1. Regular Inanimate Noun Stems – NI1

The stem of a regular inanimate noun is the same as its singular form.  This means that the singular form can be cited on its own:

(1)       maskisin                      “shoe, moccasin”
            cīmān                           “canoe”
            astotin                         “hat, cap”

When representing these nouns as stem forms, they can simply be cited as in the examples above, or they can be marked as stems by adding a hyphen or dash at the end:

(2)      maskisin–                    “shoe, moccasin”
            cīmān­–                         “canoe”
            astotin–                       “hat, cap”

The hyphen indicates that this is a noun stem which can have suffixes added.  Since these are independent nouns, though, the hyphen is not strictly necessary, and the words can be cited in the singular (i.e. the hyphen will not be present in the word form and should not be written if a full word is intended).  The stem form of a regular noun does not undergo any change when suffixes are added; the singular form can always be found in the exact same shape as part of longer, inflected words.  For instance, when the inanimate plural-marking suffix –a is added to a regular stem, it is a straightforward combination of stem and suffix:

(3)       stem                            plural                  inflected noun
             maskisin–        +          –a        →       maskisina        “shoes, moccasins”

Both the regular singular form and the regular inanimate plural suffix are present without any complications.  The occurrence of this straightforward process is what marks regular stems as regular.  Because this is the most basic and common form of NI stem, regular NI stems are identified by the abbreviation NI1.  Examples of NI1s will be used to illustrate the basic patterns of plural-marking, possessive-marking, the locative and the diminutive.  After these have been demonstrated, the other subclasses will be described in terms of the specific minor differences exhibited from the regular patterns.

1.1  Regular Plural

When a noun is a count noun, we can specify the number of the entity, but most languages also mark the inflectional category of Number by having distinct forms for singular and plural.  Singular forms are used when there is only one of the noun, while plural forms are used to indicate that there are more than one.  In contrast to the irregularities of English, plural-marking in Cree is always accomplished by the addition of a suffix.  The regular form of this suffix for inanimate nouns is –a.  This is, with only relatively minor complications by stem subclass, the same for all NI count nouns.  Thus, the singular forms of all (count) NI1s can be put into the following frame in order to create the plural form:

Table 1.1

Singular and Plural Forms of the Regular NI Stem cīmān–

NI1 Stem Number Word Translation
singular cīmān–  cīmān “canoe”
plural cīmān– –a  cīmāna “canoes”


In this chart, the singular and stem forms are shown to be identical.  Nothing at all is added to the stem for the singular, and so the slot for Number-marking is left blank.  In order to form the plural, however, the suffix –a must be added.  A general blank form of this chart can be used as a frame for all Regular Stem Inanimate Count Nouns as follows:

Table 1.2

Singular and Plural Forms of Regular NI Stems

NI1 Stem Number Word
plural –a


In this chart, the stem form of any NI1 Stem can be inserted to create the singular and plural forms.  It will be seen subsequently that this same chart can be used without modification for at least one more subclass, the vowel-glide stems (see NI2).  However, regular and vowel-glide stems must still be differentiated on the basis of criteria other than plural formation.

1.2  Regular Possessive

A more complex operation involves marking noun stems for the possessive.  This means that the noun is being marked as belonging to or being related to someone and is equivalent to the English use of possessive determiners (or pronouns) such as my, your, their, etc.  In Cree, however, the possessive is marked by the addition of prefixes (added at the beginning of the nouns), as well as some suffixes (added to the end of the noun).  In order to demonstrate the possessive paradigm (or pattern of prefixes and suffixes), we must first review the category of Person, which involves dividing reference into three distinct categories:

1          First Person                – the person speaking; the Speaker

2          Second Person           – the person being spoken to; the Addressee

3          Third Person                – the person spoken about; neither Speaker nor Addressee


Any speech act, any conversation, involves speakers and addressees.  The person speaking at any given time is the speaker or first person.  In English, first persons are represented by such pronouns as I, me, my, etc.  In Cree, first persons are commonly represented by the pronoun niya or the prefix ni– or nit–.  The second person or addressee, on the other hand, is the person being spoken to or addressed in the conversation.  In English, the pronouns you and your represent second persons while Cree has the pronoun kiya or the prefix ki– or kit–.  Finally, those not involved in the conversation, but mentioned by the speaker, are considered third persons.  English has such pronouns as he, she, it, him, her, his, its, etc. to refer to third persons, while Cree third person possessives are marked by the prefix o– or ot–.  The following chart thus gives the Cree and English equivalents for person marking in possessive constructions:

