Crystallising Mongolian Grammar

Монгол хэлний хэлзүй

Modal particles: билээ / билүү

11 December 2016

This is part of a series on Modal particles based on textbooks and grammar references that I have to hand.

Билээ and билүү both indicate that the speaker is resorting to memory. The actual tone and functions are not so simple. There is a gap between what language textbooks describe for conversational Mongolian and what more traditional grammars describe, which relates to the written language.

1. Mongolian Language for Beginners
2. Mongolian Language Handbook
3. Mongolian Grammar
4. 蒙古语语法
5. Dictionaries

1. Bayarmaa Khalzaa (Mongolian Language for Beginners) 2012

Byarmaa covers both билүү and билээ. Her explanation refers only to the most common use of these modals, that is, in direct questions in ordinary conversation.

Билээ?/билүү? (again? I forgot/I can't remember.))

The word "билээ" is used for sentences that have question pronouns. For example:

Та хаана амьдардаг билээ?
Where do you live again?
Та хэзээ хичээлтэй билээ?
When do you have a lesson, again?
Та ямар ажил хийдэг билээ?
(I forgot.) What kind of work do you do?
Тэр юу билээ? [yuvilee]
What is that, again?

The word "билүү" is used for affirmative sentences that have no question pronouns. For example:

Та хөдөө амьдардаг билүү?
(I forgot.) Do you live in the countryside?
Та маргааш хичээлтэй билүү?
(I forgot.) Do you have a lesson tomorrow?
Та багш билүү?
Again, are you a teacher?



2. T. Uranchimeg (Mongolian Language Handbook) 2007

Uranchimeg treats билээ and билүү in a similar manner:

Бил ээ

Бил ээ? is a question particle.

This is used when the person asking is trying to remember the correct answer.

Бил ээ is used when a question contains a question word.

Таны нэр хэн билээ? Би мартчихжээ.
Миний нэр Авирмэд.
What's your name again? I've forgotten.
My name is Avirmed.
Та аль улсаас ирсэн билээ?
Би Канадаас ирсэн шүү дээ.
What country did you say you come from?
I am from Canada.
Та бид хоёр урьд нь хаана уулзсан билээ?
Аа, бид Чингис зочид буудалд уулзсан шүү дээ.
Where did we meet each other last? Remind me.
We met each other at the "Chingis Khan" hotel.
Та аль дүүрэг амьдардаг билээ?
Өө би юү? Баянзүрх дүүрэгт амьдардаг.
What district do you live in? I've forgotten.
Me, I live in the Bayanzurkh district.
Бид хоёр өчигдөр хэдэн цагт эндээс явсан билээ?
Өчигдөр үү? 7.30-д явсан.
What time did we leave from here yesterday? Do you remember?
Yesterday? We left at 7:30.
Хэн өнгөрсөн долоо хоногт миний номыг авсан билээ?
Би таны номыг авсан /шүү дээ/.
Who took my book last week? (I don't remember.)
You know, I took your book.
Та ирэх жил хэдэн сард хутаг руугаа буцах билээ?
Ирэх жил би долдугаар сард нутаг руугаа буцна.
Which month next year will you return to your homeland?
I'll go back home in July next year.

Бил үү?

Бил үү? - is this statement true?

This is a question particle used when seeking confirmation of something of which the questioner is uncertain.

Бил үү is used in sentences with no question word.

