Swahili does not have a great many adjective stems as such, but adjectival construction can be made in several ways:
A. Adjective stems requiring the adjectival prefix.
B. Adjective stems requiring the pronominal prefix.
C. Invariable adjectives (not prefix) of non-Bantu origin.
D. Adjectival phrases based on
1. -A of relationship
E. Relative construction of the verb
F. A second noun as a qualifier (noun in apposition).
This chapter concludes by discussing word order with adjectives.
Adjective stems of Bantu origin require the adjectival prefix, which is identical to the prefix of the noun modified by that adjective. Phonological variations in these prefixes have been described under the various noun classes. The greatest number of variations occur in Class 9-10, paragraph 8.
For purposes of learning to master the agreements, these adjective stems fall into two groups:
Those beginning with a consonant, e.g., -zuri, beautiful:
|1-2||mtu mzuri||watu wazuri|
|3-4||mkate mzuri||mikate mizuri|
|5-6||jina zuri||majina mazuri|
|7-8||kitabu kizuri||vitabu vizuri|
|9-10||habari nzuri||habari nzuri|
Those beginning with a vowel, e.g., -ema, good:
|1-2||mtu mwema||watu wema|
|3-4||mti mwema||miti myema|
|5-6||jina jema||majina mema|
|7-8||kitabu chema||vitabu vyema|
|9-10||habari njema+||habari njema+
+Note that njema in Class 9-10 is a special case. The normal Class 9-10 prefix before vowels is NY :
nyingi, nyekundu, etc.
The numbers -moja, -wili, -tatu, -nne, -tano, and -nane are adjective stems of this type and require the adjectival prefixes. See Numbers, paragraph 35.
Following is a list of the 30 most common adjective stems in Swahili and their various uses:
|-BAYA||BAD||mtu mbaya||a bad person|
|mfano mbaya||a bad example|
|magon jwa mabaya||serious diseases|
|hali mbaya||a poor condition|
Note the difference in pronunciation between Class 1 mtu mbaya and Class 9 hali mbaya :
In Class 1, the prefix M is a separate syllable and is so pronounced: m-ba-ya ;
In Class 9, MB is a "prenasalized" consonant - one unit. The M is not held, but sounded almost simultaneously with the B . Thus mba-ya is a two-syllable word.
The same holds true for the next two adjectives, below.
|-BICHI||RAW, UNRIPE||yai bichi||a fresh egg|
|matunda mabichi||unripe fruit|
|kuni mbichi||freshly cut firewood|
|chakula kibichi||uncooked food|
|-BOVU||ROTTEN, UNFIT FOR USE||nyumba mbovu||a house in poor condition|
|breki mbovu||useless brakes|
|chakula kibovu||unhealthy food|
|-CHACHE||FEW (only with plural nouns)||watu wachache||a few people|
|vitu vichache||a few things|
|nyumba chache||a few houses|
|nguo chafu||dirty clothes|
|manemo machafu||obscene language|
|maji machafu||unclean water|
|-CHUNGU||BITTER, UNPLEASANT, PAINFUL||dawa chungu||bitter medicine|
|limau chungu||a sour lemon|
|mawazo machungu||bitter thoughts|
|-DOGO||SMALL, YOUNGER||mtoto mdogo||a small child|
|an insignificant matter|
|kiasi kidogo||a small amount|
|-EKUNDU||RED (from pink to brownish)||kikapu chedundu||a red basket|
|maua mekundu||red flowers|
|-EMA||GOOD, MORALLY GOOD||watu wema||good people|
|Usiku mwema!||Good night!|
|habari njema||good news|
|-EMBAMBA||NARROW, THIN||mtu mwembamba||a slim person|
|mlango mwembamba||a narrow door|
|daraja jembamba||a narrow bridge|
|-EPESI||LIGHT in weight,QUICK, AGILE, IMPATIENT||nguo nyepesi||light clothes|
|mtu mwepesi||a quick - or impatient - person|
|-EUPE||WHITE, LIGHT COLOURED||kuta nyeupe||white walls|
|moyo mweupe||an honorable character|
|-EUSI||BLACK, dark shades of blue, green, etc.||mbwa mweusi||a black dog|
|magari meusi||black cars|
|-FUPI||SHORT||safari fupi||a short trip|
|kijiti kifupi||a short stick|
|habari fupi||brief news|
|-GUMU||HARD, DIFFICULT||mtu mgumu||a difficult, hard-hearted person|
|kazi ngumu||a tough job|
|lugha ngumu||difficult language|
|kiti kigumu||a hard chair|
|-INGI||MUCH, MANY||watu wengi||many people|
|vitu vingi||many things|
|wali mwingi||much rice|
|OTHER, ANOTHER, DIFFERENT||watoto wengine||other children|
|shamaba lingine||another farm|
|jambo jingine||another matter|
Class 5: Both lingine and jingine are acceptable.
