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Tïjonïk 32 Ketikon ri achijab’ (The men plant)
Antipassive I


In K’iche’ when we want to topicalize the agents of transitive verbs, we use a special construction called the antipassive. It is called antipassive because it is arguably the opposite of a passive construction. As you know, in passive constructions the verbal object is topicalized and the agent demoted. In contrast, in antipassive constructions objects are demoted and agents topicalized. Antipassive verbs are intransitive and agents are marked with set B markers. There are two antipassive constructions in K’iche’:

  • Absolutive antipassive (aka AP I)
  • Focus antipassive (or agent focus construction) (aka AP II).

The absolutive antipassive (AP I) focuses on the action and demotes the object, which is often presupposed. It may be introduced as an oblique prepositional phrase headed by ch(i)-E-e(ch).

The agent focus antipassive (AP II) foregrounds verbal agents (A) (see unit 33).


Listen to the following phrases:

Sib’alaj kaq’ilon le pare pa le tyox.
The priest admonishes a lot at church.

Rajawaxik katloq’on chikech ri awajil atz’aqat.
It is necessary that you love your neighbors.

Katajin katzib’an le al Mari’y.
Mariy is writing.

 Waral kak’ayin wi le al Xe’p.
Here is where Xe’p shops (goes shopping).

 Na kakayen ta le me’s, xew le tz’i’ kakayenik.
The cat doesn’t bite. Only the dog bites.

Kachakun le numam pa le abix.
My grandpa works at the milpa. 

Kach’ajan le ak’al pa le tuj.
The child washes (him/herself) in the temazcal.


The absolutive antipassive (AP I) focuses on the action and demotes the object, which is often presupposed. It may be introduced as an oblique prepositional phrase headed by ch(i)-E-e(ch).
As we said earlier, antipassive forms are intransitive, so Set B pronominal markers mark subject agreement. They also take the suffix –ik in phrase-final position.


Kakitik ixim ri achijab’.
The men plant corn.


Ketikon ri achijab’.
The men are planting/the men plant.


They are planting/they plant.

Example 1 shows the usual active construction in which agents are marked with set A pronouns and objects with set B pronouns. In contrast, in the antipassive constructions in Ex. 2 and 3, the 3rd person plural agents are marked with the Set B pronoun –e-.

Objects in the absolutive antipassive  construction
In the absolutive antipassive an object cannot be expressed directly. It needs to be introduced by the relational noun ch-e (ch-ech) forming what linguists call “an oblique object”.


Kinuloq’oj le nutat.
My father loves me.


Kaloq’on le nutat chwe.
My father loves me.

Semantically, both the active construction in Ex. 4 and the antipassive construction in Ex. 5 are the same. The difference concerns pragmatic focus, which in English is often expressed through a raising tone on the focused element. Ex. 4 does not just convey the feelings of love the speaker bears towards his/her father but rather clarifies that it is indeed love and not some other affect presupposed by the interlocutors. Oftentimes the object is unnecessary as it is clear from the context. Nevertheless, as we said earlier, if needed it is an oblique object introduced by ch -E, as can be seen in example 5.

Transitive phrasal verbs that appear with a direct object as part of the verbal phrase, lose this object when in antipassive I:


Kinbisoj uwach le e wal.
I miss/am sad about my children


Kinbison che le e wal.
I miss/am sad about my children

Morphology of the absolutive antipassive (Antipassive I)
The antipassive verbal stem takes the suffix –(V)n(ik)


Derived transitives (non-CVC) drop the –j of the active voice and substitute it with –n,


Kinq’ojomaj le q’ojom.
I play the marimba (active).


I play (in the sense of: music) (antipassive). 

Root transitives (CVC) add the suffix – (V)n. The vowel is determined according to the following rules:

Rule Example
if root vowel is u then –un  k’ut     >  -k’utun(ik)
if root vowel is a then –an tz’aj    >  -tz’ajan(ik)
otherwise, -on tij        >  -tijon(ik)
transitive verbs ending in glottal () add –n.  su’      >  -kinsu’n(ik)



Irregular forms:

Active Antipassive I Gloss
to’ -tob’an(ik) to help
t’is -t’iso’man(ik) to sew
loq’ -loq’oman(ik) to buy

Transitive verbs not used in the absolutive antipassive (API) voice:
The following verbs generally do not occur in the absolutive antipassive.

