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Swahili phrasebook

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Swahili or Kiswahili, is an official language of Tanzania, Kenya (English is the official language the government of Kenya and is widely spoken in urban areas), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Swahili speakers can also be found in surrounding countries, such as Burundi, Rwanda, and Mozambique. While only 5-10 million people speak Swahili as their first language, as a second language, there are over 50 million speakers, making it the most widely spoken African language in the world. As a part of the Bantu language family, Swahili is related to a variety of languages from Southern Africa to Central to West Africa. While some Bantu languages, like Xhosa and Zulu are click languages, Swahili does not use clicks, so pronunciation is generally not difficult for English speakers.

Pronunciation guide[edit]


Swahili has five vowels: a, e, i, o, u. If you are familiar with Spanish, Italian or Japanese, the vowels are pronounced the same. If not, they are pronounced:

A - ah (Like the "a" in "father")
E - eh (Like the "a" in "say" but without moving your mouth)
I - ee (Like the "ee" in "see")
O - oh (Like the "o" in "so" but without moving your mouth)
U - oo (Like the "oo" in "doom")

Vowels in Swahili always make the same sounds, even when combined with other vowels. There are no silent letters or diphthongs in Swahili, so vowels will always make the same sound, and it is important that you pronounce each vowel, even when one vowel follows another. For example, in the word "daawa" (lawsuit), you must say "dah-ah-wah", pronouncing both of the a's. Simply saying "dah-wah" (dawa) changes the meaning to "drug/medicine".


The following consonants are pronounced the same as in English:

b  like the "b" in "bay" d  like the "d" in "dog" f  like the "f" in "fun" g  like the "g" in "gut" h  like the "h" in "hen" j  like the "j" in "jam" k  like the "k" in "kit" l  like the "l" in "lump" p  like the "p" in "pot" s  like the "s" in "sun" t  like the "t" in "tip" v  like the "v" in "van" w  like the "w" in "win" y  like the "y" in "yellow" z  like the "z" in "zebra"

Other consonants

m  like the "m" in "mop". n  like the "n" in "numb"

Although "m" and "n" are pronounced the same in Swahili as they are in English, unlike English, these letters can often be found at the beginning of words followed by other consonants, such as "t", "d", etc. Since Swahili has no silent letters, it is important to pronounce these sounds. So for words like "Mchana" (afternoon) and "Ndugu" (sibling/relative), you need to pronounce the "m" and "n" sounds along with the following consonant sounds.

r  The "r" sound is not pronounced as it is in English. Actually, like the vowels, the "r" sound is the same as Spanish and Japanese; a soft "r" that sometimes sounds like a "d". Consonant pairings[edit] ch  like the "ch" in "chat" ng  like the "ng" in "sing" ny  like the "ni" in "onion" gh  officially pronounced similiar to the "ch" in "loch", you can alternatively just pronounce it with a hard "g", like the "g" in "gut" (as mentioned above) sh  like the "sh" in "dash" th  like the "th" in "thank". It is never pronounced like the "th" in "those". That "th" is spelled "dh" in Swahili. dh  like the "th" in "the". It is important not to confuse "dh" with the Swahili "th" above.

Common diphthongs[edit]

There are no diphthongs in Swahili; however, foreign names and loan words may contain them.

Phrase list[edit]


Note that greetings in Swahili are very important and long and drawn out - you can go back and forth several times, using not one but all of the greetings you know.

