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Introduction updated 2018-10-24 ^

Pronunciation

Kiswahili pronunciation is, for the most part, easy for a learner whose first language is English. The language has a five vowel system represented by the letter, a, e, i, o, and u, (like Spanish), and most of its consonants are quite similar to English ones. The following points need to be kept in mind when learning Kiswahili pronunciation:

The letter a is approximately pronounced as in English father, e.g. baba-father
The letter e is approximately pronounced as in English debt, e.g. nene-fat
The letter i is approximately pronounced as in English bee, e.g. bibi-grandmother
The letter o is approximately pronounced as in English row, e.g. mtoto-child
The letter u is approximately pronounced as in English moon, e.g. bubu-dumb person

All vowels are pronounced clearly and distinctly regardless of the position of the vowel in a word. They are never pronounced reduced (i.e schwa) as the second vowel in water and butter. Double vowels as in kaa, baa, taa, etc. are pronounced long. Dissimilar vowels as in pea, paua, zuia, etc. are pronounced distinctly as separate syllables; they are not pronounced like a sequence of two vowels one blending into the other as the English diphthong which is considered to form a single syllable.

p, t, ch, k are pronounced as in English pea, tea, cheer, keep respectively, Examples are: paa-roof, taa-lamp, choo-toilet, kaa-crab

b, d, j, g are pronounced as in English big, dig, jog, give respectively. Examples are: baa-bar, dada-sister, jaa-fill, gugu-weed

m, n, are pronounced as in English. Examples are: mama-mother, nane-eight

ng’ is pronounced like ng in long, bring, sing. Examples are: ng’aa-shine, ng’ombe-cow, ng’amua-realize

ny is pronounced as ni as in the word onion. Examples are: nyanya-tomatoes, nyinyi-you all, manyunyu-drizzle

nj is pronounced like the nge sound in the word fringe. Examples are: njano-yellow, njegere-peas

th, dh are pronounced as English th in thick and this, respectively, Examples are: thelathini-thirty, dhambi-sin

s, z are pronounced as English. Examples are: saa-time, watch, clock, zaa-give birth

sh is pronounced as in English she. Examples: shangaa-be surprised, shinda-win

h is pronounced as in English he. Examples are habari-news, information

f, v are pronounced like the initial sounds in the English words fail, veil respectively, Examples are: faa-be of use, vaa-wear, dress (cloth)

r, l, w, y are pronounced as the initial sounds in the English words; rain, lawyer, way, yes, respectively. Examples are: radi-thunder, lala-sleep, wewe-you (singular), yeye-s/he.

gh is pronounced in the same position in the mouth as English g in go but with friction. Examples are ghali-expensive, ghafla-suddenly

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns and demonstratives vary according to the noun class of the word they refer to.

Swahili Pronoun English Pronoun
Mimi I/Me
Wewe You
Yeye He/She (Him/Her)
Sisi We/Us
Ninyi You (pl)
Wao They/Them

NOTE: Sometimes, you might see the second person plural written as Nyinyi, but for this course, you will see Ninyi used.

“To Be”

To express the concept of “being” in the present, the particles ni (positive) and si (negative) are used as shown in the following chart:

Singular

Pronoun Particle Noun
Mimi/Wewe/Yeye ni Mtanzania/Mmarekani/Mkenya
I/You/He or She am/are/is (a/an) Tanzanian/American/Kenyan
Mimi/Wewe/Yeye si Mtanzania/Mmarekani/Mkenya
I/You/He or She am/are/is not (a/an) Tanzanian/American/Kenyan

Plural

Pronoun Particle Noun
Sisi/Ninyi/Wao ni Watanzania/Wamarekani/Wakenya
We/You (pl)/They are Tanzanians/Americans/Kenyans
Sisi/Ninyi/Wao si Watanzania/Wamarekani/Wakenya
We/You (pl)/They are not Tanzanians/Americans/Kenyans

Greetings 1 updated 2018-10-24 ^

Greetings

Greetings 2 updated 2018-10-24 ^

Greetings

People updated 2019-01-15 ^

Noun Classes: M- WA- Noun Class

In Swahili, nouns are grouped according to different classes. These classes have different agreements and grammatical structures in common with very few exceptions. Although learning the different rules of the noun classes can seem daunting, the patterns that each class follow become easily recognizable and mastery over noun classes will set your Swahili apart from a casual learner.

Most nouns referring to humans, animals, and insects fall into the M- WA- noun class because they take the m- prefix in the singular and the wa- prefix in the plural. For example, the word parent(s) is mzazi or wazazi. This is also generally true for adjective stems, and although we will introduce some adjectives here, we will cover adjective stems later in the course in more detail. Unlike Romance languages and others with gendered nouns, Swahili does not have gendered nouns and that distinction is only made through using adjectives.

However, it is important to note that many kinship nouns and almost all animal nouns do not take those prefixes.

Plural Suffix -ni

There are certain words, like karibu, asante, shikamoo, or kwa heri that, when used to address more than one person, take the suffix -ni to indicate plural references. So, saying asante, or thank you, to a group of people would be asanteni. When adding syllables to the end of words, the stress still goes on the penultimate syllable once the addition is made, not the original syllable where the stress once was.

Possessive Pronouns

The following chart shows personal pronouns for singular and plural. These act as vowel stem adjectives and must take different agreements depending on the noun class.

Singular Translation Plural Translation
- angu my/mine - etu our/ours
- ako your/yours - enu your/yours (pl.)
- ake his/her - ao their/theirs

For the M- WA- noun class, the prefix w- is used for both singular AND plural possessive pronouns. For example, my child will be mtoto wangu and my children* will be watoto wangu**.

-a of association

There is a prepositional element in Swahili that is the equivalent of saying of. It follows agreement patterns based on the noun class as well. All nouns, including the Arabic kinship nouns, in the M- WA- noun class take the agreement prefix w- for the “-a of association.” In a way, this linguistic element acts as a way to attach an adjective. See below:

Singular Example Translation Plural Example Translation
Mwalimu wa Kiswahili Teacher of Swahili – Swahili Teacher Walimu wa Kiswahili Teachers of Swahili – Swahili Teachers
Msichana wa Marekani American girl Wasichana wa Marekani American girls
Mwanafunzi wa hisabati Math student Wanafunzi wa hisabati Math students

Subject Prefixes

Nouns of the M/Wa noun class take the same subject prefixes as the personal pronouns take.

- Pronoun Subject Prefix
I Mimi Ni-
You Wewe U-
He/She Yeye A-
We Sisi Tu-
You (pl.) Ninyi M-
They Wao Wa-

Examples

Ninatoka Tanzania. I come from Tanzania.
Mwalimu anapenda Kenya. The teacher likes Kenya.

Present Tense 1 updated 2019-03-16 ^

Affirmative Constructions:

Simple Swahili sentence structure has three parts: a subject prefix, a tense marker, and the verb stem. For example Ninapika (I am cooking):

Ni- = Subject Prefix (I)
-na- = Tense Marker (Simple Present)
-pika = Verb (Cook)

This can be called verb construction or sentence structure, because in Swahili, this construction can constitute a complete sentence with a subject and a verb by itself. The structure will become longer with additional nouns or other modifiers.

In the example above, -pika is the modified verb in the present tense. If we want to talk about cooking, or if we refer to the infinitive form, to cook, then we add what we call the infinitive ku. So, to say to cook or cooking, the word is kupika. When we refer to dropping or retaining the infinitive ku, this is what will stay or go!

In Swahili, Bantu-origin verbs end in -a and Arabic/other language-origin verbs end in other vowels. Verbs in Swahili do not end in consonants.

The following chart shows sample constructions involving the subject prefixes, tense markers, and some sample verb stems:

Pronoun Subject Prefix Tense Marker Verb Stem Construction
mimi (I) ni- (I) -na- (present continuous tense) -sema (speak) Ninasema
wewe (you) u –(you) -na- (present tense) -lala (sleep) Unalala
yeye (she/he) a – (she/he) -na- (present tense) -fikiri (think) Anafikiri
sisi (we) tu – (we) -na- (present tense) -uliza (ask) Tunauliza
ninyi (you plural) m – (ya’ll) -na- (present tense) -fundisha (teach) Mnafundisha
wao (they plural) wa – (They) -na- (present tense) -kimbia (run) Wanakimbia

In these constructions, ni-, u-, a-, tu-, m-, and wa- are subject prefixes, i.e. they refer to the subject noun or pronoun.

Monosyllabic verbs retain the infinitive ku as part of the verb stem, like kula - to eat. To make a construction, the infinitive ku is retained. So, to say I eat or I am eating, the Swahili would be Ninakula.

This form of construction, or agglutination, is important in Swahili as all verbage is formed by combining subject prefixes, tense markers, and verbs at the very least, and including object infixes, relatives, and different verb endings as language ability progresses.

Negative present singular and plural:

In negative present:
1- No tense sign is used;
2- If the last vowel is an “a”, it is changed into “i”; and
3- Negative subject prefixes are used.

The negative present can also be used for the negative continuous, ie.- I do not/am not....

Examples:

Affirmative Negative
Ninaandika. Siandiki.
I am writing. I am not writing.
Unaandika. Huandiki.
You are writing. You are not writing.
Anaandika. Haandiki.
She/He is writing. She/He is not writing.
Tunaandika. Hatuandiki.
We are writing. We are not writing.
Mnaandika. Hamwandiki.
You (pl.) are writing. You (pl.) are not writing.
Wanaandika. Hawaandiki.
They are writing. They are not writing.

Note 1: - Whenever a consonant ‘m’ precedes vowel stem verbs, -w- is inserted between the consonant and the vowels; example: Ninyi hamwandiki.

Note 2: - Monosyllabic verbs like kula, kunywa, and kuja, drop the infinitive ‘ku’ in the negative present.

Affirmative Negative
Mimi ninakula samaki. Mimi sili samaki.
I am eating fish. I am not eating/do not eat fish.
Wewe unakunywa pombe. Wewe hunywi pombe.
You are drinking alcohol. You are not drinking/do not drink alcohol.

Note 3: - Verbs with other vowel endings other than “-a” retain their endings.

Affirmative Negative
Ninajibu swali. Sijibu swali.
I am answering a question. I am not answering/do not answer a/the question.
Tunadhani kwamba atafika. Hatudhani kwamba atafika.
We think she/he will arrive. We do not think she/he will arrive.

M/Mi Nouns updated 2018-10-24 ^

Noun Classes: M- MI- Noun Class

The nouns in the M- MI- noun class do not have an overarching commonality like the M- WA- noun class. However, these nouns all begin with m- in the singular and mi- in the plural, so this class is referred to as the M- MI- noun class. Most trees and plants do fall into this class, though.

It is important to note that there is little to distinguish the difference between singular nouns in the M- WA- and M- MI- noun classes since singular nouns in both will start with m-. Therefore, it is necessary to know the meaning of the noun to decide to which class a noun will belong.

You'll see three patterns with the concord prefixes in this noun class:

Possessive Pronouns

The following chart shows personal pronouns for singular and plural. These act as vowel stem adjectives and must take different agreements depending on the noun class.

Singular Nouns Plural Nouns Translation
wangu yangu my/mine
wako yako your/yours
wake yake his/her
wetu yetu our/ours
wenu yenu your/yours (pl.)
wao yao their/theirs

The possessive pronoun that is used will depend on the agreement of the noun. When talking about a singular noun, the possessive pronoun with the prefix w- will be used. For plural nouns, the possessive pronoun with the prefix y- will be used.

