My Kamusi - Login
username
password
You can Register Here ,   OR

Kiswahili Grammar Notes: Pronouns

Pronouns

18

Pronouns in Swahili are expressed in several ways:

A. Self-standing personal pronouns
B. Bound forms (verb prefixes), personal and non-personal.
These function in the verb as
1. Subject prefixes, personal and non-personal.
2. Object prefixes, personal and non-personal.
C. Possessive pronouns
D. Demonstratives
E. Interrogatives

[Since it precedes the verb stem, we use the term prefix for the object rather than infix which has become popular in literature on Bantu languages.]

19

SELF- STANDING PERSONAL PRONOUNS

A

These are:

mimi I, me
wewe you (singular)
yeye he, she; her, him
sisi we, us
ninyi/ nyinyi you (plural)
wao they, them
Nani atakwenda mjini? Mimi.
Who is going to town? I am.

The self-standing personal pronoun need not be used in a sentence with a verb construction since the person will be indicated by the verb subject (or object), but when the self-standing form is used, it provides emphasis:

Sisi tutakwenda mjini. We are going to town.
Uliniambia mimi. You told me .

B

The personal pronouns may be contracted with NA :

na mimi: nami
na wewe: nawe
na yeye: naye
na sisi: nasi
na ninyi: nanyi
na wao: nao

Nilikwenda pamo ja naye. I went together with her.
Gari limetengenezwa nao. The car has been repaired by them.
Waweza kumwuliza maswali, naye hujibu vizuri. You can ask him questions, and he answers well.

C

A second-person plural suffix -NI serves as a pluralizer in several contexts:

1. Second person plural object prefix : -WA -(E)NI
Aliwaoneni,
he saw you (plural). (See paragraph 21. B)

2. Imperative addressed to more than one person:
Semeni, speak (ye). (See paragraph 63. A&B)

3. A number of interjections and other expressions addressed to more than one person:
Kwa herini, good-bye (all of you)
Tafadhalini, please (all of you) (See paragraph 130)

20 BOUND PERSON PRONOUNS: SUBJECT PREFIXES

A

These are:

NI I
U you (singular)
A he, she, Noun Class 1
TU we
M(U) you (plural)
WA they, Noun Class 2
The subject prefix is required on all verb constructions:

Ninasoma kitabu. I am reading a book.
Uliamka mapema. You awakened early.
Ataondoka kesho. She will leave tomorrow.
Tumefanya kazi. We have worked.
Mmeshamaliza. You have already finished.
Walete vitabu vyote. They should bring all the books.

B

When the General Present (A) tense is used in the verb, the subject prefixes undergo a sound change:

NI + A NA nasaidia I help
U + A WA wakaa you stay
A + A A afanya kazi he works
TU + A TWA twaona we see
M(U) + A MWA mwaweza you (plural) can
WA + A WA waenda they go

C

When negative verb constructions are used, not only is a negative tense marker required, but also the subject prefix must take a negative form. In the case of singular person subjects, special forms occur:

SI for NI
HU for U (H + U)
HA for A (H + A)
The plural subject prefixes are made negative simply by prefixing HA:

HATU from HA + TU
HAM from HA + M
HAWA from HA + WA
Sisomi kitabu. I am not reading a book
Hukuamka mapema. You did not awaken early.
Hataondoka kesho. She will not leave tomorrow.
Hatujafanya kazi. We have not worked.
Hamjamaliza bado. We have not yet finished
Hawatalima shamba. They are not going to cultivate the farm.

D

In three cases of predication without a verb, the subject prefixes perform a verbal function, as in:

Tu wazima. We are well. (See paragraph 72 KUWA)
Nina homa. I have a fever. (See paragraph 83 KUWA NA)
Wapo shuleni. They are at school. (See paragraph 90 KUWAPO)

21 BOUND PERSONAL PRONOUNS: OBJECT PREFIXES

The six forms are:

NI me
KU you (singular)
M(U) him, her, Noun Class 1
TU us
WA -(E)NI you (plural)
WA them, Noun Class 2

A

Examples of their use:

Waliniona mjini. They saw me in town.
Nitakuandikia barua . I shall write you a letter.
Tulimsindikiza. We accompanied him on the way.
Ulimwogesha mtoto. You bathed the child.
Watatukumbuka. They will remember us.
Tuwalimieni shamba? Shall we cultivate the farm for you?
Aliwaona mjini. He saw them in town.

