- A Note on Spelling
- Sentence Particles
- Question Words
- Sentence Structures
A Note on Spelling
While there is some standardization (especially coming from institutional sources, such as translations), it is often that if being told how to spell something by an individual, there may be dialetical spellings, hypercorrections, or loss of double vowels. To the best of my ability, this page includes standard spellings unless otherwise noted.
Somali has what Colloquial Somali calls "Mood Classifiers". They are particles that often have person markers and are required depending on the type of sentence being said. This is brought up first, since I have found in most cases it is easier to think about them in a less rigorous capacity. For example,
waan:I (in a positive delcarative sentence is actually waa + aan, where waa is the sentence particle and aan is the 1SG marker. I choose to list that as a pronoun in the categorization below, since for a learner, that is a more recognizable term, even if not strictly true.
That said, here are the sentence particles and their uses.
- positive declarative sentences. When used without a person marker, it imples 3SG, e.g. waa cuntay, "s/he ate it".
- questions. When used with a person marker, it focuses the sentence on the subject of the question.
Note that positive imperative sentences do not have a sentence particle.
Somali has 4 cases:
- default (or absolutive): default case for all nouns, used when there is no object of a sentence
- subjective: used when there is an object of the sentence
- genitive: used for marking possession
- vocative: used for calling a person's name or in poetry
This case is unmarked, hence it being called the default case. It is used when there is no object of the sentence, such as in adjectival sentences. Such as in "she is nice", "she" would not change case
This case is used when there is an object in the sentence. In general, this is any non-adjectival sentence. It also appears to be used to mark the topic of a sentence. For example,
Somali has two genders: masculine and feminine. Gender can only reliably be known if one also knows the definite article and so it is recommended to always learn the article with the noun. A noun's gender will also follow the "natural" gender of the noun, if one has one, e.g. a person's gender.
To really reinforce that gender here is purely linguistic, gender may switch between plural and singular forms for the same noun.
Definite articles ka, ga, ha, a.
Definite articles sha, ta, da.
cimilada:the weather ends in
-da, so it is feminine.
guriga:the house ends in
-ga, so it is masculine.
The variation is due to sound changes that occur when the masculine (ka) and feminine (ta) definite articles are added to a noun.
There are three types of personal pronouns in Somali: standalone, subject of a intransitive sentence (without an object), and subject of a transitive sentence (with an object).
Standalone pronouns follow casemarkings for nouns. When used in the subjective case, it is perceived as more formal than using just the subjective pronouns below. That is, Iyadu waa ganacsato is seen as more formal than Waxay tahay ganacsato (she is a business woman).
Open question: are annagu/innagu in free variation or are there dialect differences?
|1PL||annaga / innaga||annagu / innagu|
|2PL||adinka / idinka||adinku / idinku|
Used when there is no object, such as in sentences with only a subject and an adjective.
Used when there is an object. Notice how it is the same as the default case, but with -ax- inserted at the beginning.
All possessive pronouns are suffixes and change based on the gender of the object being possessed. In their default form, masculine suffixes begin with -k and feminine with -t, though with sound changes, it is not always static.
Note that while the feminine forms are very similar, but 1SG and 2SG have d instead of g.
These suffixes are inclusive of the definite article (-ka/ta) and so they do not need to be additionally suffixed.
This form is used when the focus of the sentence is on the subject of the question. It is not required and can be left as ma.
Demonstratives (this, that, etc.) differ based on the gender of the noun, but only in the singular. For plural (these, those), the worder is not differentiated by gender.
These can be suffixed to the end of nouns, which will follow sound change rules. For example,
- Kani waa maxaay? Kani waa wiil.
What is this? This is a boy.
- Taasi waa maxaay? Taasi waa gabar.
What is that? That is a girl.
- Kuwaani waa maxaay? Kuwaani waa doofaro.
What are these? These are pigs.
There are 7 declensions in Somali, plus irregulars. The numbers below are respected in both Zorc and Osman's dictionary, as well as Colloquial Somali by Martin Orwin.
Note that tone and gender can change when going from SG to PL.
