Somali: Present Tense (Positive)

In this post, we’re going to go through the present tense conjugation, and then do some practice with it.

Conjugating the Present Tense

The present tense in Somali is quite straightforward. You’re just going to take the verb and add suffixes, depending on who the subject is.

subjectverb ends in consonantverb ends in I or EEverb ends in “consonant-consonant-O”(drop the O)verb ends in “vowel-consonant-O”(drop the O)
This table shows the suffixes added in the present tense, depending on the subject.

Overall, we can notice the following patterns:

  • When the subject is either “you” (waad) or “she” (way), the suffix starts with /t/.
  • When the subject is plural, the suffix includes /n/. The /n/ comes at the beginning of the “we” (waannu/weynu) suffix, and at the end of the “you all” (waad) and “they” (wey) suffixes.

The first two columns are very similar, with the following differences:

  • The /+aa/ suffix changes to /+yaa/ when the verb ends in I or EE. This is already how we pronounce that “i+aa” sound, so just remember to actually write in that /y/.
  • The /+taa/ suffix changes to /+saan/ when the verb ends in I or EE.

The last two columns get a bit more complicated, but the general idea (especially with /n/ in plural suffixes) remains. That being said, there are some exceptions and irregularities, so consider the above table as a general rule.

Examples in Practice!

We’re going to start with a collection of sentences using household vocabulary to describe daily routines, mostly conjugated for “waan” (I). Notice how we use waxaan instead of waan when there is an object.

Somali SentenceConjugation BreakdownEnglish Translation
Maxaad sameesaa maalin kasta?samee = do/make
samee+saa = you do
What do you do every day?
Waan kacaa.kac = wake up
kac+aa = I wake up
I wake up.
Waan qubeystaa.qubeys(o) = shower
qubeys+taa = I shower
(notice how “O” drops)
I shower.
Waxaan gashtaa dharkayga.gash(o) = put on
gash+taa = I put on
I get dressed.
Waan cadaydaa.caday(o) = brush teeth
caday+daa = I brush (my) teeth
I brush my teeth.
Waxaan dhaqaa wejigayga.dhaq = wash
dhaq+aa = I wash
I wash my face.
Waan quraacdaa.quraac(o) = eat breakfast
quraac+daa = I eat breakfast
I eat breakfast.
Waxaan baxaa gurigayga.bax = leave
bax+aa = I leave
I leave my house.

Next, let’s look at some sentences which use other pronouns (we don’t want to be selfish)!

Somali SentenceConjugation BreakdownEnglish Translation
Af Soomaliga waxaannu hadalnaa.hadal = speak
hadal+naa = we speak
We speak Somali.
Hilib waxay cuntaa.cun = eat
cun+taa = she eats
She eats meat.
Qado waxay cunaan.cun = eat
cun+aan = they eat
They eat lunch.
Cunto waxuu sameeyaa.samee = make
samee+yaa = he makes
He makes food.
Buug waxaad akhrisaa.akhri = read
akhri+saa = you read
You read a book.
Way shaqtaa.shaqo = work
shaqo-o+taa = she works
She works.
Jir waxaaannu dhisidnaa.jir dhisid = exercise
dhisid+naa = we exercise
We exercise.
Way tukadtaantukado = pray
tukado-o+taan = they pray
They pray.

If anyone spots any corrections (or has any questions), please don’t hesitate to comment! Otherwise, happy studying!

Somali Questions/Interrogative (“ma” + past tense positive)

In a previous post, I wrote about subject pronouns, in the “declarative” (sentence) sense. Of course, a conversation usually consists of both sentences (declarative) and questions (interrogative). So, today will be about the interrogative, so that we can start putting together small conversations.

Here’s a table showing pronouns, the declarative marker, and the interrogative marker for each person. Just like the declarative marker is formed as “waa+suffix,” the interrogative marker is formed as “ma+suffix.” That being said, it comes out looking like “miy+suffix.”

Forming the Interrogative

Ianigawaanwaxaanma+aan = miyaan
Youadigawaadwaxaadma+aad = miyaad
Heisagawuuwaxuuma+uu = miyuu
Sheiyadawaywaxayma+ay = miyay
We (exc.)aanagawaannuuwaxaannuma+aannu = miyaannu
We (inc.)innagawaynuwaxaynuma+aynu = miyaynu
Ya’llidinkawaydinwaxaydinma+aydin = miyaydin
Theyiyagawaywaxayma+ay = miyay

Using the Interrogative

Note: the rest of this post assumes you’re already familiar with the simple past tense (positive). If you need a refresher, click here for the post about the past tense.

Okay, let’s leave the jargon behind. These “ma” words are used similarly to the English question word “do.” Yes/no questions which would begin with “do” in English begin with these “ma+suffix” participles (words) in Somali.

