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Kiswahili Grammar Notes: The Subjunctive

The Subjunctive

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The Subjunctive verb form is much more common in Swahili than in European languages. It is used to express a wish, desire, request, suggestion, obligation as well as purpose, intention, etc.

A Construction of the Subjunctive form

The subjunctive is not a tense, and has therefore no tense prefix. The simplest form is made from the subject prefix + the verb stem with its final A changed to E in the case of Bantu verb stems, and no change in verb stems of non-Bantu origin. If an object prefix is needed, it immediately precedes the verb stem, after the subject prefix.

Wa ji funz e They should learn
Tu pik e Let us cook (something)
Ni ku saidi e Let me help you
A end e He should go
Wa j e Let them come
U jaribu Try!

 

B The negative subjunctive is formed by inserting SI immediately following the subject prefix and preceding the object prefix if there is one.

A si let e He should not bring (it)
U si mw ambi e Don't tell her
Tu si l e Let us not eat

 

C USES OF THE SUBJUNCTIVE

The subjunctive is used with all persons and noun classes; in general it conveys a wish or desire either stated or questioned. Specific uses may be listed:

1. POLITE IMPERATIVE

It is used only with a 2nd person singular or plural subject. See paragraph 63C & D for additional examples.

Umsaidie. (Please) help him/her
Tafadhali umsaidie!
Please help him/her
Mchemshe maji.
(Please) boil water (you pl.)
Mjaribu kusema Kiswahili.
Try to speak Swahili

2. SUGGESTION, WISH, REQUEST

It is used with all subjects other than 2nd person singular or plural.

Nikusaidie. Let help you?
Aseme Kiswahili.
He/she should speak Swahili.
Tujifunze kwa bidii.
Let us study hard.
Mambo haya yaishe!
(I hope) these affairs (will) end!

3. QUESTIONED SUGGESTION, REQUEST FOR ADVICE

Nikusaidie? Should I help you?
Aende wapi?
When should he go?
Tufanye nini?
What (do you suggest) we do?
Nimwambie nini?
What shall I tell her?

4. SECOND OF TWO COMMANDS, OR AN INDIRECT COMMAND

Njoo, ule. Come and eat.
Pokea barua yako uisome.
Accept your letter and read it.
Tulia usikie maneno haya.
Be still and hear these words.
Mwambie aje kesho.
Tell her to come tomorrow.

5. FOLLOWING EXPRESSIONS OF OBLIGATION OR NECESSITY

sharti, lazima, ya...pasa, ya...bidi strong obligation
afadhali, heri, bora, yafaa
indicate desirability

Afadhali utusaidie. You had better help us.
Heri waende nyumbani.
They had better go home.
Bora tuamke mapema.
It's good that we awaken early.
Yafaa uanze sasa.
It's a good idea to start now.
Sharti tukomeshe wizi.
We have to stop the stealing.
Lazima uende hospitali.
You must go to the hospital.
Yawapasa wahudhurie mkutano.
It's their duty to attend the meeting.
Yatubidi tumjulishe habari hizi
We're bound to tell him this news.

Also:
Yawapasa kuhudhuria mkutano.

Yatubidi kumjulisha habari hizi.

Any object may be used with kupasa and kubidi depending on the subject of the next clause.

6. TO EXPRESS PURPOSE OR INTENTION with or without ili or kusudi:

Alinisaidia ili nimalize kazi mapema. She helped me so that I would finish the work early.
Twafuga kuku ili tupate mayai. We keep chickens in order to get eggs.
Alikaribia kusudi aweze kusna vizuri. He came near so he could see well.

7. DEPENDANT CLAUSES after verbs of consenting (kukubali), allowing (kuacha), wishing (kutaka, kupenda), requesting (kuomba), advising (kushauri), or commanding (kuamuru, kufanya).

Walikubali tufunge mapema. They agreed that we close early.
Umwache aende zake.
Let him go his way.
Sitaki awe na mawazo haya.
I don't want her to have these ideas.
Wapenda tuende wapi?
Where do you want us to go?
Naombe aje.
I ask that he come.
Nakushauri urudi nyumbani.
I advise you to return home.
Walinifanya nikate tamaa.
They made me lose heart.
Aliwaamuru wamrudishie mali yake.
He commanded them to return her property.

