Swahili: Unit 2 – Personal Pronouns and Verb Conjugation in Present Tense

UNIT OBJECTIVES

By the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  • Recognize Swahili verbs in their infinitive form
  • Identify the components of conjugated verbs in the present tense
  • Conjugate Swahili verbs in the present tense with human subjects
  • Master Unit 2 Vocabulary: Swahili Unit 2 Vocabulary

Here’s the lecture audio, if you’d like to listen along while you review the materials:

NEW CONTENT

VERB CONJUGATION: S-T-R-O-V-E

Swahili Verb Construction

Swahili verbs are always “constructed”—they are built, piece by piece, according to a permanent design. There are six basic building blocks that can be used to construct a Swahili verb. They are:

S: Subject Prefix

T: Tense Marker Prefix

R: Relative Object Infix

O: Direct Object Infix

V: Verb Root

E: Verb End

Each individual “block” has its own variants, but whenever you are building a verb, the individual blocks are ALWAYS combined in the following order: S-T-R-O-V-E

Not all blocks are used in every verb conjugation. But, again, if and when they are used, they will always appear in the same place.

In this summer curriculum, we’ll just be focusing on the basic units: S-T-V-E

Basic Subject Prefixes (Personal Pronouns)

The subject prefix represents the verb’s subject—the person or thing that is doing the action

The Swahili personal pronouns are as follows:

PERSON

Singular

Plural

SWAHILI

ENGLISH

SWAHILI

ENGLISH

First

Mimi

I

Sisi

We

Second

Wewe

You

Ninyi

You All

Third

Yeye

He/She

Wao

They

Each personal pronoun has its own subject prefix. They are:

PERSON

Singular

Plural

Pronoun

Subject Prefix

Pronoun

Subject Prefix

First

Mimi

Ni-

Sisi

Tu-

Second

Wewe

U-

Ninyi

M-

Third

Yeye

A-

Wao

Wa-

Note: Because subject prefixes give a clear indication of who the subject is, it’s not necessary to state the personal pronoun when conjugating a verb. Swahili speakers only use the personal pronoun before a conjugated verb when the really want to emphasize who is doing the action.

Basic Tense Markers

The tense marker indicates the verb’s tense—whether it is happening right now, in the past, in the future, etc.

Tense

Tense Marker

Infinitive Ku-
Present -na-
Simple Past -li-
Past Participle -me-
Future -ta-
Conditional/Continuing -ki-
Conditional -nge-

For this unit, we’ll just be focusing on the infinitive and present tense markers: Ku- and -na-. We will cover the other tenses in the next unit.

Basic Swahili Verb Roots

The verb root is the only “block” in the verb construction that can never be changed. The verb root is, of course, the verb itself.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Notice that all the verb roots below end in a vowel (“a”, “e”, “i” or “u”). These vowels at the end are not actually a part of the verb root. They are the Verb End. So, the actual verb root for “-enda” is just “-end-”. It is the –end- that is inviolable. You’ll encounter later the ways that new verbs, variation on the theme of “going,” can be made by changing the Verb End.

Here are ten basic verbs (Ends attached) to memorize:

Verb

Definition

-amka Wake up
-enda Go
-fanya Do
-fika Arrive
-itwa To be called
-ishi Live
-lala Sleep
-leta Bring
-lima Cultivate
-panda Plant or climb
-pika Cook
-taka Want

 

Verb End

All Swahili words end in a vowel. With verbs, technically the final vowel (basic verb end) is not actually a part of the verb root, but is its own distinct entity. So, the technical verb root for “weza” is actually “wez.” As you will see later, the verb end can be changed, to change the meaning of the verb.

Interesting linguistic note: You can generally tell the origins of a word based on its basic ending. Verb roots ending in “a” (weza, taka, penda) are generally of Bantu origin. Words ending in “i”, “e”, and “u” are generally of Arabic origin (or another foreign language).

