A Concise Grammar of the Malagasy Language/The Article


The Definite Article.—There is only one definite article, nỳ, which is used before common nouns, and has the same defining power as our English article the. Its special uses are as follows.

a (when used):—

1. Like the Greek article, it is much used to turn other parts of speech into nouns; as, nỳ manòratra, 'the art of writing', or 'the people who write.'

2. It is used generically, with reference to the whole of a class; as, nỳ vòrona, 'birds' (or, the birds). This is the only sense in which nỳ can be used with proper names; as, nỳ Màlagàsy, 'Malagasy' (as a nation).

3. It is used in general comparisons after words implying likeness (as tòy, tàhaka, &c.); as, tòy nỳ vòrona, 'like birds'.

4. It is used before a noun when made definite by a suffixed pronoun; as, nỳ sàtroko, 'the hat of me', i.e. my hat.

5. It is used with abstract nouns; as, nỳ màrina, 'truth'.

6. With the words anànkirày (certain), sasàny (some), rèhetra (all), and màro (many), the Malagasy often use the article where the English dispense with it; as,

nỳ lèhilàhy anànkirày, 'a certain man'.
nỳ òlona sasàny, 'some people'.
nỳ òlona rehètra, 'all people' (or, all the people).
nỳ òlona màro, 'many people'.

b (when omitted):—

1. Before nouns in apposition; as, Heròdra mpanjàka, 'Herod the king', (or, King Herod).

2. Before nouns in the vocative case; as, Rainày izày àny an-dànitra, 'Our father who (art) in heaven'!

3. Before predicates; as, sàtroko ìo, 'that is my hat'.

4. Before accusatives when they are adverbial, instrumental, or limiting.

5. After in some idiomatic phrases, where seems equivalent to nỳ or izày; as, hòy nò navàliny àzy, or hòy nỳ navàliny àzy.

The Indefinite Article.—The Malagasy language has no indefinite article, but the place of it is supplied in one or other of these four ways:—

1. By omitting nỳ; as, nahìta òmby àho, 'I saw an ox', (or, oxen); (2) by the use of anànkirày and sasàny in the half-definite sense of some, certain; (3) by using the relative pronoun izày, in an indefinite sense, as, ìza nò hatòky izày adàla? 'who would trust a fool' (or, one who is a fool)? (4) by using the verb mìsy; as, mìsy òlona namàngy àzy, 'a person (or, some persons) visited him'; misìa mànkatỳ ankìzi-làhy, 'let a servant (or one, or some, of the servants) come here'.

There are also in Malagasy the following common personal prefixes, i, ri, ra, ray, ilày (ilèy, ilèhy), and andrìana. Of these, i and ra, though generally prefixed to proper nouns, are sometimes prefixed to common nouns used as names of persons; as, ivàdinào, 'your wife'; ralèhilàhy, 'the (or, that) man'.

The Emphatic or Discriminative Particle '.'

'' is a particle which is both emphatic and exclusive, and not a substitute or equivalent for the English copula 'is'. As the Rev. W. E. Cousins says:—"It serves to make an emphatic assertion, and at the same time implies the exclusion or discrimination of some object or objects to which the predicate used in that assertion does not apply; this discriminated object often being stated in the following clause, as in the proverb, 'Nỳ kitòza nò tsàra ràha mihàntona; fà nỳ tèny tsỳ tsàra mihàntona'. 'It is kitòza (sun-dried meat) that is good when hung; but words are not good (when) hung'; i.e. they are better spoken".

The reasons for believing that may have been originally an article (if not identical with nỳ) are as follows:—

(1) is nearly identical in form with nỳ.

(2) It makes the use of nỳ unnecessary; as, ìza nò tsàra (not, ìza nò nỳ tsàra)? 'which is the good one'?

(3) In some idiomatic phrases it seems to have the force of nỳ, or of the relative pronoun izày.

Synopsis of the various uses of 'nò.'

A. To emphasize or discriminate.

(1) A subject—
in assertive sentences; as, ìzy nò hanào izàny, 'it is he who shall do that'.
in interrogative sentences; as, aìza nò alèhanào, 'where is it that you are going'?
N.B.—When the answer to a question would be a subject, should be used; as, ìza nò ìzy? 'Which is it'?—the answer being, 'This is it'. But where is not used, the answer would be a predicate; as, ìza ìzy? or, ìza mòa ìzy? 'Who is he'?—the answer would be very different, 'He is my brother', &c.
in imperative sentences; as, nỳ tsàra nò hàno, ' the good are those which should be eaten' (i.e. eat the good).
in hortative sentences; as, àza nỳ ràtsy nò hànina, 'let not the bad ones be those which are eaten'.
(2) An adjunct; as, omàly nò nanàovany izàny, 'it was yesterday that they did (or, made) that'.
(3) A statement for which a reason is to be given; as, nỳ hàndrina nò tsỳ manìry vòlo, nỳ hènatra, 'it is the forehead which is not covered with hair, shame (causes that)'; i.e., shame is the reason why the forehead is not covered with hair. In such cases, is often added; as, nỳ akòho nò hò lèhibè, nỳ vòlony, 'their feathers make the fowls appear large'.

B. Non-emphatic uses of ''.

(1) As a declarative conjunction, 'in that', 'because'; as, nanào sòa hìanào nò niàntra àzy, 'you did a good deed in that (or, because) you pitied him'.
(2) As a sign of the past tense of passive verbs in -ana and -ina.
(3) As a shortened, form of nòny. This is found in "Harè-màhasòa", p. 146. Nòny tsy, 'but for'.
(4) As a shortened form of nòho in a comparison (rarely so used).

N.B.—Of '', the Rev. W. E. Cousins says:—"The correct or incorrect use of the particle '' is no unfair criterion of the skill a European has attained in speaking Malagasy".