3. Consonant-/w/ (Cw) Animate Noun Stems – NA3

Just as with inanimate nouns, the third subclass of Cree animate nouns is characterized in part by the appearance or disappearance of a mysterious /w/.  Unlike regular and vowel-glide stems, the stem form of a consonant-/w/ (or Cw) stem is not identical to its singular form.  Instead, these stems include a sequence of consonant (frequently /k/, sometimes /m/, and even rare examples of /n/, /s/ and /t/) and a following /w/.  Examples of these stems include:


(26)                atimw–                          “dog”

kamāmakw–                “butterfly”

misāskwatw–               “saskatoon willow”

wāposw–                     “rabbit”

wāwāskēsiwēkinw–     “elk hide”


The reason why the /w/ is so mysterious is that it disappears in the singular form of these nouns.  Thus, when these stems are pronounced in their singular form as words, the /w/ must be dropped to get the actual spoken word form.  The stem-final /w/ is never pronounced at the end of a word:


(27)                atim                             “dog”

kamāmak                     “butterfly”

misāskwat                   “saskatoon willow”

wāpos                          “rabbit”

wāwāskēsiwēkin         “elk hide”


The formal rule has been written as:  w  →  Ø / C __ # .  This simply means that the stem-final /w/ is deleted (becomes Ø) when it occurs ( __ ) after a consonant (C) at the end of a word (#).  Justification for this rule and the inclusion of the /w/ with the stem (rather than, for instance, the plural) will be found in the numerous irregularities that we find in the inflectional and derivational patterns below (as well as in eastern dialects like Atikamekw and East Cree where the stem-final /w/ is still pronounced in singular forms).


3.1  Consonant-/w/ Singular, Plural and Obviative

The plural forms of consonant-/w/ stems have often been considered irregular, since it appears that –wak rather than –ak is added to form the plural of these animate nouns.  If, as has been suggested above, we include the /w/ as part of the stem, then it is, in fact, just the regular plural ending that is once again being added to a Cree noun stem.  The same can be said of the animate obviative ending, which appears to take the irregular form –wa rather than the regular obviative –a.  Again, this is simply due to the stem-final /w/ appearing in a pronounceable position, as is exemplified in Tables II.3.1 and II.3.2.


Table II.3.1

Singular, Plural and Obviative Forms of Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stem atimw–

  NA3 Stem Change Pl/Obv Word Translation
singular atimw– w  →  Ø atim “dog”
plural atimw– –ak atimwak “dogs”
obviative atimw– –a atimwa “dog(s)”


Table II.3.2

Singular, Plural and Obviative Forms of Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stems

  NA3 Stem Change Number Word
singular w → Ø
plural –ak
obviative –a


If it were merely a matter of deciding between whether to treat the /w/ as part of the stem or the plural and obviative, it may well have been simplest to suggest that nouns of this type take an irregular –wak plural and an irregular –wa obviative.  However, this is not the only pattern in which the presence of a /w/ is evident.  In the subsequent sections, we could conclude that each of the possessive, locative and diminutive forms must also take exceptional, irregular forms when added to this particular noun type, or we can conclude that the irregularity arises because of the interaction of the regular suffixes with a feature inherent to the stem itself.  We will choose the latter option, and attribute all irregularities to the single source of the Cw stem type, since this is predictable based on a second important rule.

When any of the possessive, locative or diminutive suffixes are added to consonant-/w/ stems, a second vowel adjustment rule comes into play.  This rule can be formulated in either of the two ways given in (28):


(28)     a)         w         +          –i…       →        o          / C___

      b)       Cw      +          –i…     →        Co


In (28a), the traditional linguistic formula indicates that when a /w/ and an /i/ (as the initial element of an affix) are brought together, they will merge to become an [o].  The final part of this formula (/ C___ ) is important as it specifies that this merger of /w/ and /i/ occurs only if the /w/ occurs immediately after a consonant (C).  This can be restated as in (28b), showing explicitly that when a Cw combination (as at the end of a Cw stem) is brought together with an /i/-initial suffix, the result is the merger of /w/ and /i/ to [o] while the preceding consonant remains unchanged.  In turn, this second vowel adjustment rule in (28b) can be compared with the first originally given in (22) (see NA2)  and restated here as (29a), showing a similarity of pattern involving the interaction of a glide (e.g. /w/) and /i/.


