While Zulu does have a copula verb -ba (“to be”), it is not used in the present indicative. Instead, various ways of expressing the copula exist in this case, depending on the part of speech that is used as the predicative. In the other tenses and moods, the appropriate form of -ba is used.
The copulative form also has a negative form. It is formed as in verbs, by prefixing a-.
Nouns and pronouns
The copulative form of a noun expresses equation or identity. It is formed by prefixing the copulative particle (also called the identifying prefix) to the full form of the noun. The copulative particle is ngu- when the noun prefix begins with u-, o- or a-, or when prefixed to the second and third person singular pronouns yena and wena. But it is wu- for class 11 nouns. When the noun begins with i-, or for the remaining pronouns (including demonstratives), the copulative particle is yi-. The particle drops its vowel when followed by another vowel (as is the case with most nouns).
This copulative form can be used on its own to make an indefinite sentence in the present tense, translating roughly to "it's (word)".
- Ngumuntu. — It's a person.
- Yimi. — It's me.
- Nguwe. — It's you.
- Ngamanzi. — It's water.
When used to equate something to someting else, or to say that one thing is a kind of something else, the subject concord is prefixed to the copulative form.
- Inja iyisilwane. — A dog is an animal.
- Ikati liyisilwane. — A cat is an animal.
- Izilwane zingabantu. — Animals are people.
- Ngingumfazi. — I am a woman.
- Ungumuntu. — (S)he's a person.
- Bangabantu. — They're people.
But when the noun classes of the two words are the same, the subject concord is left out.
- Umfana ngumuntu. — The boy is a person.
- Indoda yinkosi. — The man is a king.
- Abafazi ngabantu. — Women are people.
- Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. — A person is a person because of people.
In the negative, the shortened form without the subject concord may not be used; the indefinite form with "it" is formed with the class 17 prefix ku-.
- Akungumuntu. — It's not a person.
- Akuyimi. — It's not me.
Adverbs, prepositional phrases and relatives
The copulative form of an adverb, prepositional phrase (including the locative) or relative is formed by prefixing the subject concord (or equivalently, the relative concord without the relative prefix a- and the augment).
- Ngilapha. — I am here.
- Ubaba usekhaya. — My father is at home.
- Igazi ibomvu. — Blood is red.
The copulative form of an adjective is formed differently, by adding the basic (vowelless) noun prefix (or equivalently, the adjective concord without the a- and the augment). In the first and second person, where there is no noun prefix, the class 1 or 2 prefixes are added instead, and the first or second person subject concords are prefixed to them.
- Umfana mkhulu. — The boy is big.
- Indlu inde. — The house is tall.
- Muhle. — (S)he's nice.
- Umubi. — You (sing.) are bad.
- Nibakhulu. — You (plur.) are tall.