Appendix:Swahili noun classes

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Swahili noun classes[edit]

Swahili nouns are, like those in other Bantu languages, noted for a system of semantically based classing, which affects not only nouns but also their modifiers (adjectives, numbers, demonstratives) and verbs. Just as gender accord is required in many Indo-European languages (e.g., French, Spanish, German, Russian), the modifiers and verbs associated with a given noun must show class agreement with the noun by using certain prefixes. This results in marked alliteration:

Those two good people fell.

M-wa class[edit]

This class is also known as Class I (in the singular) and Class II (in the plural). It is used to refer to people almost solely; the two notable exceptions are mnyama (animal) and mdudu (insect), which both serve to categorise animate objects. These prefixes may be added to adjective, noun, or verb stems to express the idea that a person has that characteristic, like Kenya (Kenya) → Mkenya (Kenyan), or -gonjwa (sick) → mgonjwa (sick person).

Adjectives agree with the same prefixes as the noun, but verbs agree with the prefix a- in the singular and wa- in the plural.

Prefix: m-, mw-, mu-
mtuperson.
mtotochild.
Plural prefix: wa-, w-
watupeople.
watotochildren.

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili m-wa class nouns.

M-mi class[edit]

This class is also known as Class III (in the singular) and Class IV (in the plural). It is used to refer to inanimates almost solely, but Swahili considers plants and groupings of animals or people to be inanimate. Natural phenomena and active body parts also belong in this category, as well as anything inanimate that has a connection to one of the concepts listed above, like an object made from a plant. These prefixes may be added to noun stems to express the name of a plant that bears a certain fruit, like tende (date) → mtende (date palm).

Adjectives agree with the same prefixes as the noun, but verbs agree with the prefix u- in the singular and i- in the plural.

Prefix: m-, mw-, mu-
mtitree.
mwakayear.
muhogocassava.
Plural prefix: mi-, my-
mititrees.
miakayears.
mihogocassavas.

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili m-mi class nouns.

Ji - Ma class[edit]

This class is also known as Class V (in the singular) and Class VI (in the plural). It is used to refer to a wide variety of items, especially the names of fruits (and other round things), and collectives, inanimate objects that are usually found in groups, like jino (tooth). Some of these collectives may only exist in the plural forms, and these usually refer to liquids or small things that can literally or metaphorically cover wide expanses. The Ji-ma class prefixes may be added to noun stems to express an augmentative, like nyoka (snake) → joka (serpent).

This class was traditionally used for foreign loanwords because the singular did not need a prefix, but such words are usually in the N class now, although they are often given Ma class concords and the ma- plural by many speakers. There are a couple words in the U class that take a Ma class plural, and some N class words that may take a Ma class plural to imply collectivity.

Adjectives take no prefix in the singular unless they begin with a vowel, and take ma- in the plural, but verbs agree with the prefix li- in the singular and ya- in the plural.

Prefix: ji-, j-, or no prefix
jitugiant.
yaiegg.
Prefix: ma-, m-
majitugiants.
mayaieggs.
majiwater (no singular).

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili ma class nouns.

Ki-vi class[edit]

This class is also known as Class VII (in the singular) and Class VIII (in the plural). It is chiefly used to refer to artefacts and tools, which are inanimate objects manufactured by humans that do not belong in another class. These prefixes may be added to noun stems to express a diminutive, like mlima (mountain) → kilima (hill). The diminutive is also used for things which have some (but not all) of the qualities of another thing, which are the object of contempt or fear, or which have a physical defect. The singular prefix only is also used to form language names from places where the language is spoken, like Uingereza (England) → Kiingereza (English).

Adjectives and verbs both agree with the same prefixes as the noun. When the plural prefix vi- is added to an adjective, it forms an adverb.

Prefix: ki-, ch-
kilemacripple.
kitabubook.
kitoto — little baby.
chumbaroom.
Plural prefix: vi-, vy-
vilemacripples.
vitabubooks.
vitoto — little babies.
vyumbaroom.
vizuriwell (from -zuri, good, beautiful).

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili ki-vi class nouns.

N class[edit]

This class is also known as Class IX (in the singular) and Class X (in the plural). It is used to refer to a wide variety of items, both animate and inanimate, including most names of animals and family members. The prefix n- is preserved as is only before d, g, j, or z. If the stem begins with a vowel, the prefix changes to ny-. If the stem begins with b or w the prefixed form will begin with mb; if it begins with v, then mv; if it begins with l or r, then nd. If the stem is a monosyllable, these rules do not apply and n can stand in front of any consonant. In all other cases, there is no prefix.

