4. Single-Syllable (1σ) Animate Noun Stems – NA4

Outside of regular, vowel-glide and consonant-/w/ stems, there remain a very few animate noun stems which are exceptional in that their stems consist of only a single syllable. There has been a historical constraint on Cree words in general that they cannot be shorter than two syllables.  Even today, outside of interjections, there are very few Cree words that consist of only one syllable and exceptionally few of these are nouns.  We do not in fact encounter any inanimate nouns of only a single syllable in their spoken singular form.  In Moose Cree, the word mōswa “moose” is often shortened to simply mōs (possibly under influence from Ojibwa), while a little more widely spread in Cree dialects is the shortening of the word pīskwa “nighthawk” to simply pīsk.  However, the longer forms are still most common in Plains Cree.  The stems, as will be illustrated, can consist of a single syllable, but it must always be augmented by another (animate singular) suffix to reach the required two-syllable length.


4.1  Single-Syllable Singular, Plural and Obviative

Thus far, all stems have either been identical to their singular forms (NA1 and NA2 stems), or have required the deletion of a sound (the final /w/ of NA3 stems) in the singular.  The exceptional thing about single-syllable stems is that they cannot stand alone as words, but require a special suffix to “complete” them, even in the singular.  The following examples in (36) appear to be an exhaustive list of the attested animate independent single-syllable (1σ) noun stems (NA4).


(36)     ay–                  “one”

    cīs–                 “Cisa” [personal name of the Trickster]

    ēs–                   “clam; clam shell”

    ihkw–              “louse”

    kākw–             “porcupine”

    kōn–                “snow”

    maskw–           “bear”

    m(w)ākw–       “loon”

    mōsw–             “moose”

    nisk–               “goose”

    pīskw–            “nighthawk; mosquito-hawk”

    pwāt–              “Dakota, Sioux person”

    siht–                “spruce; evergreen”

    wahkw–           “lump of roe; fish egg”


As mentioned, these stems cannot stand alone as words (and at least one of them, the stem ay–, is usually only found in compounds – additional examples which include one or more of these stems in compound nouns will be discussed below).  Even in the singular, a suffix must be added to allow them to reach two syllables in length, the minimum requirement for Plains Cree nouns.  The singular suffix for NA4 stems is –a, as illustrated in Tables II.4.1 and II.4.2.  Note that from the stem, the plural is formed in exactly the same way as all other plurals, by simply adding the regular animate plural suffix –ak.  [Note: the change from singular to plural has often been taught as simply adding an irregular plural suffix –k rather than the regular suffix –ak, since the /a/ is already present.  The analysis given here yields the same result, but recognizes that the final vowel of the noun is a suffix and not originally part of the noun stem itself.  This explains why the /a/ is absent when some of the other inflectional suffixes are added, as illustrated subsequently.  The singular is itself an inflection].  A complication of the animate nouns involves the obviative form, which for single-syllable stems is usually not distinct from the singular form.  The regular obviative suffix remains –a, and thus sounds exactly the same as the singular suffix for animate single-syllable stems, as is evident in the tables.


Table II.4.1

Singular and Plural Forms of the Single-Syllable NA4 Stem nisk–

NA4 Stem Num/Obv Word Translation
singular nisk– –a  niska “goose”
plural nisk– –ak  niskak “geese”
obviative nisk– –a  niska “goose/geese”


Table II.4.2

Singular and Plural Forms of Single-Syllable NA4 Stems

NA4 Stem Num/Obv Word
singular –a
plural –ak
obviative –a


The general frame in Table II.4.2 covers all of the stems listed in (36) above, [Note: all of them, that is, excepting the name cīs– and the mass noun kōn–, neither of which will allow plural marking].  However, there are still some complications that must be mentioned.  In some areas, for instance, the similarity of the singular and obviative forms of the nouns has lead speakers to innovate a new obviative form to set it apart from the singular.  This typically involves reanalyzing the singular form as the stem and then adding of a modified obviative suffix of the form –wa (e.g. maskw– “bear” becomes maskwa– and is then inflected as follows: singular: maskwa; plural: maskwak; obviative: maskwawa).

