Jamaican Patwa Grammar

April 26, 2023
by: Shamara Peart

Patwa’s unique grammatical structure is a result of the various languages that contributed to its formation. In this post, I share a few examples of differences between Patwa and English. You may notice these features of Patwa mixed into the English you hear on the streets of Toronto!

Inflection. Unlike English, Patwa doesn’t rely on verbal inflection. Inflection is when a word is modified to contain grammatical information without affecting the meaning of the word. For example:

'Mi taak'
I talk
'Mi a taak'
I am talking
'Mi ago taak'
I will talk
'Mi eh taak'
I had talked

In the above Patwa sentences, to change the tense, a word is placed before the verb, indicating present, future or past. This is in contrast to English, which uses a combination of auxiliary verbs and inflection (-ing, -ed) to indicate tense.

Plural. To express the plural in Patwa, you add the word ‘dem’ after a noun. For example:

'gyal dem'
'pickney dem'

Next time you hear someone on the TTC refer to their friends as “man dem”, you’ll know where the phrase comes from and what it means!

Pronouns. Below is a chart comparing pronouns in English and Patwa (from Languij Jumieka). Patwa pronouns are another feature you may recognize in multicultural Toronto English.

English pronouns
Patwa pronouns
English pronouns
Patwa pronouns
I mi we wi
you yu you unu
he/she/it im/shi/hit they -e/dem/deh

If you want to learn more about Patwa grammar, I recommend the videos by Shan’s Patwa Academy. Here's one on the plurals.