Khmer Grammar

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Khmer grammar is generally a Subject Verb Object (SVO) language with prepositions. Although primarily an isolating language, lexical derivation by means of prefixes and infixes is common.

Word order

Khmer is generally a Subject Verb Object (SVO) language with prepositions. Since it is an isolating language, meaning is highly dependent on word order.

Nouns

The noun has no grammatical gender or singular/plural distinction. Plurality can be marked by post-nominal particles, numerals, or by reduplication, doubling the adjective, which can also serve to intensify the adjective:

ឆ្កែ​ធំ /cʰkae tʰom/ (dog large) = large dog

ឆ្កែ​ធំៗ /cʰkae tʰom tʰom/ (dog large large) = large dogs or a very large dog

ឆ្កែ​បី /cʰkae ɓəj/ (dog three) = three dogs

ឆ្កែ​ខ្លះ​ cʰkae klah/ (dog some) = some dogs

Pronouns

The pronominal system is complex, full of honorific variations. There is generally no single pronoun appropriate for all situations, with the choice of pronoun based on age, gender, and relationship. Nouns referring to a specific person like brother or uncle can be used as pronouns when even when directly addressing the person.

Adjectives

Adjectives in Khmer follows the noun, doubling the adjective can serve as a function of plurality or it can intensify the meaning. Adjectives follow verbs when they function as adverbs. Adjectives in Khmer are in actuality stative verbs. They cannot be combined with a copula and can be negated.

Reduplication

In Khmer, nouns and adjectives can be reduplicated. Reduplication can either occur as perfect reduplicates or by altering the rhyme of words. Khmer also uses compound reduplication where two phonologically unrelated words with similar or identical meanings are compounded.

Morphology

Although Modern Khmer shows a highly complex system of prefixes and infixes, there is generally no productive morphology with most affixed words crystallized in the lexicon inherited from Old Khmer. In general, even in Old Khmer, affixes have fluid functions with the same affix functioning as a nominalizer in one word and as a causativizer in another word.

Verbs

Verbs in Khmer do not inflect at all; tense and aspect can be shown by particles and adverbs or understood by context.