Notice in the above examples and the two below that third person singular is produced as M before consonants but MW before vowels:

Nilimsaidia. I helped her.
Tuamwona. We shall see him.

B

The second person plural form has three possible variations, one of which is rarely used. The context will determine which of the other two should be used. The form given in the example below is unambiguous and should be used whenever it is necessary to make clear that "you", not "them", is meant:

Atawaambieni He will tell you. (plural)

Without the suffix -(E)NI in which E replaces the final A of the verb stem, and -NI is the suffix, two meanings are possible:

Atawaambia He will tell you. (plural) / He will tell them.

This is, however, a perfectly acceptable form, and much used, when the context makes clear that the meaning is "you" not "them". It is of course possible to accomplish this by using the self-standing pronoun, but this also implies stress on the object (paragraph 14. A):

Atawaambia ninyi He will tell you. (plural)

In the third and rarely used possibility, the second person singular object KU is used plus the suffix -(E)NI for the pluralizing information:

Atakuambieni He will tell you. (plural)

You need only to be able to recognize this form should you hear it used.

C

When the object is designated by a noun in the sentence, whether or not to also use the object prefix in the verb construction is influenced by certain factors:

1. Use of the object prefix is preferred with singular Class 1 nouns:
Alimwona mtoto mjini. She saw the child in town.

2. With Class 2-11 nouns, use of the object prefix gives the effect of a definite article:

Aliona watoto mjini. She saw children in town.
Aliwaona watoto mjini. She saw the children in town.

3. Certain verbs require use of the object prefix for all persons:

Tuliwapa watoto chakula. We gave the children food.
Uwaite wanafunzi. (Please) call the students.
Niliwaambia wazee habari zenu. I told the old people your news.

D

A verb construction can have only one object. If the sentence has both a direct (accusative) and indirect (dative) object, then the indirect object is included in the verb construction. The direct object is either stated in the sentence as a noun, or perhaps understood by the context.

Amekuambia habari zake? Ame ni ambia.
Has he told you his news? Yes, he has told (it) to me.

Wamempa mtoto vitabu? Wamempa.
Have they given the child books? They have given (them) to her.

E

The reflexive object JI
When the object JI is used, the subject and object are the same person:

Nime ji jengea nyumba. I have built a house for myself.
Ame ji kata kidole. She has cut her finger (literally cut herself the finger).

Please note that kujifunza already has the object JI ; no other object can be used with it.

22 BOUND NON-PERSONAL PRONOUNS: SUBJECT AND OBJECT PREFIXES

A

For Noun Classes 3-18, both subject and object prefixes are identical to the basic pronominal prefixes for each class (paragraph 2. B).

The subject prefix must be preceded by HA when used in a negative verb construction.

Class

Subject Prefix

Object

Prefix

Class

Subject Prefix

Object

Prefix

Pos.

Neg.

Pos.

Neg.

3

U

HAU

U

9

I

HAI

I

4

I

HAI

I

10

ZI

HAZI

ZI

5

LI

HALI

LI

11/14

U

HAU

U

6

YA

HAYA

YA

15

KU

HAKU

KU

7

KI

HAKI

KI

16

PA

HAPA

PA

8

VI

HAVI

VI

17

KU

HAKU

KU

18

M(U)

HAM

M(U)


Below are some examples of

1. Use of subject prefixes in both positive and negative constructions:

Class
3 Mkate umekwisha. The bread is finished.
6 Maji yamechafuka. The water is polluted.
8 Vitambaa vilifuliwa. The cloths were washed.
9 Fimbo imevunjika. The walking-stick is broken.
11/14 Uji hauna sukari. The gruel has no sugar.
15 Kucheza kunapendeza. The playing is pleasant.
16 Mahali hapa hapapendezi. This place is unpleasing.
17 Mjini kulikuwa na magari. There were cars in town.
18 Dukani hamna kitu. There is nothing in the shop.