Table 1.3

English and Cree Possessive Person Categories

Person English Cree
1  First person my ni(t)–
2  Second person your ki(t)–
3  Third person his/her/its o(t)–


Whether or not the person prefix contains the optional [t] sound is determined by the initial sound of the noun.  For instance, the basic forms of the prefixes, ni–, ki–, and o–, are used when the noun begins with a consonant.  The [t]-forms are used if the independent noun begins with a vowel.

(4)       ni       +          maskisin          →        nimaskisin      “my moccasin, my shoe”

            nit     +          astotin             →        nitastotin        “my hat, my cap”

This is essentially the same process as is found in the alternation between a and an forms of the English indefinite article:

(5)          a book, a cat, a dog, a blue ocean, …

an ant, an eagle, an owl, an orange sunset, …


When the word following the article starts with a consonant, the article takes the a form, but if the next word begins with a vowel, the article appears as an.  Thus, we can say that there are two different sets of possessive prefixes for Independent stems: ni–, ki–, and o– are used with consonant-initial stems, while nit–, kit–, and ot– are used with vowel-initial stems.  Marking the [t] connector as optional, we can represent these three suffixes as: ni(t)–, ki(t)–, and o(t)–.

In addition to the category of Person, Number is also important to possessive marking, since Person categories can be either singular or plural in both Cree and English.  When we divide the three person categories (1, 2, 3) into singular (s) and plural (p) forms, the result is a six-way division as in Table 1.4.

Table 1.4

Interaction of Person and Number Categories

Person Singular Plural
First 1s 1p
Second 2s 2p
Third 3s 3p


Some languages use just these six categories, but often additional categories are introduced for more and finer distinctions, while occasionally even fewer distinctions are made.  In standard English, for instance, there is no difference between second person singular (2s) and second person plural (2p) forms, since your is used for both.  However, English does divide the third person singular (3s) category into masculine (m), feminine (f) and neuter (n) forms, as shown in Table 1.5.

Table 1.5

English Possessive Determiners

Singular Plural
 1s my   1p our
 2s your   2p your
 3s  m his   3p their
 3s  f her
 3s  n its


Cree also has more distinctions than the basic six illustrated in Table 1.4, but it does not mark the exact same categories found in English.

First of all, Cree does not have the “gender” distinction of masculine, feminine and neuter found in English grammar.  Thus, one form can stand alone for third person singular (3s), translatable as either “his” or “her”.  However, Cree does add a further distinction among third persons which has a similar effect of helping to distinguish different third person referents.  This distinction is known as obviation, with the marked category known as the obviative (4) in contrast to the unmarked proximate.  The proximate third person can be divided into singular (3s) and plural (3p), but the obviative fourth person has no number distinctions (this category will be described in more detail below).  With the exception of the obviative, Cree does have number distinctions for all persons, so unlike English, there are distinct forms for second person singular and plural.  Finally, Cree has another person distinction not found in English which divides first person plural forms into the categories of exclusive and inclusive, as illustrated in Table 1.6.  The first person plural exclusive (1p) indicates that the speaker and at least one other person are included but not the addressee.  In other words, Cree 1p includes the first person and at least one third person, but it excludes the second person(s).  In contrast, the first person plural inclusive (21) includes both the first person and second person(s).  Both of these can be translated as “our” in English, where exclusive and inclusive forms are not distinguished.