Notice in the expression "some... and others...", -ingine is used in both clauses of the sentence:
Watoto wengine wapenda kucheza na wengine wapenda kusoma.
Some children like to play and others like to read.
-ingine may be suffixed with the -O of reference, and then has the meaning of "other similar..." or "other such...":
watu wengineo other such people
mambo mengineyo other similar matters
|-KALI||SHARP, FIERCE, INTENSE||mwalimu mkali||a strict teacher|
|kisu kikali||a sharp knife|
|maneno makali||sharp words|
|jua kali||hot, intense sun|
|homa kali||high fever|
|-KAVU||DRY, HARD, WATERLESS||nchi kavu||dry land (opposite sea)|
|kitambaa kikavu||a dry cloth|
|kahawa kavu||black coffee|
|-KUBWA||BIG, EXTENSIVE, ELDER, SUPERIOR||nyumba kubwa||a large house|
|kiwanja kikubwa||a large field|
|kaka yangu mkubwa||my elder brother|
|-KUU||GREAT, PRE-EMINENT||mwalimu mkuu||head teacher|
|neno kuu||motto, theme (e.g. of a convention)|
|mambo makuu||great (main) things|
|sababu kuu||chief reason|
|-NGAPI||HOW MANY?||watoto wangapi?||how many children?|
|mizigo mingapi?||how many loads?|
|Saa ngapi?||What time is it?|
|-PANA||BROAD, WIDE||barabara pana||a wide road|
|mlango mpana||a wide door|
|mawazo mapana||broad ideas|
|-PYA||NEW, FRESH||gari jipya||a new car|
|nguo mpya||a new garment|
|-REFU||LONG, TALL, HIGH, DEEP||mtu mrefu||a tall person|
|safari ndefu||a long trip|
|mlima mrefu||a high mountain|
|kisima kirefu||a deep well|
|-TAMU||SWEET, PLEASANT||matunda matamu||sweet fruit|
|chakula kitamu||delicious food|
|maji matamu||fresh water (not salt)|
EMPTY, UNMIXED, MEANINGLESS
|kikombe kitupu||an empty cup|
|maneno matupu||meaningless words|
|uwongo mtupu||a sheer lie|
|furaha tupu||pure (unmixed) joy|
|WHOLE, SOUND, PERFECT||mtu mzima||an adult; a well person|
|nyumba nzima||the whole house|
|saa nzima||a whole hour, 60 minutes|
|mwaka mzima||the whole year|
|-ZITO||HEAVY (in weight), DEPRESSED, THICK||mzigo mzito||a heavy load|
|uji mzito||thick gruel|
|moyo mzito||a sad heart|
|neno zito||a serious matter|
|mja mzito||a pregnant woman|
|NICE, PLEASING, BEAUTIFUL||maua mazuri||pretty flowers|
|kitabu kizuri||a pleasant book|
|habari nzuri||good news|
Adjectives may and often do stand alone as nouns in a sentence. The class prefix is the clue to understanding what noun is implied.
