The class of Particles in Cree is a catch-all for everything that does not fit into the classes of Nouns, Verbs and Pronouns.

Whereas each of these other parts of speech can be characterized by the different inflectional forms that they can take (e.g. the number, person and/or gender of Nouns and Pronouns, or the person, tense, aspect and modality of Verbs), Particles are defined by the fact that they occur in a single, invariant form or that they do not take any inflectional modification. As such, they have often been described as “Indeclinable Particles”, giving rise to the common abbreviation IPC. They are “indeclinable” in the sense that they do not occur in “declensions” like Nouns, nor can they be “conjugated” like Verbs. They simply do not have distinct inflectional forms.

For the most part, then, the entire mass of indeclinable particles has been grouped together by their shared morphological invariance regardless of the very real functional differences exhibited by them within Cree syntax. There have, however, been several further subdivisions of particles recognized thus far and these will be given a brief introduction here, with more detailed descriptions offered on individual pages.

Indeclinable Particles (IPC)

In practice, the class of indeclinable particles (IPC) are those that stand alone as words separate from others within a sentence and not attached in any way to nouns or verbs.  The function of such particles can be extremely varied, and includes the following:

(1)    place/locative:          wayawītimihk             “outside”

(2)    time/temporal:         otākosīhk                     “yesterday”

(3)    manner:                   nasihkāc                      “slowly, carefully”

(4)    reason:                     ayisk                            “because”

(5)    numerals:                 pēyak                            “one”

(6)    quantifiers:                mihcēt                          “many”

(7)    negation:                  namōya                        “no, not”

(8)    coordinators:             mīna                             “and”


Above, these independent particles were specifically described as not being attached to nouns or verbs.  This immediately suggests that there are in fact subclasses of particles that do combine with verbs and/or nouns. It has been common practice to recognize subclasses of both Preverbs (IPV) and Prenouns (IPN) to differentiate particles that cannot stand alone but instead must combine with one of the other main parts of speech.  In some cases, particles can be both free standing (as IPCs) and attach to Verbs (as IPVs) or Nouns (as IPNs) or both.

Preverbs (IPV)

Preverbs are particles which must be attached to verbs in order to function within a sentence.  The boldfaced elements in examples (9) and (10) illustrate preverbs in use.  They are written with hyphens (-) to indicate that they are bound (much like dependent stem nouns) and cannot stand alone as words.

(9)      miyo-   “good; well”:            miyo-nikamow “s/he sings well“; miyo-masinahikēw “s/he writes well“, etc.

(10)    āhkami-  “persistently”:       āhkami-nēhiyawētān “let’s keep speaking Cree”

Prenouns (IPN)

Prenouns are particles which must be attached to nouns in order to function within a sentence.  The boldfaced elements in examples (11) and (12) illustrate prenouns.  Again, they are written with hyphens (-) to indicate that they are bound (much like dependent stem nouns) and cannot stand alone as words.

(11)    miyo-   “good; well”:            miyo-nāpēw “good man”; miyo-masinahikan “good book”, etc.

(12)    kihci-     “great; superb”      kihci-iskwēw   “grand lady”; kihci-atawēwikamik  “department store; Hudson’s Bay Company store”

Pre-particles (IPP)

There are a very few elements which can be prefixed to other elements in the derivation of particles, and hence these are called pre-particles (IPP), as exemplified in (13) and (14).

(13)    kapē- “all, throughout”:      kapē-kīsik “all day”; kapē-tipisk “all night’; kapē-pipon “all winter”

(14)    awasi- “beyond”:               awasi-otākosīhk “day before yesterday”, awasi-wāpahki “day after tomorrow”

Particle Phrases (IPH)

Although it is not the usual practice to include phrases as dictionary entries or to count them among parts of speech, there are a considerable number of particles which combine to form common phrases in Plains Cree whose meaning may not always be predictable from the sum of the parts. As such, quite a number of particle phrases have been recognized, such as those in (15) and (16).

(15)    tānitē ētikwē    “I wonder where?” (cf.  tānitē “where”; ētikwē “apparently, doubtfully, etc.”)

(16)    nawac piko       “rather; more or less” (cf. nawac “more”; piko “only”)

Interjections (IPJ)

Recently, certain particles have been recognized for their exceptional use as interjections outside the regular syntax of the clause. Not only do these particles stand alone, but they typically stand alone as single-word utterances (also known as “holophrases”) without necessarily combining with any other elements. Some particles are purely expressive or interactive interjections and are not used otherwise in clausal syntax (17), while others can be used as both interjections (18a) and as modifiers within clauses (18b).

(17)    āwiyā!            “Ouch!”

(18)    a)    tānisi!      “Hello, Greetings, How are you?”

    b)    tānisi ē-isiyihkāsoyan?   “What is your name? (literally: “How are you called?”)

Each of these particle subtypes will be described in more detail on their respective Grammar pages:

Indeclinable Particles (IPC)

Preverbs (IPV)

Prenouns (IPN)

Pre-particles (IPP)

Particle Phrases (IPH)

Interjections (IPJ)