Link to enlarge K6042 (Las Bocas - Ceramic Vessel) THE FOUNDATION RESEARCH DEPARTMENT

A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language
by David & Alejandra Bolles


49.  The adjective in the Mayan language behaves like its counterpart in English; that is, it goes before the noun it modifies:

tumben na new house
malob hanal good food

50.  The following are common pairs of adjectives:

malob (not bad), utz (good) lob, kaz (bad)
hadzutz, cichpam (beautiful) kaz (ugly)
nohoch, nuc, nucuch (big) chan, chichan, mehen (little)
chouac (long) coom (short)
cooch (wide) nuuth (narrow, tight)
naach (far) nadz (near)
poloc (fat) bekech (thin),
dzoyan (very thin)
pim (thick) hay (thin; flat objects)
tumben (new) uchben (old, ancient)
lab (old, rotten)
yax (first, also "green") dzocil, xul (last)
al (heavy) zal (light)
cħuhuc (sweet) zudz (sour), kaah (bitter)
pah (sour from being old)

51.  The plural of adjectives can be formed by adding one of the following suffixes:


However the adjective usually remains singular in appearance when it directly precedes the plural noun which it modifies. When the adjective is for any reason put in some other position then it usually takes on its plural form:

le mehen cħicħobo   those little birds
Mehentacoob le cħicħobo   Those birds are little.

Note: for sentences which in English are of the variety "(subject) (verb "to be") (predicate adjective)" as in "Those birds are little." in Mayan the word order is generally "(predicate adjective) (subject)" with the verb "to be" being omitted. Other examples of this word order:

Hadzutztacoob a xanaboob.   "You shoes are beautiful."
Nuctac u yocoob.   "Their legs are tall."

In at least one instance the word changes for the plural. There are four words for "big": noh, nuc, nohoch, and nucuch. Of these, nucuch seems generally to be used with plural nouns.

le nohoch cħicħo   "that big bird"
le nucuch cħicħobo   "those big birds"

Notice that there are various adjectives which have the suffix -Vch. Some of these can appear without the suffix and other can not:

--- bekech thin
--- cilich holy
hah halach real, true
noh nohoch big
nuc nucuch big, old
--- ppelech exactly, just right
yaab yaabach much, many
--- zacach much, many, a lot


Zen bekech le zumo.   "That rope is very thin."

Hach yaabach dios botic tech.   "Thank you very much." (Literally: "God pays you very much."

Teche chen zacach than ca betic.   "All you do is talk a lot."


Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

52.  The comparative of an adjective is formed the same way it is in English with the Spanish word mas being the equivalent of "more" and ti equivalent to "than":

Mas nohoch a col ti intial.   "Your garden is bigger than mine."

U yatan Don Sil mas hadzutz ti u yatan Don Lau.   "Sil's wife is more beautiful than Lau's wife."

Alternative sentence structure:

Mas hadzutz u yatan Don Sil ti u yatan Don Lau.


53.  When the comparison is qualified in some way then sometimes just the qualifier is used in place of mas and the particle -il is suffixed to the adjective:

Humppit nuuthil u hol in cħeen ti atial.   "The mouth of my well is a little bit smaller than yours."


54.  The superlative is formed by preceding the adjective with u mas and affixing the suffix -il to the adjective:

Dza ten u mas nohochil.   "Give me the biggest."

Le x-cħupalo u mas x-cichpamil uaye.   "That girl is the most beautiful here."

Needless to say, the Spanish word mas is a relatively recent addition to the language. From the colonial dictionaries it seems that paynum is the word which mas has taken the place of.

paynum yokol tulacal   "more than everything"

paynum nohil yokol   "bigger than"

However from the limited quantity of use which paynum shows in the colonial texts it seems that the Mayan language got along most of the time without a word which is equivalent to "more". Even today it would be possible to say:

Dza ten u nohochil.   "Give me the biggest."

in which the construction u (adjective)il surrounds the adjective. This seems to be true not only of the superlative but also the comparative where the construction was probably u (adjective)il ti. While there are some examples of the superlative in colonial literature unfortunately we haven't come across any clear examples of the comparative:

Ti u yuchul hicħ cali tu nucil uinicoob.   "Then will happen the hanging of the oldest men."

u nucili ti maya uinicoob   "the oldest of the Mayan men"

ten u kazil u palaloob   "I the worst of his children"


Adjectives from Other Parts of Speech

55.  Adjectives can be formed from nouns, as noted in Section 25, by tacking a vowel which agrees with last vowel in the noun onto the noun and ending the word with -l ( (noun)-Vl ).

caan (sky) caanal (high, tall)
cab (earth) cabal (low, short)
chac (red) chacal (red)
hah (truth) hahal (true)
ek (black) ekel (black)
pet (circle) petel (round)
pib (roast) pibil (roasted)
xib (male) xibil (male)
boc (stench) bocol (stinking)
cħup (female) cħupul (female)
kuk (feather) kukul (feathered)

Examples of usage:

Hach chichan le cħupul kekeno.   "The female pig is very small."

u than hahal ku   "the word of the true god" (A frequent phrase used in the Books of Chilam Balam. Its equally frequent modern day version: u than hahal dios)

Zen utz tin than pibil nal.   "I really like roasted corn." (Literally: "Very good to my tongue roasted corn.")

