  Ou bezwen ale nan dispanse-a? “Do you need to go to the clinic?”







In every case the negative particle pa is placed immediately before the verb or before the particle which modifies its tense:


Li pa vle.

He doesn’t want to.


Li pa te vle.

He didn’t want to.


Li p’ap vle.

He isn’t wanting to.


The Past Marker Te


Combined with a verb, te simply indicates that one action is anterior to some other action or circumstance. In English one will render this sometimes by the perfect (did), sometimes by the pluperfect (“had done’), and sometimes by adding the word “already.”  The choice depends purely on context.


M’ te rive lakay lè li rele-m.

I had arrived at the house when he called me. (Valdman 97)


M’ te benyen yè aprèmidi.

I already bathed yesterday afternoon. (Valdman 97)


Se sa m’ t’al wè, you ba m’ yon ti kout pye, you voye m’ isit  . .

That’s what I’d gone to see, they gave me a kick and sent me here. (Hall 118)



We may find, at the beginning of a narration, a number of sentences using the particle te. This is to set place the story as a whole in the past. After the initial paragraph, the author will use the contemporaneous verb with the reader’s understanding that it is meant as a simple past. The most glaring blemish in translations made by non-Kreyòl speakers is the overuse of te, in imitation of the tense system of European languages.




Te does not make an anterior tense when combined with ap. There it makes an imperfect: see “Ap” below.


Te is used alone as the simple past of the verb se (“to be.”)



Mwen tonnbe kire, di: “Manman, li pran ti plat mwen.” Epi li menm te pli piti pase mwen, li di: “Se pitit kouzen-ou, lite l’ ale vek ti plat . . .

I began to cry and said: “Mama, he took my little dish.” Since he himself was younger than me, she said: “It’s your little cousin. Let him go with the little dish. . . (Hall 75)



Te  is also combined with verbs to indicate potentiality, thus supplying the want of a subjunctive mood in Kreyòl that would show possibility or volition. This is particularly the case with ava (see below).




AP, the marker of ongoing action


Here again we note that the Kreyòl marker does not indicate tense. Ap  informs us us that an action is ongoing: from this primary meaning we derive the notion of something taking place in the present and extending into the immediate future. Thus M’ap pran can be translated “I’m taking,” or “I’m going to take.”


A special form is used when ap is combined with al (“to go.”) The marker and the verb “to go” produce the form pral.


Kan bòkò-a we l’ nan prizon, li mete nan tèt li li pral mori . . .

When the sorcerer saw he was in prison, he took it into his head he was going to die. . . (Hall 140)


Ap may be combined with te to create an imperfect (“was doing”) tense:


Vwala yon jou, Nonk Bouki t’ap fè faksyon, li tande chan . . .

Now one day Uncle Bouki was keeping watch (when) he heard singing. (Hall p 120)







A, Ava, Va the Marker of will


These are three forms of the same time marker. It is a matter of preference which one is used.

      In all its forms ava suggests intention and certainty, like the English “will” in the phrase “I will not be defeated!”

      Ap will be used for an action that is simply going to happen, naturally and of itself, if things go on as they are in the present. Ava, on the other hand, implies an act of will or volition.


Nonk Bouki di li ba li ke li, l’a kenbe l’ epi l’ava sòti nan trou-a.

Uncle Bouki told him to give him his tail, that he would grab it and he’d get out of the hole. (Hall p. 116).


The ava above was translated with the English “would” rather than “will” because the whole sentence was set in the past.


T’a: should, would, could


This usage is a classic example of how the lack of a subjunctive to show will or possibility is remedied.

      T’a is nothing but ava preceded by te. T’a translates as “should,” “would” and “could,” depending on context. English shows precisely the same want of precision, using the three translation terms almost interchangeably. The most common categories of usage are:



potential “could,” “would”


Li pase tout nwit-la ap we si lit t’a plen panye-a.

He passed the whole night seeing if he could fill that basket. (Hall 131)


. . . li wè yon grenn soulye ki sanble’l t’a bon pou li.

. . . she saw a single shoe which seemed (like) it would be good for her. (Hall 150)


It is not uncommon to place potential t’a before pral (ap added to al), producing an idiom I call a future-intentional.


Li t’a pral arete ti batiman Lapòt t’a komande-a

He was meaning to (lit. would be going to) sieze the little boat (which) LaPorte commanded (Ti Koze 40)


. . . fi rwa-a devine sa you t’a pral di.

