If I wanted to translate an imperative phrase: "Dad, eat quickly!" I can say

tenpo lili la mama o moku

However it seems a bit odd to me to put my vocative mama in the middle. It seems more natural to me that the vocative clause go towards the beginning of the phrase.

I might try

*mama o tenpo lili la moku

But I am not sure that this is right. It is my impression that o marks the verb, moku, in place of li rather than marking the noun, mama. And if the sentence were "Dad eats quickly", I'm quite sure

*mama li tenpo lili la moku

would not be grammatical.

Is there a common easily understood way to put the vocative noun at the front of the sentence? How do toki pona speakers usually structure imperative sentences with an adverbial phrase?

2 Answers 2


You're right that a 'la' phrase can't be inserted in the middle of a sentence: it always precedes a sentence, providing additional context (or a conditional). This is the only way I've seen used in the community. And by way of concurrence, from pu page 23, "[la] allows you to link two sentences, or link a fragment to a sentence."

There are a couple answers to your example that are idiomatic in common toki pona.

mama o moku kepeken tenpo lili.

Dad, please eat using little time [quickly].

kepeken can be used to describe usage of more abstract ideas and isn't just for physical objects.

o pali e sitelen sina kepeken nasin pona.

Complete this drawing using simple methods [simply].

The second answer is a bit more literal about "adverbial phrase," and comes in the form of a modification on moku. This usage is less idiomatic in spoken and written toki pona, but I do see this form from time to time.

mama o moku pi tenpo lili.

Dad, please eat quickly.

Just like content words can be used to modify a head noun, content words can also be used in the same way to modify a verb. Where 'moku' is 'eat', 'moku lili' can be 'eat only a bit of'.

In general, one of these two methods will suffice. It's sometimes also possible to incorporate into a 'la' phrase preceding the rest of the sentence, but it's not always straightforward for a reader to comprehend, because it can easily be misunderstood as a conditional instead of an addition to context.


(I'm not an active tp speaker, so this is not based on my experience of usage, but just from the official book)

You could split it into two sentences (as suggested in lesson 17 of TLoG):

mama o pali e ni: tenpo lili la sina moku

"Dad, do this: eat quickly"

This has the advantage of having the addressee at the front, and it keeps the overall structure simple, which after all is a guiding principle of toki pona.

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