Kikuyu Language Online: Vocabulary and Conversation Practice
This article will introduce you to the Kikuyu language. By the end of this article, you should be able to express yourself satisfactorily in Kikuyu. This will take a few months so plan a weekly programme and read small bits of the lessons at a time.
The article starts with a brief background of the Kikuyu people before progressing to the language, its structure, and vocabulary. Finally, there are dialogues to aid you in conversation practice. You may request additional help by posting a comment at the bottom of this article.
The correct name for the language is Gĩgĩkũyũ, and the speakers are Gĩkũyũ. Kikuyu is the Anglicised form of both the language and the speakers. The word Kikuyu has gained currency and will be used in this article to refer to both the people and the language. Gĩkũyũ was also the name of a patriarchal ancestor.
Leakey (1959, p. Vii) says, “Kikuyu is probably one of the most archaic of the Bantu languages and in consequence has a grammatical structure with fewer exceptions than in most of the others.” This means that Kikuyu resembles the ancestor of the Bantu language (proto-Bantu), more than the other Bantu languages spoken today. At the time of the Bantu migration, all Bantu speakers probably spoke something similar to Kikuyu. I am of the same opinion, having identified archaic Kiswahili words that are no longer in use but are of everyday use in Kikuyu. This may imply that words used in both Kikuyu and Kiswahili, long became archaic in the latter but continue to be utilized by the former.
The Kikuyu are classified linguistically as Highland Bantus together with the Kamba, Kuria, Gusii, Embu, Kurya, Tharaka, and Meru of Kenya (Ogot ed. 1980, p. 82). The other Highland Bantus in East Africa are the Meru (Tanzanian), Segeju, Sonjo, Ikoma, Chagga, Gweno, Shashi, Zanaki and Nguruimi of Tanzania. They are all of the Benue-Congo language division of the Niger-Congo family (Ogot ed., 1974).
Standard Kikuyu has three main divisions. These are Gaki (Nyeri), Metumi (Muranga) and Kabete or Kiambu Kikuyu (Muriuki 1974). Gĩkũyũ was not only a language but also the name of a patriarchal ancestor.
The Mount Kenya peoples and the Kamba of the Eastern province are sometimes assumed to be Kikuyu because the languages are intelligible. However, some, like the Meru, are thought to be a separate tribe. Though I have found evidence to link them to the Kikuyu (in a sort of confederacy) in ancient times.
Defining the Kikuyu
Some experts were asked to rate the Kikuyuness of the Mount Kenya tribes, including the Akamba, on a scale with 'Most Kikuyu' and 'Least Kikuyu' on the extreme ends. All five (5) respondents felt that the Muranga, Kiambu, and Nyeri were “more Kikuyu” than the others. The Embu, Ndia, and Gichugu were closer to the Kikuyu than the Meru and subtribes. All the respondents were unanimous that the Kamba were not part of the Kikuyu but always in the periphery. Only one of the respondents insisted that the Nyeri, Muranga, and Kiambu were the only true Kikuyu.
On September 28, 2006, I interviewed Dr. Muriuki, a history professor. According to Muriuki, the Kikuyu are no more than 500 years old. Consequently, he considers the Tene and Agu generations to have started around 1400 AD, about one hundred years before Vasco Dagama landed at Mombasa (in 1497). This was not in agreement with my findings. If Akhenaten and Smenkhare correspond with tene (long ago) in Kikuyu and Kare in Meru, then the history of the Kikuyu can be traced to at least three thousand years ago.
Muriuki believes that the Kikuyu came from “Cameroon, near Lake Chad,” and moved into Kenya through Congo, Zambia, and South Africa, before veering northwards into present day Kenya where they faced hostile Somalis at the Shebele river, in (today’s) North Eastern Kenya, and stopped further movement. In their advance towards mount Kenya, they “pushed the Igembe and Tigania leaving some of their people behind.” They then moved East into Tigania, Embu, Mwea, Murang’a (Mukurwe wa Gathanga); North into Nyeri, Mukurweini, Kahuhia, Maragwa; and finally, they expanded into Kiambu.
Archaic Terms for the Months of the Year
Kĩhu (beginning of the 'Njahi season)
Kĩhu 2 (Beginning of the 'Mwere season)
Kikuyu is similar to Arabic in its syllable structure. Arabic is a CV syllable language where “C” stands for a consonant and ‘V’ for a vowel (Cook 1997). Kikuyu however also allows for a VCV structure where a word can start with a vowel. The rule is that the word must end in a vowel. In Kikuyu a dog is called Ngui (CV), and Uga (VCV) means “say.” In phonemics, “NG” is a single phoneme rendered with two graphemes. The English CVC structure is not possible in Kikuyu but can work in Luo. An example of the word "dog" is given in two languages: English - Dog (CVC); Luo – Guok (CVC).
Some common male Kikuyu names
Karanja, Kamau, Kariũki, Mwangi, Kĩmani, Njoroge, Mũngai, Ndũn'gũ, Mũchoki, Mũngai, Kamande, Gĩtaũ, Kĩhara, Macharia, Mũirũrĩ, Wanjaũ, Wahome, Gĩthĩnji, Cege (Chege), Kĩragũ, Ngigĩ, Ng'ang'a, Wanderi, Gĩtonga, Wambũgũ, Watene, Mũkundi, Kĩnyua, Mũrĩu, Gathu, Mũgo, Mwanĩki, Gĩthaiga, Mũraguri, Chomba, Njũki, Gĩchũki, Mũnene, Gĩchũrũ
Some common female Kikuyu names
Wanjirũ, Njeri, Wanjikũ, Wangarĩ, Wambũi, Nyambura,Njoki, Wambũi, Wairimũ, Waithĩra, Nyagũthiĩ, Nyokabi, Wangũ, Kanyi (is a male name in Nyeri), Ngendo, Nyawĩra
Gĩkũyũ is written with seven vowels (Leakey 1959, p. vii). Leakey compares the pronunciation of these vowels with the English language as summarized below:
a – like the vowel in “hut”
e – like the e in “hen”
ĩ – as the i in “it”. I suggest that a in “ate” is closer to the real pronunciation.
i – like the e in “he”
o – like the au in author. I suggest the o in “only”
ũ – like the oo in “good.” I suggest the ‘o’ in “oh dear.”
u – like the u in “who”
Leakey (1959) notes that l, f, p, v, x and z consonants are missing in Gĩkũyũ and that the Gĩkũyũ r is something between r and l. Leakey also states that that c is pronounced ch and b “has a touch of f, v and p”. I suggest that b is like the sound bh in the Indian word “mahabharat.”
Gĩkũyũ is a tonal language and the orthography in current usage is inadequate. For example the word iria can mean ‘a lake (The Kikuyu language does not differentiate between a pool of water, a lake or even the sea. They are all 'Iria', or 'Maria' in plural, the plural being mainly for stagnant pools.)’ ‘those’ or ‘milk’ depending on the tone. When the stress is on the last syllable – ‘a’, with a higher tone than at the beginning, the word means milk. When the word is said with a monotone with no stress on any syllable, the word means a lake. The units that define tones in a morpheme have been termed “tonemes” by linguists (Martinet 1964). Martinet describes “melodic tones” as another characteristic of some languages. While tones manifest themselves in individual morphemes, melodic tones manifest themselves in sentences. It appears to I that Gĩkũyũ is both “tonal” and “melodic tonal”.
The Kikuyu alphabet made simple
Leakey has identified ten classes of nouns.
The first three classes of nouns in Gĩkũyũ represent things which are considered to have a spirit. Leakey divided them according to the importance of the category of spirit, which they are deemed, to possess.
1. Class I - these are nouns denoting human beings. Humans may be removed from this class to another class (but still retain a spirit) due to scorn or hatred, or otherwise for having “some special connection with religion, or magic…” Examples of class one nouns are:
Mũndũ – Person, kamũndũ - small person, Kimũndũ - big person (derogatory and should be avoided.), Andũ- many people, imũndũ - many large persons (derogatory and should be avoided.).
Mũndũ ũyũ mũraihu ni mwega– this tall person is good. (Note that the prefixes in the adjectives have to agree with the noun.
Mũtumia – married woman, Gatumia - small woman (derogatory and should be avoided.), Gĩtumia - big woman (derogatory and should be avoided.), Atumia - many women, Ndumia - many large women (derogatory and should be avoided.)
Gatumia gaka karaihu ni kega – this smallish tall woman is good (note that Gatumia is diminutive. The adjectives again have to agree with the noun. However, the prefixes that agree with Ga are Ka and Ga. One has to learn through usage which one to use appropriately.
