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Definite and indefinite articles

There are none in Swahili


Noun classes

All nouns fall into one of 15 classes. When nouns are in a sentence, all other words relating to that noun (adjectives, possessives, verb subjects or objects) must agree with the noun. This is done through the use of prefixes attached to the words that are specific to each noun class.


Nominal prefixes

The prefix on the noun that determines to which class it belongs. All related adjectives have the same prefix. The prefix differs for singular vs. plural nouns.


Possessive Pronouns

-angu = my, mine
-ako = your, yours (singular)
-ake = her, hers, his, its, theirs (inanimate)
-etu = our, ours
-enu = your, yours (plural)
-ao = their, theirs (living beings)


Self-standing personal pronouns

I, me = mimi
you (singular) = wewe
he, she, her him = yeye
we, us = sisi
you (plural) = ninyi/nyinyi
they, them = wao


"A" of relationship: concept of possession or description

Use with the pronominal prefix.


Kitabu cha mwalimu (teacher's book)
Nguo za watoto (children's clothes)
Vitabu vyangu (my books)

Description function in adjectival phrase:

shule ya msingi (primary school)
nia ya kufanya kazi (will to work)
kili cha kukulia (chair to sit on)
kazi ya kwanza (first job)
vyombo vya nyumbani (household goods)


"A" of relationship: adverbial relationships

Use with KU (becomes KWA). 5 uses.

Location with respect to people (never use with locative words ending in "ni"):
Wapo kwa mwalimu (They are at the teacher's)
Nilipata barua kwa rafiki (I got a letter from a friend)
Walikwenda shambani (They went to the farm)

Instrument by which an action is performed:
Aliandika kwa kalamu mpya (He wrote with a new pen)
Kata nyama kwa kisu (Cut the meat with a knife)

Precedes nouns or infinitives in phrases indicating the purpose of the action:
Alikuja kwa dawa (She came for medicine)
Samaki hii haifai kwa chakula (The fish is no good for eating)

Introduces adverbial phrases of manner: "how" an action is performed:
Alifanya kazi kwa haraka (He worked hurriedly)
Nitakuja kwa furaha (I will gladly come)

Idiomatically used between two adjectives to reinforce the idea of repetition or continuation:
Nimekuambia mara kwa mara (I have told you time and time again)


"A" of relationship: concept of relationship

Becomes NA.

As a connector between words, phrases, and clauses, "and," or "with":
Lete uji na mayai (bring gruel and eggs)

If used between two adjectives, they refer to two different nouns:
Watoto wadogo na wakubwa (small children and big ones)

When two verbs are joined, the second is always infinitive:
Tuliongea na kupumzika (We talked and rested)

Used in the sense of "also," precedes a noun or pronoun in contracted form with a personal pronoun:
Nipe na mimi chai (Give me tea also)
Amechelewa naye (He is also late)

Following passive verbs, it introduces the doer of the action:
(Kuku wako wameliwa na chui (Your chickens have been eaten by a leopard)

Following certain adverbs, makes prepositions:
Mbali na (far from)
Karibu na (near to)
Sawa na (equal to, same as)


The possessive prefix for both class 1 and 2

w (wangu, wako, wake, wetu, wenu, wao)


Negating present tense - stems that don't end in "a"

The ending stays the same (does not change to "i")


Demonstrative pronouns: near (this/these)

Always made with the following formula:
H + (vowel of the pronominal prefix) + (pronominal prefix)
mtu huyu (this person, notice use of "yu")
watu hawa (these people)
mti huu (this tree)
miti hii (these trees)
yai hili (this egg)
mayai haya (these eggs)
kiti hiki (this chair)
viti hivi (these chairs)

The pronoun almost always follows the noun. It can also stand alone.


Demonstrative pronouns: far (that/those)

Always made with the following formula:
(pronominal prefix) + LE
mtu yule (that person)
watu wale (those people)
mti ule (that tree)
miti ile (those trees)
yai lile (that egg)
mayai yale (those eggs)
kiti kile (that chair)
viti vile (those chairs)


Adjectives and subject prefixes for animate objects

Always take the prefixes of Class 1/2


Numbers and adjective agreement

The numbers used for counting are actually the forms that would be used with N-class nouns. For all other classes, to create the adjective, the appropriate nominal/adjectival prefix must be added in front. The exceptions are: -wili for two (instead of mbili), and for sita, saba, tisa, and kumi, NO prefix is needed.