(29)     a)         VW     +          –i…     →        V:        (vowel-glide stem vowel adjustment rule)

     b)         Cw      +          –i…     →        Co       (consonant-/w/ stem vowel adjustment rule)


The second vowel adjustment rule, represented in both (28b) and (29b), is the main characteristic of Cw stems in the subsequent discussion of the possessive, locative and diminutive.


3.2  Consonant-/w/ Possessive

All possessive suffixes were first illustrated as beginning with the vowel /i/, and this was certainly the case when they were added to a regular (NA1) stem.  However, as with NI3 stems, we will see the possessive affixes appear to begin with an [o] sound, in place of /i/, when added to Cw animate stems.  This will be due to the second vowel adjustment rule, given in (28) above.    Still, it must be noted that in actual usage, not many NA3 stems will commonly be marked for the possessive.  One of the rare examples, the stem kotawānāpiskw– “stove”, is illustrated in Table II.3.3, while a general NA3 possessive paradigm is given in Table II.3.4, which also include the additional possessive suffix –im.  [Note:  for those who treat the noun kotawānāpiskw– as an inanimate noun (i.e. NI3), a different example will be needed, though the basic paradigm will hold.  The necessity of using this example, despite its potentially varying animacy across dialects, reinforces the point about exactly how rare it is to find NA3 stems marked for the possessive.


Table II.3.3

Possessive Forms of Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stem kotawānāpiskw–

Prefix NA3 Stem Change Poss Person Number Word Translation
1s ni– kotawānāpiskw  







im (–ak) nikotawānāpiskom(ak) “my stove(s)”
2s ki– kotawānāpiskw im (–ak) kikotawānāpiskom(ak) “your stove(s)”
1p ni– kotawānāpiskw im –inān (–ak) nikotawānāpiskominān(ak) “our stove(s)”
21 ki– kotawānāpiskw im –inaw (–ak) kikotawānāpiskominaw(ak) “our stove(s)”
2p ki– kotawānāpiskw im –iwāw (–ak) kikotawānāpiskomiwāw(ak) “your stove(s)”
3s o– kotawānāpiskw im –a okotawānāpiskoma “his/her stove(s)”
3p o– kotawānāpiskw im –iwāw –a okotawānāpiskomiwāwa “their stove(s)”
4 o– kotawānāpiskw im –iyiw –a okotawānāpiskomiyiwa “another’s stove(s)”


Table II.3.4

Possessive Paradigm for Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stems with –im

Prefix NA3 Stem Change (Poss) Person Number Word
1s ni(t)–  







–im (–ak)
2s ki(t)– –im (–ak)
1p ni(t)– –im –inān (–ak)
21 ki(t)– –im –inaw (–ak)
2p ki(t)– –im –iwāw (–ak)
3s o(t)– –im –a
3p o(t)– –im –iwāw –a
3’ o(t)– –im –iyiw –a


Due to the fact that NA3 stems are rarely marked for possessive, it can be difficult to find examples with or without the –im suffix.  The same stem example given in the tables above can occur without –im and (30) illustrates the effect of the vowel adjustment rule when the plural possessive person suffixes are added directly to the Cw stem.


(30)     a)         ni–       +          kotawānāpiskw–      +             –inān

→             nikotawānāpiskonān                “our (exclusive) stove”

     b)          ki–       +          kotawānāpiskw–         +          –inaw

                                       →            kikotawānāpiskonaw                “our (inclusive) stove”

      c)          o–        +         kotawānāpiskw–         +          –iwāw

                                        →          okotawānāpiskowāw                  “their stove”


Whichever of the /i/-initial suffixes is attached directly to the Cw stem, the result is an [o], where we expect /i/.