Examples:

Swahili Singular Swahili Plural English
Mfano wangu Mifano yangu My example(s)
Mshahara wangu Mishahara yangu My salary(ies)
Mguu wangu Miguu yangu My leg(s)

-a of association

Similar to the prefix for the possessive pronouns, the prefixes for the “-a of association” for the M- MI- noun class are w- for the singular nouns and y- for the plural nouns.

Singular Example Translation Plural Example Translation
Mshahara wa mwezi Salary of the month – Monthly salary Mishahara ya mwaka Salaries of the year – Yearly salaries
Mlango wa nyumba House door Milango ya nyumba House doors
Mtihani wa shule School exam Mitihanti ya shule School exams

Subject Prefixes:

For the M/Mi noun class, subject prefixes are U as singular and I as plural

Food updated 2018-10-24 ^

In the Food skill, animals such as cow, pig etc are mentioned when referring to meat from the animals. For example:
nyama ya ng'ombe = Beef

nyama ya nguruwe = Pork

Common food names:

There are specific Swahili words that are used for some popular foods in East Africa. Translations in English do not necessarily exist and are usually just descriptors, so for this course, you can use either the Swahili word in your English exercises, or the descriptor, though it would be better for you to leave the Swahili word as is. For example:

Ugali is stiff porridge in English, but you can just call it ugali.

Pilau is a spiced rice, but you can just call it pilau.

Nyama choma is literally barbecued meat, but made in a special, smoked manner, so it can simply be referred to as nyama choma.

Mtori is literally a banana soup made with green bananas, but that is a long descriptor, so mtori is acceptable!

To Have updated 2018-10-24 ^

The verb kuwa na-to have in present:

When expressing the concept “to have” in the present, we use the element ‘–na’ which forms the verb kuwa na, literally meaning to be with but used for the English phrase “to have”. The following are affirmative examples:

Singular Plural
nina - I have tuna – we have
una - you have mna - you (pl) have
ana – she/he has wana - they have

This is how it is used:

Swahili English
Sasa nina kalamu moja. Now I have one pen.
Sasa una bustani. Now you have a garden.
Ana malaria. She/He has malaria.
Leo tuna mgeni. Today we have a guest.
Mna shida? Do you (plural) have a problem?
Wana maembe mengi! They have a lot of mangoes!

To negate the sentence, use negative subject prefixes:

Swahili English
Sina bustani. I don’t have a garden.
Huna shida. You don’t have a problem.
Hana virusi. She/He doesn’t have a virus.
Hatuna malaria. We don’t have malaria.
Hamna kalamu. You (pl) don’t have a pen.
Hawana chakula. They don’t have food.

Ki/Vi Nouns updated 2018-10-24 ^

Noun Classes: KI- VI- Noun Class

The KI- VI- noun class is probably the easiest to recognize. All of the nouns will either start with ki- in the singular or vi- in the plural, unless the stem begins with a vowel. In that case, the concords will be ch- and vy-.

Common KI- VI- nouns:

Singular Plural Translation
Kiatu Viatu Shoe(s)
Kichwa Vichwa Head(s)
Kidole Vidole Finger(s)
Kijiji Vijiji Village(s)
Kijiko Vijiko Spoon(s)
Kikombe Vikombe Cup(s)
Kitanda Vitanda Bed(s)
Kisima Visima Water well(s)
Kisu Visu Knife(ves)
Kitabu Vitabu Book(s)
Chakula Vyakula Food(s)
Choo Vyoo Toilet(s)
Chuo Vyuo College(s)
Chumba Vyumba Room(s)

Possessive Pronouns

The following chart shows personal pronouns for singular and plural. These act as vowel stem adjectives and must take different agreements depending on the noun class.

Singular Nouns Plural Nouns Translation
changu vyangu my/mine
chako vyako your/yours
chake vyake his/her
chetu vyetu our/ours
chenu vyenu your/yours (pl.)
chao vyao their/theirs

The possessive pronoun that is used will depend on the agreement of the noun. When talking about a singular noun, the possessive pronoun with the prefix ch- will be used. For plural nouns, the possessive pronoun with the prefix vy- will be used.

Examples:

Swahili Singular Swahili Plural English
Kitabu changu Vitabu vyangu My book(s)
Kitambaa changu Vitambaa vyangu My cloth material(s)
Kioo changu Vioo vyangu My mirror(s)

-a of association

Similar to the prefix for the possessive pronouns, the prefixes for the “-a of association” for the KI- VI- noun class are ch- for the singular nouns and vy- for the plural nouns.

Singular Example Translation Plural Example Translation
Kipimo cha kichwa Measurement of the head – Head measurement Vipimo vya mwili Measurements of the body – Body measurements
Chumba cha nyumba House room – Room of the house Vyumba vya nyumba House rooms – Rooms of the house
Kioo cha choo Bathroom mirror Vioo vya choo Bathroom mirrors

N/N Nouns updated 2018-10-24 ^

Noun Classes: N/N Noun Class

The N/N noun class features nouns that are generally taken from other languages, like Arabic, English, German, Portuguese, etc. This is the largest noun class in Swahili and there are also few Bantu-origin words found in the noun class.

Indeed, it can be observed that Swahili in Kenya, Uganda, and other countries adopt a two-noun class type of Swahili, with M- WA- and N/N classes being the only classes used.

The biggest note for this noun class is that there is no distinguishing concord between singular and plural nouns. This can sometimes be confusing for Swahili learners, but often the context or the adjectives used with the noun will reflect whether it is singular or plural. The following examples can be either singular or plural.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Bahati Luck
Barabara Road(s)
Baridi Cold/Coldness
Barua Letter/Mail
Bia Beer
Bei Price
Chai Tea
Chumvi Salt
Chupa Bottle(s)
Dakika Minute(s)
Dawa Medicine(s)
Kahawa Coffee
Kalamu Pen(s)
Kazi Work
Meza Table(s)
Nafasi Opportunity/Space
Panga Machete
Pasi Iron
Pesa Money
Rafiki Friend
Sababu Reason(s)
Sabuni Soap(s)
Shida Problem/Difficulty
Siagi Butter
Suruali Trousers
Takataka Rubbish/Trash

Possessive Pronouns

The following chart shows personal pronouns for singular and plural. These act as vowel stem adjectives and must take different agreements depending on the noun class.

Singular Nouns Plural Nouns Translation
yangu zangu my/mine
yako zako your/yours
yake zake his/her
yetu zetu our/ours
yenu zenu your/yours (pl.)
yao zao their/theirs

The possessive pronoun that is used will depend on the agreement of the noun. When talking about a singular noun, the possessive pronoun with the prefix y- will be used. For plural nouns, the possessive pronoun with the prefix z- will be used.

Examples:

Swahili Singular Swahili Plural English
Nguo yangu Nguo zangu My clothes
Nyumba yangu Nyumba zangu My house(s)
Kalamu yangu Kalamu zangu My pen(s)

-a of association

Similar to the prefix for the possessive pronouns, the prefixes for the “-a of association” for the N/N noun class are y- for the singular nouns and z- for the plural nouns.

Singular Example Translation Plural Example Translation
Bia ya baridi Beer of the cold – cold beer Bia za baridi Cold beers
Dawa ya homa Fever medication/medicine Dawa za nyumba Fever medications/medicines
Habari ya taifa National news Habari za mataifa International news

Subject Prefixes for this noun class are I and Zi in the affirmative sentences.

For example:

Barua hii inatoka Zanzibar. This letter comes from Zanzibar.

Barua hizi zinatoka Zanzibar. These letters come from Zanzibar.

In the negative sentences, the Subject Prefixes are Hai and Hazi.

For example:

Barua hii haitoki Zanzibar. This letter does not come from Zanzibar.

Barua hizi hazitoki Zanzibar. These letters do not come from Zanzibar.

Demonstratives:

Hii ni barua. This is a letter. Hizi ni barua. These are letters.

Ile ni barua. That is a letter. Zile ni barua. Those are letters.

Ji/Ma Nouns updated 2019-10-17 ^

Noun Classes: JI- MA- Noun Class

The JI- MA- noun class takes its name from the fact that there are some nouns that, in the singular form, take the concord ji- at the beginning. However, most of the nouns in this class do not, but in the plural, all of the nouns will take the ma- concord. There are some patterns, though:

Possessive Pronouns

The following chart shows personal pronouns for singular and plural. These act as vowel stem adjectives and must take different agreements depending on the noun class.

Singular Nouns Plural Nouns Translation
langu yangu my/mine
lako yako your/yours
lake yake his/her
letu yetu our/ours
lenu yenu your/yours (pl.)
lao yao their/theirs

The possessive pronoun that is used will depend on the agreement of the noun. When talking about a singular noun, the possessive pronoun with the prefix l- will be used. For plural nouns, the possessive pronoun with the prefix y- will be used.
Examples:

Swahili Singular Swahili Plural English
Gari langu Magari yangu My car(s)
Pipa langu Mapipa yangu My barrel(s)
Shauri langu Mashauri yangu My advice

-a of association

Similar to the prefix for the possessive pronouns, the prefixes for the “-a of association” for the JI- MA- noun class are l- for the singular nouns and y- for the plural nouns.

Singular Example Translation Plural Example Translation
Kanisa la Wakristo Christian church – Church of the Christians Makanisa ya Wakristo Christian churches – Churches of the Christians
Zulia la kitanzania Tanzanian carpet Mazulia ya kitanzania Tanzanian carpets
Jiko la shule School kitchen Majiko ya shule School kitchens

Exceptions

Adjectives updated 2018-10-24 ^

Adjectives

We've introduced a few adjectives in pervious lessons, but here, we will delve deeper into the grammatical structure of adjectives. In Swahili, there are three main types of adjectives:

Vowel and consonant stem adjectives must take an agreeing concord depending on the noun class. Arabic-origin nouns do not take any form of agreement.

Adjectives must always follow the nouns they modify. They do not come first, like in English. For example, mtu mpole would be a polite person. The order is switched.

Vowel Stem Adjectives

For vowel stem adjectives, the agreeing concord is fairly simple and follows a regular pattern. Though we have not introduced all of the classes yet, we will provide a full chart with all of the classes here that can be used for reference later.

Noun Class Agreement Vowel Stem Concord
M- WA- Singular mw-
M- WA- Plural w-
M- MI- Singular mw-
M- MI- Plural my-
KI- VI- Singular ch-
KI- VI- Plural vy-
N/N Singular ny-
N/N Plural ny-
JI- MA- Singular j-
JI- MA- Plural m-
U/N Singular mw-
U/N Plural ny-
Mahali M- m(w)-
Mahali PA- p-
Mahali KU- kw-

Mifano:

Vowel Stem Adjective Swahili English
-embamba Mwanafunzi mwembamba Skinny student
-aminifu Wazazi waminifu Honest parents
-erevu Mtoto mwerevu Clever child
-ekundu Kisu chekundu Red knife
-ingi Barua nyingi A lot of letters
-ingine Mananasi mengine Other pineapples

Arabic-Origin Adjectives

As mentioned above, adjectives that originate from Arabic do not take any forms of agreement.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Bora Best
Bure Free/Useless
Ghali Expensive
Kamili Complete
Kila Each/Every
Laini Smooth/Soft
Maskini Poor
Rahisi Easy/Cheap
Safi Clean/Good
Sawa Equal/Alike
Tayari Ready
Wazi Open

However, in conversation, some Swahili speakers might add agreements to these adjectives. For example, to say clean water, a Swahili speaker might say maji masafi.

