Swahili Verbs: A Crash Course

So, you’re going on a trip to one of the Swahili-speaking countries of eastern Africa. You want to learn a few words, to be able to communicate the basics, but don’t plan on diving into a full course. Nouns are cute, but unless you just plan on pointing at random objects and declaring “table” and “chicken,” you’re going to need some verbs.

You’re in the exact right place. Welcome to a crash course in Swahili verbs, made just for you.

I get it — you don’t want a grammar lesson. But, there’s nothing more confusing than saying “you want” when you really mean “I want”. So, allow me the teensiest little bit of grammar, and you’ll be on your way soon enough.

How Swahili Verbs Are Formed (A Grammar Lesson You Won’t Hate)

Swahili verbs have three basic parts, so when you see a verb, I want you to think “who-when-what.”


Swahili verbs usually start with the “who” — the subject. Swahili has many subject pronouns (more than English), but here, we’ll just look at six related to people.

  • ni = I
  • u = you (singular)
  • a = he/she
  • tu = we
  • m = you (plural, like ya’ll)
  • wa = they

If that’s too much, you can focus on just learning “ni = I” and “u = you,” but if you can take a few minutes and remember all six, that’ll really expand your Swahili skills without too much effort.


Got nightmares of high school language class, and horribly complex conjugations? Welcome to your salvation. While Swahili verbs have some complex conjugations, the basic tenses are both regular and quite straightforward.

  • li = past
  • na = present
  • ta = future

You might also hear “me” being used instead of “li” for the past tense. “Me” is used for the present perfect (ie. past events which happened very recently) compared to “li” for the simple past. You can think of “me” in sentences like “I have eaten” vs. “li” in sentences like “I ate.”


So, the last part is the “what” — what is actually happening, what verb do you want to use?

Verbs in Swahili are written with a “ku” at the beginning in the infinitive. So, simply put, “kusafiri” means “to travel,” and then (if we take away the “ku”), “safiri” means “travel.”


So, now that you know the three parts, we can smash it all together. No, seriously – you just smash them all together, into one big word. Let’s look at an example.

NINASAFIRI: If you break it down, you’ll see we’ve got ni-na-safiri, which is literally I-present-travel. So, “I travel” in Kiswahili is “ninasafiri.”

Now, we’ll go through a set of basic verbs — the ones you’re most likely to use during your travels.

Useful Swahili Verbs, Conjugated and Ready For Action

Now, there are certain sentences you’re more likely to use than others. For example, you might say “I want” on a regular basis, but you’d rarely use “you all want.” So, as I list some useful verbs, I’ll include some of the useful possible conjugations, and leave out the less frequent versions.

Note: We haven’t gone over conjugations in the negative, but it can often be quite useful. I’ll include negatives for certain verbs, where it might be useful for you.

  1. kuomba (to ask for, request): ninaomba (I am asking for, often used as “could I please have), tunaomba (we are asking for)
  2. kuenda/kwenda (to go): tunaenda (we are going), nilienda (I went), nitaenda (I will go), siendi (I don’t/won’t go)
  3. kutaka (to want): ninataka (I want), sitaki (I don’t want), unataka (do you want), wanataka (they want)
  4. kuhitaji (to need): unahitaji (you need), ninahitaji (I need)
  5. kusafiri (to travel): wanasafiri (they travel), ninasafiri (I travel)
  6. kurudi (to come back): ninarudi (I’m coming back), tunarudi (we’re coming back), utarudi (you will come back)
  7. kupenda (to like/love): ninapeda (I like), unapenda (you like)
  8. kulala (to sleep): umelala (you have slept), nitalala (I will sleep)
  9. kutembelea (visit): nimetembelea (I have visited), utatembelea (you will visit)
  10. kula (to eat): nimekula (I have eaten), sili (I don’t eat), tunakula (we eat)

As I’m writing this, I am sure there are more things that could do with a further explanation, if you’re interested. I’ll leave it there for now, to keep this a quick traveller’s guide, but please comment if there’s anyt

Resources for Learning Ge’ez/Fidel (Amharic/Tigrinya Script)

Ge’ez (also known as “fidel”) is the writing system used to write Amharic, Tigrinya, and several other Ethiopian (and Eritrean) languages. It’s technically an abugida (not an alphabet). While alphabets use one letter per sound, an abugida uses one character per consonant, which is modified according to the vowel sound which follows. The result is that there are a LOT of characters, but they follow a regular pattern, making them rather satisfying to learn!

