Swahili: Unit 9 – Associatives, Possessives, and Other Modifiers


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

  • Properly indicate association among items
  • Properly indicate possession between items
  • Recognize other complex modifiers
  • Master the following vocabulary: Swahili Unit 9 Vocabulary


Lecture audio, if you wish to follow along:


You may recall the introductory questions, “jina lako nani?” — “what is your name?” Let’s break that question down into its grammatical components:
Jina: Noun meaning, “name.” Member of noun class 5
Lako: Lako is a possessive, meaning “your” in the second person singular. This possessive is formed by combining the possessive stem ‘-ako” with the L-” the possessive marker for noun class 5. Put them together, and you get “lako,” meaning “your thing that is a noun in class 5”
Nani: Question word meaning “who.” But you already knew that.
This question, “jina lako nani,” is a perfect introduction to the concept and function of possessives– my, your, his/hers, our, y’alls, their.

In Swahili, possessives are formed by combining a possessive stem with the appropriate possessive prefix for the noun class of the possessed noun. Each personal pronoun has its own possessive stem:
First person singular: –angu (my)
Second person singular: –ako (your)
Third person singular: –ake (his/hers)*
First person plural: -etu (our)
Second person plural: -enu (y’alls)
Third person plural: -ao (their)**
*All singular nouns use the 3rd person singular possessive stem
**All plural nouns use the 3rd person plural possessive stem
We’ll get to the possessive markers for each noun class in a moment.

You can also express possession or association, using the associative.
When speaking Swahili, you will very frequently identify or describe an object (or person) by associating it with something else. In Swahili, associatives are easily translated to mean “of,” as in “seeds of maize,” or “the name of 2Seeds,” or “the crops of this season,” or “teachers of the school of primary of Magoma.”
We form associatives by combining the associative stem “-a” with the appropriate associative prefix for the noun being described (the seeds, in ”seeds of maize,” or name, in “name of 2Seeds.”)
The associative and possessive prefixes are the same, and are as follows:

Noun Class Sample Noun Possessive/Assoc Prefix Possessives Associative
1 mtu w- Wangu, wako, wake, etc. Wa
2 watu w- Wangu, wako, wake, etc. Wa
3 mti w- Wangu, wako, wake, etc. Wa
4 miti y- Yangu, yako, yake, etc. Ya
5 tunda l- Langu, lako, lake etc. La
6 matunda y- Yangu, yako, yake, etc. Ya
7 kitu ch- Changu, chako, chake, etc. Cha
8 vitu vy- Vyangu, vyako, vyake etc. Vya
9 nyumba y- Yangu, yako, yake, etc. Ya
10 nyumba z- Zangu, zako, zake, etc. Za
11 ukuta w- Wangu, wako, wake, etc. Wa
14 upendo w- Wangu, wako, wake, etc. Wa
16/17 Nyumbani* kw- Kwangu, kwako, kwake, etc. Kwa

*Possessives and associatives for locative nouns take the noun class 17 prefix: kw-. You will most commonly use these with nouns like shambani or nyumbani, or the locative demonstratives (hapa, huko, kule, etc.) Even though the demonstratives hapa or hapo actually refer to noun class 16, Swahili speakers almost always use the noun class 17 prefix to form possessives and associatives for them.

Let’s take a look at some examples of the possessive:
Noun classes 1 & 2
Mwalimu wangu: My teacher
Mke wako: Your wife

Watoto wetu: Our children
Wakulima wao: Their farmers

Noun Classes 3 & 4
Mti wako: Your tree
Mkate wake: His/her bread

Mikopo yenu: Y’alls loans
Mitihani yao: Their exams

Noun Classes 5 & 6
Jina langu: My name
Shamba lako: Your shamba

Matunda yetu: Our fruit
Makosa yenu: Your mistakes

Noun Classes 7&8
Kitabu chake: His book
Kiti changu: My chair

Vitu vyao: Their things
Vitenge vyetu: Our pieces of fabric

Noun Classes 9&10
Nyumba yako: Your house
Chapati yake: His/her chapati

Mbegu zenu: Y’alls seeds
Sukari zao: Their sugar

Noun Classes 11 & 10
Ufunguo wangu: My key
Ukuta wake: Its wall

Funguo zetu: Our keys
Kuta zao: Their walls

Noun Class 14
Upendo wetu: Our love
Ushirikiano wao: Their partnership/collaboration

Noun Class 16/17 (Places indicated by the suffix -ni)

Nyumbani kwangu: My home

Shambani kwake: His shamba (as a specific place)

Let’s see how the associative looks in action now:
Noun Classes 1 &2
Mwanafunzi wa Kiswahili: A student of Swahili
Mzee wa Kwakiliga: An elder of Kwakiliga

Walimu wa kilimo:  Agriculture teachers (“Teachers of agriculture”)
Mjomba wa baba: Father’s uncle (“The uncle of father”)

Noun Classes 3 &4
Mkate wa ngano: Wheat bread (“bread of wheat”)
Mkopo wa kilimo: Agricultural loan (“loan of agriculture”)