Mũirĩtu – initiated girl, Kairĩtu - small girl.
Kairĩtu gaka karaihu ni kega – This smallish tall girl is good.
Mũanake – Unmarried initiated man
Mũanake ũyũ mũraihu ni mwega – this tall (young) man is good
2. Class II nouns have second class spirits, lower than that of humans. Most large trees and plants. Epidemic diseases which are viewed as being spirit borne would According to Leakey (1959) normally go to class III, but for some reason may find themselves in class II. Below are four examples.
Mũrimũ - spirit-borne disease
Mũrimũ ũyũ ni mũru- this disease is bad (note again that the adjective has to agree with the noun).
Mũkũyũ - another kind of fig tree besides the mũgumo
Mũkũyũ ũyũ ni mũkũrũ – this fig tree is old
Mũtamaiyũ - wild Olive
Mũrũthi - lion
3. Class III - nearly all birds, reptiles, insects, mammals, and many lesser plants, are in this class. Below are some examples. Humans in this class have received quite a demotion.
Njangiri - an outcast
Njangiri ino ni ndwaru – this outcast is sick
Ngĩa - pauper
Ngombo - serf or slave
Njamba – brave warrior
Njamba ĩno ndungu nĩ nguhĩ- this brave is fat and short
4. Class IV Nouns are mainly lifeless objects: some are man-made, others are natural. Some pitiable humans held in disrespect, “scorn or hatred” find themselves in this class. Some examples are given below:
Kĩrĩgũ - big uninitiated girl (derisive)
Kĩhĩĩ - big uninitiated boy (derisive)
Kĩhĩĩ gĩkĩ kĩa maina nĩ gĩkĩgu – this maina’s boy is foolish
Kĩhembe - drum
Gĩtonga - a miser (derisive). I is of the opinion that in current usage, the word means a rich person and is not derisive.
5. Class V has items of “ceremonial, religious and magical significance.” Leakey explains that the eye, riitho, is in this class because of its potential for magic and as the “evil eye.” Humans who play a very special religious part in family life find themselves in this class, such as:
Ithe, (plural) ma-ithe – father
This is an interesting word because it translates as ‘their father.’ You use it when you are referring to other peoples’ father. You never use it when you are referring to your own father, in which case you will say ‘Baba.’
Nyina, (Plural) Manyina – mother
Like ‘Ithe’ this word translates as ‘their mother’. When you are referring to your own mother you use the word ‘Maitũ.’
Guka, (plural) Maguka - grandfather
The word in brackets can be ignored without changing the meaning.
1. Monday – (Mũthenya) wa mbere - the first day (not in common usage) , Jumatatũ- from Kiswahili (in common usage)
2. Tuesday - (Mũthenya) wa kerĩ - the second day
3. Wednesday – (Mũthenya) wa gatatũ – the third day
4. Thursday – (Mũthenya) Wa kana - the fourth day
5. Friday – (Mũthenya) wa gatano – the fifth day, (Mũthenya) Juma – from Kiswahili.
6. Saturday – (Mũthenya) wa Jumamothi – from Kiswahili.
The logical (Mũthenya) wa gatandatũ, is not used today.
7. Sunday - (Mũthenya) wa Kiumia – literally the day of coming out/stopping what you are doing. The logical (Mũthenya) wa mũgwanja – the seventh day -is not used.
The Kikuyu did not perform a duty for more than seven days continuously without a break for fear of a bad omen.
Months of the year – Requested by Bosko
The Kikuyu had a year with two seasons and twelve moons (months). These names are not in use today except by anthropologists. I have put them in the introduction text for those interested in archaic language. The following terms are what the Kikuyu use on a daily basis.
January – (Mweri) wa mbere, the first month, Janwarĩ,
February – (Mweri) wa kerĩ, the second month, Beburwarĩ
March – (Mweri) wa, gatatũ, the third month, Maci
April – (Mweri) wa kana, the fourth month, Ĩbrũ
May – (Mweri) wa gatano, the fith month, Mĩĩ
June – (Mweri) wa gatandatũ, the sixth month, Juni
July – (Mweri) wa mũgwanja, the seventh month, Juraĩ
Augst, - (Mweri) wa ĩnana, the eighth month, Ogasti – being a borrowed word, the ‘s’ is forcefully pronounced.
September – (Mweri) wa kenda, the nineth month, Thebutemba
October - (Mweri) wa ikũmi, the tenth month, Oktoba
November – (Mweri) wa ikũmi na ũmwe, the eleventh month, Nobemba
December - (Mweri) wa Dithemba - the logical (Mweri) wa ikumi na ĩrĩ, the twelfth month,is not commonly used.
A. Parts of the body
mũtwe - head
Njuĩrĩ - hair
Iniũrũ - nose
Kanua - mouth
Igego- tooth, magego – teeth,
Ikaburu – molar, makaburu - molars
Kĩreru - chin
nderu – beard, materu - beards
riitho – eye. maitho – eyes, butu - eyelashes
ngingo - neck
kĩande – shoulder, ciande - shoulders
guoko – hand, moko - hands
Kaara – finger, tũara fingers (Tuara, with a change of tone,also means deliver something somewhere)
igokora - elbow
Nda - stomach
Gĩthũri - chest
Mũkonyo - Belly button
Njohero - Waist
Kĩero – thigh, ciero - thighs
Kũgũrũ – leg, magũrũ - legs
ikinya – foot, makinya - feet ( also foot steps)
Clothing and related items
Nguo - clothes, Nguo cia mwĩrĩ - clothes for the body - mwĩrĩ body
Shati - shirt, Thuruarĩ - Shorts/pants, Mũbũto - Trousers
Thogithi - socks, Ngobia - hat/cap, tai - necktie,
Mĩwani - spectacles, kiratũ - shoe, Iratũ- shoes, Taritari - sandals
Gĩtabaya - cloth, Gĩtabaya kia mũtwe - Head scarf
Mindira - ear rings, Bangiri - bangle(s), Mbete - ring, Mũgathi - necklace
B. the Kikuyu Sentence – Prefixes, nouns and adjectives
The noun forms the subject of the sentence. Kikuyu nouns have a stem attached to a prefix. For example the noun for house is nyũmba. In this case the same word applies for plural. To this stem, several prefixes can be attached to change to another meaning associated with ‘house.’
Kanyũmba – small house, Kĩnyũmba – big house, tũnyũmba – small houses, Manyũmba – big houses
The word for person is Mundũ. In this case the stem is –ndũ, with the Mũ- signifying a living thing.
Kamũndũ – small person, Kĩmũndũ – big person, Tũmũndũ – small persons, Andũ - many People,
Adjectives and verbs have to agree with the noun in a sentence by having the same prefix as the noun, except in a few cases. A house – Nyũmba, is one exception only in its singular. When we say a big house or small house, the agreement has to take place. You will notice that the translation into English is forced because what makes perfect sense in Kikuyu may be awkward in a non Bantu language. Note specifically the transformation of the word for ‘one, two and three etc.’
Nyũmba ĩmwe nene - One big house
Kanyũmba kamwe kanene – One smallish big house.
Kĩnyũmba kĩmwe kinene – One bigish big house
Ngari ĩmwe nene - One big car, Ngari ĩgĩrĩ nene - two big cars
Mũtĩ ũmwe mũnene – one big tree, Mĩtĩ ĩrĩ mĩnene – two big trees
Bathi ĩmwe nene – One big bus (this is one instance when the ‘B’ is not not pronounced as ‘bh’, perhaps because the word is borrowed from English ‘bus.’ ‘S’ becomes ‘th’ in borrowed words.
Cũcũ ũmwe mũnene – One big grandmother
Ngigĩ ĩmwe nene - One big locust
Ngamĩra ĩmwe nene – One big camel
Igogo rĩmwe inene – One big crow (bird)
Nati ĩmwe nene – One big nut (the one that locks into a bolt)
Njogoo ĩmwe nene – One big rooster
Karamu kamwe kanene – one big pen. The Ka in Karamu is not a prefix as the word is borrowed from Kiswahili – Kalamu.
Machini ĩgĩrĩ nene – Two big machine.
Noti ithatũ nene – three big notes (money)
Rangi ũmwe mũnene – one big paint
Taũni inya nini – four big town
Umbuthĩ mũingĩ – a lot of powdery stuff
Waru ithano ndungu - Five fat potatoes
Pronouns – Niĩ – me, Wee- you, Inyuĩ – you (plural), Ithuĩ – we, O – them, We – him/her, yo – it, or Yo, Guo, Kĩo, Ko, - depending on the Noun class.