Here are some resources you can use, made for adults (not children or younger students) looking to learn to read/write.

  1. So Many Fidels: This printable ebook has everything you need — pronunciation guides, handwriting practice, and even exercises to help you read and write Amharic words, in fidel. I wrote this book to be the reading/writing guide I wish I’d had when learning Amharic. Of course, I’ve got author bias, but it is truly one of the most user-friendly, detailed, practice-filled tools out there.
  2. Amharic Tutor: This is a website where you can click on the different fidels to hear them pronounced. It’s a great tool in the beginning to familiarize yourself with the sounds and patterns of the script.
  3. Amharic Beginnings: This is a printable review sheet, where you can practice re-writing the individual letters into the chart.
  4. T is for Timhirt: This workbook provides little explanation, but is another option for printouts if you’d like to practice writing and re-writing individual letters

There are also an abundance of Youtube videos to go over the sounds of each letter. Good luck with your language-learning!

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 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.

tufaaxappleSimilar to the Arabic word for apple, تفاح
muusbananaSimilar to the Amharic word for banana, ሙዝ (or the Arabic موز)
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.
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/).

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!


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?


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.


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?


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

So Many Ethiopian Languages… Why Amharic?

There are over eighty languages in Ethiopia, and yet Amharic (the language of Amhara) dominates. Of course, it is convenient to have a lingua franca, but only ~30% of Ethiopians speak Amharic as their native language (the most-spoken native language is Afaan Oromoo) — what gives?

Amharic (based on the ancient language, Ge’ez) has been considered the “official” language of the Ethiopian empire since the reign of Emperor Menelik II (1881-1913), when he starting using it as the functional language in administrative offices. Depending on who writes the history books, Menelik’s reign was defined by either brutal military conquest or the expansion of the great Ethiopian empire. Either way, he took over a lot of non-Amharic- speaking people, and Amharic began its role as the language of the conquerer.

Emperor Haile Selassie (r. 1930-1974) promoted Amharic as a tool of unification (or domination — again, perspective is a fickle beast), trying to develop (or force) a common language and culture for an incredibly diverse empire. When Italy occupied Ethiopia (1935-1941), the Italians promoted use of local languages, hoping undermine these unification efforts, in order to divide and conquer.

But, when Haile Selassie regained power, he re-solidified use of Amharic, including the media. All newspapers were in Amharic, except for one in Tigrinya. Two-thirds of radio time was reserved for Amharic programs, with Tigrinya, Somali, Tigre, and Afar (the only other languages even allowed on the radio) squeezing collectively into the other third of the time.

When the Derg Regime took control in 1974, they declared Amharic would no longer dominate and local languages would be respected. They decided primary school would be taught in one of fifteen languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrigna, Walaita, Somali, Hadiya, Gidole, Tigre, Kambata, Kunama, Sidama, Silti, Afar, Kefa-Mocha or Saho.

Ironically, because the literacy campaign insisted on writing all of these languages with the Amharic alphabet (fidel), and because many of the teachers they sent to the rural areas only spoke Amharic (and not the local languages they were meant to teach), their campaign actually wound up spreading Amharic, instead of promoting local language use.

The Derg was overthrown in 1991, and the 1994 Constitution defined three basic rules about language use (1994 Constitution, Article 5):

  1. All Ethiopian languages shall enjoy equal state of recognition.
  2. Amharic shall be the working language of the Federal Government.
  3. Members of the Federation may determine their respective languages.

Today, Amharic is the official, national language. It is also the official language for four regional states (Amhara, SNNPR, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Gambella) and two federal cities (Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa). Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya, Harari, Afar, and Somali are official, regional languages in their respective regions. In some zones and districts, there are other locally-official languages. Primary school is still taught in local languages; there are currently 21 different languages used to teach primary school.

