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when and how to add -'a'

I have a question about when to use 'a'. As I understand things, we add 'a' when asking a question, and we add the 'a' to the element of the sentence that's being inquired about.

So, for example, "Do fish drink water?" is translated as bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey because the speaker is asking whether fish drink water, and not if the liquid that fish drink is water, or if the animals that drink water are fish.

Is that accurate? And if so, are there other uses for 'a'? I thought I'd run across a few exercises that used 'a' in a different contexts before moving over to the desktop version of Duolingo, but now I can't find any of them.

September 29, 2019



As Jeremy says, bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey is just the question form of bIQ lutlhutlh ghotI'mey. You suggest that the speaker is only asking about the drinking, not about the water or the fish, but this isn't correct. bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey Do fish drink water? could be asking whether it is drinking that fish do with water, or it could be asking whether it is water that fish drink, or whether it is fish that drink water.

bIQ luDab ghotI'mey. bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey?
Fish live in the water. Do fish drink water?
Asking whether what the fish do with the water is drink it.

'Iw lutlhutlhbe' ghotI'mey. bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey?
Fish don't drink blood. Do fish drink water?
Asking whether it's water that fish drink.

bIQ lutlhutlh Humanpu'. bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey?
Humans drink water. Do fish drink water?
Asking whether fish are among those that drink water.

You could focus on asking about the water or the fish by using the -'e' topic suffix:

bIQ'e' lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey Is it water that fish drink?
bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey'e' Is it fish that drink water?

You don't need to use the -'e' suffix; context will do the same job.


Thanks so much, this is very helpful and combined with Jeremy's point about -'a' attaching to verbs corrects more than one mistake I've been making all along.


Note that in the title of this thread you put -'e', but in your actual post you only ask about -'a'. I think that may actually be relevant to your question as you may also be confusing the two different suffixes when you say you remember seeing other uses.

There is a verb suffix -'a' which gets attached to the verb of a statement and turns that statement into a yes/no question. Thus the statement bIQ lutlhutlh ghotI'mey means, "Fish drink water," and bIQ lutlhutlh'a' ghotI'mey means, "Do fish drink water?" This suffix may not be put on any other part of the sentence other than the verb, so it cannot move to some other element that you want to ask about. This suffix also cannot be used with question words or with imperative prefixes. Don't think of the -'a' verb suffix as a question mark, it is not used on all questions, it is only used to turn a statement into a yes/no question.

There is also a noun suffix -'a' which indicates a more important type of that noun and a noun suffix -'e' which has a couple different ways it can be used, but should not be confused with the separate suffix -'a'. The main use of the -'e' suffix in this course is to mark an explicit subject when using a pronoun as the verb "to be".


Thanks so much, this is extremely helpful and clears up my confusion. You're right that I was thinking of the suffix -'a' as a question mark. And I don't remember, but I think you may be right that my thinking I'd seen it in other contexts was actually my confusing -'e' and -'a' again.

p.s. to avoid potentially confusing other learners I just fixed the title of the post, but thank you again for the distinction.


I think I found one source of my earlier confusion. Is vaS'a' meaning "Great Hall" an example of the suffix -'a' attaching to a noun to make it a grander, more important version? If so, I'm guessing that vaS would mean "hall" or "ballroom"?


Yes. That is all correct. We are hoping that learners will take vaS'a' as a complete word and not try to break it down into parts. But that is how it would break down into parts.

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