Case Marker: Ko

INTRODUCTION

Anyone who has read Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War” cover-to-cover definitely has an idea of how Sun Tzu wrote his ideas down, and although I believe he was not the greatest speaker of modern-day English, one can infer what he was trying to say through his wisdom. We however are not concerned here with what he had to say, mind you, but rather look at the specific ways on how the sentences above were constructed to indicate words belonging to something or someone, like how “The Art of War ” is Sun Tzu’s book, or how his wisdom is his to belong, and how he was not the greatest speaker of English.

In languages, it is often necessary to indicate possession or belonging; basically, tell that one element “B” is a part of or belongs to another element “A”. In English, this can be done by using various methods such as using “of”, apostrophe-s, or use possessive pronouns like his. In Nepali, we do so by using the genitive case marker को (ko) or its variants, and sometimes, its siblings रो (ro) and नो (no). 

VOCABULARY

पसल (pasal)Shop
समान (samān)Item
बिरालो (birālo)Cat
दाँत (dā~t)Tooth; Teeth
काठ (kāṭh)Wood
घडी (ghaḍī)Clock
छाला (chālā)1. Skin | (here) 2. Leather
जुत्ता (juttā)Shoe
कमिला (kamilā)Ant
ताँती (tā~tī)Line (specifically of ants or other insects)
पोखरा (pokharā)Pokhara, a city in Nepal
मान्छे (mānche)Person
खाट (khāṭ)Bed
रानी (rānī)Queen
फूल (phūl)Flower
मन (man)Heart (emotional)
आँखा (ā~khā)Eye
जिन्दगी (jindagī)Life
छाँया (chā~yā)Shadow
साथी (sāthī)Friend
सर्ट (sarṭ)Shirt
खल्ती (khaltī)Pocket
रङ (raṅ)Colour

GENITIVE MARKER 

The function of को (ko) is rather simple as a genitive marker. A genitive marker marks a word as modifying another word to indicate an attributive relationship. Basically, it shows that the word being marked possesses the word that follows it. Take for example:

John’s book
[possessor (+) apostrophe-s + possession]

In English, the possessor (John) is shown to possess something (book) which is shown by using an apostrophe-s. In Nepali, we do the same thing, but use the genitive marker को (ko) to imply the same thing:

जनको किताब (jan-ko kitāb)
= John's book
[John (+) ko-case marker+ book]

This works with pronouns as well, although not every pronoun will take up the same variant or remain in the same form:

तपाईँको नाम (tapāī~-ko nām)
= Your[hr] name
[you[hr] (+) ko-case marker+ name]

In essence, को (ko) is a relatively straightforward case marker, very similar to the apostrophe-s that English uses. However, we now get into the specifics to see how को (ko) exactly works, what its three forms are, and finally get to know its siblings रो (ro) and नो (no).

The ‘possessed‘ has to be a singular masc./neuter (zero gender) entity. For other types, see below.

Possession

The genitive marker can be used to show possession, such that an object “B” belongs to its owner “A”.

पसलको समान (pasal-ko samān)
= Shop’s item / (An) item of (a) shop
[shop (+) ko-case marker+ item]
बिरालोको दाँत (birālo-ko dā~t)
= Cat’s teeth | Teeth of (a) cat
[cat (+) ko-case marker+ tooth]

Although the noun दाँत (dā~t) is technically singular, the singular form is used to describe the plural concept of ‘teeth’ as well because Nepali does not mark plurals obligatorily. If you used the plural form here, it would implies a greater collective, which is not the case here.

The possessor is always placed ahead of the what is being possessed.

Composition

Ko can be used to show composition of an entity or an object.

