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Intro General Numbers Anthem

Home | Main | Intro | Maps | Wildlife | Swahili | PG | Guests

Intro

General

Numbers

Anthem

Please note this is only a very brief introduction to the Swahili language. Sorry but we
are unable to accept individual requests for translation.
Swahili is a derivative of the Bantu language and remains loyal to Bantu grammar,
however its vocabulary has been influenced by Arabic (through culture and trade) and
more recently by English (through technology). The word swahili comes from the
Arabic word for coast, since the language developed along the East African coast
where several distinctive dialects still remain. Swahili has been described as "One of
the twelve great languages of the world" and is spoken by millions of people in
Central and Eastern Africa.
One of Swahili's most welcome aspects is that its pronounciation is straightforward
compared to many other languages. It is not a "click" language like IsiXhosa which
relies heavily on clicking noises (like tutting "tsk tsk"), nor is it a "tone" language like
Chinese where changes in pitch are just as important as consonants and vowels. The
alphabet is simple and has no accented characters. However the construction of
Swahili words can be complex since it makes heavy use of morphemes rather than use
the periphrastic approach of English (see below for an explanation).
Languages can use "inflection" to modify the meaning of words by adding or changing
"morphemes" (the smallest meaning-bearing parts of a word). For example in English
we can modify the word walk to have walkable, walked, walker, walking. However
English makes relatively little use of this and tends towards a periphrastic approach
(using more words and relying on sentence syntax). For example the single Swahili
word nimekisoma needs four words when translated into the English sentence I have
read it. The full scale of such complexity is beyond the scope of this introduction but
some examples may demonstrate the possibilities in Swahili: if they had rested, they
could not have got tired translates as wangalipumzika wasingalichoka and I should not
have been as nisingalikuwa (broken down into morphemes as ni-si-nga-li-ku-wa).

Nouns
There are eight classes of noun, named after their most common prefixes, which can
be generally grouped as follows: M/WA for people (mtu=man); M/MI for "things"
including trees and plants (mgomba=banana plant); N for animals, fruit and foreign
words (ndege=bird); KI/VI for objects (kisu=knife); MA for "things" including
pluralised nouns (maziwa=milk); U for abstract and uncountable nouns (ukubwa=size
and unga=flour); KU for infinitives (kusoma=to read) and PA for place
(mahali=place).
The class name indicates the usual prefix for singular/plural nouns, so example plurals
would be: watu=men, migomba=banana plants, ndege=birds, visu=knives,
mayai=eggs. From this you can see that N class nouns often have the same singular
and plural prefix (usually n- but sometimes m- if followed by a -b or -v), and that MA
class nouns only take their prefix (ma-) in plural. Some MA nouns take a j/ji- prefix in
the singular if only one syllable or beginning with a vowel. Some U class nouns may
change when pluralised depending on their origin.
Many words change their spelling depending on the presence of certain letters. The
M/WA class word mwezi=thief (really an mw- rather than m- prefix and hence the true
noun stem -ezi is seen to begin with a vowel) loses the a of wa- to have the plural
wezi=thieves. KI/VI class words use CH/VY prefixes for noun stems starting with a
vowel, hence chumba=room and vyumba=rooms.
The PA class contains the single word mahali, however agreement takes one of three
forms depending on whether the place is specific (takes pa- prefix), indefinite or
moving (takes ku- prefix) or inside something (takes mu- prefix).
The same noun can appear in different classes and have different meanings. For
example -mtu becomes mtu=man, jitu=giant and umtu=manhood. Nouns can be
forced into other classes to provide "diminutives" and "augmentives". The KI/VI class
makes them diminutive (mto=river becomes kijito=stream) and the MA class makes
them augmentive (watu=men becomes majitu=giants). There are also techniques to
make a noun diminuitive even if it already belongs to the KI/VI class.
Adjectives
Adjectives generally agree (concord) with their noun, for example kisu kikali=sharp
knife (-kali=sharp) and mtu mdogo=small man (-dogo=small). However one
important rule is that people and animals should concord with the M/WA class even if
they belong to another class (for example paka=cat is an N class noun yet paka

wadogo=small cats).
Adjectives follow their noun so one big knife is kisu kikubwa kimoja (knife big one).
Also note how Swahili uses "prefixation" to cause agreement by adding to the
beginning of the adjective stem (ki-kubwa and ki-moja). The presence of certain letters
can change spelling (as seen with nouns), so for M/WA agreement the adjective
mwema=good (sing.) becomes wema=good (pl.) rather than waema.
Possessive adjectives take the stems -angu (my), -ako (your sing.), -ake (his/her/its),
-etu (our), -enu (your pl.), -ao (their). For example my book is kitabu changu (note changu rather than ki-angu because of the leading vowel).
Verbs
Verbs are built by taking the verb stem and adding prefixes to indicate the subject,
tense and sometimes an object. Some prefixes will themselves be prefixed so we refer
to "infixes" (essentially prefixes in the middle of a word). The subject prefixes (for
persons) are ni- (I), u- (you sing.), a- (s/he), tu- (we), m- (you pl.), wa- (they). The
basic tense infixes are -me- (perfect), -li- (past), -a- and -na- (simple present and
present), -ta- (future). The object infixes (for persons) are -ni- (me), -ku- (you sing.),
-m- (him/her), -tu- (us), -wa- (you pl.), -wa- (them). The object infixes meaning
it/them for other non-person classes are: M/MI = -u/i-, KI/VI = -ki/vi-, N = -i/zi-.
Personal pronouns are mimi (I), wewe (you sing.), yeye (s/he), sisi (we), ninyi (you pl.),
wao (they).
For example I have read it translates as nimekisoma (ni-me-ki-soma where
-soma=read).
Negative tenses (often based around an ha- prefix) have subject prefixes (for persons)
of si- (I), hu- (you sing.), ha- (s/he), hatu- (we), ham- (you pl.), hawa- (they). One
negative tense is called the "not yet" (haja-) tense which allows for expressions such
as Ndizi hazijatosha for There are not yet enough bananas.
Conditional and present-participle tenses use a -ki- infix, and a form of narrative tense
uses the -ka- infix. Imperatives are usually the plain verb stem, for example soma!
means read!. Reflexives may be built using the -ji- infix and reciprocals use an -ana
suffix.
And Finally...
The Swahili day (siku) is really two twelve-hour slots starting at sunrise and again at