In addition, prefixes are needed for combined numbers using kumi:
vitabu kumi na vitatu (13 books)
watu kumi na watano (15 people)


Telling time

Time is counted according to the number of hours past either morning or night (morning being 6 AM, night being 6 PM). The word "saa" is used in front. NOTE: this counting from morning/night is used even if another modifier (afternoon, early evening, etc.) is used in the sentence to clarify the time. The number is still what is counted from 6 AM or 6 PM.

saa kumi na mbili asubuhi (6 AM)
saa moja asubuhi (7 AM, hour one of the morning)
saa tano asubuhi (11 AM)
saa sita mchana (12 PM)
saa tisa alasiri (3 PM)
saa kumi na moja jioni (5 PM)
saa kumi na mbili jioni (6 PM)
saa moja usiku (7 PM)
saa nne usiku (10 PM)

Terms like quarter past (na robo), half past (unusu/na nusu), and quarter before (kasorobo) can also be used after the hour. "Na dakika" can be used to specify the number of minutes

saa saba unusu mchana (1:30 PM)
saa tisa na robo usiku (3:15 AM)
saa tano na dakika kumi asubuhi (11 AM)
saa kumi na mbili kasorobo alfajiri (5:45 AM)


early morning time

alfajiri/asubuhi mapema sana (5:00 AM - 5:59 AM)


morning time

asubuhi (6:00 AM - 11:59 AM)


afternoon time

mchana (12:00 PM - 2:59 PM)


late afternoon time

alasiri (3:00 PM - 4:59 PM)


evening time

jioni (5:00 PM - 6:59 PM)


night time

usiku (7:00 PM - 4:59 AM)


quarter past (time)

na robo


half past (time)

unusu/na nusu


quarter before (time)



Adjective agreement with N-Class (9/10) nouns

Varies depending on the adjective. The adjective form is THE SAME for both singular and plural (like the noun form but unlike other forms such as demonstratives, possessives, verbs, etc.)

If the adjective stem begins with d, z, or g: takes an n for N-Class nouns.
kalamu ndogo (small pen, small pens)
nyumba nzuri (beautiful house, beautiful houses)

If the adjective stem begins with a b: takes an m (an exception is -pya, which also takes m).
kahawa mbaya (bad coffee)
meza mpya (new table, new tables)

If the adjective stem begins with a vowel: takes ny or y (exception is -ema [good] which becomes njema).
safari nyingi (many trips)
chaki nyeupe (white chalk)
mvua njema (good rain)

If the adjective stem begins with a nasal n, m, ng, or p, f, t, s, sh, ch, or k: no prefix.
shule kubwa (big school, big schools)
redio kongwe (old radio, old radios)

If the adjective stem begins with r: the r changes to d and the prefix is n.
ndizi ndefu (long banana, long bananas)

If the adjective stem begins with w, the w changes to b and the prefix is m.
lugha mbili (two languages)

Any N-class noun that refers to something animate will take M-Wa class prefixes on the adjectives.
tembo mkubwa (big elephant)
rafiki wawili (two friends)


Adjective agreement with Ji-Ma (5/6) nouns

Usually, in the singular form (5), the adjective does not take any prefix.
gari zuri (beautiful car)
chungwa dogo (small orange)

However, for adjective stems with only one syllable, for singular nouns the prefix JI is used
gari jipya (new car)

If the stem begins with a vowel, J is used in the singular form and MA becomes M for the plural form.

gari jeupe (white car)
daftari jeusi (black notebook)
jewe jekundu (red stone)


Telling the date

The question, "Leo ni tarehe ngapi?" literally means, "Today is how many dates?". To answer: Leo ni + (day of week) + tarehe + number + (mwezi) + (month) + (mwaka) + (year). "Mosi" is used for the first.

Leo ni Jumatano, tarehe mosi Novemba (Today is Wednesday, November 1st)
Tarehe mosi mwezi wa Januari mwaka elfu moja mia tisa na tisini na tisa (January 1, 1999)
Tarehe ishirini na tano mwezi wa Disemba mwaka elfu moja mia tisa na themanini na nane (December 26, 1988.


Sound changes

1) U, MU, and KU before another noun become W, MW, and KW.
2) WA, MA, YA, PA, + stems beginning with A, E, or O: the A on the prefix is lost. A+I become E.
3) For JI, LI, and ZI, the I is lost before a stem starting with a vowel.
4) I (not preceded by a consonant) becomes Y before a vowel.
5) KI, VI, MI + stem beginning in I: The two I's merge.
6) MI before vowels other than I becomes MY.
7) KI and VI before a vowel other than I become CH and VY.
8) When W occurs in a midposition before O, it is dropped.


Asking "which?"

Pronominal prefix + PI
Unapenda kitabu kipi zaidi? (Which book do you like most?)
Unasema lugha zipi? (Which languages do you speak?)
Exception: With Ma words, becomes "wepi"
Watoto wepi wanalala?


Demonstratives from locative class

The demonstratives from the locative class can be used to form words for "here" and "there"

Hapa = here, specifically
Pale = there, specifically
Huku = around here generally
Kule = around there generally
Humu = inside here, in here
Mule = inside that place over there