By the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- Properly conjugate in the affirmative and negative subjunctive
- Give polite commands
- Use the “-sha-” infix to indicate action that has already happened
- Recognize the present indefinite tense
- Use the narrative tense when telling stories in the past tense
- Master the following grammar: Swahili Unit 12 Vocabulary
We use the subjunctive form in Swahili to express the following:
1) A desire or request to do something
2) A suggestion that something should (or should not) be done
3) A polite command that something may (or may not) be done
4) Uncertainty about whether something will, should, or may be done
Conjugating in the Affirmative Subjunctive
The rules for conjugating a verb in the affirmative subjunctive are as follows:
1) We use our usual subject prefixes
2) We drop the tense marker (including the infinitive -ku- for monosyllabic verbs)
3) Our verb root remains unchanged (of course!)
4) If our verb end is “-a” we change it to “-e.” If our verb end is “-i” or “-u” we do not change it.
Upande pilipili hoho msimu huu: You should plant green peppers this season
Ufanye kazi sasa: You should work now
Tuende shamba?: Should we go to the shamba?
Tunataka wajaribu mazao mapya: We want them to try new crops
Nitaomba mvua inyeshe : I will pray that it rains
When we conjugate monosyllabic verbs in the affirmative subjunctive, we also drop the infinitive “-ku-“:
Tule: We should eat
Waje kesho: They should come
Unywe soda: You should drink a soda
Conjugating in the Negative Subjunctive
To conjugate in the negative subjunctive (to imply suggestion, desire, or command that something should not or may not be done), we follow the same basic rules, but add the negative subjunctive tense marker “-si-” in our tense marker slot:
Tunda lisiive: The fruit should not ripen
Usinywe maji baridi: You should not drink cold water.
Tunaomba msiondoke kesho: We request that you all not leave tomorrow
When a softer touch is necessary or appropriate, we use the polite command form, which is the same as the subjunctive tense.
Tule!: Let’s eat!
Ufunge mlango!: You should close the door!
Mfuate maelekezo!: Follow directions! (you all)
Tuende!: Let’s go!
When giving negative commands, we follow the rules of the negative subjunctive:
Usinunue!: You shouldn’t buy it!
Msisahau!: Don’t forget (you all)!
Usichelewe!: Don’t be late/delay!
Msiondoke!: You all shouldn’t leave!
Usiwe na wasiwasi: Don’t worry! (lit: Don’t have worries!)
THE ALREADY INFIX
Switching gears, a quick note on a frequently used infix: “-sha-” to indicate that an action has already taken place. This infix is always placed immediately after the tense marker. The infix is often used with “tayari,” also indicating that something has already happened.
Tumeshakula: We have already eaten
Nimeshafanya hivyo: I’ve already done
Wameshauza matango yote: They have already sold all of the cucumbers.
“Je, mmeshamaliza kazi?” | “Eh, tayari!”: “Have you all already finished work?” | “Yeah, (we’ve finished) already.”
THE INDEFINITE PRESENT AND NARRATIVE
A final note on two tense modifications that you will use frequently:
First, the Indefinite present tense: In most cases, when you are speaking in the first person singular / present tense, you will drop the subject prefix “ni-” completely. So, instead of saying “ninataka maji” you would simply say “nataka maji.” Instead of “Ninaomba chakula,” you would say “naomba chakula.” This is the difference between saying “I am wanting water” and “I want water.” In common speech, though, you will only make this change in the first person.
If you read the newspapers, you will see this tense used for other subjects. It’s formed by a slurring of the subject prefix and the -a vowel of the present tense marker:
Wasema: You say (Note, if you say something that your listener does not understand, they may respond with “Wasema?”
Asema: He/she says
Twasema: We say
Wasema: They say
No need to worry about these other subjects for now–just remember that when speaking for yourself in the present tense, you generally drop the “ni-!”
To close, a note on the narrative tense: when you are narrating a series of events that all occurred in the past tense, you generally change the tense marker from “-li-” to “-ka-” after the first instance of the past tense. For example:
Jana nilienda sokoni. Nikauza mahindi yangu, halafu nikanunua mafuta na sukari. Nikarudi nyumbani saa mojo jioni
In some cases, when the past tense is obviously implied, speakers will jump right to the narrative tense. In these instances, the -ka- tense will often be paired with the -sha- infix:
“Juma yupo?” | “Hapana, akashaenda nyumbani?”