Somali Environment/Climate Vocabulary

Today’s words are about climate, environment, weather, nature, and so on.

  1. ubax = flower
  2. geed = tree
  3. daraar = cloud
  4. lama-degaan = desert
  5. kayn = forest
  6. buur = mountain
  7. roob = rain
  8. cirka = sky
  9. xiddig = star
  10. dabayl = wind
  11. hawo = air
  12. webi = river
  13. haro = lake
  14. ciid = sand
  15. bad = sea
  16. bad weyn = ocean (lit. big sea)
  17. aus = grass
  18. kulayl = hot
  19. qabow = cold
  20. bood = dust (generally)
  21. siigo = dust (as it blows up from the earth)
  22. cadceed = sun

That’s all, folks! I’m having a jamming evening writing and studying and listening to music, so I’m just going to leave this here and get back to that! Happy studying!

(More) Somali Food Vocabulary

In a previous post, I learned vocabulary for foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. Today, I’ll be expanding my repertoire to include other words related to food, such as kitchen items, flavours, and dishes.

  1. cup = bakeeri/koob
  2. fork = farogeeto
  3. spoon = malqacad
  4. knife = mindi
  5. plate = bilaydh/saxan
  6. spicy = besbaas
  7. bad = xun
  8. sweet = macaan
  9. bland = bilaa-dhadhan
  10. egg (from a chicken) = beed/ukun (plural = ukumo)
  11. egg (generally) = ugax (plural = ugxan)
  12. flour = daqiiq
  13. honey = malab
  14. oil = saliid
  15. salt = cusbo
  16. loows = peanuts
  17. cinnamon = qorfe
  18. spices = xawaash
  19. ice = baraf
  20. juice = casiir
  21. wheat = sarreen
  22. stew = sanuunad

Somali Career Vocabulary

Work, work, work, work, work! It’s a constant topic, in any language. Knowing the words to describe different careers is incredibly useful, whether during introductions or discussions.

ENGLISHAF-SOOMAALI
studentarday
teachermacalin/bare
farmerbeeralay
engineerinjineer
doctordhakhtar
politiciansiyaasi
pilotduuliye
entrepreneurganacsade
professorborofisar
lawyergaryaqaan/looyar
driverdarawal
secretaryxoghaye
accountantxisaabiye
presidentmadaxweyne
ministerwasiir
journalistsuxufi
scientistsaynisyahan
soldieraskari
carpenternijaar
writerqoraa
mechanicmakaanik
diplomatdanjire
Vocabulary words to describe different careers in Af-Soomaali

As a language learner, it’s a good idea to think about how to use vocabulary words in a sentence (eventually, if not yet). For example, career vocabulary is great for a beginning language-learner, because it can be used in grammatically simple sentences such as “I am a _____” or “she is a _____.” In that vein, here are two useful/related phrases.

ENGLISHAF-SOOMAALI
What do you do for work?
(literally “what is your job?”)
Waa maxay shaqadaadu?
I am a….… baan ahay.
Phrases to ask and answer about careers during introductions

Somali Calendar Vocabulary

Today’s post is going to be words related to the calendar. We’ll start with the days of the week, and then do the months of the year, and then do some miscellaneous (related) words.

Part 1: Days of the Week

Days of the week (maalmaha, literally “the days” in Somali) are incredibly useful when learning a new language. Even if you know very little else, you can communicate scheduling something with someone by simply saying, “Thursday, we, here, lunch” — but if you don’t know the word for Thursday, good luck!

Days of the Week in Somali

  1. Axad — Sunday
  2. Isniin — Monday
  3. Talaada — Tuesday
  4. Arbaca — Wednesday
  5. Khamiis — Thursday
  6. Jimce — Friday
  7. Sabti — Saturday

How To Pronounce These Words?

Never fear, I’ve found an exciting way to learn to pronounce these words! Check out this children’s music video, in Somali!

Sidebar: Why I like this video as a language-learning tool?

  1. It’s very visual, and has the days of the week (our target vocabulary words) both written in the video itself and in the subtitles. That makes it really easy to follow, and gives us the “double review” of both seeing and hearing the vocabulary word at the same time.
  2. I also really like that it’s more than just a list of the vocabulary words. Hearing the vocabulary words mixed into other sentences helps my brain get used to hearing Somali and picking out words I can understand from a full sentence.

Memory Tricks To Remember These Words

Finally, to cement these words into my brain, I’m going to think about each word, connect it with things I already know (oftentimes Arabic words), and add in some (weird) memory tricks for myself. Feel free to ignore my memory tricks and make your own — going through this process of thinking about the word and inventing such tricks is a GREAT study method.

