By the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- Describe location in general, specific, and internal terms
- Use prepositions properly
- Create Relative Clauses and use Direct and Relative Infixes in conjugated verbs
- Master the following vocabulary: Swahili Unit 11 Vocabulary
One of the questions you’ll hear most frequently is, “Uko wapi?”—where are you? People always want to know. You can express location in Swahili in three ways: general location (The book is here Korogwe!), specific location (The book is right there on the table!), and inside/within (the book is inside the bag!). Each order of location (general, specific, within) actually has its own noun class. Like all other noun classes, these locative classes have their own set of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes by which they modify other parts of speech.
The most important of these to remember are the Locative Suffixes, the Subject Prefixes, and (for lack of a better term) the “Location Demonstratives”–“here,” “there,” and “there in a remote/far away place.” The chart below breaks each of these out:
There far away
Using Locative in the Present Tense (Affirmative and Negative)
To describe the location of an item in the present tense, we form a unique kind of “locative verb” by combining the subject prefix* of the item with an appropriate locative suffix. Let’s return to our question, “Uko wapi?” and break it down. “Uko” is a combination of the subject prefix “u-” (second person singular) and the locative suffix “-ko” (general location), and means “you are.” The combination of subject prefix and locative suffix effectively forms a conjugation of the verb “to be” in the present tense. This holds true for all noun classes and each of the location types. Some more examples:
Kitabu kipo hapa : The book is right here
Mimi niko sokoni: I am at the market
Juma na Hadija wako kule Magoma: Juma and Hadijah are way over there in Magoma
Hela imo mfukoni: The money is in the pocket.
*Note: All locative prefixes match the subject prefix for all noun classes and pronouns, except for the third person singular yeye, which takes the locative prefix “yu-”
Because the locative suffixes themselves are tied to a certain kind of location, they are often used alone, without the location demonstrative. For example, you might go visit Juma at his home, office, or shamba. If someone else receives you there, you could ask that person, “Juma yupo?” If Juma is there, the person would respond with a simple, “Yupo”—he is here.
If Juma were not present, the person would respond “Hayupo”—he is not here. To negate locatives, we simply attach the negative prefix “ha-” to the subject prefix, just as we do when negating regular verbs. Just as with basic verb negation, the first person prefix changes from “ni-” to “si-.” So the negations of our previous examples would be:
Kitabu hakipo: The book is not here
Mimi siko sokoni: I am not in the market
Juma na Hadija hawako kule Magoma : Juma and Hadija are not in Magoma
Hela haimo mfukoni : The food is not in the stove
Using Locatives in Other Tenses
To express location in the past and present tenses, we combine the verb kuwa with the appropriate locative suffix. In nearly all cases, though, we use the specific locative suffix (-po) when describing location in other tenses, and in common speech people tend to say “-kuwepo” rather than “-kuwapo,” slurring the “a” into an “e” sound.
So, in common usage we use -kuwepo for all of the classes of location: general, specific, inside. Remember that “kuwa” is a monosyllabic verb, and we conjugate “-kuwepo” in the past and present tenses just as we would the regular verb “kuwa”:
Kesho mimi nitakuwepo shuleni : I will be at school
Miti ilikuwepo kule : The trees were way over there
Vikundi hivi vimekuwepo kwa muda mrefu: These groups have been here for a long time.
When negating locatives in the past and future tenses, the rules are similar to negating the (monosyllabic) verb “kuwa.” We keep the infinitive “-ku-” when negating in the past perfect and future tenses, but drop it when negating in the simple past tense:
Adamu na Rubeni hawajakuwepo hapa: Adamu and Rubeni have not been here
Machungwa hayatakuwepo mwezi ujao : There won’t be any oranges around here next month
Jembe halikuwepo shambani : The hand hoe was not on the shamba (remember to drop the infinitive -ku-!)
The -ni Suffix and Kwenye
When describing location in Swahili we often do so by turning nouns into “places.” We can do so in two ways. The first is by attaching the suffix “-ni” to the end of the noun: shambani, sokoni, nyumbani. There is a key difference between “nyumba” and “nyumbani”–we use “nyumba” to mean only the physical structure of the house, but use “nyumbani” to describe the house as a place. The same basic rule holds true with our other examples.
Nina mashamba matatu (I have 3 shambas) vs Tunaenda shambani sasa (We are going to the shamba now).
Tunatafuta masoko kwa mazao haya (We are looking for markets for these crops) vs Tutauza mazao haya sokoni kesho (We will sell these crops at the market tomorrow)
Not all nouns can be modified to become locations in this way, though. And, unfortuantely, there is no hard and fast rule that we can use to determine which can be modified in this way, and which cannot. For nouns that cannot take the suffix “-ni” we use the modifer kwenye to turn those nouns into locations. “Kwenye” is the Noun Class 17 form of the modifier “-enye,” which means “having.” So “kwenye” literally means “the place having.” Some common examples:
Tupo kwenye gari: We are in the car (lit: we are in the place having a car”
Tupo kwenye kikao: We are in the meeting
Tulipanda kule kwenye miti: We planted in that place/area having trees
Note: Occasionally you’ll see or hear people use the other locative prefixes with “-enye” to describe more specific or internal places. For example, we could change our last example to be: tulipanda pale penye mti, if we wanted to describe a small and precise planting area next to a single tree.
