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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Auxiliary Verbs

Some Auxiliary Verbs

103 AUXILIARY VERBS are verbs that help to form the tenses of other verbs. In "I am working", "am" is an auxiliary because it helps to form the present tense in the sentence. In "I am busy" it is not an auxiliary. It is the main verb in the sentence and is followed by an adjective, "busy" as a complement.

A KWISHA To get finished, come to an end

KWISHA may be used as an auxiliary to express the idea of "already", either in the present, the past or the future.

The use of KWISHA has undergone some change through the years:

Amekwisha kupata chumba. He has already got a room.
This was the original construction, in ancient use.

Amekwisha pata chumba. He has already got a room.
The first abbreviation; this is still in current use.

Ameshapata chumba. He has already got a room.
Most recent abbreviated form. Note that now MESHA functions as a tense incorporating the "already" theme.

The negative of MESHA is made with the JA tense which expresses "not yet". Bado may be added to further emphasize the "not yet-ness" as the opposite of the "already" theme.

Hajapata chumba bado. He has not yet got a room.

To make a RELATIVE CONStrUCTION from, e.g. Ameshapata . . . one of two possibilities can be chosen:

1. Yule ambaye ameshapata . . ., retaining the MESHA "tense";
2. Yule aliyekwisha pata . . . changing to LI tense and using the slightly longer form . . . kwisha pata.

COMPOUND VERB CONStrUCTIONS are made in the usual way:

Alikuwa ameshapata chumba. He had already got a room.
Atakuwa ameshapata chumba. He will already have got a room.

KWISHA may also be used with the KI tense, expressing "if" or "when":

Akiisha pata chumba, ataanza masomo yake. When he has got a room, he will start his studies.
Wakiisha ondoka hawawezi kutusaidia kumaliza kazi hii. When they have already left they cannot help us with this job.

B KUJA to come

KUJA is used as an auxiliary to indicate a certain time in the future.

Tutakapopata fedha tutakuja kununua nguo mpya. When we get money we are going to buy new clothes.
Tukijifunza kwa bidii tutakuja kusema Kiswahili vizuri. If we study hard, later on we will speak Swahili well.

The auxiliary KUJA is also used in the negative subjunctive together with the KA tense to express "lest" (paragraphs 55.3 and 64.C.15):

Tuwakumbushe, wasije wakasahau. Let us remind them lest (so they won't) they forget.

C KWENDA to go

KWENDA as an auxiliary expresses that an action is on the point of being carried out. It is followed by a passive infinitive.

Mgonjwa amekwenda kupasuliwa. The patient is being operated (just now).
Mtoto amekwenda kuogeshwa. The child is just now being bathed.
Viti vimekwenda kuletwa. The chairs are being brought.
Amekwenda kuitawa. He is being summoned just now.

HUENDA, often (but not necessarily) followed by a KA tense verbe, conveys the idea of "maybe", "perhaps".

1. With KA tense:

Huenda akapata shida njiani. Maybe he got difficulties on the way.
Huenda akawa mgonjwa. Maybe she is ill.

2. Without KA tense:

Huenda alipata shida njiani. Maybe he got difficulties on the way.
Huenda yeye ni mgonjwa. Maybe she is ill.

D KUPATA to get

1. KUPATA as an auxiliary expresses an opportunity or ability to carry out an activity:

Fungua madirisha ili hewa safi ipate kuingia. Open the windows so that clean air can get in.
Tufanye haraka tupate kumaliza mapema. Let's hurry so that we may (be able to) finish early.
Tutakapokuwa na likizo tutapata kwenda Serengeti. When we have holidays we will get an opportunity to go to Serengeti.
Aliniambia mambo ambayo sijapata kusikia mfano wake katika maisha yangu yote. She told me things the likes of which I had never heard in my whole life.

2. The verb KUPATA is also used to express "approximately". It is used in A tense constructions in these variations:

a. YAPATA (Class 9 "indefinite it" subject for all classes)

Yapata watu kumi About ten people
Yapata vitabu vinane About eight books
Yapata meza ishirini About twenty tables

b. YAPATA for all classes except Class 2:

Wapata watu kumi
Yapata vitabu vinane
Yapata meza ishirini

c. KUPATA with appropriate class prefix for all:

Wapata watu kumi
Yapata mifuko thelathini About thirty bags
Yapata mayai mia moja About a hundred eggs
Vyapata vitabu vinane
Zapata meza ishirini

3. KUPATA may also be used in a general relative construction, in which case the prefixes appropriate to the class must be used. The idea is the same: approximately.

Watu wapatao kumi
Mifuko ipatayo thelathini
Mayai yapatayo mia moja
Vitabu vipatavyo vinane
Meza zipatazo ishirini

E -NGALI "as yet"

-NGALI is a verb form that serves as an auxiliary as well as a main verb. It is a combination of the tense prefix NGA with the old verb LI, "to be". It denotes an action or state of affairs that is still continuing in the present.

As an auxiliary, -NGALI is used with a verb form expressing a present idea, such as:

a. NA, KI, ME tenses
b. Subject prefix + -NA
c. Subject prefix + -PO/KO/MO


Angali mtoto. She is still a child.
Gauni lingali jipya. The dress is still new.
Ningali mgonjwa. I am still ill.
Mahindi yangali mabichi. The maize is still unripe.

2. -NGALI as an AUXILIARY with


Moto ungali unawaka.
Tungali tunangoja.

The fire is still burning.
We are still waiting.


Mama angali akishona.
M(u)ngali mkisoma.

Mother is still sewing.
You (pl) are still reading.


Suruali ingali ina madoa.
Angali ana mashaka.

The trousers still have spots.
He still has doubts.


Angalipo nyumbani.
Wangaliko mjini.
Maji yangaliko mtoni.
Kalamu ingalimo mfukoni.

He is still at home.
They are still in town.
There is still water in the river.
The pen is still in the bag.

This way of expressing "still" or "as yet" is not the most common. The simpler way is with bado:

Bado ni mtoto. She is still a child.
Gauni bado ni jipya. The dress is still new.
Moto bado unawaka. The fire is still burning.
Kisima bado kimejaa maji. The well is still full of water.
Suruali bado ina madoa. The trousers still have spots.
Bado yupo nyumbani. He is still at home.
Maji bado yako mtoni. There is still water in the river.


Thanks to Johnetta Myers for assistance preparing this page for the Web.

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