Axad (Sunday)

  • Derived from the Arabic for “one” (واحد), as Sunday (الأحد, in Arabic) is generally considered to be the first day in the Islamic week.
  • I’ll remember it because Sunday is the first day of the work week in the Muslim world, and “Axad” sounds like the groan someone might make while getting out of bed to go to work.

Isniin (Monday)

  • Derived from the Arabic words for “two” (اثنين) and “Monday” (الاثنين).
  • I’ll remember it by thinking of the song “Manic Monday,” and changing the lyrics — “just another isniin, whoa-oa…”

Talaada (Tuesday)

  • Derived from Arabic words for “three” (ثلاثة) and “Tuesday” (الثلاثاء).
  • I’ll remember it because it has the same syllable structure as the Arabic, with different consonant sounds. So, I’ll think in my head, “I told you, it’s talaada!” (because the consonants are T-L-D, just like in “TOLD”).

Arbaca (Wednesday)

  • Derived from Arabic words for “four” (أربعة) and “Wednesday” (الأربعاء).
  • I’ll remember it because this is the sound I associate with the idea of 2pm on “humpday” — “arrrrrr-baaaa3333aaa!” Furthermore, humpday reminds me of camels, and Bactrian is a type of camel, and “Bactrian” and “Arbaca” have several of the same letters? My brain is strange.

Khamiis (Thursday)

  • Derived from Arabic words for “five” (خمسة) and “Thursday” (الخميس).
  • I’ve also seen this word spelled as “qamiis” (Somali spelling isn’t completely standardized), both of which spellings also mean “robe.” Because similar words for “robe” are common in several languages, I’ll remember this word because Thursday is the end of the workweek, and then you can go get dressed up for dinner on Thursday night!

Jimce (Friday)

  • Derived from the Arabic word for “Friday” (الجمعة).
  • I’ll remember this one because of the idea of “Friday prayers,” which I’ve known as “صلاة الجمعة” since my time in Jordan, so the association of this word/sound with Friday is already strong in my head. 

Sabti (Saturday)

  • Derived from the Arabic words for “seven” (سبعة) and “Saturday” (السبت). 
  • I’ll remember this one because it’s so similar to English — they both start with SA, unlike any other days.

Ta-da, there we go! Now, I’ve got all these words glued into my brain: Axad, Isniin, Talaada, Arbaca, Khamiis, Jimce, Sabti! Whoo-hoo! Happy studying!

Part 2: Months of the Year

From what I’ve seen, Somali months of the year are expressed with words adapted from English, so this should be fairly straightforward.

  1. January = Jeenawery/Janaayo
  2. February = Feebarwery/Febraayo
  3. March = Maarij/Maarso
  4. April = Abriil
  5. May = Meey/Maajo
  6. June = Juun
  7. July = Juulaay/Luulyo
  8. August = Ogos/Agoosto
  9. September = Sibtambar/Sebtember
  10. October = Oktoobar
  11. November = Noofembar
  12. December = Diisembar

Now, I know it seems a little strange to “learn” words which are cognates, but I think it’s still important to know them. I want to be able to recognize these words, and not have them catch me off guard when pronounced differently (and I want to be able to pronounce them in a way that others will also understand).

That being said, my “study method” for words like this is pretty much to just look them over. I don’t need a huge study session to nail these down.

Part 3: Miscellaneous “Calendar” Vocabulary

Finally, let’s wrap it up with a few “miscellaneous” words related to calendars and days. Since we’ve got the days of the week (7 words) and the months of the year (12 words), we really only need 3 more words to hit our 22 words for the day. But, since the months of the year are so straightforward, I’m going to include seven more words, bringing our total for today to (gasp) 26 words.

Look at us, doing extra credit! Anyways…

  1. day = maalin
  2. week = toddobaad
  3. month = bil
  4. year = sano
  5. today = maanta
  6. tomorrow = berri
  7. yesterday = shalay

To learn these words, we’re going to do a few more quick memory tricks, like we did for the days of the week. Forgive me for the strange ways that my brain works…

  1. maalin (day): Easy to remember because the word for teacher is “macalin,” and these are strangely similar
  2. toddobaad (week): Very similar to toddoba, the word for “seven” (because, you know, seven days in a week)
  3. bil (month): My trick to remember this one: “I used to pay my bills on a monthly basis.”
  4. sano (year): quite similar to the Spanish word for year, año
  5. maanta (today): My memory trick: “I’m going to see my aunt maanta.”
  6. berri (tomorrow): I used to always think that the mulberry tree would be ready “soon,” so that’s a good way for me to remember that it’s tomorrow… we’ll eat berries tomorrow!
  7. shalay (yesterday): I think of the phrase “sashay away,” and that makes me think of the past tense, like shalay is just sashaying away.