Relative and Object Infixes
Thus far, we’ve focused only on the S, T, V, and E components of STROVE. We’ll conclude this unit by filling out the R and the O of STROVE–the Relative and Object infixes.
Let’s start with our “R.” We use the relative infix to create “relative clauses.” In English, we build relative clauses around relative pronouns like: who, whose, whom, that, which, where, and when: The boys who are running, The boat that sails, where we will go, when we will buy.
In Swahili, we have an all purpose relative pronoun, “amba-,” that we modify according to the noun class of the object(s) being described in the relative clause. The noun class markers, with completed pronoun, for each class are as follows:
*The -po marker is also used for time, as in “when” something did or will happen
We use “-amba-” to create a long form of relative clauses. Some examples:
Tunasoma vitabu ambavyo vinafundisha historia ya Tanzania: We are reading books which teach the history of Tanzania
Wanavuna mazao ambayo walipanda mwezi wa tatu: We are harvesting crops that we planted in March
Anaongea na watu ambao hawajui Kiingereza: He is speaking with people who do not know English
Tunapanga ambapo tutarudi nyumbani: We are planning when we will return home
If we are feeling concise, though, we can use the relative infix within (most) conjugated verbs to create a relative clause, rather that using the relative pronoun. Rather than attaching the relative marker to the end of “amba-“, we stick it in our verb immediately after the tense marker:
Tunasoma vitabu vinavyofundisha historia ya Tanzania
Wanavuna mazao waliyopanda mwezi wa tatu
When using the relative infix in the future tense, we add “-ka” to the tense marker “ta-“:
Tunapanga tutakaporudi nyumbani
Tutaonana utakapofika Korogwe: We will see each other when you arrive in Korogwe
We cannot, however, use the relative infix within verbs conjugated in the past perfect tense. When constructing relative clauses in this tense, we have to use the long form pronoun:
Tunakula ndizi ambazo zimeiva vizuri: We are eating bananas which have ripened well
Watoto ambao wameenda shuleni wamesoma sayansi: Children who have gone to school have studied science
We can only use relative infixes within negated verbs of the present tense. When we do so, we just use the negative marker -si- rather than the full negative subject prefix, and we do not change our verb end:
Watoto wasioenda: Children who do not go
Ndizi zisizoiva: Bananas which are not ripe
When constructing relative clauses in any other negated tense, we use the long form pronoun:
Watoto ambao hawakuenda: Children who did not go
Ndizi ambazo hazitaiva: Bananas which will not ripen
Vitabu ambao havijafundisha: Books which have not taught
Direct and Indirect Objects
The direct object of a sentence is the thing to which a verb gets done. In the sentence “I throw the ball,” the ball is the direct object. An indirect object is the the thing which receives the direct object in a sentence. In the sentence, “I throw the ball to John,” John is the indirect object of the sentence.
In Swahili, we can (or must) use Object Infixes within conjugated verbs to indicate direct or indirect objects within a sentence. We use direct object infixes when the direct object of the sentence is clear from the context. We must use an indirect object infix whenever a person or animate object is the indirect object of the sentence. We can only use one object infix within a verb, so because we must use the indirect object infix when a person is our indirect object, this takes priority over the direct object infix. The Object infixes for each noun class are as follows:
“Je, utavuna mahindi leo?” “Ndiyo, tutayavuna:” Will you harvest maize today? Yes, we will harvest it.
“Viti hivi ni vichafu sana . Uvisafishe”: These chairs are very dirty. You should clean them
“Watu wamekata miti mingi. Tutaipanda tena”: People have cut down many trees. We will plan them again.”
Nitampa Juma mbegu zake: I will give Juma his seeds
Tuliwauliza maswali mengi: We asked them many questions
There are also object infixes for each of the personal pronouns. As in, I gave you the ball, or we sold them 3 cucumbers. Remember that anytime you have a human indirect object in a sentence you must use an object infix. The personal pronoun object infixes are as follows:
|Ninyi||-mi- / -wa-|
Some examples of the pronoun prefixes in use:
Nitamfundisha Kiswahili: I will teach her Swahili
Aliniuliza maswali machache tu: He asked me just few questions
Hatutawapa mbegu mpya: We will not give them new seeds
Note that when we use object infixes with monosyllabic verbs, we drop the infinitive -ku-.
For a list of prepositions and examples of their use, see the unit vocab sheet
Unit 11 Dialogue