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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Adverbs



Languages have ways of expressing how, where, or when an event took place. Traditionally the expressions carrying this information are called ADVERBS.

A useful way to indicate the function an adverb performs is by the letters M, L, and T for:

"How" i.e. "Manner" - M
"Where" i.e. "Location" - L
"When" i.e. "Time" - T


In Swahili, these concepts are expressed in a number of ways, using words, phrases, and clauses. A few examples are given with each of these types of expression in this section, but a more detailed list of adverbs is included under each of the functions (M, L, T) in paragraph B. The ways by which adverbial concepts are expressed is by:

1. Single words, some of which are nouns. Many are non-Bantu loan words. Examples:

upesi quickly
mbali distant, far away
zamani long ago

2. Adverbial nouns, i.e. Class 16 - 18 nouns ending in ni. These are limited to location and time expressions. Examples:

mjini in town
karibuni recently or soon (depending on the verb tense used)

3. Adverbs formed by nominal and pronominal roots with adverbial agreements: PA, KU, MU for location and to a more limited extent for time; the KI of likeness and adverbial VI for manner. Examples:

vizuri well
kitoto childishly
kwetu our place
pengine sometimes

4. Phrases, introduced by a variety of prepositions (see also paragraphs 124. C & D). Examples:

Kwa haraka hurriedly
Toka Dodoma from Dodoma
Tangu asubuhi since morning

5. Relative verb constructions, using the relative particle VYO for Manner, PO, KO, and MO for Location, and PO for Time. Examples:

Uwezavyo as (much as) you can
Tunapokaa where we live
Alipokuja when he came

6. Ideophones: these are a unique feature in Bantu languages. They are defined as the representation of an idea in sound, and some, but not all, are onamatopoeic, i.e., imitations of a sound. Most of the ideophones are adverbs; some of these have given rise to verbs. Nouns which are ideophones also exist, as, e.g.: pikipiki, motorcycle; tingatinga, tractor. Note also these ideophonic verbs: kupiga chafya, to sneeze; kupiga miayo, to yawn; kugugumiza, to stutter. One of the most common adverbial ideophones is fofofo (or sometimes foooo), used in two ways: kulala fofofo, to be sound asleep; amekufa fofofo, he is stone dead.


Examples of Swahili adverbs, grouped according to function, viz., Manner, Location, Time. Examples of their use are given. Sometimes there are multiple examples where one term is used for what in Euopean languages would require several different terms.

1. M Adverbs of Manner.

Exceedingly, too much.

Ilikuwa baridi mno. It was extremely cold.


Tulitembea polepole. We walked slowly.

Quickly, fast.

Alifanya kazi upesi. He worked fast.

Very much.

Tuliimba sana. We sang loudly.
Walifanya kazi sana. They worked hard.
Niliumwa sana. I had much pain.
Wageni walikaa sana. The guests stayed a long time.
Gari lilikimbia sana. The car was speeding.


Alisoma vizuri. She read well.


Waliumia vibaya. They were badly hurt.


Si vigumu kujifunza KiSwahili. It is not difficult to learn Swahili.

vya kutosha
Adequately, enough.

Amepumzika vya kutosha. He has rested enough.
Amekula vya kutosha. She has eaten adequately.

Compare this with :
Amekula chakula cha kutosha. She has eaten enough food.

In any manner, anyhow, any way.

Fanya vyovyote uwezavyo. Do it in any way you can.

Carelessly, recklessly, without order

Ameishi ovyo He has lived an undisciplined life.
Usiache vyombo ovyo ovyo. Don't leave the tools in a mess.

In another way, differently.

Alidhani mvua itanyesha, lakini mimi nilidhani vingine. She thought it would rain but I thought otherwise.

In that/this manner; likewise; like that/this

Ukisoma vile hawatakusikia. If you read like that, they won't hear you.

Fanya hivi. Do like this

Andika hivyo. Write like this. (as I showed you)

vivyo hivyo
Aliweka mzigo wake chini, nami nilifanya vivyo hivyo.

He put his load down, and I did exactly the same.

Baada ya safari alikuwa amechoka; vilevile wenzake walisikia uchovu sana.

After the journey he was tired; his companions were likewise.

In a .......way ( depending on what the "KI of likeness" is prefixed to):

Kutembea kijeshi to walk in a military fashion
Kusema kitoto to speak childishly
Kuvaa kisasa to dress in a modern way
Kuishi kizungu to live in European style
Kuwaza kimapinduzi to think in a revolutionary way

kwa + (phrase)
With ......., or, depending on what follows KWA:

Kwa haraka hastily, hurriedly
Walifanya kazi kwa haraka. They worked fast.

Kwa siri secretly
Walikutana kwa siri. They met secretly.

Kwa furaha joyously, happily
Tuliwapokea kwa furaha. We welcomed them heartily.

