Kiswahili and the use of ‘Ni’

Unlike in English where you don’t really have to specify whether you are referring to one person or more than one, in Swahili we go to great pains to do this!

How exactly is it done? You simply add “ni” at the end of the word in question. So before I confuse you any further, here is what I mean:

The Swahili word for ‘welcome’ is “karibu”. Therefore, if you are welcoming one person then this is what you would say.

However, if you are welcoming a bunch of people to, say your home (note: when invited somewhere we have a habit of bringing along the whole family save for the dog, it’s a Swahili thing! -I kid you not!), in this case you would say; “karibuni”. The “ni” at the end indicates that you are welcoming them all as opposed to just one person (as this might be misinterpreted as you hinting at the sudden increase in numbers!).

Further examples:

Asante (thank you)- asanteni

Njoo (come, as in “come here”)- njooni

Samahani (excuse me/I’m sorry)- samahanini

Tafadhali (please)- tafadhalini

Having said that, there are exceptions to this little rule, as there always are (much to many of my students’ chagrin!). So, you wouldn’t necessarily add “ni” to every Swahili word you come across and expect it to do the job. But that’s a whole different lesson for another day!

Besides, the five words I’ve used today should pretty much get you through plenty of situations and for anything else you can simply help yourself to a Swahili-English dictionary or better yet get an interpreter – our educated yet unemployed youth could do with a job or two!

Cheers, till next time!


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