In 2020, Tigrinya, Somali, Afar, and Afaan Oromo were officially added as national languages, although in practice, Amharic is still the primary national language.

Essential Language for Travel Anywhere

If you’re travelling to a place where people speak another language, it’s your responsibility to figure out how to communicate! Depending on the place, you might also expect people to speak your language. Depending on what your language is, they very well might! Remember, however, that nobody is required nor expected to speak your language just because you do.

So, it’s up to you to communicate. Sometimes, that means hiring an interpreter, checking whether your smartphone translates that language, or (if you have certain sentences you need people to understand (such as communicating a severe food allergy to every restaurant you enter), making cards with those sentences in the language.

Whatever other methods you use, I’m also a strong believer in the importance of language-learning for travel. That’s right: try and learn the language (at least a little bit). Whether you’re visiting for five days or five weeks, being able to communicate — even on the most basic level — is essential to being a respectful traveller and having positive interactions during your trip.

Never fear, if you’re a novice language-learner: I’ve put together some simple recommendations of which words you might want to learn for your trip. If you’re just trying to learn a few words for a short trip, we won’t worry about grammar or full sentences — this is all about simplicity (even if you will occasionally sound very strange).

Top 10 Essential Words/Phrases

  1. Hello: Regardless of where you’re going, learn a greeting! Some languages have complex greetings, depending on the person and time of day — don’t worry about this. Just find a greeting that works for anyone, at any time, and use it with everyone!
  2. Good: Knowing how to say “good” is the easiest way to give a compliment (you can point to your meal and tell the waiter that it was good), or assuage any concerns (you can ensure concerned people that you are indeed comfortable and good in your bus seat). It’s useful in a thousand different circumstances. If you’re feeling extra motivated, learning the words for “delicious” and “beautiful” is also a great idea.
  3. Thank you: Some cultures use “thank you” less commonly than others, but it’s still a great phrase to know and use. When you’re travelling, you’re constantly a guest in someone else’s territory, and it’s good to share your gratitude for any welcome you receive. Bonus: if you’re up for learning another word, “please” is also polite.
  4. Sorry (Excuse Me): If you’re travelling somewhere you’re unfamiliar with the customs, norms, and simple traffic patterns, you’re bound to mess up at some point. If you bump into someone or accidentally do something rude, you’ll want to know a quick apology. It’s just manners.
  5. Bathroom: Just learn it. You don’t want to play charades.
  6. Restaurant: Whether you’re wandering around a city trying to find a place to eat, or confused as to whether the place you just entered actually serves food (this happens surprisingly often), being able to ask, “restaurant?” is incredibly helpful.
  7. How much?: You’re going to want to ask the price of something. Of course, you’ll also want to understand the answer; if you’re up for it, also consider learning numbers. This can really smooth out your interactions (especially when exchanging money).
  8. When?: When arranging transportation or planning anything, it’s super helpful to know how to ask the time. Even if you sound a little strange, saying “when bus Addis Ababa?” will get your point across. Again, knowing some numbers to understand the answer is also helpful.
  9. Where?: Here’s a great word to combine with some of your other words (remember, we’re ignoring grammar). You can ask “where hotel?” or “where restaurant?” or “where bus?” — super useful.
  10. ## People: Whether you’re trying to get a table in a restaurant or seats on a bus, it’s helpful to be able to communicate the number of people in your party. Just learn the number for how many you are and the word for “people.”

አማርኛ (Amharic) Adjectives

While Amharic-learners oftentimes gravitate towards “standard adjectives” (as described in the following table), native Amharic speakers oftentimes use verb-adjectives, or adjective-verbs.

What in the world is a verb-adjective? Or an adjective-verb?
Don’t worry, these aren’t official terms. I made them up to help me wrap my mind around this grammar. If you like them, great. If not, don’t worry about it.

Read through the following table about different forms of Amharic “adjectives” (they’re not all technically, grammatically adjectives, but in terms of function, it helps to think of them as such).

