Ilocano verb

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While other word categories in Ilocano are not as diverse in forms, verbs are morphologically complex inflecting chiefly for aspect. Ilocano verbs can also be cast in any one of five foci or triggers. In turn, these foci can inflect for different grammatical moods.


An important aspect of Ilokano verbal morphology is reduplication. Reduplication in verbal paradigms consists of repeating the first /(C1)V(C2).../ sequence of phonemes of the root as required by the form resulting in a bimoraic or heavy syllable. Or, the first /(C)V/ is repeated as is the case for indicating plural actors.

Basic form: gatang buy
Reduplicated form: gatgatang

Basic form: aramat use
Reduplicated form: ar-aramat[1]

The glottal stop as the second consonant of the sequence (C2) is lost. Two strategies can be applied to maintain the weight of the reduplicated syllable. Either the vowel (V) is lengthened (compensatory lengthening) or the first consonant (C1) is doubled (geminated).

Basic form: sao [sa.ʔo] say
Reduplicated form: sasao [saː.sa.ʔo]
sassao [ʔo]
Basic form: dait [da.ʔit] sew
Reduplicated form: dadait [daː.da.ʔit]
daddait [dad.daː.ʔit]


Ilocano verbs chiefly inflect for aspect, and not for tense.

Inflectional PatternEdit

Verbs inflect for the following:

  • Neutral - The neutral form is not marked for aspect (perfective or imperfective) or initiation (initiated or non-initiated) nor tense (past or non-past). It serves as the form for both the infinitive and the imperative.
  • Perfective - A completed action or accomplished state.
  • Imperfective - A non-punctual, repeated or habitual action or continued state.
  • Past Imperfective - A non-punctual, repeated or habitual action occurring in the past or a state that continued in the past.

In the typical verbal paradigm, Neutral and Perfective forms are not reduplicated, whereas the Imperfective and the Past Imperfective are reduplicated. The Imperfective and the Past Imperfective are marked for initiation.

Conjugation Pattern
Non-Initiated Initiated
Simple Neutral Perfective
Reduplicated Imperfective Past Imperfective

In a typical paradigm the chart would appear as the following:

Conjugation Pattern
Non-Initiated Initiated
Simple [AFFIX] [AFFIX+N]
Reduplicated [AFFIX]+[CVC] [AFFIX+N]+[CVC]

[AFFIX] is the verbal affix. [AFFIX+N] is the verbal affix modified for initiation. In many of the paradigms, the mark of initiation is N, for example, nag-, na-, and -in-. [CVC] is the reduplicated syllable of the root.


The future is not encoded with a particular verbal form. It is shown by affixing the enclitic -(n)to to the neutral form of the verb. The enclitic is not very cohesive. When it attaches, the personal pronoun enclitics intervene. If the preceding morpheme ends in a vowel, the form is -nto, otherwise, -to.


Kitaen to see (something)
kita[Root: see] + en[Patient Focus]Kitaento to about to see (something)
kita[Root: see] + en[Patient Focus] + to[Fut. Part.]Kitaennanto He/she will see (something)
kita[Root: see] + en[Patient Focus] + na[3rd Person Singular Ergative] + nto[Fut. Part.]Kitaendakto They will see me
kita[Root: see] + en[Patient Focus] + dak[3rd Per. Plu. Erg./1st Per. Sing.] + to[Fut. Part.]


Ilocano, like other Philippine languages, has an Austronesian morphosyntactic alignment. The verb is capable of tracking (focusing) on particular noun phrases within the sentence. Ilokano verbs are capable of focusing on noun phrases with the following thematic roles: Agent, Patient, Commitative, Directional, Benefactive, Thematic and Instrumental.

The Agent focus requires only one noun phrase. According to Galvino (2000), the affixes in the Agent focus are Intransitive, because the verb form does not require another noun phrase to complete its meaning. The noun phrase is the agent or the experiencer of the action.

The remaining foci, Patient, Commitative, Directional, Benefactive, Thematic and Instrumental require the presence of two theta roles: the agent noun phrase and the focused noun phrase. Galvino (2000) terms these as Transitive.