 

2. Use of object prefixes:

Class
4 Hawakuileta. (mizigo) They didn't bring them. (loads)
5 Amelichukua. (gari) He has taken it away. (the car)
7 Ulikiona? (kiatu) Did you see it. (the shoe)
9 Mliipenda? (nyumba) Did you (plural) like it? (the house)
10 Tumezivunja. (sahani) We have broken them. (the plates)
16 Nimepaona. (mahali) I have seen it. (the place)

 

B

Subject prefixes, on the other hand, are subject to change preceding a vowel. In verb constructions, there is only one tense which brings about this change - mainly, the General present, or A, tense. The changes are those described in paragraph 12, demonstrated in the following examples:

Class
4 Mimea yasitawi hapa. Plants flourish here.
5 Yai lavunika upesi. An egg breaks easily.
6 Matope yazidi wakati wa mvua. Mud increases in the rainy season.
7 Kiatu chabana. The shoe is tight.
8 Vitambaa vyakauka upesi. The cloths dry quickly.
10 Nguo zafaa. The clothes are o.k.
11/14 Uangalifu wahitajiwa. Care is needed. (i.e. carefulness)
15 Kuimba kwake kwapendeza. Her singing is nice.
16 Mahali paonekana The place is visible

 

C

When one wants to express an indefinite "it" in Swahili with no noun referent, e.g. "It will be nice...", the Class 9 subject prefix is used : Itakuwa vizuri...

Ilikuwa vigumu kuamka. It was difficult to awaken.
Imenyesha tangu asubuhi. It has rained since morning.

D

When two nouns of different classes occur in the subject of a sentence with only one verb, the verb will have either a Class 8 ("vitu") subject:

Madirisha na milango vimefika. The windows and doors have arrived.

Or the subject prefix appropriate for the last-named item:

Madirisha na milango imefika.

23 POSSESIVE PRONOUNS

The possessive pronoun stems are:

-angu my, mine
-ako your, yours (singular)
-ake her, hers, his its; also theirs (when the owner is inanimate)
-etu our, ours
-enu you, yours (plural)
-ao their, theirs (living beings only as owners)

 

A

These stems, which designate the owners, must have a prefix, i.e.: the pronominal prefix which agrees with the thing (or person) "owned": kitabu changu , my book. Because the possessive stems begin with vowels, the sound changes described in paragraph 12 will apply, as seen in the examples below.

Class
1 mtoto wangu my child
2 watoto wako your children WA + -ako
3 mkeka wake his/her mat U + -ake
4 mikate yetu our loaves I + -etu
5 neno lenu your (plural) word LI + -enu
6 mashamba yao their farms YA + -ao
7 kitabu changu my book KI + -angu
8 vidole vyako your fingers VI + -ako
9 safari yake his/her trip I + -ake
10 nyumba zatu our houses ZI + -etu
11/14 wimbo wenu your (plural) song U + -enu
15 kusema kwao their speaking KU + -ao
16 mahali pangu my place PA + -angu
17 nyumbani kwenu at your (plural) home KU + -enu
18 mwilini mwako inside your body M(U) + -ako

 

B

Word Order: Note that the possessive pronoun always follows the noun "owned". When more than one word modifies a noun and one of them is the possessive, the possessive follows immediately after the noun:

Mkeka wangu mzuri My nice mat
Zawadi zake nyingi Her many gifts
Wazazi wangu wawili My two parents

C

When the owner is third person singular or plural, that person may be designated by a name or a noun. In that case a phrase with the -A of relationship can be used:

Rafiki za Hans Hans's friends
Vitabu vya walimu The teachers' books
Pembe za kongoni The hartebeeste's horns

Alternately, the possessive pronoun may be used in these phrases:

Rafiki zake Hans
Vitabu vyao walimu
Pembe zake kongoni.

THE POSSESIVE PRONOUNS

Class 1 Mtoto

wangu

wako

wake

wetu

wenu

wao

Class 2 Watoto

wangu

wako

wake

wetu

wenu

wao

Class 3 Mkate

wangu

wako

wake

wetu

wenu

wao

Class 4 Mikate

yangu

yako

yake

yetu

yenu

wao

Class 5 Jina

langu

lako

lake

letu

lenu

lao

Class 6 Majina

yangu

yako

yake

yetu

yenu

yao

Class 7 Kitabu

changu

chako

chake

chetu

chenu

chao

Class 8 Vitabu

vyangu

vyako

vyake

vyetu

vyenu

vyao

Class 9 Nyumba

yangu

yako

yake

yetu

yenu

yao

Class 10 Nyumba (plural)

zangu

zako

zake

zetu

zenu

zao

Class 11/14 Wali

wangu

wako

wake

wetu

wenu

wao

Class 15 Kusoma

kwangu

kwako

kwake

kwetu

kwenu

kwao

Class 16 Kichwani

pangu

pako

pake

petu

penu

pao

Class 17 Nyumbani

kwangu

kwako

kwake

kwetu

kwenu

kwao

Class 18 Maishani

mwangu

mwako

mwake

mwetu

mwenu

mwao

 

