Swahili: Unit 5 – Noun Classes + STROVE = Grammar Magic


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

  • Conjugate verbs in all basic tenses for nouns of all classes covered in Unit 4
  • Master the following vocabulary: Swahili Unit 5 Vocabulary


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


In the last three units, we’ve covered our two pillars of Swahili grammar: the STROVE system of verb conjugation and Noun Classes. Now we’ll look at how these two come together in the form of noun class subject prefixes: For the purpose of verb conjugation, every noun class has a distinct subject prefix, except for noun classes 1 & 2 (which also take the personal pronoun prefixes):

Noun Class

Noun Class Prefix

Representative Noun

Subject Prefix

1 m- / mw- Mtu (person) a-*
2 wa- Watu (people) wa-*
3 m- / mw- Mti (tree) u-
4 mi- Miti (trees) i-
5 – (no prefix) Tunda (fruit) li-
6 ma- Matunda (fruits) ya-
7 ki- / ch- Kitu (thing) ki-
8 vi- / vy- Vitu (things) vi-
9 – (no prefix) Nyumba (house) i-
10 – (no prefix) Nyumba (houses) zi-
11 u- Ukuta (wall) u-
14 u- Upendo (love) u-
16 [pa-] [mahali] (place) pa-
17 [ku-] [mahali] (place) ku-
18 [m-] [mahali] (place) m-

* The basic subject prefixes for noun classes 1 & 2 are “A-” and “Wa-” respectively, which you’ll recognize as the 3rd person singular and plural subject prefixes. You use the noun class subject prefixes just as you do the personal pronoun subject prefixes. Let’s look at a few examples:

Noun Classes  1 & 2

Mwalimu anapanda mbegu: The teacher is planting seeds

Walimu wanapanda mbegu: The teachers are planting seeds

Note: There are a significant number of human and animate nouns (e.g. baba, mama, kaka, shangazi, rafiki) that are not in noun classes 1&2.  Though they are in other classes, they still take the noun class 1 & 2 subject prefixes for verb conjugation. Example: Mama anapika, rafiki wanatembea, etc.

Noun Classes 3 & 4

Mti umezaa matunda: The tree has borne/produced fruit

Miti imezaa matunda: The trees have borne/produced fruit

Noun Classes 5 & 6

Tunda liliiva leo: The fruit ripened today

Matunda yaliiva leo: The fruits ripened today

Noun Classes 7 & 8

Kitu kinafaa: The thing is suitable

Vitu vinafaa: The things are suitable

Noun Classes 9 & 10

Nyumba itatumia umeme: The house will use electricity

Nyumba zitatumia umeme: The houses will use electricity

Noun Classes 11 & 10

Ukuta ulivunjika jana: The wall broke yesterday

Kuta zilivunjika jana: The walls broke yesterday

Noun Class 14

Upendo unastawi: Love is flourishing/thriving

Noun Classes 16,17,18

Our locative noun classes appear most commonly in the form of the words which translate to mean “there is” or “there are:” kuna, and, more rarely, pana.

Take another look at these words; can you guess what’s happening grammatically, in order to create meaning equivalent to “there is” or “there are?” Hint: think back to the conjugation of the phrase “kuwa na…”

Here’s your answer: “kuna” and “pana” are, technically, conjugations of the verb phrase “kuwa na” in the present tense for the noun classes 17 and 16! We’ve taken our subject prefixes for these noun classes (“ku-” and “pa-“) and combined them with the prepositional “na” to create phrases that literally mean “the place has.”

These phrases actually occur most commonly in their negative forms, hakuna (shout out to Timon and Pumba), hamna (neg. class 18) and hapana : “there isn’t”, “there aren’t”, or simply “no.” These will be covered more thoroughly in unit 8.


This piece of advice will feel familiar: mastering the noun class subject prefixes is just a matter of memorization and practice, practice, practice. Taking the time now to master both will accelerate your learning curve immensely once you arrive in Tanzania.


Listening comprehension questions for Unit 5 dialogues are in the worksheet.

Swahili Unit 5 Worksheet

Swahili Unit 5 Worksheet Answers

Unit 5 Dialogue 1:

Unit 5 Dialogue 2:

One comment

  1. Lovely lesson!

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