A preverb is an element found at the left edge of a verb in Mi'gmaq that modifies the meaning of the root and any other preverbs to the right of it. Some of the meanings that are expressed in Mi'gmaq using preverbs are expressed in other languages such as English as adverbs (e.g. jaqal- "quickly, energetically"), prepositions (e.g. toqjuw- "up"), modal verbs (e.g. getu- "want (to)"), prefixes (e.g. minu- "re-"), other verbs (e.g. poqju- "begin (to)"), and other expressions (e.g. etl- "in the process of, be __ing"), although not all elements that belong to one of these categories in English are expressed as preverbs in Mi'gmaq, such as igtug "at, near (location)," which is found after nouns, not before verbs. Delisle and Metallic (1976) suggest that there are several hundred preverbs: some examples are below.
'I started cooking it '
'I cooked it alone '
getu- poqju- mamuni- espi- inn-ui- sit want- start- high,very- level- people-lang -3sg
's/he wants to start to speak the people's language (Mi'gmaq) at a very high level'
(sample context: said of an enthusiastic student of Mi'gmaq)
What Can Preverbs Attach To?
Preverbs are found only when attached to another verb. There are two kinds of verbs in this context: independent verbs, which can occur without a preverb, and dependent verbs, which must have some preverb attached to them.
Independent verbs, such as wissugwa- "cook", can be found by themselves or with a preverb.
'I cooked it'
etl-wissugwa-t-m-ap process cook-inan-1sg-pa
'I was cooking it'
'I had difficulty cooking it'
'I cooked it in any direction'
Dependent verbs, like -lugwe- "work, do", '-'enmi- "laugh", and - "cry" can only be found with a preverb (they don't sound right without one).
's/he is working'
amujpa wissugwa-t-m-ap have.to cook-inan-1sg-past
'I had to cook it'
mu amujpa wissugwa-t-m-u-ap not have.to cook-inan-1sg-neg-past
'I didn't have to cook it'
amujpa mu wissugwa-t-m-u-ap have.to not cook-inan-1sg-neg-past
'I had to not cook it'
Several Preverbs at Once
|Sample preverb||etl-||mesi-||poqji-||minu-||gimi-||newti-||al-, wel-||asit|
|Gloss||process||difficulty||start||again, re-||secretively||alone||around, good||go.3sg|
What this template describes
We can use the template as a guide for combining preverbs if we know what their positions are. For example, let's say we have the three preverbs etl- "in the process of" (position 7), poqju- "start" (position 5), and newti- "alone" (position 2), plus the verb wissugwatman "I cook them." We know that the verb is going to be the furthest to the right (position 0). We then add preverbs to it in order from the lowest position to the highest, so that the highest number preverb is leftmost one, and the lowest number is the rightmost, just before the verb. This correct ordering is shown in the example below, with the preverb positions indicated for clarity.
'I am in the process of beginning to cook them by myself'
Big (but incomplete!) List of Preverbs