An additional complication does not affect the plural and obviative forms, but will have an effect on the possessive, locative and diminutive suffixes to be discussed below.  If the list of stems in (36) is compared to the other stem types discussed earlier, apparent examples of all three of the other types will be found.  Stems like those in (37) are essentially regular stems in all ways except that, as single-syllable stems, they require the singular suffix.


(37)     cīs–, ēs–, kōn–, nisk–, pwāt–, siht–


These stems fit the pattern of Table II.4.2 and, as will be seen subsequently, they will take all other regular suffixes without modification.  Thus, the singular suffix is the only thing that sets them apart from the regular NA1 type.

One additional stem, not only ends in a vowel-glide sequence, but is in fact nothing more than a vowel-glide sequence.


(38)     ay–


However, as a single-syllable stem, this stem never undergoes contraction like the NA2 stems do.  Thus, this stem will also fit the regular pattern of Table II.4.2 and all subsequent suffixes as well.

Finally, there are a few stems, listed in (39), which are single-syllable or NA4 stems, but which also end in a consonant-/w/ sequence just like NA3 stems.  We will recognize these seven special stems with the abbreviation NA4w.


(39)     ihkw–, kākw–, maskw–, m(w)ākw–, mōsw–, pīskw–, wahkw–


These stems do not deviate from the basic NA4 frame given in Table II.4.2, but they will provide complications when /i/-initial possessive, locative and diminutive suffixes are added, just as do the consonant-/w/ NA3 stems.  Thus, examples of these NA4w stems will be treated separately for each of the important suffixes below.  The NA4 subclass is really a special subtype of all animate Cree nouns, with different patterns for regular and Cw stems, but no possible manifestation of VW stems.  The “regular” pattern of animate single-syllable stems is abbreviated as NA4, while the consonant-/w/ pattern is NA4w.

One final note on the NA4 stems must be added.  Occasionally, these stems occur in compounds, but remain treated as single-syllable stems, so the singular suffix remains obligatory.  Some attested examples include:


(40)     iskwēwi-ay–               “female being”                       (singular: iskwēw-āya)

    kēhtē-ay–                    “Elder”                                    (singular: kēhtē-aya)

    kihci-nisk–                  “Canada goose”                      (singular: kihci-niska)

    kisē-ay–                      “Elder”                                    (singular: kisē-aya)

    mistahi-ay–                 “grizzly bear”                         (singular: mistah-āya)

    nāpē-ay–                     “male being”                           (singular: nāpē-aya)

    nōsē-ay–                     “female being”                         (singular: nōsē-aya)

    oski-ay–                      “youth, young person”           (singular: osk-āya)

    pakwaci-ay–               “wild creature”                       (singular: pakwac-āya)

    wāpi-maskw–              “White Bear”                          (singular: wāpi-maskwa)


For all of these, the hyphen indicates the single-syllable nature of the second element of the compound which is maintained so that all of these fit into the “regular” NA4 pattern of Table II.4.2.  Other compounds with ay– can also be found, both as inanimate and animate nouns.  In contrast, there are some complex stems formed with single-syllable stems which do not require the stem to take animate singular ­–a inflection.  Some of these are exemplified in (41).


(41)     nēhiyawipwāt              “Cree Sioux; Cree-Assiniboine”        [cf. nēhiyaw– + pwāt–]

    osāwask                      “brown bear; golden bear”                 [cf. /osāw–/ + /–askw–/]

    wāpask                        “white bear; polar bear”                     [cf. /wāp–/ + /–askw–/]


In such cases, the elements of the compound are not hyphenated as the word functions as a single stem of more than one syllable, and so the single-syllable singular inflection is not needed.  Though pwāt– is a NA4 stem, nēhiyawipwāt– is a regular NA1 stem, and while maskw– is a NA4w stem, osāwaskw– and wāpaskw– are Cw NA3 stems.  In particular, we can compare the NA3 stem wāpaskw– “polar bear” with the NA4w compound and name wāpi-maskw– “White Bear”: wāpask can stand alone as the singular form of wāpaskw–, but the compound stem wāpi‑maskw– must be completed by the singular inflection as wāpi-maskwa.