Somali Reading/Grammar Practice: “Karin” (Level 1 Storybook)

“Karin” (“Cooking”) is a story originally from African Storybook. I’m reading it from the Global Storybooks website, which includes Somali/English translations, as well as Somali audio. Both websites use a Creative Commons license, which is great news — means that I can include the text below, and then break down some of the grammar points for you!

So, here’s the story. I highly suggest you read/listen on the Global Storybooks website first, and then come back here for the language-lesson.

Storytime: Karin (Cooking)

Waxaan diiraa baradhada.
I peel the potatoes.

Waxaan jarjaraa kaabajka.
I chop the cabbage.

Waxaan jeexaa kaarootada.
I grate the carrots.

Waxaan dhaqaa digirta.
I wash the beans.

Waxaan jaraa lowska.
I cut the butternut (squash).

Waxaan jarjaraa isbinaajka.
I chop the spinach.

Hooyaday waxay jarjartaa basasha.
My mom chops the onions.

Basasha way iiga oohisaa markii lajarjaro.
Onions make me cry when they are chopped.

Stop: Grammar Time!

Okay, so this is a great reading text for super beginners (ahem, myself) because it shows a lot of the basic grammar points I’ve been working on!

Word Order: SVO or SOV?

So, Somali uses a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order. HOWEVER, apparently it actually uses an SVO word order (like English) IF it’s a sentence built with “waxaa.”

So, looking at the sentences from the reading, you’ll notice that almost every sentence uses the subject-verb-object word order. For example, waxaan diiraa baradhada: diraa (peel) is the verb, and baradhada (the potatoes) is the object.

Thanks to u/xaayow on Reddit for their fantastic answer to my question about this!

Definite Article (“The”) Suffixes

In Somali, the definite article (“the,” in English) is shown with a suffix (/ka/), added onto the end of the noun. For example, “af” is “language”, and “afka” is “the language.” This reading passage is full of examples of Somali definite articles.

Somali (indefinite)Somali (definite)English
baradhobaradhada(the) potato
kaabajkaabajka(the) cabbage
karootokarootada(the) carrot
digirdigirta(the) beans
lowslowska(the) butternut
isbinaajisbinaajka(the) spinach
basalbasasha(the) onion
I do have one question for Somali speakers… is “lows” really butternut? Sounds pretty similar to the Amharic word for “peanuts,” and Google Translate says it means nut… can anyone confirm or deny a translation?

Here is some explanation of the grammar in the above chart:

  • Feminine nouns add /ta/ instead of /ka/ as the definite suffix.
  • For nouns ending in /o/: replace the /o/ with /a/ before adding the suffix.
  • If the last letter of the noun is a vowel, ka/ta changes to ga/da (respectively, depending on the gender of the noun).
  • When the suffix /ta/ is added after an /l/, the /l+t/ is replaced by /sh/.

Verb Conjugation: Present Tense

Of course, since nearly the entire story has the same subject (anigu), and it’s all in present tense, it’s pretty easy to conjugate the verbs (since they’re almost all conjugated the same). Still, let’s go over it.

Somali (infinitive verb)Somali (present tense, I)English
diirwaan diraaI peel
jarjarwaan jararaaI cut/chop
jeexwaan jeexaaI grate
dhaqwaan dhaqaaI wash
jarjarway jarjartaashe cuts/chops
Remember the difference between “waan” and waxaan”? If not, click here for a refresher.

So, if the subject is waan, the present-tense verb ending is “aa.” If the subject is way, it changes to “taa.” Easy peasy!

The Final Sentence?

Basasha way iiga oohisaa markii lajarjaro.
Onions make me cry when they are chopped.

Frankly, I don’t know enough grammar yet to understand how the last sentence is built. I know that “basasha” means the onions, and “jarjar” means chopped, but other than that — not sure! That’s the fun of language learning, though — there’s always plenty more to learn!

If anyone can explain that last sentence, though, please comment below!

Ta-da!

Thanks for joining me on that reading adventure! Not sure what to say, I feel like I’m hosting a children’s television show and this is the end of the episode. ANYWAYS.

Seriously though, I really enjoy reading practice when I’m learning a language. I think it’s a great way to see examples of sentences, and start to get a sense for how to put sentences together (as opposed to the giant jumble of vocabulary that’s rattling around my brain, all dissociated).

