Sentence patterns in Yurok

Yurok sentence patterns are quite different from English patterns — more flexible in some ways, less flexible in others. A few of the patterns used in forming Yurok sentences are illustrated here. For more detail, and information about other patterns, interested readers should consult R. H. Robins's book The Yurok language: Texts, grammar, lexicon (1958) or the Yurok Language Project booklet Basic Yurok grammar (2010), which you can download here.

What a sentence contains

In English, most sentences contain at least a verb (a word like walk, see, know, etc., usually naming an action, experience, situation, etc.) and a subject (indicating who did the action, experienced a situation, etc.): The horse walked, or My teacher sees you, or Your children love pie. But a verb is enough in Yurok, and many Yurok sentences consist of a single word — a verb:

'I'm afraid of you.'

'You are whistling.'

'I'm going to blow my nose.'

Word order

In English, the basic word order of subject, verb, and object (in sentences that have objects, for example indicating who or what an action was done to) is usually fixed. In Yurok the order of these elements is flexible, depending largely on emphasis and discourse structure. For example, depending on the context, either of the following sentences might be appropriate:

[4]Kue pegerk helomey'.
'The man is dancing.'

[5]Helomey' kue pegerk.
'The man is dancing.'

Word order possibilities are more flexible in sentences like these, but it is not always straightforward to learn the emphasis and discourse patterns that determine which order is used.


One important way Yurok and English sentence patterns differ is that Yurok has a large class of preverbs: short words, typically, that express relative time, location, negation, and relations between events, among many other meanings. As the name suggests, preverbs occur before the verb in a sentence. In the following sentences, for example, the preverb keech means something recently started happening and is still happening, the preverb kee means something will happen in the future, and the preverb combination keech + ho means something has already happened (and is still true).

[6]Keech keepuen.
'It's winter (now).'

[7]Kee kochpoksek'.
'I will think it over.'

[8]Kues keech ho neskwechoom'?
'When did you arrive?'

Preverbs are used in almost every Yurok sentence, and it is common for two, three, or even more preverbs to be combined in a sentence. The idiomatic use of preverb combinations is an indication of real fluency in the language.