mgonjwa sick, diseased (person; Class 1 implies mtu )
mkuu pre-eminent (person) i.e., the supervisor, boss
mwongo untruthful (person) i.e., a liar
mwingine another (person); someone else
mdogo wangu my younger brother or sister
mkubwa wako your elder brother or sister
mwema a good, generous person
mema good things (Class 5 implies mambo )
mbaya a bad person
mengine other matters ( mambo, maneno, matendo )
mengi many affairs, words, actions (see above)
kidogo a small amount of something (Class 7 kiasi )
Four stems take pronominal prefixes. The phonological changes given in paragraph 12 apply with these stems; only Class 1 is irregular: see the examples below.
HAVING, POSSESSING, WITH, IN A STATE OR CONDITION
(It is always followed by a noun)
mtu mwenye duka a person having a shop; i.e. shop-owner
daraja lenye hatari a dangerous bridge
uso wenye furaha a happy face
mahali penye shida a troublesome place
(Used to express distinctness: a particular thing or person.)
mimi mwenyewe I myself (not someone else)
wao wenyewe they themselves
mtu mwenyewe the particular person
mwenyewe the very person; owner
kiti chenyewe the actual chair
gari lenyewe the very car
mbao zenyewe the boards themselves
It is used in an emphasizing sense and is not reflexive. Note the difference in the following:
Mimi mwenyewe nilichukua mizigo. I myself carried the loads (nobody else did it).
Nilijichukulia mizigo. I carried the loads for myself.
ALL, ALL OF IT, THE WHOLE
(Cannot be used with Class 1)
watu wote all the people
kitabu chote the whole book
vitabu vyote all the books
mjini kote all over town
There are special forms with personal pronouns:
sisi sote all of us
ninyi nyote all of you
wao wote all of them
ANY, ANYONE, ANY OF THEM
(Note the special Class 1 form)
mtu yeyote any person
mchezo wowote any game
chombo chochote any vessel, tool
picha zozote any pictures
Kuna chochote? Is there anything (to eat)?
Note these phrases based on the verb kuwa: a general relative construction now used only this way:
mtu awaye yote any person whoever it is
ua liwalo lote any kind of a flower
A number of adjectives are of non-Bantu origin--usually Arabic. These are the "invariables": they do not require prefixes.
|BORA||GOOD, EXCELLENT, FIRST CLASS||kilimo bora||good agriculture|
|chakula bora||nutritious food|
|kazi bora||an excellent job|
|GHALI||EXPENSIVE||chakula ghali||costly food|
|vitu ghali||expensive things|
FEW, SCARCE, NOT ENOUGH
|fedha haba||too little money|
|chakula haba||little food|
|madhumuni halali||a lawful cause|
|HARAMU||ILLEGAL, FORBIDDEN||uwindaji haramu||illegal hunting|
|biashara haramu||illegal trade|
|HODARI||EFFECTIVE, SKILLED, ABLE||mkulima hodari||a skilled farmer|
|COMPLETE, WHOLE, PERFECT||habari kamili||complete information, the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œwhole storyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â|
|Saa 6 kamili||12 0' clock sharp|
|SOFT, SMOOTH, PLIABLE||mto laini||a soft pillow|
|nguo laini||fine (soft) clothes|
|mchanga laini||fine sand|
|MAALUMU||SPECIAL||kazi maalumu||a special task|
|a particular matter|
|CHEAP, EASY||kazi rahisi||an easy job|
|a cheap price|
|nyumba rahisi||a cheap house|
|OFFICIAL||mgeni rasmi||an official guest|
|nguo rasmi||a uniform|
|CLEAN, CORRECT, IN ORDER||nyumba safi||
a clean house
|a pure heart (good character)|
clear, straightforward words
|ALIKE, EQUAL, LEVEL||nchi sawa||
|kiasi sawa||an equal amount|
|sawa kwa sawa||equal amounts, halves|
|TAYARI||READY||nguo ni tayari||the clothes are prepared, ready|
|weka tayari||put (something) in readiness; prepare|
(precedes the noun)
|kila dakika||every minute|
|kila mtu||every person, everybody|
kila mwaka wa tano
every fifth year
kila siku ya pili
every second day
kila baada ya miaka mitano
every 5th year;
literally: every after five years
kila baada ya siku mbili
every second day
Nusu, a half; and robo, a quarter are Class 9-10 nouns, but are often used as adjectives. Like kila, they must precede the noun:
nusu saa a half hour
robo kilo a quarter of a kilo
(Always used with a noun)
|kitu gani?||what is it?|
Adjective phrases are of two main types, those based on:
1. A of relationship
The A of relationship requires the pronominal prefix.
