Chapter 4. Grammar

Table of Contents

Gender of Nouns
Expression of Possession
Definite and Indefinite Articles
Personal Pronouns
Possessive Pronouns
Tense of Verbs
Particles And Participles

This section is a summary of the morphology and syntax of well-spoken Tetun-Los, though it should be noted that the number of of Tetun dialects, and the intrusion of the neighbouring languages, has not made the task of what constitutes good Tetun an easy one.


Nouns are both singular and plural, but can be made either by the insertion of "IDA" for singular, "SIRA" for plural after the noun.

KUDA IDA, a horse; UMA IDA; a house, EMA IDA, a person; ASU SIRA, the dogs; EMA SIRA, the person, or the people.

Some words express emphatic degrees of the meaning by partial repetition, i.e. by omitting the last consonant in the first part: TEBES, true; TETEBES, very true; MANAS, hot; MANAMANAS extremely hot.

Note: this applies to all parts of speech.

Words which require emphasis repeat the first syllable of the word as a prefix: MOURIS, MOUMOUSIS, alive. Also refer to HAE and MAKA in dictionary text.

Gender of Nouns

Nouns have no formal gender, but masculinity and femininity may be expressed by adding the following words to the noun:

Table 4.1. Gender and Nouns

  Tetum Dili Other dialects 
animal  amakinak

OAN MANE, boy;
KUDA INAN, mare;
AI DILA MANEN, male pawpaw (one that does not bear fruit).

Expression of Possession

Possession is shown in nouns by placing NIA between the possessor and the person or thing possessed:

KARAU NIA DIKUR (buffalo's horn), or horn of (the) buffalo (literally: 'buffalo-his-horn');
KUDA NIA AIN, horse's leg, or leg of horse (literally: 'horse-his-leg').

In conversation NIA is often dropped; e.g. KARAU DIKUR etc.