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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: A of Relationship

A of Relationship


The "-A" of RELATIONSHIP" is a particle which is very common in Swahili. The main idea is that of connection, association or relationship. It combines with various prefixes and its uses vary accordingly. There are three main uses of the -A of Relationship:

1. Combined with the pronominal prefix, it expresses a concept of possession or description.
2. With the prefix -KU it expresses an adverbial concept.
3. With N- it expresses the concept of association.



To express possession, the "-A phrase" corresponds to the genitive in European languages:

Kitabu cha mwalimu. The teacher's book.
Nguo za watoto. The children's clothes.
Kifuniko cha sufuria. The lid of the pot.
Paa ya nyumba. The roof of the house.

Combined with the pronominal prefix and a possessive stem, it forms the possessive pronoun (paragraph 23):

u + a + ngu = wangu
i + a + ko = yako
ya + a + ke = yake
vi + a + itu = vyetu
zi + a + inu = zenu
ku + a + o = kwao



It serves a descriptive function in adjectival phrases made with -A and a variety of word types (paragraph 30):

- A noun Shule ya msingi Primary school
- A infinitive Nia ya kufanya kazi Will to work
- A Prepositional of Kiti cha kukalia Chair to sit on
- A Cardinal number Kazi ya kwanza The first job
- A adverb Vyombo vya nyumbani Household goods



Kwa has a variety of uses, but the main idea is an adverbial one: i.e., where or how or by what means an action is carried out. Five categories of phrases with kwa are designated in the following pages.


KWA indicates location with respect to people; it may precede names of people or nouns referring to people.

Nitakwenda kwa mjomba. I will go to my uncle.
Wapo kwa mwalimu. They are at the teacher's.
Tulikuwa kwa Yakobo. We were at Yakobo's place.
Alimtuma kwa baba kupata kitabu. She sent him to father to get a book.
Nilipata barua kwa rafiki. I got a letter from a friend.

KWA is never used with locative nouns (those ending in -ni), nor with proper names of places. This includes shule, posta and hospitali, as the following examples demonstrate:

Nitakwenda Arusha. I will go to Arusha.
Walikwenda shambani. They went to the farm.
Alipata barua kutoka Ulaya. We got a letter from Europe.
Watoto wametoka shule. The children have come from school.


KWA is used to introduce the instrument by means of which an action is performed.

Aliandika kwa kalamu mpya. He wrote with a new pen.
Simba aliuawa kwa sumu. The lion was killed by poison.
Kata nyama kwa kisu. Cut the meat with a knife.
Jembe ambalo kwalo amejipatia riziki limeharibika. The hoe with which he made his living is spoiled.

Note this contrast: following passive verbs, the doer of the action is introduced by NA, but the instrument -- if one is named -- is introduced by KWA, or it may stand alone.

Alipigwa (kwa) jiwe na mgeni yule. He was struck with a stone by that guest.
Alikatwa (kwa) kisu na mwizi. He was cut with a knife by the thief.
Shamba lililimwa kwa trekta na baba. The field was cultivated with a tractor by father.


KWA precedes nouns or infinitives in phrases indicating purpose or aim of the action.

Walimjia kwa msaada. They came to him for help.
Alikuja kwa dawa. She came for medicine.
Samaki hii haifai kwa chakula. This fish is no good for eating.
Chumvi hutumiwa kwa kuzuia nyama isioze. Salt is used to prevent meat from spoiling.

It combines to make phrases such as: kwa nini?, why? Kwa kuwa, kwa sababu, kwa maana, kwa vile, because, since, kwa ajili ya, for the sake of, etc.

Kwa nini umeharibu gari? Why (for what purpose) have you spoiled the car?


KWA introduces adverbial phrases of manner: "how" an action is performed.

Alifanya kazi kwa haraka. He worked hurriedly.
Walimaliza shauri kwa shida. They finished the case with difficulty.
Uniandikie kwa Kiswahili. Write to me in Swahili.
Pika mboga kwa muda mfupi. Cook the vegetables for a short time.
Twajifunza kwa bidii. We study hard (diligently).
Nitakuja kwa furaha. I will gladly come.