Consonant Stem Adjectives

Here are some examples of Bantu-origin consonant stem adjectives:

Swahili English
-baya bad
-chache few
-dogo little/small
-fupi short
-kali sharp/fierce/strict
-kubwa big/large
-pya new
-refu tall/long
-tamu sweet
-zima whole/complete
-zito heavy

There are special rules for different noun classes when it comes to consonant stem adjectives of Bantu origin. Some of the classes follow a normal pattern of agreement whereas others have special concords depending on the consonant that the adjective begins with. The normal patterned noun classes are shown in the chart below.

Noun Class Agreement Consonant Stem Concord
M- WA- Singular m-
M- WA- Plural wa-
M- MI- Singular m-
M- MI- Plural mi-
KI- VI- Singular ki-
KI- VI- Plural vi-
JI- MA- Plural ma-
U/N Singular m-
Mahali M- mu-
Mahali PA- pa-
Mahali KU- ku-

For the other noun classes, there are certain rules to follow:

N/N Noun Class

U/N Plural Nouns

For the U/N noun class, plural nouns take the same rules as the N/N noun class.

JI- MA- Singular Nouns

For the most part, JI- MA- nouns do not take concords with consonant stem adjectives EXCEPT for monosyllabic adjectives such as -pya. With these adjectives, the concord is ji-, so the adjective for this class in the singular form would be jipya.

Numbers updated 2019-12-04 ^

Note: when translating from English to Swahili, numbers should be written in words. Unfortunately, most numbers past 99 are too long to fit in the hints, so those will not be included

Numbers

1 - moja; 2 - mbili; 3 - tatu; 4 - nne; 5 - tano; 6 - sita; 7 - saba; 8 - nane; 9 - tisa; 10 -kumi; 11 - kumi na moja

20 - ishirini; 21 - ishirini na moja 30 - thelathini; 40 - arobaini; 50 - hamsini; 60 - sitini; 70 - sabini; 80 - themanini; 90 - tisini; 100 - mia moja;

1,000 -elfu moja; 10,000 - elfu kumi; 100,000 - laki moja; 1,000,000 - milioni moja; 10,000,000 - milioni kumi; 1,000,000,000 - bilioni moja;

Note: the numbers sita, saba, tisa and kumi never take on noun prefixes i.e. 'Watu saba', 'Viti kumi', etc.

Years

(na)* - not necessary

Decimals

5.63 - tano nukta sita tatu

21.5 - ishirini na moja nukta tano

Commands updated 2019-12-25 ^

Commands (Simple Imperatives)

To give a simple command in Swahili, verb stems are used alone without any subject or object concords.

Normally, these commands are used when one orders a person to do something. The monosyllabic verbs retain their infinitives ku-. However, the verbs kuja-to come, kuleta-to bring, and kwenda-to go do not retain the ku. Also, kupa-to give requires an object prefix. See below.

Examples:

Swahili English
Kula! Eat!
Lala! Sleep!
Kunywa! Drink!
Amka! Wake up!
Fagia! Sweep!

Irregular Verbs:

Infinitive Swahili Command English
Kuja Njoo! Come!
Kwenda Nenda! Go!
Kuleta Lete! Bring (it)!
Kupa Nipe! Give it to me!

Plural Imperatives

To make the plural commands, the infinitive ku- is dropped, but the suffix -a is replaced by the suffix -eni.

Thus we get;

Swahili English
Fanyeni! Do!
Laleni! Sleep!
Kunyweni! Drink!
Kuleni! Eat!
Someni! Read!

Other commands that end with vowels e, i, o, and u; add the suffix ni to get its plural form. Thus ;

Swahili English
Fikirini! Think!
Leteni! Bring!
Njooni! Come!
Jibuni! Answer!

Imperative vs Declarative

In the imperative, one is always addressing someone/people directly, so the 'you' is not included (it is known as (you) understood). However, sometimes, "you" is included when used as a noun of direct address. An example of a noun of direct address used in the imperative is:

"John, bring me my phone." - "John, niletee simu yangu."

John is the noun of direct address. Similarly, "you" can be used in the same way, although like in English, it is considered more abrasive to address someone in such a way:

Note that "you" as a noun of direct address is always followed by a comma; "you give me my phone" is a declarative sentence (i.e. statement of fact), and not a command.

Without context it is near impossible to decipher if a command in English is meant for one person or more than one; for this reason, both singular and plural translations in Swahili are accepted.

Negative Imperative

This form has relatively much simpler rules:

Singular Plural Infinitive verb
Usile! Msile! Kula
Usilale! Msilale! Kulala
Usinywe! Msinywe! Kunywa
Usifikiri! Msifikiri! Kufikiri
Usijibu! Msijibu! Kujibu

As for the irregular verb examples above:

Singular Plural Infinitive verb
Usije! Msije! Kuja
Usiende! Msiende! Kwenda
Usilete! Usilete! Kuleta
Usinipe! Msinipe! Kupa

You will notice that the negative imperative forms follow a pretty consistent pattern compared to their affirmative counterparts

Note: There is no such thing as "usinjoo" or "usinende"

Interrogatives updated 2018-10-24 ^

Question Words

In Swahili, as in any language, there are different question words which are used to ask questions. When asking a question without a question word in spoken Swahili, intonation changes by raising the voice at the end of the sentence.

The following chart shows examples of question words used in sentences:

Swahili English
Wapi? Where?
Unatoka wapi? Where are you from?
Unakaa wapi sasa? Where are you staying now?
Gani? What sort? Which? What kind?
Unapenda chakula gani? What food do you like? What sort of food do you like?
Unatoka nchi gani? Which country are you from?
Nini? What? (used for objects only)
Unataka nini? What do you want?
Unafanya nini? What are you doing?
Nani? Who? Whom?
Nani anafundisha Kiswahili? Who is teaching Swahili?
Nani anatoka Marekani? Who is from America?
-ngapi? (Takes the stem of the noun class) How many? How much?
Soda moja ni shilingi ngapi? How much is a soda?
Una watoto wangapi? How many children do you have?
Lini? When?
Lini utasafiri? When are you going to travelling?
Utaanza kufanya kazi lini? When will you start working?
Kwa nini? Why? For what?
Kwa nini unajifunza Kiswahili? Why are you learning Swahili?
Kwa nini unapenda Tanzania? Why do you like Tanzania?
Mbona? How come? (stronger meaning than ‘why?’)
Mbona unalia? How come you are crying?
Mbona unakimbia? How come you are running?
Vipi? How?
Unapika ugali vipi? How do you cook ugali?
Unaenda nyumbani vipi? How do you go home?
Namna gani? How is…? (not with people)
Maisha namna gani?/Namna gani maisha? How is life?
Kazi namna gani rafiki yangu? How is the work my friend?

The particle “je”

When ‘je’ is used at the beginning of the sentence it draws attention i.e. a question is coming. It usually precedes a yes/no question.

Mfano: Je, unakwenda mjini leo?-Are you going to town today?

When ‘je’ is used at the end of the verb it means ’how’.

Mfano: Unapikaje wali na samaki?-How do you cook rice and fish?

When ‘je’ is used at the end of the noun, it means what about/how about, but it should be preceded by a phrase giving prior information.

Mfano: Sisi tunakwenda sokoni leo, na wao je?-We are going to the market today what about them?

Mfano: Mimi ninatoka Tanzania, wewe je?-I am from Tanzania,what about you?

U/N Nouns updated 2018-10-24 ^

Noun Classes: U/N Noun Class

In the U/N noun class, nouns in the singular form will likely begin with u-, though there are a handful that begin with w-. Many nouns in this class do not have plurals, either, and some have singular forms but are mainly used in the plural form with the concords ny-, n-, or no concord.

Abstract Nouns

Abstract nouns are the first type of nouns in the U/N class. These nouns do not have plural forms and almost all begin with u-.

Common abstract nouns:

Swahili English
Uaminifu Trustworthiness
Uhodari Effectiveness
Umoja Unity
Upendo Love
Uchafu Dirtiness
Urefu Height/Length
Usafi Cleanliness
Uvivu Laziness
Utajiri Wealth
Uzito Weight
Ujana Youth
Uzee Old age
Uzuri Beauty

Uncountable Nouns

There are also some uncountable nouns in the U/N class that do not take plural forms.

Swahili English
Udongo Soil
Ugali Stiff porridge
Umeme Electricity
Usingizi Sleepiness
Wino Ink
Wali Cooked rice

Other nouns

The other nouns in the U/N class will begin with either u- or w-. Plurals will either begin with ny- or a consonant.

Swahili English
Ndevu Beard - plural form
Ufunguo Key
Funguo Keys
Kuni Firewood - plural form
Ulimi Tongue
Ndimi Tongues
Nywele Hair - plural form
Upepo Wind
Wakati Period/Time
Nyakati Periods/Times

Names of Countries

Country names are often given the u- prefix, but their agreements will take those of the N/N class.

Swahili Name English Name
Uingereza England
Ureno Portugal
Ufaransa France
Ulaya Europe
Uhindi India

Possessive Pronouns

The following chart shows personal pronouns for singular and plural. These act as vowel stem adjectives and must take different agreements depending on the noun class.

Singular Nouns Plural Nouns Translation
wangu zangu my/mine
wako zako your/yours
wake zake his/her
wetu zetu our/ours
wenu zenu your/yours (pl.)
wao zao their/theirs

The possessive pronoun that is used will depend on the agreement of the noun. When talking about a singular noun, the possessive pronoun with the prefix w- will be used. For plural nouns, the possessive pronoun with the prefix z- will be used.

Examples:

Swahili
Ubunifu wako Your creativity
Wali wake His/Her rice
Nywele zangu My hair

-a of association

Similar to the prefix for the possessive pronouns, the prefixes for the “-a of association” for the U/N noun class are w- for the singular nouns and z- for the plural nouns.

Swahili Example Translation
Uchafu wa chumba Dirtiness of the room
Umeme wa shule School's electricity
Uwezo wa wanafunzi Ability of the students
Kuta za nyumba House walls

Animals updated 2018-10-24 ^

Animals

Animals follow the same agreements as the M- WA- noun class! Even if their concords look like they're in a different class, all of the subject prefix, object infix, and adjective agreements will be from the M- WA- class.

Shopping updated 2018-10-24 ^

Shopping

Past Tense updated 2018-10-24 ^

Past Tense

Affirmative Past Tense

The past tense affirmative constructions are formed with the tense marker -li- and it is inserted between a subject prefix and a verb stem.

Swahili English
Nilijifunza Kiswahili. I learned Kiswahili.
Ulijifunza Kiswahili. You learned Kiswahili.
Alijifunza Kiswahili. S/He learned Kiswahili.
Tulijifunza Kiswahili. We learned Kiswahili.
Mlijifunza Kiswahili. You (pl.) learned Kiswahili.
Walijifunza Kiswahili. They learned Kiswahili.