4.2  Single-Syllable Possessive

For the remainder of the suffixes, NA4 stems will follow the basic patterns of regular NA1 stems, while NA4w stems follow NA3 patterns.  For possessive-marking in particular, the only complication is really just finding examples of these stems marked for possession, and determining whether or not to use the –im suffix.  In fact, examples without –im appear very rare, so that the examples in Tables II.4.3 and II.4.4 reflect the exact same pattern as would be evident for regular (NA1) stems.


Table II.4.3

Possessive Forms of the Single-Syllable NA4 Stem nisk– + –im

Prefix NA4 Stem Poss Person Pl/Obv Word Translation[1]
1s ni– nisk– –im (–ak) niniskim(ak) “my goose”
2s ki– nisk– –im (–ak) kiniskim(ak) “your goose”
1p ni– nisk– –im –inān (–ak) niniskiminān(ak) “our goose”
21 ki– nisk– –im –inaw (–ak) kiniskiminaw(ak) “our goose”
2p ki– nisk– –im –iwāw (–ak) kiniskimiwāw(ak) “your goose”
3s o– nisk– –im –a oniskima “his/her goose”
3p o– nisk– –im –iwāw –a oniskimiwāwa “their goose”
4 o– nisk– –im –iyiw –a oniskimiyiwa “another’s goose”

[1] Plural translations are not included here due to the awkwardness of marking optional plural for English “goose/geese”.


Table II.4.4

Possessive Forms of Single-Syllable NA4 Stems + –im

Prefix NA4 Stem Poss Person Pl/Obv 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
4 o(t)– –im –iyiw –a


We can note that in absolutely no form of this possessive paradigm is the stem nisk– followed immediately by the /a/ found in the singular form niska.  This is because –a is the singular inflection, as discussed above, and not part of the noun itself.  When the possessive markers are added, the singular inflection is simply not added.  Note also that the optional [t] connector is included in Table II.4.4, though only a single vowel-initial NA4 stem is attested (i.e. ēs– “clam, shell”). [Note: Cree speakers can judge whether nitēs or nitēsim is most appropriate for “my clam”, or whether such a thing is ever said at all!].

The only time there is any complication with the suffixes occurs on the rare occasion that a Cw single-syllable stem is marked for possessive, in which case –im seems obligatory.  Thus, the stem ihkw– is given in Table II.4.5, while the general possessive frame is given in Table II.4.6, both including the Cw+i→Co rule.


Table II.4.5

Possessive Forms of the Single-Syllable Cw NA4w Stem ihkw– + –im

Prefix NA4w Stem Change Poss Person Pl/Obv Word Translation[2]
1s nit– ihkw–  






–im (–ak) nitihkom(ak) “my lice”
2s kit– ihkw– –im (–ak) kitihkom(ak) “your lice”
1p nit– ihkw– –im –inān (–ak) nitihkominān(ak) “our lice”
21 kit– ihkw– –im –inaw (–ak) kitihkominaw(ak) “our lice”
2p kit– ihkw– –im –iwāw (–ak) kitihkomiwāw(ak) “your lice”
3s ot– ihkw– –im –a otihkoma “his/her lice”
3p ot– ihkw– –im –iwāw –a otihkomiwāwa “their lice”
4 ot– ihkw– –im –iyiw –a otihkomiyiwa “another’s lice”

[2] The translation “lice” is offered solely in the plural to avoid the difficulty of the English “louse/lice”.  Apologies to any who may be offended that this is the word chosen to illustrate this stem type, but the choices are severely limited and few if any of the other NA4w stems are likely to be marked for the possessive at all.  If you don’t believe me, ask kimosōm (“your grandfather”) but not kimōsom (“your moose”!).