CONTRACTIONS WITH POSSESSIVES

Mwenzi

mwenzangu

mwenzako
(mwenzio)

mwenzake
(mwenziwe)

mwenzetu

mwenzenu

mwenzao

Wenzi

wenzangu

wenzako

wenzake

wenzetu

wenzenu

wenzao

Baba

babangu

babako

babake

Mama

mamangu

mamako

mamake

Dada

dadangu

dadako

dadake

Kaka

kakangu

kakako

kakake

Mwana

mwanangu

mwanao

mwanawe

Wana

Wanangu

Wanao

wanawe

Mume

mumeo

mumewe

Mke

mkeo

mkewe

Wake

wakezo

wakeze

Ndugu

nduguyo

nduguye

Ndugu (plural)

nduguzo

nduguze

Rafiki

rafikiyo

rafikiye

Rafiki (plural)

rafikizo

rafikize

Shangazi

shangaziyo

shangaziye

Babu

babuyo

babuye

Bibi

bibiyo

bibiye

Mwisho wake

mwishowe

Baada
Yake

baadaye

 

D

Possessives with animate vs. inanimate "owner"; when the owner is a person, a distinction is made between singular and plural owners:

Mtoto... miguu yake The child... her legs
Watoto... miguu yao The children... their legs

But when the owner is a thing, -ake is used for both singlular and plural owners:

Kiti... miguu yake The chair... its legs
Kiti... miguu yake The chairs... their legs
Vikombe... visahani vyake The cups... their saucers
Magazeti... picha zake The magazines... their pictures

E

A limited number of words - mainly terms of relationship - form contractions with the possessive. They are common in spoken Swahili but usage tends to vary from one area to another. In written Swahili, only three relationship terms are commonly contracted in this way:

mwenzi, mke, and mume.

There are two ways by which the contraction is made:

1. By elimination of the adjoining portions of the words:
mwenz(i w)angu my companion becomes mwenzangu
bab(a y)angu, my father becomes babangu

2. By eliminating the mid-portion of the possessive:
ndugu y(ak)o your brother contracts to nduguyo
mwana w(ak)e his/her child contracts to mwanawe
mwana w(ak)o your child contracts, then w before o is lost, leaving mwanao

The most used forms are listed in the table above.

F

Some expressions constructed with the possessive:

1. peke y- alone:
Nilikwenda peke yangu I went alone
Anakaa peke yake She lives alone

2. kwenda z- go one's way
Alikwenda zake He went his way
Tulikwenda zetu We went our way

3. When designation of a person follows kwa, the appropriate possessive stem is used:
kwangu for (or to) me
kwako for (or to) you (singular)
kwao for (or to) them

4. A number of other ideas are economically expressed in Swahili by use of the possessive:
mmoja wetu one of us
baadhi yenu some of you (plural)
kati yetu among us
nyuma yangu behind, after me
mbele yake in front of her
badala yake instead of him/her/it
kwa ajili yangu for my sake, because of me
juu yetu above us, concerning us, our responsibility
wengi wao
many of them
baina yao
among them
miongoni mwetu
among us

24 DEMONStrATIVE PRONOUNS

Swahili has three forms of demonstrative:

A. The near demonstrative: this, right here
B. The distant demonstrative: that, at some distance
C. The already mentioned demonstrative: that which we have already talked about.

The demonstratives are built from the pronominal prefixes.

A

The near demonstrative is made of three components:

1. It always begins with h-
2. The vowel of the pronominal prefix follows h-
3. Last come the pronominal prefix itself

H I KI
H A WA
H U U
H I I

Note that the demonstrative for Class 1 is based on the alternate pronominal prefix yu : huyu

Class
1 mtu huyu this person—here, nearby
2 watu hawa these people

3 mti huu this tree
4 miti hii these trees

5 yai hili this egg
6 mayai haya these eggs

7 kiti hiki this chair
8 viti hivi these chairs

9 meza hii this table
10 meza hizi these tables

11/14 ubao huu this board

15 kusoma huku this reading

16 mahali hapa this place
17 mjini huku here in town
18 chumbani humu here in the room

The near demonstrative follows the noun, as demonstrated by the examples above.
It can (rarely) precede the noun, giving the effect of a definite article:

Huyu mtoto ni wangu. The child is mine.

