4.  Single-Syllable (1σ) Stems – NI4

Outside of regular, vowel-glide and consonant-/w/ stems, there remain a very few inanimate 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 a single syllable and exceptionally few of these are nouns.  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.  Both of these are animate, so there do not appear to be any inanimate nouns which can be spoken as single-syllable words.  The stems, as will be illustrated, can consist of a single syllable, but it must always be augmented by another suffix to reach the required two-syllable length.


4.1  Single-Syllable Singular and Plural

Thus far, all stems have either been identical to their singular forms (NI1 and NI2 stems), or have required the deletion of a sound (/w/ of NI3 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 appear to be an exhaustive list of the attested inanimate independent single-syllable (1σ) noun stems (NI4).


(30)     ay–                  “one”

    mēy–               “feces, dung, excrement”

    mihkw–           “blood”

    miht–               “firewood; piece of wood, piece of firewood”

    miy–                “pus”

    ōs–                  “boat”

    pihkw–            “ashes”

    wāt–                “hole”

    wāw–               “egg”

    wīkw–             “kidney-fat”

    wīn–                “marrow”

    wīs–                “belly-fat”

    wīst–               “lodge, beaver-lodge”


As mentioned, these stems cannot stand alone as words (and at least one of them, the stem ay–, is usually only found in compounds).  Even in the singular, a suffix must be added to allow them to reach two syllables in length, the minimum requirement for Cree nouns.  The singular suffix for NI4 stems is –i, as illustrated in Tables I.4.1 and I.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 inanimate plural suffix –a[Note: The change from singular to plural has often been taught as subtracting the final vowel of the noun and replacing it with the plural suffix.  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 plural seems to replace the vowel, rather than being added on to the singular form.  The singular is itself an inflection.]

Table I.4.1

Singular and Plural Forms of the Single-Syllable NI4 Stem wāt–


NI4 Stem Number Word Translation
singular wāt– –i  wāti “hole”
plural wāt– –a  wāta “holes”



Table I.4.2

Singular and Plural Forms of Single-Syllable NI4 Stems


NI4 Stem Number Word
singular –i
plural –a



The general frame in Table I.4.2 covers most of the stems in (30) above, but not all of them, for there is one further complication to be noted about single-syllable stems.  If the list of stems in (30) 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 (31) are essentially regular stems in all ways except that, as single-syllable stems, they require the singular suffix.


(31)     miht–, ōs–, wāt–, wīn–, wīs–, wīst–


These stems fit the pattern of Table I.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 NI1 type.  Additionally, there are a number of stems (32) which end in a vowel-glide sequence.


(32)     ay–, mēy–, miy–, wāw–


However, as single-syllable stems, these stems never undergo contraction as the NI2 stems do.  Thus, this group also fits the pattern of Table I.4.2 with the singular suffix –i and the plural suffix –a.


Finally, there are a few stems, listed in (33), which are single-syllable or NI4 stems, but which also end in a consonant-/w/ sequence just like NI3 stems.  We will recognize these three special stems with the abbreviation NI4w.


(33)     mihkw–, pihkw–, wīkw–


These are the stems which deviate slightly from the basic NI4 frame given in Table I.4.2 since, as illustrated in Table I.4.3, the suffix –i merges with the stem final /w/ to yield [o] just as occurs when any /i/-initial suffix is added to a consonant-/w/ stem.


Table I.4.3

Singular and Plural Forms of the Single-Syllable NI4w Stem mihkw–


NI4w Stem Change Number Word Translation
singular mihkw– Cw+i→Co –i  mihko “blood”


Further examples of these NI4w stems will be given for each of the important suffixes below.


The other peculiarity of these three NI4w stems, evident in Table I.4.3, is that they are all mass nouns, which means they are never marked for the plural.  Because no plural forms exist, it is difficult to tell that the [o] is the result of the familiar NI3 /w+i/ merger rather than just an alternate form “–o” of the singular suffix.  However, root morphemes like /mihkw/ are not only noun stems, but can also be used in verb formation, as illustrated in (34).  [Note: Other animate verb stems such as wāpiskisi– “be white” and pimātisi– “live” show that the form of the VAI final is –isi and not “–osi”.  Again, the [o] is the result of the /w+i/ merger.]