The verb “kuwa” as “to be” in the past

The verb “kuwa”-“to be” in the past is used as a normal verb. It behaves regularly; ie- the infinitive ku is not dropped when constructing a sentence.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Nilikuwa mwalimu. I was a teacher.
Ulikuwa daktari. You were a doctor.
Alikuwa mwalimu. S/He was a teacher.
Tulikuwa watoto. We were children.
Mlikuwa walimu. You were teachers
Walikuwa wakulima. They were farmers.

The verb “kuwa na” as “to have” in the past

In the past, kuwa na is used for the verb “to have”. It behaves regularly as well.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Jana nilikuwa na shida. Yesterday I had a problem.
Juzi nilikuwa na kitabu. The day before yesterday I had a book.
Nilikuwa na wanafunzi wanne. I had four students.
Alikuwa na rafiki mmoja. S/He had one friend.
Walikuwa na matatizo ya afya. They had health problems.

Negative Past Tense

To form the negative simple past in Swahili:

Mifano:

Affirmative Past Negative Past
Nilipika ugali. Sikupika ugali.
Ulisikiliza redio. Hukusikiliza redio.
Alijifunza Kiswahili. Hakujifunza Kiswahili.
Tulizungumza pole pole. Hatukuzungumza pole pole.
Mlipumzika Jumamosi. Hamkupumzika Jumamosi.
Walifurahi sana. Hawakufurahi sana.
Nilikula wali. Sikula wali.
Ulikwenda sokoni. Hukuenda sokoni.
Alikunywa bia. Hakunywa bia.

The verb “kuwa na” as “to have” in the negative past

Although the verb “kuwa na” - “to have” keeps “ku-” in the affirmative past, the negative form of kuwa na in the past takes characteristics of the other monosyllabic verbs - it drops its infinitive “ku-”. However, because the negative past tense marker is “-ku-”, it gives the illusion that it has not dropped the infinitive ku-. Again, these should not be confused.

Mifano:

Affirmative Past Negative Past
Nilikuwa na gari. Sikuwa na gari.
Ulikuwa na shida. Hukuwa na shida.
Alikuwa na matunda. Hakuwa na matunda.
Tulikuwa na watoto. Hatukuwa na watoto.
Mlikuwa na nyumba. Hamkuwa na nyumba.

Time updated 2019-05-06 ^

Time

Note Numerical dates i.e. date, month, year, will have the words tarehe, mwezi, mwaka preceding them. Otherwise, the meaning becomes ambiguous. e.g.

Date Tarehe
Tenth of May Tarehe kumi mwezi wa tano
2019 Mwaka elfu mbili na kumi na tisa
March Mwezi wa tatu

Future Tense updated 2019-01-14 ^

Affirmative Future Tense

The future tense marker is -ta-. As it is with the past tense, it is also inserted between a subject prefix and a verb stem.

Mifano :

Swahili English
Nitajifunza Kiswahili. I will learn Swahili.
Utajifunza Kiswahili. You will learn Swahili.
Atajifunza Kiswahili. S/He will learn Swahili.
Tutajifunza Kiswahili. We will learn Swahili.
Mtajifunza Kiswahili. You (pl.) will learn Swahili.
Watajifunza Kiswahili. They will learn Swahili.

The verb kuwa-“to be” and kuwa na-to have in the future

The verb kuwa to be in the future follows the same rules as in the past. It is also a regular pattern. The same is true with kuwa na. Neither drops the infinitive ku and they keep the same -ta- tense marker.

Mifano ya Kuwa:

Swahili English
Nitakuwa mwalimu. I will be a teacher.
Utakuwa mwanamazingira. You (sing.) will be an environmentalist.
Atakuwa mkulima. S/He will be a peasant.
Tutakuwa madaktari. We will be doctors.
Mtakuwa wanafunzi. You (pl.) will be students.
Watakuwa wanamazingira. They will be environmentalists.

Mifano ya Kuwa na:

Swahili English
Nitakuwa na kitabu. I will have a book.
Utakuwa na shida. You will have a problem.
Atakuwa na chakula. S/He will have food.
Tutakuwa na muda. We will have time.
Mtakuwa na muda. You (pl.) will have time.
Watakuwa na nyumba. They will have a house.

Negative Future Tense

If you want to make negative statements in Kiswahili in the future: Change the positive subject prefixes into negative subject prefixes. Retain the future tense marker -ta- and retain the infinitive ku-in monosyllabic and irregular verbs (kula, kunywa, kuja, kufa, kwenda).

Mifano:

Affirmative Negative
Nitapika ugali. Sitapika ugali.
I will cook stiff porridge. I will not cook stiff porridge.
Utaandika barua. Hutaandika barua.
You will write a letter. You will not write a letter.
Atauliza maswali. Hatauliza maswali.
S/He will ask questions. S/He will not ask questions.
Tutacheza mpira wa miguu. Hatutacheza mpira wa miguu.
We will play soccer. We will not play soccer.
Mtalalamika sana. Hamtalalamika sana.
You (pl.) will complain a lot. You (pl.) will not complain a lot.
Watasoma barua pepe. Hawatasoma barua pepe.
They will read emails. They will not read emails.
Nitakunywa soda baridi. Sitakunywa soda baridi.
I will drink a cold soda. I will not drink a cold soda.
Utakuja shuleni kesho. Hutakuja shuleni kesho.
You will come to school tomorrow. You will not come to school tomorrow.
Atakula wali na samaki. Hatakula wali na samaki.
S/He will eat rice and fish. S/He will not eat rice and fish.

The negative of the verb kuwa na in the future takes negative prefixes and the tense marker -ta- is inserted between the negative prefixes and the verb.

Mifano:

Affirmative Negative
Nitakuwa na gari. Sitakuwa na gari.
I will have a car. I will not have a car.
Utakuwa na shida. Hutakuwa na shida.
You will have a problem. You will not have a problem.
Atakuwa na watoto. Hatakuwa na watoto.
S/He will have children. S/He will not have children.
Tutakuwa na baiskeli. Hatutakuwa na baiskeli.
We will have bicycles. We will not have bicycles.
Mtakuwa na muda. Hamtakuwa na muda.
You (pl.) will have time. You (pl.) will not have time.
Watakuwa na nyumba. Hawatakuwa na nyumba.
They will have a house. They will not have a house.

Immediate Past updated 2019-01-18 ^

Immediate Past

To express things that happened in the immediate past, the tense particle -me- is used after any action which has just been completed. It is used interchangeably with the -li- tense marker in conversation. Generally, people will use -me- when there has not been discernible time between the action and the time of conversation.

Examples:

Swahili English
Nimeandika. I have written.
Nimesema. I have said.
Nimesikia. I have heard.
Umesikia. You have heard.
Amesikia. S/He has heard.
Tumesikia. We have heard.
Mmesikia. You (pl) have heard.
Wamesikia. They have heard.

Similarly, the -me- tense is used with immediate states of being. There are some verbs that, grammatically, can use the present -na-, but generally must be used with -me-. These include kuchoka - to be tired (to become tired), kuchelewa - to be late (to have been made late), and kushiba - to be satisfied/full (to have been made satisfied/full)*. However, in English, they will take the present tense.

Examples:

Swahili English
Nimechoka. I am tired
Umechoka. You are tired.
Amechelewa. He/She is late.
Tumechelewa. We are late.
Mmeshiba. You (pl) are full.
Wameshiba. They are full.

Negative -ja-

To form the negative immediate past tense in Swahili:

Mifano:

Affirmative Past Negative Past
Nimepika chakula. Sijapika chakula.
Umefagia nyumba. Hujafagia nyumba.
Amejifunza Kiswahili. Hajajifunza Kiswahili.
Tumezungumza pole pole. Hatujazungumza pole pole.
Mmepumzika Jumamosi. Hamjapumzika Jumamosi.
Wamefurahi sana. Hawajafurahi sana.
Nimekula wali. Sijala wali.
Umekwenda sokoni. Hujaenda sokoni.
Amekunywa bia. Hajanywa bia.

Passive Verbs updated 2018-10-24 ^

Passives

Passive forms of verbs are used to reflect a condition and are more indirect than active verbs. In Swahili, various forms of verbs can be changed into the passive form by inserting the infix “-w-” before the last vowel of the verb. Because these verbs are passive, they are usually being done by someone; we reflect this in Swahili by following the verb with na to show by who the action is being performed.

Active Form Passive Form
- angalia (look at) - angaliwa (be looked at)
- andika (write) - andikwa (be written)
- pima (examine) - pimwa (be examined)
- choma (inject) - chomwa (be injected)
- pika (look) - pikwa (be cooked)
- cheka (laugh) - chekwa (be laughed at)
- piga (beat) - pigwa (be beaten)
- saidia (help) - saidiwa (be helped)

The passive form of verbs ending in the double vowels “–aa“ and “-ua” is formed by inserting “-liw-” before the last vowel.

Active Form Passive Form
- zaa (give birth) - zaliwa (be born)
- fua (wash materials) - fuliwa (be washed)

The passive form of verbs ending in the double vowels ”-oa” is formed by inserting “-lew-” before the last vowel.

Active Form Passive Form
- oa (marry) - olewa (be married)
- zoa (collect) - zolewa (be collected)
- toa (pull out, offer) - tolewa (be pulled out, be offered)

The passive form of the verbs ending in vowels “–i” and “–u” is made by dropping the last vowel and adding “-iwa” at the end of the verb.

Active Form Passive Form
- hitaji (need) - hitajiwa (be needed)
- amini (believe) - aminiwa (be believed)
- sifu (praise) - sifiwa (be praised)
- salimu (greet)

The passive form of the verbs ending in double vowels “–au” is formed by adding “-liwa” at the end of the verbs.

Active Form Passive Form
- sahau (forget) - sahauliwa (be forgotten)
- dharau (despise) - dharauliwa (be despised)

The passive forms of the monosyllabic verbs behave irregularly.

Active Form Passive Form
kunywa (to drink) kunywewa (to be drunken)
kupa (to give) kupewa (to be given)
kula (to eat) kuliwa (to be eaten)
kufa (to die) kufiwa (to bereaved)

The passive form of the verbs kuua and kusamehe are formed by adding “-wa” on them.

Active Form Passive Form
- ua (kill) - uawa (be killed)
- samehe (forgive) - samehewa (be forgiven)

Mifano:

Swahili English
Mtoto alipigwa na mama yake. The child was beaten by his/her mother.
Mgonjwa atachomwa sindano. The patient will be given an injection.
Emma alifiwa na mama yake. Emma was bereaved by her mother.
Chakula kimepikwa na mimi. The food was cooked by me.
Kazi ya nyumbani imesahauliwa na Robert. The homework was forgotten by Robert.
Hilo embe limeliwa na wewe? Was that mango eaten by you?

Locatives updated 2019-01-05 ^

Locatives

Locative suffixes -ko, -po, -mo

In Swahili, the locations are shown by the suffixes -ko, -po, and -mo depending on the location to which one is referring. If a location referred to is an indefinite one, the suffix -ko is used. If a location referred to is a definite one, then the suffix -po is used. If it is inside or in an enclosed location, the suffix -mo is used.

