All Cree verbs must be marked for agreement with the Person and Number of the one or two most important Participants of the state or action referred to by the verb, resulting in full Person and Number Paradigms. Each of the four verb classes has a particular pattern of person and number (or participant) marking.

As introduced under Nouns, participants are typically divided into three main Person divisions:

1      first person         =   speaker (person speaking)

2      second person    =   addressee (person being spoken to)

3      third person        =   person being spoken about

Furthermore, the category of Person can usually be further divided by Number (i.e. singular versus plural):

1s    first person singular          =        speaker (person speaking)

1p    first person plural              =        speaker(s) (person speaking and others)

2s    second person singular     =        addressee (person being spoken to)

2p    second person plural         =        addressees (people being spoken to)

3s    third person singular         =        person being spoken about

3p    third person plural             =        people being spoken about

The Cree language allows for some further divisions of person and number resulting in the full range of possible participant-marking on Cree verbs. In addition to the description that follows, you can also review the description of Person and Number marking on Nouns).

First, Cree marks an important distinction among first and second person plural participants that English lacks. In English, the first person plural “we, us” is ambiguous since it can include or exclude the addressee. In Cree, however, there is an important division between the first person plural exclusive (1p) “we, but not you”, versus the first (and second) person plural inclusive (21) “we including you”.

Second, it is possible to differentiate animate and inanimate participants. Animate participants can occur in the full range of participants already mentioned, while Inanimate participants can only be third person referents. In order to differentiate animate and inanimate participants, we use the abbreviation 0 to indicate inanimate third person referents. Thus, inanimate singular third person participants are 0s, inanimate plural third person participants are 0p, animate third singular person participants are 3s, and animate plural third person participants are 3p.

Third, there is a further important distinction made among third person referents in Cree. This distinction can be made among both animate and inanimate participants, though it is most important in distinguishing animate participants. When any discourse refers to two or more third person participants, only one can be recognized as more topical or salient within that discourse. This more important or topical participant is left unmarked as the “proximate” third person and proximate animate third persons take the usual third person abbreviations (i.e. 3s and 3p). In contrast, less topical or salient third person participants are marked as “obviative”. Obviative animate participants have often been abbreviated as 3’, but are also referred to as fourth person participants (4), as is done throughout this grammatical description. In Cree, animate obviative participants are not differented for number, so the simple abbreviation 4 is sufficient. Inanimate third person participants can also be differentiated between proximate (0s and 0p) and obviative (0’s and 0’p) participants

Finally, some paradigms allow for the indication of an “Unspecified” participant which will be discussed subsequently in an appropriate section. The abbreviation for an unspecified participant is X.

This gives us the full complement of Cree participants:

1s    first person singular                                   =   speaker (person speaking)

1p    first person plural exclusive                       =   speaker(s) (person speaking and others, but not the addressee)

21    first (and second) person plural inclusive  =   speaker and addressee(s) (and others)

2s    second person singular                              =   addressee (person being spoken to)

2p    second person plural (exclusive)                =   addressees (people being spoken to, but not the speaker(s))

3s    animate third person proximate singular    =   most topical person being spoken about

3p    animate third person proximate plural        =   most topical people being spoken about

4      animate fourth person OR third person obviative      =        less topical person/people being spoken about

0s    inanimate third person proximate singular =   inanimate referent being spoken about

0p    inanimate third person proximate plural     =   inanimate referent being spoken about

0’s   inanimate third person obviative singular  =   less topical inanimate referent being spoken about

0’p   inanimate third person obviative plural      =   less topical inanimate referent being spoken about

X     unspecified participant                               =   participant left unspecified

Verbs of each class (i.e. VII, VAI, VTI, VTA) will be marked by a subset of one or more of these participants, as is described in the appropriate section for each verb class.

VII stems can at most be marked for inanimate third person (proximate and obviative) partipants. Some VII stems are impersonal and cannot be marked for plural participants (i.e. only 0s and 0’s), while others can be marked for both singular and plural participants (i.e. 0s, 0p, 0’s, and 0’p).

VAI stems take a single animate participant, and so can be marked for the full range of possible animate persons: 1s, 2s, 1p, 21, 2p, 3s, 3p, 4, X).

VTI stems take the same full range of animate participants to mark the actor (subject) of the verb (i.e. 1s, 2s, 1p, 21, 2p, 3s, 3p, 4). The goal (object) of a VTI stem is understood to be an inanimate third person participant, but there is no marking on the verb to differentiate inanimate singular (0s), plural (0p) or obviative (0’s, 0’p) participants, even when context might make it clear which is intended.

VTA stems are the most complex and can take the full range of animate participants (i.e. 1s, 2s, 1p, 21, 2p, 3s, 3p, 4) in both the roles of actor and goal, meaning that combinations of person (e.g. 1s-2s, 21-3p, 3s-4, etc.) are possible, as will be described in more detail in the appropriate section.

The way that the various participants are marked subdivides verbal paradigms into several distinct patterns, the largest of which have been referred to as Orders, which will be described next.