. . . the king’s daughter guessed what they were planning to (lit. would be going to) say. (Hall 174)



the “should” of obligation


     “Enben nou t’a pwete kèk ti zèl . . .”

     “OK, you should lend me some small wings . . .” (Hall p. 164)


This however may simply be a careless use. The word dwa (“ought to”) or the expression se pou li (see “Other Subordinate Clauses” below) would be the ordinary way of expressing this.


conditional sentence


t’a . . . t’a is the standard form for a should/would conditional sentence, that is, a sentence which says that if one thing should happen, something else would result; i.e., “if X, then Y . . .”


. . . li di Lando ke si li t’a vle fè yon babako, li t’ava fè l’ yon pakèt bagay . . .

. . . he said to Lando that if she should wish to make a barbecue, he would do a lot of things for her . . . (Hall 114)


Men m’ t’a pi bon si ou t’a kite m’ pase brid-mwen nan kou-ou . . .

But I would (be) better if you should let me pass my bridle over your neck . . . (Hall 110)


Note the correct omission of the verb “to be” in the “then” part of this last sentence.


Often one finds a conditional in a sentence where one or both halves are not a conditional t’a, but something more definite, such as an unmodified ava. An if/then conditional sentence may be made with any tense of mood of verb. T’a  is only required in the ones we translate with “should” or “would.”


A, m’a kontrarie anpil,  mwen pa t’a vle kontre konpe chen isit-la menm.

Ah, I shall be quite put out, I wouldn’t like to meet friend dog here at all. (Hall 126)


The following  interesting example uses the pou li  obligation idiom (considered below under “Other Subordinate Clauses”.) The “if” half of the sentence is a simple past indicative, while the “then” half is an expression of obligation (pou) given an emphatically future character by the use of a.


Si nou ouvri pòt-la, pou mwen a chante.

If you opened the door, I would have to sing. (Hall 165)







Noun Clauses and Indirect Statement


Note: Subordinate clauses in Kreyòl are not usually signalized by anything more than using a subordinating introductory word — and not always even that. Where subordination does need to be marked, Kreyòl will reiterate a word. This latter phenomenon we will call Reiteration to show subordination (RSS).  RSS will be dealt with in detail in the final section of this essay.



The Noun Clause


Sometimes called an “object clause,” this is a complete clause with its own subject that is taken as a direct object by a verb, e.g. “She made me do it.”

      A noun clause is very like indirect statement: the only important difference is that a noun clause is not the object of a verb of speaking or thinking.


Yon lòt jou tonton Jan kite bezwen kenbe ti volay yo, li fe yo gennen yon pakèt pwa . . .

On another day, uncle John left his business to catch the little birds, he made them scatter a packet of beans . . . (Hall 164)


Nonk, si li pa vle ou pran ke-a, pran yon pye.

Uncle, if he doesn’t want you to take the tail, take a foot. (Hall 117)




Indirect Statement


It is worth streesing: in Kreyòl, the subordinate clauses of indirect statement are simply placed after the verb of speaking or thinking: no change is necessary in the clause that is subordinated, no introductory word  (such as “that”) is required.


. . . kan bòkò-a we l’ nan prizon, li mete nan tèt-li li pral mori.

. . . when the sorcerer saw he was in prison, he took it into his head he was going to die. (Hall 140)


. . . epi li voye ti moun al di papa li mete manje sou tab pou li.

. . . then she sent a child to tell father she’d put food on the table for him. (Hall 79.


Li kalkile Franse te sanble yo te ofri plis garanti pou ansyen esklav-yo.

He reckoned that France had seemed to offer more security for their former slaves. (Valdman 241)


In this last example we have indirect statement introduced by past kalkile. Sanble is preceded by a te to show that Toussaint is considering a matter anterior to his present act of reflection. Te sanble in turn introduces a further indirect statement, te ofri. In the te in te ofri is a sign of Reiteration to Show Subordination (RSS) not the anterior te.  This is an optional, not a necessary feature, for a subordinate clause.


Occasionally a ke (from the French que) will be placed before the indirect statement. This is a borrowing from the French, and introduces a note of formality (or pretentiousness) to the utterance.


Diskite diskite, li wè vwe ke se byen fè mal rekompanse . . .

Afte much discussion, he saw truly that it was a good deed ill-repaid. . .  (Hall 116-117)


Relative Clauses


Relative clauses in Kreyòl are fairly easy, since there is no agreement of the relative pronoun with its antecedent.  The relative prounoun ki does however disappear to when it is the object and not the subject of the relative clause.