The pronoun ‘guo’ will not apply to all non human objects. It will depend on the class of object. Guo – mũbira – it - ball; Yo – ngombe – it - cow, Yo – nyoka – it - snake, Yo – metha – it - table; kĩo – kĩuũra – it – frog, Ko – koora – it – small frog; etc.
The ‘wee’ for ‘you’ plural is said with a long vowel to differentiate from the one for‘him/her.’
The ‘we’ for him or her is said with a short vowel to differentiate from the one for‘you.’
Kikuyu does not differentiate gender, so it would not matter if the sentence was ‘she is a student or he is a student.’
Positive, Negative and interrogative statements –To be
It is not necessary to start with the pronouns eg. Niĩ – me but people often do. We shall put the Kikuyu pronouns in brackets to indicate that they can be ignored.
· (Niĩ) Ndĩ mũndũ - I am a human.
· (Wee) wĩ mũabirika - You are an African.
· (Ithuĩ) Turĩ akenya - We are Kenyans.
· (Inyuĩ) mũrĩega – you (plural) are good
· (O) nĩ arutwo - They are students -
· (We) nĩ mũarimũ – He/She is a teacher.
· (We) nĩ mũrutwo – He/She is a student.
· (Guo) nĩ mũbira - It is a ball.
To negate a sentence one uses the terms ‘not’ and ‘have not.’ Ti – is not, Ndĩrĩ – I have not, ndũrĩ – You have not, etc.
- (Niĩ) Ndĩrĩ mũndũ - I am not a human
- (Wee) ndũrĩ mũabirika - You are not an African
- (Ithuĩ) Tũtirĩakenya - We are not Kenyans.
· (Inyuĩ) mũtiumĩte rũraya – you (plural) are not from Europe
- (O) ti arutwo - They are not students
- (We) ti mũarimũ – He/She is not a teacher
- (We) ti mũrutwo – He/She is not a student
- (Guo) ti mũbira - It is not a ball
In a question, the statement is similar to the positive. The difference is in intonation. You start on a high note and end on a low note.
- (Niĩ) Ndĩ mũndũ? - Am I a human?
- (Wee) wĩ mũabirika? - Are you an African?
- (Ithuĩ) Tũrĩ akenya? - Are we Kenyans?
- (O) nĩ arutwo - Are they students?
- (We) nĩ mũarimũ - Is he a teacher?
- (We) nĩ mũrutwo - Is she a student?
- (Guo) nĩ mũbira - Is it a ball?
The Kikuyu words in brackets can be ignored without changing the meaning of the sentence
1. To Have – Positive
- (Niĩ) Ndĩ na ibuku - I have a book.
- (Wee) wĩ na thani - You have a plate
- (Ithuĩ) Tũrĩ na ikombe - We have cups
- (O) mari na itĩ - They have chairs
- (Inyuĩ) mũri na tũramu – You (plural) have pens
- (We)e na mũkwanjũ - He has a walking stick
- (We)e na kĩondo - She has a bag
- Burana ĩna ihoro (irima) – the sweta has a hole
2. to Have – Negative
- (Niĩ) Ndirĩ na ibuku - I do not have a book
- (Wee) Ndũrĩ na thani- You do not have a plate
- (Ithuĩ) Tũtirĩ na ikombe- We do not have cups
- (O) matirĩ na itĩ - They do not have chairs
- (Inyuĩ) mũtirĩ na tũramu - You (plural) do not havepens
- (We)Ndarĩ na mũkwanjũ- He does not have a walking stick
- (We)Ndarĩ na mũkwanjũ- She does not have a bag
- Burana Ndĩrĩ na ihoro (irima)- the sweta does not have a hole
3. to Have – Question
- (Niĩ) Ndĩna ibuku?- Do I have a book?
- (Wee nĩ) ũrina thani?- Do you have plates?
- (Ithuĩ nĩ) Tũrĩ na ikombe?- Do we have cups?
- (O nĩ) marina itĩ? - Do they have chairs?
- (Inyuĩ nĩ) mũrĩ na tũramu ?- (plural) do you have pens
- (We) e na mũkwanjũ ? – Does he/she have a walking stick?
- (We)e na mũkwanjũ?- Does he/she have a bag?
- (Burana) ĩ na ihoro (irima)? - Does it have a hole?
4. more negatives
K ĩndũ/ti kĩndũ - Something/Nothing,
O na rĩ - never,
Nĩ kũrĩ/gũtirĩ - There is/there isn’t
Nĩ kũrĩ mũndũ/gũtĩrĩ mũndũ – there is someone/there is no one, nobody
Tu - only
Ndiũĩ nĩkĩ - I do not know why
Gũtirĩ kĩndũ kĩega ta iria - There is nothing as good as milk
Ndinyuaga thigara - I do not smoke, ndanyuaga – he/she does not drink
Ndinyuaga njohi - I do not take alcohol, matinyuaga – they do not drink,
Ndĩrĩ mĩnoga - It is not tiring
Ndũkũona mũndũ - You will not see anyone, matikũona – they will not see, tũtikũona – we will not see
Gũtirĩ kĩndũ gĩtigarite - There is nothing remaining, matigari – remains (of something), gũtigara, to remain, gũtigwo –to be left behind
C. Indo cia nyũmba – Riikoinĩ - Household objects – in the kitchen
- Rĩrĩ ni riiko rĩa mahiga - This is a stone hearth
- Rĩrĩ rĩngĩ nĩ rĩa thitima - this other one is an electric cooker
- Ĩno nĩ jiko ya makara - this is a charcoal cooker (Jiko is borrowed from Swahili and only refers to a charcoal cooker).
- Ĩno nĩ nyũngũ ya kũrũga gĩtheri - this pot is for cooking githeri
- Wĩna thani cigana? - how many plates do you have?
- Rehe thani ĩmwe na gĩkombe kĩmwe - Bring one plate and one cup
- Rehe iciko igĩrĩ - Bring two spoons
- Akia mwaki wa kũruga irio - Light a fire for cooking food
- Wĩna mũiko wa gũkima ngima? - Do you have a wooden ladle for making ugali?
- Kĩha kĩbiriti kĩa gwakia mwaki? - Where is the matchbox to light the fire?
- Rĩkia gwakia mwaki ũkime ngima - Finish lighting the fire and make ugali
- Thambia indo icio - Clean those utensils
- Indo irĩkũ? - Which utensils?
- Thani, ikombe na thaburia - plates, cups and na metal pots
- Nĩtwarĩa twahũna - We have eaten and are now full
D. Some Kikuyu riddles (Adopted from a std. IV reader by Catholic Mission Press, Nyeri 1935)
1. Mwanake wakwa arĩ itimũ nda - Njũki (my son has his spear in his stomach – a bee)
2. Mbũri ciathiĩ mbere ciatiga gĩtune thutha – rukungu (the goats have gone ahead leaving redness behind – dust)
3. Warĩmĩrwo mũgũnda ũtatũmanĩte – kiguũ ( your farm has been ploughed without your consent - flash flood)
4. Mwathiĩ na mũndũ ũtegũkwĩra hurũka – kĩruru ( you have walked with a person who does not ask to rest – shadow)
5. Ndaikia mũgwĩ mũraya – ritho (I have thrown a long spear – eye).
E. Conjugation in Kikuyu
In this section, the sentences have been translated in the the order – Word; Literal translation (in brackets); Actual meaning; Verb
Nĩ ndĩroka Nĩ-ndĩ-r-oka - (I have come) I am coming
ũka - come
Nĩ ndĩrarĩra Nĩ-ndĩ-r-a- rĩra - (I have cry) I am crying
rĩra - cry
Nĩndĩrarĩa Nĩ-ndĩ -r- a -rĩa - (I have eat) I am eating
rĩa - eat
Nĩndĩraria Nĩ-ndĩ - r- aria - (I ave speak) I am speaking
aria - speak
Nĩ ndĩrakena Nĩ-ndĩ-r-a-kena - ( I have happy) I am happy
kena -be happy
Nĩ ndĩratheka Nĩ-ndĩ-r-a-theka - (I have laugh) I am laughing
Nĩndĩrathiĩ Nĩ-ndĩ-r-a-thiĩ - (I have go) I am going
thiĩ - go
Nĩndĩrathoma Nĩ-ndĩ-r-a-thoma - (I have read) I am reading
Nĩndĩrandĩka Nĩ-ndĩ-r-andĩka - ( I have write) I am writing
andĩka – write
2nd person Singular
Wee – you
Nĩ ũroka - You are coming
Nĩ ũrarĩra - You are crying
Nĩ ũraria - You are talking
Nĩ ũrakena - (You are being happy) You are happy
3rd person singular
We - him/her
Nĩ aroka - he/she is coming
Nĩ ararĩra - he/she is crying
Nĩ araria - he/she is talking
Nĩ arakena - he/she is happy
F. Colours in Kikuyu language
1. Purple - Gakarakũ
2. Blue - Mbirũirũ
3. Red - Mũtune
4. Orange - Ngoikoni
5. Yellow - Ngoikoni
6. Green - Nyeni
7. Black - Mũirũ
8. Grey - Kĩbuu, kĩmũhũ
9. White – Mwerũ
Rangi mutune – Red colour (Red paint)
As can be seen above, the Kikuyu did not differentiate between yellow and orange but I stand to be corrected.