Table 1.6

Cree Possessive Person and Number Categories

Singular Plural
1s ni(t)– 1p ni(t)–   –inān
21 ki(t)–   –inaw
2s ki(t)–
2p ki(t)–   –iwāw
3s o(t)– 3p o(t)–   –iwāw
4 o(t)–  –iyiw 4 o(t)–   –iyiw


A unique aspect of Cree possessive person-marking, demonstrated in the table above, is that prefixes and suffixes combine to mark the plural forms.  The prefixes introduced in Table 1.3 above are used for both singular and plural, but special suffixes are added to distinguish the four plural categories of Cree possessive marking as well as the obviative (please note, the obviative as described here applies to the Plains Cree dialect.  The equivalent suffix to Plains Cree -iyiw has a somewhat different function in other dialects, but this will not be discussed here).  An example paradigm of possessive marking on a regular inanimate independent consonant-initial noun stem is given in Table 1.7, where first and second persons are grouped together in contrast to third and fourth persons (i.e. proximate and obviative).

 Table 1.7

Possessive Forms of Regular consonant-initial NI Stem cīmān–

Prefix NI1 Stem Person Number Word Translation
1s ni– cīmān– (–a) nicīmān(a) “my canoe(s)”
2s ki– cīmān– (–a) kicīmān(a) “your canoe(s)”
1p ni– cīmān– –inān (–a) nicīmāninān(a) “our canoe(s)”
21 ki– cīmān– –inaw (–a) kicīmāninaw(a) “our canoe(s)”
2p ki– cīmān– –iwāw (–a) kicīmāniwāw(a) “your canoe(s)”
3s o– cīmān– (–a) ocīmān(a) “his/her canoe(s)”
3p o– cīmān– –iwāw (–a) ocīmāniwāw(a) “their canoe(s)”
4 o– cīmān– –iyiw (–a) ocīmāniyiw(a) “another’s canoe(s)”


Note again that all forms use a person prefix but only plural and obviative forms require a person suffix.  It is also possible to mark both the possessive person and the possessed noun for number, so the regular NI plural marker –a can be added to the end of the word, after any other suffixes.  The fact that it is optional is indicated by the brackets in Cree and in the English translation.  While the examples in Table 1.7 illustrate a consonant-initial stem, Table 1.8 exemplifies a vowel-initial stem.  The only difference between the two paradigms is in the use of the [t]-forms of the person prefixes.

Table 1.8

Possessive Forms of Regular vowel-initial NI Stem astotin–

Prefix NI1 Stem Person Number Word Translation
1s nit– astotin– (–a) nitastotin(a) “my hat(s)”
2s kit– astotin– (–a) kitastotin(a) “your hat(s)”
1p nit– astotin– –inān (–a) nitastotininān(a) “our hat(s)”
21 kit– astotin– –inaw (–a) kitastotininaw(a) “our hat(s)”
2p kit– astotin– –iwāw (–a) kitastotiniwāw(a) “your hat(s)”
3s ot– astotin– (–a) otastotin(a) “his/her hat(s)”
3p ot– astotin– –iwāw (–a) otastotiniwāw(a) “their hat(s)”
4 ot– astotin– –iyiw (–a) otastotiniyiw(a) “another’s hat(s)”


Thus, a general possessive paradigm for regular independent inanimate nouns (NI1) can take the form given in Table 1.9, including the optional [t] connector used only with vowel-initial stems, and the possibility of plural marking.

Table 1.9

Possessive Paradigm for Regular NI Stems

Prefix NI1 Stem Person Number Word
1s ni(t)– (–a)
2s ki(t)– (–a)
1p ni(t)– –inān (–a)
21 ki(t)– –inaw (–a)
2p ki(t)– –iwāw (–a)
3s o(t)– (–a)
3p o(t)– –iwāw (–a)
4 o(t)– –iyiw (–a)


One final complication to the possessive paradigm must be introduced at this time, though it will be exemplified in greater detail later.  There is an additional and optional possessive suffix, –im, which is sometimes added directly to the noun stem in order to provide extra emphasis to the possessive construction.  (Please note that these examples are given purely for purposes of illustration.  Though the noun cīmān has been attested with the suffix –im, it is optional at best, and may be completely unused with this stem in some dialects.  The use of the –im suffix is quite variable across Cree dialects and, as a result, an exact description of its use remains elusive.  Its status as a noun suffix is similar to that of the diminutive, discussed subsequently, with which it often interacts.)