Did you eat lunch?
Qado miyaad cuntay?
Yes, I ate lunch.
Haa, qado waxaan cunay.
Did you sleep?
Miyaad seexatay?
Yes, I slept.
Haa, waan seextay.
Did you (all) arrive?
Miyaydin gaadhteen?
Yes, we arrived.
Haa, waannu gadhnay.
Did they go to Somaliland?
Somaliland miyay tageen?
Yes, they went to Somaliland.
Haa, Somaliland waxay tageen.
Did you (all) drink tea?
Shaah miyaydin cabteen?
Yes, we drank tea.
Haa, shaah waxaannu cabteen.
Did he enter the house?
Guriga miyuu galay?
Yes, he entered the house.
Haa, guriga waxuu galay.
Did she bring breakfast?
Quraac miyay keentay?
Yes, she brought breakfast.
Haa, quraac waxay keentay.
Reminder: I am a language-learner, and am very open to any corrections! Please comment if you see any errors!

Obviously, there aren’t any “no” answers so far — I haven’t learned the negative version of the past tense yes, but I’ll be sure to share when I do!

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!


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 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.

Somali Pronouns: Anigu v. Waan v. Waxaan?

I’ll admit it — starting off, Somali grammar already makes my brain hurt (in the best possible way, of course). As an English speaker, it’s a lot to wrap my head around, but it admittedly helps that I have already studied some other African languages with similar structures, using both multiple different pronouns (including verbal pronouns) to identify the subject of the sentence.

The Confusion with Somali Subject Pronouns

A few days ago, I was starting to learn some grammar for the first time. Pronouns in Somali seem to be often listed as anigu/I, adigu/you, isagu/he, iyadu/she, innagu/we-inclusive, annagu/we-exclusive, idinku/you-plural, and iyagu/they. Easy enough, right? I copied these into my notebook, and then started to work on sentences.

I figured I’d start with something easy… I eat, for example. My brain is thinking this sentence is going to start with “aniga” (because that’s the Somali word for I). I find the sentence in Somali, and there it is, staring at me, confusing my brain.


The Somali Double Subject: Anigu v. Waan

After reading a bit more about Somali pronouns, I remembered the way my university Swahili teacher would always phrase things, to help us translate more fluently. She’d say sentences like “as for me, I…” and “as for her, she…”

If you’re familiar with Swahili verb conjugations, it’d be common to say something like “mimi ninakula…” (translating literally to “me I eat” (mimi for me, /ni-/ for I, /-na-/ for the present tense marker, and /-kula/ meaning eat). You could also simply say “ninakula.” Mimi means “me” or “as for me,” and while it’s acceptable to include “mimi” in the sentence, it’s also acceptable to omit it.

We’ll switch back to Somali now.

In Somali, a similar double-subject structure applies. The Somali pronouns (anigu, adigu, isagu, iyadu, etc) are the equivalent of the Swahili pronouns (mimi, yeye, wewe, etc). They provide emphasis, but cannot function independently. In order to correctly form a sentence in either language, you need to include a “verbal pronoun.”

For example, look at the Somali sentence “waan cunaa” (I eat). “Waan” is the verbal pronoun, marking the subject as “I.” The sentence could also be written as “anigu waan cunaa,” which would literally translate as “as for me, I eat.” But, the “anigu” is optional, so “waan cunaa” alone is perfectly correct.

This structure is quite common across African languages. In Amharic, the present tense verb conjugation for “I eat” could be እኔ እበላለሁ (with both subjects) or simply እበላለሁ (with only the verbal pronoun). In Zulu, you could say “mina ngiyadla” (with both subjects) or simply “ngiyadla” (with only the verbal pronoun).

Is that a complement? Waan v. Waxaan in Somali

So, this is another element of basic Somali grammar which baffled me for a few hours, and then became perfectly clear when I remembered the grammar of other languages.

To start, check out these two sentences, written in the Somali present tense.

  • Waan cunaa. I eat.
  • Waxaan cunaa muus. I eat bananas.

Why does waan change to waxaan?! It’s the same subject, right?!

Now, if you’re familiar with Zulu (or Swati, or another similar southern African language), you’ll know that “I eat” translates to “ngiyadla,” while “I eat bananas” translates to “ngidla ubhanana.” The /-ya-/ in the middle of “ngiyadla” is only included when there is no “verb complement.” Generally, that means that the /-ya-/ is included when there’s no object. When we add in the object (in this case, ubhanana), the /-ya-/ disappears.

Back to Somali.

In the sentence “waan cunaa,” there is no verb complement — no object, nothing other than the subject and the verb. Therefore, we use “waan” as the verbal pronoun (meaning “I”). In the sentence “waxaan cunaa muus,” there is a verbal complement (“muus,” or bananas). Now that we’ve added in that verbal complement, the verbal pronoun switches from “waan” to “waxaan.”

It’s interesting, because while it’s similar logic, the pattern is the reverse of Zulu. In Zulu, the verbal pronoun becomes shorter when the complement is added. In Somali, the verbal pronoun becomes longer when the complement is added.

All the Somali Subject and Verbal Pronouns

Of course, you don’t want to just talk about yourself. So, here is a chart showing the rest of the subject pronouns (optional), verbal pronouns (required), and verbal pronouns (for when there’s a verb complement).

We (exc.)aanagawaannuuwaxaannu
We (inc.)innagawaynuwaxaynu

Again, I am a novice student of Somali, so if there’s anything which needs correction (or elaboration), your comments and feedback are much appreciated!