Verb Root Gloss *Ungrammatical
aj to want *kinajanik
b’an to do *kinb’ananik
ya’ to give *kinya’nik
k’is to finish  *kink’isinik

Antipassive of  the verbs tij  “eat”  and tijoj “teach”
The antipassive “tijon(ik)”  from tij  “eat” idiomatically means  “eat human flesh” (like animal would do). It is not a regular antipassive form of  “eat”. The verb –wa-ik has replaced it. Tijon(ik) can also be the antipassive from of “teaching”.


Uses of the absolutive antipassive: 

Object demotion:  The object is obvious, unimportant or presupposed.


t’is                                                        to sew

Kut’is ri pantalon. S/he is sewing pants.


S/he is sewing.


To dissolve disambiguity in honorific address):  Transitive clauses with first person singular (in) and second person formal (la/alaq; singular or plural) are ambiguous.  The absolutive antipassive may be used to clarify which person is the subject and which is the object.


Kintzukuj la.
I look for you (formal) or You (formal) look for me


Kintzukun che la.
I look for you (antipassive).


Katzukun la chwe.
You look for me (antipassive).


Kinto’ la.
I help you or You help me (active)


Kintob’an chech la
I help you (antipassive).


Katob’an la chwe.
You help me (antipassive).


Xinkunaj alaq. I cured y’all or Y’all cured me (active).


Xinkunan chech alaq.
I cured y’all (antipassive).


Xkunan alaq chwe.
Y’all cured me (antipassive).


In some dialects, sentences with a third person plural subject and a formal second person object are ungrammatical. In this case, the antipassive ( passive works as well) is typically used as an alternative.


*Kuloq’oj la.
He loves you (formal)


kaloq’on che la.
He loves (to) you (formal) (antipassive).


Kaloq’ox la rumal.
You (formal) are loved by him (passive).



*Kakito’ la.
They help you.


Ketob’an chech la.
They help you (formal) (antipassive)


Some transitive verbs have intransitive counterparts used with tacit objects

-tij(o) (vtr) to eat something -wa’(ik) (vit) to eat
-ch’ab’ej (vtr) to talk to somebody -ch’aw(ik) (vit) to talk
-oq’ej (vtr) to cry over someone -oq’(ik) (vit) to cry
-elaq’aj (vtr) to steal something -elaq’(ik) (vit) to rob
-il(o) (vtr) to see something -ka’y(ik) (vit)  to look

Antipassive forms presuppose their objects. They’re either clear from the previous context or a culturally appropriate default.

In some instances absolutive antipassives have become idiomatic expressions:

kinwesaj I take it out kinelesanik I take after someone
Tij to eat something tijon(ik) to eat people
K’am to receive, take k’aman(ik) to become used to something
Riq to find; to reach riqon(ik) to catch up, suffer
-Ch’aj to wash something ch’ajan(ik) to wash one’s self, colors run
-K’amowaj to be grateful k’amowan  acceptable
K’AK’A TAQ TZIJVocabulary
brin big bag; (costal)
lame’t bottle
xaq only, no more than, just
uchi ja door
we this one (demonstrative article)
q’aluj (vtr) to carry in one’s arms
b’ixaj (vtr) to sing
ajlaj (vtr) to count
maja not yet
tatab’ej (vtr) to listen to someone
b’isoj -wach (vtr) to be sad about someone
raqij (vtr) to break
wulij (vtr) to dismantle; take down
tz’apij (vtr) to close
paj (vtr) to weigh
etaj (vtr) to measure
sutij (vtr) to twirl; to turn around; to spin around
ch’ajan (vit) to wash oneself

Translate and write the corresponding antipassive form with oblique object:

  1. Xatinto’o
  2. Xujril le utiw.
  3. Xinloq’ le po’t.
  4. Xkisipaj jun kami’x chwe.
  5. Xinriq le ame’s.
  6. Xutij le wa ri ala.
  7. Xinaq’aluj.
  8. Xasu’ awoch.
  9. Xintz’ib’aj le wuj.
  10. Xatkisolij le achijab’.
  11. Xub’an jun po’t we wanab’.
  12. Xujto’ alaq.
  13. 13.Xatkiriq le ixoqib’.
  14. Xkikamisaj le utiw ri achijab’.
  15. 15. Xuk’ayij jun ak’ ri ixoq.