Check out the other stories Global Storybooks has available in Somali, and comment to let me know which story you’d like me to grammar-ize next! Let’s stick with Level 1 for the moment, please, though — I’m still a beginner!

Somali Food Vocabulary

While nobody likes cramming vocabulary, it’s rather essential in the early phases of language learning. Learning a language is like being a panicked alligator, intent on eating as many fish as possible. Any vocabulary word you see — grab it, chomp it, learn it, keep it. 

This post has two parts. First, today’s vocabulary list. Second (and this is the fun part), we’re going to review the vocabulary today with GAMES!

The Vocabulary

Let’s learn some vocab! Here’s the list of the Somali and English words, plus some comparisons with other languages. I find that identifying cognates and similar words across languages I’ve already studied helps make a foreign language immediately less “foreign.” For Somali, that means a lot of comparisons with Arabic.

SOMALIENGLISHOTHER LANGUAGES
cambemango
tufaaxappleSimilar to the Arabic word for apple, تفاح
muusbananaSimilar to the Amharic word for banana, ሙዝ (or the Arabic موز)
galleycorn
liindhanaanlemon
liinmacaanorange
qarre/xabxabwatermelonXabxab is very similar to the Amharic word for watermelon, ሐብሐብ.
basalonionSimilar to the Arabic word for onion, بصلة
baradhopotatoNot completely similar, but you can see the connection to the sounds of “potato” or البطاطس (Arabic), knowing that Somali (and Arabic) replace /p/ with /b/ sounds.
yaanyo/nyaanyotomatoSimilar to the Swahili word for tomato, nyanya.
cananaaspineappleSimilar to “pineapple” in many languages, such as አናናስ (Amharic), أناناس (Arabic), ananas (French/German), nanasi (Swahili), etc.
kaabashcabbageSimilar to the English word for cabbage… you know, cabbage.
bocorpumpkin
toongarlic
dabacasecarrot
rootibreadSimilar to the Indian bread, commonly written in English as “roti.”
caanomilkDon’t get confused with Arabic on this one — the Arabic word for milk is حليب (“halib”), but hilib in Somali means meat.
subagbutterCan see some connection with the Arabic word for butter, زبدة.
qaxwo/buncoffeeSimilar to قهوة (Arabic) or bun/buna (various Ethiopian languages).
hilibmeatDon’t get confused (see the note by caano/milk).
digaagchickenSimilar to the Arabic word for chicken, دجاج (pronounced with the Egyptian /G/).
kalluunfish

For pronunciation, here’s a great video which pronounces a lot of food vocabulary (fruits and vegetables) very clearly (with even more words than I’ve included here)!

As promised… vocabulary review games!

Now, I want to take a moment to warn you: the games aren’t going to exactly match my vocabulary list — and that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s good, when learning a language, to be open to additional vocabulary words (even if they’re not your target words for the day). Sometimes, when you’re studying a list of words a little too closely, you get wrapped up in them, and almost learn them as though they’re just one big word. Throwing in a few random words here and there helps break up the words in your mind. Or my mind, rather (I’m not sure what happens in your mind).

Okay, I may have over-hyped this: there are only two games that I found… but they’re great! If you find any more, let me know! These were great practice, in any case.

  1. Digital Dialects: Fruit and Vegetable Review (has both flashcards, and a game where the word appears, and you click on the food which matches)
  2. Sporcle: Find Somali Food (given the word, click on the image of the food)

Somali Numbers

Numbers (tirooyin, in Somali) are absolutely essential to learning a new language! My mission for today is to learn how to count from 1-9999999 in Somali, which (quite fittingly) requires learning exactly 22 vocabulary words!

Here’s how I’ve gone about learning today’s 22 words.

PART ONE: Numbers 1-10

We’ll start with our first ten vocabulary words: the numbers 1-10.

Step 1: Listen to pronunciation (with videos).

First, I watched this video. For me, it took a lot of the stress off about mispronunciations (since the video is so casual, and the guy is also trying to learn). They also used a lot of memory tricks to remember the different words, which is a great method.

Then (because I’m in the habit of trying to hear a few different examples of pronunciation, to avoid accidentally adopting one person’s quirks), I also watched this video. It’s less interactive, but it has good, clear pronunciation examples, and is very visual (which I appreciate).

Step 2: Copy down the words (1-10).