(6)          ni–     +     cīmān–     +     –im                                          →      nicīmānim           “my canoe”

ni–     +     cīmān–     +     –im                          +    –a     →      nicīmānima         “my canoes”

ni–     +     cīmān–     +     –im     +     –inān                   →      nicīmāniminān    “our canoe”

ni–     +     cīmān–     +     –im     +     –inān    +   –a     →      nicīmānimināna  “our canoes”


The examples in (6) illustrate the position of this suffix attached directly to the noun stem before any other suffixes, such as the plural marker –a or the plural possessive suffixes.  In a more detailed paradigm than that given in Table 1.9 above, a special slot immediately to the right (i.e. following) the stem position could be included.  It will prove even more important for the animate paradigms, as the suffix –im is more commonly used with animate nouns than with inanimate ones and is even obligatory with certain stems whenever the possessive is marked at all.  For now, however, all important aspects of possessive marking have been discussed for regular independent inanimate nouns (NI1) (save its interaction with the locative to be described immediately below).  In subsequent sections on the possessive, the same basic patterns will hold with only slight modifications for the different stem subclasses and for animate nouns.

1.3  Regular Locative

Less complex than the possessive paradigm is the single locative suffix –ihk.  The locative is a category marking a noun as a location and is roughly the equivalent of the English prepositions “in”, “on” or “at”.  In other words, where English uses a prepositional phrase to express a location, Cree often only needs the locative suffix added to a noun:

(7)           cīmān–                +   –ihk           →     cīmānihk           “in the canoe(s)”

sākahikan–         +   –ihk           →     sākahikanihk     “in, on, at the lake(s)”

tēhtapiwin–        +   –ihk           →     tēhtapiwinihk    “on the chair(s)”


Context is needed to determine the exact English translation (i.e. which English preposition is most appropriate for the intended sense in Cree, e.g. “in” is most likely with containers, “on” with surfaces, “at” with larger locations; or whether the noun is singular or plural; see below).

More detailed locations are indicated with additional particles, but these must be used in conjunction with locative nouns:

(8)          cīki cīmānihk           “near the canoe(s)”        (cf.  cīki  “near”)

sākahikanihk ohci   “from the lake(s)”          (cf.  ohci  “from”)

sīpā tēhtapiwinihk   “under the chair(s)”       (cf.  sīpā  “under, beneath”)


Most such particles come before the locative noun and have thus been called “prepositions” as in English.  However, a few particles (e.g. those typically indicating motion or movement), such as ohci “from” and isi “towards”, follow the locative and can then be referred to as “postpositions”.  More commonly, they have simply been called particles or “indeclinable particles” (IPC) referring to the fact that they have only a single unmodifiable form, in contrast to nouns, for instance, which take all the different forms being discussed in this book.  Even more specifically, they could also be referred to as locative particles.  The term particle itself is preferable since many locative particles can occur alone and are not restricted to prepositional (or postpositional) function.

Regardless of the considerations of particles, though, the –ihk suffix remains the most important and obligatory element of the Cree locative.  Furthermore, when the locative is added a noun can no longer be marked for the plural, such that the marking of number and location are mutually exclusive on Cree nouns and context is required to determine whether the locative noun is singular or plural:

(9)       cīmānihk             “in the canoe” or “in the canoes” or “on the canoe” or “on the canoes”


In actual use, of course, the exact intention is usually clear, but further detail can always be added by way of particle or verbal description.  Ultimately, the formation of the locative of regular nouns can be illustrated by the simple example in Table 1.10 and the general Table 1.11, which indicate only the presence or absence of the locative suffix.

Table 1.10

Locative Formation of Regular NI Stem cīmān–

  NI1 Stem Locative Word Translation
singular cīmān– cīmān “canoe”
locative cīmān– –ihk cīmānihk “in the canoe”


Table 1.11

Locative Formation of Regular NI Stems

  NI1 Stem Locative Word
locative –ihk


Slightly more detailed charts could be devised illustrating the mutually exclusive nature of the locative with number marking (i.e. either the locative or the plural can be marked, but not both).  Instead, all full paradigms will be divided into locative and non-locative forms, since we can now introduce a larger set of locative possibilities which will expand the locative paradigm of Table 1.11.

