Swahili language - 9 surprising facts and phrases

Three African women in colorful clothes
RO: Vorbitorii de română pot accesa articolul AICI.

Since I worked in an office at University of Verona a few years ago, I fell in love with African languages because of two colleagues I had from there. One of them was actually a priest, and he's one of the most interesting persons I've ever met, but this is separate story.
A few days ago I found a pdf Swahili grammar book, and I browsed through it from the very first page to the last.

Swahili is so different from all the languages I speak, that the attractiveness I find in it is so much greater!

Reading through the book, I found a lot of interesting and surprising things of this beautiful language, and so I decided to put them into a list for all those like me, mad about foreign languages.
Hope you will enjoy it!

But before moving forward, know that Swahili is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and some parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa. The number of estimated speakers reaches 100 million!

1. In many Eastern African languages, including Swahili, time is expressed using a 12 hour frame of the day and of the night. In such a manner, 7 am is called the first hour of the day - saa moja asubuhi, whereas 7 pm is defined as the first hour of the night - saa moja usiku. So, there is no nine o'clock in the morning, but third hour of the day.

2. Swahili verbs can be reduplicated to emphasize something, depending on the context and the manner in which the act is being done. Usually, it expresses: repetition, slow or fast manner. For example:
busu = to kiss
busubusu = to kiss repeatedly, slowly

3. Ua la waridi means girlfriend, but not only! I found surprising that it also means rose (flower).
Equally beautiful is the word for beloved - mahabubu.

4. Swahili has a special word for co-wives - wakewenza.

5. The days of the week in Swahili are named and expressed according to the Muslim pattern of worship. Friday is the main day of worship, so it is the last day of the week - ijumaa, literally meaning day seven. Saturday is day one - jumamosi, Sunday is jumapili, day two, and so on.

6. To greet an elder person, young people say: Shikamoo. The literal translation of this is: I touch your feet. The elder answers with Marahaba, which means I am delighted.

7. Three proverbs I fell in love with:

Mtu ni watu. (Lit. A person is people.) -  No man is an island.
This won't be the first time you meet this proverb, but the way it sounds in Swahili is too cool not to mention it here: Haraka haraka haina baraka. (Lit. Hurry, hurry has no blessings.) - More haste, less speed.
Hasira hasara. (Lit. Anger is loss.)

8. Wifi means sister-in-law.

9. Adding U or O to some verbs gives it an opposite meaning. For example:

funga - to close & fungua - to open
ficha - to hide & fichua - to reveal

Painted surprised giraffe
And finally, there are some words which I liked in Swahili:

Karibu - welcome, ramani - map, mji - city, kijiji - village.
Baba - father, dada - sister, kaka - brother.
Paka - cat, simba - lion. 
Vita - war, kahawa - coffee.
Bibi/mke - wife, mume - husband, mlima - mountain.


  1. Great post. I love reading educational posts where I can learn something new. Out of all the words I only know simba! Thanks for sharing your research xx


    1. Thank you! Simba from the cartoon I guess! Haha

  2. Good one ! Interesting to read .. Keep sharing . Thanks !

  3. This was truly so interesting! I really found this to be such a fascinating and entertaining read. Thank you for taking the time to share this!

    1. Thank you, Mary! I am really happy to know that!