Potentially, all roots can be cast into all of the foci. Due to the semantics of the root, however, not many do in practice. Roots can differ in meaning when cast into different foci. The difference can be a slight nuance to almost opposite in meaning. For example, if the root dalus clean is cast in the Patient focus, the resulting meaning is to clean (something). But, if cast in the Directional focus, the resulting meaning is to clean (something) off, the focused noun phrase becomes the area affected instead of the object affected.

Foci and Corresponding Affixes
Focus Conjugation Example Gloss
Agent <um> gumatang to buy
ag- aggatang to buy (again and again), to shop
mang- manggatang to buy
ma- maturog to sleep
Patient -en dalusen to clean (something)
Commitative ka- kasao to talk with (someone)
Locative -an dalusan to clean (something) off
Thematic i- iruar to put (something) outside
Benefactive i> <an igatangan to buy for someone
Instrumental pag- pagdalus to use something to clean

Agent FocusEdit

Verbs cast in this focus throw emphasis on the noun phrase with the agent or experiencer role in the sentence. Impersonal verbs and verbs describing natural phenomenon occur with this focus, for example Agar-arbis It is drizzling.[2]

Noun phrases in the agent role are introduced by the core forms of the articles, ti for common nouns and ni for personal nouns. The enclitic absolutive (-ak series) of personal pronouns replace these noun phrases. If the verb can take a direct object, it is marked by the oblique forms of the articles, deictives and pronouns, for example, Nangan iti saba He ate a banana. Notice how the direct object is indefinite.

Patient role noun phrases (direct objects) of verbs are introduced by the oblique forms. In addition, Patients of verbs cast in the agent focus are indefinite.[3]

There are four affixes in this focus category: ag-, -um-, mang- and ma-. Roots will prefer to take only one or some of the prefixes. In some cases the meaning changes from one affix to another, for example, ngisit, black. If ag- is affixed, agngisit, the meaning is that of there is a likelihood of becoming black or to darken, for example Nagngisitka, You darkened.[4] However, with -um-, ngumisit, the meaning becomes more of a possibility or conjecture, Ngumisngisitkansa iti tengnat' aldaw, You might get darker at midday.


The verbal prefix ag- is very productive and can verbalize a large number of roots. If a new word were to enter the language, most likely this is the prefix used to verbalize it, for example, the fictitious baz: agbaz to "baz".

If the root takes either ag- or -um-, the additional meaning of ag- are some of the following:

  • Repetition of the action
  • Long duration of the action
  • With some roots, the attainment of the root, for example, dakkel, big, agdakkel to be big, doktor doctor, agdoktor to be a doctor.
  • The actor is in full control (internally motivated)
  • The certainty of the action because it is habitually occurring or frequently occurring.
  • Denotes the action taken on with the root, palsiit blowgun, agpalsiit to shoot with the blowgun, use the blowgun. (Compare with -um- below.)
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral ag- agtaray to run
Continuous Progressive agCVC- agtartaray is/was running
Perfective nag- nagtaray ran

has/have run

Continuous Complete nagCVC- nagtartaray was/were running

used to run would run


The verbal prefix <um>, is inserted, or infixed, to the first syllable of the root.

Some of the meanings imparted using this infix are:

  • A single action or an action that is not as long in duration as what is denoted by ag-.
  • With certain roots, using <um> denotes the act of "becoming" the root, for example, lakay old man, lumakay to grow older, to become older (said of males), to become an old man.
  • The actor is externally or circumstantially motivated.
  • The possibility of the action. (Compare with ag- above.)
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral <um> gumatang to buy
Continuous Progressive C<um>VC~ gumatgatang buys

is/are buying

Perfective <imm> gimmatang bought

has/have bought

Continuous Complete C<imm>VC~ gimmatgatang is/was buying

used to buy would buy

Ag- Versus <Um>Edit

The affixes ag- and <um> are very similar. Many verbs take either and have little difference in meaning. Other verbs are drastically differentiated.[5] Below is a chart contrasting the two.