FormWhat To Look ForUse in a SentenceExamples
1. standard adjectiveNo particular pattern.same as English adjectives (in front of a noun, or with the verb “to be”)
1. She is a good person.
t’ïru säw nat.
2. She is good.
t’ïru nat.
ቆንጆ/k’onjo ድንቅ/dïnk’
2. verb-based adjectives (“verb-adjectives”)Usually, they start with የ/yä (and have a lot of “አ/ä” sounds).

Technically, these are relative clauses.
same as English adjectives (in front of a noun, or with the verb “to be”)
1. The phone is broken. ስልኩየማይሰረነው።
sïlku yämaysärä näw.
2. I didn’t buy the broken phone.
yämaysäräw sïlk algäzahum.
የተለመደ/yätälämädä የተሰበረ/yätäsäbärä የተቀደደ/yätäk’ädädä
3. adjective-based verbs (“adjective-verbs”)Oftentimes (but not always), you’ll see them in the “ይ..ል/yï…l” or “ያ…ል/ya…l” form.same as a verb in an Amharic sentence (at the end of a sentence, NOT with “to be”)
1. Your house is beautiful! 
betš yamral!
2. You are beautiful!
anči tamraläš!
ያምራል/yamral ይበቃል/yïbäk’al ይጣፍጣል/yït’aft’al

As you can see, a verb-adjective is an adjective derived from a verb. An adjective-verb is a verb derived from an adjective. Isn’t this fun? Let’s practice.

EXERCISE: Many adjectives exist in more than one of these forms. Complete the following table, changing adjectives between their different forms.
Standard Adjective (used with “to be”/መሆን/mähon)Adjective-Based Verb (Positive Conjugation)Adjective-Based Verb (Negative Conjugation)
example: ጣፋጭ ነው/t’afač’ näw It is sweet/delicious.ይጣፍጣል/yït’aft’al It is sweet/delicious.አይጣፍጥም/ayt’aft’m It is not sweet/delicious.

ይበቃል/yïbäk’al It is enough.

It is big.

አያምርም/ayamrïm It is not beautiful.
ትንሽ ነው/tïnš näw It is small.

When speaking/writing, you can use whichever type of adjective you’d prefer. It’s good to understand all three structures, however, so that you’ll be able to understand when reading/listening. As you become more accustomed to Amharic, you’ll start to learn when it sounds more natural to use the different options.

አማርኛ (Amharic) Relative Clauses

Present Tense Relative Clauses

Let’s just start with the formula:
relative clause = yäm + present tense prefix + verb stem (+ suffix, sometimes)

Here are some examples.

yäm + ï + (verb)
የም + እ + (ግስ)
yämwädä mïgïb
የምወደ ምግብ
a food that I likeyämwädäw mïgïb
የምወደው ምግብ
the food that I like
yäm + tï + (verb)
የም + ት + (ግስ)
yämïtwädä mïgïb
የምትወደ ምግብ
a food that you likeyämïtwädäw mïgïb
የምትወደው ምግብ
the food that you like
yäm + tï + (verb) +i
የም + ት + (ግስ) + ኢ
yämïtwäji mïgïb
የምትወጂ ምግብ
a food that you (f.) likeyämïtwäjiw mïgïb
የምትወጂው ምግብ
the food that you (f.) like
yäm + i* + (verb)
የም + ኢ + (ግስ)
yämiwädä mïgïb
የሚወደ ምግብ
a food that he likesyämiwädäw mïgïb
የሚወደው ምግብ
the food that he likes
yäm + t + (verb)
የም + ት + (ግስ)
yämïtwädä mïgïb
የምትወደ ምግብ
a food that she likesyämïtwädäw mïgïb
የምትወደው ምግብ
the food that she likes
yäm + ïn + (verb)
የም + እን + (ግስ)
yämïnwädä mïgïb
የምንወደ ምግብ
a food that we likeyämïnwädäw mïgïb
የምንወደው ምግብ
the food that we like
yäm + t + (verb) +u
የም + ት + (ግስ) + ኡ
yämïtwädu mïgïb
የምትወዱ ምግብ
a food that you (pl.) likeyämïtwädut mïgïb
የምትወዱት ምግብ
the food that you (pl.) like
yäm + i* + (verb) +u 
የም + ኢ + (ግስ) + ኡ
yämiwädu mïgïb
የሚወዱ ምግብ
a food that they likeyämiwädut mïgïb
የሚወዱት ምግብ
the food that they like
*For ïsu and ïnäsu, the present tense prefix is y, but for relative clauses, it changes to i.
**In Amharic, the suffix “u” means “the.” The same idea applies here. But, relative clauses always end in vowels, therefore you have to adapt the suffix (because Amharic vowels don’t like being together). If a word ends in ä or a, then the u-suffix changes into w. If the word ends in u, then the u-suffix changes into t.