Table II.4.6

Possessive Forms of Single-Syllable Cw NA4w Stems + –im

Prefix NI4w 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


4.3  Single-Syllable Locative

As usual, the basic locative is simpler, consisting of only one form.  Two different frames must be given, though, since both the regular locative ending, and the consonant-/w/ form are possibilities.  Tables II.4.7 and II.4.8 illustrate the regular pattern for NA4 stems, while II.4.9 and II.4.10 illustrate the Cw pattern of NA4w stems.  These are nearly identical to the Tables given above for Regular (NA1) and Cw (NA3) stems in their respective sections of these Grammar pages.  Special Tables for the combined possessive-locative will not be included here as they are predictable from the forms of the separate locative and possessive paradigms.


Table II.4.7

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable NA4 Stem ēs–

  NA4 Stem Number/Locative Word Translation
singular ēs– –a ēsa “clam; shell”
locative ēs– –ihk ēsihk “in the shell(s)”


Table II.4.8

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable NA4 Stems

  NA4 Stem Number/Locative Word
singular –a
locative –ihk


The only difference between Table II.4.8 representing NI4 stems and Table II.1.12 representing NA1 stems, is the need to have the singular –a suffix included for the Single-Syllable stems.  This is done by putting the Number and Locative suffixes in the same slot, since they are mutually exclusive.  Remember that if a stem is marked for locative, it can not be marked for number and is thus potentially ambiguous between singular and plural.


Table II.4.9

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable Cw NA4w Stem ihkw–

  NA4w Stem Change Number/Locative Word Translation[3]
singular ihkw– –a ihkwa “louse”
locative ihkw– Cw+i →Co –ihk ihkohk “on the louse”

[3] Given that all NA4w stems refer to creatures, it is possible that most speakers will reject using the locative with any of these stems including ihkw– “louse”.  It is also possible that the only acceptable means of marking this stem with the locative is to use the alternative form mitihkom–, in which case we are dealing with a very different type of stem type (see Dependent Animate Nouns (NDA)).


Table II.4.10

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable Cw NA4w Stems

  NA4w Stem Change Number/Locative Word
singular –a
locative Cw+i→Co –ihk



The difference between the NA4w stems in Tables II.4.9 and II.4.10 and NA3 stems as represented in Tables II.3.5 and II.3.6 is again the inclusion of the singular –a inflection.  When the locative suffix is added, the stem final /w/ merges with the locative initial /i/ to yield [o] and this is the same for NA3 and NA­4w stems.  As with regular NA4 stems, number and locative suffixes share the same, mutually exclusive position in the tables.

In both cases, whether NA4 or NA4w stems, the regular locative can be replaced by the distributive locative if appropriate.  As such, the regular distributive locative –ināhk occurs with NA4 stems (42), but the vowel adjustment rule (Cw + –i → Co) appears to yield “–onāhk” with NA4w stems, as in (43).


(42)     pwāt–              +          –ināhk             →        pwātināhk       “in Dakota/Sioux territory”

(43)     maskw–           +          –ināhk             →        maskonāhk      “in bear country”


4.4  Single-Syllable Diminutive

Finally, we will also require two slightly distinct tables to represent diminutive formation of NA4 and NA4w stems respectively.  Tables II.4.11 and II.4.12 illustrate the diminutive with NA4 stems.


Table II.4.11

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable NA4 Stem nisk–

NA4 Stem Diminutive Number Word Translation
base nisk– –a  niska “goose”
diminutive nisk– –isis  niskisis “gosling”


Table II.4.12

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable NA4 Stems

NA4 Stem Diminutive Number Word
base –a
diminutive –is(is)


The difference between these charts and earlier tables showing diminutive formation from regular (NA1) stems is again the inclusion of the Number category.  This is not mutually exclusive with the diminutive suffix and diminutive nouns can take plural marking.  However, diminutive stems are all regular stems, so do not need to take a singular suffix.  The only thing not indicated on these tables is the diminutive sound change of /t/ to [c].