Ag- Versus <Um>
Feature Ag- <Um>
Repetition Multiple At least once, Very few
Duration Long Short
Motivation Internal External, Circumstantial
Control Controlled Not Controlled
Probability Likely Conjectured
State Attained In progress, Becoming
Feature Ag- <Um> Root
Repetition aginom, to drink often, drink alcohol uminom, to drink (water, juice, etc.) inom, drink
Duration agtakder, to stand tumakder, to stand up takder, upright
Motivation agkabaw, to be forgetful, go senile kumabaw, to become senile kabaw, senile
Control agsao, to speak sumao, to speak up, to be heard sao, word, speech
Probability agkagat, to bite (likely) kumagat, to bite (seemingly) kagat, (a) bite
State agbaknang, to be rich bumaknang, to become rich baknang, riches


The mang- prefix is used to denote the following:

  • Collection or gathering
  • Purchase
  • Movement
  • Occupation and identification

The final nasal, /ŋ/, of the prefix commonly becomes the homoorganic nasal of the first consonant of the root which disappears or remains.

This affix is used when it is necessary to make a normally transitive verb, a verb that commonly occurs with -en, -an or i-, intransitive for syntactic reasons. These verbs will take mang- in such instances.

Nasal assimilation
Consonant Nasal Form Example Root Example Form
/p/,/b/,/m/ /m/ mam- baka, cow mamaka, to buy cows
/t/,/d/,/s/,/n/ /n/ man- talon, field manalon, to work in the field, farmer
/k/, /ɡ/, /ŋ/ /ŋ/ mang- kayo, wood, tree mangayo, to collect wood, wood collector
All others /ŋ/ mang- ubas, grapes mangubas, to gather grapes
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral mang- mangrugi to start
Continuous Progressive mangCVC- mangrugrugi starts

is/are starting

Perfective nang- nangrugi started

has/had started

Continuous Complete nangCVC- nangrugrugi was/were starting

used to start would start


There are few verbs with active meaning that use this prefix. Some of these are maturog (<turog), to sleep, mapan (<pan), to go, magna (<pagna irregular formation), to walk. Because of the semantics of these roots, they cannot take a direct object.

In the continuous progressive form, the prefix participates in reduplication taking the first consonant as its final, unlike the other verbal prefixes.

Lastly, ma- is similar in form to the ma- potentive. They differ in terms of the series of pronouns they are able to take: ma- (agent) take -ak pronouns; ma- (potentives) take -ko.

Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral ma- maturog to sleep
Continuous Progressive maCma- matmaturog sleeps

is/are sleeping

Perfective na- naturog slept

has/have slept

Continuous Complete naCna- natnaturog was/were sleeping

used to sleep

would sleep

Patient Focus: -EnEdit

Verbs cast in this focus throw emphasis on the patient of the verb, in other words, the direct object. Because of this, the misnomer "passive voice" has been applied to verbs in the patient focus.

Agents (or actors) for verbs cast in the true passive voice can be omitted. The English sentence The car was repaired yesterday is grammatical without the agent of the verb.[6] This cannot be said of verbs in the patient focus. Patient focus verbs require both the agent and the object argument for grammaticality. The sentence Tinarimaan ti mekaniko ti kotse is more grammatical than *Tinarimaan ti kotse which lacks an agent.

Patients of verbs cast into this focus are definite.[3] Both actor and patient are both marked by the core form of the article and deictives. For the pronouns, the ergative forms are used, in other words, the -ko series of pronouns. Since the core forms are used for both actor and patient, they are differentiated only by syntax: the actor follows after the verb as close as possible with the patient thereafter. If pronouns are used for both the actor and patient, a special set of pronouns are used. Consult the table of pronoun sequences for details.

What can be considered the patient of an English verb, may be cast in a different theta role in Ilocano. Take for example, the English phrase The student saved the file. In this phrase, the file is the noun phrase in the patient role (the direct object). In Ilocano, however, the same noun phrase would be cast in the thematic role and the verb in the thematic focus, instead, Indulin ti estudiante ti file because of the semantics of the verb. In the Ilocano mind, the file is being transferred to a safe place.