Declension 1 (Does not end in 'o')
SG does not end in -o. PL add -o, if SG ends in -i add -yo.
|SG||M penultimate V
F final V
- warqád → warqado
- saacád → saacado
- mindí → mindiyo
Declension 2 (Does not end in 'e', mostly 2+ syl.)
SG does not end in -e, mostly 2+ syllables. PL add -o, if SG ends in -i, "guttural" C, j, s add -yo, if ends in b, d, dh, r, l, n, double final C and add -o.
|SG||M penultimate V
F final V
- albáad → albaabbo
Declension 3 ((C)V(V)CVC)
SG has the form of (C)V(V)CVC where the last two C are different. PL add -o and delete final V.
|SG||M penultimate V
F final V
|M or F|
- qálin → qáln → qalmo
- hílib → hilbo
Declension 4 (1 syl ends in C)
SG is one syllable and ends in C. PL add -a and last C.
|SG||penultimate V or only V||always M|
- áf → afaf
- qóys → qoysas
- nín → niman
Declension 5 (1-3 syl)
SG is 1 to 3 syllables, but never 1 syllable with short V. PL change stress and gender.
|SG||penultimate V||always M|
|PL||final V||always F|
In some words, if the last vowel is a dipthong, the dipthong counts as a single V.
- éy → eý
- mádax → madáx
- árdey → ardéy
Note that madax can also be declension 2.
Declension 6 (ends in 'o')
SG ends in -o. PL add -oyin.
|SG||penultimate V||always F|
|PL||penultimate V||always M|
- hoóyo → hooyoóyin
- wáddo → waddoóyin
Declension 7 (ends in 'e')
SG ends in -e. PL remove -e and add -ayaal. Note that since e and a are often confused in writing, this can also be thought of as just adding -yaal.
|SG||penultimate V||always M|
- aábbe → aabbayaal
- báre → barayaal
There are two exceptions:
óday/odayaal:old men and
Verbs can be divided into 5 regular declensions, plus 6 irregular verbs.
Following Saeed 1993 and Zorc & Osman 1993, these will be v1, v2a, v2b, v3a, and v3b. When a listed suffix has an accent mark, that means that the accent shifts to the suffix. If no accent mark is listed, then the whole word is unaccented.
It looks like simple sentences are with waa (or similar?):
Kani waa wiil/This is a boy
Reerkeygu wuu fiicanyahay/my family is good (f. noun)
Cimilada wey fiicantahay/the weather is good (m. noun)
Negative sentences with demonstratives are with "ma aha", which can be before or after the noun:
Kaasi ma aha ey/That is not a dog.
Tani bisad ma aha/This is not a cat.
Negative demonstrative questions are asked with ma and -aa on the noun - Kani ma wiilaa?/Is that not a boy? Plural nouns change from -o to -aa. Kuwaani ma doofaaraa? Kuwaani ma aha doofaaroo/Are these not pigs? They're not pigs.
In PRS.CONT/SIMP, Dahir gives ii as the 2PL vowel for the suffix, whereas Saeed (and searching on the internet) give -taan. Is it dialetical? Dahir said aa as vowel is informal.
Positive and Question form
This form uses the transitive pronouns in the positive form and the question pronouns in the question form.
|3||yahay (m.) / tahay (f.)||yihiin|
When the sentence is an adjective, the verb is suffixed to the adjective. If the subject is 1PL, then the n of the verbal form is dropped, making it match the 1SG form.
Note that in the question form, when the subject is 3SG, there are two variations, a formal forma, which uses the question pronouns listed above and a colloquial form which uses miyaa. In the colloquial form, the pronoun cannot go in front. Thus,
- (Anigu) waxaan ahay arday.
I am a student.
Standalone pronouns are optional, note the vowel change at the end (a to u).
- Wuu fiicanyahay.
He is well/good.
This form uses the pronoun ma for all persons.
- Ma ihi ardahy.
I am not a student.
- Ma aha arday.
He is not a student.
if it were feminine, it would be ardayad (a female student)
This is the default form of the verb and the lemma form found in most dictionaries. It is often used where other languages might have overt politeness markers, e.g. in requests.
