Let’s make a language – Part 8b: Pronouns (Conlangs)

We’ve gotten away with neglecting pronouns in our budding conlangs of Isian and Ardari so far, but now the time has come to fill the gap. Now, we’ll give both of them a nice set of pronouns to use, checking off all the boxes from the last theory post.


Isian will have a fair amount of complexity in its pronominal system, and it will contain more than one irregularity. In that sense, we’re making it much like the languages common in the West.

If you’ll recall, Isian doesn’t use case on its nouns, much like English. But we will have personal pronouns that change depending on their role in a sentence. Specifically, Isian has, for most of them, a subject, object, and possessive form. Here’s the full list:

Pronouns Subject Object Possessive
1st Singular em men mi
1st Plural mit mida mich
2nd Person so tas ti
3rd M. Sing. i im ey
3rd F. Sing. sha shim shi
3rd M. Pl. is sim si
3rd F. Pl. shas sham shay

In the third person, there are separate pronouns for masculine and feminine; unlike English, the plural also changes for gender. (Masculine is the default in “formal” Isian, but we’ll see a way to change that in a moment.)

We can use the subject and object pronouns in sentences anywhere a noun would go: sha fusas men “she kissed me”; em hame tas “I love you”. The possessive pronouns, however, function more like articles, and they always go at the beginning of a noun phrase: mi doyan “my brother”; ey wa talar “their big house”.

We also have a “generic” third-person pronoun, which doesn’t change for case. In the singular, it’s ed, while the plural form is des. This can be used like the English generic “you” or “one”: ed las an yoweni “you can’t enter”. In informal speech, we can also use these as genderless personal pronouns, more like English singular “they”: ed an daliga e talar “they don’t live in the house”.

Finally, we have the reflexive or intensive pronoun lan. This covers the functions of all of English’s “-self” pronouns all by, well, itself: e sam sipes lan “the man cut himself”; e esher hishis lan “the girls washed themselves”; em ocata lan “I asked myself”.

Beyond the personal pronouns, we have a couple more classes. We’ll start with Isian’s demonstratives, which come in distinct singular and plural forms. For near things, we have the singular ne and plural nes. Far things are denoted by to and tos. These four words are close in meaning and scope to English “this”, “these”, “that”, and “those”, respectively, and they can be used in much the same way, either as independent pronouns or like adjectives: nes “these”, nes jedi “these boys”.

Next are the interrogatives, or question words. Isian has two of these. For people, we use con, while things take cal. All the other possible questions (where, when, etc.) can be made from compounds or phrases based on one of these, which we’ll see in a later post, when we look at forming questions.

More relevant to today’s subject are the indefinite pronouns, which are derived from the question words. We have four pairs of these, each of them created by means of a prefix:

  • je- “some”: jecon “someone”, jecal “something”.
  • es- “any”: escon “anyone”, escal “anything”.
  • licha- “every”: lichacon “everybody”, lichacal “everything”.
  • ano- “none”: anocon “nobody” or “no one”; anocal “nothing”.

Finally, “standard” Isian (assuming a culture that has such a thing) doesn’t normally allow pronoun omission, or pro-drop. We’ve been using it so far, but that’s because we didn’t have any pronouns up to this point. Our hypothetical speakers of Isian would find it a little informal, though.


Ardari has quite a few more pronouns than Isian, but the idea is still the same. First, let’s take a look at the personal pronouns:

Pronouns Subject Object Possessive
1st Singular my myne mynin
1st Excl. Plural nyr nyran nyri
1st Incl. Plural sinyr sinran sinri
2nd Informal sy syne synin
2nd Form. Sing. tro trone tronin
2nd Form. Pl. trowar trone tronin
3rd Masc. Sing. a anön ani
3rd Masc. Pl. ajo ajon oj
3rd Fem. Sing. ti tise tini
3rd Fem. Pl. tir ti tisin
3rd Neuter Sing. ys yse ysin
3rd Neuter Pl. ysar ysar ysoj
Impersonal mantö manetö manintö

That looks like a lot, but it’s really not too much. It’s the different distinctions that Ardari makes that can be hard to understand. The cases are largely the same as they were in the simpler conlang. It’s the left-hand column where the complexity lies.