Hello, how are you?. (to one person)  Hujambo (response: Sijambo: I am fine.) Hello, how are you all. (to a group) : Hamjambo (response: Hatujambo, we're fine) Hello to an older person or authority figure.  Shikamoo (shee-kah-moh) (response: Marahaba). Some people frown on the use of Shikamoo because it started out as a servant's greeting to his/her master. Hello. (informal)  Sasa / Mambo / Jambo (generally said only to tourists). This is 'Sheng' or Swahili slang. Most locals are not impressed if you greet them using Sheng. Response to informal hello  Mzuri (fine), Safi (clean/in order), Poa (cool), Poa kichizi kama ndizi (crazy cool like a banana) How are you?  Habari / Habari yako? (lit.: Your news?) How are you? (alternative) Ukoje? Response: Niko salama. How are you? (alternative) U hali gani? (lit.: What's your condition?) How are you today?  Habari ya leo? How are you this morning?  Habari ya asubuhi? How are you this afternoon?  Habari ya mchana? How are you this evening?  Habari ya jioni? How was your journey / trip / safari?  Habari za safari? How have you been today?  Umeshindaje leo? Fine, thank you.  Nzuri, asante. What is your name?  Jina lako ni nani? My name is ______ .  Jina langu ni ______. Where are you coming from?  Unatoka wapi? Where are you from (native region)  unatokea wapi I am from _______.  Ninatoka nchi ya _______(your country). Please.  Tafadhali. Thank you (very much).  Asante (sana). You're welcome.  Karibu. Yes.  Ndiyo. No.  Hapana. I don't need. (Polite way of saying you don't want to buy anything)  Sihitaji. Excuse me. (getting attention)  Samahani. I'm sorry (in the sense of "pardon me"; used for minor transgressions).  Samahani. I'm sorry (about hearing very bad news for someone).  Nasikitika. Please forgive me  tafadhali nisamehe Goodbye  Kwa heri. Good night.  Usiku mwema. Sleep well.  Lala Salama. Did you sleep well?  Umelalaje? Umeamkaje (lit.: did you wake up well?) See you later.  Tuonane baadaye. Later.  Baadaye. See you tomorrow.  Tutuonana kesho. My Swahili is terrible  Kiswahili changu ni kibaya sana. I can't speak Kiswahili.  Siwezi kusema Kiswahili. I only speak a little Kiswahili.  Ninaongea Kiswahili kidogo tu. Do you speak English?  Unazungumza Kiingereza? Bathroom  Bafu Toilet  Choo Help!  Msaada! Where is the _______?  _____(e.g. bathroom, police station...) iko wapi?

Grammatically, this would depend on the noun class of the object in question. E.g. for bathroom, it would be 'Kiko', not 'Iko'. There are 18 noun classes in Swahili.


Leave me alone.  Uniache! Don't touch me!  Usiniguse! I'll call the police.  Nitaita polisi! Police!  Polisi! Help!  Msaada! Stop! Thief!  (Saying this in Swahili could likely result in violent death for the thief at the hands of self appointed vigilantes. Your item may or may not be recovered.) Simama, mwizi! I need your help.  Ninaomba msaada. I'm lost.  Nimepotea. I lost my bag.  Nimepoteza mfuko wangu. I lost my wallet.  Nimepoteza pochi. I'm sick.  Mimi ni mgonjwa. I've been injured.  Nimeumia I need a doctor.  Ninahitaji daktari. Can I use your phone?  Ninaomba kutumia simu yako?


One.  Moja Two.  Mbili Three.  Tatu Four.  Nne Five.  Tano Six.  Sita Seven.  Saba Eight.  Nane Nine.  Tisa Ten.  Kumi Twenty.  Ishirini Thirty.  Thelathini Forty.  Arobaini Fifty.  Hamsini Sixty.  Sitini Seventy.  Sabini Eighty.  Themanini Ninety.  Tisini One Hundred.  Mia moja One Thousand.  Elfu moja


now  Sasa later  Baadaye before  Kabla ya after  Baada ya morning  Asubuhi afternoon  Mchana evening  Jioni night  Usiku Clock time[edit] What time is it?  Saa ngapi?

In Swahili, the morning does not begin at midnight (12 AM); instead, it begins at 7:00 AM. Daytime revolves around the rising and setting of the sun, which typically begins to rise around 7 AM and set at 7 PM in the areas where Swahili is spoken. For English speakers, this can be confusing; however, those who learn how to tell time in Swahili will admit that it is more logical than the English system, in which midnight is considered "morning", even though no one begins their day at midnight.

So, to say the time in Swahili, you need to add (or subtract) 6 from the English time. 7:00 in America will be expressed as the first hour (1:00) in Swahili. AM is expressed with asubuhi (morning) and PM is typically marked with usiku (night). Because the daytime begins at 7 AM, hours from midnight to 6 AM will be expressed with usiku, as these are nighttime hours in Swahili. Jioni (evening) can be used in place of usiku for hours that are not so late, such as 7 PM.

