Modalis Case: The Indefinite Object


The modalis case plays many roles in the Iñupiat language. This is one of them.

In your intransitive sentence, often times you will need what is called an indefinite object. But what is an indefinite object?

First, an object of a sentence is the noun that is receiving the action of the verb, such as the word ‘pancake’ in the following sentence. 

Marshall is eating a pancake.

An indefinite object refers to a non-specific object in an intransitive sentence. Take a look at the word ‘pancake’ in the following examples.

Marshall is eating a pancake. ‹—- indefinite

Marshall is eating the pancake ‹—- definite

An indefinite object, in Iñupiat, is always a part of an intransitive sentence rather than a transitive sentence. And an Iñupiat indefinite object takes the modalis case, which is a specific ending (similar to a postbase) ÷mik.

Marshall niġiruq siḷaavyaŋmik.

Remember that word order is flexible in Iñupiat. The word order depends on what you want to emphasize in your sentence.

Marshall siḷaavyaŋmik niġiruq.

Niġiruq siḷaavyaŋmik Marshall.

Niġiruq Marshall siḷaavyaŋmik.

Siḷaavyaŋmik niġiruq Marshall.

Siḷaavyaŋmik Marshall niġiruq.

Assimilation with ÷mik

If you need a refresher on assimilation, click here.

÷mik is the ending for the modalis case. This site is using the same assimilation symbols as the North Slope Iñupiaq Grammar. Remember that the ÷ means that “the postbase deletes stem-final weak q but not Q, k, or n.” Here are examples of assimilation for ÷mik, depending on the noun ending. For instance if a noun ends in:

vowel, n or ñ

Just add. For nouns ending in -n or -ñ, either add or convert -n to -ti and -ñ to -si and add.

qavlu                     qavlumik an eyebrow

puya                      puyamik a piece of dirt or grime

avillaitqan            avillaitqanmik or avillaitqatimik a friend

akiñ                       akiñmik or akisimik a pillow

weak consonant

Add, deleting weak q. Middle consonant may be geminated.

aġnaq                   aġnamik a woman

qaqasaŋŋuaq     qaqasaŋŋuamik a computer

qayaq                   qayamik or qayyamik a kayak

qimmIq                qimmimik a dog

strong consonant:

Add, retain the strong consonant and assimilate. For the purpose of this lesson, strong q’s will be marked as Q. 

uyaġak                  uyaġaŋmik a rock

kamik                    kamiŋmik a boot

AiviQ                     aiviġmik a walrus

Dual and Plural Nouns

Remember that all dual nouns end in -k. Remember that all k’s are strong. Strong I’s cause palatalization. When assimilating dual nouns with the modalis case, add ÷nik.

qaqasannuak       qaqasaŋŋuaŋnik (two) computers

uyaqqak                uyaqqaŋnik (two) rocks

aivvak                    aivvaŋnik (two) walruses

qimmIk                 qimmiŋñik (two) dogs

Remember that absolutive plurals end in either -t or -ch. For modalis plurals, add ÷nik to the singular form of the noun. Strong consonants are retained and assimilated.

qaqasaŋŋuaq         qaqsaŋŋuanik computers

uyaġak                     uyaġaŋnik rocks

aiviQ                        aiviġnik walruses

qimmIq                   qimmiñik dogs

Changing Sounds: Assimilation and Palatalization

I. Assimilation

Yes, if you’ve ever studied any part of the Indigenous histories of North America, the word ‘assimilation’ has an ugly flavor that just kinda lingers on the tongue when spoken. However, in the process of Iñupiaq language-learning, ‘assimilation’ refers to the way word stems, endings and postbases get adjusted so that they can work together to create meaning. It’s kinda like putting puzzle pieces together, if the ends of the puzzle pieces had to change in order to fit each other. Because Iñupiat words consist of many pieces with differing sounds, assimilation functions to make sounds more closely resemble each other in order to make pronunciation flow better.

