It is not our purpose to attempt any extended treatment of Wayuu grammar in this publication, other than to make a few observations that are particularly relevant to the nature of the lexical items presented here. We will describe the various "parts of speech" (grammatical categories) we have analyzed for the Wayuu language, as well as a few features of the morphology, especially of the nouns and verbs.


Wayuu nouns are not classified by gender, although gender and number may be explicitly marked by means of a determiner suffix when a noun has definite reference. In this case the noun may also take a demonstrative adjective preceding it which must also agree in gender-number. In most cases the unmarked gender-number is non-masculine (singular) while the masculine (singular) and plural are reserved for when such reference is explicit. A few nouns by their composition are marked for gender-number, for example ataralüichi, "adult male" and ataralüirü, "adult female". Plural may often remain unmarked on a noun, especially when that is clear from the context. However there is an explicit plural suffix -irua that may be added to a noun or to its determiner suffix. And there is a special plural suffix -yuu used with a small number of nouns when indicating a group of persons, for example laülaa, "old person" may take a plural laülaayuu, "elders".

We identify a special class of nouns as possessed nouns, for example body parts and kinship terms, since they normally are obligatorily possessed, requiring a possessive person prefix which agrees in person, number, and (in third-person singular) gender, with the possessor referent. (See the section on Pronouns for their respective, corresponding person prefixes.) For ease of alphabetic ordering, we have presented these nouns without any person prefix in this dictionary. For example, to the word aüliijana, "necklace", the first person singular prefix ta- may be added to give taüliijana, "my necklace". Nevertheless, in some cases, a possessed noun may occur without a person prefix when used in a general sense with no possessor in focus. In this case these nouns require a separate absolutive suffix, -aa. So then, aüliijanaa would refer to "(someone's) necklace". Many of the other nouns (not of this special class) may also be possessed, likewise taking a person prefix indicating the possessor. But in this case most of these nouns typically require one of three possessive suffixes, -in, -se, or -ya. So for the word kaaꞌula, "goat", the addition of a prefix and the affix could give takaaꞌulain, "my goat". Unfortunately, for this publication, we have not had time or opportunity to systematically determine or note which of these suffixes is used for each noun.


There are not many adjectives in the Wayuu language. Qualities normally expressed by adjectives in English are rather expressed as stative verbs. A few adjectives agree in gender-number with the nouns they modify. In this case the masculine form is given in the dictionary with non-masculine and plural listed as variants. For example, the masculine form motsoyüi, "small, young male" also has non-masculine form motsoyülü and plural form motsoyünnuu. A very few adjectives which we have designated relative adjectives, require a person prefix that agrees with the noun it modifies. For example, apüshuaꞌa, "all" would be prefixed in the noun phrase napüshuaꞌa na tooloyuukana, "all the men".


There are seven personal pronouns in the Wayuu language. They do not have case variants for different syntactic functions in a sentence, for example in contrast to English "I, me, my". The pronouns do have corresponding person prefix markers. These person prefixes may reference 1) subject of a verb, 2) possessor of a noun, 3) object of a postposition, and 4) referent of a relative adjective, relative adverb, or relative conjunction. These prefixes may serve in place of a pronoun or as coreferential to a noun phrase in these syntactic positions. The following table lists the pronouns and their corresponding prefixes.

Pronoun Prefix
First person singular taya ta-
Second person singular pia pü-
Third person singular, masculine nia nü-
Third person singular, non-masculine shia sü-
First person plural waya wa-
Second person plural jia jü-
Third person plural naya na-

According to phonological rules, the vowel of the prefix (as well as the s of third person singular non-masculine) generally assimilates to the first vowel or semivowel of the root to which it is joined. So for example ekii, "head" would give shikii, "her head" and wekii, "our head"; and awala, "brother/sister" would give puwala, "your brother/sister". It should be pointed out that, for the Upper Guajira dialect, the third person singular non-masculine variant is jia.


Wayuu verbs may be stative, intransitive, or transitive. The verbs are cited here in infinitive form consisting of the verb stem plus the infinitive suffix -aa. Generally this morpheme assimilates to the final vowel of the stem. By a separate phonological rule, when a verb stem ends in a long vowel, the infinitive is formed by shortening that vowel and introducing a -w- between the stem and the infinitive suffix.

