Print Friendly

Tïjonik 9 E k’i le aj k’ayib’ pa le k’ayb’al! (There are lots of merchants at the market!)
Plurals in K’iche’


In this lesson, we will learn about markings for the plural form, for when we are referring to multiple objects of people. Plural marking in K’iche’ is a bit complicated compared to English and Spanish plurals. It is required only for nouns and pronouns referencing human beings. With non-human, animate referents such as animals and plants, it’s optional and generally reserved for emphasis. It’s used rarely with inanimate objects.


On Thursdays and Sundays, the center of Nahualá is dominated by the market. Listen to Juan Manuel’s description of what you can find in Nahualá during market days:

Thursday market, Nahuala 8 Thursday market, Nahuala 10 Thursday market, Nahuala 1

Pa wa’ we jun wachb’al ri’ kojkowinik kaqilo le k’ayb’al chi’ pa Nawalja’. E k’i le ajk’ayib’:  E k’o le ajk’ay taq pix, e k’o le ajk’ay taq ichaj, e k’o le ajk’ay taq kaqa q’oq’, e k’o le ajk’ay taq  atz’yaq, e k’o le ajk’ay taq xajab’. Kaqilo chuqe’ cher e k’o ixoqib’, e k’o achijab’, e k’o ak’alab’, e k’o  k’ajolab’ cher are la’ e loq’omanelab’. Pa le k’ay’b’al e k’i le ajchakib’ ma k’i taq uwach le k’ayij. Aretaq katani’ le k’ayb’al, le ajchakib’ kakik’ol le kik’ay pa taq le nimaq taq ja wokotal chunaqaj le uk’ux tinamit. K’a te k’u ri’, le e tz’i’ kakimajij wa’katem pa le k’ayb’al che utzukuxik kiwa pa taq le k’olb’al mes. K’a te keb’ek aretaq kajosq’itaj le k’ayb’al.

Show/Hide English translation

In this photograph we can see the market in Nahualá. There are many merchants: There are tomato sellers. There are watermelon sellers. There are clothes sellers. There are shoe sellers. We can also see that the merchants are women, men, children and young people. At the market there are many workers because there are many kinds of sales. When the market is over, the workers put away their merchandise in big houses (storage) built near the center of town. After that, the dogs start walking around the market, looking for food in the trash. They don’t leave until they clean up the whole market.



Plural nouns are marked with the suffix –Vb’, where V = Vowel. If the last vowel of the noun is –i or –e, the plural suffix is –ab’:

1. In ajtij
 “I am a teacher”

Oj ajtijab’
 “We are teachers”

2.Are tijoxel “He/she is a student”

A’re’ etijoxelab’ “They are students”

Note that a’re “they” is the plural of are “he/she”. When appearing as predicates of third person subjects, plural nouns require an agreement proclitic e as in etijoxelab’ “students” in Ex. 2.

If the last vowel of the noun is –a, -o, -u, the plural suffix is –ib’:

3.At ixoq
 “You are a woman”.

Ix ixoqib’
 “You all are women”

4. At ajchak “You are a worker”

Ix a’jchakib’ “You all are workers”.

The third person plural agreement proclitic beginning in a vowel is a glottal stop inserted after the first vowel as in a’jchakib’ as in Ex. 4.

There are some exceptions to the vowel rule above. In almost of all of them, however, the meanings of the plural form are somewhat different from the singular:

5.k’ajol “Son of a man”

k’ajolab “Young men, male youth”

6.ak’al “Child”

ak’alab’ “Children”

7.ali’ “Girl, unmarried young woman”

altomab’ “Girls”

8. ala “Boy, unmarried young man”

alab’om “Boys”

9.achi “Man”

achijab’ “Men”

10.ati’t “Grandmother, female animal”

ati’tab’ “Female animals”

11.mama’ “Grandfather, male animal”

mama’ib’ “Male animals”



Adjectives do not have plural forms except the following (the plural suffix is -aq)’utin / ch’utiq “small”

13. nim / nimaq “big”

14.chom/ chomaq “fat”

15.pim / pimaq “thick”

When the adjective is acting as sentence predicate, number agreement is required: A glottal stop is inserted after the a in –aq. Compare Ex. 16 and Ex. 17 and 18 below.

16.Le nimaqa taq ja “The big houses”

17.Nima’q le ja “The houses are big”

18. Nima’q taq le ja “The houses are big”



Plural nouns are optionally marked with the proclitic taq. In addition to plurality taq also denotes distributive and/or diminutive qualities: it is distributive when it looks at “many” in terms of individual components, rather than as one set composed of a plurality of members; it is diminutive when it adds a sense of affection or deprecation to the expression. The latter are mirrored in Spanish, for example, by –ito/a as in mujercita and –ota mujerota (from Spa. mujer “woman”) respectively. In the proclitic taq plurality is inseparable from the distributive or diminutive qualities.

