Punctuating Klingon

This is an attempt at figuring out how punctuation could (should?) work in Klingon. The article mostly focuses on romanized Klingon (i.e. Klingon written with the roman alphabet – as opposed to pI­qaD), and an attempt is made to analyze Okrand’s usage of punctuation characters.

A little bit of information about pI­qaD is tossed in at the end however, but you might want to refer to »pI­qaD, and How to Read It« for more information on the Klingon writing system.

Table of Contents

Okrand’s Way

Sentence Punctuation

When reading The Klingon Dictionary I was struck by the fact that Okrand seem to most carefully avoid using punctuation in Klingon sentences. – There is only one Klingon sentence in the entire book that contains any punctuation mark, and that occurs in the addendum (written for the second edition, seven years after the book was originally published). The sentence does not occur as an example, isolated from the surrounding text (like most other sentences), but is instead added as a final remark at the end of piece of a text in English. The sentence? Oh! It is: »taH­jaj boq.« (May the alliance endure.)

It looks as if Okrand early on decided to avoid taking a stance on how punctuation should work in Klingon – which worked well for any sentence occurring on its own, or in quotation marks – but when faced with an off-hand Klingon remark inside an English text (where missing punctuation marks would have looked weird) he changed his mind (or forgot).

With only TKD as an example, we already have an indication that the punctuation is mostly there for the benefit of the Terran reader, and for the flow of the text as a whole.

Reading The Klingon Way and Klingon for the Galactic Traveler, this impression is given further credence – there does not seem be any connection between the meaning of a Klingon sentence and its punctuation. Instead the punctuation used is the same as in the English translation of the sentence. Some examples of imperative sentences (one would expect all of them to end in an exclamation point!):

Klingon Given Translation ? Source
bI­’IQ­chugh yI­vang! If you are sad, act! ! TKW p.8
tI­qIp­qu’ ’ej nom tI­qIp. Hit them hard and hit them fast. . TKW p.8
Hoch ’eb­mey tI­jon. Capture all opportunities. . TKW p.51
pIp­yuS yI­ghor! Break a pipius! ! TKW p.185
ghew­mey tI­Suq­Qo’. Don’t catch any bugs. . TKW p.207
jagh tI­HIv! Attack the enemies! ! KGT p.140

And some examples of statements (which one would expect to all end with a period):

Klingon Given Translation ? Source
taH­jaj boq. May the alliance endure. . TKDa p.173
tlhI­ngan maH! We are Klingons! ! TKW p.3
Hov­mey Da­van. You salute the stars. . TKW p.83
qagh Sop­be’! He doesn’t eat gagh! ! TKW p.137
Doq bIQ­tIq bIQ. The river water is red. . KGT p.123
Suy SoH. You are a merchant. . KGT p.196

Luckily, for the most part, Klingon doesn’t need much in way of punctuation – questions and commands are always clearly marked.[1]

Sub-Sentence Punctuation

Punctuation is not only useful at the end of the sentence, but can also be used to separate clauses, and otherwise help to make a sentence’s internal structure become easier to grasp. In fact – in Klingon – this is probably where punctuation can help the most.

I think Okrand is a little more consistent when it comes to sub-sentence punctuation, though this will have to become the target for some future research. Especially in similes he is very consistent in his use of semicolon in the »<stative verb>; <noun> rur« pattern (e.g. ram; ghI­lab ghew rur It is trivial as a glob fly).

Here are some cases to think about when I get back to this the next time:

Canon Examples
bogh tlhI­ngan­pu’, Suv­wI’­pu’ moj, Hegh. [TKW p.5]
ta’­mey Dun, bom­mey Dun. [TKW p.15]
batlh qel­DI’ tlhI­ngan, lum­be’. [TKW p.67]
wej Hegh­chugh vay’, Suv­taH Suv­wI’. [TKW p.88]
qan­choH­pa’ qoH, Hegh qoH. [TKW p.117]
wa’ Suv­wI’ muH­lu’­DI’, tuH­choH Hoch Suv­wI’­pu’. [TKW p.136]
Qu’ buS­Ha’­chugh Suv­wI’, batlh­Ha’ vang­chugh, qoj matlh­Ha’­chugh, pagh ghaH Suv­wI’­’e’. [TKW p.139]
nuH­lIj Da­wIv­pu’, vaj yI­Sov! [TKW p.151]
Qagh­mey­lIj ti­chID, yI­yoH. [TKW p.212]
bI­Suv ’e’ yI­wIv; bI­Sutlh ’e’ yI­wIv­Qo’. [TKW p.19]
qan­choH­pa’ qoH, Hegh qoH. [TKW p.117]
vang­DI’ tlhI­ngan Suv­wI’ ngoy’ qor­Du’­Daj; vang­DI’ qor­Du’ ngoy’ tlhI­ngan Suv­wI’. [TKW p.155]
wa’ jaj ’etlh ’uch­choH­laH tlhI­ngan puq­loD; jaj­vetlh loD nen moj. [TKW p.177]

pI­qaD Punctuation

Special thanks to Nick Nicholas for telling me about pI­qaD punctuation:

pI­qaD punctuation exists, and is featured on the Klingon trading cards with Okrandian canon text: an upturned filled triangle, and its upside down counterpart. There is no correlation between pI­qaD translation and the romanized gloss or English gloss punctuation that I could discern; it seems reasonable to treat the upturned version as a full stop (period), and the downturned version as a semicolon or comma. (cf. Greek punctuation: lower stop = full stop; upper stop = semicolon.)

I mean, the downturned version as comma. Oh, and there’s nothing complex about Greek punctuation, contra to what you now say on your web page :-) ; simple, upper stop in Greek corresponds to the Roman semi-colon. (For that matter, middle stop – used for Ancient but not Modern texts – corresponds to colon; indeed, middle stop and upper stop are usually not distinguished.) I just speculated that, if Klingon had two punctuation symbols, one would be a full stop, and the other would cover both semicolon and colon.


  1. Questions always have either the interrogative suffix -’a’ attached to the verb, or one of the question words (chay’, ghorgh, nuq, nuq­Daq, qatlh, ’ar or ’Iv) present in the sentence. – Commands always have one of the imperative prefixes (yI-, pe-, tI-, gho- or HI-) attached to the verb.