For all noun classes, the subject prefix will be used followed by the locative suffix. The personal pronoun can be used in front of the locative, or omitted as well once it becomes clear to whom the locative is referring. To negate, the negative subject prefix is used.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Mimi niko Tanzania. I am in Tanzania.
Nipo Dar es Salaam. I am in Dar es Salaam.
Mimi nimo ofisini. I am in the office.
Yeye yuko Tanzania. S/He is in Tanzania.
Yeye yupo Dar es Salaam. S/He is in Dar es Salaam.
Yumo ofisini. S/He is in the office.
Sisi tuko shuleni. We are at school.
Visu viko wapi? Where are the knives?
Wazazi wangu wapo New York. My parents are in New York.
Maembe yangu yamo jikoni. My mangoes are in the kitchen.
Funguo za ofisi zipo mezani. The office keys are on the table.
Mimi sipo shuleni. I am not at school.
Chakula hakipo sokoni. The food is not at the market.
Mama hayumo chumbani kwake. Mother is not in her room.
Vifaa vya kulima havipo shambani sasa, The farming tools are not at the farm right now.

Preposition Suffix -ni

In Swahili, some common nouns can be suffixed by –ni to form locations which mean: in, on, at, and to, as seen in some of the examples above. Proper nouns are not suffixed by the suffix –ni, like countries.

Locative Demonstratives

The demonstrative forms of the Mahali class are actually locatives as well and are used in a lot of question/answer phrases regarding location.

Indefinite (ku) Definite (pa) Inside (mu)
huku - here/hereabouts hapa - here/right here humu - here inside
huko - there/over there hapo - there/just there humo - there inside
kule - there/in the distance palethere/over there mle - there in

Mfano:

Kisu kiko wapi? - Kisu kipo hapa. : Where is the knife? - The knife is (definitely) here.

Note the agreement with the locative for kisu and the locative demonstrative of position for the work here. Both are the definite pa construction.

Direction Nouns

Kaskazini - North
Mashariki - East
Kusini - South
Magharibi - West

Locative Phrases

Mbele ya - In front of
Nyuma ya - Behind
Juu ya - On top of, on, above
Chini ya - Under, below

Mfano:

Gari liko wapi? - Gari lipo nyuma ya nyumba. : Where is the car? - The car is behind the house.

Weather updated 2018-10-24 ^

Weather

Adverbs and Conjunctions updated 2018-10-24 ^

Adverbs

Just as in English, adverbs are sometimes created from adjectives. In Swahili, there are some adverbs that take on what appears to be agreement with the KI- VI- noun class.

Vibaya - badly
Kidogo - a little, slightly
Vigumu - difficult
Vizuri - well, nicely

However, a lot of examples exist only in adverbial form.

Baadaye - later, afterwards
Bado - not yet, still
Halafu - then, afterwards
Hasa - especially
Labda - maybe, perhaps
Pia - as well, also, too
Tu - only, just

Some adverbs are also preceded by the word kwa.

Kwa bahati - luckily
Kwa haraka - quickly
Kwa kawaida - usually
Kwa kusudi - purposely, on purpose
Kwa hiyo - therefore
Kwa sababu - because

Adverbs usually come after the noun, but sometimes with the kwa constructions, they might come before the main clause.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Uliamka mapema. You woke up early.
Fanya vizuri! Do it properly!
Kwa kweli, umenidanganya sana. Truthfully, you really deceived me.
Ninasikia vibaya. I feel bad.
Bado hajarudi nyumbani? S/He still has not returned home?
Wanaelewa vigumu, wanafunzi hawa! It is difficult for them to understand, those students!
Acha tu! Just stop!
Nilimpiga teke kwa kusudi. I kicked him/her on purpose.

Object Infixes updated 2018-10-24 ^

Object Infixes

If you haven't noticed yet, Swahili doesn't have articles. Words like “the,” “a/an,” or “it” don't exist, at least not in isolation. Therefore, in order to express a a direct or indirect object in Swahili, object infixes must be used. In this course, English articles could be added through implication, but they are truly present when the object infix is included. If you want to say you are looking at “me”, for example, an object infix for me - “-ni-” - must be inserted after the tense but before the verb stem. Therefore, “you are looking at me” becomes “unaniangalia”.

The object infixes for the M- WA- noun class are as follows:

Singular Pronoun Infix Plural Pronoun Infix
Mimi -ni- Sisi -tu-
Wewe -ku- Ninyi -wa-
Yeye -m-/-mw- Wao -wa-

Notes:

The object infixes for the other noun classes are the same as the subject prefixes but are placed between the tense marker and the verb.

Noun Class Agreement Object Infix
M- MI- Singular -u-
M- MI- Plural -i-
KI- VI- Singular -ki-
KI- VI- Plural -vi-
N/N Singular -i-
N/N Plural -zi-
JI- MA- Singular -li-
JI- MA- Plural -ya-
U/N Singular -u-
U/N Plural -zi-
Mahali M- -m(w)-
Mahali PA- -pa-
Mahali KU- -ku-

Mifano:

Swahili English
Uilete sasa. Bring it now.
Hapa ni kisu ulikiomba. Here is the knife you asked for
Wanavisoma vitabu. They are reading the books.
Amezichukua. She took them.
Nitayakula maembe yote. I am going to eat all of the mangoes.
Ninahitaji kujisaidia! I have to help myself (to go to the bathroom)!
Mnajiandaa? Are you preparing yourselves?

Transportation updated 2018-10-24 ^

Transportation

Prepositions and Conjunctions updated 2018-10-24 ^

Prepositions and Conjunctions

In Swahili, there are a lot of different prepositions and conjunctions that can be used. The most interesting is the preposition “kwa”. Other prepositions indicate location and are fairly easy to use, but kwa can be slightly confusing. When “kwa“ is used in different sentences, it has different uses like at, by, on, of, from, for, to and with – all depending on the context!

Mifano:

Swahili English
Nitakwenda mjini kwa baiskeli. I will go to town by bicycle.
Nililala kwa nusu saa. I slept for half an hour.
Nitapiga simu kwa mama. I will phone (to) my mother.
Tulifua nguo kwa sabuni. We washed clothes with soap.
Waliishi nyumbani kwa mjomba wao. They lived at their uncle’s home.
Watakufa kwa njaa. They will die of hunger.
Anatoka kwa jirani. She is (coming) from the neighbor's (house).

Adjectives 2 updated 2019-07-14 ^

More Adjectives

-ote as all/whole

As seen in the previous lessons, adjectives have to agree with the nouns they modify. The particle -ote- is used to express the concept of all/whole in Swahili.

The particle -ote is prefixed with respective noun class prefix in order to maintain agreements between the noun and the adjectival particle. Examples of agreement are vyakula vyote - all foods, or watu wote - all people.

Because -ote begins with a vowel, it takes the vowel stem adjective agreements listed in the previous adjective lesson.

Noun Class Singular Plural
M- WA- Mzima Wote
M- MI- Wote Yote
KI- VI- Chote Vyote
N/N Yote Zote
JI- MA- Lote Yote
U/N Wote Zote
Mahali M- Mwote
Mahali PA- Pote
Mahali KU- Kote

Mifano:

Swahili English
Watanzania wote wanaweza kusema Kiswahili. All Tanzanians can speak Kiswahili.
Wanafunzi walisoma vitabu vyote. Students read all of the books.
Tulisafisha vyumba vyote. We cleaned all of the rooms.
Walikula mikate yote. They ate all of the bread.
Nilipoteza funguo zote. I lost all of the keys.
Tulilima shamba lote. We ploughed the whole farm.
Mti wote uliungua. The whole tree was burned.
Tulibomoa nyumba yote. We demolished the whole house.

–o –ote as any

The concord prefix to be used with adjective root “–o –ote” in a sentence or phrase has to agree with the noun in modifies.

Noun Class Singular Plural
M- WA- Yeyote Wowote
M- MI- Wowote Yoyote
KI- VI- Chochote Vyovyote
N/N Yoyote Zozote
JI- MA- Lolote Yoyote
U/N Wowote Zozote
Mahali M- Mwomwote
Mahali PA- Popote
Mahali KU- Kokote

Mifano:

Swahili English
Pesa yoyote any money
Fomu yoyote any form
Kiwango chochote any rate
Wakati wowote any time
Mtu wowote any person

-ingi and -engi as many

Ingi and -engi in Swahili mean many, a lot, or plenty, but the agreements differ according to the noun classes they modify. Usually, this adjective only occurs in the plural form, though some classes do take singular agreements.

Noun Class Singular Plural
M- WA- no form Wengi
M- MI- Mwingi Mingi
KI- VI- Kingi Vingi
N/N no form Nyingi
JI- MA- no form Mengi
U/N Mwingi Nyingi
Mahali M- no form
Mahali PA- Pengi
Mahali KU- no form

Mifano:

Swahili English
Wanafunzi wengi Many students
Matunda mengi Many fruits
Miti mingi A lot of trees
Vyumba vingi Plenty of rooms
Nyumba nyingi Many houses
Funguo nyingi A lot of keys
Mahali pengi Many places

-ingine and -engine as another/other

If one wants to say other or another in Swahili, the use of adjective particles -ingine or –engine is unavoidable. These adjective particles always take agreement from the nouns they describe as shown in the chart below.

Noun Class Singular Plural
M- WA- Mwingine Wengine
M- MI- Mwingine Mingine
KI- VI- Kingine Vingine
N/N Nyingine Nyingine/Zingine
JI- MA- Lingine/Jingine Mengine
U/N Mwingine Nyingine/Zingine
Mahali M- no form
Mahali PA- Pengine
Mahali KU- Pengine

Mifano:

Swahili English
Mtu mwingine Another person
Kitu kingine Another thing
Viatu vingine Other shoes
Jambo lingine Other issue
Mashoka mengine Other axes
Nyumba nyingine Another house
Mahali pengine Other places

-enye and enyewe

-Enye and -Enyewe are two other adjectives that take concords depending on the noun class.

-Enye is used to mean with, and -enyewe is used to mean itself/themselves. They follow normal vowel stem adjective agreements.

Emotions updated 2018-10-24 ^

Hisia - Emotions

Hisia Emotions
Kushangaa To be amazed
Kukasirika To be angry
Kusikitika To be disappointed/sorry
Kuhuzunika To bereave
Kushtuka To be startled/shocked
Kufurahi To be happy
Kuudhika To be annoyed
Kufadhaika To be depressed/perplexed

The following verbs act as emotions as they are forms of conditions:

Swahili English
Kushiba To be full (food)
Kuchoka To be tired
Kulewa To be drunk
Kuchelewa To be late

The above verbs are used with immediate -me- tense or the -ja- tense for positive or negative clauses.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Tumelewa. We are drunk.
Wamechoka. They are tired.
Nimekasirika sana kwa sababu mwizi ameiba pesa zangu. I am very angry because a thief stole my money.
Umefurahi sana kupata zawadi nzuri. You are very happy to get a nice gift.
Amehuzunika mno kwa sababu mama yake alifariki jana. He is very bereaved because his mother died yesterday.
Bob hajafurahi kwa sababu amekula ugali baridi. Bob is not happy because he ate cold stiff porridge.
Dora na Bob hawajashangaa kuwaona twiga Mikumi. Dora and Bob were not shocked to see giraffes in Mikumi.

Demonstratives updated 2018-10-24 ^

Demonstratives

Demonstratives refer to words like this or that indicating a particular noun object as opposed to others. Though Swahili does not use regular articles like a/an or the, demonstratives are frequently used in speech to construct well-structured sentences. The two demonstratives will depend on the proximity to the speaker and the context of the sentence. Just as in English, certain contexts will require the word this whereas others will require that.