Phrases made with A include:
A + NOUN
Taa ya mafuta kerosene lamp
Mafuta ya taa lamp oil (kerosene)
Nameno ya kweli true words
Kazi ya muda temporary work
Mfuko wa ngozi a leather bag
Ngozi ya ng ombe cow hide
Saa ya kuamka getting-up time
Maji ya kunywa drinking water
Chakula cha kutosha enough food
Vitu vya kufaa useful things
A + PREPOSITIONAL FORM OF INFINITIVE
In this phrase, the infinitive expresses the purpose for which the noun is to be used:
Sabuni ya kufulia laundry soap, washing powder
Vyombo vya kupasulia surgical instruments
Kisu cha kukatia a knife to cut with
Kitambaa cha kusafishia a wash cloth, dish cloth
A + CARDINAL NUMBERS
This phrase forms the ordinal number (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.):
Siku ya kwanza the first day
Darasa la pili the second class (standard two)
Wimbo wa tatu the third song (song number three)
Mwezi wa nane the eighth month (August)
Ukurasa wa tisini the ninetieth page (page 90)
A + ADVERB
Adverbs of likeness (manner) and location (including adverbial nouns) are common in these phrases:
Nyumba ya karibu a nearby house
Safari ya mbali a long trip (trip to far away)
Mawazo ya kitoto childish ideas
Fedha za kigeni foreign currency
Taa za mjini city lights
Kazi za nyumbani domestic work
Uwanja wa ndege wa kimataifa international airport
Phrases made with ENYE are:
ENYE + NOUN or INFINITIVE
The pronominal prefix is required with ENYE. Some examples:
mtalii mwenye furaha a happy tourist
suruali yenye viraka patched trousers
ziwa lenye uchafu a polluted lake
dalili zenye kuogofya frightening symptoms
mtu mwenye kukasirika an angry person
Phrases with ENYE define a current condition , in contrast to A phrases which define a characteristic. Note the difference:
taa ya mafuta a kerosene lamp (kind of lamp)
taa yenye mafuta a lamp with oil in it (current state)
mtu wa hasira a quick-tempered person (kind)
mtu mwenye hasira an angry person (current condition)
All kinds of relative constructions may be used, both positive and negative, to convey the descriptions for which European languages use adjectives.
mwezi uliopita last month
debe lililojaa a full tin
ndizi zilizoiva ripe bananas
maji yanayochemka boiling water (bubbling now)
maji yaliyochemka boiled water (water which has boiled)
maji yaliyochemshwa boiled water (water which has been boiled)
nguo iliyochafuka a dirty garment
watu wasiojiweza disabled people
chakula kisicholika inedible food
nchi zinazoendelea developing countries (which are progressing)
nchi zilizoendelea developed countries (which have progressed)
juma lijalo nest week
mwaka ujao next year
mlango ulio wazi an open door
ng' ombe ambao wamelala sleeping cattle
This is called a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œnoun in appositionÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â, and is spoken as one work with the main stress on the next to last syllable of the whole unit. The first noun gets only a light secondary stress. See paragraph 16. D for more examples.
mwaka jana last year
malighafi raw materials
mwana kondoo lamb
maliasili natural resources
mbwa mwitu a wild dog
ndege ulaya airplane
nchijirani neighboring country
bwanashamba agricultural extension officer
mchanakutwa all day until sunset
usiku kucha all night until sunrise
Some currently used combinations of noun + noun may be contradtions of A phrases in which the A has been omitted:
maji moto hot water
maji baridi cold water
Swahili adjectives cannot be declined for comparison in any way similar to English degrees of comparison. But comparisons can be made in any desired degree; it is done by means of phrases, following the patterns below.
