Case Marker: Ko


Anyone who has read Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War” cover-to-cover definitely has an idea of how Sun Tzu used to write, although I believe he was not the greatest speaker of modern day English, though one can infer what he was approximately trying to say through his wisdom. Specifically, we are concerned here not with what he has to say, mind you, but rather look at the specific ways on how the sentences above were constructed to indicate words belonging to something or someone, like how “The Art of War ” is Sun Tzu’s book, or how his wisdom is his to belong, and how he was not the greatest speaker of English.

In languages, it is often the case where you have to show possession, basically tell that one element “B” is a part or belongs to another element “A”. In English, this can be done by using various methods such as using “of”, apostrophe-s, or use possessive pronouns like his. In Nepali, we do so by using the genitive case marker को (ko) or its variants and its siblings रो (ro) and नो (no). 


पसल (pasal) = Shop
समान (samān) = Item
बिरालो (birālo) = Cat
दाँत (dām̐t) = Tooth; Teeth
काठ (kāṭh) = Wood
घडी (ghaḍī) = Clock
छाला (chālā) = Leather; Skin
जुत्ता (juttā) = Shoe
कमिला (kamilā) = Ant
ताँती (tām̐tī) = Line (specifically of ants or other insects)
पोखरा (pokharā) = Pokhara, a city in Nepal
मान्छे (mānche) = Person
खाट (khāṭ) = Bed
रानी (rānī) = Queen
फूल (phūl) = Flower
मन (man) = Heart (emotional)
आँखा (ām̐khā) = Eye
जिन्दगी (jindagī) = Life
छाँया (chām̐yā) = Shadow
साथी (sāthī) = Friend
सर्ट (sarṭ) = Shirt
खल्ती (khaltī) = Pocket
रङ (raṅ) = Colour


The function of को (ko) is rather simple as a genitive marker. A genitive marker marks a word as modifying another word to indicate an attributive relationship. Basically, it shows that the word being marked possesses the word that follows it. Take for example:
Benedict’s book
[possessor (+) apostrophe-s + possession]

In English, the possessor (Benedict) is shown to have a possession (book) which is shown by using apostrophe-s. In Nepali, we do the same thing, but use the genitive marker को (ko) to imply the same thing:
बेनेडिक्टको किताब (beneḍikṭ-ko kitāb)
Benedict’s book
[Benedict (+) ko-case marker+ book]

In essence, को (ko) is a relatively straightforward case marker, very similar to the apostrophe-s that English uses. However, we now get into the specifics to see how को (ko) exactly works, what its three forms are, and finally get to know its siblings रो (ro) and नो (no).


The genitive marker can be used to show possession, such that an object “B” belongs to its owner “A”:
पसलको समान (pasal-ko samān)
Shop’s item | (An) item of (a) shop
[shop (+) ko-case marker+ item]

बिरालोको दाँत (birālo-ko dām̐t)
Cat’s teeth | Teeth of (a) cat
[cat (+) ko-case marker+ tooth]

I should mention that although the noun दाँत (dām̐t) is technically singular, the singular form is used to describe the plural as well because the plural form implies a greater collective, which is not the case here. Also, the possessor is always placed in front of the word that is being possessed.


A fairly related concept, it is similar to possession but the way you write it in English is slightly different:
काठको घडी (kāṭha-ko ghaḍī)
= Watch (made) of wood | Wooden watch
[wood (+) ko-case marker+ watch]

छालाको जुत्ता (chālā-ko juttā)
= Shoe (made) of leather Leather shoe
[leather (+) ko-case marker+ shoe]

कमिलाको ताँती (kamilā-ko tām̐tī)
= (A) line of ant(s) 
[ant(s) (+) ko-case marker+ line]


Another concept that is very close to “belonging” to something or somewhere, but it shows the origin of the thing talked about instead. In English, you’d use the preposition from, but in Nepali you’d rather use the genitive marker if you are indicating a sense of belonging or origination:
पोखराको मान्छे (pokharā-ko mānche)
= Person from Pokhara [lit. Pokhara’s person]
[Pokhara (+) ko-case marker+ person]

अमेरिकाको केरा (amerikā-ko kerā)
= Banana from America [lit. America’s banana]
[America (+) ko-case marker+ banana]

Relative Position

Finally, the genitive marker is used to indicate the relative position of something, using qualifying adverbs (such as up, down etc.). This is again an extension of the genitive case as it shows a sense of belonging to that particular location:
खाटको तल (khāṭ-ko tala)
= Under (of the) bed
[bed (+) ko-case marker+ under]

लुगाको भित्र (lugā-ko bhitra)
= Inside (of the) cloth(es)
[cloth(es) (+) ko-case marker+ inside] 


Now that we have established how को (ko) works, let’s look at its forms का () and की (). You see, many languages like to gender nouns into various gender categories so you have male pens and female tables (ahem…German). I am not a historical linguist, but from the pattern of its vestigial organs (like this) and how its neighbours (Hindi etc.) still do assign gender to nouns, it is obvious that Nepali used to gender its words as well. However, the practice fell out of usage so in essence, all but a few words are gender-less in Nepali, thus takes on the masculine/neutral gender genitive marker को (ko). 

Yet, some words tend to remain furiously gendered, namely human animates, so gender does exist in some sense but in a purely desiccated state. Basically, there are three genders in Nepali language: masculine, neutral, feminine. “Plural” is not exactly a gender, but does have its own marking as well. However, since only (human) animates take on gender markings, you essentially use the masculine/neutral marker, which is को (ko), with almost everything (such as book, table, objects, feelings, countries etc.). I say “masculine/neutral” marker because the same marker is used to mark both masculine and neutral words.

