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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Numbers



Swahili numbers are of either Bantu or Arabic origin. Numbers of Bantu origin take adjectival prefixes; those borrowed from Arabic take none. (Note that although kumi is of Bantu origin, it does not take a prefix.)


When counting, Class 9-10 prefixes are used with the Bantu stems, listed in the lefthand column:

Bantu stems Class 9/10 form English
-moja moja one
-wili mbili two
-tatu tatu three
-nne nne four
-tano tano five
sita six
saba seven
-nane nane eight
tisa nine
*** kumi ten
kumi na moja eleven
kumi na mbili twelve
kumi na tatu thirteen
kumi na nne fourteen
kumi na tano fifteen
kumi na sita sixteen
kumi na saba seventeen
kumi na nane eighteen
kumi na tisa nineteen
ishirini twenty
ishirini na moja 21
thelathini thirty
thelathini na mbili 32
arobaini forty
arobaini na tatu 43
hamsini fifty
hamsini na nne 54
sitini sixty
sitini na tano 65
sabini seventy
sabini na sita 76
themanini eighty
themanini na saba 87
tisini ninety tisini na nane 98
mia moja one hundred mia moja na tisa 109
mia mbili na hamsini 250
mia tatu thelathini na tano 335
elfu moja 1,000
elfu moja mia tatu 1,300
elfu moja ishirini na nane 1,028
elfu tatu na tisa 3,009
elfu tisa mia tisa tisini na tisa 9,999
kumi elfu 10,000
kumi elfu na moja 10,001
kumi elfu hamsini na tatu 10,053
kumi na moja elfu 11,000
ishirini elfu mia nane kumi na tano 20,815
laki moja 100,000
*** Note that kumi is of Bantu origin, but does not take a prefix.


After 10,000 it is common to let the number precede elfu: kumi elfu, ten thousand. By doing so, confusion is avoided. Note that: kumi na moja elfu is 11,000, while kumi elfu na moja is 10,001, and elfu moja kumi na moja is 1,011

There is no such number as "elfu kumi na moja"; this would not be understood.

A variation of mia tisa is sometimes heard, tisa mia: elfu moja tisa mia themanini na nane, 1988.


In compound numbers, only the units, or the tens when no unit follows,are preceded by NA: kumi na tano 15 thelathini na tisa 39 mia mbili sitini na nne 264 mia mbili na sitini 260 kumi elfu mia tano sabini na mbili 10,572 kumi elfu mia tano na sabini 10,570 laki moja arobaini elfu mia nne na kumi 140,410 laki tatu sitini elfu mia tano sitini na moja 360,561


When a number modifies a noun, the Bantu number stem takes the appropriate adjectival prefix: mtu mmoja one person mitego miwili two traps majembe matatu three hoes vitanda vinne four beds miezi mitano five months maswali manane eight questions Also: viti kumi na kimoja eleven chairs watoto kumi na watatu thirteen children magari ishirini na manne twentyfour vehicles

But Swahili speakers often neglect the prefixes on the units, particularly on number eleven.


"One of several" is expressed by mojawapo:

aina mojawapo one of the kinds
mnyama mmojawapo one of the animals
kiwanda kimojawapo one of the factories
Katika viwanda vilivyopo mjini, kimojawapo ni cha viatu. Among the factories in town, one (of them) is a shoe (factory).


Ordinal numbers are expressed with an A phrase plus the cardinal number (see also paragraph 30.A.4). "First" and "second" take special forms: jambo la kwanza the first thing (matter) mwezi wa pili the second month siku ya tatu the third day mstari wa sita the sixth line ukurasa wa thelathini the thirtieth page i.e. page 30. /content/numbers

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