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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: The Imperative

The Imperative


The imperative verb form is a command or an appeal. It is always directed to the second person singular, "you", wewe or plural ninyi. Swahili has two types of imperative:

1. There is the simple, direct command in which the verb stem alone is used when addressing one person, or a plural ending is added when addressing more than one.

2. There is also a polite form of command which is also the subjunctive verb form.

A. Simple imperatives without an object will fall into four groups according to the type of verb stem:

1. Bantu verb stems of more than one syllable:

When addressed to only one person, the verb stem alone forms the imperative. When addressed to more than one, a pluralizing suffix NI is added to the verb stem, and the final A changes to E preceding the suffix.

Sema Semeni Speak
Amka Amkeni Wake up
Kaa Kaeni Sit, or stay
Sikia Sikieni Hear


2. Monosyllabic Bantu verb stems:

These are formed with the infinitive when addressed to one person, and with the change of A to E and addition of NI when addressed to more than one, in the same way as the above group.

Kula Kuleni Eat
Kunywa Kunyweni Drink


3. Verbs of non-Bantu origin:

Since these have no A ending, there is no change in the ending of the verb, only the addition of NI when addressing more than one.

Jaribu Jaribuni Try
Furahi Furahini Rejoice
Hesabu Hesabuni Count, calculate
Fikiri Fikirini Think, ponder


4. Three irregular verbs:

These three verbs have irregular forms in the simple imperative. The infinitives are given at the left:

Kuleta Lete Leteni
Bring (something)
Kuja Njoo Njooni Come
Kwenda Nenda Nendeni Go


B. Simple imperatives with an object will have the final A of Bantu verb stems changed into E. Verbs of non-Bantu origin do not change. The starred forms below must always have an object:

*Nipe Nipeni Give me
*Mwambie Mwambieni Tell him/her
*Waite Waiteni Call them
Tuonyeshe Tuonyesheni Show us
Jifunze Jifunzeni Learn (teach yourself)
Zihesabu Zihesabuni Count them (e.g. houses)


C. The polite form of the imperative is a subjunctive verb form; this form is examined in detail beginning with paragraph 64.

Using the polite imperative has the implication of "Please, request you to...." An Arabic loanword, tafadhali, please, may also be added if desired.

Components of the construction are:

Subject prefix + Object prefix (optional) + Verb stem

In the case of Bantu verb stems, the final A changes to E. In verbs of non-Bantu origin, there is no change in the stem. Since this is an imperative, only two subject prefixes can possibly be used, either: 2nd person singular u (for wewe) or 2nd person plural m (for ninyi), see paragraph 20.A.

Useme Mseme (Please) speak
Uamke Mwamke (Please) wake up
Ukae Mkae (Please) sit, stay
Usikie Msikie (Please) hear
Ule Mle (Please) eat
Unywe Mnywe (Please) drink
Ujaribu Mjaribu (Please) try
Ufurahi Mfurahi (Please) rejoice
Uhesabu Mhesabu (Please) count
Ufikiri Mfikiri (Please) think
Ulete Mlete (Please) bring
Uje Mje (Please) come
Uende Mwende (Please) go
Unipe Mnipe (Please) give me
Umwambie Mwambie (Please) tell him/her
Uwaite Mwaite (Please) call them
Utuonyeshe Mtuonyeshe (Please) show us
Ujifunze Mjifunze (Please) learn
Uzihesabu Mzihesabu (Please) count them


D. The negative imperative for both simple imperative and polite imperative is the negative subjunctive form. Its construction is like the positive subjunctive with the addition of a negative particle SI immediately following the subject prefix:

Subject prefix + SI + Object prefix (optional) + verb stem

A few examples from each group in the above list:

Usiseme Msiseme Don't speak
Usikae Msikae Don't stay/ Don't sit
Usile Msile Don't eat
Usinywe Msinywe Don't drink
Usijaribu Msijaribu Don't try
Usihesabu Msihesabu Don't count
Usilete Msilete Don't bring
Usije Msije Don't come
Usiende Msiende Don't go
Usinipe Msinipe Don't give me
Usimwambie Msimwambie Don't tell him/her
Usizihesabu Msizihesabu Don't count them

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