Kukul Can   "Feathered snake", a Mayan deity still known today and called by its Nahuatl equivalent Quetzalcoatl by non-Mayan speakers.

It is not certain whether pibil is derived from the noun pib (roast) or the verb root pib (to roast) as shown in Section 56.

Some words, especially the colors, can be used without the -Vl suffix:

chac pol cħom   "red headed vulture"
chacal haaz   "red mamey"

zac nicte   "white Plumeria flower"
zacal Ix Chel   "white Ix Chel", a female Mayan deity which is represented today by virgin Mary.


56.  There are various suffixes which when appended to verb roots form adjectives.

-aan: The third form of the passive verb can be used as an adjectival participle. The third form suffix is -aan, and when used as an adjectival participle is somewhat equivalent to the English past participle suffix complex "-en" / "-ed" or in some cases to the present participle suffix "-ing". See Sections 83 and 91 for more detail on this suffix:

chil (to recline) chilaan (reclining)
lab (to rot) labaan (rotten)
lub (to fall) lubaan (fallen)
tak (to cook) kaz takaan (half cooked)

Examples of usage:

labaan che rotten tree
lubaan tunich fallen rock
kaz takaan uech half cooked armadillo

-bil: The passive suffix -bil is appended to the verb root to form what would be considered a participle in English. In the case where the verb root ends in -b only the suffix -il is added:

bok (to beat liquids) bokbil (beaten, blended)
cach (to break) cachbil (broken)
chac (to boil) chacbil (boiled)
hoch (to harvest) hochbil (harvested)
muc (to bury) mucbil (buried)
pib (to roast) pibil (roasted)
tzah (to fry) tzahbil (fried)

Examples of usage:

Hach ci tin chi pibil nal.   "I like roasted corn very much." (Literally: "Very delicious to my mouth roasted corn.")

Dza ten tzahbil he.   "Give me fried eggs."

See Section 91 on passive verbs for information on the suffixes -aan and -bil.

In Section 91 on passive verbs we will see the form "(verb root)bil" joined by a past tense indicator -ac to form some of the past perfect tenses.

Hantbilac in col.   "My garden was eaten."

-Vcnac / -lac: The suffixes -Vcnac / -lac are appended to the verb root to form what would be considered a participle in English. The vowel V in -Vcnac agrees with the vowel in the last syllable of the verb root. -Vcnac is the singular form and -lac is the plural.


ak (to moisten) akacnac, aklac (moist, greasy)
ay (to make juicy) ayacnac, aylac (juicy, sticky)
ban (to pile) banacnac, banlac (piled)
pot (to drill) potocnac, potlac (full of holes)
thon (to humiliate) thonocnac, thonlac (humiliated)
yap (to put on makeup) yapacnac, yaplac (groomed)
yib (to soak in) yibicnac, yiblac (soaked)
yip (to overflow) yipicnac, yiplac (overflowing)

Examples of usage:

akacnac luum   "moist earth"

Potocnac in cum.   "My pot is full of holes."

Yapacnac u pol cħuplal.   "The girl's hair is groomed."

-Vcbal: The suffix -Vcbal is appended to the verb root to form what would be considered a participle in English. The vowel V agrees with the vowel in the last syllable of the verb root. Unlike the adjectives derived by appending the previous suffixes, it seems that the adjectival participle resulting from the use of this suffix cannot be used directly tied to the noun it is modifying, but rather is used as part of a modifying participial phrase.

cah (to live) cahacbal (living)
chil (to recline) chilicbal (reclining)
nic (to pile) nicicbal (piled up)
noc (to turn over) nococbal (turned over)
thuch (to squat) thuchucbal (squatting)
ual (to stand) ualacbal (standing)
uak (to explode) uakacbal (exploding)

Examples of usage:

le mac, chilicbal tu kaano   "the man, laying in his hammock"

le buul, nicicbal te moyo   "the beans, piled up in the corner"


57.  Adjectives can be formed from other parts of speech by reduplicating the first consonant and vowel of that word and suffixing -ci onto the resulting word. The equivalent for -ci in English is "-able" or "-y".


cach (to break) cacachci (breakable)
kiix (thorn) kikiixci (thorny)
kux (to chew) kukuxci (chewy)
hol (to slip) hoholci (slippery)
mach (to grab) mamachci (grabable)
moch (to twist) momochci (twistable)
puz (to dust) pupuzci (powdery)
tak (to stick) tatakci (sticky)
toch (stiff) totochci (stiff)

These adjectives are usually not joined to the nouns they modify but rather are part of a predicate in a sentence which describes a noun. In the Mayan language in sentences with predicate adjectives the predicate normally comes first and is followed by the subject:

Hoholci le tunicho.   "That rock is slippery."

Kikiixci le cheo.   "That tree is thorny."

Some of the above particles, as well as several others, form adjectives by appending the suffix -ben:

kux (to chew) kuxben (chewy)
mach (to grab) machben (grabable)
ppiz (to measure) ppizben (measurable)
tumul (new) tumben (new)
uch (long ago) uchben (old, ancient)

These adjectives, unlike the ones just above, can be place either in front of or behind the word which they modify:

Talezeex tulacal baal tumben; puleex tulacal baal uchben.   "Bring all the new things; throw out all the old things."

Tene cin betic in col yokol le uchben muulobo.   "I make my garden on the ancient mounds."

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