Таны нэр Мөнхнасан бил үү?
Үгүй. Миний нэр Мөнхжаргал.
Your name is Munkhnasan, isn't it?
No, my name is Munkhjargal.
Аа тийм, та Дундговь аймгаас ирсэн бил үү?
Тэгсэн. Би Дундговь аймгаас ирсэн.
I see. You came from Dundgovi aimag, didn't you?
Yes, I came from Dundgovi aimag.
Таны нэг хүүхэд манай сургуульд сурдаг бил үү?
Тийм ээ, манай ууган хүү танай сургуульд сурдаг юм.
One of your children studies in our school, doesn't he?
Yes, our eldest son studies in your school.
Нээрэн, таны аав хүүхдийн эмч байсан бил үү?
Тэгэлгүй яах вэ. Миний аав хүүхдийн эмч байсан.
Neeren, your father was a pediatrician, wasn't he?
Of course, my father was a pediatrician.
Цэвэлмаагийн гэр манай хороололд байдаг бил үү?
Үгүй. Цэвэлмаагийн гэр манай хороололд байдаггүй. Түүний эгчийн гэр байдаг.
Tsevelmaa's ger is in our district, isn't it?
No, Tsevelmaa's ger is not in our district. Her elder sister's ger is in our district.
Багшаа энэ номыг 500 төгрөгөөр авсан вил үү?
Үгүй. Энэ номыг 5000 төгрөгөөр авсан шүү дээ.
Teacher, we bought this book for 500 tugrogs didn't we?
No, we bought this book for 5,000 tugrogs.
Маргааш хагас сайн өдөр бил үү, бүтэн сайн өдөр бил үү?
Маргааш бүтэн сайн.
Is tomorrow Saturday or Sunday?
Tomorrow is Sunday.
Улаанбаатараас Өвөрхангай хүртэл 490 км бил үү?
Үгүй. Улаанбаатараас Өвөрхангай хүртэл 409 км.
Is it 490 km from Ulaanbaatar to Uvurkhangai?
No, it is 409 km from Ulaanbaatar to Uvurkhangai.


3. Kullman and Tserenpil (Mongolian Grammar) 2005

Kullman and Tserenpil deal only with билээ and лээ. The following explanation is slightly edited. Note that билээ is used for virtually all examples where no question word is involved.

Examples from Tserenpil/Kullman in the Mongolian traditional script can be found here.

Modal Particle "билээ/лээ"

This particle derived from the defective auxiliary verb "bü-" and is, therefore, no true particle. It expresses statements that are remembered to be told to others. The particle "лээ" is the shortened form of "билээ" which explains why it is not complying with vowel harmony. It's rarely used, mainly in the modal construction "юм байна лээ".

Usually билээ:-

Follows verbs with a Non-determining Suffix:

Би хоёр жилийн өмнө Монголд ирсэн билээ.
You know, two years ago I came to Mongolia.
Таны нэрийг хэн гэсэн билээ?
What was your name again?
Тэгэхэд тэр надад туслаагүй билээ.
Oh yes, I remember, he wasn't helping me at that time.

Follows the shortened form of "-жээ" -> "-ж":

Монголд их сонирхолтой байж билээ.
You know, two years ago I came to Mongolia.
Та нарыг ирэхэд Монголд хүнсний зүйл хэцүү байж билээ.
Yes, I remember, when you came to Mongolia, the food situation was very difficult.

In the following examples it serves as a copula after a noun.

Энэ бол маш сайн ном билээ.
Oh yes, that's a very good book.
Түний эхнэр их ухаантай хүн билээ.
Oh yes, his wife is a very intelligent person.


4. Chingeltei (蒙古语语法) 1991

Chingeltei covers a broader range of usages. Examples are dated and reflect Inner Mongolian usage. Only one example of билүү is given. Note that билээ is used for almost all examples that do not use a question word.

Examples from Chingeltei in the Mongolian traditional script can be found here.