In order to understand the assimilation process, we need to understand certain rules, which are explained below. Some of the terminology may be a little daunting, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s the concept that will help your learning that is the most important, not whether or not you remember what exactly a uvular consonant is.

Ki, let’s get started.

Rules and Factors

Impossible Clusters

First of all, it is important to know that there are some letter combinations that simply do not work. These are called impossible clusters. Just like Rory and Dean from Gilmore Girls, as good as these letters may look together, they will never end up with each other. The following are impossible clusters in Iñupiatun.

  1. Three or more consonants

Examples: mpl, qsrl

exceptions: ksr, tch

These combinations are exceptions because sr and ch are digraphs, which means that two letters are used to represent one sound. So, these two digraphs (two letters representing one sound) are essential one letter of the Iñupiat achagat.

2. Three or more vowels


3. Sounds from different rows on the consonant grid

Stopspt -----› chkq'
ł -----›ł̣s
Voiced Fricativesvl -----›r

For instance, because ł and ñ are in different rows, they will not be found next to each other in any Iñupiat word.

4. Velar and Uvular Sounds

kq, qk, gġ, ġg

The Weak and Strong Consonants

Iñupiat has certain letters that are considered ‘weak’ or ‘strong.’ Basically, weak consonants often get dropped from words during the assimilation process, while strong consonants often get assimilated to another sound.

q  and k

In Iñupiat, there are weak q’s and strong q’s. In the lessons on this site, strong q’s will be capitalized (Q) for easy identification. However, activities may not visually distinguish between strong and weak q’s.

In Iñupiat, all k’s are strong.

The Weak I

In Iñupiatun, the letter ‘I’ is classified as either ‘strong’ or ‘weak.’ This affects the letters that are around the ‘I.’ The first ‘i’ that we will talk about is the weak i.

There are two main changes that occur with the weak ‘i’

First, you will need to know that the weak i is always alone. You will never find it next to another vowel. Consonants, yes; vowels, no.

Weak i never plays with other vowels.

But, in the assimilation process, it is inevitable that weak i will be placed next to another vowel. So what happens?

The weak i has to change…

The weak i gets transformed to ‘a’ when placed next to another vowel.

When placed next to another vowel, weak i gets changed to ‘a.’

Examples: siñi (‘edge’) + 3rd person possessive -(ŋ)a = siñaa (‘its edge’)

Consonant Gemination

In some cases, the weak i causes consonants to geminate (to double). This happens with 2-syllable nouns. For instance, take a look at the way the following nouns are dualized.

kamik —› kammak

tupiq —-› tuppak

iri      —-› irrak

II. Palatalization

The palatalization refers to when a sound gets changed so that the sound is articulated against the palate (the roof of the mouth).

The Strong I

In Iñupiat, the major factor in palatalization is the Strong i. Remember, the letter ‘i’ is classified as either ‘strong’ or ‘weak.’ This affects the letters that are around the Strong ‘I.’

If the strong i is followed by any of these letters





then those letters get changed to

s or ch



Still confused? Here is a handy infographic

What is a postbase? Suna Akunniġun?

If you are working with North Slope Iñupiaq Grammar, this comes from section 3.8 on p. 49.

In Iñupiatun, a sentence is often a single word, whereas in English, a sentence is almost always made up of multiple words. They function similar to the way suffixes work in English. Multiple postbases can be added to either verb stems or nouns, which can often create super long sentences/words.

There is no limit to the number of postbases that can be added onto a word, however, rarely are there more than 5 postbases added to any word.

There are a number of rules for attaching postbases to a noun or verb.

Categories of Postbases:

  1. Noun to Noun (nn)

attached to nouns –› the final product remains a noun.

Example: Aquppiutaq +qpak = Aquppiutaqpak ‘big chair’

2. Noun to Verb (nv)

attached to nouns –› the final product is a verb stem.

Example: annuġaaq + -qaq- = annuġaaqaq- ‘to have a garment’

3. Verb to Verb (vv)

attached to verbs –› final product is a verb stem.