The relative subject-clause is introduced by ki:


Li mete wou, ki bon an, nan machin ni.

He put the wheel, the one which (was) good, on his car.


Rat konnen sa li fè lanwit ki fè li kache lajounen.

The rat knows what he did at night which causes him to hid in daytime. (Hall p. 199.)


Relative Clause of Characteristic


The relative subject clause may become a relative clause of characteristic. While a relative clause simply states some fact about its antecedent (e.g. “The bear, which is an animal,”) a relative clause of characteristic expresses a quality or characteristic of its antecedent: it tells what its antecedent is of the sort to do (e.g. “The bear, which is an animal that may attack people.”)

      In the relative clause of characteristic, the subject takes the infinitive which is prefaced by pou. We might mirror the structure of the Kreyòl by translating the “ki pou + infinitive” clause by a phrase such as “who is the type to . . .”


. . . se manzèl Lanj sèl selon mès fanmi-a ki pou di ou wi ou byen non.

. . . it was Mlle. Lange alone, according to the custom of the family, who would say (lit. who was for to say) yes or else no (to a suggestion). (Hall 154)


Ou kapab di yon bagay ki pa vre dèyè  yon moun, men lò tou de kontre, nan pwen manti ki pou bay ankò.

You can say a thing that isn’t true behind a person’s back, but when both meet there’s no lie that is of a sort to hold up. (Hall 190)


The relative clause of characteristic may be given an pointedly subjunctive quality by adding te. This is an idiomatic development of the “ki pou + infinitive” construction, and should be translated with “who ought to have.”


“. . . ou sonje ane pase? Lè konsa, se pa ti lapli, non, li te gentan fè.”

“Wè, monchè! Epi chak kout zèklè ak loray, se bagay ki pou te fè nenpòt moun pè.

“. . . do you remember last year? At that time it wasn’t a small rain, no, that had already fallen.”

“Yes, my friend! And every lightning flash and thunderclap, it was a thing that ought to have frightened anyone. (Valdman p. 171.)


Sa ou wè yon moun genyen, li te pou genyen ni.

What you see a man has, he ought to have had it (i.e., was fated to have it). (Hall 194)


Relative Object Clause


In a relative object-clause, the direct object relative pronoun is not expressed.


Moun yo kontre pale panyòl.

The people (whom) they met spoke Spanish.


. . . on manm nan dezyèm komite gouvèneman revolisyonè-a te voye pou met lòd nan Sendomeng . . .

. . . a member of the second committee (which) the revolutionary government had sent to restore order in Santo Domingo . . . (Valdman, p. 241).


If the direct object relative pronoun is expressed, this is a Gallicism: all such constructions are to be avoided.


. . . ti  ke li mete nan syèl tout pou li kapab okipe manman-li.

. . . his little sister, whom he put in the sky just so she could look after his mother. (Hall 120)



Relative Clauses as Noun-like Subjects

The relative object-clause may act like a noun subject and take the definite article:


Tonton-an parèt kon li te di a.

The old man appeared in accordance with (what) he had said. (Hall 148)


The same is true of the relative subject clause

Li mete wou, ki bon an, nan machin ni.

He put the wheel, the one which (was) good, on his car.


Purpose clauses


As in English, a purpose clause may be expressed by an infinitive:


Yon lòt jou tonton Jan kite bezwen kenbe ti volay yo; li fe yo gennen yon pakèt pwa . . .

On another day, uncle John left his business to catch the little birds, he made them scatter a packet of beans . . . (Hall, p. 164)


Again as in English, a purpose clause  may also have an expressed subject. In this case Kreyòl requires that it be preceded by pou. (English will not always allow us to express the subject in translation.)


Se chen y’ap leve pou yo kouche.

They lift up the dog in order for them to lie down. (Idiom for: “They’re in bad financial circumstances.”) (source uncertain)


. . . se pa tout lè Magrit ale nan mache pou l’ pote bel siro.

. . . it’s not every day that Magrit goes to market in order for her to bring back some nice syrup. (Hall 199)


Alèkilè, Malis prèske bare, piske li pa kab mande Nonk pou li di bagay sa-a . . .

At this point Malis almost stopped, because he couldn’t demand of Uncle for him to say this . . . (Hall p. 114)




Pou l’ te


Te may be added to a purpose clause to give it a potential and possible mood, that is, to act as a subjunctive.  Usually this use of te  in this particular construction is reserved for modal verbs that suggest ability.


. . . li fè sa pou’l te kapab tante Ti-Zo.

