grammar
Module 6 | Task 11 | Step 02
Sentence Structure

The most significant difference between English and Swahili sentences is the number of words used. English creates meaning by using multiple words put in a specific order.  Swahili, however, uses prefixes, suffixes and infixes added to the verb root to create meaning.  For example, note the translation of the following sentence:

 

English

I will hit him.

Swahili

Nitampiga.


Swahili creates meaning with an order similar to English, with the subject coming before the verb. However, Swahili puts the objects before the verb, while English puts objects after the verb.

For example:

English

I

will

hit

him.

subject

tense

verb

object

Swahili

Ni-

ta-

m-

piga.

subject

tense

object

verb


The sentence structure can be remembered with the acronym STOVE: subject, tense, object, verb, ending (when applicable).  The subject, tense, and object are all indicated with prefixes and infixes added to the verb root.  When those prefixes and infixes are changed, the meaning of the whole sentence changes.


For example:

English

I

am

writing

him.

subject

tense

verb

object

Swahili

Ni-

na-

mw-

andik-

ia.

subject

tense

object

verb

ending


The object infix in this case is mw- instead of just m-. If the verb starts with a vowel, animate object infixes are marked by mu but the u weakens to a w: (Nita-mw-andik-ia). Also note that the verb ending changes to prepositional form, marked by inserting i before the final article –a.

To change the subject, the prefix that indicates the subject is changed:

 

For example:

English

You

are

writing

him.

subject

tense

verb

object

Swahili

U-

na-

mw-

andiki-

a.

subject

tense

object

verb

ending


Be aware: by not changing the verb form to prepositional form the sentence would carry a totally different meaning. For example, “Unamwandikia” means “You are writing to/for him” whereas “Unamwandika” means “You are hiring/employing him/her.”

 

To change the verb tense, the infix that indicates the tense is changed:

English

I

(in verb)

wrote

him.

subject

tense

verb

object

Swahili

Ni-

li-

m-

andiki-

a.

subject

tense

object

verb

ending


To change the object, the infix that indicates the object is changed:

English

You

are

writing

her.

subject

tense

verb

object

Swahili

U-

na-

mw-

andiki-

a.

subject

tense

object

verb

ending


Swahili is a very contextual language. Many words have more than one meaning. Also, some verbs change meaning in the prepositional form.