G. Nyamũ cia kurĩithia - Domestic animals
Ngombe – cow, njaũ – calf, Ndegwa - bull
Mbũri – goat, thenge – billy goat, harika – female goat
Ng’ondu – sheep, Koori – kid, Mũgoma – female sheep, ndũrũme – Male sheep.
Note the word Mbũri is also means the all sheep and goats collectively.
Ngamĩra – camel (not kept by the Kikuyu)
Mbata – duck, gacui – duckling,
Ngũkũ – chicken, gacui – chick, Mwera – hen, njamba – cock (these were not domesticated in pre-colonial times and were seen as mere birds - food for the uninitiated).
Mbũkũ (thungura) – rabbit (were not domesticated in pre-colonial times and were seen as food for the uninitiated).
Mbata – duck, gacui – duckling, Mwera – female, njamba – male.
Nyamũ cia gĩthaka – wild animals
Mũrũthi - lion
Ndũiga - giraffe
Wambũi micore - zebra
Thwariga – antelope (not clear which one)
Thiia – antelope (not clear which one)
Ngatata – wildebeest
Njogu – Elephant
Mbwe – jackal
Hiti – hyena
Huria – Rhinocerous
Nyoto – Cheatah
Nguuo – Hippo
King’ang’i – Crocodile
Mbogo – buffalo
Ngarĩ – Leopard
Imperatives are orders, requests or suggestions.
In Kikuyu Imperatives, the pronouns are represented by one or two syllables as indicated in capital letters below.
In the case of warnings, the pronouns are prefixes ahead of the verb. For emphasis, the pronoun in brackets may be used. However, even if it is ignored, the meaning is retained because the prefixes in Capital letters below will still identify the pronoun.
The following verbs have been used as examples: Gũtheka -to laugh, Kũrĩa – to eat, Gũthiĩ – to go, Gũkoma – to sleep.
(Niĩ) NDIgatheke – I will/should not laugh (NDI – this prefix stands for the pronoun, I); NDikarĩe , NDIgathiĩ, NDigakome
(Ithuĩ) TŨTIgatheke – we should not laugh (TŨ- this prefix stands for the pronoun, we); TŨTIkarĩe , TŨTIgathiĩ, TŨTIgakome
(We) NDŨgatheke – do not laugh (NDŨ prefix represents You, singular): NDŨkarĩe , NDŨgathiĩ, NDŨgakome
(This WE like the WE in WEATHER is said in a monotone to differentiate it from the ‘you’plural).
(Inyuĩ) MŨTIgatheke – do not laugh (MŨ – You, plural): MŨTIkarĩe , MŨTIgathiĩ, MŨTIgakome
(We) NDAgatheke – he.she should not laugh (NDA – him/her, singular): NDAkarĩe , NDAgathiĩ, NDAgakome
(O) MATIgatheke – They should not laugh (MA – them): MATIkarĩe , MATIgathiĩ, MATIgakome
In orders of requests, the pronoun is followed by the prefix NI at the beginning of the verb, except for YOU plural which is represented by the ‘I’ at the end of the verb. The pronouns in brackets can be ignored without changing the meaning since there is another version of the pronoun in the verb.
(Niĩ) ThekE? – May I laugh? NDĩe , thiĩ, NGOkome
(Ithuĩ) NĩTŨtheke – let us laugh, NĩTŨrĩe , NĩTŨthiĩ, NĩTŨkome
(We) ThekA – Laugh (a - You singular), rĩa , thiĩ, koma (note that in you singular, prefixes are not present)
(We) Atheke – He/she should laugh. (This ‘We’ is said with a rising tone to differentiate it from the ‘you’singular). Arĩe , Athiĩ, Akome
(Inyuĩ) Thekai - laugh (i - you, plural), MŨrĩe , MŨthiĩ, MŨkome
(O) MAtheke – they should laugh, MArĩe , MAthiĩ, MAkome
Wĩ mwega, Njoroge?How are you Njoroge?
Nĩ kwega mũrutani. Fine, teacher
Ũreeka atĩa? What are you doing?
Ndaathiĩ thukuru I am going to school
Ũthoomaga thukuru ĩrĩkũ? Which school do go to?
Thoomaga thukuru ya andũ agima. I go to an Adult Education School
Nĩ ũũi kwandĩka? Do you know how to write?
Niĩ njũũĩ kwandĩka o na gũthooma Gĩkũyũ I know how to write and to read Kikuyu
Good morning = We mũega rũciinĩ / kĩroko
Good afternoon = We mũega umũthĩ (today)
umũthĩ - today
Good evening = We mũega hwaĩinĩ
All right = nĩwega
I am happy to know you = Nĩndakena nĩ gũkũmenya
Where do your parents live? = Aciari aku maikaraga kũ
My parents live in Nairobi = Aciari akwa maikaraga nairobi
I am doing a degree in languages = Ndĩrathomera ndigirii ya thiomi (rũthiomi - language)
Dialogue 3 - Plural
Plural is represented by the words after the hyphen
How are you? = Wĩ mwega? - Murĩega
I am fine = Ndĩmwega (ndirĩ ũhoro) - Turĩega
How was your safari? = ũhoro wa rũgendo
What is your name? = Wĩtagwo atĩa - Mwĩtagwo atĩa
My name is Mwangi = Njĩtagwo Mwangi - Twĩtagwo Mwangi
How is work? = ũhoro wa wĩra nĩatĩa?
What work do you do? = ũrutaga wĩra ũrĩkũ ? - Mũrutaga wĩra ũrĩkũ ?
I drive a taxi = Ndwarithagia tegithi - Tũtwarithagia tegithi
Welcome = nĩndakũnyita ũgeni - Nĩndamũnyita ũgeni
Thank you very much = Nĩwega mũno
I need a Taxi = Nĩndĩrenda (Nĩngwenda) tegithi - Nĩtũrenda (Nĩtũkwenda) tegithi
I am going to Hilton Hotel = Ndathie (Ndĩrathie) Hiritoni - Twathie (Turathie) mũkawa wa Hiritoni
Fine, you go = Haya, gĩthiĩ
Fine, let's go = Haya, nĩtũgĩthiĩ (nĩtũthiĩ)
Below is a translation of the speech bubbles in the photo novel above
"Hĩ, ndahota kũona kamweke ga gũkorwo na Morris." - wow, I might get a chace to be with Morris.
"Angĩkorwo gũtirĩ ũndũ ungĩ, no njuge mũcemanio wa ũmũthĩ wa Vibandani Youth Club nĩ wathira." - If there isn't anything else, I can say that today's meeting of Vibandani Youth Club is over.
Hĩ - exclamation like 'Oh my.'
Ndahota - I might be able, nĩngũhota - I will be able. Nĩũkũhota - you will be able. Nĩekũhota - She/he will be able, Nĩmũkũhota - You (plural) will be able. Nĩmekũhota - they will be able, Nĩtũkũhota - we will be able
kũona- to see, ona - see, nĩ ndona - I have seen, nĩ wona? - have you seen?
kamweke - a small chance, Mweke - chance
gũkorwo na - to be with, no gũkorowo - maybe, To gũkorowo - Maybe (interogative, ending in a question).Angĩkorowo - If
gũtirĩ - there isn't, nĩ kũrĩ - there is.