. . . she did this so that she might be able to tempt Ti-Zo.” (Hall 180).


Granpapa gen yon bann pitit, men you te radi; pou l’ te sa pini yo, li dekouvri kay-li . . .

Grandfather had a bunch of children, but they were insolent; in order that he might be able to punish them, he uncovered his house . . . (Hall 205).


In the second example, since there is a te in the main sentence, there is a legitimate question whether the second te isn’t RSS. One’s sense of the speaker’s style and intent will have to decide in such cases.





Less Common Uses and Variants


We find this example of a purpose clause used where English requires a gerund:


Mwen pa kap wè yon zwazo devan ne mwen pou m’ pa manje li.

I can’t see a bird before my nose without eating it (lit., “in order for me not to eat it.”)


This may however be a slangy usage rather than a legitimate employment of the purpose clause.


In this sentence jouk (conj. “as far as,” “until”) has been added after the pou with no apparent difference in meaning:


Li monte yon gon, yon panti, pou jouk li fini.

He sets up a hinge, a hook, in order to finish. (Hall 205)




Other Subordinate Clauses


Though these expressions will be translated into English with a subjunctive, the subjunctive meaning lies in the intorductory word, not in the verb, which keeps its standard contemporaneous form.


Ann: “Let’s”


Placing an ann before the verb creates the equivalent of a volitive subjunctive:


Ann mande yon moun.

Let’s ask someone.



Ke: “Let” or “May”


This is evidently descended from the French construction que + subjunctive.


Nonk Bouki vle fou: ke Bon Dye fann li an kat, ifò li manjè manman ti Malis tou!

Uncle Bouki begins (to go) insane: let God split him in four (i.e., even though God should split him in four), he must eat Malis’ mother too. (Hall 120)



Tèlman ke: the Result Clause


This construction shows none of the complexity of the purpose clause. It follows on a phrase such as “so much that, ” “so many that, ” &c.


. . . li sezi tèlman ke vè-la tonbe nan men-li . . .

. . . he was so suprised that the glass fell from his hand. . . (Hall 186)




Se pou li: obligation: “he has to”


Li di se pou-l bwose dan-l

He said he had to (lit. it was for him to) brush his teeth.


The phrase se pou li  will be well translated with the English formula “has to.”  Here we see this se pou li structure used in a relative clause:


Li konnen se konpe Chat ki pou-l fè travay sa-a . . .

He knew it was friend Cat who had be the doer of (lit. who (it was) for him to) this work. (Hall 136)



Se pou li may take te, producing a subjunctive mood. This softens the expression.


“Men mwen la ansam ak nou, se pou nou te fè pa mwen.” Bèt volay mande kòmè.

 “Here I am together with you, you might to do (something) for me.” The birds enquired of their comrade (what he had in mind). (Hall 164)



This example includes an a (short for ava):


Si nou ouvri pòt-la, pou mwen a chante.

If you opened the door, I would be willing to sing (lit. it’s for me to want to sing”). (Hall 165)




Ifòk: necessity, “must.”


The interesting thing about this idiom is that it is followed by a complete clause with subject and verb. I regard ifòk it as almost a synonym for pou.


. . . li declare ifòk li touye Malis.

. . . he said he must kill Malis. (Hall 116)



pito: “it is preferable”


This very flexibile verb may either take a subject (m’ pito pwa, “I prefer beans”) or be used impersonally.


Pito nou ale a sèt è.

It is preferable that we should go at seven o’clock.



pinga: “take care you don’t”



Pinga ou ale nan.

Take care you don’t go there. (Hall 134)




The Infinitive



Complementary Infinitive



The complementary infinitive follows the main verb, exactly as in English:


. . . parenn-li aprann li li ak ekri.

. . . his godfather taught him to read and write. (Valdman, P. 241)



At times a pa may be added to a complementary infinitive, in imitation of the French pour. This is incorrect even as a Gallicism, and should be eschewed.


Vè witan, m’ komanse pa okipe bèt papa-m’-yo . . .

At around the age of eight, I began to take care of my father’s animals. (Hall 80).





This use of the complementary infinitive is derived from the French faire causatif.


. . . li fè mete oungan-an nan prizon.

. . . he had the houngan put (lit. he made to put the houngan”) in prison. (Hall 140)



The second most common use of the infinitive in Kreyòl is as a variation on the purpose clause:


Yon lòt jou tonton Jan kite bezwen kenbe ti volay yo, li fe yo gennen yon pakèt pwa . . .