8. FOLLOWING CERTAIN PREPOSITIONS These are: tangu, since; mpaka, hata, hadi, until; karibu, almost.

Tangu tufike hatujapata chai. Since Since we arrived we haven't had tea.
Ngoja mpaka arudi. Wait until he returns.
Atanisumbua hata nikasirike? Will he bother me until I get angry?
Atumie dawa hii hadi apone. She should use this medicine until she gets well.
Karibu tuondoke. We're about to leave.

9. THE NEGATIVE SUBJUNCTIVE FOLLOWS VERBS OF REStrICTION AND PREVENTION e.g. kuzuia, to prevent; kukataza, to forbid; kukanya, to rebuke; kulinda, to protect; kuonya, to warn.

Walituzuia tusipite. They prevented us from passing.
Wazazi wamemkataza asiolewe mwaka huu. Her Her parents have forbidden her to get married this year.
Wakanyeni watoto wasigombane. Forbid Forbid the children to quarrel.
Chakula bora chatulinda tusipatwe na magonjwa. Nutritious food protects us from getting diseases.
Nilimwonya asirudie kosa lile. I I warned him not to repeat that mistake.

10. UNSUCCESSFUL EFFORT The subjunctive serves as a negative of the KA tense, also expresses a disappointment of some kind, a frustrated hope or an unfulfilled wish.

Walimtafuta wasimwone. They looked for him but did not find him.
Nilijaribu kufungua dirisha nisiweze. I tried to open the window but couldn't.
Tulisafiri kwa haraka tulivyoweza tusifike Arusha mapema. We travelled as fast as we could but didn't reach Arusha early.

11. VAGUE, USUALLY EXCLAMATORY INQUIRIES CONCERNING THE CAUSE OR MOTIVATION OF HUMAN ACTIONS

Kwa nini kitabu kachwe hapa? Why leave the book here?
Kwa nini aseme maneno hayo?
Why would he say that?
Akupige kwa nini?
Why should he beat you?

A rhetorical question in the negative often suggests that the speaker is reproving the omission of an action or gently urging that the action be performed.

Mbona usiende kwa miguu? Why don't you go by foot?
Kwa nini usimfukuze?
Why not chase him away?

12. ADVANCING A PROPOSITION AS A POSSIBILITY OR SUPPOSITION

Awe na nguvu kama nini, lakini simwogopi. No matter how strong he is, I'm not afraid of him.
Aelewe mambo yote, yamfaa nini asipotumia ujuzi wake? He may understand everything, but what good is it if he doesn't use his knowledge?

13. POSITIVE-NEGATIVE ALTERNATIVES These may be set forth simply by using the affirmative form followed immediately by the negative:

Niseme nisiseme? Should I speak or not?
Aende asiende?
Should she go or not?
Aimbe asiimbe, yote sawa.
Whether he sings or not, it's all the same.

The affirmative form may sometimes be a simple imperative, or a construction with the KI tense:

Penda usipende, utafanya tu. Whether you like it or not, you'll do it.
Ukipenda usipende, ni mamoja kwangu. Whether you like it or not, it's all one to me.

14. EMPHATIC USE WITH NA

Mwenye masikio na asikie! He who has ears, let him hear!
Ukitaka kwenda na uende.
If you want to go, so go then.
Na mvua inyeshe!
or: Mvua na ineyshe! So let it rain!

15. IDIOMATIC NEGATIVES

a. The idiomatic sije followed by the KA tense has the connotation of "lest" (a strong negative purpose: so you don't, so as not to).

Ufanye haraka usije ukachelewa. Hurry so you won't be late (or: lest you be late)
Mwangalie mtoto asije akaanguka. Look after the child lest she fall (so she doesn't fall)

b. The subjunctive form Usiseme! is idiomatically used to express "You have no idea!" or "You don't say!"

Mji huu mzuri sana, usafi wa barabara usiseme. This is a beautiful town, you have no idea how clean the streets are!
Jinsi watu walivyokuja wengi usiseme. The numbers of people who came - don't even try to describe it!

A response to an unexpected, startling bit of news:

Usiseme! You don't say!

Another version of this is: Sema kweli!

16. THE SUBJUNCTIVE WITH KA indicates that the action is to be carried out at some place other than that in which the words are spoken. A "going" is therefore implied.

Ngoja nikale. Wait and let me go and eat.
Nenda ukanune ndizi.
Go and buy bananas.
Akawashe taa.
Let him go and light the lamp.
Tukatayarishe chakula.
Let us (go and) prepare food.

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