In Swahili, the root for this begins with h and is followed by an agreeing suffix depending on the noun class. For that, the agreement takes the suffix -le. See the chart for the demonstratives of each class.

Noun Class Agreement This That
M- WA- Singular Huyu Yule
M- WA- Plural Hawa Wale
M- MI- Singular Huu Ule
M- MI- Plural Hii Ile
KI- VI- Singular Hiki Kile
KI- VI- Plural Hivi Vile
N/N Singular Hii Ile
N/N Plural Hizi Zile
JI- MA- Singular Hili Lile
JI- MA- Plural Haya Yale
U/N Singular Huu Ule
U/N Plural Hizi Zile
Mahali M- Humu Mle
Mahali PA- Hapa Pale
Mahali KU- Huku Kule

In terms of order, the demonstrative can come after the noun, just as other adjectives, if referring to a noun. It can also precede the noun as well. The order will largely depend on the context of the sentence, but with practice, a speaker will understand where in the sentence to place the demonstrative.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Huyu ni mwalimu wangu wa Kiswahili. This is my Swahili teacher.
Hawa ni walimu wetu wa Kiswahili. These are our Kiswahili teachers.
Nimeshamwambia yule! I already told him/her (ie- that person).
Unataka viti vile? Do you want those chairs?
Maembe haya yameharibika. Those mangoes have spoiled.
Ninahitaji kutumia ufunguo huu? Do I need to use this key?
Alipoteza barua zile zamani. S/He lost those letters a long time ago.

School updated 2018-10-24 ^

Education in Tanzania

Mahali Nouns updated 2018-10-24 ^

Noun Classes: Mahali Noun Class and locative prefixes

Ku-, pa-, and m(u)- are prefixes of the locative class, also referred to as the Mahali class. The class itself has one “primary “ noun, mahali, sometimes heard as pahali, mahala, or pahala, all meaning place in English. However, many nouns from other classes are capable of becoming locative nouns by use of the suffix -ni, e.g. nyumbani at home). chumbani (in the room), etc.

The ku-, pa-, and m(u)- prefixes are traditionally been associated with the following meanings:

Mifano :

Swahili English
Kuna wanyama wengi Tanzania. There are many animals in Tanzania.
Pana wanyama wachache Muheza. There are few animals in Muheza.
Mna mnyama mmoja zizizni. There is one animal in the cow shed.
Mahali hapo palikuwa na watu wengi. That place had many people.
Mezani palijaa na uchafu. The table was full of dirt.
Kijijini kulikuwa na mbuzi wengi. In the village there were many goats.
Nchini kuna njaa. In the country there is hunger.
Chumbani mlikuwa na viti viwili. In the room there were two chairs.
Kabatini mlikuwa na sahani nyeupe. in the cupboard there were white plates.

Possessives:

Swahili English
Mahali pake His/her place
Nyumbani kwake His/Her home
Mahali penu Your (pl.) place
Nyumbani kwenu Your (pl.) home
Chumbani mwao Their room

Conditional Tense updated 2019-10-31 ^

Conditional Tense

The use of kama as ’if’

Conditional sentences in Kiswahili can be expressed by the word kama, which is followed by the future form in the second part of the sentence. Kama is not a particle.

Note: kama is synonymous to ikiwa and ijapo

Examples:

Swahili English
Kama utajifunza Kiswahili, utaweza kuzungumza na watanzania. If you learn Kiswahili, you will be able to speak with Tanzanians
Kama tutapata pesa, tutaenda Ulaya. If we get money, we will go to Europe.
Kama tutakula ugali, tutashiba. If we eat ugali (porridge), we will be full.

The use of -ki- as ’if’

Conditional sentences in Kiswahili can also be formed by including the tense particle -ki- between the subject prefix and the verb. It is followed by the future form in the second part of the sentence.

When -ki- is used with monosyllabic verbs, the infinitive ku- is dropped.

Examples:

Swahili English
Ukijifunza Kiswahili, utaweza kuzungumza na watanzania. If you learn Kiswahili, you will be able to speak with Tanzanians.
Tukipata pesa, tutaenda Ulaya. If we get money, we will go to Europe.
Tukila ugali, tutashiba. If we eat ugali (porridge), we will be full.

Note that for (near) future conditional tenses, the use of '-ki-' can be ambiguous in whether it means 'when' vs 'if' e.g.

Akipiga simu, nitakuambia

This can be interpreted as:

Prepositional Verbs updated 2018-10-24 ^

Prepositional form of the verb

When you do something for/ to/at or on behalf of someone, you have to use the prepositional form of verbs. These are also generally used with object infixes to clearly show for whom an action is being performed. There are some rules when it comes to forming the prepositional form of verbs:

If the first vowel of the verb is “a”, “i”, or “u”, then insert “i ” before the last vowel “a”.

Mifano:
Pika becomes Pikia - cook for/to/on behalf of
Andika becomes Andikia - write to /for/on behalf of

If the first vowel of the verb is “a” ,”i”, or “u” but the verb ends with a double vowel, insert “li” before the last vowel “a”.

Mifano:
Nunua becomes Nunulia - buy for
Chukua becomes Chukulia - take for

If the first vowel of the verb is “o” or “e”, insert “e” before the last vowel.

Mifano:
Soma becomes Somea - read to /for/on behalf of
Peleka becomes Pelekea - send to /for /on behalf of

If the first vowel of a verb is “o” or “e” but the verbs ends with a double vowel, insert “le” before the last vowel “a”.

Mifano:
Toa becomes Tolea - give for/to/on behalf of
Pokea becomes Pokelea - receive for

Mifano ya Utumizi:

Swahili English
Nitakupikia ugali. I will cook ugali for you.
Watamwandikia. They will write to him.
Unamchukulia? Are you taking it for her?
Mwalimu wao anawasomea. Their teacher is reading to them.
Tunakutolea hela. We are giving money on behalf of you.

Medicine updated 2018-10-24 ^

Medicine and Medical Needs in Tanzania

Sports updated 2018-10-24 ^

Sports

Piga Idiom updated 2019-12-31 ^

The Idiom -piga

While the verb “kupiga” in Swahili literally means to beat or to hit, it is often used as an idiom. When paired with various nouns, it actually translates to a different verb in English. This makes the verb kupiga the most versatile in Swahili!

Mifano:

Piga Idiom Translation
Kupiga pasi To iron clothes
Kupiga simu To make a telephone call
Kupiga kengele To ring a bell
Kupiga kelele To make noise/To shout
Kupiga chafya To sneeze
Kupiga chenga To dodge/To avoid/To evade/To sidestep
Kupiga magoti To kneel down
Kupiga mbizi To dive
Kupiga miayo To yawn
Kupiga teke To kick
Kupiga ngumi To punch (with a fist)
Kupiga mluzi To whistle
Kupiga makofi To clap
Kupiga picha To take a picture/photograph
Kupiga deki To mop
Kupiga kofi To slap

Note: when an object is involved, there are two ways to construct the sentence:

Simple SVO:

Sentences with clauses following the object:

Subjunctive updated 2019-04-24 ^

Subjunctives

Subjunctive is often used when:

In Swahili, the subjunctive is constructed by changing the last vowel “a” of the verb stem into “ e”. The subject prefixes remain at their positions but without tense markers. Words like bora and tafadhali should be used although in practice they are sometimes omitted. These obligatory words will require subjunctive be used.

Positive Subjunctives

Swahili English
Tafadhali unisaidie. Please help me.
Lazima uende sokoni You must go to the market.
Ni bora ujifunze Kiswahili. It is better (that) you learn Kiswahili.
Inafaa upumzike leo. It is better (that) you have a rest today.
Heri uende nyumbani. It is better (that) you go home.
Kabla ya kula sharti unawe. Before eating you must wash your hands.
Afadhali uende hospitali. It’s better (that) you go to hospital.

Negative Subjunctives: The negative subjunctives are made by inserting -si- between the subject prefixes and the stems of the verbs. This is also the way to construct negative commands.

Swahili English
Usipige picha hapa. Don’t take photographs here.
Usipike ugali leo. Don’t cook ugali today.
Usiendeshe baiskeli. Don’t ride a bicycle.
Msiende shuleni. Don’t go to school.
Msifanye ngono zembe. Don’t practice unprotected sex.

Prepositional Subjunctive: This form of the verb means to do something for/ to/on behalf of somebody. In order to get this form of the verb you need to change the verb into a propositional form first and then to subjunctive form.

Swahili English
Tafadhali unipikie ugali kwa samaki leo. Please cook ugali and fish for me today.
Tafadhali waletee maji ya kunywa. Please bring them some drinking water.

Spirituality updated 2018-10-24 ^

Religion

Politics updated 2018-10-24 ^

Politics

Reciprocal Verbs updated 2019-04-23 ^

The Reciprocal Form

The reciprocal form of the verb is formed by suffixing -na- to the verb root (simple or extended). It expresses the idea reciprocating an action for one another.

It is important to distinguish verbs that can take –na- directly after the simple root.

Mifano:

Simple Root – Swahili Simple Root – English Reciprocal Form – Swahili Reciprocal Form - English
Kupenda To love Kupendana To love each other
Kukuta To find Kukutana To find each other – To meet up
Kutembelea To visit Kutembeleana To visit each other
Kuamkia To greet Kuamkiana To greet each other

However, some verbs need to be derived into other forms of the verbs before they are put into the reciprocal. Usually, this form will be the prepositional form as all verbs, including Arabic-origin verbs, will take an -a- ending in the prepositional form. This will accommodate for the -na- reciprocal suffix.

Mifano:

Prepositional Root – Swahili Prepositional Root – English Prepositional Root – Swahili Prepositional Root – English
Kupikia To cook for Kupikiana To cook for each other
Kusomea To read for Kusomeana To read to each other
Kuandikia To write for Kuandikiana To write for each other
Kusaidia To help Kusaidiana To help each other
Kukubalia To agree Kukubaliana To agree with each other – To be in agreement
Kusalimia To greet Kusalimiana To greet each other

Negative constructions would simply be made by using negative subject prefixes and changing the end of the verb as usual.. The reciprocal form can take subjunctive endings as well.

Swahili English
Tutakutana kesho? Are we going to meet (up) tomorrow?
Wanasaidiana kujenga nyumba zote. They are helping each other to build all the houses.
Ukienda kumwona bibi yangu, ni lazima mwamkiane. If you go to see my grandmother, you have to greet each other.

Tourism updated 2018-10-24 ^

Tourism

Causative Verbs updated 2018-10-24 ^

Causative Verbs

Causative verbs express the idea of something having caused something else to happen; ie- cause and effect. Causative verbs in Swahili are derivatives of other verbs, nouns, or adjectives. There are a wide variety of ways in which causative verbs can be formed in Swahili, so instead of recognizing patterns or memorizing rules to form causative verbs, understanding the theory and memorizing the verbs themselves is often more helpful. General derivations are often formed by adding -sha or -za as suffixes to verbs, but this is not always the case.

Rule 1

For verbs containing A, I, or U as the last vowel, the verb stem will become -isha at the end. For example:

Though it sounds strange in English, the best way to literally translate a causative verb would be “to cause to --”. Kurudi means to return in the active sense of the verb, as in Ninarudi nyumbani (I return home). But the causative form will be Kurudisha, as in Ninarudisha vitu vyako (I return your things).