This class is traditionally used for foreign loanwords because the singular does not need a prefix and the plural form is the same as the singular form, although they are often given Ma class concords and the ma- plural by many speakers. Some N class words may also take a Ma class plural to imply collectivity.

Adjectives theoretically take the n- prefix for both singular and plural forms, but it drops out or changes the same way the it does for nouns, as detailed above. Verbs agree with the prefix i- in the singular and zi- in the plural. Animate words in the N class take the verbal prefixes of the M-wa class, however.

Prefix: n-, ny-, m-, or no prefix
ndegebird.
mvinyowine.
kalamupencil.

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili n class nouns.

U class[edit]

This class is also known as Class XI (in the singular) and Class XII (in the plural) for countable nouns, and Class XIV for uncountable nouns. As can be seen from the numbering system, this is actually composed of two classes that have merged. The countable nouns usually refer to inanimate objects that are somehow extensions in one dimension or another, but there is variability in this. The uncountable nouns usually refer to qualities or abstractions, or to collectives that are localised in one place, but made up of many tiny components, like wali (cooked rice). These prefixes may be added to adjective or noun stems to express -ness or -hood, like -bayaubaya (badness). They are also added to stems to form the names of countries or religions, like -GandaUganda (Uganda) or Kristo (Christ) → Ukristo (Christianity), but proper nouns do not necessarily take their class' concords.

The countable nouns take a plural by using Class XII, which as a class is sometimes considered as nonexistent, because it is impossible to distinguish from Class X, the plural of the N class. All the rules of prefixing n- to a noun stem apply when creating such plurals. The uncountable nouns, in the rare cases where they are not in fact uncountable (like ugomvi) will take a plural of the Ma class.

Adjectives agree with m- in the singular and n- in the plural (subject to the rules governing that prefix detailed above). However, when the countable and uncountable nouns of this class were separate, the prefix u- was used for the uncountable ones; it is archaic now, but still found in some set phrases. Verbs agree with the prefix u- in the singular and zi- in the plural. Words that take a Ma class plural take the concords of the Ma class in the plural as well.

Prefix: u-, w-, uw-
wizitheft.
UingerezaEngland.
utotochildhood.
ubavurib.
uzithread.
Plural prefix: n- (see N class above)
mbavuribs.
nyuzithreads.

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili n class nouns.

Ku class[edit]

This class is also known as Class XV. It is used to form verbal nouns, equivalent to an infinitive or a gerund in a European language. It is prefixed to the verbal stem, like -soma (read) → kusoma (reading; to read).

Adjectives and verbs both agree with the same prefixes as the noun; all the prefixes are identical to those of the Ku locative class below, with which these should not be confused.

Prefix: ku-, kw-
kupigabeating.
kwendagoing.

Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class can be found among the entries in Category:Swahili verb forms, and are listed here.

Pa locative class[edit]

This class is also known as Class XVI. It is used to denote a definite locative, or a locative of a noun known to be in a certain place, and the only noun that belongs in and of itself to this class is pahali (place) and its alternative forms. Other nouns are given the general locative suffix -ni, which makes an adverbial noun, and are considered to be in the Pa locative class if they are in a definite place.

Adjectives and verbs both agree with the prefix pa-.

Prefix: pa-
mahali pamoja — one place.

For a list of Wiktionary entries for nouns in this class, see Category:Swahili pa class nouns.

Ku locative class[edit]

This class is also known as Class XVII. It is used to denote an indefinite locative, or a locative of a noun not known to be in a certain place, or which is in transit. Nouns are given the general locative suffix -ni, which makes an adverbial noun, and are considered to be in the Ku locative class if they are in an indefinite place.

Adjectives and verbs both agree with the prefix ku-; all the prefixes are identical to those of the Ku class below, with which these should not be confused.

Prefix: ku-, kw-
kule = there ('twenda kule' = "let's go there")

Mu locative class[edit]

This class is also known as Class XVIII. It is used to denote a locative where something is within the noun, or sometimes alongside the noun. Nouns are given the general locative suffix -ni, which makes an adverbial noun, and are considered to be in the Mu locative class if they are in a definite place inside the noun.

Adjectives and verbs both agree with the prefix mu-.

Prefix: mu-, m-
mule = in there ('maji yako mule' = "the water is in there")