(34)     mihkw–           +          –isi      →        mihkosi–         VAI     “be red”

    mihkw–           +          –ā        →        mihkwā–         VII       “be red”


When the animate intransitive (VAI) verb suffix –isi is added to this root, the merger of /w/ + /i/ occurs, but when the inanimate intransitive (VII) verb final –ā is added, the /w/ is retained and surfaces.  This illustrates the occurrence of the /w/ as part of the root morpheme /mihkw–/, the same root which is used as the noun stem mihkw– which in turn becomes mihko when the NI4 singular suffix –i is added.


What all this means is that the NI4 subclass is really a special subtype of all inanimate Cree nouns, with different patterns for regular and Cw stems, but no possible manifestation of VW stems.  The “regular” pattern of inanimate single-syllable stems is abbreviated as NI4, while the rare consonant-/w/ pattern is NI4w.


One final note on the NI4 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:


(35)     askipwāw–                  “potato”                                  (singular: askipwāwi)

    āmow‑mēy–                “honey”                                   (singular mass: āmow-mēyi)

    kihci‑miht–                 “big club”                               (singular: kihci-mihti)

    mahihkani‑wāt–          “wolf‑hole, wolf den”            (singular: mahihkani-wāti)

    mistik-ōs–                   “boat, wooden boat”               (singular: mistik-ōsi)

    oski-ay–                      “new thing, young thing”       (singular: osk-āyi)


For most 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” NI4 pattern of Table 1.42.  In this sense, askipwāw- without hyphenation is exceptional, but still acts just like the single-syllable stem wāw– with the singular form askipwāwi and the plural askipwāwa.  [Note: This word is not hyphenated since no initial element (askip–, askipw–) is recognized as a freely compounding particle or noun as in the other examples.  In fact, this stem is probably derived from the VII stem askipwā- “to be raw” and merely adapted to the pattern of NI4 wāw– due to the similarity of sound and semantic value (i.e. potatoes and eggs share a similar shape, both are food, etc.)]  Other compounds with ay– can also be found, both as inanimate and animate nouns.


4.2  Single-Syllable Possessive

After going through the complications of the basic NI4 and NI4w patterns, the remainder of the paradigms for these stems are quite simple, as they reflect patterns already seen for regular (NI1) stems and consonant-/w/ (NI3) stems respectively.  The only complication with the possessive 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 examples of Tables I.4.4 and I.4.5 reflect the exact same pattern as would be evident for Regular (NI1) stems (cf. the discussion under 1.3 in the NI1 section).


Table I.4.4

Possessive Forms of the Single-Syllable NI4 Stem wāw– + –im


Prefix NI4 Stem Poss Person Number Word Translation
1s ni– wāw– –im (–a) niwāwim(a) “my egg(s)”
2s ki– wāw– –im (–a) kiwāwim(a) “your egg(s)”
1p ni– wāw– –im –inān (–a) niwāwiminān(a) “our egg(s)”
21 ki– wāw– –im –inaw (–a) kiwāwiminaw(a) “our egg(s)”
2p ki– wāw– –im –iwāw (–a) kiwāwimiwāw(a) “your egg(s)”
3s o– wāw– –im (–a) owāwim(a) “his/her egg(s)”
3p o– wāw– –im –iwāw (–a) owāwimiwāw(a) “their egg(s)”
3’ o– wāw– –im –iyiw (–a) owāwimiyiw(a) “another’s egg(s)”


Table I.4.5

Possessive Forms of Single-Syllable NI4 Stems + –im


Prefix NI4 Stem Poss Person Number Word
1s ni(t)– –im (–a)
2s ki(t)– –im (–a)
1p ni(t)– –im –inān (–a)
21 ki(t)– –im –inaw (–a)
2p ki(t)– –im –iwāw (–a)
3s o(t)– –im (–a)
3p o(t)– –im –iwāw (–a)
3’ o(t)– –im –iyiw (–a)


Presumably, the only differences necessary if –im is not included, would be the singular number suffix –i in the 1s, 2s and 3s forms (i.e. niwāwi, kiwāwi, and owāwi, if these are acceptable to any speakers).  The important point of these Tables is to show that no changes are required.  All suffixes are added in their regular forms.