Syntactically, taq has two preferred collocations:

a) Between the article (le) and the noun: It conveys a diminutive quality in addition to plurality.

19.Kewar le taq imul “The (cute, little, lovable) rabbits are sleeping”

20.Kewar le imul “The rabbits are sleeping”

The noun imul “rabbit” in Ex. 20 is not overtly marked for plurality. As we will see in future lessons, in this case number agreement on the verb marks the subject as plural.

21.Le nimaq taq ja “The big houses”

In Ex. 21 diminutive qualities are unlikely unless additional contextual information brings them to the fore. The context helps disambiguate the relevant semantics of taq.

b) In existential and stative sentences: When the predicate is a plural noun phrase taq replaces the article. In this case, the semantics of taq are exclusively plural. The reader should be aware that in K’iche’ predicates precede subjects unlike Spanish or English, for example, where sentential subjects generally precede predicates.

22.Saq taq le ja. “The houses are white”

In Ex. 22 the predicate saq “white” precedes the subject taq le ja “The houses”.

23.K’o taq ab’aj pa le b’e. “There are stones on the road”

24. Rax taq le kotz’i’j. “The flowers are green”

25. Ek’a’n taq le tz’i’. “The dogs are fierce”

When referencing animate nouns the agreement marker e before the predicate is preferred as in Ex. 25. It is less likely to occur with plants as in Ex. 24, which are typified as less animate than animals. Number agreement may be the sole plural marker in some cases, however, where plural marking on nouns is absent as in Ex. 26.

26.Ek’a’n le tz’i. “The dogs are fierce”

In Ex. 26 the proclitic e is the sole plural marker as the proclitic taq does not appear preceding the subject le tz’i’ “the dogs”.

27.U’tz le winaq. “The people are good”

In Ex. 27 the glotal stop agreement proclitic following the first vowel on the predicate utz is the sole plural marker as well.

28.Enima’q le altomab’ “The girls are big”

In Ex. 28 both the predicate nima’q and the subject altomab’ bear plural markers. Nima’q in particular is triply marked: First, the plural suffix –aq, and second the plural proclitic e preceding nima’q as well as the glottal stop before the q in –aq (see above). Multiple plural marking is not uncommon in K’iche’.

29.A’re wa’ le ewal. “These here are my kids (spoken by a woman)”

The agreement proclitic e precedes wal “my kids”. Note the plural marking on the pronoun a’re “they”.

30. A’re wa’ le enuchikop “These here are my animals”.

31.Etijoxelab’ le a’chijab’ “The men are students”.

Note the agreement proclitics (e and glottal stop) on both plural nouns in the predicate etijoxelab’ and in the subject le a’chijab’.

32.A’jtijab’ le achijab’ “The men are teachers”.

In contrast to Ex. 31, the subject achijab’ does not show an agreement proclitic in Ex. 32.

33.E’laqomab’ taq le achijab’ “The men are thieves”.

34.Ek’o kajib’ uk’ajol le tat Wel “Don Manuel has four sons”

In existential sentences the agreement proclitic e optionally precedes the existential k’o as in Ex. 34. The cardinal number kajib’ “four” marks the subject as plural. Possessed nouns such as as uk’ajol “his children” are not pluralized even when referencing human beings.

35.Jawi ek’o wi le awal? “Where are your sons? (Addressed to a woman)”

Finally, there is an additional plural proclitic with a clearly negative, deprecatory connotation: staq, as in Ex. 36 below. Do not confuse with taq, which is distributive/diminutive (Ex. 37).

36.Kewar le staq imul “The stupid rabbits are sleeping”.

37.Kewar le taq imul “The cute/little rabbits are sleeping”

K’AK’A TAQ TZIJVocabulary
jun one
keb’ two
oxib’ three
kajib’ four
joob’ five
waqib’ six
wuqub’ seven
wajxakib’ eight
belejeb’ nine
lajuj ten
pix tomato
ichaj herbs
kaqaq’oq’ watermelon
prut banana
saqwach  potato
saqmol egg
kinaq bean

Transform the following sentences into plural. Then translate them into English:

  1. K’o le ajk’ay taq prut pa le k’ayb’al.
  2. Kab’in pa le b’e le tz’i’.
  3. K’o jun nimaja pa le ukux tinamit.
  4. Xinchaw ruk le ajk’ay taq atzyaq.
  5. La k’o le awuj? Je’, k’o nuwuj.
  6. Ajk’ay pix le wachi’il.
  7. Kimb’e pa nimatijob’al ruk le wachi’il.
  8. K’o jun achi pa le k’ayb’al.