I’ve copied down the words from the videos above, and then cross-checked them against the list here. Here’s what I’ve got:

  1. ków
  2. lába
  3. sáddex
  4. áfar
  5. shán
  6. líx
  7. toddobá
  8. siddéed
  9. sagáal
  10. toban

Now, I’ve noticed that certain places use the accent marks, and others don’t. I believe it’s an extra marker for enunciation (and seeing as how I’m such a novice, I can use all the help with enunciation/pronunciation that I can get)! That said, however, I don’t actually believe they’re mandatory, and the accents are omitted.

Step 3: Create (and complete) practice exercises.

I’m a big fan of creating my own practice exercises while studying a language. This way, I practice once while creating the exercise, and then again while completing it! Here, I’ve created three practice exercises using the numbers 1-10, and then provided my answers below — if I’ve made any mistakes in answering my own exercises (ha), please let me know!

Exercises:

Exercise #1: Complete the mathematics problems in Somali.

  1. shán + ków =
  2. toban – líx =
  3. siddéed / lába =
  4. sáddex + áfar =
  5. sagáal / sáddex =

Exercise #2: Decide whether the following are true or false.

  1. toddobá > toban
  2. áfar > líx
  3. ków < lába
  4. shán < sagáal
  5. siddéed > sáddex

Exercise #3: Answer the following questions in Somali.

  1. How many wheels are on most cars?
  2. How many wheels are on a bicycle?
  3. How many countries border Somaliland (including Somalia)?
  4. How many legs does a spider have?
  5. How many legs does an insect have?

Answers:

Exercise #1

  1. líx
  2. áfar
  3. áfar
  4. toddobá
  5. sáddex

Exercise #2

  1. false
  2. false
  3. true
  4. true
  5. true

Exercise #3

  1. áfar
  2. lába
  3. sáddex (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia)
  4. siddéed
  5. líx

PART TWO: Numbers 11-9999999

So far, we’ve got the numbers 1-10, and therefore ten vocabulary words. Let’s continue with the list of the rest of the vocabulary we’ll need, and then we’ll talk about how to combine these words to express any number we want!

Step 4: Copy down the rest of the words.

  • 11 = koób iyo toban (koób is irregular, so we’re counting it as a vocabulary word)
  • 20 = labaátan
  • 30 = sóddon
  • 40 = afártan
  • 50 = kónton
  • 60 = líxdan
  • 70 = toddobaátan
  • 80 = siddeétan
  • 90 = sagaáshan
  • 100 = boqól
  • 1000 = kún
  • 1000000 = malyúun

Ta-da, twelve more words, so a grand total of TWENTY-TWO words for today!

Step 5: Learn how these words combine.

Here are the general rules for Somali numbers:

  • The units digit comes before the tens digit (ie. you’d say “four and twenty” in Somali, instead of “twenty-four”).
  • “Ków” becomes “koób” before “iyo.”
  • Larger numbers are constructed quite similarly to English (Somali for “five hundred and seventy four” would translate directly as “five hundred and four and seventy”). The difference is in the ones-tens word order, but the rest is the same.

I’ve really enjoyed playing around with the number generator on languagesandnumbers.com. You can type in a number (in numerals), and it’ll pop out how it’d be written in the Somali language. It helped me to try a few different numbers, and see how they’re constructed.

Step 6: More practice!

I’ve invented some more practice exercises for myself (and for you, if you’re interested)! Again, the exercises are first, followed by the answers.

Exercises:

Exercise #1: Write out the following numbers in Somali (ie. in words).

  1. 11
  2. 17
  3. 34
  4. 68
  5. 331
  6. 579
  7. 34,623
  8. 67,903
  9. 5,486,922
  10. 8,407,315

Exercise #2: Complete the following math problems.

  1. siddeéd iyo toban + sagaál iyo labaátan =
  2. shán iyo sóddon + labá iyo toddobaátan =
  3. shán boqól iyo líx iyo sagaáshan + sáddex boqól iyo siddeéd iyo labaátan =
  4. sagaál boqól iyo labá iyo afártan + kún iyo shán boqól iyo sáddex =
  5. kún iyo boqól iyo líx + áfar kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo kónton =
  6. sáddex boqól iyo labá iyo afártan kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo shán + labá boqól iyo áfar iyo kónton kún iyo boqól iyo labá iyo sagaáshan =

Exercise #3: Answer the following questions in Somali. You might need to do some quick research.

  1. How many countries are there in Africa?
  2. When (year) did Muse Bihi Abdi become president of Somaliland?
  3. How many regions are there in Somaliland?
  4. What is the population of Hargeisa?
  5. What is the distance (kilometres) between Hargeisa and Jigjiga?
  6. What is the distance (kilometres) between Zeila and Berbera?
  7. What is the distance (kilometres) between Galkayo and Mogadishu?
  8. What is the distance (kilometres) between Bosaso and Borama?
  9. How many days are in a Gregorian year?
  10. How many days are in an Islamic year?