काठको घडी (kāṭh-ko ghaḍī)
= Watch (made) of wood / Wooden watch
[wood (+) ko-case marker+ watch]
छालाको जुत्ता (chālā-ko juttā)
= Shoe (made) of leather Leather shoe
[leather (+) ko-case marker+ shoe]
कमिलाको ताँती (kamilā-ko tā~tī)
= (A) line of ant(s) 
[ant(s) (+) ko-case marker+ line]

Origin

Ko can be used to show the origin of an entity or an object. In English, you’d use the preposition from, but in Nepali you’d use the genitive marker if you are indicating a sense of belonging or origin:

पोखराको मान्छे (pokharā-ko mānche)
= Person from Pokhara [lit. Pokhara’s person]
[Pokhara (+) ko-case marker+ person]
अमेरिकाको केरा (amerikā-ko kerā)
= Banana from America [lit. America’s banana]
[America (+) ko-case marker+ banana]

If an object or entity is found within a place, or is located there, you would also use ko:

जङ्गलको हात्ती (jaṅgal-ko hāttī)
= Elephant in/of (the) jungle
[jungle (+) ko-case marker+ elephant]

Relative Position

The genitive marker is used also used to indicate the relative position of something, using qualifying postpositions (such as up, down etc.). This is again an extension of the genitive case as it shows a sense of belonging to that particular location. You can read more here.

खाटको तल (khāṭ-ko tala)
= Under (of the) bed
[bed (+) ko-case marker+ under]
लुगाको भित्र (lugā-ko bhitra)
= Inside (of the) cloth(es)
[cloth(es) (+) ko-case marker+ inside] 

 AND 

Now that we have established how को (ko) works, let’s look at its forms का () and की (). You see, many languages like to gender nouns into various gender categories so you can have a male apple, a neuter girl and a female door (ahem…German). Fortunately for us, modern Nepali does not do this, at least to that extent. In Nepali, gender is not assigned to non-animate objects at all, and only humans really do have an assigned gender. Since singular non-animates have no assigned gender, they take up the default form of the genitive marker, which is को (ko). So, singular objects, entitites or concepts like book, pen, water, thought, government, dog etc. all use this ending.

When it comes to gendered words like man and woman, the rule is simple: the zero gender (which is the combination of masculine and neuter) takes up the default version, which is को (ko). So, man, boy, actor, king etc. all use this ending.

On the other hand, the feminine gender takes up the form की (). So, woman, girl, actress, queen etc. all use this ending.

Finally, we have का () which is used when the word is plural. The gender does not matter, though you may often hear plural feminine words using the marker की () instead. So, women, men, queens, kings … etc. all would use this ending.

A quick reminder that it is the gender of the ‘possessed’ that affects the ending and not the possessor’s. The possessor’s gender or plurality does not matter.

रानीको फूल (rānī-ko phūl)
Queen’s flower | Flower of (the) queen
[queen (+) ko-case marker+ flower]

In the above sentence, flower is a neuter word, and despite “Queen” being a feminine word, it still takes on को (ko) because the marker depends on the word that follows the possessor. However, if you were to reverse this:

फूलकी रानी (phūl-kī rānī)
= Queen of (the) flower
[flower (+) -case marker+ queen]

The feminine ending is used as the word that follows the genitive marker is a feminine noun, thus demands a feminine ending. Likewise:

रानीहरूको फूल (rānī-harū-ko phūl)
Queens’ flower | Flower of (the) queens
[queens (+) ko-case marker+ flower]

In the above sentence, the possessors are plural, but the ending is को (ko) is used since phūl is singular (and neuter). However, if you switch this around:

फूलका रानीहरू (phūl-kā rānī-harū)
= Queens of (the) flower
[flower (+) kā-case marker+ queens]

The plural ending is used, as word that follows the genitive marker is a plural noun (despite being plural feminine noun). Plural endings are given priority over singular ones. Occasionally, you may hear की () being used. This is acceptable as well.