In the previous section, we discussed the possessive paradigm, and we can now combine the possessive with the locative.  Some forms are straightforward, but there are some complications when the locative is added following the possessive plural and obviative suffixes.  Just as the locative and plural suffixes are mutually exclusive, appearing to occupy the same slot in nominal paradigms, the locative suffix replaces plural marking and follows all other suffixes when possessive nouns are also marked for location.  An example of the full locative-possessive paradigm for NI1s is given in Table 1.12.

Table 1.12

Locative-Possessive Forms of Regular NI Stem cīmān–

Prefix NI1 Stem Person Locative Word Translation
1s ni– cīmān– –ihk nicīmānihk “in my canoe(s)”
2s ki– cīmān– –ihk kicīmānihk “in your canoe(s)”
1p ni– cīmān– –ināhk* nicīmānināhk “in our canoe(s)”
21 ki– cīmān– –ināhk kicīmānināhk “in our canoe(s)”
2p ki– cīmān– –iwāhk kicīmāniwāhk “in your canoe(s)”
3s o– cīmān– –ihk ocīmānihk “in his/her canoe(s)”
3p o– cīmān– –iwāhk ocīmāniwāhk “in their canoe(s)”
4 o– cīmān– –iyihk ocīmāniyīhk “in another’s canoe(s)”

*Please note that the 1p locative-possessive form may not always be contracted to –ināhk.  In some dialect areas, the straightforward combination of –inān + –ihk may simply yield –inānihk.  See subsequent further discussion of the formation of the complex person and locative marking suffixes.


The first, second and third person singular forms have straightforward additions of the locative suffix –ihk to the noun stem.  The plural and obviative possessive forms are more complex, since these suffixes merge with the locative to form complex suffixes: 1p/21 –ināhk, 2p/3p –iwāhk, 3’ –iyihk.  This is indicated in Tables 1.12 and 1.13 by merging the person and locative suffix slots.  Note that since 1p and 21 share the same suffix (–ināhk), while 2p and 3p also share a mutual suffix (–iwāhk), the only differentiator for these pairs becomes the person-marking prefix.

Table 1.13

Locative-Possessive Forms of Regular NI Stems

Prefix NI1 Stem Person Locative Word
1s ni(t)– –ihk
2s ki(t)– –ihk
1p ni(t)– –ināhk
21 ki(t)– –ināhk
2p ki(t)– –iwāhk
3s o(t)– –ihk
3p o(t)– –iwāhk
3’ o(t)– –iyihk


This general table includes the optional [t] connector to include the possibility of vowel-initial stems and, again, the additional possessive suffix –im could be inserted between the stem and person suffixes without any complications.  These eight forms can thus be added to the basic locative for the full locative paradigm.

Table 1.14

Locative Forms of Regular NI Stems

Prefix NI1 Stem Person Locative Word
 locative –ihk
 possessive  1s ni(t)– –ihk
2s ki(t)– –ihk
1p ni(t)– –ināhk
21 ki(t)– –ināhk
2p ki(t)– –iwāhk
3s o(t)– –ihk
3p o(t)– –iwāhk
3’ o(t)– –iyihk


1.4  Regular Diminutive

The final common noun modification that we will discuss is the diminutive which typically marks a noun as smaller than the norm, though it can also be used to express endearment or even disdain depending on the context in which it is used.  The diminutive suffix takes the form –is or –isis, with the latter often expressing an even greater degree of the diminutive.  With regular nouns, this suffix is added without modification to the suffix:

(10)        cīmān–                +   –is             →     cīmānis              “small canoe”

sākahikan–         +   –isis           →     sākahikanisis     “small lake; pond”

tēhtapiwin–        +   –is             →     cēhcapiwinis     “small chair; baby chair”


However, a very important modification can be made to the stem when the diminutive is added.  Whenever a /t/ occurs in the noun stem, it will change to a [c] in the diminutive.  This change, known as sound symbolism, is illustrated in (10) by the stem tēhtapiwin–, where the diminutive is not *tēhtapiwinis but rather cēhcapiwinis.  Still, once this alternation is taken into account, the diminutive is just as regular as the other suffixes when added to the regular stems.  (And please note that though this t→c alternation in the dimunitive is quite consistent, there are always exceptions.  A speaker may simply use [t] rather than [c] on one occasion and not another, while sometimes the t→c alternation is present even without the diminutive suffix).  The diminutive does differ from the other suffixes, though, in that it creates new stems rather than simply modifying existing ones.

