Learn Swahili With Us
Swahili is one of the easiest languages to learn. Here are a few basic things to know about Swahili:
Swahili verbs always carry with them the subject (and sometimes the object) and the tense.
For example, Ninakula, is a complete sentence which means “I am eating”. Ni- prefix stands for the subject “I”, the -na- affix stands for “am” showing the tense i.e. the “present continuous” tense, and -kula is the root of the verb “eat”. Another example, Alitupa zawadi which means “He/She gave us gifts”.
First of all note that in the Swahili language, the pronouns are the same for all the genders – he, him, she, and her are not distinguishable in Swahili – same words, prefixes, affixes and suffixes are used. The well sought after “gender equality” is in-built in the Swahili language!! Now back to the sentence.
The prefix A- stands for the subject “He” or “She”, the -li- affix indicates the past tense, the -tu- affix stands for the object “us”, and -pa is the root of the verb “give”.
Nilikula – I ate
Nimekula – I have eaten
Ninakula – I am eating
Nitakula – I will eat
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Between peers: “Habari!” and the greeted answers, “Nzuri!”.
Between peers: “Hujambo?” (Are you fine?) and the greeted answers, “Sijambo!” (I’m fine!)
Young to older: “Shikamoo!” (originally it meant “I touch your feet” as a sign of respect) and the greeted answers, ” Marahabaa!” (I acknowledge your respect!). Personal Pronouns.
English – Swahili
I – Mimi
We – Sisi
You (singular) – Wewe
You (plural) – nyinyi
He – Yeye
She – Yeye
They – Wao
English – Swahili
And – Na
Bad – Mbaya
Bicycle – Baiskeli
Bitter – Chungu
Car – Gari
Cold – Baridi
Danger – Hatari
Drink (noun) – Kinywaji
Drink (verb) – Kunywa
Eat – Kula
Excuse me! – Samahani!
Food – Chakula
Friend – Rafiki
Good – Nzuri
Goodbye! – Kwaheri!
Help me, please! – Nisaidie, tafadhali!
Here – Hapa
Hot – Moto
How? – Vipi?
I am angry. – Nimekasirika.
I am traveling. – Ninasafiri.
I am happy. – Nimefurahi.
I can speak Swahili. – Ninaweza kusema Kiswahili
I can’t speak Swahili. – Siwezi kusema Kiswahili.
I love you! – Ninakupenda!
Motorcycle – Pikipiki
No! – Hapana!
OK! – Sawa!
Please – Tafadhali
Sorry! (apologize) – Samahani!
Sorry! (sympathize) – Pole!
Sweet – Tamu
Thank you! – Asante!
Thank you very much! – Asante sana!
There – Pale
Very – Sana
Water – Maji
Welcome! – Karibu!
What? – Nini?
When? – Wakati gani?
Where? – Wapi?
Where are you going to? – Unakwenda wapi?
Which? – Ipi?
Yes! – Ndio!
Days of the Week
In Swahili, Saturday is the first day of the week. The sixth day of the week, Thursday, is mostly pronounced as “Alkhamisi” to match the way it is pronounced in its Arabic origin. Thursday and Friday both are of Arabic origin. They probably replaced the original Bantu names of those days
due to their special place in the Islamic religion. Note that in Arabic, “Alkhamis” means the fifth day of the Arabic week while Thursday is actually
the sixth day of the Swahili week! Sort of we ended up with two fifth days of the week: “Jumatano” and “Alkhamisi”!
English – Swahili
Saturday – Jumamosi (literally: first day of the week)
Sunday – Jumapili (literally: second day of the week)
Monday – Jumatatu (literally: third day of the week)
Tuesday – Jumanne (literally: fourth day of the week)
Wednesday – Jumatano (literally: fifth day of the week)
Thursday – Alhamisi (Arabic: fifth day of the week)
Friday – Ijumaa (Arabic: the day of congregational prayer)
Habari! – (Hello!/Hi!)
Nzuri! – (Good!/Fine!)
Ninaitwa Charles. Wewe unaitwaje? – (My name is Charles. What’s your name?)
Ninaitwa Mary. Nimefurahi kukujua. – (My name is Mary. I’m pleased to know you.)