For the first person, the singular should be obvious. But we have two plurals, labeled “exclusive” and “inclusive”. Which one to use is determined by whether you want to include the listener in the action. If you do, you use the inclusive; otherwise, you need the exclusive.

The second person again has a distinction unfamiliar to speakers of English, but this one shows up in plenty of other languages. The informal is used, surprisingly enough, in informal situations, such as among friends, and it works for singular and plural. The formal is for people you don’t know as well, when you need to show deference, or similar situations. It does change for the plural, but only if it’s the subject.

The third person shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Remember that Ardari has masculine, feminine, and neuter. Here, we can use the neuter for the case of the unknown or of mixed gender; it doesn’t carry the same connotations of inhumanity as English “it”.

The impersonal form can be used for generic instances and cases where you’re not sure which person is right; it’s transparently derived from man “one”, with the definite article attached.

Reflexive pronouns can be made by adding the regular suffix -das to any object pronoun: mynedas “myself”; anöndas “himself”. Attach it to a subject pronoun, and you get an intensive meaning: mydas “I myself”.

And then we have a special, irregular pronoun lataj. This one roughly means “each other”, and it’s used anywhere you’d need a “reciprocal” meaning: ysar lataj salmedi “they love each other”.

Finally, to add flavor and that hint of verisimilitude, Ardari has vocative forms of a few pronouns. These are: second-person formal troda and plural trodavar; third-person masculine anaj and aja; third-person feminine tija (singular and plural); and third-person neuter singular ys.

Of course, few of these are really needed in Ardari, because the language employs pro-drop liberally, thanks to the concord marking on verbs. If you can get away without a subject or even object pronoun, our hypothetical Ardari speakers would, except in the most formal situations.

For demonstratives, we have a threefold division. The table below shows the “determiner” form; separate pronouns can be made by adding the suffix -man. (Literally, zaman translates to “this one”, and so on for the rest.)

Near Middle Far
Masc. Sing. za pro gyon
Fem. Sing. zi pri gyen
Neut. Sing. zall prall alyör
Plural zej prej ejn

“Near” is those things near or known only by the speaker, or something specifically referred to recently in conversation, so that both speaker and hearer know it. “Middle” is used for things closer to the listener, or something that is well-known to both parties but absent. The “Far” demonstratives are used for those things that are far away from both speaker and listener, are not known to the listener at all, or are speculative in some way.

A few examples of these, since there are so many, and they don’t fit the same pattern as English:

  • ablonyje zallman “listen to this”; uses the “near” form because the speaker knows it, but the listener doesn’t.

  • sinyr prallman virdondall “we’ll sell that one”; takes the middle form, indicating something nearby and known to both parties.

  • mynin tyeri ejnman majtasa “my daughter wants some of those”; the far form connotes something that neither the speaker nor the listener has.

After all that, the interrogatives are easy. In fact, they’re all derived from a single word, qom “what”. From this, we get qomban “who”, qomren “where”, qomlajch “when”, and qoman “which (one)”. These inflect like any other neuter noun, but they can’t take an article suffix.

Indefinite pronouns can be formed from these just like in Isian. (Call it linguistic borrowing or author laziness, the effect is the same.) We have four possibilities here: ta “some”, za- “every”, du- “no”, and manö- “any”. Making whatever you need is as simple as slapping these in front of an interrogative: taqomban “someone”, zaqom “everything”, and so on.

Pausing the game

After this post, the series is going on temporary hiatus. You’ll see why tomorrow, but I’ll be back with more conlanging action on December 4. In the meantime, have fun playing with Isian, Ardari, or your own language.

When I come back, we’ll work on prepositional phrases, relative clauses, and whatever else I can think of. Then, for the start of the new year, you’ll get to see the first significant writing in both languages.

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