नेपालकी छोरी (nepāl-kī chorī)
= Nepal’s daughter | Daughter of Nepal
[Nepal (+) -case marker+ daughter]
घरकी आमा (ghar-kī āmā)
= Mother of (the) house 
[House (+) -case marker+ mother]

As a reminder, the masculine/neuter marker is used for masculine nouns:

नेपालको छोरो (nepāl-ko choro) [छोरा (chorā) is also an acceptable singular]
= Nepal’s son | Son of Nepal
[Nepal (+) ko-case marker+ son]

In case of plurals, the gender does not matter:

नेपालका छोराहरू (nepāl-kā chorā-harū)
Nepal’s sons | Sons of Nepal
[Nepal (+) kā-case marker+ sons]
नेपालका छोरीहरू (nepāl-kā chorī-harū)
Nepal’s daughters | Daughters of Nepal
[Nepal (+) kā-case marker+ daughters]

to denote respect

A quirk in Nepali is to use the plural ending with a singular subject to denote respect, so if you see a plural ending to a noun, it is most likely that it is done to denote respect:

जनका बुवा (jan-kā buwā)
= John's father [more respectful]
[John (+) kā-case marker+ father]

RO AND NO

रो (ro) and नो (noare sibling genitive markers that have share the same properties with को (ko) (e.g. showing possession, origin etc.) but are only used with certain pronouns. You have certainly encountered them before, so we will only briefly go over them. Basically, insteead of using <certain pronoun> + को (ko), like how we do it with words and other pronouns, we use a variant instead. When done so, the pronouns may have to be modified as well, in a process called obliquing. You can read more in The Oblique Form Of Pronouns.

Ro

The following four pronouns (and only these) take up रो (ro) as their genitive marker:

  • म (ma) | I
  • हामी (hāmī) | We
  • तँ (ta~) | You[lr]
  • तिमी (timī) | You[mr]

Here are some example statements below. Note that obliquing may be necessary.

मेरो किताब (mero kitāb)
My book
तिम्रो मन (timro man)
= Your[mr] heart
हाम्री रानी (hāmrī rānī)
Our queen
तेरा आँखाहरू (terā ā~khā-harū)
= Your[lr] eyes

No

Only the reflexive pronoun आफू (āphū) uses नो (no). You could very well say that no other words use it.

Note that आफू (āphū) and its emphatic form आफै (āphai) oblique as well.

आफ्नो छाँया (āphno chā~yā)
= (One’s) shadow
आफ्नी रानी (āphnī rānī)
= (One’s) queen
आफ्ना हातहरू (āphnā hāt-harū)
= (One’s) hands

The way we use reflexive pronouns in Nepali is a bit complex. You can read more here. A notable way is when a genitive case is followed by āphū in the genitive case, in which case it has the meaning of “X’s own Y”. For example:

मेरो आफ्नो जिन्दगी (mero āphno jindagī)
= My own life
जनको आफ्नै नाम (jan-ko āphnai nām)
= John's own[emp.] name

TABLE OF GENITIVE MARKERS

Note | r- and n- forms are only used with certain pronouns.

krn
Singular | Zeroको (ko)रो (ro)नो (no)
Singular | Fem.की ()री ()नी ()
Pluralका ()रा ()ना ()

ORDER OF PRECEDENCE

Since possessives can be stacked over each other, the order is roughly as follows: generic to specific, big to small. For example, in English:

My friend’s shirt’s pocket’s colour | The colour of the pocket of my friend's shirt

Note how it goes from general (my friend) to specific (colour). Similarly in Nepali, the same sentence above would be:

मेरो साथीको सर्टको खल्तीको रङ (mero sāthī-ko sarṭ-ko khaltī-ko raṅ)
[my + friend’s + shirt’s + pocket’s + colour]

SUMMARY

  • The function of को (ko) is to serve as a genitive case marker.
  • genitive marker marks a word as modifying another word to indicate an attributive relationship.
  • There are two other forms of को (ko): का (), की ().
  • का () is used with plurals while की () is used with feminine subjects.
  • The form used depends on the gender or plurality of the noun that follows the marked word.
  • रो (ro) and नो (noare identical to को (ko) but only appear with certain pronouns. 
  • The order of precedence is from general to specific, when there is a stack present.