Rule 2

For verbs containing E or O, the verb stem will become -esha at the end. For example:

Rule 3

Some verbs will take the verb stem -za without following the previous two rules. The endings will either be -iza or -eza. For example:

Rule 4

Verbs with double vowels will usually take a -z- in between them to form the causative verb. For example:

Rule 5

Many verbs that end in -ka or -ta will change the ends to -sha. For example:

Rule 6

Some nouns and adjectives can be turned into causative verbs. For example:

Exceptions to the Rules

Invariably, there are a lot of exceptions to these rules when forming causative verbs. It will take some memorization and familiarization to recognize the causative forms, but repetitive use will help understand the formation and use of causative verbs.

Common Causative Verbs:

Active Form/Noun Translation Causative Form Translation
Kuamka To wake up Kuamsha To wake (someone else) up
Kuanguka To fall Kuangusha To fell (cause to fall)
Kuchemka To be boiled Kuchemsha To boil
Kuchoka To be tired Kuchokesha To tire
Hakika Certainty Kuhakikisha To ensure/make certain
Kuingia To enter Kuingiza To put inside/enter
Kula To eat Kulisha To feed
Kupotea To be lost Kupoteza To lose
Kusikia To hear Kusikiliza To listen
Tayari Ready Kutayarisha To prepare

Stative Verbs updated 2020-04-28 ^

Stative Verbs

Stative verbs are similar to passive verbs in describing the state of a noun. Passive verbs must say by whom to action was done, however, and stative verbs do not. They express a state instead of an action. The stative stem is a variation of -k-, either as it is or in the form of -ika- or -eka-.

Rule 1

If a Bantu-origin verb ends in double vowels, then just the -k- is inserted between them. For example:

Rule 2

If a Bantu-origin verb ends in double a's, then -lik- is inserted between the two a's. For example:

Rule 3

Arabic-origin verbs ending in double vowels take the suffix -lika at the end. For example:

Common Stative Verbs:

Active Form Translation Stative Form Translation
Kubadili To change Kubadilika To be changed
Kufunga To close Kufungika To be closed
Kuharibu To destroy Kuharibika To be destroyed
Kukata To cut Kukatika To be cut
Kukubali To agree Kukubalika To be agreed
Kuvunja To break Kuvunjika To be broken
Kula To eat Kulika To be edible
Kuona To see Kuonekana To be seen
Kupata To get Kupatikana To be obtainable/available
Kuweza To be able Kuwezekana To be possible

Negative Conditional updated 2018-10-24 ^

Negative Conditional

Negatives of “kama” and “-ki-”

Negative “kama”

When negating the conditional sentences with “kama”, follow the procedure of negative future:

Mifano:

Swahili English
Kama hatutapata pesa, hatutaenda Ulaya. If we don’t get money, we will not go to Europe.
Kama hatutakula ugali, hatutashiba. If we don’t eat ugali, we will not be full

The particle “-sipo-” as negative of “-ki-”

When negating the conditional tense “-ki-”, it must be replaced by the particle “-sipo-” and then the second half of the sentence takes the appropriate negative prefixes. However, sometimes the second clause does not have to be negative depending on the clause itself; ie- not doing one thing will result in something else happening. With monosyllabic verbs, the infinitive ”ku-” is retained.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Usipojifunza Kiswahili, hutaweza kuzungumza na watanzania. If you don’t learn Kiswahili, you will not be able to speak with Tanzanians
Tusipopata pesa, hatutaenda Ulaya. If we don’t get money, we will not go to Europe.
Tusipokula ugali, hatutafurahi. If we don’t eat ugali, we will not be happy.
Usipokwenda baharini, hutaogelea. If you don’t go to the sea you won’t swim.
Asipokuja Tanzania, atakwenda Uganda. If s/he doesn’t come to Tanzania, s/he will go to Uganda
Usipokula mayai, hutapata protini. If you don’t eat eggs, you won’t get protein.

Habitual Tense updated 2018-10-24 ^

The Habitual Tense

The hu- aspect marker expresses a habitual action.

Unlike -na- tense, the hu- aspect marker does not take a subject prefix instead it must be preceeded by a noun or a personal pronoun.

It is important to note that hu- is the typical habitual marker, and -na- the typical present tense and progressive aspect marker. When one uses -na - as a habitual marker, it is appropriate to use it with the expressions,such as kila asubuhi-every morning. However, hu- can also be used with those expressions.

When hu- is used with monsyllabic verbs, the infinitive ku- is dropped.

Examples:

Swahili English
Baraka huamka saa kumi na moja alfajiri. Baraka wakes up at five o’clock in the morning.
Yeye huandika barua kila siku. She/He writes letters every day.
Mimi hula chakula kila siku. I usually eat food everyday.
Wewe huja shuleni kila asubuhi. You usually come to school every morning.

Narrative and Expeditious -Ka- updated 2018-10-24 ^

Describing past events by using time infix ‘-ka-’

The time infix -ka- is used to describe a series of past events. When we use -ka-, the -li- tense appears first at the beginning of the sentence with the first verb and then it is replaced with the -ka- infix in the next verbs in order to denote that the narrative is in past tense. Hence, using -ka- in this sense is called the narrative tense.

Note: Monosyllabic verbs drop in infinitive ku- when used with -ka- infix.

Mfano:

Wikiendi, Mkude alipokwenda kwa dada yake kumtembelea, akampikia chakula. Baadaye wakala, wakazungumza, halafu wakaenda Mjini.

This weekend, when Mkude went to visit her sister, she cooked her food. Later they ate, they talked, and then they went to town.

Using -ka- as a command

The infix -ka- can also be used in the form of an expeditious command when combined with the subjunctive. Generally, subject pronouns will be dropped before the -ka- as well as the commands are directed at a specific audience. Sometimes, phrases will be preceded by normal commands, such as nenda. As with the narrative tense, monosyllabic verbs drop the infinitive ku-.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Kalale! Go sleep!
Kalete kalamu yangu. Go bring my pen.
Kale chakula chako sasa hivi. Go eat your food right now.
Nenda kaombe ruhusa! Go and ask for permission!

Conditional 2 updated 2018-10-24 ^

The hypothetical conditional –nge- and -ngali-

The-nge- form is used to express a hypothetical condition tense in present. -Ngali- is used for the past. Generally, both clauses in a sentence using the hypothetical conditional will use the form as the tense marker.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Ungekuja hapa sasa, ungemwona. If you came here now, you would see him.
Wangekuwa mjini sasa, wangenunua nguo. If they were in town now, they would buy clothes.
Ningalimwona jana, ningaliongea naye. If I had seen her yesterday, I would have talked to her.
Kama angalijua kwamba unakuja, angalipika chakula kingi. If she had known that you were coming, she would have prepared a lot of food.

The negative constructions are formed with insertion of the –si- negative marker which is inserted before -nge- or -ngali-. Positive and negative hypothetical conditional tenses can be combined.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Asingepata mwaliko asingekwenda kwenye harusi. If he had not been invited, he would have not gone to the wedding.
Barua isingalifika, nisingalifika msibani. If the letter had not arrived, I would not have been at the funeral.
Tusingeimba vibaya, angefurahi sana. If we did not sing poorly, he would be very happy.

Holidays updated 2019-04-23 ^

Holidays

Note

Numerical dates i.e. date, month, year, will have the words tarehe, mwezi, mwaka preceding them. e.g.

Date Tarehe
Tenth of May Tarehe kumi mwezi wa tano
2019 Mwaka elfu mbili na kumi na tisa
March Mwezi wa tatu

Additional Grammar updated 2018-10-24 ^

Additional Advanced Grammar

Are you ready for this skill? There are four main areas of advanced grammar that will be explored here that will really embellish your Swahili.

Emphatics

An emphatic is a word used to add stress to a noun. In English, we usually say “indeed” or “the very” to emphasize a noun, though this is not commonly used. However, in Swahili, it is indeed very important! The word for yes - ndiyo - is derived from the emphatic form.

The stem for an emphatic is “ndi- and it takes the relative agreement depending on the noun class.

Noun Class Emphatic Agreement
M- WA- Ndiye Singular
M- WA- Ndio Plural
M- MI- Ndio Singular
M- MI- Ndiyo Plural
KI- VI- Ndicho Singular
KI- VI- Ndivyo Plural
N/N Ndiyo Singular
N/N Ndizo Plural
JI- MA- Ndilo Singular
JI- MA- Ndiyo Plural
U/N Ndio Singular
U/N Ndizo Plural
Mahali Ndimo Inside Locative
Mahali Ndipo Specific Place Locative
Mahali Ndiko Unspecific Place Locative

Personal pronouns in the singular form also have emphatics. Plurals are proceeded by ndio followed by the personal pronoun.

Pronoun Emphatic Translation
Mimi Ndimi Indeed I/me
Wewe Ndiwe Indeed you
Yeye Ndiye Indeed he/she or him/her
Sisi Ndio sisi Indeed us/we
Ninyi Ndio ninyi Indeed you (pl.)
Wao Ndio wao Indeed they/them

Mifano:

Swahili English
Huyu ndiye mwalimu mzuri aliyenifundisha. This is indeed the good teacher who taught me.
Ndicho hicho! Indeed that one!
Embe hilo ndilo zuri sana! That mango is indeed very good!
Ndiwe utakayekwenda huko. It is indeed you who will go there.

Forms for “Which?”

For the interrogative form of “which”, a word can be used with the subject prefix and the stem -“pi”. This must be used in relation to a noun with some degree of specificity, otherwise the relative “which” - gani - can be used. Technically, gani is literally translated as “what sort?”, but it is colloquially and commonly used for “which” nowadays. However, using this form will enhance a learner's Swahili.

Noun Class Interrogative -pi Agreement
M- WA- Yupi? Singular
M- WA- Wepi? Plural
M- MI- Upi? Singular
M- MI- Ipi? Plural
KI- VI- Kipi? Singular
KI- VI- Vipi? Plural
N/N Ipi? Singular
N/N Zipi? Plural
JI- MA- Lipi? Singular
JI- MA- Yapi? Plural
U/N Upi? Singular
U/N Zipi? Plural
Mahali Kupi? Singular – Only form of Mahali that takes -pi

Mifano:

Swahili English
Unataka parachichi lipi? You want which avocado?
Anakaa nyumba ipi? He lives in which house?
Tukununulie viatu vipi? We should buy you which shoes?

The use of –kwisha as “already”

“-Kwisha-” is literally translated as “already”. It is one of the Kiswahili constructions which describes complete events. Also, it is the most emphatic. Mifano:

Swahili English
Nimekwishaandika barua. I have already written a letter.
Umekwishaandika barua. You have already written a letter.
Tumekwishaandika barua. We have already written a letter.
Wamekwishaandika barua. They have already written a letter.

However, in many parts of Tanzania and East Africa as a whole, the “kw-” or kwi- is dropped in sentences without changing the meanings. Indeed, using only -sha- is becoming the most popular form of this construction.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Nimeishaenda dukani. I have already gone to the store.
Ulishawahi kula nge? Have you already tried to eat scorpion?
Wameshafika Marekani. They have already arrived in America.

This form is also commonly used with the conditional -ki- to indicate conditional future tenses in conversation.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Nikishamaliza kazi yangu, nitaenda kucheza mpira. Once I have finished my work, I will go play soccer.
Ukishasafisha chumbani kwako, osha vyombo. Once you have cleaned your room, wash the dishes.
Tukishazungumza naye, tutakuambia. Once we have talked with her, we will tell you.