3.3  Consonant-/w/ Locative

Again, locative formation is quite straightforward in comparison to the complexities of the possessive, at least for those stems (not referring to people or animals) which allow the locative suffix at all.  Those Cw stems which permit the locative appear to take the form “–ohk” added to the singular form, due to the interaction of the stem-final /w/ and the suffix-initial /i/.  As with NI3 stems, we again have a paradigm in which two distinct sound changes are taking place.  The singular form of the stem must drop the stem-final /w/, while the locative form merges this same /w/ with the /i/ of the suffix.


Table II.3.5

Locative Formation of Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stem otāpānāskw–

  NA3 Stem Change Locative Word Translation
singular otāpānāskw– w → Ø otāpānāsk “sled”
locative otāpānāskw– Cw+i→Co –ihk otāpānāskohk “on the sled”


Table II.3.6

Locative Formation of Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stems

  NA3 Stem Change Locative Word
singular w → Ø
locative Cw+i→Co –ihk


Additional examples of some NA3 locatives are given in (31).


(31)     askihkw–                    +     –ihk    →      askihkohk                       “in the pail(s); in the kettle(s)”

    masinahikanāhtikw–   +     –ihk    →      masinahikanāhtikohk     “on the pencil(s)”

    oskātāskw–                 +     –ihk     →      oskātāskohk                  “on the carrot(s)”


As with the other subclasses of NA stem discussed thus far, NA3 stems referring to people and animals are not commonly marked by the locative in Plains Cree.  Instead, the distributive locative can be used to indicate that a community or territory is being referred to.  This is exemplified in (32), where the same /w+i/ merger to [o] rule occurs with the distributive locative –ināhk as with the regular locative –ihk.


(32)     mostosw–     +     –ināhk   →     mostosonāhk       “in buffalo country; in cattle country”

     mistamw–     +     –ināhk   →     misatimīnāhk       “among the horses; in horse country”


Thus, we could simply modify Tables II.3.5 and II.3.6 above to include –ināhk rather than –ihk for those NA3 stems which permit the distributive locative rather than the regular locative suffix.

We can now complete our discussion of the locative with a demonstration of the combination of locative and possessive forms as has already been done for regular and vowel-glide stems.  However, given the predominant inclusion of –im in the NA3 possessive paradigms given in Tables II.3.3 and II.3.4 above, locative-possessive NA3 paradigms will generally consist of the regular /i/-initial locative(-possessive) suffixes added after the –im suffix.


3.4  Consonant-/w/ Diminutive

The last modification to be introduced for NA3 stems is the form of the diminutive.  This is again quite straightforward, as the vowel adjustment rule creates an apparent diminutive of the form “–os(is)”, as in the examples in (33) which also include instances of the familiar t→c diminutive sound change.


(33)     atimw–  (“dog”)                                +       –isis   →     acimosis               “puppy”

    kotawānāpiskw– (“stove”)              +       –is      →     kocawānāpiskos     “small stove”

    mihkināhkw– (“turtle”)                     +       –is       →     mihkināhkos            “small turtle”

    oskātāskw– (“carrot”)                      +       –is      →     oskācāskos              “small carrot”

    waskwayāhtikw– (“birch tree”)        +       –is       →     waskwayāhcikos      “birch sapling”


Tables II.3.7 and II.3.8 illustrate and further exemplify the diminutive derivation.


Table II.3.7

Diminutive Formation from Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stem mihkināhkw–

NA3 Stem Change Diminutive Word Translation
base mihkināhkw– w → Ø / C_#  mihkināhk “turtle”
diminutive mihkināhkw– Cw+i→Co –is  mihkināhkos “small turtle”


Table II.3.8

Diminutive Formation from Consonant-/w/ NA3 Stems

NA3 Stem Change Diminutive Word
base w → Ø / C_#
diminutive Cw+i→Co –is(is)



3.5  Summary of Consonant-/w/ (NA3) Stems

We can now combine all of these observations of Cw stems in full NA3 paradigms, with an example noun in Table II.3.9 and the bare frame for NA3 stems in Table II.3.10.  Once again, these paradigms give all singular forms (independent and possessed) first, and then the plurals, obviatives, and locatives, before finally including the diminutive form for which the whole paradigm could then be repeated.