7 o'clock AM  saa moja asubuhi 7.15 AM saa moja na robo asubuhi 7.20 AM saa moja na dakika ishirini asubuhi 7.30 AM saa moja na nusu asubuhi 7.45 AM saa mbili (kasoro robo = kasorobo) 7.50 AM saa mbili kasoro dakika kumi asubuhi 8 o'clock AM  saa mbili asubuhi 9 o'clock AM  saa tatu asubuhi Noon (12 o'clock PM)  saa sita asubuhi 1 o'clock PM  saa saba mchana 2 o'clock PM  saa nana mchana 7 o'clock PM  saa moja usiku 8 o'clock PM  saa mbili usiku 9 o'clock PM  saa tatu usiku Midnight (12 o'clock AM)  saa sita usiku Duration[edit] dakika_____ minute(s)  saa (masaa)_____ hour(s)  siku_____ day(s)  wiki_____ week(s)  mwezi (miezi)_____ month(s)  mwaka (miaka)_____ year(s)  duration ____ muda how long ____ muda gani Days[edit]

In Swahili, the first day of the week is Saturday. The name of Saturday combines juma (week) and mosi (one/first). You can think of it as meaning roughly "the first of the week". The other days are the same, with the exception of Thursday and Friday, which do not follow the pattern.

Saturday  Jumamosi Sunday  Jumapili Monday  Jumatatu Tuesday  Jumanne Wednesday  Jumatano Thursday  Alhamisi Friday  Ijumaa Months[edit] Month  mwezi

In Tanzania, the words in parentheses are rarely used. Instead, they refer to them as first month, second month, etc.

January  Mwezi wa kwanza (Januari) February  Mwezi wa pili (Februari) March  Mwezi wa tatu (Machi) April  Mwezi wa nne (Aprili) May  Mwezi wa tano (Mei) June  Mwezi wa sita (Juni) July  Mwezi wa saba (Julai) August  Mwezi wa nane (Agosti) September  Mwezi wa tisa (Septemba) October  Mwezi wa kumi (Oktoba) November  Mwezi wa kumi na moja (Novemba) December  Mwezi wa kumi na mbili (Desemba) Seasons[edit]

Swahili-speaking countries generally experience two seasons: rainy-and-hot and cold-and-dry. Swahili does not have words for "autumn" or "spring", etc.

Season  majira summer  kiangazi winter  majira ya baridi spring  majira ya machipuko fall   majira ya majani kupukukika Writing time and date[edit]





- kibuluu/samawati


- kahawia



gray  kijivu green 

- kijani














Bus and train[edit] Minibus (Kenya, Uganda)  Matatu Minibus (Tanzania)  Daladala Passenger  Abiria How much is a ticket to _____?

Tikiti ya kwenda ____ shengapi?

One ticket to _____, please. 

Naomba tikiti moja ya kwenda ____.

Where does this train/bus go? 

Treni/basi hii inakwenda wapi?

Does this train/bus stop in _____? 

Treni/basi itakwenda ____?

When does the train/bus for _____ leave? 

Treni/basi itaondoka lini?

When will this train/bus arrive in _____? 

Treni/basi itafika lini _____?

Directions[edit] How do I get to _____ ?  Je, ninakwenda ____ I want to go to ____  Ninataka kuenda ____ Which direction?  Mwelekeo upi? ...the train station?  Kituo/stesheni cha treni/gari la moshi ...the bus station?  Kituo/stesheni cha basi ...the airport?  Uwanja wa ndegi ...downtown?  Mjini Town center  Katikati ya mjini ...the youth hostel?  ...the _____ hotel?  Hoteli _____ iko wapi? (but 'hoteli' often refers to a place to eat, especially in Kenya) ...the American/Canadian/Australian/British consulate?  Embassy  Ubalozi Consulate  Balozi ndogo (but probably better to ask for 'Ubalozi') Where are there a lot of...  ...hotels?  hoteli ...restaurants?  migahawa (singular is 'mgahawa') ...bars?  Baa (same in plural) Club  Kilabu ...sites to see?  Can you show me on the map?  Unaweza nionyesha katika ramani? (maps are not widely understood; street names and directions are less frequently used than local landmarks, which you need to learn for each area. Bus stations, bus stops, expensive hotels, monuments, and even some very unlikely items, constitute recognized landmarks) Where is it on the map?  Iko wapi katika ramani? street  Streeti Highway  Barabara Turn left.  Pinda kushoto Turn right.  Pinda kulia left  Kushoto right  Kulia straight ahead  Moja kwa moja towards the _____  close to _____  Karibu na past the _____  Baada ya ____/Pita ya _____ before the _____  Kabla ya ____ Watch for the _____.  Angalia kwa ____ intersection  north  Kaskazini south  Kusini east  Mashariki west  Magharibi uphill  kwenye mlima downhill  Taxi[edit] Taxi!  Take me to _____, please. 