Use of this affix imparts the following meanings:

  • Consumption of the object, e.g. alimon "swallow", alimunen "to swallow (something)"
  • Permanent change of state, e.g. patay "death", patayen "to kill"
  • Mental processing of the object, e.g. panunot "thought", panunuten "to think (about something), ponder (something)"
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral -en basaen to read something
Continuous Progressive CVC~ -en basbasaen reads something

is/are reading something

Perfective <in>[7] binasa read something

has/has read something

Continuous Complete C<in>VC~ binasbasa was/were reading something'

used to read something

would read something

Commitative Focus: Ka-Edit

Verbs in the comitative focus denote that the verb action is shared between parties. The focused noun phrase is with whom the agent is partaking the action. Similar to the Instrumental focus below, these behave more like nouns.

Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral ka- katungtung to converse with someone
Continuous Progressive kaCVC- katungtungtung converses with someone

is/are conversingwith someone

Perfective kina- kinatungtung conversed with someone

has/have conversed with someone

Continuous Complete kinaCVC- kinatungtungtung was/were conversing with someone

Directional Focus: -AnEdit

The focused noun phrases of directional verbs are treated as places or destinations. When a person is the focus, a notion of direction (either to or from) or an affected party is implied, for example, suratan to write to someone, takawan to rob from someone (compare with tawaken to steal something). In addition, the focused noun phrase is treated as an area that is affected by the verb.

Verbs of cleaning, dalusan, to clean, labaan, to launder, sagadan, to sweep, are in this focus as the focused noun phrases are considered as an area affected. It is possible to use -en with these roots, but notice in the following sentences how the affix alters the focus and meaning: (with -an) Dinalusak ti sala. "I cleaned the living room." versus (with -en) Dinalusko ti rugit ti sala. "I cleaned the dirt in the living room."


  • Directionality, movement to or from
  • Place or destination
  • Area affected
  • Cleaning
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral -an labaan to launder something
Continuous Progressive CVC~ -an lablabaan launders something

is/are laundering something

Perfective <in> -an linabaan laundered something

has/have laundered something

Continuous Complete C<in>VC~ -an linablabaan was/were laundering something

used to launder something

would launder something

Thematic Focus: i-Edit

The focused noun phrases of thematic verbs are transferred or whose location or state is affected in some way by the semantics of the root. An analog of this idea of transference, verbs of saying are commonly use this affix. What is said becomes the focused element and is thought of as being transferred from one person to another.

Examples of roots that commonly take this form:

  • Transference, conveyance, e.g., dulin safe place, idulin' to save, put away
  • Change of non-permanent state, e.g., lukat exposed, ilukat to open; rikep shut, irikep to close, to shut
  • Verbs that convey information or ideas - baga declaration, ibaga to declare, say; kuna mention, ikuna to mention
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral i- ibaga to say something
Continuous Progressive iCVC- ibagbaga says something

is/are saying something

Perfective in-



imbaga said something

has/have said something

Continuous Complete inCVC-



imbagbaga was/were saying something

used to say something

would say something

Benefactive Focus: i><anEdit

The focused noun phrases of the benefactive verbs are usually persons. The verb is performed on their behalf or for their benefit. In English, this would correspond to the indirect object or prepositional phrases introduced with to, for or because of.

As with non-actor verb forms, the core forms of the article and the deictives[check spelling], and the ergative, or -ko, forms of the personal pronouns mark the actor. The focus, in this case the benefactor, is marked with the core forms and the absolutive, or -ak forms of the personal pronouns. If there is a direct object, it is marked with the oblique forms, for example, Igatanganto ni nanang ni ading iti sapatos Mother will buy shoes for (my) little sister.

Morphologically, the benefactive focused form is a combination of the prefix 'i-' and the suffix '-an'.


  • Benefit of the noun phrase in the absolutive
  • Representation
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral i><an igatangan to buy for someone
Continuous Progressive iCVC><an igatgatangan buys for someone

is/are buying for someone

Perfective in><an



inggatangan bought for someone

has/have bought for someone

Continuous Complete inCVC><an



inggatgatangan was/were buying for someone

would buy for someone

used to buy for someone

Instrumental Focus: Pag-Edit

The basic sense of the instrumental focus is the use of something to accomplish the root's meaning; it is the tool or the means of achieving that end. That something is then cast in the absolutive case. For example, dalus, clean space, pagdalus, to use something to clean with.

Again, the actor is marked with the core forms or ergative, with pronouns (i.e., -ko), and the instrument, with core forms, and absolutive with pronouns, for example, Pagdalusan ni tatang ti drapo Father uses the rag to clean with.

