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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Monosyllabic Verbs

Monosyllabic Verbs

92. THE MONOSYLLABIC VERB

Swahili has ten monosyllabic verbs - that is, the verbs with verb stems of only one syllable: in the infinitive form kula, the verb stem is la. The monosyllabic verbs are:

kucha to fear (as to fear God)
kucha to dawn, be morning; used for sunrise
kuchwa to set, of the sun
kufa to die
kula to eat
kunya to discharge, drop; of excreta, also of rainfall
kunywa to drink, absorb
kupa to give (this must have an object)
kuwa to be

There are two verbs that are not monosyllabic verbs, but which resemble the monosyllabic verbs in that they often retain the infinitive KU in certain verb constructions like the monosyllabics do. No rules exist to determine when to use the infinitive KU with these two verbs, nor when to use the irregular KW versus KU as the prefix; the decision is purely stylistic, perhaps with some regional preferences for one or the other (so keep your ears open for local usage). The two verbs are:

kwenda/ kuenda to go
kwisha/ kuisha to come to an end, get finished

The special feature about these verbs - monosyllabics and the two polysyllabics - is that in a few of the most common tenses they will retain the infinitive KU (or often KW for kwenda and kwisha). In most tenses the KU is dropped as it normally is with all other verbs.

Below is a list of all verb constructions listed in the previous paragraphs, showing kula as an example, and with mimi (first person singular) for the subject. The forms in which the infinitive KU is retained are capitalized. Remember these are the unusual forms, although they are often the tenses that learners use most often. In the majority of tenses, the infinitive KU does not enter into a construction with tense or subjunctive, etc.

Notice that when an object is included in the construction the monosyllabic KU is lost, even in those tenses where it is otherwise used.

Verb form (tense, subjunctive, etc) Positive Negative Positive with object (mayai) Negative with object (mayai)
NA NINAKULA sili ninayala siyali
A nala sili nayala siayali
HU hula huyala
LI/KU NILIKULA sikula niliyala sikuyala
ME/JA NIMEKULA sijala nimeyala sijayala
TA NITAKULA SITAKULA nitayala sitayala
KA nikala nisile/ sikula nikayala nisiyale/ sikuyala
KI/SIPO nikila NISIPOKULA nikiyala nisipoyala
NGE NINGEKULA NISINGEKULA ningeyala nisingeyala
NGALI NINGALIKULA NISINGALIKULA ningaliyala nisingaliyala
subjunctive nile nisile niyale nisiyale
relative NILIYEKULA NISIYEKULA niliyeyala nisiyeyala
general relative nilaye NISIYEKULA niyalaye nisiyeyala

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