In any language, words that explain how something is (“to be” verbs) are some of the most important, but often most complex, aspects of the language. In Hmong, the correct verb changes based on what you’re describing. There are four main times we might use the “to be” structure, each requiring a different word and form.*
- To Be & Noun: This describes what something is or the essence of something. In English, this is the form you might use if you want to say that “this is the house” or “that is a dog”. In Hmong, we use the verb “yog”. So, to directly translate our previous example, “this is the house” turns into “nov yog lub tsev”, with the “yog” being the key verb.
- Rule: To Be & Noun uses the verb “yog”.
- To Be & Called: We get rid of the verb “yog” if we want to start talking about how we or something else is called. This is a common mistake you see in beginner Hmong language users. If I want to say “his name is Alex”, I use the same verb as I did earlier. However, in Hmong I would say “Nws lub npe hu ua Alex”. The “hu ua” replaces the yog.
- Rule: To Be & Called uses the verb “hu ua”.
- To Be & Condition: If you want to talk about something that is temporary, such as where you are or how you’re doing on a given day, you use yet another verb. In this case, it’s the verb “nyob”. Again, you would remove the “yog”. So, if I wanted to say “I am in the house”, I would write “kuv nyob hauv lub tsev”, not “kuv yog hauv lub tsev”.
- Rule: To Be & Condition uses the verb “nyob”.
- To Be & Adjective: The most complicated on eon the list, your use of “yog” will change here depending on the subject that is referenced. If you have a double reference sentence (I am a nice person) you will include the “yog”. However, if you only have a single reference (I am nice), you must remove the “yog”. This is confusing, so consider this example, a translation of the previous sentence: “Kuv yog ib tug neeg siab zoo” vs “Kuv siab zoo”. The first example uses “yog” because it has two subjects-the “kuv” and the “neeg”. The second one removes the “yog”, as it refers directly to the person!
- Rule: To Be & Adjective uses the verb “yog” if it has a double subject reference.
- Rule: To Be & Adjective removes the verb “yog” if it only has a single subject reference.
*Referenced from Bee Vang-Moua’s YuamSij Qhib Lus: Success In Hmong for Accelerated Learners page 116.