Kwa makini carefully
Nilisoma barua yaka kwa makini. I read your letter carefully.

Kwa kawaida usually
Kwa kawaida hufika saa mbili kila asubuhi. She usually comes at eight every morning.

Kwa kifupi briefly, in summary
Alinieleza kwa kifupi habari za ajali. He briefly described the accident to me.

Kwa kirefu at length
Aliendelea kusema kwa kirefu. He kept on talking at length.
Alieleza kwa kirefu. He explained fully.

Kwa urahisi easily
Vilivunjika kwa urahisi. They broke easily.

Kwa vyovyote in an case
Sijui kama amepata nyumba au chumba; kwa vyovyote amepata mahali pa kukaa. I don't know if she got a house or a room; in any case she found a place to stay.

Like/as in a verb construction with relative particle.

Chota maji kadiri uwezavyo (or, unavyoweza). Draw as much water as you can.
Alitupa mkuki mbali alivyoweza. He threw the spear as far as he could.
Usome vizuri iwezekanavyo (or, inavyowezekana). Read as well as possible.
Niliangalia jinsi alivyoshona nguo. I watched how she sewed the garment.

2. L Adverbs of Location


Peleka viti nje. Take the chairs outside.

Far away, at a distance

Wageni walitoka mbali. The guests came from far away.

Near, nearby

Jirani anakaa karibu. A neighbour lives nearby.

Above, upstairs, on top

Wameacha mizigo juu. They have left the loads upstairs.

Down, below, on the ground

Nilianika nguo chini. I spread out the clothes on the ground.

Inside, within

Wazee wako ndani. The old people are inside.


Amerudi nyuma. He has gone backwards.

Ahead, forward, in front

Endelea mbele. Keep going forward.

In the centre, in the midst

Chukua karatasi, uchore picha katikati. Get paper and draw a picture in the centre.


Funga vijiti pamoja. Tie the sticks together.

At home, in the house

Watoto walibaki nyumbani. The children stayed at home.

A list of these adverbial nouns could be expanded almost endlessly : mjini, nchini, mtoni, etc.


Some other place (indefinite)

Hayupo hapa, umtafute kwingine. She is not here; look for her somewhere else.

Everywhere, all over

Wamesafisha pote. They have cleaned everywhere.


Kokote aendako, hawezi kuacha nafsi yake nyuma. Wherever he goes, he can't leave himself behind.

At our place

Karibu kwetu! Welcome to us (our place)!

At your place

Nilisikia pana matatizo penu. I heard there are problems at your place.

Hereabouts (an undefined area)

Huku tunakokaa kuna milima mingi. Around here where we live there are many mountains.

There (a definite place at a distance)

Yupo pale. She is over there.

In there (inside of something)

Nyoka yumo humo. The snake is inside there. (a mentioned place)

Phrases introduced by:

Katika kitabu in the book

Nilisoma katika kitabu. I read in a book.

Toka Dodoma from Dodoma

Tumepata barua toka Dodoma. We have received a letter from Dodoma.

Mpaka mtoni as far as the river

Walikwenda mpaka mtoni na kurudi. They went as far to the river and back.

Kwenye kamba on the rope (lit.: place having ..)

Nimeanika nguo kwenye kamba. I have hung the clothes on the line.

chini ya
Chini ya mti under the tree

Tulikaa chini ya mti. We sat under a tree.

karibu na
Karibu na nyumba near the house

Wamejenga choo karibu na nyumba. They have built a latrine near the house.


po, ko, mo
(Place) where, in verb constructions with a relative particle of location.

Pale palipofyekwa panapendeza. There where the grass was cut it looks nice.

Kijijini tulikokwenda kulikuwa na mashamba mazuri. In the village where we went there were nice farms.

Kabatini wanamoweka nguo nilikuta mende wingi. In the cupboard where they put their clothes, I found many cockroaches.

3. T Adverbs of Time


Tupo Morogoro sasa. We are at Morogoro now.

Formerly, long ago

Zamani kulikuwa na nyumba huku. Formerly, there was a house here.

Later, after, then (must precede a clause)

Tutafyeka majani kwanza, halafu tutayakusanya. We shall cut the grass first; later we will gather it up.

Afterwards, later (may either precede or follow the clause)

Kwanza tutajifunza, baadaye tutacheza. We shall study first, later we will play.
Kwanza tutajifunza, tutacheza baadaye.We shall study first and play later.

Then, next (must precede the clause)

Alifua nguo, kisha alizipiga pasi. She washed the clothes, then she ironed them.

Again; when following a negative verb, it means "any more"

Amerudi tena. She has come back again.
Hatarudi tena. She won't come back any more.

Always, constantly, continually

Namsikia daima anapiga mluzi. I always hear him whistling.