ũndũ ungĩ - something else, kaũndũ - small something
no njuge - I can say, ũga - say, nĩ ndoiga - I have said,
mũcemanio - meeting, gũcemania - to meet
ũmũthĩ - today, ira - yesterday, iyo - the day before yesterday.
rũciũ - tomorrow, oke - day after tomorrow.
nĩ wathira - it is finished (note that the prefix 'wa' agrees with the noun 'mucemanio)
Mai nĩ mathira - the water is finished
Wira nĩ wathira - the work is finished
Andu nĩ mathira - the people are finished
Sukari – nĩ wathira - the sugar is finished
Nyeki nĩ yathira - the grass is finished. (Like in English, grass is singular).
Mbeca nĩ ciathira - the money is finished
Translation of the four pictures above
Morris: It is as if those people did not want to see us. I believe they have sent us away without a reason.
Susie: That home did not please me at all....
Morris: Also, I was not happy with the way they are treating that boy called Musa. How can they beat up a child in front of visitors?
Kiosk man: Are you talking about Musa from the House of Mercy?
Morris: Oh yes, do you know him?
Kiosk man: I know him very well. I go there to donate food often. Musa wants to talk to visitors all the time.
Susie: May be there is something he wants to say.
Hear the Lord's Prayer in Kikuyu
A passenger is looking for transport to Kariobangi – Pronounced Karũibang’i in Kikuyu.
1. Wathiĩ kũ mũthii? Where are you going?
2. Ndathiĩ Karũibang’i. I am going to Kariobangi
3. Haica ngari ĩĩrĩa. Ĩno nĩ ya mathare. Take that vehicle. This one goes to mathare.
4. Nĩ ngatho. Thanks.
5. ĩno nĩ ya karũibangi? Is this one to Kariobangi?
6. Ĩĩ nĩ yo ingĩra naihenya, mĩtũkĩ mĩtũkĩ mama. Yes it is, get in quickly quickly Mama.
7. Nyita guoko ndikagwe. Hold my hand so I don’t fall.
8. Ĩkarĩra gĩtĩ gĩkĩ na ũrehe mbeca. Sit on this seat and bring the money.
9. Ni cigana? How much?
10. Ciringi mĩrongo ĩtano. Fifty shillings.
11. Hĩ! Karĩ goro atĩa? My!How expensive?
12. Ti goro mama nĩguo tũrĩhagia. It is not expensive, that is what we charge.
13. Ke igana rĩmwe ũnjokerie mĩrongo ĩtano. Take this one-hundred shillings and give back fifty shillings.
Mũthii - traveller
Haica – climb, uma – get out
Ngatho - gratitude
Nyita - hold
Mĩtũkĩ, naihenya – quickly, with speed
Mbeca, mbia - money
Gwa – fall, Kũgwa to fall
Goro – Expensive, raithi – cheap
Cokia – return, Njokeria – return to me, Mucokerie
Dialogue 5 - Two strangers have just met
1. We - You
2. Nĩwaragia rũthiomi rwa Gĩkũyũ? Do you speak the Kikuyu language?
3. We wĩ Mugĩkũyũ? – Are you a Kikuyu?
4. We wĩ Mũndũ wanja? – Are you a female?
5. Kana wĩ mũndũrume? – Or are you a male?
6. We wĩ mũndũ mũru – You are a bad person.
7. Wĩtagwo atĩa – What is your name?
8. Kwanyu nĩ kũ? – Where is your home?
9. Kwanyu nĩ Thĩka – Is Thika your home?
10. We wĩ mũndũ mũkuhĩ mũno – You are a very short person.
11. Ũrutaga wĩra kũ – where do you work?
12. Nĩũreruta kwaria gĩthweri? Are you learning to speak Kiswahili?
13. Thiĩ kwanyu na wega – Go home in peace (farewel)
14. Na ũgeithanie – and pass my greetings.
A shopkeeper and a customer
Mwendia wĩ mwega? How are you seller?
Ndĩmwega mũno Njeri. Uga. I am very fine Njeri. Say.
Nyenderia cukari kiro igĩrĩ na macani ma kiro ĩmwe. Sell to me two kilos of sugar, and one kilo of tea leaves
Ũyũ cukari; maya macani. Here is the sugar: here are the tea leaves.
Na matumbĩ matandatũ. And six eggs.
Kaĩ ũtarĩ wanina mũtu kuma rĩrĩa wagũrire. Haven’t you finished the flour since you bought it.
Wa ngano ndũthiraga naihenya. Wheat flour doesn’t get finished fast.
Ĩ mũtu wa mbembe? What about Maize flour?
Hĩ! Na ni weka wega nĩ kũndirikania. He wa kiro igĩrĩ. Wow! You have done a good thing to remind me. Give me two kilos.
Ũyũ mũtu. Nĩ ũguo ndare? Here is the flour. Is that all so I may add up?
Asha. Ndĩna ageni na ndirĩ na iria. Rehe mbagiti ithatũ. No . I have visitors but I don’t have milk. Give me three packets.
Nĩndatara. Rehe magana mana ma mirongo itatũ. I have added up. Give me four hundred and thirty.
Ke Magana maya matano. Take this five hundred.
Ke cĩnji – mĩrongo mũgwanja. Take your change – seventy shillings.
Nĩ ngatho. Nĩtũonane hĩndĩ ĩngĩ – Thanks. See you another time.
Mũici wa ũtukũ – the night thief
1. Ira ndiraire toro – I did not sleep last night.
2. Nĩkĩ? Kaĩ ũrarĩ na wĩra ũrĩkũ? – Why? What work did you have?
3. Atĩ wĩra. Ndũkire ngũhe ũhoro - Work? Keep quiet as I tell you
4. Thiĩ na mbere - continue
5. Ndĩrarugire ngima, ndĩrarĩa na tũnyeni – I made some ugali, and ate it with some greens
6. Ũrarĩa na tũnyeni? Ndũrarĩ na kanyama? - You ate with some greens? Did you not have some meat?
7. Tiga itherũ. Ũyu nĩ ũhoro wa kĩeha - Stop jokes. This is a grave matter.
8. Hĩ! He ũhoro - Wa! Tell me (give me the information)
9. Ndinathambia indo. Ndĩroi ngũcithambia rũciine - I did not was the dishes. I thought I would do that this morning.
10. Ũracitiga maĩini - So you left them in the water.
11. One ũguo. Ndirathiĩ gũkoma - Exactly. So I went to sleep
12. Urarĩ mũnogu mũno - You were very tired?
13. Ndĩrarĩ mũnogu reke ngwĩre – I was tired, I tell you.
14. Ndĩraigwire mũndũ arũgamĩte oharĩa ndĩ – I heard someone standing near me
15. Kaĩ ũrarotaga? - Were you dreaming?
16. Kũrota? Katarĩ mũici ũrarũgamĩte oharĩa ngomete – Dreaming? It was a thief, standing right where I was sleeping.
17. Kaĩ ũtanahinga mũrango? - Did you not lock the door?
18. Nĩũndũ wa mĩnoga rĩ, ndinahinga nyũmba – Due to tiredness, I did not secure the house.
19. Arendaga atĩa? - What did he want?
20. Thimũ, terebiceni, mũtũngi wa ngathi, na mbeca iria ciothe ndĩrarĩ nacio – Phone, television, gas cylinder, and all the money that I had.
21. Ũrarĩ na cigana? - How much did you have?
22. Ngiri ikũmi na ĩmwe na Magana mũgwanja – Eleven thousand, seven hundred.
23. Nĩũthiĩte borithi? - Have you been to the police?
24. Asha. Ndwara kuo oro rĩũ - Not yet. Take me there right now.
Vocabularly – Brackets indicate alternative meaning.
Ira – Yesterday (snow)
Kũrara – to spend the night. Ndiraire – I did not spend the night
Toro – sleep (as a noun), Thiĩ toro – go to sleep, E toro – he/she is sleeping
Koma – Sleep (as an adjective) - Thiĩ ũkome - go to sleep, Nĩ akomete - he/she is sleeping
Nĩkĩ?- why?, Nĩkĩĩ? - what is it?
Ũrarĩ – you were, kaĩ ũrarĩ – were you?
Wĩra ũrikũ – which work? Ngari ĩrĩkũ? - which car?
Nguo irĩkũ? - which clothes? Maĩ marĩkũ? – which water?
