Swahili or Kiswahili is a language in which affixes are very prevalent. Oftentimes, these affixes, though usually prefixes, give the sentence a whole new meaning. This is one thing to be careful about when learning Swahili, as you must learn to hear eacher important thing to try to learn, which is especially difficult for native English speakers, is to learn the agreement between noun, adjective, pronoun, and even verb.

One helpful aspect of Kiswahili grammar is the fact that there are no articles. This can be confusing at first, but then proves to be useful, as they would have to agree with the nouns and that would get very confusing. One other very important feature of Swahili grammar is "-a," meaning "of." Each noun class has a version of this word, so it must agree with the word which it is modifying. For instance, "Chuo Kikuu cha Nairobi" means "Main School (University) of Nairobi." The "cha" is a form of "-a" that agrees with "chuo," which is in the 7th noun class.

Pronunciation edit

Reading Material: Swahili Wikibook

Word Order edit

Swahili generally has an SVO word order, though you can actually express a subject, verb, and object into one word. Even if you do not combine them into one word, though, you must put the proper affixes into the verb as though you hadn't. Unlike many other languages, however, words do not change when put into object form. This is why you can look "mimi" up in the dictionary and find a result of both "me" and "I." There are also no datives or genitives or ablatives. There are, however, locatives, such as "chuoni," meaning "in school/at school." This comes from chuo, meaning "school," only adding the locative suffix, "-ni." Other examples of this are nyumbani, or "in home/at home," and duniani, or "in the world," and kanisani, or "in church/at church."

Nouns edit

Noun Classes edit

Like in most Bantu languages, Swahili has a system of noun classes, or ngeli. Originally, there were 22 noun classes in Swahili, but over time it evolved into less. There are now 16 noun classes in Swahili:

Noun Class Semantics Prefix/Suffix Example Translation
1 Person m-, mw- mtoto child
2 People wa-, w- watoto children
3 Natural Force m- mti tree
4 Natural Forces mi- miti trees
5 Part of a Group ji-, j- jicho eye
6 Group ma- macho eyes
7 Tool ki-, ch- kisu knife
8 Tools vi-, vy- visu knives
9 Animal, Loanword n- ndoto dream
10 Animals, Loanwords n- ndoto dreams
11 Extension u- ua fence
12 Extensions n- nyua fences
14 Abstraction u- utoto childhood
15 Gerunds ku-, kw- kuwa to be
16 Position -ni - -
17 Direction -ni - -
18 Within, Along -ni - -

As you can see, Swahili nouns are not pluralized in the same way as many other languages. Instead, the prefix of the word changes, transferring the word to a different noun class.

Verbs edit

Verbs in Swahili don't conjugate, but instead take subject prefixes. The pronouns I, you, he/she/it, we, y'all, they all have different subject prefixes, as well as separate words for each. These pronouns, however, change for negation of the verb. In addition, to mark the tense of a verb, there are affixes for each tense or mood. In addition, gerunds use the same words as infinitives. So "Ninapenda kula" means "I love eating," because "ninapenda" means "I love" and "kula" means "to eat." So "kula" can mean either "to eat" or its gerund, "eating."


Also, after you have marked the subject and the tense, an object can be added in using an object affix. These are usually the same as the subject affixes, but this is not always the case. You can also add applicatives and causatives and passive markers into verbs, changing the meaning once again. For instance, "ninaua" means "I kill," whereas "ninauawa" means "I am killed." Lastly, you can add place or time markers to show when something happened or where something is.

Ni- -na- -ua.
Ni- -na- -u- -aw- -a.

Subject Pronouns

Person Singluar Plural
1 Ni- Tu-
2 U- M-
3 A- Wa-

Object Pronouns

Person Singluar Plural
1 -ni- -tu
2 -ku- -wa- (-mu-)
3 -m- -wa-

Here is a table showing the basic tenses of Swahili. You place these affixes between the subject and object prefix and suffix to show the tense. You will learn others, like the conditional and the storytelling tense later in lesson 5.

Affix Tense Notes
-na- Present Ind. -
-li- Past -
-ta- Future -

Adjectives edit

Adjectives, like in other languages, must agree with the noun which they are modifying. This is often, but not always, done by adding the noun's prefix to the beginning of the adjective. So for instance, "ndoto nzuri" would mean "good dream", but "mtoto mzuri" would mean "good child." Notice how both "mzuri" and "nzuri" mean good, but their prefixes are different. This is because they have to agree with the noun which they are modifying. In this case, ndoto is in the 9th noun class, giving its adjective the n- prefix, whereas mtoto is in the 1st noun class, giving its adjective the m- prefix.

Concord edit

Concord, or agreement, is a very important part of Swahili grammar. As mentioned earlier, verbs and adjectives must agree with nouns, altering themselves to adapt to the noun class of the noun which they must agree with.

Exercises edit


Vocab of Lesson 1 edit

Here is all of the vocabulary mentioned in this lesson. Now, as many people advise, it is not good to translate. To achieve native fluency, you must think like a native. So when you hear the word "child," you see some image in your head, usually of a child. You should make a flashcard with "mtoto" written on it with that image (in color if you want) under the word "mtoto." Make a separate card for "watoto." Make a flashcard for each of the listed items below.

  • Mtoto = Child
  • Watoto = Children
  • Mti = Tree
  • Miti = Trees
  • Jicho = Eye
  • Macho = Eyes
  • Kisu = Knife
  • Visu = Knives
  • Ndoto = Dream
  • Ndoto = Dreams
  • Ua = Fence
  • Nyua = Fences
  • Utoto = Childhood
  • Kuwa = To Be
  • Chuo = School
  • Vyuo = Schools
  • -Zuri = Good
  • Nyumba = Home
  • Kanisa = Church
  • Dunia = World
  • Ngeli = Noun Class
  • Ngeli = Noun Classes
  • Mimi = I
  • Mimi = Me
  • -A = Of