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

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


58.  Adverbs comprise a rather diverse group of modifying words and particles. In the chapter on nouns in Section 14 the use of some adverbial particles which are used as prepositions which determine the dative case was looked at. In the sections on demonstrative and interrogative words and clauses (Sections 39 through 47) there are instances where it is difficult to draw a distinction between what is a pronoun and what is an adverb, at least as far as function is concern, and since these words serve a similar function they were looked at together. At the beginning of these chapters on modifiers in Section 48 those adverbial particles which work as intensifiers and diminishers of the quality of adjectives and adverbs were noted.

The following list, which includes some of the above mentioned adverbs and adverbial particles, is divided into various adverbial types: negation, affirmation, uncertainty, repetition, totality, place, time, quality, quantity, and comparison.


59.  Negation:

Ma (no, not) is the base word for negation:

Ma in uohel.   "I don't know."

Ma zami manac huntul thel.   "Not long after passed by a rooster."

Ma. Ma in kati.   "No. I don't want to."

Often the negated sentence or phrase which begins with the word ma is terminated by the vowels -i or less commonly -e. This is called negation bracketing. There are examples of negation bracketing in the Mayan language from the earliest written documents. Generally speaking negation bracketing seems to have been optional; at least if there are discernible rules which govern this grammatical form we have not discovered them. In some areas such as amongst the Cruzoob in Quintana Roo the use of negation bracketing seems to be almost universal. However in northwestern Yucatan in many instances negation bracketing is optional and occurs with moderate frequency. Even in this region though there are cases negation bracketing is mandatory, but there are also cases where negation bracketing is not possible. In searching for a rule or set of rules which would aid the reader in deciding when negation bracketing is to be used we have been able to come up with only the following:

With the verb kat (to want) negation bracketing is mandatory as long as the verb is the last word in the sentence:

Ma u kati.    "He doesn't want to."

Mu kati.    contracted form.

However if the sentence includes an infinitive clause or any other clause which makes it so that the verb kat is not the last word in the sentence negation bracketing is not normally used:

Ma u kat bin meyah behlae.    "He doesn't want to go to work today."

As mentioned above, in most cases negation bracketing is optional:

Ma in uohel.    "I don't know."
Ma in uoheli.    formal form with negation bracketing.
Ma in uohli.     standard contraction with negation bracketing.

However if the sentence includes an infinitive clause or any other clause which makes it so that the verb is not the last word in the sentence the negation bracketing is not normally used:

Ma in uohel ua he in bin zamal.   "I don't know whether I will go tomorrow."

In some instances negation bracketing seems to be impossible, at least in northwestern Yucatan:

Ma tin naatic.    "I don't understand."

Ma tin bin.    "I won't go."

In neither case, in our judgement, can negation bracketing be used, although it may well be that amongst certain groups of speakers such as the Cruzoob even in these instances negation bracketing is used. Unfortunately it seems that we cannot come up with any blanket rule or set of rules which would aid the reader in knowing when to use the negation bracket. It seems that we would have to go through the verbs verb by verb, and in some instances tense by tense for a particular verb, and make a decision on whether negation bracketing is mandatory, optional, or not possible on a case by case basis.

Mix (not, neither) is sometimes used in place of ma. As mentioned in Section 46 mix appears to have evolved from ma ix, ix being among other things a conjunctive:

Mix in uohel.    "I don't know." or perhaps more precisely "I don't even know."

As mentioned in Section 45 mix is combined with interrogative words to form the construction equivalent to "no-" in English:

mixbaal nothing
mixbikin never
mixmac no one
mixtuux nowhere

The use of double negatives in the Mayan language is the rule:

Ma tin bin mixtuux.    "I am not going nowhere."

There are two special words which are used to intensify a negation:

matech certainly not
mataan of course not


60.  Affirmation:

The word "yes" per se does not exist in the Mayan language. The normal method of answering a question affirmatively is to repeat at least the basis of the question.

Q:  Yan ua bin Ho zamal?   "Do you (question) have to go to Mérida tomorrow?"
A:  Yan in bin.   "I have to go."

In some cases it is possible to answer a question or statement affirmatively without using the repetitious "yes" formula. The words most often used in this kind of answer are:

hah truly
malob not bad; used much like our "O.K."
hele certainly
huuum an affirmative humming noise


Q:  Tac a hanal?   "Do you want to eat?"
A:  Hah.   "Yes."

Q:  Ma ta betic beyo.   "Don't do it like that."
A:  Malob.   "O.K."

Q:  He ua a tazic ten le uaho zamal?   "Would (question) you bring me some tortillas tomorrow?"
A:  Hele.   "Certainly."


61.  Uncertainty:

These words express uncertainty as to whether the statement modified by them will happen. Some of these words will be used as lead-ins and some will be used at the end of the statements.


hinuilce possibly; from he in uilice (I will see).
mi maybe, I think
haylibe in any case, anyway


Hinuilce ua ma tin bin Ho cabe.   "I will see if I don't go to Mérida two days from now."

Mi ma tin bin.   "Maybe I won't go."

Haylibe bey cu thanoob.   "Anyway that's what they said."

Ending statements:

uale they say
ixtaco it seems

Both of these are combined with bey (thus, so) to form a phrase which is given as a noncommittal answer:

Bey uale. "So they say."
Bey ixtaco. "So it seems."