Answers:

Exercise #1

  1. koób iyo toban
  2. toddobá iyo toban
  3. áfar iyo sóddon
  4. siddeéd iyo líxdan
  5. sáddex boqól iyo koób iyo sóddon
  6. shán boqól iyo sagaál iyo toddobaátan
  7. áfar iyo sóddon kún iyo líx boqól iyo sáddex iyo labaátan
  8. toddobá iyo líxdan kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo sáddex
  9. shán malyúun iyo áfar boqól iyo líx iyo siddeétan kún iyo sagaál boqól iyo labá iyo labaátan
  10. siddeéd malyúun iyo áfar boqól iyo toddobá kún iyo sáddex boqól iyo shán iyo toban

Exercise #2

  1. toddobá iyo afártan
  2. boqól iyo toddobá
  3. sagáal boqól iyo áfar iyo labaátan
  4. lába kún iyo áfar boqól iyo shán iyo afártan
  5. líx kún iyo líx iyo kónton
  6. shán boqól iyo toddobá iyo sagaáshan kún iyo toddobá iyo sagaáshan

Exercise #3 (some of these answers might vary slightly depending on your source — for the distance questions, I’m using the approximate driving distance)

  1. áfar iyo kónton
  2. labá kún iyo toddobá iyo toban
  3. líx
  4. malyúun iyo labá boqól kún (source)
  5. boqól iyo líxdan
  6. toddobá boqól iyo labaátan
  7. kún iyo kónton
  8. sáddex boqól iyo shán iyo líxdan
  9. sáddex boqól iyo áfar iyo kónton

Somali Household Vocabulary

PS. I’ve marked the part of speech as either (n) for noun or (v) for verb.
PPS. Shoutout to u/xaayow on Reddit for helping me clarify several of today’s vocabulary words!

  • dhaq (v) = wash (1)
  • fur (v) = open (2)
  • xidh (v) = close (3)
  • dhar (n) = clothing (4)
  • dharka gash (n-v) = get dressed (5)
  • ilko cadee (n-v) = brush teeth (6-7)
  • istaag (v) = stand up (8)
  • caday (n) = toothbrush (9)
  • hurdo (v) = sleep (10)
  • gal (v) = enter (11)
  • bax (v) = leave (12)
  • guri (n) = house (13)
  • qubeyso (v) = shower/bathe (14)
  • albaab (n) = door (15)
  • sariir (n) = bed (16)
  • kac (v) = wake up (17)
  • daqaad (n) = window (18)
  • kursi (n) = chair (19)
  • musqul (n) = toilet (20)
  • fadhiiso (v) = sit (21)
  • seexo (v) = lie down/sleep (22)

Somali Proverbs: A Grammar Lesson

As a language-learner, I love proverbs. They’re an easy way to express complex thoughts and reactions to situations. Of course, you don’t use them in daily conversation, but they’re nice to have in your back pocket. Then, once in a while, during that deep conversation where you really need to express something more, you can pull one out (or understand if someone else pulls one out). Plus, they’re fun as a party trick (and to show some familiarity with a culture).

On top of that, when you can find proverbs translated, they’re a great way to learn a language! In this post, I’m going to sort through some proverbs (which I found here and here), group them together by grammatical features, and hopefully get some practice in Somali!

“[A] waa [B].”

The first common sentence structure I noticed in the proverbs is “[A] waa [B],” which is a simple grammatical structure meaning “[A] is [B].” These are great for language-learning practice, because they’re so straightforward. Once we know the vocabulary, we can understand the whole proverb!

  • Af daboolan waa dehab.
    (af = mouth, daboolan = covered/closed, dehab = gold)
    A covered/closed mouth (ie. silence) is golden.
  • Nin is faanshay waa ri’is nuugtay.
    (nin is = he who faanshay = bragged, ri’is = she-goat, nuugtay = suckled)
    He who bragged is a she-goat who suckled [herself].
  • Rag waa shaah, dumarna waa sheeko
    (men = rag, shaah = tea, dumarna = women, sheeko = stories)
    Men are tea, women are conversation.

“[A] la’aani waa [B] la’aan.”

This type of proverb is grammatically similar to the “[A] waa [B]” type, except that this time, the proverbs are saying “the absence of [A] is the absence of [B].”