The following Tables, II.4.13 and II.4.14, provide the almost identical pattern for NA4w stems, except that the /i/-initial diminutive suffix must merge with the stem-final /w/ in the now familiar way, yielding what appears to be a diminutive suffix of the form “–os(is)”.


Table II.4.13

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable Cw NA4w Stem maskw–


NA4w Stem Change Diminutive Number Word Translation
base maskw– –a  maskwa “bear”
diminutive maskw– Cw+i →Co –isis  maskosis “bear cub”


Table II.4.14

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable Cw NA4w Stems

NA4w Stem Change Diminutive Number Word
base –a
diminutive Cw+i→Co –is(is)


When a single-syllable Cw stem is marked, the diminutive replaces the need for the singular suffix as do all the other suffixes.  All of these patterns illustrate the fact that the singular suffix is merely a place-holder ensuring that the noun is the required minimum of two syllables in length.


4.5  Summary of Single-Syllable (NA4) Stems

We can now summarize these observations of the NA4 and NA4w stems by combining all forms in single paradigms for each.  Given the rarity of these forms, bare paradigms are omitted and only example paradigms are given as Tables II.4.15 and II.4.16 respectively.

Table II.4.15

Single-Syllable (1σ) Stem: kēhtē-ay– “Elder”

[Note: animate nouns referring to people, animals, etc., don’t occur in the simple locative; it is possible, however, that the distributive locative –ināhk could be used].

form Cree word English translation




1s nikēhtē-ayim my Elder
2s kikēhtē-ayim your (sg) Elder
1p nikēhtē-ayiminān our (excl) Elder
21 kikēhtē-ayiminaw our (incl) Elder
2p kikēhtē-ayimiwāw your (pl) Elder




1s nikēhtē-ayimak my Elders
2s kikēhtē-ayimak your (sg) Elders
1p nikēhtē-ayiminānak our (excl) Elders
21 kikēhtē-ayiminawak our (incl) Elders
2p kikēhtē-ayimiwāwak your (pl) Elders




1s nikēhtē-ayima my Elder(s)
2s kikēhtē-ayima your (sg) Elder(s)
1p nikēhtē-ayimināna our (excl) Elder(s)
21 kikēhtē-ayiminawa our (incl) Elder(s)
2p kikēhtē-ayimiwāwa your (pl) Elder(s)
3s okēhtē-ayima his/her Elder(s)
3p okēhtē-ayimiwāwa their Elder(s)
4 okēhtē-ayimiýiwa (an)other’s Elder(s)
locative — [not possible]





dear Elder



Table II.4.16

Single-Syllable Consonant-/w/ (1σw) Stem: ihkw– “louse”

[Note: animate nouns referring to people, animals, etc., don’t occur in the locative]

form Cree word English translation




1s nitihkom my louse
2s kitihkom your (sg) louse
1p nitihkominān our (excl) louse
21 kitihkominaw our (incl) louse
2p kitihkomiwāw your (pl) louse




1s nitihkomak my lice
2s kitihkomak your (sg) lice
1p nitihkominānak our (excl) lice
21 kitihkominawak our (incl) lice
2p kitihkomiwāwak your (pl) lice




1s nitihkoma my louse/lice
2s kitihkoma your (sg) louse/lice
1p nitihkomināna our (excl) louse/lice
21 kitihkominawa our (incl) louse/lice
2p kitihkomiwāwa your (pl) louse/lice
3s otihkoma his/her louse/lice
3p otihkomiwāwa their louse/lice
4 otihkomiýiwa (an)other’s louse/lice
locative — [not possible]





tiny louse; nit


All Plains Cree Independent Animate Nouns (NA) have now been covered through the discussion of the four subclasses: Regular, VW, Cw and Single-Syllable Stems.  Still, one further complication (which affects all subclasses) must now be addressed.  In contrast to the Independent Noun stems described thus far, there are also a subclass of Dependent Animate Nouns (NDA) which require certain modifications from the patterns surveyed thus far, and these will be introduced in general (see NDA) and then discussed in detail for each subclass as well (see NDA1, NDA2NDA3, and NDA4,respectively).