Nipeleke......, tafadhali

How much does it cost to get to _____? 

itakuwa pesa ngapi kunifikisha------?

Take me there, please. 

Tafadhali nipeleke huko basi:


Do you have any rooms available?  Je, unavyo vyumba?/Je, vyumba vipo? How much is a room for one person/two people?  Chumba cha mtu moja/watu wawili ni bei gani ? Does the room come with...  Self contained (with bathroom)  Selfi contain Not self contained (without bathroom)  Non/not selfi contain ...bedsheets?  Shuka ...a bathroom?  Bath  Bafu Shower  Showa/nyunyu/bafu ya manyunyu ...a telephone?  Simu ...a TV?  Runinga May I see the room first?  Naweza kukiona chumba kwanza? Do you have anything quieter?  Kuna nafasi kimya zaidi? ...bigger? 





bei nafuu?

OK, I'll take it. 

Sawa basi, nitakichukua.

I will stay for _____ night(s). 

nitakitumia usiku-----.

Can you suggest another hotel?  Do you have a safe? (...) ...lockers?  Is breakfast/supper included? What time is breakfast/supper?  ) Please clean my room.  Can you wake me at _____?  I want to check out.  Ninataka kuondoka.


Do you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars?  Do you accept British pounds?  Do you accept credit cards?  Can you change money for me?  Unaweza kubadilia pesa mimi? Where can I get money changed?  Ninaweza kubadilisha pesa wapi? Can you change a traveler's check for me?  Where can I get a traveler's check changed?  What is the exchange rate?  Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)? 


A table for one person/two people, please.  Meza kwa mtu moja/watu wawili, tafadhali. We are two/three/four.  Tuko wawili/watatu/wanne. Can I look at the menu, please?  Ninaweza kuangalia menu, tafadhali. Can I look in the kitchen?  Ninaweza kuona jikoni? Is there a house specialty?  Is there a local specialty?  I'm a vegetarian.  Mimi ni mla mboga Vegetarian food  Chakula mboga mboga I don't eat pork.  Sili nyama ya nguruwe/kiti moto (The latter is far more common) I don't eat beef.  Sili nyama ya n'gombe I don't eat goat.  Sili nyama ya mbuzi I only eat kosher food.  Ninakula chakula halali tu. Can you make it "lite", please? (less oil/butter/lard)  Punguza mafuta/siagi/ No bones.  Bila mafupa fixed-price meal  a la carte  breakfast  kifungua kinywa / chakula cha asubuhi lunch  chakula cha mchana Food   Chakula tea  chai supper  chakula cha jioni I want _____.  Ninataka I request _____. Naomba _____. (more polite than 'I want', especially in Tanzania) I want a dish containing _____.  Banana   Ndizi Goat   Mbuzi chicken  Kuku beef  N'gombe fish  Samaki ham  sausage  cheese  Jibini Egg/eggs  Yai/Mayai salad  Saladi (fresh) vegetables  Mboga (singular), Maboga (plural) Fresh  freshi (fresh) fruit  Mtunda (singular), Matunda (plural) bread  Mkate toast  Tosti (but there is a brand of bread called 'Tosti' so you will also find a 'Toasted toast' entry on some menus!) noodles/pasta  Tambi (invariably, spaghetti unless you are in a specialist restaurant) rice  Wali (cooked rice), Mchele (uncooked) Mpunga (rice plant) beans  Maharage May I have a glass of _____?  Ninaomba glasi moja ya ____. May I have a cup of _____?  Ninaomba kikombe kimoja cha ____. May I have a bottle of _____?  Ninaomba chupa moja ya ____. coffee  Kahawa (this will usually be instant coffee. It's rare to find real coffee except in specialist establishments or those frequented by tourists) tea (drink)  Chai spiced tea  Chai ya masala (tea is often spiced with masala mix or ginger Tea with milk  Chai ya maziwa Tea without milk  Chai ya rangi (literally, 'tea with color') juice  juici (bubbly) water  water  Maji beer  Pombe, Bia (Pombe often refers to a local brew and many of these are unsafe to drink. Better to ask for a beer by brand name or ask 'Bia gani ipo?', 'What beers do you have?' red/white wine  Mvinyo/wini nyekundu/nyeupi May I have some _____?  Ninaomba salt  Chumvi black pepper  pilipili manga butter  Siagi (But you are likely to get margarine, at best. You will probably need to ask for margarine by a brand name, such as 'Blue Band') Excuse me, waiter? (getting attention of server) Samahani/ebu (the latter is less formal) Excuse me, waiter? (to a waiter, 'Kaka', to a waitress, 'Dada') I'm finished.  Nimemaliza It was delicious.  Chakula ni kitamu Please clear the plates.  Uondoe masahani tafadhali The check, please.  Naomba bili, tafadhali