Miti ya matunda: Fruit trees (“trees of fruit”)
Mitihani ya Kiswahili: Swahili tests (“tests of Swahili”)

Noun Classes 5 & 6
Jiko la nyumba: The stove/kitchen of the house
Jina la baba: Father’s name/surname (“Name of father”) 

Mashamba ya mahindi: Maize farms (“Farms of maize”)
Mavuno ya maharagwe: Bean harvest (“Harvests of beans”)

Noun Classes 7&8
Kitabu cha shule: School book (“book of school”)
Kitu cha umuhimu: An important thing (“thing of importance”)

Vyoo vya nyumba yangu: My house’s toilets (“Toilets of my house”)
Viti vya nyumba yake: His/her house’s chairs (“Chairs of his house”)

Noun Classes 9&10
Mbegu ya mahindi: Maize seed (“seed of maize”)
Bustani ya mtoto wangu: My child’s garden (“The garden of my child”)

Nyumba za watu: People’s houses (“houses of people”)
Kazi za shamba: Farm work (“work of the farm”)

Noun Classes 11 & 10
Ufunguo wa mlango huu: This door’s key (“The key of this door”)
Ukuta wa nyumba hio: That house’s wall (“The wall of that house”)

Funguo za milango hii: These doors’ keys (“The keys of these doors”)
Kuta za nyumba hizo: Those houses’ walls (“The walls of those houses”)

Noun Class 14
Upendo wa mungu: God’s love (“Love of God”)
Umoja wa wakulima wa Lutindi: Union (Oneness) of Farmers of Lutindi!

Noun Classes 16 &17 (Places indicated by the suffix -ni)

Shambani kwa Mzee Abbasi: The shamba (as a specific place) of Mzee Abbasi

Nyumbani kwa Mama Kitojo: The home of Mama Kitojo 

A final note on syntax: You will often hear and use possessives and associatives together within the same phrase, as in “My seeds of maize.” In these kinds of phrases, the possessive relationship comes before the associative. 

So the correct translation of “my seeds of maize” would be “mbegu zangu za mahindi.”
A couple other examples:
Bustani zao za mbogamboga: Their gardens of vegetables
Vitabu vyetu vya Kiswahili: Our Swahili books

For the particularly ambitious, here’s an example of correct syntax for a sentence combining all the parts of speech we’ve covered in this unit:
Miti yangu manne ya matunda: My four fruit trees.
So the order here is: subject + possessive + adjective + associative.
We’ll have more fun with syntax in later units!


-ote and -o-ote
Let’s turn our attention to the commonly used modifiers -ote (all) and -o-ote (any/some).
We use the “pronomial prefix” to shape -ote and -o-ote.  The pronomial prefix is what shapes possessives and associatives; when we use it with -ote and -o-ote, we also make some phonetic adjustments. So, we get the following modifiers for each noun class:

Noun Class Sample Noun Pronomial Prefix -ote (all/full) -o-ote (any/some)
1 mtu w- yeyote*
2 watu w- wote wowote
3 mti w- wote wowote
4 miti y- yote yoyote
5 tunda l- lote lolote
6 matunda y- yote yoyote
7 kitu ch- chote chochote
8 vitu vy- vyote vyovyote
9 nyumba y- yote yoyote
10 nyumba z- zote zozote
11/14 upendo w- wote wowote
16 mahali p- pote popote
17 mahali k- kote kokote

*Note that class 1 “yeyote” is irregular, beginning with “ye” despite taking the pronomial prefix “w-.” This is a legacy of the archaic Bantu prefix “yu-” for noun class 1.

A note on syntax: we use these modifiers after the nouns that they modify.

Let’s look now at these modifiers in action:

Mtoto yeyote anaweza kuenda shule. Any child can go to school

Wanakikundi wote watalima mashamba yao: All group members will cultivate their shambas

Nunua mkate wowote tu: Just buy any bread!

Miti yote imezaa matunda: All trees have produced fruit

Usitumie jembe lolote: You shouldn’t use any hand hoe.

Hatujauza mahindi yoyote: We have not sold any maize

Kitabu chochote kitafaa: Any book will be suitable

Tulielewa vitu vyote: We understood everything

Chukua vyovyote!: Take any of them!

Nitaandika na kalamu yoyote: I will write with any pen

Nitapanda mbegu hizi zote: I will plant all these seeds

Tutakaa popote!: We will stay anywhere!

Watalima kokote huku: They will cultivate anywhere in this general area


Note: Questions for the listening exercises are within the dialogue itself. Answers are in the written exercises doc

Swahili Unit 9 Worksheet

Swahili Unit 9 Worksheet Answers

Unit 9 Dialogues:


  1. Catriona · · Reply

    Should it say “associative” instead of “possessive” here (halfway down):

    Let’s see how the possessive looks in action now:
    Noun Classes 1 &2
    Mwanafunzi wa Kiswahili: A student of Swahili
    Mzee wa Kwakiliga: An elder of Kwakiliga

    1. Yes, thanks Catriona! We’ve updated the blog accordingly. Good catch 🙂

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