The near demonstrative may also stand alone:

Wapenda kitabu kipi? Hiki. Which book do you want? This (one).
Nani amevunja kikombe? Huyu. Who has broken the cup? This (person).
Nitachukua huu. (mzigo) I will carry this one. (load)

B

The distant demonstrative pronoun has these components:

1. The first syllable is the pronominal prefix
2. The second syllable is -le .

Class
1 mtu yule that person (at some distance)
2 watu wale those people

3 mti ule that tree
4 miti ile those trees

5 yai lile that egg
6 mayai yale those eggs

7 kiti kile that chair
8 viti vile those chairs

9 meza ile that table
10 meza zile those tables

11/14 ubao ule that board

15 kusoma kule that reading

16 mahali pale that place
17 mjini kule there in town
18 chumbani mle there inside the room

The distant demonstrative normally follows the noun it modifies, as illustrated in the list above.
It may however precede the noun under a special circumstance:

1. The noun has been previously mentioned in the context, and
2. The demonstrative then functions like a definite article:

Kile kikombe kikavunjika. The cup (that one we talked about) broke.

C

The already-mentioned demonstrative refers back to something (or someone) that has already been mentioned or at least implied in the context.

Its components are:

1. The first syllable is identical to the first syllable of the "near" demonstrative"

2. The second syllable is the -O of reference appropriate to the noun class.

Class
1 mtu huyothat person (the one we referred to)
2 watu hao those people

3 mti huo that tree
4 miti hiyo those trees

5 yai hilo that egg
6 mayai hayo those eggs

7 kiti hicho that chair
8 viti hivyo those chairs

9 meza hiyo that table
10 meza hizo those tables

11/14 ubao huo that board

15 kusoma huko that reading

16 mahali hapo that place
17 mjini huko there in town
18 chumbani humo there inside the room

Ukienda mbele utakuta posta na benki. Upite nyumba hizo.
If you go straight on you'll come to the post office and bank. Pass those buildings (i.e., the post office and bank mentioned in the previous sentence).

D

Reduplication is a typical feature of Bantu languages. When the demonstrative pronouns are reduplicated, they express emphasis:

Kisu kile kile, that very same knife (the one over there)
Kisu hiki hiki, this very same knife (the one right here nearby)
Kisu hicho hicho, that very same knife (the one we mentioned a little while ago)

Another emphatic form of demonstrative couples a reduplication of the pronominal prefix with the "near" demonstrative:

Kisu kiki hiki, this very knife.

The "already mentioned" demonstrative is also commonly used in this type of emphatic expression, preceded by the pronominal prefix + -O of reference.

These emphatic forms are used only with Classes 3-18:

Class
3 mti uu huu mti uo huo
4 miti ii hii miti iyo hiyo

5 yai lili hili yai lilo hilo
6 mayai yaya haya mayai yayo hayo

7 kiti kiki hiki kiti kicho hicho
8 viti vivi hivi viti vivyo hivyo

9 meza ii hii meza iyo hiyo
10 meza zizi hizi meza zizo hizo

11/14 ubao uu huu ubao uo huo

15 kusoma kuku huku kusoma kuko huko

16 mahali papa hapa mahali papo hapo
17 mjini kuku huku mjini kuko huko
18 chumbani mumu humu chumbani mumo humo

A common reduplication of hapa:

Weka kiti hapa hapa. Put the chair right (exactly) here.

Reduplication for emphasis with C1. 1-2 use any of the three types of demonstrative:

Mtu huyu huyu This very person--this one right here
Watu wale wale Exactly those same people (over there)
Fundi huyo huyo That very same craftsman we were talking about

The current tendency is to unite these reduplications and write them as one word:

huyuhuyu, walewale, huyohuyo.

 

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

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.

Key

•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:

Partners

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!

kamusigold.org/info/contact

© 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.

Commentary

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.

/info/donate

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!