Hufurahi sikuzote. She is always happy.

Early, soon, in good time

Asubuhi na mapema early in the morning
Yafaa kutibu magonjwa mapema. It is good to treat illnesses in good time.

At night

Haifai kusafiri usiku. It is no good to travel at night.

Like the noun usiku, night, all other nouns designating times of day, or days, weeks, months, years, can be used as time adverbs e.g. jana, yesterday; leo, today; kesho, tomorrow; alfajiri, dawn; asubuhi, morning; adhuhuri, noon; alasiri, afternoon (early part); jioni, late afternoon, evening; usiku, night-time …. after darkness has fallen.

Recently or soon, depending on verb tense

Mtoto alizaliwa karibuni. The child was born recently.
Wataondoka karibuni. They will leave soon.

Then, at that time

Alivuka barabara, hapo akakanyagwa. He crossed the road, then he got run over.

Sometimes, perhaps

Pengine mvua huanza mwezi huu, pengine inachelewa. Sometimes the rain begins in this month; sometimes it is late.
Alisema atakuja leo; pengine amesahau. She said she would come today; maybe she has forgotten.

Tangu asubuhi since morning

Tumengoja tangu asubuhi. We have waited since morning.

Tokea utoto since childhood

Amekuwa na ugonjwa huu tokea utoto wake. She has had this illness since her childhood.

Mpaka usiku until night

Alifanya kazi mpaka usiku. She worked until night.

In, within (a span of time), approximately. Can be used only in reference to time.

Alizaliwa mnamo mwaka 1954. She was born in 1954.
Watafika mnamo Jumatano. They will come on Wednesday (some time during the day)
Tukutane mnamo saa sita. Let's meet at about 12 (i.e. some time between 11.30 and 12.30)

When - in verb constructions with the relative time particle PO

Nilipokwenda mjini nilikutana na rafiki yangu. When I went to town, I met my friend.
Waliporudi walioga. When they returned, they had a bath.
Kila wanapokwenda Mikumi wanaona simba. Every time they go to Mikumi, they see lions.


An adverb which modifies an adjective or another adverb will follow the verb it modifies, as in :

Mtoto huyu ni mkubwa mno.

This child is extremely large.

Adj. Adv.

Kimbia upesi zaidi!


Run faster (more fast)!

Adv. Adv.
Only adverbs of Manner will enter into the sort of combinations cited above.

Adverbs modifying verbs may be of any type: Manner, Location, or Time. They have a relatively fixed order of occurrence in relation to one another; there is some flexibility but within specific limits.

1. Manner adverbs normally follow the verb they modify. A seeming exception to this rule is found in a few adverbs that modify not only the verb but the whole clause: kwa kawaida, kwa vyovyote, vilevile. These precede the clause they refer to. This does not contradict the rule that Manner adverbs modifying the verb will come after the verb:

Alisoma vizuri. She read well.

M (modifies Alisoma)

Wanajifunza masomo yao kwa bidii. They learn their studies diligently.

M (modifies Wanajifunza)

Kwa kawaida huchemsha maziwa. Usually (they) boil the milk.

M (modifies the whole clause)

Kwa vyovyote atazidi kuugua asipomeza dawa yake. In any case, she will get worse (more ill) if she doesn't take her medicine.

M (modifies the whole clause)

2. Location adverbs normally follow the verb:

Walikaa chini ya mti. They sat beneath the tree.


Alikula chakula chake hapa. She ate her food here.


3. Time adverbs may come either before or after the verb:

Tutaondoka kwenda Mwanza asubuhi. We will leave to go to Mwanza in the morning.


Asubuhi tutaondoka kwenda Mwanza. In the morning we will leave to go to Mwanza.


4. When all three types - Manner, Location, Time - occur in a sentence:

a. If all three adverbs follow the verb, the preferred order will be M - L - T:

Watoto walicheza vizuri hapa jana. The children played well here yesterday.


b. If the Location adverb is shorter than the Manner adverb, it may precede the Manner adverb, thus making the order L - M - T:

Wanafunzi walijifunza hapa kwa bidii jana. The students studied here diligently yesterday.



Walijifunza vizuri chini ya mti jana. They studied well under the tree yesterday.


c. When all three adverbs follow the verb, the position of the Time adverb does not change; it is always in the series. However, it makes for better distribution of modifiers if the Time adverb is placed before the verb:

Jana walijifunza vizuri chini ya mti. Yesterdaythey studied well under the tree.


This is especially important when both Manner and Location are fairly long phrases. Note that the preferred order M - L is retained:

Asubuhi alisoma kitabu chake kwa makini sana chini ya mti huu. In the morning she read her book carefully under this tree.


5. Notice that in all cases when there is a noun object in the sentence it comes after the verb and before the adverbs.


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