Table II.3.9

    NA3  example paradigm: kotawānāpiskw- “stove”

[Note: im is common with animate nouns, but optional here]

form Cree word English translation




1s   nikotawānāpisk(om)   my stove
2s   kikotawānāpisk(om)   your (sg) stove
1p   nikotawānāpisko(mi)nān   our (excl) stove
21   kikotawānāpisko(mi)naw   our (incl) stove
2p   kikotawānāpisko(mi)wāw   your (pl) stove




1s   nikotawānāpisk(w/om)ak   my stoves
2s   kikotawānāpisk(w/om)ak   your (sg) stoves
1p   nikotawānāpisko(mi)nānak   our (excl) stoves
21   kikotawānāpisko(mi)nawak   our (incl) stoves
2p   kikotawānāpisko(mi)wāwak   your (pl) stoves




1s   nikotawānāpisk(w/om)a   my stove(s)
2s   kikotawānāpisk(w/om)a   your (sg) stove(s)
1p   nikotawānāpisko(mi)nāna   our (excl) stove(s)
21   kikotawānāpisko(mi)nawa   our (incl) stove(s)
2p   kikotawānāpisko(mi)wāwa   your (pl) stove(s)
3s   okotawānāpisk(w/om)a   his/her stove(s)
3p   okotawānāpisko(mi)wāwa   their stove(s)
4   okotawānāpisko(mi)ýiwa   (an)other’s stove(s)



in the stove(s)

1s   nikotawānāpisko(mi)hk   in my stove(s)
2s   kikotawānāpisko(mi)hk   in your (sg) stove(s)
1p   nikotawānāpisko(mi)nāhk   in our (excl) stove(s)
21   kikotawānāpisko(mi)nāhk   in our (incl) stove(s)
2p   kikotawānāpisko(mi)wāhk   in your (pl) stove(s)
3s   okotawānāpisko(mi)hk   in his/her stove(s)
3p   okotawānāpisko(mi)wāhk   in their stove(s)
4   okotawānāpisko(mi)ýihk   in (an)other’s stove(s)





small stove


Table II.3.10

    NAstem paradigm blank

form prefix NA2 Stem change ending


 1s    ni(t)– Cw




 2s   ki(t)–   (–im)
 1p   ni(t)–   –(im)inān
 21   ki(t)–   –(im)inaw
 2p   ki(t)–   –(im)iwāw


1s   ni(t)– Cw




2s   ki(t)–   –(im)ak
1p   ni(t)–   –(im)inānak
21   ki(t)–   –(im)inawak
2p   ki(t)–   –(im)iwāwak


1s   ni(t)– Cw




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








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



Cw + i→Co




In summation, Cw stems are characterized by two important rules, restated here as (34) and (35). The first, (34), manifests itself in the singular when the stem-final /w/ is dropped.


(34)     w         →        Ø         / C___#


Following a consonant (C___), at the end of a word (___#), a /w/ is unpronounceable, so it is dropped, and thus singular forms end in the simple consonant.  However, when something is added to the noun stem, the /w/ surfaces.  For instance, if the plural suffix –ak is added, the /w/ appears as normal.  If, on the other hand, an /i/-initial suffix is added, the vowel adjustment rule in (35) takes place, merging stem-final /w/ and suffix-initial /i/ to [o].


(35)     w         +          –i…     →        o          / C___


The environment in which these changes take place (i.e. after a consonant) is very important, since the /w/ will neither drop at the end of a word, nor merge with /i/ to form [o] if the /w/ in question follows a vowel (i.e. Vw).  This is what sets NA3 or consonant-/w/ (Cw) stems apart from NA2 or vowel-glide (VW) stems.  These are the two main ways in which noun stems differ from the regular pattern.  The final noun subclass, single-syllable stems (NA4) exhibit yet further irregularities, but the entire subclass consists of very few examples.