Example: Niġi- + +valliq- = Niġivalliq- ‘to probably eat’

4. Verb to Noun (vn)

attached to verbs –› final product is a noun.

Example: aglak- + -un = aglaun

Assimilation Symbols for Postbases

The North Slope Iñupiaq Grammar uses punctuation symbols to indicate how postbases are assimilated. This site will use the same symbols for consistency’s sake. Use the chart linked below for more information on how the symbols work.

Assimilation Symbols

Intransitive Verbs

Remember those dreaded grammar lessons from elementary school? Remember learning about verbs? If you can conjure up memories of those times without cringing or falling asleep then you’ll remember that a verb is an action word. It conveys the core meaning of the sentence.

In Iñupiat, there are two types of verbs: transitive and intransitive. An intransitive verb doesn’t carry action from one noun directly to another. For instance, in English we have the intransitive verbs ‘talk,’ ‘smile,’ ‘arrive,’ and ‘study.’

Laura is talking.

Max smiled.

The car arrived at the house.

The students are studying in the library.

These verbs do not carry/ transfer the action from the subject to anything else.

In an Iñupiat dictionary, you won’t likely find a verb in its complete form. You’ll find a verb stem. This is the base form of the verb, without any endings to make it a complete word. When speaking Iñupiatun, you cannot use a verb stem on its own. It needs an ending to make it a complete sentence. Below is the basic recipe for an intransitive sentence.

stem + ending = complete sentence.

You must take a verb in its stem form

Verb: SuraġaunEnglish Translation
uqaq-to talk
iglaŋa-to smile
tikit-to arrive
iḷisaq-to study

add the appropriate ending

Marker Number


In an earlier lesson, you learned about assimilation. Here is how assimilation works with verb stems and verb endings.

General Rule: If a verb stem ends in

Vowel: add an ending that begins with ‘r’. Ex. Iglaŋa- +ruq = Iglaŋaruq

Consonant: add an ending that begins with ‘t.’ Ex.  Uqaq- +tuq = Uqaqtuq

However, certain verb stems change the verb ending.

Verbs that end in ‘Ik’ or ‘Iq’ (remember that strong I), get an ending that starts with ‘s’. The ‘t’ changes to an ‘s’. Ex. SivunnIq- +tuq = SivunnIqsuq (‘He/she decided’)

and tara, there is your sentence!

Laura uqaqtuq

Max iglaŋaruaq.

Qamun tikitchuq iglumun.

Iḷisaqtuat iḷisaqtut makpiġaaqaġvik.



Below is the alphabet you will be using to write in Iñupiat. The easiest way to type these letters is to use the Iñupiat keyboard from Click here to download and install it onto your computer.


Iñupiat has 24 letters: 21 consonants and 3 vowels. This alphabet is called the achagat.

a, ch, g, ġ, h, i, k, l, ł, ḷ, ł̣, m, n, ñ, ŋ, p, q, r, s, sr, t, u, v, y

Check out this video for pronunciation assistance.

Not enough pronunciation assistance? Here’s another video!


In the Iñupiat dictionaries and grammar book that are available to you the consonants have been organized into a consonant grid.

Stopspt -----› chkq'
ł -----›ł̣s
Voiced Fricativesvl -----›r

For an explanation on the consonant grid, check out the podcast below

Module 1

Welcome to Module 1!

Whether you are an Iñupiat language teacher or a language learner, consider using this and the subsequent modules as a structure for teaching and learning.

In this unit, you will be covering the basics of Iñupiat words and you will begin to construct your own sentences. This is your first big step towards speaking Iñupiat! In these lessons, you be exposed to some linguistics terminology that may seem confusing at first. Do not be discouraged! This terminology is meant help you keep these grammatical concepts organized in your mind. If you are using The North Slope Iñupiaq Grammar, the terminology will also help you to work in tandem with this book.

Ki! Let’s get started! The following topics are covered in this Module.

1.1 Achagat: The Iñupiat Alphabet

1.2 Changing Sounds: Assimilation and Palatalization

1.3 Postbases

1.4 Intransitive Verbs