Pag-, behaves more like a verbal noun than a verb and sometimes translates as the implement, the reason or the theme of the root instead. Because of this, formations with this affix are lexicalized, thus becoming a derivational affix in some instances.


  • Instrument
  • Means
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral pag- pagdalus to use something to clean

to be used to clean

Continuous Progressive pagCVC- pagdaldalus uses something to clean

is/are using something to clean

is/are used to clean

Perfective pinag- pinagdalus used something to clean

has/have used something to clean

was/were used to clean

Continuous Complete pinagCVC- pinagdaldalus was/were using something to clean

used to use something for cleaning

would use something for cleaning

Imperative MoodEdit

The imperative mood of the verb is used for giving commands or making requests.

The difference between the infinitive use and the imperative use is the accompaniment of a personal pronoun. These are the second person pronouns (singular or plural) and the first person plural inclusive.


Manganka Eat. (Second Person Singular)
Idissoyo ditoy Put it down here. (Second Person Plural)
Aginanata bassit Let's rest a while. (First Person Dual)

Imperative verbs do not inflect for aspect. Thus, they are not required to "agree" with the verb of the main clause when they occur in subordinate clauses.

Imbaga ni nanang a manganka Mother told you to eat.

Potentive MoodEdit

The potentive mood of verbs denotes the following regarding the speaker's attitude regarding the event:

  • Unintentional - The actor had no intent in committing the action.
  • Possible - The actor had intent and was able.
  • Circumstantial - The actor was influence by the circumstances at the time.
  • Involuntary - The actor had no control over what happened.

Intransitive: Maka-, Makapag- and Makai-Edit

The prefixes Maka-, Makapag- and Makai- corresponds to the following actor focus prefixes in the indicative mood.

Prefix Indicative Potentive Root
ag- aggatang, to buy makagatang, makapaggatang to be able to buy gatang, purchase
-um- umuli, to ascend makauli, to be able to ascend uli, ascent
mang- mangayo, to gather wood makakayo, to be able to gather wood kayo, wood, tree
ma- maturog, to sleep makaturog, to be able to sleep turog, sleep


Maka- is used with all of the other actors focus verbs except for some verbs that normally take ag-. It denotes the innateness of actor, or other factors such as health or knowledge, that affect one's ability to perform the action. It also denotes inattentiveness in the action if the verb can use either makapag- or maka-.

Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral maka- makaturog to be able to sleep

to be sleepy

Continuous Progressive makaCVC- makaturturog is/are able to sleep

is/are sleepy

Perfective naka- nakaturog was/were able to sleep,

had been able to sleep,

was/were sleepy

Continuous Complete nakaCVC- nakaturturog was/were being able to sleep

was/were becoming sleepy


This prefix is applied to verbs that normally take ag- in the indicative. Similar to ag-, makapag- denotes internal motivation as a reason, so circumstance and context affect the ability to perform the action. Only nouns that denote humans or human-like animals are used with this prefix.

Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral makapag- makapagdigos to be able to bathe
Continuous Progressive makapagCVC- makapagdigdigos is/are able to bathe
Perfective nakapag- nakapagdigos was/were able to bathe
Continuous Complete nakapagCVC- nakapagdigdigos was/were being able to bathe

Digos can also take maka-. But, with makapag-, one's ability to bathe will be determined by the availability of water, of the bathroom, of soap, of time, etc.


The prefix makai- is used with detransitivized verbs that normally use i- as their transitive verb form, for example, ibelleng to throw (something) out versus makaibelleng can throw out, to be able to throw out.

Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral maka- makaibelleng to be able to throw away
Continuous Progressive makaiCVC- makaibelbelleng is/are able to throw away
Perfective nakai- nakaibelleng was/were able to throw away
Continuous Complete nakaiCVC- nakaibelbelleng was/were being able to throw away

Transitive: Ma-Edit

The prefix ma- is used with the patient focused affixes. Unlike the actor focused counterpart, maka-, Ma- does not replace the prefix, but is prefixed to the unaltered form. The only exception is the patient focus, where the suffix -en is dropped.