sunset, so 08:00 is saa mbili (the second hour) - add the words ya mchana or ya usiku
to express daytime or night-time. Swahili days themselves are numbered from Friday
(based on the Mohammedan calendar) with Monday being jumatatu (juma=week and
tatu=three).
The simple -a suffix can take a prefix to make the common word of (agreeing with the
object, not the possessor). For example Watu wa Kenya - The people of Kenya.
The verb kuwa=to have can be used with PA class prefixes for indicate something
exists (kuna wanyama=there are animals). Add the ha- prefix for negation (kakuna
pesa=there is no money). Hence the word hapana=no.

ENGLISH

SWAHILI

I'd like a cold beer

Tafadhali nataka
bia [pombe] baridi

Car
Bicycle
Motorbike
Train
Boat
Aeroplane
Petrol
Mechanic

Gari
Baiskeli
Pikipiki
Gari la moshi
Mashua
Ndege [Eropleni]
Petroli
Fundi

Coffee
Tea
with/without
milk/sugar

Kahawa
Chai
na/bila
maziwa/sukari

Danger!

Hatari!

Fetch a doctor
Chemist

Ita daktari
Duka la dawa

Food
Tin can
BeefBread
Chicken
Eggs
Fish

Chakula
Kopo
Ng'ombei
Mkate
Kuku
Mayai

Flour
Fruit
Ice
Meat
Rice
Salt
Vegetables
Water

Samaki
Unga
Matunda
Barafu
Nyama
Wali
Chumvi
Mboga
Maji

Good
Bad
Quick
Slow
Hot (object)
Hot (spicey food)
Cold
Big
Small
Open
Closed
Empty
Full
Very
Absolutely

Mzuri
Mbaya
Upesi
Pole pole
Moto
Kali
Baridi
Kubwa
Kidogo
Fungua
Funga
Tupu
Kujaa
Sana
Kabisa

Hello
Friend
How are you?
Very well
And you?
Where are you from?
I'm from ...
Good bye

Jambo
Rafiki
Habari?
Mzuri sana
Na wewe?
Unatoka wapi?
Natoka ...
Kwaheri

Help!

Nisaidia!

I am hungry
I am thirsty

Nina njaa
Nina kiu

I
You

Mimi
Wewe

There is
There is not

Kuna
Hakuna

I'm just looking


I don't want

Mimi na angalia tu
Sitaki

Okay

Sawa sawa

Excuse me
Please
Thank you (very much)

Samahani
Tafadhali
Asante (sana)

Call the police

Ita polisi

No problem

Hakuna matata

Road
River
Lake
Hill
Valley

Barabara
Mto
Ziwa
Kilima
Bonde

Shop
Money
How much/many?
(Too) expensive

Duka
Pesa
Ngapi?
Ghali (sana)

Sir (polite)

Bwana

Sunday
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Jumapili
Jumatatu
Jumanne
Jumatano
Alhamisi
Ijumaa
Jumamosi

Telephone

Simu

Tent
Camp
Matches
Room

Hema
Kambi
Viberiti
Chumba

Stop thief!

Mwizi!

Today
Tonight
Tomorrow
Yesterday

Leo
Usiku
Kesho
Jana

Morning
Afternoon
Evening
Night
Daytime
Now
Not yet
Soon

Asubuhi
Alasiri
Jioni
Usiku
Mchana
Sasa
Bado
Sasa hivi

Where are the toilets?

Wapi choo?

What?
When?
Where?
Which?
Who?
Why?
How do you say?
I don't know
I don't understand

Nini?
Lini?
Wapi?
Ipi?
Nani?
Kwa nini?
Unasemaje?
Sijui
Sielewi

Yes
No

Ndiyo
Hapana
Need more help? Try the...
Internet Living Swahili Dictionary
NUMBERS

0 = Sifuri
1/4 = Robo
1/2 = Nusu
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=
=

Moja
Mbili
Tatu
Nne
Tano
Sita
Saba
Nane
Tisa

10
11
20
30
40

=
=
=
=
=

Kumi
Kumi na moja
Ishirini
Thelathini
Arobaini

50
60
70
80
90

=
=
=
=
=

Hamsini
Sitini
Sabini
Themanini
Tisini

100 = Mia
101 = Mia na moja
200 = Mia mbili
1000 = Elfu moja

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