The optional [t] connector is included in the Table 1.45, though very few vowel-initial NI4 stems exist and, of these, two are exceptional in some way.  As already stated, the stem ay– occurs in compounds and is never placed alone in the possessive. [Note: *nitay is not a Cree word, though it does occur in Saulteaux (Ojibwe) as the animate word for “my dog”, and the Cree form nitēm can be analyzed as nit– + ay– + –im, in which case we have a single-syllable vowel-glide stem which did contract historically (albeit irregularly: ay+i→ē rather than ā).  Even so, it is now treated as a consonant-initial dependent stem (NDA1)].  The stem ōs– is also exceptional in that it has for many speakers an alternate stem form when it occurs in the possessive and locative, namely ōt–.  This stem will be discussed as an exceptional stem (NI5) where its similarities in some respects to dependent inanimate noun (NDI) stems will be noted.


The only time there is a serious complication with the suffixes occurs when the Cw single-syllable stems are marked for possessive, in which case –im seems obligatory.  Thus, the stem mihkw– is given in Table I.4.6, while the general possessive frame is given in Table I.4.7, both including the Cw+i→Co rule.


Table I.4.6

Possessive Forms of the Single-Syllable Cw NI4w Stem mihkw– + –im


Prefix NI4w Stem Change Poss Person Number Word Translation
1s ni– mihkw–  






–im nimihkom “my blood”
2s ki– mihkw– –im kimihkom “your blood”
1p ni– mihkw– –im –inān nimihkominān “our blood”
21 ki– mihkw– –im –inaw kimihkominaw “our blood”
2p ki– mihkw– –im –iwāw kimihkomiwāw “your blood”
3s o– mihkw– –im omihkom “his/her blood”
3p o– mihkw– –im –iwāw omihkomiwāw “their blood”
3’ o– mihkw– –im –iyiw omihkomiyiw “another’s blood”


Table I.4.7

Possessive Forms of Single-Syllable Cw NI4w Stems + –im


Prefix NI4w Stem Change Poss Person Number Word
1s ni–  






2s ki– –im
1p ni– –im –inān
21 ki– –im –inaw
2p ki– –im –iwāw
3s o– –im
3p o– –im –iwāw
3’ o– –im –iyiw


The Number column is left blank in these tables as all attested examples of this type are mass nouns and are never marked by the plural.


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 I.4.8 and I.4.9 illustrate the regular pattern, while I.4.10 and I.4.11 illustrate the Cw pattern.  These are nearly identical to the Tables given for Regular (NI1) and Cw (NI3) stems.  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 I.4.8

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable NI4 Stem wāw–


  NI4 Stem Number/Locative Word Translation
singular wāw– –i wāwi “egg”
locative wāw– –ihk wāwihk “in the egg(s)”


Table I.4.9

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable NI4 Stems


  NI4 Stem Number/Locative Word
singular –i
locative –ihk


The only difference between Table I.4.9 representing NI4 stems and Table I.1.11 given earlier representing NI1 stems, is the need to have the singular –i 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 I.4.10

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable Cw NI4w Stem mihkw–


  NI4w Stem Change Number/Locative Word Translation
singular mihkw– Cw+i


–i mihko “blood”
locative mihkw– –ihk mihkohk “in the blood”


Table 1.51

Locative Formation of Single-Syllable Cw NI4 Stems


  NI4w Stem Change Number/Locative Word
singular Cw+i


locative –ihk


The difference between the NI4w stems in Tables I.4.10 and I.4.11 and NI3 stems as represented  in Tables I.3.## and I.3.## is again the inclusion of the Cw+i→Co rule in the singular.  For NI3 stems, the /w/ is normally dropped, but because of the singular –i suffix, the vowel adjustment rule comes into play for both singular and locative forms of NI4w stems.  As with regular NI4 stems, Number and Locative suffixes share the same, mutually exclusive position in the tables.