Mwaki ũrĩkũ? - which fire? Gĩthomo kĩrĩkũ? which lesson?
rĩu – now, oro rĩu - Just now (right now)
Andũ mwanya mwanya - Diferent persons
1. Niĩ – me; Niĩ mwene – I myself (emphatic); Niĩ ũyũ – here I am
2. Wee – You; wee mwene ; Wĩ kũ (Wĩ ha)? – where are you?
3. We (short vowel) – him/her; We mwene; eha? – where is he/she?
4. Inyũĩ – You (plural); Inyũĩ ene; Mwĩha? – where are you?
5. O (short vowel) – them; o ene; Meha – where are they?
6. Mũndũ– person; Kamũndũ – small person; Kĩmũndũ
Andũ – people; tũmũndũ – small people; imũndũ – big people
7. Mwana – child; Kana – small child; Kĩana; big child
Ciana – children; Twana- small children;
8. Mũiretu – girl; kairĩtu- small girl; kĩirĩtu – big girl,
Airĩtu – girls; Tũirĩtu – small girls
9. Mwanake – young man; kĩmwana – big young man
Anake – young men; Imwana – big young men
10. Mũndũrũme – a man; mũrũme – husband
Arũme – men
11. Mũndũmũka (muka) – woman; Mũtumia – married woman
Aka – women; Atumia – marriedwomen
12. Mũthuuri – old man (husband); Mũthee – old man
Athuuri – old men (husbands)
13. Guka – grandfather; Gacũkũrũ (gacũcũ) – Grandchild
Maguka – Grandfathers; tũcũkũrũ (tũcũcũ) - grandchildren
14. Cũcũ – Grandmother; Nyakĩnyua – Fairly old woman (who is allowed to take alcohol).
15. Mũingĩ – crowed of people
16. Mũteti – politician; Mũgo – diviner priest; Mũrathi – seer; mũrogi – witch/wizard
Ateti; Ago; Arathi; Arogi – plurals for no. 16 above
17. Mũrigiti (ndagitarĩ) – doctor;
18. Mũndũ mũirũ – African (Black person); Mũthũngũ – Eropean (any white person); Mũhĩndĩ – Indian (any asian).
Ciana na nyina – children and their mother
1. Kamau kinya magego – Kamau, brush your teeth
2. Nĩndĩmakinyĩte. Rĩu nĩ nguo ndĩrehumba – I have already brushed them, I am now dressing
3. Ĩ wee njeri nĩkĩĩ ũreka? – and you Njeri, what are you doing?
4. Ndĩrabanga mabuku makwa mũhukoinĩ – I am arranging my books in the bag.
5. Ukai mũnywe cai naihenya mũtanacererwo – come (plural) and take (plural) tea quickly before you (plural) are late.
6. Nĩtũnyuĩte maitũ – We have taken it, mother.
7. Kiumei mũthie kwĩ ithe wanyu – Then get out and go to your father
Mwana – child; Ciana- children
Gũkinya magego – to brush teeth, mũkinyi – Toothbrush,
Kwĩhumba – to dress, Mwĩhumbĩre – style of dressing, matonyo - fashion
Maitũ/mami – mother, Nyina – his/her mother, nyũkwa – your mother
Mwari wa maitu – my sister (My mother’s daughter), Mwari wa nyina, Mwari wa nyukwa
Baba – Father, ithe – his/her father, ithe witũ – our father, Thogwo – your father
Mũrũ wa baba – Brother (my father’s son – used for stepbrother), Mũrũ wa ithe, Mũrũ wa thogwo
Kũbanga – to arrange, to pack,
Uma – come out, Umai – come out (plural), Kiume – then come out, kiumei – then come out (plural)
Tata – Auntie (on mother’s side), Mama – uncle (on mother’s side)
Baba mũnini - Uncle on Father’s side but must be younger than father (literally small father)
Baba Mũkũrũ – Uncle on father’s side but must be older than father (literally old father)
Note that all aunties on father’s side are all called Tata. All wives of paternal uncles are adressed as 'Mother.' All cousins on both sides are brothers and sisters and any sexual relationship with them is incestuous.
Mũndũ na mũtumia wake – a man (person) and his wife
1. Nyina wa maina, ũkĩra – Maina’s mother, wake up.
2. Nĩngũkĩra, he dagĩka ithano - I will wake up, give me five minutes
3. Atĩ dagĩka ithano? – Five minutes?
4. Ndiganĩtie toro – I haven’t had enough sleep
5. Nĩũramenya nĩngũcererwo? – Do you know I will be late?
6. Reke njũkĩre ngũhiũhĩrie maĩ ma gwĩthamba. – let me wake up to heat bathwater for you.
7. Ruga cai naihenya Ngĩthamba – make tea very fast as I take a bath.
8. Nĩkĩĩ ũmũthi, kaĩ wĩna ihenya rĩa kĩĩ? – Why today, why are you in such a hurry?
9. Twĩna mũcemanio – We have a meeting
10. Kaĩ mũkoragwo na mĩcemanio hĩndĩ ciothe? – Do you have meetings all the time
11. Umũthĩ anene othe nĩmegũka – Today all the bosses will come
12. Maĩ maku magwĩthamba nĩmahiũ– Your bath water is ready
13. Hũrĩra mũbuto ũyũ na cati ĩno bathi – Iron this trouser and this shirt
14. Cai ũrĩhĩa rĩ ndaruta mawĩra mau mothe? – When will the tea get ready if I do all those chores?
15. Ngwihũrira bathi na hake iratũ rangi – I will iron and polish my shoes myself
Hũra – beat, hũra nguo bathi – iron clothes, hũra nguo – wash clothes, hũra ngari mwaki – start a car, hũra thimũ – make a telephone call
Hũrĩra – beat for me, Hũrĩra nguo bathi – iron clothes for me, wihũrire nguo bathi – iron clothes for yourself, ni Ngwihũrira – I will iron for myself
Kuhaka - to apply any liquid or paste.
He – give me, mũhe – give him/her, mahe – give them, tũhe – give us, ke- take, oya - pick
Nyina wa maina; Nyina wa Njeri – It is respectable to call a wife as the mother of the first born, in this case – Maina/ Njeri.Often it is shortened to ‘Wa Maina/wa Njeri - of Maina/Njeri.
Ũkĩra – get up; wake up, Nĩngũkĩra – I will wake up (now); Nĩngokĩra – I will wake up (tomorrow)
Kũigania – to have enough, Ndiganĩtie – I have not had enough, Igania irio – have enough of that food (literally – Stop eating)
Kũmenya – to know, Nĩũramenya – do you know, niwamenya – have you known (just now); Niũkũmenya – You will know (today), Niũkamenya – You will know (tomorrow or later in future)
Dagĩka – minute, Thaa – time, Mũthenya – day, ũtuko – night
Hĩndĩ (hingo) ciothe – all the time
Wira – work, mawĩra- jobs
Cai – tea, ũcũrũ – porridge, njohi – beer,
mũcemanio – meeting; mĩcemanio – meetings; gũcemania – to meet
Gomana – meet; magomano; meeting point(meetings); Kũgomana – to meet
Wonjoria – Trading
1.Agĩkũyũ nĩ mendete kũĩyandĩka – Kikuyu people like to be self employed
2.Mũno marutaga wĩra wa wonjoria – they mostly work as traders
3.Mawĩra ma wonjoria nĩ maingĩ – there are many trading jobs
4.Kũrĩ magũraga nguo cia mũtumba Nairobi – some buy second hand clothes in Nairobi
5.Magatwara nguo icio mataũni mangĩ ta Naikuru na Naivasha – they take those clothes to other towns like Nakuru and Naivasha.
6.Onjoria angĩ magũraga maciaro ma mĩgũnda – Other traders buy farm produce
7.Maciaro ta mbembe, mboco, ngwacĩ, ndũma… – produce like maize, beans, sweet potatoes, arrow roots…
8.Matunda ta macungwa, maembe, makorobia na ndimũ. – Fruits like oranges, mangoes, avocados and lemons.
9.Onjoria angĩ maigaga nduka, ithĩi cia mbembe kana ngari cia matatũ – other traders have shops, maize mills or public transport vehicles.
10.Matũkũ maya kwĩna mawĩra ma mĩthemba mĩingĩ mũno – These days there are many different kinds of jobs
11.Kwĩ mĩtambo ya kompiuta, mathukuru ma ũbundi wa kompiuta ona wĩra wa kwendia kompiuta -There are computers networks, schools to teach computer technology and even to sell computers.
12.Ũngĩenda kũruta wĩra wa biacara ĩrĩkũ? – Which business would you like to do?
