Spacing between nouns

The space between words has caused some confusion and also some discussions among Klingonists because Marc Okrand has not always been very consistent in using them.


Basically when a space is left between two words, it is called a noun-noun-construction while omitting the space creates a compound noun. The only grammatical difference between these is that suffixes cannot be added into a compound noun.

Okrand has mentioned several times that since Klingon is intended as a spoken, not written, language, he does not see much difference in the usage of the language: "Marc Okrand recently mentioned to me that while there's a common perception that noun-noun constructs must be separated by spaces, he's actually not at all picky about that." (1)

Clear answers

There are few situations where Marc Okrand replied to questions clarifying the use of a space:
  • DI'raq loD ram (male sheep) is written with two words: "Kin terms (like puqloD and lorloD) are set terms, regular vocabulary items. For animals, Klingon doesn't have special words for male vs. female. That is, English has ram (male), ewe (female), sheep (both/either), but Klingon has only an equivalent for sheep — no separate word for ram or ewe. If it's necessary to specify sex/gender, it's done using the noun-noun construction." (2)
  • qo' Sor is written without space in the Klingon Art of War, but Okrand fixed it to have a space. (3)
  • qulHuD, the word for "volcano", is written with no space. (4)
  • wabDo / wab Do: "As a spelling convention, wab Do "speed of sound" is written as two words. When used as a measurement term ("Mach"), it's written as one word wabDo. The pronunciation (and, for that matter, meaning) is the same." (5)
  • xQeD / xtej: All sciences are written as one word with no space. There are two exceptions: DI'ruj QeD and Hov leng QeD. (6)
  • All sorts of energy fields (chem) are written with no space: HoSchem, pIvchem etc. Only peQ chem was written with a space in the addendum, but in consistency with the other terms, some Klingonists regard that as an error.
  • HoS Hal with a space is translated as "power supply" (SB #14) and HoSHal as one word is translated as "energy source" (MKE).

Unstated principles

A number of unstated principles seem to be followed when it comes to compound nouns and noun-noun constructions.

  • A compound noun generally has a meaning which is in some way different than just the sum of its components. For example, whereas a rop yaH (with a space) is any duty station related in some way to disease, a ropyaH (as one word) is specifically an infirmary.
  • A compound noun where one of its components is itself a noun-noun construction is to be avoided. Thus, it's Qu' vu'wI' yaH and not Qu'vu'wI'yaH.
  • Spacing should be consistent across the same type of thing. Since pubtaHbogh ghargh HIq and HIq qIj are written with spaces, the names of alcoholic beverages with HIq are not compounded even though one might otherwise expect them to be: 'Iw HIq, romuluS HIq, etc.


Noun-noun constructions:

DI'raq loD sheep male = ram The Little Prince
jaghpu' yuQmey enemies' planets
jonSeH yaH engine control duty station = engineering, engine-control location qepHom 2017
nagh Dung(Daq) above the rock
nuH pegh weapon's secret, secret of the weapon
puqwI' qamDu' my child's feet
ropyaH qach infirmary building = hospital TNK
tuq Degh House symbol = family crest KGT
wab Do speed of sound Go Flight App

In each case, the meaning is derived exactly from the components.

Compound nouns:

  • 'Iwghargh refers to a specific type of worm.
  • jolpa' refers to a room with a specific purpose and layout.
  • mI'QeD "mathematics" is more than just the science of numbers, but includes geometry and so on.
  • may'Duj is not just any "battle ship", but a specific type or class known as a "battle cruiser".
  • puqloD is "son" (i.e., male offspring), not just any male child.
  • qulHuD is specifically a volcano.
  • ropyaH refers specifically to an infirmary.
  • tIjwI'ghom is a specific team configuration with a set mission, not just any group of people who go aboard a ship.
  • wabDo loS means "Mach 4". Compare wab Do loS which would mean "speed of sound number four" or something like that.
  • yuQjIjDIvI' is not any "federation of cooperative planets", but the United Federation of Planets.

In each case, the meaning is somehow different than just the sum of the parts. The word ropyaH is especially instructive since it is a compound noun, but it participates in the noun-noun construction ropyaH qach.

The Klingon Dictionary gives two English examples illustrating the concept of compound nouns: "earthworm" and "password". An "earthworm" is not just any worm of the earth, but a specific type of worm (so this is exactly analogous to 'Iwghargh). A "password" is not even necessarily a "word", but nowadays is usually some combination of letters, numbers, and/or punctuation.


While spaces do not change the pronunciation, they may change the stress when Klingon is spoken. In a noun, the stressed syllable is usually the syllable right before the first noun suffix (or the final syllable if there is no suffix), except if there is a syllable ending in ', which is usually stressed instead.(7) Since a compound noun is one word, the final syllables of its internal nouns may follow a different stress pattern than if it had been a noun-noun construction.


1 : email from Felix Malmenbeck to the mailing list, November 16, 2014

2 : The Little Prince, p. 153

3 : vetted list at qepHom Saarbrücken 2014

4 : used in subtitles of Star Trek: Discovery

5 : Smithsonian GoFlight App, published qepHom Saarbrücken 2016

6 : qepHom 2019, p. 17

7 : The Klingon Dictionary section 1.3

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