62.  Repetition:

The word ca ("again": one of ca's various meanings) is used with verbs to indicate the repetition of an act:

Yan in ca pakic in col.   "I have to plant my garden again."

Dzoc ua ca tale?   "Have you come again?"


63.  Totality:

The word la and the particle -lan- are used to indicate that all of the object of the verb's action is involved. La is placed before the verb it modifies and -lan- is placed in the middle of it.

Dzoc in la hantic le hanalo.   "I just ate all of that food."

Tan u xotlantic le cheo.   "He is cutting all of the trees."


64.  Place:

As noted in Section 14 in the chapter on nouns, there are, as in English, many adverbial particles or prepositions which determine the dative case for nouns. Some of these are:

ti to, at, from
ich, ichil in, inside of
yok, yokol on, on top of
yanal, yanil under, beneath

The clauses which result from the use of these prepositions are adverbial clauses.

Taz ten ha ichil le tumben cħoyo.   "Bring me water in the new bucket." The clause ichil le tumben cħoyo modifies the verb taz.

In Section 42 in the chapter on pronouns the words tela (here) and telo (there) along with adverbial clauses such as te caanalo (up there) were mentioned.

tela here
telo there
te caanalo up there
te cabalo down there

Examples of usage:

Dza le tumben cħoyo telo.   "Put the new bucket there." The word telo modifies the verb dza.

Dza le tumben cħoyo te caanalo.   "Put the new bucket up there." The clause te caanalo modifies the verb dza.

In addition to tela (here) there is the word uaye (here). While sometimes these words can be used interchangeably, usually only one or the the other can be used in any given setting. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to a set of rules which can stated about when to use which.

Coten uaye.    "Come here."
Dza tela.    "Put (it) here."

The particles uay (here) and te (there) are used as prepositions to adverbial clauses.

uay tu cahal Tuz Ik   "here in the town of Tuz Ik"

te tin uotoch   "there in my house"


65.  Time:

Some of the adverbs which modify time are part of the verb tenses as described in the chapter on verbs. Others can appear independently of the verb tenses.

Verb tense modifiers:

uch, uchi some time ago
uch caachi long ago
caachi a while ago


Uch manac uaye.   "He passed by here some time ago."

Minaan cah uaye uch caachi.   "There wasn't a town here long ago."

Independent time adverbs:

behlae now, today
beyora now, this hour
zam awhile, but within the day
ma zam not very long ago
zanzamal daily
dzoc u man kin in days gone by
ticħ always
calicil meanwhile
hunzutuc in a moment
taytac soon, nearly
cacate later

Examples of usage:

Zanzamal cu hokol.   "He/she/it comes out daily."

Taytac cun u kuchul le uaua.   "The bus is going to arrive soon."


66.  Quality:

chanbel slowly
zeb, zebaan quickly
han rapidly
tec immediately
chich hard
izticya with difficulty
malob well
kaz badly

Examples of usage:

Chanbeli cu tal le maco.   "That man is coming slowly."

Yan a chich pulic le tunicho.   "You have to throw that rock hard."

Izticya cu man le xunano.   "That woman walks with difficulty."


67.  Quantity:

yaab a lot
hunppit a little
chen only
tu ppiz just right


Chen hunppit tu bin tac c' kuchul ti Ho.   "Only a little to go until we arrive at Mérida."


68.  Comparison:

bey like, as
bix, hebix as, like


Yan a betic hebix tin ualic tech.   "You have to do it like I am telling you."

The words bey, bix, and hebix have other meanings. Bey, as will be noted in the following Section 69, also means "so" / "thus". Bix and hebix have been looked at in Section 45; bix being also an interrogative "how?" and he bix being "however".


Adverbs from Other Parts of Speech

69. Certain nouns, in particular those dealing with time, can be used adverbially.

behlae (today, now)
  Tuux ca bin behlae?   "Where are you going today?"

zamal (tomorrow)
  Yan in thancech zamal.   "I have to call you tomorrow."

Certain words serve both as adjectives and adverbs. Unlike English, in which an adverb is usually distinguishable from an adjective either by the addition of the suffix "-ly" to the adverbial form (e.g. bad - badly) or by a change in the word (e.g. good - well), in Mayan there is no distinguishing feature which sets an adverb off from an adjective. Whether the word is an adjective or an adverb is determined by context.


kaz (bad, badly)
  le can kaz ike   "those four bad winds"
  Kaz betabi.   "It was made badly."

malob (good, well)
  malob hanal   "good food"
  Malob hani.   "He/she/it ate well."

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

-aan: The third form of the passive verb can be used as an adverb. The third form suffix is -aan, and when used as an adverb is somewhat equivalent to the English suffix "-ly":

zeb (to be quick)        zebaan (quickly)

Example of usage:

Zebaan cu tal le chaco.   "The rain is coming quickly."

-bil: The passive suffix -bil is appended to the verb root to form an adverb. In the case where the verb root ends in -b just the -il is added:

alcab (to run)        alcabil (quickly, fast)

Examples of usage:

Alcabil cu tal le xibpalo.    "The boy is coming quickly."

Previous Page  |  Table of Contents  |  Next Page

Return to top of page