An infinitive may be formed from a simple or from a compound stem. Compound stems are formed by adding one or more suffixes of voice to the simple stem. Passive voice is formed with the suffix -na and indicates that the subject receives the action of the verb. Causative voice is formed with the suffix -ira and indicates that the subject causes another party to perform the action. When this suffix is added to a stem ending in a long vowel, they fuse giving -eꞌera. When the passive suffix is added to the causative suffix, the r assimilates to the following n. Reflexive voice is formed with the suffix -iraa and indicates that the subject realizes the action upon itself. In a similar manner this suffix may also indicate a reciprocal or joint action carried out by a plural subject. For this suffix, when the stem ends in a long vowel, a j is added before the suffix. Generally we have not attempted to include all these possible derived forms as separate entries in this dictionary, except when the derived form may bear a somewhat distinct sense of its own. The following shows examples of the formation of the verb infinitive.

Verb stem Causative suffix Passive suffix Reflexive suffix Infinitive suffix Infinitive Meaning
atkaa aa atkawaa to fight
atkaa ira aa atkeꞌeraa to cause to fight
atkaa iraa aa atkaajirawaa to fight one another
ashaja aa ashajaa to write
ashaja ira aa ashajiraa to cause to write
ashaja na aa ashajünaa to be written
ashaja ira na aa ashajinnaa to cause to be written

Next, one of several mood and aspect suffixes may be added to the simple or compound stem, before the verb of an independent clause is finally inflected with a tense-gender-number suffix. Some common mood and aspect suffixes are: -ee, desire; -püꞌü, habitual; -wai, regularity or frequency; and -pünaa, "in passing". It should be noted that while there is very little variance in inflection for regular verbs in English, for example the suffix -s distinguishes third person singular in present tense and the suffix -ed marks past tense, Wayuu verb inflection marks gender and number, but not person. Also, Wayuu does not distinguish between present and general past tense. The inflectional suffixes for common verb tenses in Wayuu are as follows.

Present-past Future Imminent Past perfect Future intentive
Masculine singular -shi -eechi -ichi -ichipa -injachi
Non-masculine singular -sü -eerü -irü -itpa -injatü
Plural -shii -eena -ina -inapa -injana

Generally the gender-number suffixes agree with the subject of the verb. Alternatively the person prefixes may be used to indicate the subject for intransitive or transitive verbs. However in the latter case, the gender-number suffixes then agree with the direct object. For example, atkaashii naya means "they are fighting", while washajüitpa shia means "we have written it".


A postposition functions like a preposition in English - to relate a nominal item (its object) to another element within a sentence by grammar or meaning. However in Wayuu, we consider the postposition to follow its object. In a few cases, the postposition is actually appended to its object. For example the postposition aluꞌu, "in" may follow its noun as in nüleꞌeruꞌu "in his stomach", composed of nü-aleꞌe-aluꞌu, "his-stomach-in". Nevertheless, in most cases the object follows the postposition, for example, suluꞌu tu apainkat, "in the garden", composed of sü-aluꞌu tü apain-kat, "it-in this garden-the". But even in these cases, the nominal element must still be represented by a person prefix on the postposition which agrees with it.


The adverbs function like adverbs in English and most of them are invariable. However there are a few which, by their composition, require a person prefix that agrees with the noun in focus in the sentence. For example, for the adverb achukuaꞌa, "again", the clause antüsü teikat süchukuaꞌa "arrived my-mother she-again" means "my mother arrived again". We have classified these as relative adverbs.


The conjunctions also function as they do in English. Some are invariable. However, many subordinating conjunctions are the same words that also function as postpositions. In their function as conjunctions these also require a person prefix, but it is always the third person, non-masculine, singular form sü- since its referent is the subordinate clause which it conjoins to the independent clause of the sentence. For example, from the word aka (in its function as a conjunction) the subordinate clause süka ayuulin nia, "because he is sick", may be constructed. We have classified this latter type as relative conjunctions.

David Captain