All languages make use of context (roughly, information about the world in which a particular utterance is made) to to facilitate meaning, and Klingon is no exception.

An English sentence like "he is flying", taken in isolation, could have multiple different interpretations. It is only contextual knowledge that helps us understand which of the range of possible meanings is correct. For example, the correct meaning in context might be that someone is piloting an airplane, or might be a passenger on an airplane flight, either at the time of speech or at a time in the future.


Particularly when translating from Klingon to English, context is sometimes necessary to provide information that English grammar requires that Klingon does not. Some examples:


Klingon does not have articles (that is, words such as a(n) and the). In cases where English grammar requires the use of an article, one must be added. For example, tlhIngan wo' should in most cases be translated the Klingon Empire.


Klingon nouns use suffixes (Type 2 suffixes) to mark the difference between singular and plural, similar to English -(e)s. However, unlike English, the use of a plural suffix is optional in many situations. This means that a noun with no plural ending on it in Klingon may need to be translated as a plural in English. On its own, for example, the word Hov could mean star or stars. Without using a Type 2 suffix, the ambiguity could be resolved through context, or grammatically through the use of an appropriate pronoun or verb prefix. Compare Hov yIbej "watch the star!" to Hov tIbej "watch the stars!"

Many nouns end in the type 9 suffix -wI' something/someone which does (1). Usually, the translation is clear, like a SuvwI' warrior , but there are several situations, where the meaning is not a hundred percent clear: The word ghItlhwI' writer could be a "device to write" (a pen) or a "person who writes" (a scribe). Only context makes it clear. Such words also exist in English. For example, "printer" can refer to a device that prints things or a person whose occupation is printing. The context will make clear which one is meant.


The rules for Klingon pronouns are different to the rules in English. Separate pronouns are normally not required in Klingon, unlike in English. This means that a pronoun that is missing in the Klingon version might sometimes need to be supplied to be translated into English. For example, the correct English translation of a sentence DaHIvnIS might be: "you need to attack him," "you need to attack her," "you need to attack it," or "you need to attack them." Context can supply the correct English pronoun. The ambiguity can also be resolved in some cases by the use of a Klingon pronoun (e.g. ghaH DaHIvnIS "you need to attack him/her" or chaH DaHIvnIS "you need to attack them.")

Context is also required when translating pronouns from English into Klingon. The correct translation of "you" (assuming a pronoun, not just a verb prefix, is required in Klingon) might be SoH or tlhIH. The correct translation of "them" might be chaH or it might be bIH. To make the correct translation choice, it's necessary to rely on the context.

Aspect and time

The phrase jItlhutlh has no "time indication" so can mean I drink but also I drank or I will drink . The Klingon version does not mark tense like in English, only aspect, which indicates the completion of an action. The example shown before must be regarded in its context to know what is going on. This can easily be done using a time stamp:

wa'leS jItlhutlh Tomorrow I will drink.
DaHjaj jItlhutlh I drink today.
cha'Hu' jItlhutlh I was drinking yesterday.

Two Names in apposition

When two nouns appear in apposition, it is sometimes no clear if it is a real apposition, or just a noun-noun-construction. qeylIS loDnI' standing alone can be Brother Kahless (apposition) or Kahless' brother (noun-noun-construction). Only additional information, like saying that you talk about the brother or repeating his name, will explain which is the case.


Many Klingon words have identically-sounding doubles (ie. homonyms), one of which is a noun and one of which is a verb (this frequently occurs in English too - for example, "raise" could be a noun or it could be a verb); as well as this, sometimes the same word can have the same part of speech but two different meanings. Only context can make the meaning clear.

The word Dabej could be made of the verb Da and the suffix -bej - meaning "he obviously behaves like it" - or made of the prefix Da- and the verb bej, meaning "you are watching it". An added object or subject makes the meaning clear: Dabej ghaH and Dabej SoH are unambiguous.


1 : The Klingon Dictionary S. 43

Category: Grammar    Latest edit: 27 Feb 2019, by ChrisORegan    Created: 28 Dec 2016 by KlingonTeacher
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