As mentioned in The Relationship Between Morphology and Syntax, morphology and syntax in Inuktitut do not have a distinctive borderline in between. I take the view that syntax exists in an Inuit word because this kind of polysynthetic "word" is similar to "sentence" in English. I shall divide this part of Syntax into the clausal level and morphemic level. The clausal level will investigate the three basic clausal structures in Inuktitut. The section for morphemes is about the usual order of different kinds of morphemes in an Inuit word.


Syntactic Structure - Clause

Inuktitut demonstrates three basic clausal structures: ergative, antipassive, and intransitive.


The ergative clause in contains a subject and a direct object which are reflected in verbal inflection. Typically in ergative languages, the absolutive case on the direct object and that on subjects of intransitive sentences, while the ergative case on the subject is unique to that position. This contrasts with an accusative case marking pattern in which subjects of both intransitive and transitive verbs reflect the same nominative case and the direct object in a transitive sentence is marked uniquely with accusative case.



Janni-up   iqaluk-Ø niri-janga

Johnny-ERG.SG fish-ABS.SG eat-PAR.3sS.3sO

Johnny is eating/ate (the) fish.


The antipassive clause below also contains both subject and direct object, but the object is demoted to an oblique, marked with modalis case, instead of being treated syntactically as a direct object. Only the subject is marked in verbal inflection, and an antipassive morpheme appears immediately following the verbal stem, though it is often null in Inuktitut.



Janni-Ø iqaluk-mik niri-Ø-juq

Johnny-ABS.SG fish-MOD.SG eat ANTP-PAR.3sS

Johnny is eating/ate (the) fish.


The intransitive clause in the following contains only a subject, which is marked in verbal inflection.


Jaani- Ø niri-juq

Johnny-ABS.SG eat-PAR.3sS

Johnny is eating/ate.


Syntactic Structure - Morphemic Positions

Morphemes are assigned positions in a word according to their nature and function. They can be categorized into different types of morphemes. The syntax will be explicated in the following with the word “Natsiviniqtulauqsimavilli?” which means “Have you ever eaten seal meat before?”


Syntax of an Inuit word:



lexical suffixes

grammatical suffixes

enclitic suffixes


(stem form)


-viniq-   tuq-   lauq-    sima-

-vi-       -t



(undergone phonological changes)


-viniq-   tu-    lauq-    sima-

-vi-        -l




meat    eat   before-   ever-

(interrogative)  you



The assembly of morphemes within the word incurs certain phonological changes which affect their basic form. In the example, the suffix “viniq” makes the final consonant of the stem “natsiq” drop, resulting in “natsiviniq”. Analogously, the suffix “lauq” makes the final consonant of the suffix “tuq” drop. The grammatical suffix “vi” does not change because it follows a morpheme ending with a vowel (“sima”). If the preceding morpheme ends with a consonant, the grammatical suffix “vi” would change to “pi”. Regarding the enclitic suffix, “li” assimilates the consonant of the preceding morpheme “t”. Hence “villi”.


It should be noted that only the stem and the grammatical suffixes are indispensable to the construction of an Inuit word. The other components are optional.



Stems are always in the initial position of a word. They can be classified into three subcategories in regard to their functions and meanings. They are generally disyllabic and end either in a vowel or one of the three consonants: /a/, /i/, /u/, /q/, /k/, /t/.

I.     To name beings or substances, such as “natsiq” (seal)

II.    To express a state or action, such as “taku” (see)

III.   To express a quality, such as “taki” (long)


Lexical suffixes

Lexical suffixes are optional elements in an Inuit word and are preceded by the stem. The semantic area covered by lexical suffixes is tremendously diverse. Linguists are still categorizing them. These suffixes can be equivalent to lexical groups in English, which are verbs, adverbs, nouns, and adjectives. The nature of the stem determines the types of lexical suffixes which can be appended to it. The followings illustrate some of the examples.



he does not eat


he wants to eat


he does not want to eat


he eats a little


he builds a house with him


Various suffixes show the tense and aspect of the event. Here are some examples. As mentioned before, phonological changes take place as morphemes accumulate to form a word. The grammatical suffix “puq” changes to “vuq” when its preceding morpheme ends with a vowel.


he is leaving


he left today


he will leave today


he left yesterday


he will leave tomorrow


he has just left


he will leave in a moment


he left recently


he left some time ago


he will leave one day



Grammatical Suffixes

Grammatical suffixes are obligatory in words. They are added to the lexical part of the word which can be composed of a stem or a stem with one or more lexical suffixes. Several types of grammatical suffixes are grouped according to the lexical nature of the morpheme, which may evoke being or substance, state or action, quality or property. The enormous complexity is enormous. The followings illustrate some examples.


Words evoking a being or substance

Grammatical suffixes indicate the number and the function of the morpheme in the word.





illu-ga "my house"  

-vuk "our (2 of us)"  

-vut "our (more than 2 of us)"

illu-it "your house"

-tik "your (2 of you)"  

-si "your (more than 2 of you)"

illu-nga "his/her house"  

-ngak "their"  

-ngat "their"



Enclitic Suffixes

Enclitic suffixes are the fewest in number among all categories of suffixes. They are placed to the last in an Inuit word and can be added to any kind of words. One or more optional enclitics may be affixed. Syntactically, they assist in expressing coordination (and or also), opposition (but, as for), and alternation (either, or). Below is an example.




He speaks (and)

to her father (and)

to his daughter