Prefix Example Potentive Form Root
Patient kitaen

to see (something)


to be able to see (something)
to happen to see (something)
to accidentally see (something)



Commitative kasao

to talk with (someone)


to be able to talk with (someone)
to happen to talk with (someone)



Directional suratan

to write to (someone)


to be able to write to (someone)
to happen to write to (someone)


writing, letter

Thematic ibaga

to say(something)


to be able to say (something)
to happen to say (something)


tell, say

Benefactive igatangan

to buy for (someone)


to be able to buy for (someone)
to happen to buy for (someone)'



Instrumental pagdalus

to used (something) to clean with


to be able to used (something) to clean with
to happen to used (something) to clean with


clean space


Saanko nakasao ni maestra idi kalman.
I was not able to talk to teacher yesterday.
Nasuratam ida?
Were you able to write to them?
Maigatanganak ti libro?
Can you buy me a book?
Napagdalusko ti daan a kamisetam. I happened to use your old shirt for cleaning. (It was an accident. I promise!)

The inflectional forms for ma- potentives follow the same pattern detailed above in the Aspect section. In other words, the first syllable of the root reduplicates, not a part of the word before ma- is prefixed, for example, maibagbaga, is/are able to say (something), not *maib-ibaga.

In the initiated forms, the Continuous Progressive form is prefixed with na-, for example, ibagbaga says (something), maibagbaga is/are able to say (something) and naibagbaga was/were being able to say (something), not *maimbagbaga or *naimbagbaga.

Example: ituding to specify (something)
Aspect Form Example Gloss
Neutral mai- maituding to be able to specify (something)
Continuous Progressive maiCVC- maitudtuding is/are being able to specify (something)
Perfective nai- naituding has/had been able to specify (something)
Continuous Complete naiCVC- naitudtuding was/were being able to specify (something)

Causative: Pa-Edit

Causatives are the verb forms where the agent causes or forces the patient to perform a given action or to become a given state. As a result, all causative verbs forms are transitive, requiring both agent and patient.

The common pattern of formation is: [FOCUS] + pa + [ROOT].

Agpa-, Mangpa-Edit

Ipa-, Ipai-, Pa><anEdit







  1. ^ When the root begins with a vowel, underlyingly, the onset is the glottal stop which must be retained in reduplication. This is reflected in the orthography by using a hyphen, "-".
  2. ^ On the other hand, non null-subject languages will require a subject with verbs of natural phenomenon, for example, It is raining (English), Es regnet (German) and Il pleut (French). The pronoun does not refer to anything, but it is required by the grammar that a subject exists in the subject frame.
  3. ^ a b In sentences where the agent role and the patient role noun phrase is the same, casting a verb in the agent or the patient focus changes the definiteness of the patient role noun phrase. When the verb is cast in the agent focus, the patient is indefinite, Gimmatangak ti aso I bought a dog (no specific dog is referenced). If cast in the patient focus, the patient role noun phrase become definite, Ginatangko ti aso I bought the dog (referring to a particular dog).
  4. ^ Incidentally, this is the intensive form of the adjective with the addition of -en. This is to say, that the state has been attained with some amazement of the speaker.
  5. ^ Lobel, Jason (2004). "Oceanic Linguistics". 43 (2). University of Hawai'i Press: 469–497. JSTOR 3623366. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Note the use of the word agent and not subject since the subject of this sentence is the girl.
  7. ^ The suffix drops off in the perfective, in contrast to -An, which remains.
  8. ^ In writing there is no distinction between, maka- (actor focused potentive) and ma-+ka- (commitative focused pontentive). In speech, however, the ka- of the commitative focused pontentive (/ma.'ka/-) is stressed while maka-, the actor focused potentive it is not (/ma.ka/-).


  • Espiritu, Percy (December 1984). Let's Speak Ilokano. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-0822-3.
  • Rubino, Carl R. Galvez (February 2000). Ilocano Dictionary and Grammar: Ilocano-English, English-Ilocano (Pali Language Texts: Philippines). University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2088-6.
  • Rubino, Carl R. Galvez (May 1998). Ilocano: Ilocano-English/English-Ilocano Dictionary and Phrasebook. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0642-9.

See alsoEdit