- Kwandĩka - to write, to employ, Kwĩyandĩka - to be self employed
- Wonjoria - trading, mwonjoria - trader, onjoria - traders
- Kwenda - to love, nĩngwendete - I love you, Mwendwa wakwa - my lover, nĩ mendete - they love
- Gũthĩa - to grind into flour, Gĩthĩi - a grinding machine, mũthĩi - person grinding
- nguo cia mũtumba - second hand clothes
- Twara - deliver,take to, gũtwara - to deliver, to take to
Mĩthenya ya heho – cold days
1. Hĩ! Kaĩ kwina heho-ĩ! – Lo! It is very cold-oh!
2. Kaĩ wĩ mũrũaru? – are you sick?
3. Wanjũria ũguo nĩkĩ? – Why do you ask me such a question?
4. Tondũ gutirĩ na heho – because it is not cold
5. We! Ta-ĩkĩra burana – you! Just put on a cardigan
6. Kwĩna ũrugarĩ – It is hot (warm)
7. Urenda kũrũara? – do you want to fall sick?
8. Ngwĩhumba burana na kabuti – I will wear a cardigan and an overcoat.
9. Mweri wa mũgwanja ũkoragwo na heho mũno – the seventh month (July) is usually very cold
Kaĩ – this is a prefix that turns a statement into a question. Adding a syllable ‘ĩ’ at the end of the sentencecancels out the question back to an emphatic statement.
Kwĩna heho – it is cold, Kaĩ kwĩna heho? – is it cold?
Kaĩ kwĩna heho - ĩ ? It is really cold
Heho – cold, ũrugarĩ – heat, warmth, Mwaki – fire, Gĩchinga – a burning stick
Burana – cardigan, sweater, igoti – coat, Kabuti – over coat, mũrĩngĩti – blanket,
Ĩkĩra – put (in this case ‘put on – wear), Kwĩhumba – to wear
Mweri – month (moon), mũno – very much
This conversation was requested by fjbosko, a follower of this hub.
The word in brackets is an alternative for the word before it.
Wanjikũ: Njeeri', there are many people at your compound. I don't know how they are relatives. Who is Jerusha?
Njeeri, kwĩna andũ aingi mũciĩ waku. Ndiũĩ mũtaranie atĩa. Jerusha nũũ?
NJEERI: Jerusha is the first wife of Mwangi.
Jerusha nĩ mũtumia (mũka) wa mbere wa Mwangi
WANJIKŨ: And Kamau?
NJEERI: Kamau is the eldest [big] son of Mwangi.
Kamau nĩ irigithathi rĩa Mwangi.
WANJIKŨ: And whose house is that?
Na ĩrĩa nĩ nyũmba yaũ?
NJEERI: That is the house of the last wife (The word for ‘small’ is used to mean last)
Ĩrĩa nĩ nyũmba ya mũtumia (mũka) ũrĩa munini
WANJIKŨ: Truly. And who is Maria ?
Nĩguo? ĩ Maria nũũ
NJEERI: She is the grandmother.
WANJIKŨ: Thank you.
Note: Cũcũ – Grandmother, Cũwe – His/her grandmother
C – pronounced as SH. But in some localities it is pronounced as ‘S’
1. Kwĩna (nĩ kũrĩ) – there is (in a certain place)
2. Nyingĩ – many (things), Aingĩ – Many (people), tũingĩ – many (small things)
Depending on the noun class, we can also say Maingĩ – eg. Maũndũ maingĩ (Many things)
3. Gũtarania – to calculate, to relate, to think hard, Nĩ tũtaranĩtie – we have calculated, we are related, we have thought very hard.
4. Irigithathi – First born,
5. Kĩhĩnga-nda – Last born (the one who closed the stomach)
6. Nda – stomach, womb,
7. Nyũngũ ya mwana – womb (the baby’s pot)
8. Nini – small, young
9. Mũtumia mũnini – Small wife (where there is one or more older wives, the youngest is said to be the ‘small wife’)
10. Ũũ? – who? Nũũ, who is it?
11. Nĩ a? - who are they,
12. Ni ĩnyuĩ a – who are you? Inyuĩ! You people!
13. Guka – Grandfather, gukawe – his her grandafather, gukagwo – your grandfather
14. Mũka – wife, his wife, Mũkagwo – your wife, Aka – women, wives, gaka
15. Yakwa – mine, Yake – his/her, Yao – theirs, Yanyu – Yours (plural), Itũ - ours (plural)
This conversation was requested by fjbosko, a follower of this hub.
Nĩndamũgeithia inyũothe - Greetings to all of you.
Nitwageithĩka – we have received greetings (said in response to the first line in this dialogue)
Amũkĩrai ngeithi - Greetings to all of you.
Nĩtwamũkira – we have received
Geithĩkai - Greetings to all of you.
Nĩndakũgeithia - Greetings to you (singular).
Nĩndageithĩka – I have received greetings
Amũkĩra ngeithi - Greetings to you (receive greetings).
Geithĩka - Greetings to you (be greeted)
Inyuothe nĩmũgũka ndũnyũ? - Are you all coming to the market?
Ĩĩ, nĩtũgũka ndũnyũ ithuothe - Yes we are coming to the market, all of us.
Ĩ rĩu (ũcio) nĩ irigithathi rĩaku? - And is that your first born?
Ĩĩ (ĩni) – Yes
Asha tiwe – no he/she is not the one
Maitũ, arĩa nĩ a? - Mama, who are those?
Arĩa nĩ ageni – those are visitors
Ũcio aarĩ tata wa baba - That was the aunt of your father.
Nĩ mwarĩ wa nyina na ithe wa thoguo - She is the sister of the father of your father
Niĩwe kĩhinga nda na ũrĩa nĩ mwarĩ wa nyina na mũka (mũtumia wake) - He is the last born and that is the sister of his wife. =
Ũrĩa nĩwe irigithathi – ũcio ũngĩ nĩ mũrũwanyina na mũka - That is the first-born, the other is his brother-in-law (Note: I have not heard a term for brother-in-law??????).
Ngeithi – greetings, Geithania – greet people (usually told to someone who is leaving).
Geithĩka – get greeted (literally)
Amũkĩra – receive
Inyũothe – you all, ithuothe – we all, marĩothe (othe) – all of them
Ndũnyũ – market
Mũgeni – visitor, Ageni – visitors, ũgeni – a visit
Mwarĩ – girl, daughter
The following translation was requested by Christine on 22rd November 2011
Wanjirũ wanted to go home with you but she has changed her mind
Wanjirũ arendaga Kũinũka nawe no nĩeciria ũndũ ũngi
Inũka - go home
Kũinũka - to go home
no - but
Meciria - thoughts
ũndũ ũngi - Something else
Wanjirũ arendaga Kũinũka nawe no nĩagarũra meciria
ndĩragarũra - I changed
Nĩndagarura meciria – I have changed my mind
nĩagarũra - he/she has changed
kũgarũra - to change
Note that the English word Change has been borrowed into Kikuyu as Cenjia – change, gũcenjia - to change
Wanjirũ arendaga Kũinũka nawe no nĩacenjia meciria –
Wanjiru wanted to go with you but she has changed her mind
This a conversation was requested by Bosko. The brackets indicate alternative words for those preceding.
Wanjikũ: ĩ aya magĩũka - Here they come!
Njeeri: Mũrĩega? (ũhoro wanyu?) Nĩ ndamũnyita ũgeni (nĩ ndamwamũkĩra) Kenya - Hi! Welcome to Kenya.
Njĩtagwo Njeeri, na ũyũ haha nĩ Kamau - I am Njeeri and here is Kamau.
Nancy: Tũrĩega, Njĩtagwo Nancy. Nĩ ndakena nĩ gũkũmenya - Hi!(We are fine) I am Nancy. Nice to meet you.
John: Niĩ njĩtagwo John. Ndĩ mũrutwo kuma Amerika - And I am John. I am an American student
Wanjikũ: Uhoro waku John? Nĩ wega (Nĩndakena) muno nĩ gũkũmenya - Hello John. Very nice to meet you!
John: Nĩ waragia gĩthũngũ? - Do you speak English
Wahota kwaria Gĩthũngũ - Can you speak English
Njeeri: ĩĩ nĩ twaragia Gĩthungu - Yes, we speak English
Ona Gĩthweri - and also Kiswahili
No twendete kwaria Gĩkũyũ - but we prefer to speak Kikuyu.
John: No njaragia Gĩkũyũ kĩnini tu - But I speak only a little Kikuyu.
Wanjikũ: ũraria wega mũno. Nĩ ũranyita?(nĩ ũraigua?) - You speak very well. Do you understand?
John: Ndĩranyita (Ndĩraigua) wega mũno - I understand it well
Wanjikũ: Ni wega! - Great!