4.4  Single-Syllable Diminutive

Similar tables are needed to represent diminutive formation of NI4 and NI4w stems.


Table I.4.12

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable NI4 Stem wāt–


NI4 Stem Diminutive Number Word Translation
base wāt– –i  wāti “hole”
diminutive wāt– –is  wācis “small hole”


Table I.4.13

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable NI4 Stems


NI4 Stem Diminutive Number Word
base –i
diminutive –is


The difference between these charts and earlier tables showing diminutive formation from regular (NI1) 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].


Table I.4.14

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable Cw NI4w Stem mihkw–


NI4w Stem Change Diminutive Number Word Translation
base mihkw– Cw+i


–i  mihko “blood”
diminutive mihkw– –is  mihkos “small amount of blood”


Table I.4.15

Diminutive Formation from Single-Syllable Cw NI4w Stems


NI4w Stem Change Diminutive Number Word
base Cw+i


diminutive –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 (NI4) Stems

We can now summarize these observations of the NI4 and NI4w 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 I.4.16 and I.4.17 respectively.

Table I.4.16

Single-Syllable (1σ) NIStem: wāw- “egg”

form Cree word English translation
singular wāwi egg
1s niwāwim my egg
2s kiwāwim your (sg) egg
1p niwāwiminān our (excl) egg
21 kiwāwiminaw our (incl) egg
2p kiwāwimiwāw your (pl) egg
3s owāwim his/her egg
3p owāwimiwāw their egg
4 owāwimiýiw (an)other’s egg
plural wāwa eggs
1s niwāwima my eggs
2s kiwāwima your (sg) eggs
1p niwāwimināna our (excl) eggs
21 kiwāwiminawa our (incl) eggs
2p kiwāwimiwāwa your (pl) eggs
3s owāwima his/her eggs
3p owāwimiwāwa their eggs
4 owāwimiýiwa (an)other’s eggs
locative wāwihk in the egg(s)
1s niwāwimihk in my egg(s)
2s kiwāwimihk in your (sg) egg(s)
1p niwāwimināhk in our (excl) egg(s)
21 kiwāwimināhk in our (incl) egg(s)
2p kiwāwimiwāhk in your (pl) egg(s)
3s owāwimihk in his/her egg(s)
3p owāwimiwāhk in their egg(s)
4 owāwimiýihk in (an)other’s egg(s)
dim wāwis little egg

Note: possessed forms without -im may be marginally possible.


Table I.4.17

Single-Syllable Consonant-/w/ (1σw) Stem: mihkw- “blood”

form Cree word English translation
singular mihko blood
1s nimihkom my blood
2s kimihkom your (sg) blood
1p nimihkominān our (excl) blood
21 kimihkominaw our (incl) blood
2p kimihkomiwāw your (pl) blood
3s omihkom his/her blood
3p omihkomiwāw their blood
4 omihkomiýiw (an)other’s blood
plural — (no plural allowed)
locative mihkohk in the blood
1s nimihkomihk in my blood
2s kimihkomihk in your (sg) blood
1p nimihkomināhk in our (excl) blood
21 kimihkomināhk in our (incl) blood
2p kimihkomiwāhk in your (pl) blood
3s omihkomihk in his/her blood
3p omihkomiwāhk in their blood
4 omihkomiýihk in (an)other’s blood
dim mihkos small amount of blood

Note: there are only 3 known stems of this type: mihkw- “blood”, pihkw- “ashes”, wīkw- “belly-fat”. All are mass nouns which cannot be pluralized; and wīkw– furthermore might not even permit possessive marking (or it may be a NDI4w).

Virtually all Plains Cree Independent Inanimate Nouns have now been covered through the discussion of the four subclasses: Regular, VW, Cw and Single-Syllable Stems.  Currently, there are only two attested NI stems that do not fit one of these four main patterns due to a very rare feature.  These two stems will discussed under the heading of NI5 – irregular or S~T stems.