The particle -po- as “when”

In Swahili, “when” is indicated by the question word “lini”. But, “lini” is used only when one is asking a question. In a statement of fact, instead of using “lini”, the relative marker of time “-po-” is used. The marker “-po-” is not used with “hu-” or “-me-” tenses, only with simple present, past, and future. However, with the future, instead of “-ta-”, the tense marker becomes “taka”.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Tulipoenda Morogoro, tulijifunza Kiswahili. When we went to Morogoro, we learned Swahili.
Ninapozungumza Kiswahili, ninaeleweka. When I speak Swahili, I am understood.
Mama atakapofika nyumbani, atapika wali. When mother arrives at home, she will cook rice.

Relatives updated 2018-10-24 ^

Relative Constructions

The amba relative

The amba relative means “who”, “whom”, “that”, or “which”. It is suffixed with respective relative marker from each noun class.

The amba relative takes a suffix depending on the noun class.

Noun Class Agreement Amba Relative
M- WA- Singular Ambaye
M- WA- Plural Ambao
M- MI- Singular Ambao
M- MI- Plural Ambayo
KI- VI- Singular Ambacho
KI- VI- Plural Ambavyo
N/N Singular Ambayo
N/N Plural Ambazo
JI- MA- Singular Ambalo
JI- MA- Plural Ambayo
U/N Singular Ambao
U/N Plural Ambazo
Mahali M- Ambamo
Mahali PA- Ambapo
Mahali KU- Ambako

Relative Constructions

In Kiswahili there are three types of relative clause constructions:

1- The amba- relative clause; e.g. Basi ambalo linakwenda Arusha – The bus that goes to Arusha.

2- The infix relative clause with the marker -lo-, or the amba suffix, before the verb root; e,g. Basi linalokwenda Arusha – The bus that goes to Arusha.

3- The suffixal relative clause with the relative suffix after the verb stem but without the tense marker; e.g. Basi liendalo Arusha – The bus that goes to Arusha.

All of the three forms above are commonly used. The following points need to be noted in relation to the use of these forms of relative clause:

Mifano:

Swahili English
Huyu ni voluntia ambaye anatoka Marekani. This is a volunteer who comes from America.
Wale ni mavoluntia ambao wanatoka Marekani. Those are volunteers who come from America.
Huyu ni mtoto ambaye anaumwa malaria. This is the chilld who is suffering from malaria.
Hawa ni vijana ambao wana kazi nyingi. These are youth who have a lot of work.
Yule ni mzee ambaye ana bustani kubwa ya mboga. That is the old man who has a big vegetable garden.
Hii ni barua ya voluntia ambayo inatoka Marekani. This is a volunteer’s letter that comes from America.
Zile ni barua za voluntia ambazo zinatoka Marekani. These are volunteers’ letters that come from America.
Ile ni saa yangu ndogo ya mezani ambayo niliinunua Uingereza. That is my small table clock which I bought in England.
Zile ni saa zangu ndogo za mezani ambazo nilizinunua Uingereza. These are my small table clocks which I bought in England.
Alitumia vifaa vilivyovunjika. S/He used tools which broke.
Nitapika chakula kitamu kinachotoka Uhindi. I am going to cook good food which comes from India.
Popote uendapo! Wherever you go!

“-Vyo-” as “how”

“-Vyo-“ is a relative marker infix which is used to express the manner through which something is done or how action is taking place. In most cases, the verb that takes the infix “-vyo-“ is proceeded by words like “jinsi” or ”namna”which literally mean “how”. The use of the infix “-vyo-“ in a verb can also mean “as far as”.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Nitakufundisha jinsi ninavyofanya kazi yangu. I will teach you how I do my work.
Utaona jinsi watu wanavyochoma moto misitu. You will see how people set fire in forests.
Utaelewa jinsi vijana wasivyojali afya zao. You will understand how youths do not care about their health.
Nilifanya vyote nilivyoweza. I did as much as I could.

Conditional Past updated 2019-02-19 ^

The hypothetical conditional –nge- and -ngali-

The-nge- form is in conditional clauses for events that can be changed. -Ngali- is used for conditional clauses expressing events that cannot be changed. Generally, both clauses in a sentence using the hypothetical conditional will use the form as the tense marker.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Ungekuja hapa sasa, ungemwona. If you came here now, you would see him.
Wangekuwa mjini sasa, wangenunua nguo. If they were in town now, they would buy clothes.
Ningalimwona jana, ningaliongea naye. If I had seen her yesterday, I would have talked to her.
Angalijua kwamba unakuja, angalipika chakula kingi. If she had known that you were coming, she would have prepared a lot of food.

The negative constructions are formed with insertion of the –si- negative marker which is inserted before -nge- or -ngali-. Positive and negative hypothetical conditional tenses can be combined.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Asingepata mwaliko asingekwenda kwenye harusi. If he had not been invited, he would have not gone to the wedding.
Barua isingalifika, nisingalifika msibani. If the letter had not arrived, I would not have been at the funeral.
Tusingeimba vibaya, angefurahi sana. If we did not sing poorly, he would be very happy.

Sometimes, these two infixes are used interchangeably

Comparisons updated 2018-10-24 ^

Comparison

Comparatives

Comparison in Swahili is very different from English. There are no adjectives for comparative or superlative degrees like adding “-er” or “-est”. Instead, comparative words are used in Swahili after adjectives.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Bustani yangu ni nzuri kama yako. My garden is as good as yours.
Kijiji chetu ni sawa na chenu. Our village is the same as yours.
Mashamba yeti ni makubwa kuliko yenu. Our farms are bigger than your farms.
Shamba lake ni zuri kuliko langu. His farm is nicer than mine.
Twiga ni mrefu zaidi ya simba. The giraffe is taller than the lion.

Superlatives:

When making a superlative construction, use the same words as in comparative construction, except that the adjective “–ote” - all or whole - with correct agreement marker of the noun used comes at the end. This signifies that the comparison is made with all other types of that particular noun being compared.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Wakenya wanapendelea kukumbia kuliko wote. Kenyans love to run more than anyone.
Chakula kinapikwa na mama yangu ni kitamu kupita vyote. Food cooked by my mother is better than all other (food).
Matikitimaji kutoka Tanzania ni makubwa kushinda yote mengine. Watermelons from Tanzania are bigger than all others.

Figures of Speech updated 2019-07-05 ^

Here is a brief overview of different types of figures of speech in this lesson. Some phrases in Swahili lose meaning when directly translated to English, but sometimes one can infer the intended meaning through the reference used.

Tashibiha - Similes

a.k.a. Tashbihi, Tashbiha. These have the same form as they do in English, i.e. adjective-preposition-noun. Some English similes translate to their Swahili counterparts e.g.

Similes Tashbihi
Black as coal -eusi kama makaa
Cold as ice baridi kama barafu
Thin as a needle -embamba mithili ya sindano

Note: kama and mithili ya mean the same thing

Other Swahili similes are not quite used as-is when directly translated to English e.g.

Tashbihi Translation
Adhimu kama maziwa ya kuku Rare as chicken's milk
Mlafi kama fisi Greedy as a hyena
Mrefu kama mlingoti Tall as a pole

Tafsida - Euphemism

These are used, as in English, to substitute words or expressions that are considered harsh or improper

Tafsida Direct translation Meaning
Kujifungua To open onself up To give birth
Kujisaidia To help oneself To use the bathroom
Kuaga dunia To say goodbye to the earth To die

Sitiari - Metaphor

a.k.a. Istiari, Istiara. These are similar to similes, but rather than describing someone/thing to be 'like' something else, they are described as that thing.

Sitiari Metaphor Meaning
Rashidi ni kobe Rashidi is a tortoise Rashidi is slow
Amekuwa popo He's become a bat He's become a turncoat
Juma ni chiriku Juma is a canary Juma is a chatterbox

Semi - Sayings

These are common phrases that are widely understood or whose meaning/reference is easy to understand.

Semi Sayings Meaning/use
Shingo upande Bent neck Be reluctant/do something reluctantly
Pua na mdomo Nose and mouth Very close
Lila na fila Good and evil For better or worse

Tashihisi - Personification

a.k.a. uhaishaji. These are phrases that give inanimate objects human attributes e.g. the wind is whistling

Tashihisi Translation
Picha inanikodolea macho The picture is looking at me
Fikira zangu zinazunguka My thoughts are swirling
Muda unakimbia Time is running

Tanakali za sauti - Onomatopoeia

a.k.a. Milio. These are words that mimic sound or how an action is performed. These sounds are typically used to either emphasize or exaggerate a sound or action. Note that not all actions are assigned these sounds.

Often, they appear at the end of the sentence, and are followed by are an excalamation mark, though this is not required.

Mlio Action
Cheka kwa kwa kwa! Laugh (loudly)
Mweusi tititi Very dark
Tumbukia majini chubwi Fall into water
Shusha pumzi hufyu Loud/big sigh

Nahau - Idioms

These are phrases/sayings that always contain verbs. Like euphemisms, they are used to soften harsh words. Often, direct translations will not make much sense

Nahau Translation Meaning
Piga hatua Make steps Move forward/Progress
Meza maneno Swallow words Keep a secret
Pigwa kalamu Have one's pen hit Lose one's job

Pluperfect updated 2018-10-24 ^

Pluperfect Constructions

The pluperfect construction is a fancy way of saying that something has been done or completed. It is also called past perfect in English. It combines the past tense with the condition of being perfect, which, from its Latin derivative, means that it is complete - or completely finished!

In Swahili, this construction is made by combining the simple past with the immediate past. Pretty easy! This is true for both affirmative and negative sentences.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Nilikuwa nimefanya kazi nyingi. I had done a lot of work.
Alikuwa ameenda nyumbani. S/He had gone home.
Tulikuwa tumekubali kusafirisha mizigo yote. We had agreed to transport all of the packages.
Hukuwa umemaliza kuandika barua. You had not finished writing the letter.
Hawakuwa wamechoma takataka shimoni. They had not burned all of the trash in the hole.

Participles updated 2018-10-24 ^

Participles

Participles can be tricky, even in English. In Swahili, they aren't commonly used in normal speech, but it is possible to find them used in writing or in very formal settings.

To form participial phrases, the conditional -ki is used, although it occurs in the second verb of the sentence instead of the first. It can be used with any tense marker.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Niliwaona wakitembea. I saw them walking.
Alifika akibeba mizigo. He arrived carrying luggage.
Watakuwa wakicheza. They will be playing.
Nimekuwa nikuumwa. I was sick.
Ulikuwa ukinifundisha kupiga mbizi baharini. You were teaching me how to dive in the ocean.

Similarly, these constructions can be made using conditional forms as the main verb in the participial phrase: ie - -nge-, -singe-, -ngali-, and -singali-.

Mifano:

Swahili English
Ningekuwa Marekani sasa, ningekuwa nikisoma chuoni. If I were in America right now, I would be studying at university.
Ningalisoma historia, ningalikuwa nikiishi Ugiriki kufundisha akiolojia. If I had studied history, I would have been living in Greece to teach archaeology.
Usingefika mapema, usingekuwa ukinisaidia. If you had not arrived early, you would not be helping me.
Tungalioana mwaka uliopita, usingalikuwa ukiweza kupata kazi hiyo nzuri. If we had married each other last year, you would not have been able to get that good job.

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