Twi Q&A 4: Are there Exceptions to the Noun-Before-Adjective Rule?

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Akan asuafoɔ, mekyea mo nyinaa (Akan learners, I greet you all).

Megyedi sɛ obiara ho yɛ (I believe/hope everyone is well).

Me nso me ho yɛ pa ara (I am also very well).

I welcome you to another Q & A session, here on LearnAkan.Com. Last week, I received a very interesting question and, in this post, I will attempt addressing it the best way I can.

You may join in the discussion by leaving your comments below the post.

So, the question goes:

Mekyea wo! mepa wo kyɛw, menim sɛ wo ho yɛ. Mepa kyɛw meserɛ sɛ wobɛboa me. Wɔ Twi kasa mu deɛ, menim sɛ edin nkyerɛkyerɛmu di edin akyi, meboa? Nanso sɛ mepɛ sɛ meka “historical truth” a, yɛbɛka “nokorɛ abakɔsɛm” na ɛnyɛ “abakɔsɛm nokorɛ”, adɛn nti na? abakɔsɛm ne edin anaasɛ nokorɛ ne din wɔ saa ɔkasamu no?

Ɛte sɛ mepɛ sɛ meka deɛ edidisoɔ yi a, sɛn na yɛka wɔn wɔ twi mu?

Historical truth
Ancient history
Old town

That’s a nice Twi write-up, wouldn’t you agree? For the sake of those who may not be able to read and/or understand the above, you may find my translation of it below helpful.

I greet you! Please, I know that (I’m sure) you are well. I plead that you help me. In the Twi dialect (of the Akan language), I know adjectives come after nouns (the nouns they describe), right? But if I want to say “historical truth”, we will say it as “nokorɛ abakɔsɛm” and not “abakɔsɛm nokorɛ”, why that? Is “abakɔsɛm” the noun or “nokorɛ” is in that sentence (noun phrase: ɔkasasin)?

It’s like, if I want to say the following, how do we say it in Twi?

  • historical truth
  • ancient history
  • old town

So, basically, what our brother is asking is: if it is the case that Twi adjectives come after the nouns that they describe (e.g. ɔbaa tuntum (dark woman), ɛdan kɛseɛ (big house), etc), why does it seem like “historical truth” would translate as “nokorɛ abakɔsɛm” and not “abakɔsɛm nokorɛ”?

My response

To begin with, we do not say “nokorɛ abakɔsɛm” nor “abakɔsɛm nokorɛ”. Let’s check the meanings of the two words:

  • nokorɛ means true (which is an adjective, not a noun)
  • abakɔsɛm means history (which is a noun, not an adjective)

First off, in historical truth, what we are describing is the noun truth (which is nokwasɛm in Twi), and not its adjective true (which is nokorɛ in Twi). 

Secondly, the adjectival form of the noun “history (abakɔsɛm)” is “historical” as you rightly indicate in your English phrase (i.e. historical truth). So, just as we cannot say “history truth”, so can we not say “abakɔsɛm nokwasɛm (history truth)“.

I suppose our next question will then be: how would we say “historical” in Twi? And that would be “tete”. But, hold on. “tete”, in itself, is not an adjective but a noun that connotes “distant past”, “days of old” and/or even “history”. To test the noun status of “tete”, consider how I use it in the examples below:

1. Menim no firi tete (I know him from distant past)

2. Tete wɔ bi ka (History has some to say (a saying)).

So, the words we have so far for historical truth are two nouns: tete and nokwasɛm. Again, in historical truth, the noun we are describing is truth. So let’s see how that would be:

4. tete nokwasɛm (historical truth) and, indeed, you CANNOT say “nokwasɛm tete”.

We are able to use the noun “tete” to perform an adjectival function because, if you recall from Lesson 40: Functions of Twi Nouns, we mentioned that beyond the prototypical adjectives that we have (such as black, tall, handsome, small, etc.), a noun may be used to describe another noun. When that happens, the said descriptive noun is considered to be performing an adjectival function and, hence, an adjective.

Interestingly, when you check all the examples given under nouns performing adjectival functions in Lesson 40: Functions of Twi Nouns, you will notice that the descriptive nouns come before the nouns they describe, contrary to the noun-before-adjective rule. Look at the examples again (the nouns performing the adjectival functions are in bold; the nouns being described are underlined):

5. Sika dwa no wɔ tumi (the golden (money) stool has power)

6. Dua atere no abu (the wooden (wood) spoon is broken)

7. Abusua kuruwa no so yie (the family cup is very big)

8. Mempɛ mako nkwan (I don’t like pepper soup)

So, indeed, there are exceptions to the Twi adjectival ordering rule. If you are dealing with the prototypical adjectives and you are using them attributively, the adjectives come immediately after the nouns they modify. On the other hand, if you are using a noun to perform the function of an adjective, it will most likely come before the noun it is describing. Let’s now look at your examples.

9. tete nokwasɛm (historical truth)

10. tete abakɔsɛm (ancient history)

11. kuro dada (old town: ‘old’ is a true adjective so it follows the noun-before-adjective rule).

Your comments are welcome. Please leave them in the comments section further below. And, If you found this helpful, please don’t forget to share and subscribe for more of such. Thank you for reading.

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Tikya Yaw
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