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Te taetae ni Kiribati

The language of Kiribati

Grammar Handbook


Lesson 5


Part 1

There are two basic types of questions in Kiribati, as in English. One, referred to as the 'yes-no' type, simply asks for the listener's perception, understanding or opinion of a given situation, and can basically be answered by 'yes' or 'no', although often other answers are equally appropriate, such as 'maybe', 'I don't know', 'absolutely', 'heck no!', etc.

The other type, called 'WH-questions' after the most common English question words, requests the hearer to supply missing information – the who, what, why, when or where of a given situation.

a. Yes-No Questions

In Kiribati, yes-no questions are formed by merely changing the sentence intonation from that of a statement, which ends generally in a falling pattern, to that of a question, which ends on a rising note. Although English changes word order for yes-no question formation, it employs a similar technique as well, so that a statement such as:

John's going to the store.

could be converted into a question by a simple change of intonation:

John's going to the store?

Similarly in Kiribati:

E nakon te titooa Tiaon.
he go to the store John
John's going to the store.

becomes a question:

E nakon te titooa Tiaon?
Is John going to the store?

b. Negative Questions

In response to a question phrased negatively, the English response is based on whether the answer to the question would be positive or negative:

Isn't he going to the store?
(He isn't going to the store?)
No, he isn't.
Yes, he is.

In Kiribati however, the response to a negative question is more of a comment on the truth of the question:

E aki nakon te titooa?
he not go to the store?
E eng. (E aki nako.)
it yes (he's not going to the store) = no

To respond positively to a negative question, it would be restated as a positive declaration:

E aki nakon te titooa?
E aki. E nakon te titooa.
it not. he go to the store. = yes

Thus the Kiribati responses to negative questions are often in effect the opposite of those expected by an English speaker. (Note: You will run into variation in the use of these responses. Be careful.)

c. Tag Questions

English also employs a construction referred to as a 'tag question', a statement followed by a little 'tag', asking for verification:

He's going to the store, isn't he

Kiribati sometimes employs a similar strategy by adding ke, 'or', to the end of a statement:

E nakon te titooa ke?
he go to the store or?

d. tiaki – no, not

Tiaki ('no, not') at the front of a sentence has about the same effect as ke at the end, meaning in effect, 'isn't it?', 'isn't it so?':

Tiaki te kaabenta ngkoe?
not a carpenter you
Aren't you a carpenter?
You're a carpenter, aren't you?

Tiaki e bon roko te kaibuke?
not it truly come the ship
The ship arrived, didn't it?


A. Form yes-no questions from the following statements:

 1.  E tikiraoi te aiine aarei.
she pretty the woman that
 2.  Ko ataa te kawai.
you know the way
 3.  E rangi ni boobuaka te kunnikai.
it very expensive the clothes
 4.  A na nako Betio n te bong aei.
they will go to Betio today
 5.  Iai te waanikiba n te Moanibong.
there is a plane on Monday
 6.  Iai aia kai n tekateka.
there is their chair
 7.  E raroa mai ikai.
it far from here
 8.  Ti matuu n te auti.
we sleep in the house
 9.  E a tia n roko te tia mm'akuri.
he already come the worker
10.  E tangira te koobe.
he wants coffee
11.  N na tuangga.
I will tell him
12.  A uota te boki nakoina.
they bring the book to him

B. Answer the following questions negatively:

 1.  E aki nakon te auti?
he not go to the house
 2.  A aki tiku ikai?
they not stay here
 3.  Ti na aki toka n te b'ati?
we will not take the bus
 4.  Ko aki roko mai Betio?
you not come from Betio
 5.  Kam aki karaoia?
you already not do it
 6.  E aki kabooa te raiti?
he not buy the rice
 7.  Ko na aki nako Bairiki?
you will not go to Bairiki

C. Now give positive responses to the above questions.

D. Form tag questions from the following statements:

 1.  E a boo teuana.
it's one o'clock
 2.  Ko a tia n nakon te bangke.
you already go to the bank
 3.  E aoria ngkana e buubura.
it do nothing if it big
 4.  A rabakau ni koroboki ni Kiribati.
they skilled in write of Kiribati.
 5.  E raoiroi te kaa anne.
it good the car that
 6.  Ko mm'akuri n te Kaabong.
you work Thursdays
 7.  Ti motirawa n te aoa uoua.
we rest at two o'clock
 8.  N na nako ningaabong.
I will go tomorrow
 9.  E kukurei ni mm'akuri n te aobiti.
he happy to work in the office
10.  Ko noora te taibora.
you see the table
11.  E a tia n nakon te kai ni b'ati.
he already go to the bus stop
12.  Bon te tia akawa ae e rabakau.
truly the fisherman who skilled

E. Form yes-no questions or tag questions from the following statements:

 1.  Bon te koowana ngaia.
Bon te governor   him
 2.  Ko nanokaawaki.
ko sad
 3.  A na baki taani mm'akuri.
A na be hungry
 4.  E tuai ni b'aka.
E not yet fall
 5.  I oroia.
I hit it
 6.  A noora te kaibuke naakekei.
A noora te kaibuke  those men
 7.  E a tia n anaia.
E a tia n take it
 8.  N na weteiia.
N na call them
 9.  E korea te reta nakoiu.
E write te reta    to me
10.  Ko a tia n am'arake.
Ko a tia n   eat
11.  E rangi ni bati te karau.
E rangi ni bati te    rain
12.  A mm'akuri n te tiitooa.
A work
13.  E tabetabe ngkai.
E  busy       now
14.  I riai n nako n te bong aei.
I  mustn nako n today
15.  Akea te kaeka.
nothing the answer
16.  Ko na kaitiaka te auti.
Ko na  clean
17.  E raoiroi riki aio.
E     better       this
18.  E rangi ni buubura.
E rangi ni   big
19.  E a roko te waa.
E a roko te   canoe
20.  A ibuobuoka kanaia.
A   share         their meal

Kiribati page

© 1979, 2003 Stephen Trussel, ACTION / Peace Corps, The Experiment in International Living. The Experiment in International Living, Inc., prepared this handbook for the U. S. Government under ACTION Contract number 78-043-1037. The reproduction of any part of this handbook other than for such purposes as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research, or other "fair use" is subject to the prior written permission of ACTION.