You can Register Here ,   OR

Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Interrogatives



Question words in Swahili belong in a number of grammatical categories: pronouns, adjectives, adverbs. For ease of reference, we list them all together here.

Can be used as either subject or object in a question:

As subject:
Nani alikusaidia?
Who helped you?
Nani amekula ndizi zangu? Who has eaten my bananas?

As object:
Waitwa nani?
What (who) are you called?
Ulimwona nani? Whom did you see?

The phrase -a nani? , whose, or of whom, must agree with the noun it modifies by prefixing the appropriate pronominal prefix to the - A of reference:

Hivi ni vitabu vya nani? Whose books are these?

Can only be used as an object:

Umekula nini? What have you eaten?
Alikuambia nini? What did she tell you?

A suffixed form of nini is occasionally heard:

Unaliani? What are you crying for?

The phrase agrees with the noun it follows by use of the pronominal prefix:

Hizi fedha za nini? What kind of food may I give you?

Gani? , being an adjective, follows the noun. Being an invariable, it needs no prefix:

Habari gani? What kind of news?
Mtu gani huyu? What kind of person is this?
Nikupe chakula gani? What kind of good may I give you?

This is a Bantu adjective stem and requires adjectival prefixes agreeing with the relevant noun class:

Watu wangapi watakuja? How many people will come?
Umenunua visu vingapi? How many knives did you buy?
Nikuambie mara ngapi? How many times must I tell you?

Wapi? Follows the verb:

Alikwenda wapi? Where did he go?
Tukutane wapi? Where shall we meet?
Ulijifunzia wapi Kiswahili? Where did you learn Swahili?

A shortened form of wapi? suffixed to the verb. Not very frequently used.

Utakwendapi? Where are you going?

The pronominal prefix with the -A of reference makes this phrase agree with the noun it modifies:

Huyu ni mtu wa wapi? Where is this person from?
Safari ya wapi? Where to? (where are you going?)

Lini? normally follows immediately after the verb:

Ulirudi lini? When did you return?
Ulimwona lini akiiba? When did you see him stealing?

But word order changes for emphasis:
Lini ulimwona akiiba? WHEN did you see him stealing?


Kwa nini umekuja? Why have you come?
Kwa nini amechelewa? Why is she late?


Kwani is an abbreviation of kwa nini? It is used both as an interrogative "why?" and a conjunction "because":

Kwani amekuja? Why has she come?
Amekuja kwani ameitwa. She has come because she has been called.

Mbona? Is more emphatic than kwa nini

Mbona hukusikiliza? WHY didn't you listen?

It is used in rhetorical questions:
Mbona usiende kwa miguu? Why not go by foot?

JE? Has three uses:

1. At the beginning of a question, it draws attention to the fact that a question is about to be asked:
Je, ni vigumu kujifunza Kiswahili? Is it difficult to learn Swahili?

2. At the end of an utterance, it asks, "What about...?"
Kahawa, je? What about coffee?
Na wewe, je? What about you?

3. Suffixed to the verb, -je? means "How?" or "What?"
Waonaje? What is your opinion?
Wajisikiaje? How do you feel?

It is often suffixed to -KO:
Yukoje? How is she?
Alikuwaje? How was she?
Masomo uakoje? How are the studies?



WHICH (of several)?
The pronominal prefix for the appropriate noun class precedes -pi? to form this interrogative. Note that Class 1. takes the old prefix YU: yupi? And Class2. is irregular: wepi? This suffix is not used for C1ass16.-18.

Burashi ipi? Which brush? (when there is a choice of more than one).

Class 1 mgeni yupi? which guest?
Class 2 wageni wepi? which guests?

Class 3 mkate upi? which loaf of bread?
Class 4 mikate ipi? which loaves?

Class 5 jina lipi? Which name?
Class 6 majina yapi? Which names?

Class 7 kitabu kipi? Which book?
Class 8 vitabu bipi? Which books?

Class 9 meza ipi? Which table?
Class 10 meza zipi? Which tables?

Class 11/14 usiku upi? Which night?

Class 15 kusoma kupi? Which reading?

Prefixed with the VI of manner, this also has an adverbial use:

Alikusaidia vipi? How did he help you?
Vipi, ndugu? How goes it, friend?
Tuanze, ama vipi? Shall we begin, or what?


Thanks to Patricia Wallace for assistance preparing this page for the Web.

Kamusi GOLD

These are the languages for which we have datasets that we are actively working toward putting online. Languages that are Active for you to search are marked with "A" in the list below.


•A = Active language, aligned and searchable
•c = Data 🔢 elicited through the Comparative African Word List
•d = Data from independent sources that Kamusi participants align playing 🐥📊 DUCKS
•e = Data from the 🎮 games you can play on 😂🌎🤖 EmojiWorldBot
•P = Pending language, data in queue for alignment
•w = Data from 🔠🕸 WordNet teams

Software and Systems

We are actively creating new software for you to make use of and contribute to the 🎓 knowledge we are bringing together. Learn about software that is ready for you to download or in development, and the unique data systems we are putting in place for advanced language learning and technology:

Articles and Information

Kamusi has many elements. With these articles, you can read the details that interest you:

Videos and Slideshows

Some of what you need to know about Kamusi can best be understood visually. Our 📽 videos are not professional, but we hope you find them useful:


Our partners - past, present, and future - include:

Hack Kamusi

Here are some of the work elements on our task list that you can help do or fund:

Theory of Kamusi

Select a link below to learn about the principles that guide the project's unique approach to lexicography and public service.

Contact Us

We welcome your comments and questions, and will try to respond quickly. To get in touch, please visit our contact page. You must use a real email address if you want to get a real reply!

© Copyright ©

The Kamusi Project dictionaries and the Kamusi Project databases are intellectual property protected by international copyright law, ©2007 through ©2018, under the joint ownership of Kamusi Project International and Kamusi Project USA. Further explanation may be found on our © Copyright page.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.


Discussion items about language, technology, and society, from the Kamusi editor and others. This box is growing. To help develop or fund the project, please contact us!

Our biggest struggle is keeping Kamusi online and keeping it free. We cannot charge money for our services because that would block access to the very people we most want to benefit, the students and speakers of languages around the world that are almost always excluded from information technology. So, we ask, request, beseech, beg you, to please support our work by donating as generously as you can to help build and maintain this unique public resource.


Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to general questions you might have about Kamusi services.

We are building this page around real questions from members of the Kamusi community. Send us a question that you think will help other visitors to the site, and frequently we will place the answer here.

Try it : Ask a "FAQ"!

Press Coverage

Kamusi in the news: Reports by journalists and bloggers about our work in newspapers, television, radio, and online.

Sponsor Search:
Who Do You Know?

To keep Kamusi growing as a "free" knowledge resource for the world's languages, we need major contributions from philanthropists and organizations. Do you have any connections with a generous person, corporation, foundation, or family office that might wish to make a long term impact on educational outcomes and economic opportunity for speakers of excluded languages around the world? If you can help us reach out to a potential 💛😇 GOLD Angel, please contact us!