Unazungumza Kiswahili? – (Do you speak Swahili?)
Ndio! Ninazungumza Kiswahili. – (Yes! I speak Swahili.)
Kidogo tu! – (Just a little bit!)
Hapana! Sizungumzi Kiswahili. Ninazungumza Kiingereza tu! – (No! I don’t speak Swahili. I only speak English!)
Ninatokea Marekani. Wewe unatokea wapi? – (I’m from the United States of America. Where are you from?)
Ninatokea Japani. Nipo hapa kwa matembezi. – (I’m from Japan. I’m visiting here.)
Ninatokea Uingereza. Nipo hapa kwa kazi. – (I’m from U.K. I’m here on business.)
Ninatokea Ujerumani. Nimekuja kujifunza Kiswahili. – (I’m from Germany. I’ve come to learn Swahili.)
Kwaheri! Nimefurahi kukutana na wewe. – (Goodbye! I’m pleased to meet you.)
Karibu! Nimefurahi pia kukutana na wewe. – (Goodbye! I’m also pleased to meet you.)
Utapenda kunywa nini? – (What would you like to drink?)
– Nitakunywa maji tu. Nina kiu sana! – (I’ll just drink water. I’m very thirsty.)
Nitakunywa kahawa bila maziwa. – (I’ll drink coffee without milk.)
Nitakunywa chai na maziwa na sukari kidogo. – (I’ll drink tea with milk and little sugar.)
Nitakunywa soda. CocaCola, tafadhali. – (I’ll drink soda. CocaCola, please.)
Tafadhali niletee chakula moto haraka. Nina njaa sana!– (Please bring me some hot food quickly. I’m very hungry!)
Huu hapa wali, samaki, mbatata, na saladi. Nitakuletea keki baadaye. – (Here is rice, fish, potatoes, and salad. I’ll bring you cake)
It is interesting to note that in the Swahili culture the day starts at sunrise (unlike in the Arab world where the day starts at sunset, and in the
Western world where the day starts at midnight). Sunrise in East Africa, being exactly at the Equator, happens every day at approximately
6:00 a.m. And for that reason, 6:00 a.m. is “0:00 morning” Swahili time. By “Swahili time” I mean the time as spoken in Swahili.
So the hands of a watch or clock meant to read Swahili time would always point to a number opposite to the number for the actual time as
spoken in English. That is, the Swahili time anywhere in the world (not just East Africa) is delayed by 6 hours.
Therefore 7:00 a.m. is “1:00 morning” (saa moja asubuhi)
Swahili time; midnight is “6:00 night” (saa sita usiku)
Swahili time. 5:00 a.m. is “11:00 early morning” (saa kumi na moja alfajiri) Swahili time.
Note also that the Swahili time doesn’t use “noon” as the reference as in a.m. (before noon) and p.m. (after noon). The time is spoken using
“alfajiri” which is the early morning time during which the morning light has started to shine but the sun has not risen yet; “asubuhi” which is
the morning time between sunrise and a little before noon; “mchana” which is from around noon to around 3:00 p.m.; “alasiri” which is from
around 3:00 p.m. to sunset; “jioni” which is the entire time period from around 3:00 p.m. up to a little before 7:00 p.m.; and “usiku” which is
the entire time period from around 7:00 p.m. to early morning.
English – Swahili
1 – Moja
40 – Arubaini
2 – Mbili
50 – Hamsini
3 – Tatu
55 – Hamsini na tano
5 – Tano
70 – Sabini
English – Swahili
Time – Saa
Hour – Saa
Watch/Clock – Saa
Morning – Asubuhi
Evening – Jioni/Usiku
Afternoon – Mchana
Late afternoon – Alasiri/Jioni
Dusk – Magharibi
Night – Usiku
Elephant – Tembo
Giraffe – Twiga
Lion – Simba
Wildebeest – Nyumbu
Leopard – Chui
Cheetah – Duma
Zebra – Pundamilia
Great apes – Sokwe
Hippopotamus – Kiboko
Crocodile – Mamba
Buffalo – Nyati
Impala– Swala pala
Crocodile – Ngiri
Wild Dog – Mbwa Pori
Hyena – Fisi