On another day, uncle John left his business to catch the little birds, he made them scatter a packet of beans . . . (Hall, p. 164)






Participial and Gerundive Expressions


Kreyòl does not have true participles or gerunds.

      A Gerund is a verbal noun, which ends in “-ing” in English, and is often the object of a preposition. Examples in English are “desirous of ruling,” “suitable for framing,” “dealt with by waiting.”

      A participle is an adjective made from a verb. Examples are “the walking wounded,  and “the living proof.”


Often a complementary infinitive in Kreyòl will be translated by an English gerund.


. . . men li gen prekosion di Malis pou li pa gaspiye bè li.

. . .  but he took the precaution of telling (lit. “he took the precaution to tell” ) Malis not to waste his butter. (Hall 115-116.)


Sometimes we find the infinitive introduced by nan. We will translate it with a gerund, but it is really neither a gerund, nor an infinitive nor a participle.  It is an imitation of the French construction en + participle, (e.g., en parlant, “while speaking”.


Nan chache, Madanm Wadile tonbe sou kle-a . . .

While searching, Madame Wadile stumbled upon the key . . . (Hall 142)


ap plus the infinitive.


This very useful formulation fills in the want of gerunds and of participles.


Li pas tout nwuit-la ap we si lit t’a plen panye-a.

He passed the whole night in seeing if he would fill that basket. (Hall 131)


De peyi-sa-you te konn ap monte tèt esklave nan koloni-yo . . .

These two countries were in the habit of influencing slaves in their colonies (Valdman, p. 141.)


Vwala konpè Makak vini ap pase . . .

Now friend Monkey came passing by . . . (Hall 116).



Etan Bouki ap manje mango, gen yon panyòl ki vini ap pase sou yon milèt . . ..

While Bouki was eating mangos, there was a Dominican who came passing by on a mule . . . (Hall 124)


Reiteration to Show Subordination


Repetition is a striking feature of Kreyòl syntax. At its simplest, it is used to emphasise:


Pale mal, yo t’ap pale mal . . .

They are speaking very ill (lit. speaking ill, they are speaking ill) . . . (Voodoo song)


Repetition is also used to indicated the dependence of the subordinate clause or clauses on the main clause. It is here an economical way of supplying the want in Kreyòl of a distinct subjunctive mood to show subordination. I will call this usage the Reiteration to Show Subordination (RSS). Generally speaking, RSS is found immediately after the subject of the clause that is being subordinated.


The repeated word may be a negation:


Riviè pa grosi san li pa trouble.

The river doesn’t swell without getting turbid. (Hall p. 200)


Even a preposition may fill this role:


Se ki fè ke se a sèt è a ke yo ale a.

That’s what brought it about that it was at 7:00 that they set out (Hall 200)



Most commonly,  RSS appears as the repetion of the anterior marker te.


     “Enben nou t’a pwete kèk ti zèl pou, lè moun t’av ap vini, pou m t’a kapab demele mwen tou.”

     “OK, you should lend me some small wings so that, when the man will come, I’ll be able to extricate myself as well.” (Hall 164)


The sentence begins with an independent “should” of obligation (“you should lend me.”) The subordinate clauses are two: a temporal clause (“when the man will come”) followed by a purpose clause “so that I’ll be able to extricate myself.”


The t’a is repeated from the main clause (“you should lend me”), not to give new information about the sequence or aspect of the subordinate clauses, but to show their  relation to the main clause. Thus we do not translate te’s of the second or third t’a: their role is punctuation rather than meaning, they articulate without modifying the phrases to which they adhere.



Li kalkile Franse te sanble yo te ofri plis garanti pou ansyen esklav-yo.

He reckoned that France seemed to offer (lit.seemed they offered”) more security for their former slaves. (Valdman 241)


The second te  in the sentence above subordinates the description of how the French appeared to the statement that Toussaint is thinking about it. Toussaint is not making his calculation with regard to how the French appeared at some period in the past, but how they will act in the future. Thus this cannot be an anterior te.


Here we have an interesting example. A te  has been added unnecessarily in front of the complementary infinitive (“to control”) in an overapplication of the principle of RSS. Properly, the te  should be repeated only in a subordinate clause, not within the main clause.


Li te difisil pou peyi LaFrans te kontwole sa ki t’ap pase nan koloni-an . . .

It was difficult for France to control what was going on in the colony . . . (Valdman 241)



Poetic Usages


(Not yet ready. This will deal primarily with puzzling variations in word-order and inserted non-verbal sounds found in Voodoo songs.)