This difference is captured by the terms derivation versus inflection.  The number, possessive and locative affixes are all inflectional, modifying a noun stem for use in the wider discourse.  The diminutive, on the other hand is derivational, creating new stems which can be further modified inflectionally.  One way this difference is recognized linguistically is to include stems, including derived stems, as dictionary entries, while all the various predictable inflectional forms are left to be generated in the paradigms rather than listed separately in a dictionary.  At most, unpredictable inflectional forms would be included in a dictionary, but the inflectional forms discussed so far are all perfectly regular and predictably generated in the paradigms.  Diminutives in Cree also tend to be very predictably generated, as in Tables 1.15 and 1.16.

Table 1.15

Diminutive Formation from Regular NI Stem cīmān–

NI1 Stem Diminutive Word Translation
base cīmān–  cīmān “canoe”
diminutive cīmān– –is  cīmānis “small canoe”


Table 1.16

Diminutive Formation from Regular NI Stems

NI1 Stem Diminutive Word
diminutive –is(is)


At this point, we can now summarize the above discussion by combining all of these forms into a single comprehensive paradigm for regular inanimate noun stems.  Table 1.17 gives a full example paradigm for cīmān–, while Table 1.18 repeats this as a blank table into which any NI1 can be inserted.

Table 1.17

    NIexample paradigm:  cīmān– “canoe”

form Cree word English translation




 1s   nicīmān  my canoe
 2s   kicīmān  your (sg) canoe
 1p   nicīmāninān  our (excl) canoe
 21   kicīmāninaw  our (incl) canoe
 2p   kicīmāniwāw  your (pl) canoe
 3s   ocīmān  his/her canoe
 3p   ocīmāniwāw  their canoe
 4   ocīmāniýiw  (an)other’s canoe




1s   nicīmāna  my canoes
2s   kicīmāna  your (sg) canoes
1p   nicīmānināna  our (excl) canoes
21   kicīmāninawa  our (incl) canoes
2p   kicīmāniwāwa  your (pl) canoes
3s   ocīmāna  his/her canoes
3p   ocīmāniwāwa  their canoes
4   ocīmāniýiwa  (an)other’s canoes



in the canoe(s)

1s   nicīmānihk  in my canoe(s)
2s   kicīmānihk  in your (sg) canoe(s)
1p   nicīmānināhk  in our (excl) canoe(s)
21   kicīmānināhk  in our (incl) canoe(s)
2p   kicīmāniwāhk  in your (pl) canoe(s)
3s   ocīmānihk  in his/her canoe(s)
3p   ocīmāniwāhk  in their canoe(s)
4   ocīmāniýihk  in (an)other’s canoe(s)





little canoe

Table 1.18

    NI1 blank paradigm frame


prefix NI1 Stem




 1s    ni(t)–
 2s   ki(t)–
 1p   ni(t)–   –inān
 21   ki(t)–   –inaw
 2p   ki(t)–   –iwāw
 3s   o(t)–
 3p   o(t)–   –iwāw
 4   o(t)–   –iyiw


1s   ni(t)–   –a
2s   ki(t)–   –a
1p   ni(t)–   –ināna
21   ki(t)–   –inawa
2p   ki(t)–   –iwāwa
3s   o(t)–   –a
3p   o(t)–   –iwāwa
4   o(t)–   –iyiwa


1s   ni(t)–   –ihk
2s   ki(t)–   –ihk
1p   ni(t)–   –ināhk
21   ki(t)–   –ināhk
2p   ki(t)–   –iwāhk
3s   o(t)–   –ihk
3p   o(t)–   –iwāhk
4   o(t)–   –iyihk