Useful phrases

Useful Swahili phrases

Here are some useful words and phrases in Swahili, the most widely spoken language of Eastern Africa. We hope they help you get by in Kenya and add to the success of your holiday or business trip.

As in much of Africa, courtesy and greetings are very important in Kenya’s culture. It is considered rude not to greet someone you are going to speak to.

Titles

Bibi - madam, a term of respect used to address women.
Mama - a term of great respect, usually reserved for older women.
Bwana - sir or mister, a term of respect for men.
Mzee - elder or old person.
Rafiki - friend.

Greetings

There are two usual greetings: Jambo (literally “matters”) or Habari (literally “news”).

Jambo greetings alter depending on number and gender:

Hujambo bwana - Hello sir
Sijambo bibi - Hello madam
Hamjambo mabwana - Hello gentlemen
Hatujambo bibi - Hello ladies

Habari bwana - Hello sir
Habari bibi - Hello madam

The standard reply is:

Mzuri - Hello, I am fine
Habari gani? - How are you?

You might hear or say:

Habari yako bwana - Hello sir, what is your news (yako - your)
Mzuri tu - Just fine
Mzuri sana - Very fine
Mbaya - Bad

Asante (sana) - Thank you (very much)
Kwaheri - Goodbye
Lala salama - Good night
Karibu - Welcome

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General

Yes - Ndiyo
No - Hapana or La

Please - Tafadhali
Sorry - Samahani or Pole
Excuse me please - Nisamehe or Samahani
Danger - Hatari
Slowly - Polepole
I am lost - Nimepotea
Please show me the way - Nionyeshe njia tafadhali
I am happy - Nimefurahi
No problem - Hakuna matata
Okay - Haya

Where? - Wapi?
Why? - Kwa nini?
When? - Lini?
How? - Vipi?

May I have...? - Tafadhali nipe...?
I want... - Ninataka...
Come with me - Twende pamoja
Help! Fire! - Saidia! Moto!

Taxi - Teksi
Stop here - Simama hapa
Wait here - Ngoja hapa
Where is the hotel? - Hoteli iko wai?
I want to go to bed - Nataka kwenda kulala
Has my luggage been brought down? - Mizigo yangu imeteremshwa chini?

In a restaurant or bar

Beer - Pombe or Bia
Bread - Mkate
Butter - Siagi
Coffee - Kahawa
Egg(s) - Yai (Mayai)
Enough - Basi
Fish - Samaki
Food - Chakula
Fruit - Tunda
Meat - Nyama
Milk - Maziwa
Plenty - Nyingi
Potatoes - Viazi
Rice - Wali
Salt - Chumvi
Sugar - Sukari
Tea - Chai
Vegetables - Mboga
Water - Maji

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Buying things

How much? - Bei gani?
Expensive (Very) - Ghali (sana)
Give me discount please - Tafadhali nipunguzie

Getting to know people

What is your name? - Jina lako nani?
My name is… - Jina langu ni...
Where do you come from? - Unatoka wapi?
I come from... - Mimi ninatoka...
America - Amerika
Australia - Australia
England - Uingereza
The UK - Yu kei
Canada - Kanada
Germany - Ujerumani
Switzerland - Uswisi
France - Ufaransa
Zanzibar - Unguja
South America - Amerika ya Kusini
Europe - Ulaya
East Africa - Afrika ya Mashariki

What work do you do? - Unafanya kazi gani?
I work in a... - Ninafanya kazi kwa...
Teacher - Mwalimu
Student - Mwanafunzi
Bank - Benki
Factory - Kiwanda
School - Shule

On Safari

Animals - Wanyama
Antelope - Pofu or Hulungu
Baboon - Nyani
Bird - Ndege
Bushbaby - Komba
Cheetah - Duma
Crocodile - Mamba
Dik-dik - Dikidiki
Elephant - Ndovu or Tembo
Flamingo - Heroe
Gazelle - Swara
Giraffe - Twiga
Hartebeast - Kongoni
Hippo - Kiboko
Hyena - Fisi
Impala - Swalapala
Insect - Dudu
Leopard - Chui
Lion - Simba
Monkey - Nyani
Mosquito - Mbu
Ostrich - Mbuni
Rhino - Kifaru
Snake - Nyoka
Warthog - Ngiri
Water buffalo - Nyati
Wildebeest or Gnu - Nyunibu or Mbogo
Zebra - Punda Milia

We would like to see... - Tunataka kuona...
Today we saw... - Leo tuliona...
Yesterday we saw... - Jana tuliona...

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Numbers

One - Moja
Two - Mbili
Three - Tatu
Four - Nne
Five - Tano
Six - Sita
Seven - Saba
Eight - Nane
Nine - Tisa
Ten - Kumi

Half - Nusu
Quarter - Robo

Time

What time is it? - Saa ngapi?
Morning - Asubuhi
Evening - Jioni
Afternoon - Alasiri
Today - Leo
Yesterday - Jana
Tomorrow - Kesho
Time - Muda
Hour - Saa
Minute - Dakika
Night - Usiku
Day - Siku
Now - Sasa

Days of the week

Monday - Jumatatu
Tuesday - Jumanne
Wednesday - Jumatano
Thursday - Alhamisi
Friday - Ijumaa
Saturday - Jumamosi
Sunday - Jumapili


A really useful website to help with your Swahili is the Kamusi Project where you can translate words and phrases from Swahili to English or English to Swahili. There's Russian - Swahili - Russian too.

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