  • Aqoon la’aani waa iftiin la’aan.
    (aqoon = knowledge, iftiin = light)
    The absence of knowledge is the absence of light.
  • Naag la’aani waa naf la’aan.
    (naag = woman, naf = soul)
    The absence of woman is the absence of a soul (ie. life).
  • Haween la’aani waa hoy la’aan.
    (haween = woman, hoy = shelter)
    The absence of woman is the absence of shelter (ie. home).

“[A] ma [verb].”

“[A] ma [verb]” means “[A] does not [verb].” The main grammatical feature of these proverbs is going to be the negative present tense. Notice that the object in the sentence (when present) comes right before the “ma” (Somali is a SOV language, with the subject-object-verb sentence order).

  • Sirow ma hodmo.
    (sirow = cheater/liar, hodmo = prosper/succeed)
    A cheater doesn’t prosper.
  • Hadal badan haan ma buuxsho.
    (hadal = talk, badan = a lot/much, haan = vessel, buuxsho = fill)
    Lots of talk doesn’t fill the vessel.
  • Tuug tuug ma xado.
    (tuug = thief, xado = steal/rob)
    A thief doesn’t rob a thief.
  • Far keliya fool ma dhaqdo.
    (far = finger, keliya = only/one/single, fool = face, dhaqdo = wash)
    One finger doesn’t [can’t] wash a face.

Looking at all these proverbs, I realize that the ones I actually understand have the simplest grammatical structures. Hopefully, as I keep learning more about Af-Soomaali, I’ll be able to go back and repeat this exercise with some more advanced grammar!

Somali: Past Tense (Positive)

I’ve learned numbers, pronouns, some basic nouns, greetings, and some basic verb vocabulary… but I still can’t really make sentences.

The missing piece? Grammar, mostly. It’s time for some verb conjugations.

When I’m learning a new language, I usually learn the “past tense positive” as the first verb tense. While many textbooks instinctively start with the present tense, I find that the past tense is more useful. So, that’s what I’m doing here today — past tense, here we come!

Conjugating the Past Tense

Note: The rest of this post assumes you’re already familiar with verbal pronouns in Af-Soomaali (for example “waan” is “I,” “waad” is “you,” etc). If you need a refresher, click here and scroll to the bottom.

Regular Verbs Ending in Consonants

Let’s start with the basic conjugation chart for regular verbs, ending with a consonant. The chart shows the verbal pronoun, and then the suffix attached to the verb in past tense.

waan: : verb+aywaannu: verb+nay
weynu: verb+nay
waad: verb+tayweydin: verb+teen
wuu: verb+ay
way: verb+tay
wey: verb+een
Past tense suffixes for regular verbs ending in consonants, depending on the verbal pronouns.

Frankly, that chart looks like nonsensical jargon, so let’s look at some examples as well.

TAG (go)KEEN (bring)CUN (eat)CAB (drink)
waan tagay
(I went)
waan keenay
(I brought)
waan cunay
(I ate)
waan cabay
(I drank)
waad tagtay
(you went)
waad keentay
(you brought)
waad cuntay
(you ate)
waad cabtay
(you drank)
wuu tagay
(he went)
way tagtay
(she went)
wuu keenay
(he brought)
way keentay
(she brought)
wuu cunay
(he ate)
way cuntay
(she ate)
wuu cabay
(he drank)
way cabtay
(she drank)
waannu tagnay
(we went, exc.)
weynu tagnay
(we went, inc.)
waannu keenay
(we brought, exc.)
weynu keenay
(we brought, inc.)
waannu cunnay
(we ate, exc.)
weynu cunnay
(we are, inc.)
waannu cabnay
(we drank, exc.)
weynu cabnay
(we drank, inc.)
weydin tagteen
(you all went)
weydin keenteen
(you all brought)
weydin cunteen
(you all ate)
weydin cabteen
(you all drank)
wey tageen
(they went)
wey keeneen
(they brought)
wey cuneen
(they ate)
wey cabeen
(they drank)
Here are four regular verbs, ending in consonants, conjugated in the past tense.
Regular Verbs Ending in ‘i’ or ‘ee’

For verbs ending in ‘i’ or ‘ee,’ the conjugations are very, very similar, with some slight adjustments. Notice that when the suffix began with a vowel, a “y” has been added, and when the suffix began with a “t,” the suffix now begins with “s.”

waan: verb+yaywaannu: verb+nay
weynu: verb+nay
waad: verb+sayweydin: verb+seen
wuu: verb+yay
way: verb+say
wey: verb+yeen
Past tense suffixes for regular verbs ending in “i” or “ee,” depending on the verbal pronouns.