ᠪᠢᠯᠡ 可以用在以静词、形动词结束的句尾,也可以用在以᠊ᠭᠰᠠᠭᠠᠷ (᠊ᠭ᠍ᠰᠡᠭᠡᠷ) ɣsaɣar (gseger), ᠊ᠵᠢ ǰi, ᠊ᠨ᠎ᠠ n-a n-e结尾的句尾。一般是表示回忆语气或本来如此的语气(用在否定句就变成原来不是如此,从来不是如此)。用在᠊ᠬᠣ (᠊ᠬᠦ) qu (ku), ᠳ᠌ᠠᠭ (ᠳ᠌ᠡᠭ) daɣ (deg) 之后,表示应如何,前边有疑问代词则表示“到底应该如何”的意思。

Rough translation: Modal of remembering билээ: Билээ can be used to terminate sentences that end with 'static words' [nouns etc.] and adjectives and verbs. They can also be used to terminate sentences that end in -ж, -х, and -на/-нэ. In general they express a tone of remembering or realising something (if used in a negative sentence, the meaning changes to a realisation that it was not and has never been so). Used after -х or -даг / -дэг, it indicates how things should be.

Цогмандал бол угаас гар урантай хүн билээ.
(Tsogmandal was always skilled with his hands.)
(My interpretation: Remembering)
Таны хамар цагаан хонины чинь халзан хурга биш билүү (билээ үү)?
(Aren't these the white-fronted lambs from your white-nosed sheep?)
(My interpretation: Seeking confirmation of memory)
Зүглүүр эрт үед манай улс нээн гаргасан юм билээ.
(In ancient times our country invented the compass.)
(My interpretation: Referring to past events -- although not personally known to the speaker)
Харанхуй шөнө өнгөрвөл үүр цайж гэгээн наран манддаг билээ.
(When the black night has passed the day will break and the sun will rise.)
(My interpretation: Remembering how it should be)
Энэ насандаа олж сонсоогүй билээ.
(I've never heard of it in my life.)
(My interpretation: Direct appeal to memory)
Хаврын тунгалаг өглөө байж билээ.
(It was a bright spring dawn.)
(My interpretation: Telling a story about the past as if remembered)
Энэ талаар бид бас ч бага сурагч байсаар билээ.
(In this field we are still just a primary school pupil.)
(My interpretation: Realisation by the speaker?)
Хоршоон зарим хүн чингээж хэлж байна билээ.
(There are some people in the collective who say that.)
(My interpretation: Producing an observation as if remembered?)

If there is an interrogative pronoun, it expresses the meaning 'exactly how should things be?'

Одоо бид яаaдаг билээ?
(What should we do now?)
(My interpretation: Trying to think how it should be)
Цааш юу хэлэх билээ!
(What should we say in future?)
(My interpretation: Trying to think how it should be)
Үүнийг хүн асуувал юу гэж хэлдэг билээ.
(If people ask what should I say?)
(My interpretation: Trying to think how it should be)


5. Dictionaries

Монгол хэлний дэлгэрэнгүй тайлвар толь edited by Л. Балдан, Ё. Баярсайхан, Э. Пүрэвжав (2008):

БИЛҮҮ ᠪᠢᠯᠡ ᠦ᠋ᠦ Мэдэхгүй болон эргэлзээт зүйлийг хэлэлцэхэд лавлах үүргээр хэрэглэгдэх туслах үйл үг

ирсэн билүү (ирсэн үү)

Хийсэн билүү (хийсэн үү)

захисан билүү (захисан уу)

Би тэдэнд захисангүй билүү (С. Дашдэндэв. Улаан наран)

蒙汉词典(增订本) by Inner Mongolian University School of Mongolian Studies Mongolian Language Research Institute (1999) gives the following for билээ:

ᠪᠢᠯᠡ bile [bile:~bil] [语]

1. 是(表示肯定)

2. 来着(表示回想):

ᠲᠠᠨ ᠦ ᠨᠡᠷ᠎ᠡ
ᠬᠡᠨ ᠪᠢᠯᠡ

ᠪᠢᠯᠡ ᠦ᠋ᠦ?

2. 呀(表示无可奈何):

ᠪᠢ ᠶᠠᠭᠠᠬᠢᠳᠠᠭ

The following is for билүү:

ᠪᠢᠯᠢᠦ biliü [biliu] [语] 是... ... 吗?曾经... ...是吗?

ᠲᠠᠨ ᠦ ᠠᠬ᠎ᠠ