Do you serve alcohol?  Pombe ipo? Is there table service?  Je, kuna meza huduma A beer/two beers, please.  Bia moja/mbili, tafadhali. A glass of red/white wine, please.  Glasi mvinyo/wini nyekundu/nyuepi, tafadhali A pint, please.  (Pint measure is not used in East Africa, bottles are usually half litre, sometimes 375ml. People order by the bottle and if there are two sizes, they say 'kubwa' for large or 'ndogo' for small. A bottle, please.  Chupa moja, tafadhali. _____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please.  whiskey  Whiskey vodka  Vodka rum  water  Maji club soda  tonic water  orange juice  juici/maji ya machungwa Coke (soda)  Koka Do you have any bar snacks?  Snaki ipo? One more, please.  Moja nyingine,tafadhali Another round, please.  Duru nyingine, tafadhali When is closing time?  Saa ya kufunga ni lini? Cheers!  Maisha marefu


Do you have this in my size?  Kuna hii ya kunitosha? How much is this?  Bei gani? That's too expensive.  Ni Ghali Sana. Would you take _____?  Utakubali----- expensive  Ghali cheap  Rahisi I can't afford it.  Sina pesa za kutosha I don't want it.  Sitaki You're cheating me.  I'm not interested.  OK, I'll take it.  Sawa, nitachukua. Can I have a bag?  Nipe mfuko mmoja tafadhali. Do you ship (overseas)?  I need...  Ninahitaji ...toothpaste.  Dawa ya meno ...a toothbrush.  Mswaki ...tampons.  ...soap.  Sabuni ...shampoo.  shampoo ya nywele ...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen)  dawa ya kupambana na maumivu ...cold medicine.  Dawa ya mafua ...stomach medicine.  Dawa ya tumbo ...a razor.  wembe ...an umbrella.  Mwavuli ...sunblock lotion.  ...a postcard.  ...postage stamps.  stempu ...batteries.  makaa ...writing paper.  Karatasi ya kuandika ...a pen.  Kalamu ...English-language books.  Kitabu cha Kiingereza (singular) / Vitabu vya Kiingereza (plural) ...English-language magazines.  ...an English-language newspaper.  Gazeti la Kiingereza ...an English-English dictionary.  Kamusi ya Kiingereza


I want to rent a car.  Ninataka kukodi gari. Can I get insurance?  Ninaweza kupata bima? stop (on a street sign)  Simama one way  yield  no parking  Hairuhusiwi kuegesha (parking not permitted) speed limit  Slow down  Punguza mwendo gas (petrol) station  Stesheni/stesheni ya mafuta/stesheni ya mafuta ya gari petrol  Mafuta/mafuta ya gari diesel 


I haven't done anything wrong.  sijafanya kitu kibaya It was a misunderstanding.  Where are you taking me?  Am I under arrest?  Je, mimi chini ya kukamatwa? I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen.  I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate.  I want to talk to a lawyer.  nataka kuogea na wakili Can I just pay a fine now? 

Country and territory names[edit]

United States  Marekani Canada  Kanada Mexico  Meksiko Brazil  Brazil United Kingdom  Uingereza Ireland  Eire, Ayalandi Russia  Urusi France  Ufaransa Netherlands  Uholanzi Germany  Udachi, Ujerumani Italy  Italia Kenya  Kenya Tanzania  Tanzania Zanzibar (Tanzanian Island)  Unguja Uganda  Uganda Democratic Republic of the Congo  Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo South Africa  Afrika Kusini Nigeria  Nijeria Ethiopia  Uhabeshi China  Uchina Japan  Japani Singapore  Singapuri South Korea  Korea Kusini India  Uhundi Israel  Uyahudi Australia  Australia New Zealand  Nyuzilandi

On safari[edit]

cheetah   duma elephant  tembo giraffe   twiga hippo   kiboko lion   simba ostrich   mbuni snake   nyoka turtle   warthog   pumba zebra   punda milia
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