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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Interrogatives

Interrogatives

25

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

a
NANI? WHO?
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?

b
-A NANI? WHOSE?
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?

c
NINI? WHAT?
Can only be used as an object:

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

d
-NI? WHAT?
A suffixed form of nini is occasionally heard:

Unaliani? What are you crying for?

e
-A NINI? FOR WHAT PURPOSE?
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?

f
GANI? WHAT KIND?
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?

g
-NGAPI? HOW MANY?
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?

h
WAPI? WHERE?
Wapi? Follows the verb:

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

i
-PI? WHERE?
A shortened form of wapi? suffixed to the verb. Not very frequently used.

Utakwendapi? Where are you going?

j
-A WAPI? FROM WHERE? WHENCE?
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?)

k
LINI? WHEN
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?

l
KWA NINI? WHY? WHAT FOR?

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

m

KWANI? WHY?
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.

n
MBONA? WHY?
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?

o
JE?
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?

p

-PI?

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.
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