Let’s add another chart with some examples.

AKHRI (read)SAMEE (do/make)KARI (cook)QADEE (have lunch)
waan akhriyay
(I read)
waan sameeyay
(I did/made)
waan kariyay
(I cooked)
waan qadeeyay
(I had lunch)
waad akhrisay
(you read)
waad sameesay
(you did/made)
waad karisay
(you cooked)
waad qadeesay
(you had lunch)
wuu akhriyay
(he read)
way akhrisay
(she read)
wuu sameeyay
(he did/made)
way sameesay
(she did/made)
wuu kariyay
(he cooked)
way karisay
(she cooked)
wuu qadeeyay
(he had lunch)
way qadeesay
(she had lunch)
waanuu akhrinay
(we read, exc.)
weynu akhrinay
(we read, inc.)
waannuu sameenay
(we did/made, exc.)
weynu sameenay
(we did/made, inc.)
waannuu karinay
(we cooked, exc.)
weynu karinay
(we cooked, inc.)
waannuu qadeenay
(we had lunch, exc.)
weynu qadeenay
(we had lunch, inc.)
weydin akhriseen
(you all read)
weydin sameeseen
(you all did/made)
weydin kariseen
(you all cooked)
weydin qadeeseen
(you all had lunch)
wey akhriyeen
(they read)
wey sameeyeen
(they did/made)
wey kariyeen
(they cooked)
wey qadeeyeen
(they had lunch)
Here are four regular verbs, ending in “i” and “ee,” conjugated in the past tense.

Here’s a great video to show an example of samee (do/make), conjugated in the past tense. Listen closely for the pronunciation!

Shout-out: Vector Culture has been starting to put out Youtube videos which are PERFECT for language-learners trying to learn Somali. With short videos demonstrating a simple grammar point (plus great sound quality and graphics), they’re building their channel into a fantastic resource for language-learners… hopefully more videos will be coming soon! Here’s their video showing how to conjugate “samee” (do/make) in the past tense (embedded with permission).
Regular Verbs Ending in “o”

For verbs ending with “o,” there are two potential conjugations.

  1. If there are two consecutive consonants (C+C+O) before the final “o” (such as iibso/buy or guurso/marry), then the final “o” changes to an “a” when conjugated.
  2. If there is one vowel and one consonant (V+C+O) before the final “o” (such as noqo/become or seexo/sleep), then the final “o” is dropped with “waan,” “wey,” and “wuu” when conjugated. Verbs which end in “Y+consonant+O” (such as dhegeyso/listen) are included in this group.

There are exceptions to this dichotomy, but this is the general rule for “o-ending” verbs.

ends with C+C+Oends with V+C+O
waan: verb+adaywaan: verb+tay
waad: verb+ataywaad: verb+atay
wuu: verb+aday
way: verb+atay
wuu: verb+tay
way: verb+atay
waannuu: verb+annay
weynu: verb+annay
waannuu: verb+annay
weynu: verb+annay
weydin: verb+ateenweydin: verb+ateen
wey: verb+adeenwey: verb+teen
Past tense suffixes for regular verbs ending in “O,” depending on the verbal pronouns.

As always, here’s a chart with some more example verbs, conjugated in the past tense.

SEEXO (to sleep)GUURSO (to marry)DHIMO (to die)JOOGSO (to stop)
waan seextay
(I slept)
waan guursaday
(I married)
waan dhimtay
(I died)
waan joogsaday
(I stopped)
waad seexatay
(you slept)
waad guursatay
(you married)
waad dhimatay
(you died)
waad joogsatay
(you stopped)
wuu seextay
(he slept) way seexatay
(she slept)
wuu guursaday
(he married)
way guursatay
(she married)
wuu dhimtay
(he died)
way dhimatay
(she died)
wuu joogsaday
(he stopped)
way joogsatay
(she stopped)
waannuu seexannay
(we slept, exc.)
weynu seexannay
(we slept, inc.)
waannuu guursannay
(we married, exc.)
weynu guursannay
(we married, inc.)
waannuu dhimannay
(we died, exc.)
weynu dhimannay
(we died, inc.)
waannuu joogsannay
(we stopped, exc.)
waannuu joogsannay
(we stopped, inc.)
weydin seexateen
(you all sleep)
weydin guursateen
(you all married)
weydin dhimateen
(you all died)
weydin joogsateen
(you all stopped)
wey seexteen
(they slept)
wey guursadeen
(they married)
wey dhimteen
(they died)
wey joogsadeen
(they stopped)
Here are four verbs, ending in “o,” conjugated in the past tense.