I have seen in a few places such as here and here this sort of notation:

el-ler-imiz-in (Turkish)
hand-plr.-1st plr.-genitive case, ‘of our hands’


‘It was not stabbed.’


nanuq kapi-ja-u-lau-nngit-tuq angunasukti-mut
polar bear stab-PASS-be-PST-NEG-3S.INTR.DECL hunter-OBL
‘The polar bear was not stabbed by the hunter.’


iso|i|ssa  auto|i|ssa in (the) big cars
big.ADJ‐def‐in car.N‐def‐in

It seems like it.is.dot.separated to some degree, alternating between words and some sort of keywords. But I'm not totally sure, and don't know what the keywords mean in many cases.

Wondering (a) what this notation is, and (b) what are all the labels that can be used and their meaning (or a resource that lists these out). This way I would be able to interpret better the meaning of what they are saying. Maybe there is a standard format to it to, or the abbreviations are standard or something like that.

Basically looking for a list that says what the pieces are:

ADJ: Adjective
def-in: ...
PASS: ...

Not just the ones listed here but any that I may encounter. Thank you.

  • 2
    All glosses and abreviations are typically listed in the beginning of each book. Usually, the author choses them himself. Hyphens often indicate morpheme boundaries, dots - grammemes within a morpheme. Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 8:04
  • As for def-in, look at the Finnish word: iso|i|ssa. i encodes def (definite) and ssa encodes in (the English word "in".) so "isoissa" means "In the big..." Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 8:11
  • I meant to say, it's not def-in it's def and in, separated by hyphen Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 8:11

2 Answers 2


Some of your examples have switched the roles of dots and of hyphens.

It seems like it.is.dot.separated to some degree

That's right. We want to use spaces to mark word boundaries, so we need some other way to mark morpheme boundaries. The dots are suggesting boundaries between morphemes. I say suggesting, since it's not always clear where they are:

gås (Norwegian)

gjess (Norwegian)

In that example, by attached .SING or .PL, I showed that the grammatical number is encoded as part of the word. If I said

cikap (Ainu)


cikap utar (Ainu)
bird  PL

by writing the PL separately I show that those are separate words. Another your example:


That morpheme -tuq (I think it's usually spelled -toq?) really does mean 3S.INTR.DECL, third person singular, intransitive, declarative.

Basically looking for a list that says what the pieces are:

If you're after a definitive, complete list, I could be wrong but I don't think there is such a thing. That's because for singular/singulative, I've sometimes seen S, sometimes SG, sometimes SING. There is also no definitive and complete list of all grammatical features. So these tokens are kind of ad-hoc or not formally specified. But in my opinion, a good book will have a glossary at the end explaining what you need to know.

But an incomplete list here should help you through a lot of the parsing you'll want to do. And a knowledge of the language the gloss is in is of course a big help.

  • 2
    @LancePollard: See also the glossaries in Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedias, books where all of your questions so far can find answers.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 15:38

Wilson's answer is great, but I'd like to clarify one point.

As a general rule, hyphens separate morphemes in the source language, and dots separate morphemes in the target language that aren't separate in the source language.

As an example, take the Latin word amō, "I love". I would gloss it as follows.


In other words, the single morpheme here indicates first person, singular number, and present tense. Since they're all part of the same morpheme in the source language, I separate them with dots instead of hyphens.

The standard authority for glossing is the Leipzig Glossing Rules. As they put it:

Segmentable morphemes are separated by hyphens, both in the example and in the gloss. There must be exactly the same number of hyphens in the example and in the gloss.

And later:

When a single [source language] element is rendered by several […] elements (words or abbreviations) [in the gloss], these are separated by periods.

The example they give is:


The Leipzig rules also give a full list of "standard" glossing abbreviations, which are the ones you'll generally find without explanation. Anything not on that list will usually be explained thoroughly by the author. While not all linguists follow the Leipzig rules, most major publications do.

EDIT: As Dannii points out in the comments, the first example has the abbreviation plr. with a period, which is decidedly non-standard and goes against the Leipzig rules. Just ignore the period in that example; it adds nothing.

  • 1
    The one extra thing to note is that in the first example it's using a dot to show an abbreviation: "plr." This is non-standard, and it's no wonder it confused the OP.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 22:20
  • 1
    Maybe more precise to say that hyphens split and dots join ...? Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 11:16

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