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A Grammar and Dictionary of the Samoan Language, with English and Samoan vocabulary

2. The Noun

2. The Noun

Names of natural objects, as men, trees, animals, are mostly primitive nouns, as ʻO le la, the sun; ʻo le tagata, the man; ʻo le talo, taro; ʻo le iʻa, the fish; also manufactured articles, as matau, an axe, vaʻa, canoe, tao, spear, fale, house, etc.

Some nouns are derived from verbs by the addition of either ga, saga, taga, maga, or ʻaga: as tuli, to drive; tuliga, a driving; luluʻu, to fill the hand; luʻutaga, a handful; anu, to spit; anusaga, spittle; tanu, to bury; tanumaga, the part buried. These verbal nouns have an active participial meaning; as ʻO le faiga o le fale, the building of the house. Often they refer to the persons acting, in which case they page 4 govern the next noun in the genitive with a; ʻO le faiga a fale, contracted into ʻo le faiga fale, those who build the house, the builders. In some cases verbal nouns refer to either persons or things done by them: ʻO le faiga a talo, the getting of taro, or the party getting the taro, or the taro itself which has been got. The context in such cases decides the meaning. Sometimes place is indicated by the termination; as tofa, to sleep; tofaga, a sleeping-place, a bed. ʻO le taʻelega is either the bathing-place or the party of bathers. The first would take o after it to govern the next noun, ʻO le taʻelega o le nuʻu, the bathing-place of the village; the latter would be followed by a, ʻO le taʻelega a teine.

Sometimes such nouns have a passive meaning, as being acted upon; ʻO le taomaga a lau, the thatch that has been pressed; ʻo le faupuʻega a maʻa, the heap of stones, that is, the stones which have been heaped up. Those nouns which take ʻaga are rare, except on Tutuila; gataʻaga, the end; ʻamataʻaga, the beginning; olaʻaga, lifetime; misaʻaga, quarrelling. Sometimes the addition of ga makes the signification intensive; as ua, and timu, rain; uaga, and timuga, continued pouring.

The simple form of the verb is sometimes used as a noun: tatalo, to pray; ʻo le tatalo, a prayer; poto, to be wise; ʻo le poto, wisdom.

The reciprocal form of the verb is often used as a noun; as ʻO le fealofani, ʻo femisaiga, quarrellings (from misa), feʻumaiga; e.g., E lelei le fealofani, mutual love is good.

A few diminutives are made by reduplication, as Paapaa, small crabs; pulepule, small shells; liilii, ripples.

Adjectives are made into abstract nouns by adding an article or pronoun; as lelei, good; ʻo le lelei, goodness; silisili, excellent; ʻo lona lea silisili, that is his excellence.

Many verbs may become participle-nouns by adding ga; as sau, come, sauga, ʻO lona luai sauga, his first coming; mau to mauga, ʻO le mauga muamua, the first dwelling.


Gender is sometimes expressed by distinct names:—

ʻO le aliʻi, a chief. ʻO le tamailaʻi, a lady.
ʻO le tane, a man. ʻO le fafine, a woman.
ʻO le tama, a boy. ʻO le teine, a girl.
ʻO le toa, a cock. ʻO le matua moa, a hen.
ʻO le poʻa, a male animal. ʻO le manu fafine, a female animal.

When no distinct name exists, the gender of animals is known by adding poʻa and fafine respectively. The gender of some few plants is distinguished by tane and fafine, ʻo le esi tane; ʻo le esi fafine. No other names of objects have any mark of gender.


The singular number is known by the article with the noun; as ʻo le tama, a boy.

Properly there is no dual. It is expressed by omitting the article, page 5 and adding e lua for things, e toalua, two, for persons; as ʻo fale e lua, two houses; ʻo le nuʻu e toalua, two persons.

The plural is known—1. By the omission of the article; ʻo ʻulu, breadfruits. 2. By particles denoting multitude, as ʻau, vao, mou, and moíu, and such plural is emphatic; ʻo le ʻau iʻa, a shoal of fishes; ʻo le vao tagata, a forest of men, i.e., a great company; ʻo le mou mea, a great number of things; ʻo le motu o tagata, a crowd of people. These particles cannot be used indiscriminately; motu could not be used with fish, nor ʻau with men. 3. By lengthening, or more correctly doubling, a vowel in the word; tuafafine, instead of tuafafine, sisters of a brother. This method is rare.


This is indicated by particles and prepositions.

The Nominative case is shown by the particle ʻo; as ʻO le fale tou te ulu atu ai, the house which ye shall enter. It is used before proper names; as ʻO Tahiti. It is omitted when the nom, follows the verb; Ua alu le vaʻa, the canoe is gone. But, in the verbal form, ona followed by ai lea, the noun and pronoun may either take the ʻo or omit it; as Ona alu ai lea ʻo le tamaloa; Ona fai atu lea lo latou tuafafine.


This is indicated by the prepositions a or o soft). As to which of these should be used, as well as the pronouns lou, lau, lona, lana, lo and la matou, etc., it is difficult for a foreigner to know. There is no general rule which will apply to every case. The governing noun decides which should be used; thus ʻO le poto ʻo le tujuga, the wisdom of the builder; ʻO le amio a le tama, the conduct of the boy; upu o Fagono, words of Fagono (a kind of narrative and song); but upu a tagata, words of men.

The following hints may serve in some measure to guide as to which some classes of nouns govern:—

O is used with—


Nouns denoting parts of the body; fofoga o le aliʻi, eyes of the chief. So of hands, legs, hair, etc.; except the beard, which takes a, lana ʻava; but a chief's is lona soesa.