However, in case of a plural noun (like books), you have to use the ending का () while with a feminine noun (like Mary), you have to use the ending की (). While this may sound complicated, it is really not. The only difference is that the noun being possessed must have the gender or plurality for this to work, so it does not depend on the possessor’s gender or plurality! 

What constitutes a masculine or a feminine noun? In essence, people and the things associated with being “people” constitutes whether they are gendered or not. For example, a “boy” is masculine while a “girl” is feminine as these describe people. Likewise, a “king” is masculine while a “queen” is feminine as these describe profession. On the other hand, a book has no gender (or rather, is neutral) and neither does tree, as these do not describe people. However, “books” is clearly plural, and so is “queens”. In this case, the plural wins out, as plurals are preferably marked over singulars, so they both take the same endings.
रानीको फूल (rānī-ko phūl)
Queen’s flower | Flower of (the) queen
[queen (+) ko-case marker+ flower]

In the above sentence, flower is a neutral word, and despite “Queen” being a feminine word, it still takes on को (ko) because as said before, the marker depends on the word that follows the possessor! However, if you were to reverse this:
फूलकी रानी (phūl-kī rānī)
= Queen of (the) flower
[flower (+) -case marker+ queen]

The feminine ending is used as the word that follows the genitive marker is a feminine noun, thus demands a feminine ending. Likewise:
रानीहरूको फूल (rānī-harū-ko phūl)
Queens’ flower | Flower of (the) queens
[queens (+) ko-case marker+ flower]

In the above sentence, the possessors are plural, but the ending is को (ko) since phūl is singular (and neutral). However, if you switch this around:
फूलका रानीहरू (phūl-kā rānī-harū)
= Queens of (the) flower
[flower (+) kā-case marker+ queens]

The plural ending is used, as word that follows the genitive marker is a plural noun (despite being plural feminine noun). This is because plural endings are given priority of singular ones. Take more examples of feminine endings:
नेपालकी छोरी (nepāl-kī chorī)
= Nepal’s daughter | Daughter of Nepal
[Nepal (+) -case marker+ daughter]

घरकी आमा (ghar-kī āmā)
= Mother of (the) house 
[House (+) -case marker+ mother]

As a reminder, the masculine/neutral marker is used for masculine nouns:
नेपालको छोरो  (nepāl-ko choro)
Nepal’s son | Son of Nepal
[Nepal (+) ko-case marker+ son]

In case of plurals, the gender does not matter:
नेपालका छोराहरू (nepāl-kā chorā-harū)
Nepal’s sons | Sons of Nepal
[Nepal (+) kā-case marker+ sons]

नेपालका छोरीहरू (nepāl-kā chorī-harū)
Nepal’s daughters | Daughters of Nepal
[Nepal (+) kā-case marker+ daughters]

A quirk in Nepali is to use the plural ending to denote respect, so if you see a plural ending to a masculine singular noun, it is most likely that it is done to denote respect:
बेनेडिक्टका बुवा (beneḍikṭ-kā buwā)
Benedict’s father [respect]
[Benedict (+) kā-case marker+ father]


The siblings of को (ko), these two रो (ro) and नो (noare identical in use, form (they both have three like ko) and rules but only appear with certain pronouns. Namely, instead of saying | pronoun + को (ko) | as how we are doing with nouns above, e.g. मको (ma-ko) we use a different style when it comes to certain pronouns. As reassurance, this is not done to every pronoun, only a select few. 


The four pronouns (and only these) that take up रो (ro) as its genitive marker are:

  • म (ma) = I
  • हामी (hāmī) = We
  • तँ (tam̐) = You (low respect) 
  • तिमी (timī) = You (medium respect)

Which turn, upon addition of रो (ro), into:

  • मेरो (mero) = My
  • हाम्रो (hāmro) = Our
  • तेरो (tero) = Your (low respect)
  • तिम्रो (timro) = Your (medium respect)

These can be used like any regular possessive pronoun, like:
मेरो किताब (mero kitāb)
My book

तिम्रो मन (timro man)
Your heart

Likewise, the gendered and plural forms are also very simple, as the last vowel is replaced with its respective ending i.e. gives रा () and री ():
हाम्री रानी (hāmrī rānī)
Our queen

तेरा आँखाहरू (terā ām̐khā-harū)
Your eyes (low respect)


The ignored and unloved middle child, it is only used with one pronoun, which ironically is with itself. It doesn’t help that the only use it ever sees is with one pronoun that itself say “no”:

  • आफू (āphū)/ आफैँ (āphaim̐) = oneself

Upon addition of नो (no), it gives us:

  • आफ्नो (āphno) = (One’s) own

This can be used to create sentences, such as:
आफ्नो छाँया (āphno chām̐yā)
= (One’s) own shadow

आफ्नी रानी (āphnī rānī)
= (One’s) own queen

आफ्ना हातहरू (āphnā hāt-harū)
= (One’s) own hands

मेरो आफ्नो जिन्दगी (mero āphno jindagī)
= My own life


Since possessives can be stacked over each other, the order is roughly as follows: generic to specific, or big to small. For example, in English:
My friend’s shirt’s pocket’s colour

Note how it goes from general (my friend) to specific (colour). Similarly in Nepali, the same sentence above would be:
मेरो साथीको सर्टको खल्तीको रङ (mero sāthī-ko sarṭ-ko khaltī-ko raṅ)
[my + friend’s + shirt’s + pocket’s + colour]


  • The function of को (ko) is to serve as a genitive case marker.
  • genitive marker marks a word as modifying another word to indicate an attributive relationship.
  • There are two other forms of को (ko): का (), की ()
  • The ending vowel sound depends on the gender or plurality of the noun that follows it.
  • रो (ro) and नो (noare identical to को (ko) but only appear with certain pronouns. 
  • The order of precedence is from general to specific, when there is a stack present.


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