Stress is on the penultimate vowel if multi-syllabic or on the only vowel if there is only one vowel. Ex,
The plural positive form is formed by adding +a or +ya if the verb ends in a vowel. The stress stays on the penultimate vowel. Thus,
kéen:(you) bring becomes
keéna:(you all) bring.
When followed by a suffix in parentheses, it is (SG/PL).
- Conjugation V1 (-in/ina)
- Preceded by ha-, ex.
ha kéenin:don't (you) bring.
Present Simple/Habitual (PRS.SIMP)
Preceded by ma or aan.
Present Continuous/Progressive (PRS.CONT)
This tense indicates action that is still on going or about to happen, e.g. "I am making a pie" or "I am about to make a pie". Stress tone is on the vowel before the suffix.
Note that some books may list this suffix with a -t (e.g. -aytaa) instead of -s, but due to the ever pervasive sound change rules, it will always turn to s in actual speech/writing.
-i is suffixed to IMP and the following words follow the verb. For example,
kéni màayó:I am not bringing.
Preceded by ma or aan.
|1||-i màayó||-i màynó|
|2||-i màysó/màysíd||-i màysàan|
|3 M.||-i màayó||-i màayàan|
|3 F.||-i màysó||-i màayàan|
Past Simple (PST.SIMP)
- qofkee / yaa
Gaarigaas yaa iska leh? ⧸ Whose car is that?
- kuma (m.) / tuma (f.) / kuwama (pl.)
- who, varies on the gender of the person/object being inquired about.
- how much, how many
And (iyo, oo, -(n)a, ee, -(y)e)
There are five different words/suffixes that correspond to the English "and", all of which have different uses.
- for linking nouns/noun phrases together
- for linking verbs or clauses together
- for linking clauses together, placed after the first grammatical unit in the 2nd clause. If the word ends in -n, then only -a is attached.
- for linking an impartive clause with a non-imparative clause or linking a negative and positive clause
- for linking an imparative and non-imparative clause. -ye is suffixed to the "end of the statement".Saeed, 274 Y is included when the word ends in a vowel.
- Magaceygu waa Parry, waxaana ku noolahay Mareykanka.
My name is Parry and I was born in America.
-na is attached to
The generic question marker is ma. For example,
Is it X? (ma X -(b)aa? OR miyaa)
A demonstrative, suffixed with
-i, can be placed in front of
ma. For example,
kaas:that). Miyaa can also be used, such as
The response to questions of this form is either
waa X:it is X (positive form), or
ma aha X:it is not X (negative form).
Northern (Somaliland) dialects will use
-baa, whereas Southern dialects will use
Ability to do A Verb (kar)
Ability to do a verb, such as "I can speak", is expressed with the verb kar. It is used in two ways, either with in ann or with the 2nd verb in INF.
Thus, for "I can speak", one can say either:
- Waan in aan hadlo.
- Waan hadli karaa.
- to, formal version of u
Formation of Adjectives from Verbs
Adjectives can be formed by verbs by adding
Kow versus Hal
There are two words for one: kow and hal. Kow is used when counting in the abstract or as part of large numbers. Hal is used when there is a quantity, such as
one friend:hal saxiib.
0 - ebar
1 - kow
2 - labo
3 - sadex
4 - afar
5 - shan
6 - lix
7 - todobo
8 - sideed
9 - sagaal
10 - toban
11 - kow iyo toban OR toban iyo kow
Note that only the teens can have their number order optionally reversed.
20 - labaatan
30 - soddon
40 - afartan
50 - konton
60 - lixdan
70 - todobaatan
80 - sideetan
90 - sagaashan
100 - boqol
1000 - kun
Large numbers have one
iyo:and per number grouping. The groupings are hundreds or less, thousands, and millions. That is
11:toban iyo kow and
111:kow boqol toban iyo kow,
1111:kow kun kow boqol toban iyo kow, and
11111:toban iyo kow kun, kow boqol toban iyo kow.
Last Updated: 2021-11-05 16:30:58