As described under the Gender section of Cree Nouns, all nouns, and therefore the participants that they represent, are divided into two separate and extremely important noun classes, called the Animate and Inanimate. This grammatical distinction of Animacy is also extremely important in the Verb Classification system, since all verbs, both Intransitive and Transitive, take specific forms and person-marking that reflects the animacy of their participant(s).

All Intransitive Verbs, which only take a single participant, are divided by the animacy of that lone participant. Intransitive Verbs can have an inanimate participant (or no participant at all), in which case we refer to them as Inanimate Intransitive Verbs (VII).

VIIEnglish Translation
kimiwan“it is raining”
wāpan“it is dawn”
mihkwāw“it (inanimate) is red”
mihkwāwa“they (inanimate) are red”

Intransitive Verbs can have an animate participant, in which case we refer to them as Animate Intransitive Verbs (VAI).

VAIEnglish Translation
ninēstosin“I am tired”
kinēhiyawānaw“we (inclusive) are speaking Cree”
kipimohtānāwāw“you (plural) are lying down”
pimohtēw“s/he is walking”
mīcisowak“they are eating”
mihkosiwak“they (animate) are red”

In contrast, Transitive Verbs will have two (and sometimes three) participants. The actor or agent – the one performing the action – is typically animate (and most often but not exclusively human). However, the affected object or goal of a transitive verb can be either inanimate or animate. Transitive verbs which take an inanimate goal are known as Transitive Inanimate Verbs (VTI).

VTIEnglish Translation
niwāpahtēn“I see it/them (inanimate)”
kinitonēnaw“we (inclusive) look for it/them (inanimate)”
miskam“s/he finds it/them (inanimate)”
osīhtāw“s/he makes it/them (inanimate)”
mīciwak“they eat it/them (inanimate)”

Transitive Verbs verbs which take an animate goal are known as Transitive Animate Verbs (VTA).

VTAEnglish Translation
kiwīcihin“you (singular) help me”
kinanāskomitināwāw“I am grateful to you (plural)”
ninitonawānānak“we (exclusive) look for them (animate)”
nisākihāw“I love him/her”
nisākihik“s/he loves me”
mowēwak“they eat it/them (animate)”

Notice that in both sets of examples of Transitive Verbs, the actor is animate. The difference between the two sets is the animacy of the goal or object. VTIs have an inanimate goal, and VTAs have an animate goal.

It is sometimes possible to have more than two participants, in which case the verb is ditransitive (i.e. has two object). However, ditransitive verbs are still treated as VTA because the actor and goal are both animate, and the animacy of a third participant is irrelevant. So, in the following examples of the ditransitive verb miy- “give (it) to s.o.”, the actor and goal are both animate, and the verb does not change regardless of whether the thing given is animate (e.g. atim “dog”, kinosēw “fish”) or inanimate (wiyās “meat”, maskisina “moccasins”).

ditransitive VTAEnglish Translation
kikī-miyitin“I gave it to you”
kikī-miyitin atim“I gave you a dog”
kikī-miyitin kinosēw“I gave you (a) fish”
kikī-miyitin wiyās“I gave you meat”
kikī-miyitin maskisina“I gave you moccasins”

This discussion illustrates the importance of animacy in determining the main types of Verbs in Plains Cree. When there is only one participant (i.e. intransitive verbs), that sole participant can be inanimate or animate, while transitive verbs are divided by the animacy of the goal.

Word ClassAnimacy of
First Participant
Transitivity
of Verb
Animacy of
Second Participant
Verb Class
VerbInanimateIntransitive— VII
VerbAnimateIntransitive— VAI
VerbAnimateTransitiveInanimateVTI
VerbAnimateTransitiveAnimateVTA

This verb stem classification system will be emphasized again and again. It is apparent in the form of the verb stems themselves, but also in the patterns of person-marking representing the participants involved, which will be discussed in the next section.