Umu verbs differ from English verbs in many ways. A major difference is how Umu treats ARGUMENTS.

English uses WORD ORDER (the man bites the dog vs. the dog bites the man) and CASE (I see him and he sees me) to differentiate the perpetrator of the action (AGENT) from the victim of the action (PATIENT). In English, perpetrators come before verbs and victims come after verbs—case is only marked on pronouns.

In Umu, there’s no CASE marking, and WORD ORDER signals DEFINITENESS. Because of this, Umu verbs work differently.

Patients & Agents

If a verb has only one argument, the argument is always the PATIENT. This applies to transitive verbs as well.

The AGENT always comes after the PATIENT.

Pre-Verbal & Post-Verbal Arguments

Umu has no articles (a/the). When an argument comes before the verb, it’s interpreted INDEFINITE. When after, DEFINITE.

The closer an argument is to the end of the sentence, the more topical/definite it is. Compare the examples below with those above.

Because me’u shark is both the AGENT and the TOPIC in this example, it’s interpreted DEFINITE (see: Topic Prominence).


English has grammatical SUBJECTS and OBJECTS. Subjects are necessary to form complete phrases, while objects are not.

English: Subjects are required. Objects are optional.

The girl eats (food).
*(The girl) Eats food.

You can’t say “eats food” in English without specifying who or what is doing the eating. Rather, English used the PASSIVE VOICE to shift the focus from SUBJECT  to OBJECT.

Food is eaten.

Umu, by contrast, has AGENTS (perpetrators) and PATIENTS (victims). Patients have more grammatical weight than agents, which means phrases must have a victim but needn’t have a perpetrator.

Umu: Patients are required. Agents are optional.


So how do you say “the girl eats” in Umu?

The simple answer is say the verb twice.

na ti
eat girl
(something) eats the girl or
the girl is eaten

na na ti
eat eat girl
the girl eats (something)

What’s going on?  As mentioned earlier, a lone argument is always the patient and, when there are two arguments, the agent comes last. Reduplication turns the “second” verb into the patient, promoting the original patient to agent.

This is possible because Umu lexical categories (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverb, etc.) are fluid. The word na means to eat, the act of eating, eatable, even eatably all at once.

*this last example should be glossed 'eat eat food'.

The second example above is not a viable utterance because food (as traditionally conceptualized in Umu) is not capable of eating other things.

Why then aren’t food and eat the same word? Similar to English, muji food is a nutritious substance that sustains life, while na eatables is anything capable of being bitten off, chewed, and swallowed. This isn’t the same thing.

Perhaps a better example is the word drink. In English, you can drink a drink, the same way you can eat food.