Example Sentences:

  1. The people who work in the Peace Corps office are mostly Ethiopians.
    የፒስ ኮር ብሮ ውስጥ የሚሰሩት ሰዎች አብዘኛው እትዮጵያዊያን ነቸው።
    yäPis Kor bïro wïst’ yämisärut säwoč abzäñaw ityop’yawiyan näčäw.
  2. The volunteers who live in Oromia learn Afan Oromo.
    ኦሮሚያ ክልል ውስጥ የሚኖሩት በጎ ፈቃደኛዎች ኦሮምኛ ይማረሉ።
    oromiya kïlïl wist’ yäminorut bägo fäk’adäñawoč oromña yïmarälu.
  3. The men who work in the bus station wear red jackets.
    መነሀርያ ውስጥ የሚሰሩት ወንዶች ቀይ ጃኬቶች ይለብሳሉ።
    mänähärya wïst’ yämisärut wändoč k’äy jaketoč yïläbsalu.
  4. BONUS. “what is your favorite food” in Amharic translates literally as “what is the food that you like?”
    የምትወደው/የምትወጂው ምግብ ምንድን ነው?
    yämïtwädäw/yämïtwäjiw mïgïb mïndïn näw?
Exercise: Translate the following sentences into English.
  1. ሻበል (መንደር) የምትኖራው ፈረንጇ እህቴ አይደለችም።
    šabäl (mändär) yämtnoraw färänjwa ïhïte aydäläčm.
  2. የቤት ስራ የሚሰሩት ተማሪዎች ጎበዞች ነቸው።
    yäbet sïra yämisärut tämariwoč gobezoč näčäw.

Past Tense Relative Clauses

Here’s the formula, followed by a table of examples.
past tense relative clause = yä + verb (in simple past) + suffix

yäbälahut mïgïb
የበላሁት ምግብ
the food that I ate
yäbälahäw mïgïb
የበላሀው ምግብ
the food that you ate
yäbälašw mïgïb
የበላሽው ምግብ
the food that you ate
yäbälaw mïgïb
የበላው ምግብ
the food that he ate
yäbälačw mïgïb
የበላችው ምግብ
the food that she ate
yäbälanäw mïgïb
የበላነው ምግብ
the food that we ate
yäbälačhut mïgïb
የበላችሁት ምግብ
the food that you ate
yäbälut mïgïb
የበሉት ምግብ
the food that they ate

Now that you’ve got the formula, here are some examples of how to use past tense relative clauses in sentences.

The students who failed didn’t come to class today.
ዛሬ የወደቁት ተማሪዎች ወደ ትምህርት አልመጡም።
zare yäwädäk’ut tämariwoč tïmhïrt almät’um.
The students who studied passed the class.
የተመሩት ተማሪዎች ትምህርት አለፉ።
yätämärut tämariwoč tïmhïrt aläfu.
The tomatoes I bought were very expensive.
የገዛሁት ቲማቲም በጣም ዉድ ነበር። yägäzalut timatim bät’am wud näbär.
The letter she wrote was very long.
የጻፋችው ደብዳቤ በጣም ረጅም ነበር።
yäs’afačw däbdabe bät’am räjïm näbär.