 

Basic Conjugation

Infinitive Verbs

*Note: Infinitive verbs (“To walk”, “to run”, “to jump”) do not have a subject, so the first marker to appear is the tense marker (Ku-)

Ku-amk-a –> Kuamka (To wake up)

  • Ku-: Infinitive tense marker
  • -amk-: Verb root (wake)
  • -a: Basic verb end

Ku-fany-a –> Kufanya (To do)

  • Ku-: Infinitive tense marker
  • -fany-: Verb root (do)
  • -a: Basic verb end

Ku-fik-a –> Kufika (To arrive)

  • Ku-: Infinitive tense marker
  • -fik-: Verb root (arrive)
  • -a: Basic verb end

The most basic verb conjugations (not including the infinitive form) are built by combining a Subject Prefix (S), Tense Marker (T), Verb Root (V), and Verb End (E):

Present tense

Ni-na-lal-a –> Ninalala (I am sleeping)

  • Ni-: Subject prefix (1st person singular)
  • -na-: Tense marker (present tense)
  • -lal-: Verb root (sleep)
  • -a: Basic verb end

U-na-lal-a –> Unalala (You are sleeping)

  • U-: Subject prefix (2nd person singular)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -lal-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

A-na-lal-a –> Analala (He/she is sleeping)

  • A-: Subject prefix (3rd person singular)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -lal-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

Tu-na-lal-a –> Tunalala (We are sleeping)

  • Tu-: Subject prefix (1st person plural)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -lal-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

M-na-lal-a –> Mnalala (You all are sleeping)

  • M-: Subject prefix (2nd person plural)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -lal-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

Wa-na-lal-a –> Wanalala (They are sleeping)

  • Wa-: Subject prefix (3rd person plural)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -lal-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

Another example, using the verb kutaka (to want).

Ni-na-tak-a –> Ninataka (I want)

  • Ni-: Subject prefix (1st person singular)
  • -na-: Tense marker (present tense)
  • -tak-: Verb root (sleep)
  • -a: Basic verb end

U-na-tak-a –> Unataka (You want)

  • U-: Subject prefix (2nd person singular)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -tak-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

A-na-tak-a –> Anataka (He/she wants)

  • A-: Subject prefix (3rd person singular)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -tak-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

Tu-na-tak-a –> Tunataka (We want)

  • Tu-: Subject prefix (1st person plural)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -tak-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

M-na-tak-a –> Mnataka (You all want)

  • M-: Subject prefix (2nd person plural)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -tak-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

Wa-na-tak-a –> Wanataka (They want)

  • Wa-: Subject prefix (3rd person plural)
  • -na-: Tense marker
  • -lal-: Verb root
  • -a: Basic verb end

PRACTICE ACTIVITIES

Activity 1:  Worksheet

Swahili Unit 2 Worksheet

Swahili Unit 2 Worksheet Answers

Activity 2: Verb Conjugation

Let’s practice. Conjugate each of the following verbs in the present tense for all subjects. Use the recordings to check your answers.

Kuenda

Kuleta

Kupanda

Now, how do you say the following? Check answers against the audio:

I am living:

We want:

She is cooking:

They are cultivating:

He is doing:

You all are arriving:

Activity 3: Listening and Translation

Use the following written format for the activity:

Verb:  ______________

S:  ______

T:  ______

V:  ______

E:  ______

Translation (if in a sentence, translate whole sentence):  ____________________

12 comments

  1. Where can I find the answers to the listening Activity 3 (Unit 2)? Or at least the transcription of the Swahili sentences heard?

  2. Excellent lesson!!!!!

  3. Thank you so much!

  4. Great! The only place on the net I found this that well explain. Thank you so much!

    1. You’re welcome, Rita! We hope you’re continuing to learn Kiswahili :).

  5. David · · Reply

    Awesome. Nzuri Sana!

  6. Gail Antonucci · · Reply

    I love these lessons, the Swahili is finally making sense and the vocabulary is not too much but does challenge me each week

  7. Great I love this!! thank you

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  9. Jeannette · · Reply

    Wow! I get it now!!!

  10. I really appreciate the education you provide!

  11. Tatjana Kaliste · · Reply

    safi sana,asante!

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