Appendix:Xhosa parts of speech

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This page contains specifics about inflection of words in Xhosa


As most Bantu languages, Xhosa has a class system. All nouns belong to one of thirteen different classes. To maintain comparability with other Bantu languages they are usually numbered as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,..,..,14 and 15 with classes 12 and 13 and higher than 15 missing. These missing classes do exist in other Bantu languages

Each class has its own set of prefixes, named concords.

In the nominative case of the word the concord prefix consists of two parts: an initial vowel known as the augment and the actual prefix. A difference can be made between weak and strong prefixes. The classes 1,3,4,6 and 9 are weak because the prefix contains a nasal, in the other, strong, classes the prefix involves a plosive.


Class 1: umntu = u-m-ntu: The augment is "u", the prefix is "m" (weak) and the root of the noun is "-ntu"
Class 2: abantu = a-ba-ntu: The augment is "a", the prefix is "ba" (strong) and the root is "-ntu" as above

In this case the class 2 word is actually the plural of the class 1 one. This is typically how plurals are rendered in the language: by putting them in a different class.

Class 1 has a number of members for which the prefix is missing. They are often called class 1a:

Class 1a: urhulumente= u-rhulumente: The augment is "u", the prefix is missing and the root is "-rhulumente"

Names of persons usually belong to this class: uThemba, uJohn etc.

Something similar happens in class 5 nouns that have a polysyllabic root, but in this case the prefix was originally there but merged with the augment:

Class 5: ilitye: i-li-tye: The augment is "i", the prefix is "li" and the root "-tye"
Class 5: ihashe: i-hashe: The augment is "i", the prefix is merged with the augment and the root is "-hashe"

Nouns can occur in a number of different forms in a sentence, the function of which resembles that of the cases of the Indo-European languages, at least to some extent. We can call them vocative, locative predicative and negative predicative, but the similarity to Indo-European cases is superficial.


The vocative of a noun is generally formed by dropping the augment:

The vocative of uJohn = John!
The vocative of abafana = bafana!

In classes 2a, 5 and 10, where the augment and the prefix have merged, the original consonant reemerges in the vocative:

Oomama - bomama (oo< a(b)o)
Ihashe - lihashe (i<i(l)i)
Iinkwenkwezi - zinkwenkwezi (iin<i(z)in)

However, this unaugmented 'vocative' form is used for other purposes than as an interjection. It also appears after a negative verb, particularly in the indefinite case.

Akukho bafana - there are no (young) men

Demonstrative pronouns also replace/suppress the augment for the weak classes:

Umfazi - a woman
Lo mfazi - This woman

For the strong classes, the entire concord is suppressed:

Ihashe - A horse
Eli hashe - This horse


There is more than one way to form a locative, but a common one is to replace the augment by e- and replace the final vowel by -ini. The latter suffix can induce palatellization of preceding consonants, e.g.:

Umlambo - river (class 3)
Emlanjeni - at the river


Weak classes starting with u- or a- form their copulative (or predicative) by prefixing ng-:

Umfazi - woman (class 1)
Ngumfazi - .. is a woman

Class 9 has a y- prefix

Indoda - man (class 9)
Yindoda - .. is a man

Strong classes repeat the plosive of the prefix:

Ilitye - a stone (class 5)
Lilitye - (it) is a stone

The copulative can represent the presence of a copula in the presence tense. In other tenses forms of the verb ukuba are used.

However, the copulative also indicates the agent of a passive verb

Ixesha lixhatshwe yinja - The time has been lapped up by a dog (It has gotten late)

Negative copulatives[edit]

Negative predicates have their own prefixes:

Ngamadoda (class 6) - (They) are men
Asingomadoda - (They) are no men

In the absence of a specific subject Xhosa uses a dummy subject "si".


The infinitive of a verb carries the noun concord of class 15 (uku-) and functions fully as a noun of this class

Ukutya: u-ku-tya: augment "u", prefix "ku", stem -tya

Ukutya can mean both "to eat" and "food". As a noun it has a vocative, a locative and a copulative, e.g.

Kukutya oku - This is food

As a verb it can be used in conjunction with other verbs, e.g.

Ndiyafuna ukutya - I want to eat.
Musani ukutya - You (pl.) must not eat: don't eat! (the negative imperative)

The future tense can be formed with forms of ukuza (to come) + infinitive without augment ('vocative'):

Ndiza kuhamba - I am going to walk

The uku- concord is generally dropped in finite tenses

Hamba! - Walk!
Hambani - Walk (plural)!

Subject concords are used for most tenses:

Ndihamba - I walk
Uhambile - You walked or he walked (depending on the tone of "u": low=you, high=he)
Sihambe - We walk (subjonctive)

Object concords are inserted; in the present tense after -ya-:

Ndiyambona - I see him

In the third person all concords must correspond to the classes of the subject and the object:

Bayalubona - They (class 2) see it (class 11).

The object concords can also be inserted into an infinitive:

Ukulubona - to see it (class 11)