I am not a linguist, so my question is most probably very poorly worded. I have obviously searched on google, but to no avail. Is there a language that has noun declensions or suffixes/affixes that place the noun in a specific point in time? I suspect that if such a language exists, it will probably be polysynthetic. Here are examples of what I'm trying to find:

  • "I have the past-report" (I have [the report that was], I have [the old version])
  • "I love past-you" (I love [the person that you were])
  • "I am working the future-field" (I am working [the plot of land that will be the field])
  • "I hoped to receive now-money" (I hoped to receive [the money that I have now received])

2 Answers 2


Three examples come to mind. First, English "ex-", as in "My ex-boss", which puts the boss relationship in the fast (but it does entail that he is no longer my boss). If you aren't satisfied with that example, explaining why that doesn't count should clarify what you're really interested in. Second, in Lushootseed, the past and future clitics can be used on nominals, as in [tsi d-tu-čəgwas] "my former wife" [tsi d-ɬu-čəgwas] "my future wife". Unfortunately, there are no more fluent speakers, but John Lawler might be able to fill in details. And finally, Guarani has such constructions, discussed in this paper by Judith Tonhauser, also discussing a paper by Nordlinger & Sadler in Language 80 which discusses the question in a number of other languages. Tonhauser, however, claims that these are nominal aspects, not tenses, and frankly the argument is kind of above my pay grade.

  • 2
    Robin Lakoff once told me that ex-mother-in-law-to-be was her favorite English kinship term.
    – jlawler
    Feb 21, 2018 at 21:38
  • Thanks! Lushotseed seems interesting, but Guarani is closer to what I was looking for. I specifically did not include "ex-" in my examples, since the meaning is a bit different. "ex-" mainly describes a past relation. Consider this: "My ex-book" (meaning "The book that was once mine" rather than "The [object] that was once a book").
    – Cadaleld
    Feb 22, 2018 at 15:24

Kayardild and Lardil mark tense (time) in the verb, but also in the nouns by suffixes like -(i)na (past) in Kayardild:

  • Dangka-a burldi-jarra yarbuth-ina thabuju-karra-nguni-na wangal-nguni-na “The man hit the bird with the brother's boomerang": yarbuth "bird", thabuju-karra-nguni "with brother's" and nguni "boomerang" are all marked for past tense. (-jarra is the verbal past marker.)

And -kur (future) or -ngarr (non-future) in Lardil:

  • Ngada bule-thur ya-kur. "I will catch a fish."

(Sources: Strazny's Encyclopedia of Linguistics; Hale, Damin and Lardil Phonotactics, via wikipedia page on Lardil.)

  • I first heard about this on Evans' Dying Words, where I also learned about this fun quote from Pinker & Bloom's Natural Language and Natural Selection: Indeed, though grammatical devices are put to different uses in different languages, the possible pairings are very circumscribed. No language uses noun affixes to express tense or elements with the syntactic privileges of auxiliaries to express the shape of the direct object Feb 23, 2018 at 16:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.