EXERCISES

A. ORDER THE FOLLOWING WORDS SO THEY ARE LINKED TOGETHER WITH THE APPROPRIATE GENITIVE MARKER.

1. झ्याल (jhyāl), सिसा (sisā), घर (ghar) | Glass of (a) window of (the) house
2. रुख (rukh), नेपाल (nepāl), वन (van), फूल (phūl) | (The) flower of (a) tree in (a) forest from Nepal
3. ताल (tāl), पानी (pānī) | Lake’s water
4. नातिनी (nātinī), रानीहरू (rānī-harū), छोरा (chorā) | (The) granddaughter of (the) son of (the) queens
5. नेपाल (nepāl), बाख्रा (bākhrā), केटीहरू (keṭī-harū) | (The) goat of (the) girls from Nepal

B. READ THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE AND MARK OUT THE GENITIVE PASSAGES.

I visited a restaurant in Thamel yesterday. I saw my friends. They were eating bread from a bakery. I bought an Indian apple. The apple’s color was green. My mother called me. She said, her cat was sleeping.

C. TRANSLATE THE PASSAGE IN B.

D. INSERT KO OR ITS FORMS/VARIATIONS CORRECTLY IN THE STATEMENTS BELOW. OBLIQUE PRONOUNS IF NECESSARY.

1. नेपाल चुरोट हो ? (nepāl curoṭ ho) | Is (it a) cigarette from Nepal?
2. हात्ती सुड लामो हुन्छ (hāttī suḍ lāmo huncha) | (An) elephant’s trunk is long
3. म आफू जिन्दगी बाटो हो (ma āphū jindagī bāṭo ho) | (It) is my own way of life
4. बेलायत रानी को हो ? (belāyat rānī ko ho) | Who is (the) queen of the UK?
5. जन कुखुराहरू मोटाएका छन् (jan kukhurā-harū moṭāekā chan) | John’s chickens have fattened.

ANSWERS

A.1. घरको झ्यालको सिसा (ghar-ko jhyāl-ko sisā)
A.2. नेपालको वनको रुखको फूल (nepāl-ko van-ko rukh-ko phūl)
A.3. तालको पानी (tāl-ko pānī)
A.4. रानीहरूको छोराकी नातिनी (rānī-harū-ko chorā-kī nātinī)
A.5. नेपालका केटीहरूको बाख्रा (nepāl-kā keṭī-harū-ko bākhrā)
B. I visited a restaurant in Thamel yesterday. I saw my friends. They were eating bread from a bakery. I bought an Indian apple. The apple’s color was green. My mother called me. She said, her cat was sleeping.
C. म हिजो ठमेलको रेस्टुराँमा गएँ । मैले मेरा साथीहरूलाई देखेँ। उनीहरू बेकरीको पाउरोटी खाँदै थिए। मैले भारतको स्याउ किनेँ। स्याउको रंग हरियो थियो। मेरी आमाले मलाई कल गर्नुभयो। उहाँले भन्नुभयो, उहाँको बिरालो सुत्दै थियो। (ma hijo ṭhamel-ko resṭurā~-mā gae~. maile merā sāthī-harū-lāī dekhe~. unī-harū bekarī-ko pāuroṭī khā~dai thie. maile bhārat-ko syāu kine~. syāu-ko raṃg hariyo thiyo. merī āmā-le ma-lāī kal garnubhayo. uhā~le bhannubhayo, uhā~-ko birālo sutdai thiyo)
D.1. नेपालको चुरोट हो ? (nepāl-ko curoṭ ho) | Is (it a) cigarette from Nepal?
D.2. हात्तीको सुड लामो हुन्छ (hāttī-ko suḍ lāmo huncha) | (An) elephant’s trunk is long
D.3. मेरो आफ्नो जिन्दगीको बाटो हो (mero āphno jindagī-ko bāṭo ho) | (It) is my own life
D.4. बेलायतकी रानी को हो ? (belāyat-kī rānī ko ho) | Who is (the) queen of the UK?
D.5. जनका कुखुराहरू मोटाएका छन् (jan-kā kukhurā-harū moṭāekā chan) | John’s chickens have fattened.