o kama sona e toki pona!
Lesson 11: pi


pi essentially means "of"; see notes below
kalama sound, noise; to make noise, to play an instrument
kulupu group, community, society
nasin road, way, doctrine, method


Although pi basically means of, it's one of Toki Pona's more confusing words and probably the most misused. (I've read all sorts of weird errors that students have made while learning how to use pi. In a moment we'll look at a funny mistake that occurred when someone didn't use pi but should have.) Unfortunately, though, pi is a necessary evil. If you get frustrated, just relax, try your best, and know that you have my sympathy.

Remember from lesson 5 that tomo telo (literally, water room) means restroom. Also remember that nasa means crazy, silly, stupid, etc. With those words in mind, look at this sentence:
mi tawa tomo telo nasa. I went to the crazy restroom. (literally, I to room water crazy.)
You'll probably agree with me that this is a strange sentence. It makes me think of a creepy restroom with neon lights the floor and a strobe light in every stall. What the student was actually trying to say is that he'd gone to a bar. As you may recall, telo nasa alcohol. Therefore, a tomo with telo nasa would be a bar. However, you can't simply combine tomo and telo nasa together because it'll mean crazy restroom as you just studied. We use pi to get around this problem:
tomo pi telo nasa building of alcohol; a bar, pub, etc.
The problem is fixed. Yay!

As you see, pi separates a noun from another noun that has an adjective. If you like to think about things in a formulaic, patterned way, here's another way of thinking about it:
(noun 1) pi (noun 2) (an adjective that modifies noun 2 but NOT noun 1)
There must be an adjective to describe noun 2. If not, pi is not used at all, and you get this:
(noun 1) (noun 2)
If you're familiar with scheme notation (If not, just skip ahead to the next paragraph.), here's a layout of the example above:
crazy restroom = ((tomo telo) nasa)
bar = (tomo pi (telo nasa))

Hopefully I explained pi well enough that you can understand it. To further your understanding, more examples are below. Several of the examples include compound-noun combinations that you learned earlier in the course, mostly in lesson 5.
jan pi ma tomo person of the city, a city-dweller
kulupu pi toki pona group of Toki Pona, the Toki Pona community
nasin pi toki pona ways of Toki Pona, the ideology behind Toki Pona
jan lawa pi jan utala leader of soldiers, a commander or general
jan lawa pi tomo tawa kon leader of airplanes, i.e. a pilot
jan pi nasin sewi Kolisu person of Christian religion, i.e. a Christian
Recall: nasin sewi = religion
jan pi pona lukin person of visual goodness, i.e. an attractive person
jan pi ike lukin person of visual badness, i.e. an ugly person
If you don't understand these examples, especially the first five, you should go back and review earlier lessons or find someone who can help you.

Possessives with pi

You learned in lesson 5 that my house tomo mi. Likewise, your house tomo sina. However, to name a specific person who owns the house, you must use pi:
tomo pi jan Lisa house of Lisa, Lisa's house
Note that you can not say tomo Lisa, as that would mean something different. Here are more examples:
kili mi my fruit
kili pi jan Susan Susan's fruit
ma ona her country
ma pi jan Keli Keli's country
len jan somebody's clothes
len pi jan Lisa Lisa's clothes

You also use pi for plural possessive pronouns (e.g. our and their):
nimi pi mi mute our names
tomo pi ona mute their house
Without pi, these phrases simply would not make sense.

Opposites with pi and ala

With its small vocabulary, Toki Pona sometimes lacks the opposites of certain words. For example, there's a word for noise (kalama) but no word for silence. We have a word for strength (wawa) but not for weakness.

To get around this problem, use pi and ala to express the opposite of a word. An example:
jan wawa strong person
jan pi wawa ala "person of no strength, i.e. a weak person
You couldn't say jan wawa ala because that phrase would mean no strong people.

Common mistakes

One common mistake is using pi to mean about (as in the sentence, We talked about something.). Although pi is sometimes used this way, many people over-use it. Here is a common but incorrect way of using pi to mean about in a sentence, followed by the correct way:
Wrong: mi toki pi jan. I talked about people.
Right: mi toki jan. I talked about people.
about is simply implied by the sentence. Compare the above sentence with the next one, which correctly uses pi to mean about:
mi toki pi jan ike. I talked about bad people.
You can use pi here is because jan ike is its own individual concept, and it acts on toki as one thing. pi simply distinguishes the jan ike phrase.

Another common mistake is simply recklessly over-using pi. For example, we already know that jan lawa "leader," but some students carelessly say jan pi lawa. Similarly, countryman = jan ma, but some students will say jan pi ma. I don't understand why students make this error in their minds, but regardless, these phrases are wrong because the second noun does not have an adjective to modify it. Don't forget the formula:
(noun 1) pi (noun 2) (an adjective that modifies noun 2, but NOT noun 1)
The word immediately following pi must have another word that describes it.

A third mistake is using pi when you should have used tan instead:
Right: mi kama tan ma Mewika. I come from America.
Wrong: mi kama pi ma Mewika.

Another use

pi has one other use. I'm describing it in a separate section because it somewhat breaks the rules that you learned above. Consider the following sentences:
kili ni li pi mi. This fruit is mine.
tomo ni li pi jan Tami. That house is Tommy's.
Although it may look a little odd, a pi phrase can be used after li to tell who owns something. Here are some more examples if you need to look at them:
ilo ni li pi sina. This tool is yours.
ma ni li pi jan Tosi. This land is the Germans'.
toki ni li pi mi mute. This language is ours.


Since learning pi is hard enough already, we'll just look at one miscellaneous word in this lesson--kalama--and also cover one other use of nasin.


kalama means "sound" or "noise":
kalama ni li seme? What was that noise?

Combine kalama with musi to mean music or song.
kalama musi li pona tawa mi. I like music.
Just as jan precedes people's names, kalama musi precedes the names of specific songs:
kalama musi "Jingle Bells" li pona tawa mi. I like the song 'Jingle Bells.'
You can also use pi to discuss music by a certain group or artist:
kalama musi pi jan Elton John li nasa. The music of Elton John is odd.

Finally, kalama can be a verb:
mi kalama kepeken ilo. I make noise using an instrument.
o kalama ala! Don't make noise!

Using nasin to make "how"

Since we covered nasin in this lesson, let's look at another important way it's used. Look at this sentence:
sina pali e ni kepeken nasin seme? You made this using what method? How did you make this?
I think this usage is pretty straight-forward, so I won't provide other examples. Notice, though, that seme has been used for all the question words you've learned so far: In the previous lesson, you learned jan seme (who) and tan seme (why), and now you've learned kepeken nasin seme (how)


Try translating these sentences from English to Toki Pona.
Keli's child is funny.
I am a Toki Ponan.
He is a good musician.
The captain of the ship is eating.
Enya's music is good.
Which people of this group are important?
Our house is messed up.
How did she make that?

And now try changing these sentences from Toki Pona into English:
kili pi jan Linta li ike.
len pi jan Nina li jaki.
mi sona ala e nimi pi ona mute.
mi wile ala toki pi kalama musi.
mi wile toki meli.
sina pakala e ilo kepeken nasin seme?
jan Wasintan [Washington] li jan lawa pona pi ma Mewika.
wile pi jan ike li pakala e ijo.
to lesson 12 →