The mind and its affections; ʻo le toʻasa o le aliʻi, the wrath of the chief. So of the will, desire, love, fear, etc.; ʻO le manaʻo o le nuʻu, the desire of the land; ʻO le mataʻu o le tama, the fear of the boy.


Houses, and all their parts; canoes, land, country, trees, plantations; thus, pou o le fale, posts of the house; lona fanua, lona naʻu, etc.


People, relations, slaves; ʻo ona tagata, his people; ʻo le faletua o le aliʻi, the chief's wife. So also of a son, daughter, father, etc.

Exceptions.—Tane, husband; ava, wife (of a common man), and children, which take a; lana ava ma ana fanau.


Garments, etc., if for use; ona ʻofu. Except when spoken of as property, riches, things laid up in store.

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A is used with—


Words denoting conduct, custom, etc.; amio, masani, tu.


Language, words, speeches; gagana, upu, fetalaiga, afioga; ʻO le upu a le tama.


Property of every kind. Except garments, etc., for use.


Servants, animals, men killed and carried off in war; lana tagata.


Food of every kind.


Weapons and implements, as clubs, knives, swords, bows, cups, tattooing instruments, etc.

Except spears, axes, and ʻoso (the stick used for planting taro), which take o.


Work; as lana galuega.

Except faiva, which takes o.

Some words take either a or o; as manatu, taofi, ʻO se tali a Matautu, an answer given by Matautu; ʻo se tali ʻo Matautu, an answer given to M.*

Irregularities in the use of the preposition:


Nouns denoting the vessel and its contents do not take the preposition between them: ʻo le ʻato talo, a basket of taro; ʻo le fale oloa, a house of property, or store-house.


Nouns denoting the material of which a thing is made: ʻO le tupe auro, a coin of gold; ʻo le vaʻa ifi, a canoe of teak.


Nouns indicating members of the body are rather compounded with other nouns instead of being followed by a genitive: ʻO le mataivi, an eye of bone; ʻo le isu vaʻa, a nose of a canoe; ʻo le gutu sumu, a mouth of the sumu; ʻo le loto alofa, a heart of love.


Many other nouns are compounded in the same way: ʻO le apaau tane, the male wing; ʻo le pito pou, the end of the post.


The country or town of a person omits the preposition: ʻO le tagata Samoa, a man of Samoa; ʻo le Tui-Manuʻa, the king of Manuʻa.


Nouns ending in a, lengthen (or double) that letter before other nouns in the possessive form: ʻO le sua susu; ʻo le maga ala, or maga a ala, a branch road.


The sign of the possessive is not used between a town and its proper name, but the nominative sign is repeated; thus putting the two in apposition: ʻO le ʻaʻai ʻo Matautu.


Mo and ma governing this case, usually signify for; as au mai lea ma aʻu, give that for, or to, me. Ma also means, on account of, because; sau i fale ma le la, come in, because of the sun. The same rules govern the use of mo and ma, as o and a in the genitive: ʻO le sui mo outou, a substitute for you.

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The accusative or objective case follows the verb without any sign: Seu lou vaʻa, turn or steer your canoe.

This case is governed also by the preposition i in, into, to; ia, to persons; and with pronouns. It mostly follows active verbs: Seu lou vaʻa i le mea nei, steer your canoe to this place. It is also used in sentences which require the addition of the verb to be, or to have, in translating them; ʻua ia te ia le mea, the property is to him; that is, he has it.


This is indicated by e. Sometimes it retains the article; le aliʻi e; but, most commonly it is omitted.


The ablative is governed by mai, nai, ai, from; i, into; e, from, mostly with persons.

Proper names are declined as the plural form of the common noun. That is to say, they omit the article; thus, ʻO Toga; ʻo le Toga, would mean a Tonga man. The accusative takes ia instead of i.

Declension of a Common Noun
Singular. Plural.
N. ʻO le aliʻi, the chief. ʻO aliʻi, or aliʻi, the chiefs.
G. o or a le aliʻi, of the chief o or a aliʻi, of the chiefs.
D. mo or ma le aliʻi, for the chief. mo or ma aliʻi, for the chiefs.
A. i le aliʻi, to the chief. i aliʻi, to the chiefs.
V. le aliʻi e, O chief. aliʻi e, chiefs.
Ab. e le aliʻi, by the chief. e aliʻi, by the chiefs.
i le aliʻi, in the chief. i aliʻi, in the chiefs.
mai le aliʻi, from the chief. mai aliʻi, from the chiefs.

Examples: 'O le aliʻi ua maliu mai, or, Ua maliu mai le aliʻi, The chief has come. Ua fai le fale o le aliʻi, The house of the chief is made. Ua maumau mea a le aliʻi, The property of the chief is wasted. Tuʻu ia mo le aliʻi, Leave it for the chief. Ave mo le aliʻi, Give it for the chief.

Alu ia i le aliʻi, Go to the chief.

Voc.—Le aliʻi e, ua e afio mai, Chief, you have come.

Ab.—Ua 'auina a'u e le aliʻi, I am sent by the chief.

Declension of a Proper Name of a Person
N. ʻO Malietoa, Malietoa. A. ia Malietoa, to Malietoa.
G. o or a Malietoa, of Malietoa. V. Malietoa e, O Malietoa.
D. mo or ma Malietoa, for Malietoa. Ab. e or mai Malietoa, by or from Malietoa.

The proper names of places are declined in the same way as the plural of common nouns.

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* In his “Short Synopsis of Hawaiian Grammar,” Professor Alexander gives the following rule for the use of these prepositions: “O implies a passive or intransitive relation; a, an active and transitive one. A can be used only before a word denoting a living person or agent, and implies that the thing possessed is his to make or act upon, or is subject to his will; while o implies that it is his merely to possess or use, to receive or be affected by.”