KWA is used idiomatically between two adverbs to strengthen the idea of repetition or continuation of the action.

Nimekuambia mara kwa mara. I have told you time and again.
Aligawa mkate sawa kwa sawa. She divided the loaf in equal parts.
Endelea moja kwa moja. Go straight on.

KWA is also used between two nouns commonly used together, or which identify a common combination; or to express a relationship.

Tuliomba wali kwa mchuzi. We asked for rice and curry.
Alipata tano kwa mia ya kura. He got 5 percent of the vote.
Wote walikuja, wakubwa na wadogo, wanaume na wanawake. Everyone came, big and little (i.e., old and young), men and women.
Wanapigana vita wenyewe kwa wenyewe. They are fighting a civil war.


The basic idea is association: sometimes it could be translated "and"; sometimes "with". It stands alone or combines in contraction with personal pronouns or with the -O of reference.


NA as a connector between words, phrases and clauses:

Lete uji na mayai. Bring gruel and eggs.
Alifahamu Kireno, Kifaransa, Kijerumani na Kiingereza. He knew Portuguese, French, German and English.

If NA is used between adjectives, these refer to different nouns (see also paragraph 34.A).

Watoto wadogo na wakubwa. Small children and big ones.
Mtu mgonjwa na maskini. A sick person and a poor one (2 people).

Mtu mgonjwa tena maskini. A sick and poor person (one person).

When two verbs are joined by NA, the second is always an infinitive. The subject and tense indicated in the first verb apply also to the second (paragraph 65.A.2).

Tuliongea na kupumzika. We talked and (we) rested.

NA may be used between clauses:

1. If the subjects are different:

Waliofika na wasiofika. Those who came and those who did not (i.e., two groups of people).

2. If the verbs are in different verb constructions:

Msiwaache watoto, na mkiona neno kubwa leteni habari. Don't leave the children and if you find anything important, bring news (of it).

3. If one verb is positive and the other negative.

Amejuaje mambo haya naye hakusoma? How does he know these things not being educated (not having studied)?

If the first verb is positive and the second negative, wala is often a better choice:

Ukipanda mlima, uende na fimbo, wala usisahau nguo za joto. If you climb the mountain, take a stick along, and don't forget warm clothing.


NA is used in the absolute sense of "also." In this use it precedes a noun or pronoun in a contracted form with a personal pronoun.

Kipo na kingine? Is there anything else as well?
Nipe na mimi chai. Give me tea also.
Mimi nami napenda chai. I also like tea.
Amechelewa naye. He also is late.


NA is used following various verb forms:

1. Following passive verbs, it introduces the agent or doer of the action.

Kuku zako wameliwa na chui. Your chickens have been eaten by a leopard.

2. Following reciprocal forms, it introduces the second party to the action.

Nilifuatana naye. I accompanied him.
Walishindana na timu ya Arusha. They competed with the Arusha team.

3. Following KUWA to form KUWA NA. "to be with" - i.e., "to have."

Nilikuwa na sababu tatu. I had three reasons.
Sababu nilizokuwa nazo zilifaa. The reasons I had were good.

4. Following verbs (other than KUWA) the same idea of association applies. Note the variety of items that follow NA:

Ufike na zile karatasi. Come with those papers.
Ufike nazo. Come with them (i.e. the papers).
Aliondoka na mamaye. She left with her mother.
Aliondoka naye. She left with her.
Nilisema na rafiki. I talked with a friend.
Yaya alicheza na mtoto. The nurse is playing with the child.
Tutaendelea na masomo baadaye. We will continue with lessons later.


NA preceding a subjunctive gives emphasis to the subjunctive form (paragraph 64.C.14).

Na aje. So let him come.
Watu wote na wajue. All the people should (by all means) know.
Mwenye masikio na asikie! The one who has ears, let him hear!


NA following certain adverbs make prepositions

Mbali na far from
Karibu na near to
Pamoja na together with
Sawa na equal to, same as
Tofauti na different from

Thanks to John Couper for assistance preparing this page for the Web.

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