In toki pona, compounding multiple words together is possible. For example:

tomo: room/box/structure/home
telo: water/fluid
tomo telo: bathroom

It also allows compounding three words together:

tomo pi telo nasa: a bar
kiwen mun laso: blue moon rocks

This is where the official grammar stops, and the official stance is that larger statements are ungrammatical. However, I am wondering if it is common in practice for people to compound more than three words.

Suppose I wanted to say “the broken yellow dome hut.” The official grammar would have me say something in a full sentence:

tomo sike pakala li jelo.

However, despite the rules of grammar, do people ever say:

tomo sike pakala jelo.

Or include other compounds of many words with pi?

(Note: I am not asking whether this is grammatical according to official rules. I am asking whether colloquial toki pona permits this.)

  • 2
    Who says "toki pona" in lowercase is acceptable? Perhaps that's the convention when writing in Toki Pona itself, but in English it should be capitalised as any other language name is.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 14:26
  • 5
    @curiousdannii well... toki pona speakers, in practice, write it that way :-Ъ
    – kristan
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 7:27

5 Answers 5


In general, we don't want to make descriptions so long and complicated as to be difficult to follow. That is more important than exact word count, in my experience (as an admin of the "toki pona taso" group on Facebook). For example, if someone mentioned a "poki kala suli pi telo ala", I wouldn't find that at all strange as a description of an empty aquarium. However, if someone spoke of an "ilo sona lili pakala laso", I'd probably have to read it a few times to figure out what they're talking about (in this case I'm thinking of a dysfunctional blue laptop). So compounds with "pi" tend to have a bit more leeway because that groups the words together somewhat, making it easier to decipher. But shorter, simpler descriptions are generally preferred, and in practice this usually does turn out to be three words or less.


Yes, but when this happens, you have to consider two possibilities:

  1. This is really a content word followed by many, many modifiers
  2. A particle has been omitted.

For the toki pona parse I wrote, I have an arbitrary cut off of something like 5 modifiers.

telo kala seli jelo waso wawa kulupu soweli jan li suli.
The beasty, familial, powerful, bird-like, yellow, hot, fish water is big.

(that doesn't really mean anything, it just makes the parser blow up)


In the corpus of public texts, heads followed by 4 or more modifiers almost never legitimately happen, unless someone forgot a necessary particle.

That said, they are valid, e.g.

mi jo e soweli lili lili lili lili lili lili lili lili lili lili lili lili.
I have a small...small animal.

Some of the coffee circumlocutions are rather long like "telo wawa pimejo seli", but in practice you can find shorter ones sufficient in the context

There is even a Reddit about the question: Toki Pona coffee.


(I do think this would be more appropriate as a comment somewhere, but sigh)

As the others have pointed out, the primary reason for a rarity of noun phrases beyond three words is due to an increasing difficulty to understand the phrase with each added modifier, however it is my hypothesis at least that this may only truly apply to written communication as opposed to verbal.

Though I have little experience verbally communicating with toki pona (I can't find much anyone who wants to learn in my vicinity TT^TT), it isn't hard to imagine that the aid of body language, and vocalization, perhaps among other things, could make longer strings possible, without being too difficult to grasp.

The only thing beyond that is how reasonable the phrase is. I think in jan Masiju's example, whether using verbal or written communication, my brain would always break at "waso".


I don't know if it's "pu" (official) or not, but the whole point of toki pona is that it's very simple/minimalist so the idea is not to say any more than is absolutely necessary to describe something so I would think it would be discouraged. 'coffee' is generally translated as 'telo pimeja wawa'(dark water/liquid of strength/energy).

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