Nĩ wega! One! Haya! Nĩ wega mũno! (nĩ ngatho) - Good! All right! Very well! Thank you!
John: Onawe wĩ mũrutwo? Are you a student too?
Wanjikũ: ĩĩ, ndĩ mũrutwo, no Njeeri nĩ arutaga wĩra. Nĩ mũinjinia - Yes, I am a student, but Njeeri works. She is an engineer.
John: ũthomagĩra kĩĩ – What do you study?
Wanjikũ: Thomagĩra thiomi yunibathĩtĩ ya Kenya - I study languages at the university of Kenya.
Ĩĩ we John? ũthomagira kũ? - And you John? Where do you study?
John: Tũthomagira New York - We study in New York.
For some reason, we do not use ‘ini’ for towns to mean ‘in’
Njeeri: New York nĩ tauni nene ma - New York is certainly a great city.
John: Nĩ ma nĩ nene - Indeed it is.
Wanjikũ: Mathandũkũ mothe me haha? - Are all the suitcases here?
John: II, me haha - Yes, they are.
Wanjikũ: Nĩ tumagare (nĩ tũthiĩ) - Let’s leave
Nancy: Ngaari ĩ ha (ĩ ha ngaari)? - Where is the car?
Wanjikũ: Kwa mũtino ngaari n ĩ thũku - Unfortunately, the car is broken
Tũguthiĩ na mbaathi - We are going by bus.
Ĩno mbaathi ya gũthiĩ (gũtũtwara) taũni - Here is the bus to take us downtown.
John: tũkũrĩha mbeca cigana – How much shall we pay?
Tigiti yumaga mbeca cigana? - How much does the bus ticket cost?
Tigiti nĩ wa thogora ũrikũ? – what is the cost of a ticket?
Njeeri: Nĩ ciringi mĩrongo ĩrĩ - It costs 20 shilings.
The word ‘welcome’ does not exist in Kikuyu. It is common to here people say ‘werokamu,’ or ‘karibũ’- borrowed from English and Kiswahili respectively. The appropriate terms are ‘Nĩ ndakũnyita ũgeni (nĩ ndakwamũkĩra),’I have received you as a visitor, used here in singular. This is followed by ‘ũigwe wi mũciĩ’ – feel at home.
Mũtino – bad luck, bad omen, an unfortunate event
Ũthomaga – you study, ũthomagira - you study for, You study at
thogora - Cost, yumaga - it costs,
gũthogorana - Buying and selling(this is much more as it includes bargaining).
Wĩ mũhiku? - (question to a woman) Are you married?
Ĩĩ ndĩmũhiku – (response by a woma) Yes, I am married.
Nĩ ũhikanĩtie? - (question to a man) Are you married?
Ĩĩ nĩhikanĩtie – (response by a man) Yes, I am married.
In Kikuyu it is the man that marries. The woman gets married. Women cannot say “ I married my husband.” This might imply that she is the ‘man’ in the house.
Nĩ ũrĩ ciana? – (asked to an individual) Do you have children?
Nĩ mũrĩ ciana? – (asked to a couple) Do you have children?
Ĩĩ tũrĩ ciana ithatũ. Ciothe ni ihĩĩ (tũothe ni tũhii) - (if they are preteens or uncircumcised) Yes, we have three children, all are boys.
Ĩĩ tũrĩ ciana ithatu. othe ni anake – (if they are teens or circumcised)Yes, we have three children, all are boys.
Ĩĩ wee mũthuuri ũyũ, nĩ ũhikanĩtie? - And you, Sir, are you already married?
If you want to massage someone’s ego, you can call him ‘mutongoria’ – leader, for sir.
Ĩĩ, nĩhikanĩtie, no tũtire hamwe na mũtumia – yes I am married but we are not together with my wife (Yes, I am married, but my wife and I have separated).
Ndũkamake mũtongoria – Do not worry (for ‘I am sorry Sir.’)
Nĩ wega (nĩ ngatho) ni kũnyũmĩrĩria– thanks for the support
Ahota gũcoka – She might come back. (Perhaps we will be able to get back again.)
In Kikuyu culture, it is the woman who left the husband and then came back after negotiations between the families.
Ndikwenda kũmũte – I do not want to throw her out (I don’t want a divorce)
In Kikuyu there was no term for divorce. A man could throw out his wife (gũte – to throw out), or the woman could run away (kũũra – to run away). In either case the extended families would meet to resolve the differences. Today, the English word ‘divorce’ would be used to give the modern living where divorces are extremely common.
Ndihikĩte, no ndĩna mwendwa - No, I am not married, but I have a lover (fiancé).
Etagwo Kamau - He is called Kamau.
Ũkwenda kũhika rĩ - When do you expect to get married?
Ndĩrenda (Ngwenda) kũhika ndarĩkia gĩthomo - I want to get married after completing my studies.
Andũ aitũ nĩ maharĩirie maũndũ mothe ma ũhiki - Our families have already made all the wedding arrangements,
Kwoguo twĩhokete kũhikania mũthia (mũisho) wa mwaka ũyũ - So we expect to get married at the end of this year.
Ngai enda (mwathani enda) - God willing!
Kũhota – to be able, Ndahota – I might (I might be able), No hote – I can, no ũhote - you can, twahota – we can
Ndingĩhota – I cannot (I cannot be able)
Ũmĩrĩria – be strong; persevere
Ũhiki ( kĩhiko) - wedding
Mũhiki – bride
Mũhikithania – the official presiding over the wedding (eg. Priest)
Mũhikania – Bride groom
Kũharĩria – to prepare
Kĩhĩĩ – uncircumcised male
Q. I dedicate this song to Nyambura
A. Rwĩmbo rũrũ nĩ rwa kũgocithia (gũkumia) Nyambura
Rwĩmbo rũrũ- this song, nĩ rwa – is for
Ngumo means is fame. So to dedicate is like to make famous, to honour by bringing fame to so and so.
Kumia – bring fame to so and so by singing, or just praising.
Goca – praise, Kũgoca to praise. Kũgocithia – to cause praise to come upon someone or thing.
Kũgoca Ngai - to praise God
Translation of the above picture
Kiosk man: Maybe it’s how you talked to them. Many things depend on how you present yourself.
Susie: You are right there. Or should we attempt to go back?
jean2013 asked the following question:
Hi id like to know how u say, go warm food in kikuyu. Id appreciate.
Answer: Thiĩ ũhiũhie irio
Thiĩ (Thi as in this and ĩ like the A in Air)
ũhiũhie (ũ like the O in Oats)
Irio - this is the word for all food, though it is used by non Kikuyu to mean the Marshed foods that Kikuyu's make with bananas and greens and sometimes substituting the bananas with potatoes.
One can also say:
Thiĩ ũhiũhie kĩndũ gĩa kũrĩa
kĩndũgĩa kũrĩa - something to eat
More Kikuyu language resources
- Kikuyu Language: the Lord's prayer and other christian terms
- Kikuyu Names for Girls and their meaning
According to the Myth of Origin, God made Gĩkũyũ and placed him near Mount Kenya at a place called Mũkũrwe wa Gathanga God saw that he was lonely and gave him a wife, Mũmbi. Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi were blessed with nine daughters, but no sons. The daughter
- Kikuyu Names for boys and their meaning
The Kikuyu people of Kenya have a very specific way of naming children. The first born son is always given the same name as his paternal Grandfather. The old man is usually very eager to be named and may start insinuating that 'he wants to be born'
- The Kikuyu language: Past tenses
The Kikuyu language is one of the most archaic of the Bantu group. It is spoken by about 20% of the Kenya population, mainly in Central Province and the Rift Valley.
- The Kikuyu language: Future tenses
- Kikuyu Language phonology
Gĩkũyũ is written with seven vowels. Two of the additional vowels are i-tilde (ĩ) and u-tilde (ũ). These are: a (low /central), e (ɛ Mid-low/Front), i (high/front), ĩ (e Mid-high/Front), o (ɔ Mid-low /Back), u (High/Back), ũ (o Mid-high/Back). Kikuyu
A Kikuyu man experiences snow
1. Cook, V., 1997,Inside Language, Anorld, London
2. Leakey, L.S.B., 1959,First Lessons in Kikuyu,Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi
3. Landar, H., 1966,Language and Culture, Oxford University Press, New York.
4. Steible, Daniel, 1967,Concise Handbook of Linguistics, Peter Owen, London.
© 2010 Emmanuel Kariuki