My child is AS TALL as yours.
A phrase with kama , as, like; or sawa na, equal to, is used to designate equality.
|Mtoto wangu ni mrefu||kama||wako.|
Bata huyu ni mkubwa kama yule? Is this duck as big as that one?
Kisu hiki si kikali sawa na changu. This knife is not as sharp as mine.
My child is TALLER than yours.
Phrases can be made with any one of three verbs, all of which in this context mean surpassing: kupita, kushinda or kuzidi ; by a phrase zaidi ya, more than; or by a special term: kuliko which is a relative verb form but is used almost exclusively as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œthanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â in comparisons.
|Mtoto wangu ni mrefu||kupita||wako.|
Nani mfupi zaidi, huyu au yule?
Who is shorter, this (person) or that one?
Nyumba yake nzuri kuzidi yangu.
Her house is nicer than mine.
Not only adjectives can be compared in this way:
Napenda machenza kuliko machungwa.
I like tangerines better than oranges.
Dodoma ni mbali kupita Dar es Salaam.
Dodoma is farther away than Dar es Salaam.
My child is the TALLEST
The same phrase is used as in B, above, but the comparison is with "everybody".
|Mtoto wangu ni mrefu||kupita||wote.|
Safari hii ni ndefu kuliko zote nilizofanya maishani mwangu mwote. This is the longest trip I have made in my whole life.
Expressions of ultimate (tallness, distance, etc.) are common, accompanied by a rise in pitch of the voice and/or, in the case of distance, pointing with the chin.
Watoto wote ni warefu lakini huyu ni mrefu hasa. All the children are tall, but this one is especially tall.
|Mtoto huyu ni mrefu||zaidi||This child is really tall.|
Huyu ni mtoto mrefu saaaaana!
Huyu ni mtoto mrefu kabisaaaaa! (with raised voice)
Yuko mbali kuleeeee! (with chin) He is far away over there.
With one exception, adjectives always follow the nouns they modify.
The exception is kila: kila siku, every day. (See also paragraph 29). Two nouns which function as modifiers also precede the noun they modify: nusu, half; and robo, one-fourth:
nusu mkate a half loaf of bread
robo saa a quarter hour
Notice that this order is in contrast with the order of modifying noun in the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œnoun in appositionÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â phrase, paragraph 32.
Two adjectives modifying the same noun:
As a rule, the more important or more emphasized adjective comes last:
magari mawili madogo two small cars
magari madogo mawili two small cars
nyumba kubwa nzuri a nice, big house
nyumba nzuri kubwa a big, nice house
The two adjectives may also be joined with tena:
nyumba kubwa tena nzuri a big and nice house
If the two adjectives are joined with na, two separate items are indicated:
nyumba kubwa na nzuri a big house and a nice one (two houses)
When a possessive and an adjective modify a noun, the possessive precedes the adjective:
nyumba yangu nzuri my nice house
habari zake njema her good news
See also paragraph 23. B.
The place of the demonstrative may vary:
nyumba ile nzuri that nice house
ile nyumba nzuri that nice house (more emphatic)
nyumba nzuri ile that (is) a nice house
If a single adjective is used together with an adjective phrase, the single adjective comes first after the noun:
ngozi nyingi za ng' ombe many cowhides
kiwanda kikubwa cha viatu a big shoe factory
It is most unusual for more than two modifiers to be used with a noun. If more are needed, the phrase should be broken up, e.g.:
motokaa yangu ndogo--ile nyekundu for my small red car
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