Quechua Lesson 3
Lesson 3 (Kimsa ñiqin Yachay)
Singularities of the Quechua language

In this lesson I will cover some singularities of the Quechua Language. This was also the reason to pick up learning it. I was wondering if the language itself has any impact on the thinking and perceiving the world of the Q’ero. You cannot ask them of course. This lesson contains some of the findings on my question.

The Verb to have

In Quechua there is no verb for “to have.” If one wants to say that one has something, other constructions are used. They all have one characteristic trait: The subject who has something is made the object with whom something (that is had) is. Instead of having things, in Quechua, things are “with you”. Quechua is not unique in this way of expressing possession, because I was told that other languages, as f.i. Tibetan and Hungarian, have it also. But nevertheless!

Some people may find this too far off, but it is my opinion that our way of expressing a possessive relation also has shaped our thinking about the meaning of possession itself. This means that in Quechua the way of expressing a relationship that we, shaped by our way of thinking, call a possessive relation, need not have the same feeling going with it for the native Quechua speaker.

Warmi-yuq ka-nki-chu? Means wife-with be-you?, so: Are you married (spoken to a man). The answer can be Yes: Arí, warmi-yuq ka-ni. Wife-with be-I. Or: Mana warmi-yuq ka-ni-chu: no wife-with be-I-(negation marker), (a man speaking).

Warma-kuna-yuq ka-nki-chu? Do you have children?

You can do this with children, cars, books, etc. Everything a person can possess in our way of thinking, fits in this construction, even something like authority. Are you the boss: kama-yuq ka-nki-chu? Kama means authority, power. Llaqta means town, so Llaqta-kama-yuq ka-nki-chu: Town-authority-with be-you?, addresses the major.

A second way to say that one has something is to use the preposition –paq, which means: for. For me: noqa-paq, for your: qan-paq, etc., for them: pay-kuna-paq, wich is understood by us as: Mine, yours and theirs. This way is to say that someone has something literally says that the thing one has is there for him. “I have a house” in Quechua is in this way noqa-paq wasi-y ka-sa-n, which literally means: I-for house-I be-ing. form-it. Here the original subject has really become the object of the “being” of the house. Although this seems a little bit strange, I believe that this is a basic and most important characteristic of Quechua. If one is not the subject having things, but the object things are with, the thinking about having things changes completely. This provides insight into Andean and Q’ero sense of reality. The only way I can explain this for our understanding is how the owner of an fine old Italian violin like a Stradivari or Guarneri talks about his instrument: he does not have it, he feels more like a passing person in the life of the violin. Violin players often talk this way of their instrument. The Quechua language expresses this kind feeling for all objects or things, that we say that we have.

In what is a more or less animistic tradition everything has spirit, even a house or things acquired, like riches. All the things you “have” in a Western frame of mind, are simply “with you” (or not with you) to the speaker of Quechua. Essentially this means that nothing is yours altogether. You are the steward of things, not the owner!

There is another, third way to express the possessive connection, namely with the suffix –pa, which means of. Noqa-pa wasi-y, (lit. I-of house-I), so my house. This is very much alike the second construction, but uses a different suffix. The suffixes –pa and -paq are different, meaning of and for, but here they are used in almost the same sense.


Another typical feature of Quechua is that there are no articles. “The” and “a (an)” do not exist. Sometimes huk (one) is used to express the meaning that an undefined someone has done something, or that something exists as a general example.

So, in Quechua you cannot say “The Apu.” In a way Apu is not individualized. Apu is more a concept than a thing; the name is like a pointer that gives the idea of Apu. Of course Apu’s are named, like Apu Ausangate and Apu Salkantay. But it would miss the whole point to speak of “The” Apu Salkantay.

This applies to all nouns in Quechua. Runa means man and the word conveys the idea of man rather than the individualized person. Of course words can have what is called a possessive suffix like mesa-yki, your mesa, but still it conveys the idea of mesa, that is “with-you” as pointed out before. The so called possessive suffix for I, you, etcetera in Quechua is better seen as stating a relationship between the person and the object.

In Quechua, “I have a mesa” would be mesa-y ka-pu-wa-n (literally, mesa-I be-for-me-it), or more stressed: mesa-yki kan-chu? Do you have a mesa? (mesa-you be-it?) Arí, mesa-y ka-pu-wa-n. (Yes. mesa-I be-for-me-it), or mesa-y kasan, (mesa-I is) This is also the fourth way to say that someone has something. By the way, if you are beleagered by offensive sellers, the best way to serve them off is to say: kapuwan. I have it, litterally: it is there for me (already).


A last characteristic that I will mention here is that in Quechua words are not put into categories based on gender, as they are for instance in many other languages, like Spanish and German, and even English. But in English it is more difficult to discern the gender of a word and nowadays many people do not even know of the gender of a word anymore. Of course a word can have a meaning that is only pointing to a male or female subject, like man or woman. If you want to attach the special quality of female, for example to animals, male is urqu and female is china. A china wallpa is a hen and an urqu wallpa is a cock. (Note that the street meaning for cock in Quechua is pisco (bird). Quechua is not unique in not assigning gender to words. In Chinese it is the same. But in a way this is very important. In languages with strong emphasis on the gender of words, like Spanish and German, all kind of masculine and feminine qualities get attached to the subtle meaning of the words, according to the gender. This is not the case in Quechua. The Quechua language is quite neutral in this respect.

That does not mean that Quechua is in any way an unsophisticated primitive language. Through the use of the many suffixes and infixes Quechua is able to express very subtle meanings that in other languages only can be expressed by using voice modulation. I already used the example of the word rimaykullayki (I greet you in a friendly way). In the word itself is incorporated meaning that in other languages would have to be expressed either by a subordinated sentence or through voice modulation, as in the friendly, diminutive way you greet someone else. This is expressed in this case through –yku-lla-. -yku in this case meaning an intensive form, but in itself untranslatable and -lla, conveying the idea of something dear, like in allqoychalla, my dear little dog, or munasqaylla, my dear loved one, my beloved. Sometimes (in fact very often) these morphemes are untranslatable and only the subtle meaning is conveyed. For beginners it may be hazardous to use this if you do not know exactly what feeling should be conveyed by the infix or suffix.

This also means that Quechua can be spoken in a rather “dull” way, not using frequent voice modulations, as we do, while in the meantime often more meaning than in English is “packed” into the words themselves.

For students of South American Shamanism like that of the Peruvian Q’ero, my remarks on language and possession should be kept always in mind. Thinking that way will change your own perception of reality!

Go to Quechua Lesson 4