Zulu/Appendix A

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1.1 Basic Grammar[edit | edit source]

1.1.1 Tenses

isiZulu has the same grammatical structure as English: subject, verb and object (SVO). But this order changes in to SOV when 'prepositions' are used in a similar way to French. Before explaining the tenses in Zulu, we need to introduce a few concepts. The first of these concepts is the adjunct. An adjunct is a sentence element that establishes the circumstances in which the action or state expressed by the verb take place. For example, in the sentence, "Today, I went shopping at the mall", all the words in bold are the adjuncts. Those words tell where and when "I went shopping". In English, different subjects do not change the subsequent verb, except when moving from singular to plural. This is not the case in Zulu. The governing noun of a sentence must always be indicated. This is done with a system of concords/prefixes that show this reference. The Present tense

Instead of pronouns and articles, isiZulu uses a system of concordial prefixes. A simple indicative positive statement in the present tense without an adjunct takes the general form of:

NP-NS SP-ya-VS-a


NP = Noun Prefix NS = Noun Stem SP = Subjectival Prefix VS = Verb Stem

An simple example is:

Umuntu uyahamba. "The person is walking."

Broken up into its parts according to the above-mentioned pattern, this becomes:

Umu-ntu u-ya-hamb-a The Future Tense

A simple indicative positive statement in the future tense without an adjunct takes the general form of:

NP-NS SP-zo-(ku)-VS-a

If the verb stem consists of only one syllable, then the "ku" prefix is included. Using the same example as before:

Umuntu uzohamba. "The person will walk(go)." (Note: "hamba" means "go" as well as "walk".

Broken up into its parts this becomes:

Umu-ntu u-zo-hamb-a The Immediate Past Tense

A simple indicative positive statement in the past tense without an adjunct takes the general form of:


For example:

Umuntu uhambile. "The person went."

Broken up:

Umu-ntu u-hamb-ile

1.2. Summary of Tenses[edit | edit source]

The below table provides a summary of the tenses of the indicative in Zulu all in first person.

Tense Adjunct No Adjunct English
Present Ngidla ukudla Ngiyadla I am eating (food)
Future (imminent) Ngizodla ukudla Ngizodla I shall eat (food)
Future (non-imminent) Ngiyodla ukudla Ngiyodla I shall eat (food)
Immediate Past Continuous Bengidla ukudla Bengidla I have been eating (food)
Remote Past Continuous Ngangidla ukudla Ngangidla I was eating (food) (sometime ago)
Immediate Past Tense Ngidle ukudla Ngidlile I have eaten (food)
Remote Past Tense Ngadla ukudla Ngadla I ate (food)

1.3 Noun Classes[edit | edit source]

The following table gives an overview of Zulu noun class, arranged according to singular-plural pairs.

Class Singular Plural
1/2 um(u)-1 aba-2, abe-3
1a/2b u- o-
3/4 um(u)-1 imi-2
5/6 i- ama-, ame-4
7/8 is(i)-5 iz(i)-5
9/10 iN- iziN-6
11/10 u- iziN-6
14 ubu- (ama-)7
15 uku-

1 um- replaces umu- before monosyllabic stems, e.g. umuntu (man).

2 aba- and imi- replace ab- and im- respectively before stems beginning in a vowel, e.g. abongameli (president).

3 abe- occurs only in rare cases, e.g. in abeSuthu (the Sotho) or abeLungu (the Whites, the Europeans).

4 ame- occurs only in one instance, namely amehlo (eyes) the plural of iso (eye; originally: ihlo).

5 isi- and izi- replace is- and iz- respectively before stems beginning with a vowel, e.g. isandla/izandla (hand/hands).

6 The placeholder N in the prefixes iN- and iziN- for m, n or no letter at all, i.e. in classes 9 and 10 there are three different prefixes, though only one per noun stem. Examples:

iN- = i-:  imali (money)
iN- = im-: impela (truth)
iN- = in-: inhlanzi (fish)

7 Rare, see above.

1.4 Subject prefixes[edit | edit source]

In Zulu, a subject prefix corresponds to the subjective case of English personal pronouns, such as I or he. Unlike personal pronouns, however, Zulu subject prefix cannot stand alone, but must be attached to a verb. Zulu does possess a set of independent personal pronouns; however, these are only used to emphasise the subject to whom they refer.

An example with the subject prefix si- and the personal pronoun thina (both meaning we):

Sihamba manje. We are going now.
Thina sihamba manje. We are going now.

There is a unique subject prefix for each grammatical person and each noun class.

initial SP
Person Singular Plural
1st ngi- si-
2nd u- ni-
Class Singular Plural
1/2 u- ba-
1a/2b u- ba-
3/4 u- i-
5/6 li- a-
7/8 si- zi-
9/10 i- zi-
11/10 lu- zi-
14 bu-
15 ku-
non-initial SP-
Person Singular Plural
1st -ngi- -si-
2nd -wu- -ni-
Class Singular Plural
1/2 -ka- -ba-
1a/2b -ka- -ba-
3/4 -wu- -yi-
5/6 -li- -wa-
7/8 -si- -zi-
9/10 -yi- -zi-
11/10 -lu- -zi-
14 -bu-
15 -ku-

The non-initial subject prefixes (SP-) are used when a further prefix is attached to the SP, for example in the negative of certain tenses.