Salibonani bangane (hello friends). For those of you who would like to learn isiNdebele more formally, these are semi-formal lessons we are trying to make. The lessons are highlighted to help you find the next lesson to go to:

Lesson 1 - Pronunciation

We always have to get this pronunciation out the way first, so don't be scared, it's pretty easy, simple to follow and you'll get it quickly.

In Ndebele, the vowels are spoken in a single pure sound without dipthongs [the name means "two voices/ sounds"] (vowels where there is a noticeable sound change or two vowels next to eachother). This makes Ndebele a little easier to read because, unlike similar languages such as Xhosa or other languages such as English, there are no double vowels e.g. "uu".

a e.g. mama (mother), mfana (boy), sala (stay)
e e.g. ye (yes), wena (you)
i e.g. yini? (what?), ilizwi (word)
o e.g. ogogo (grans), isigodo (pole)
u e.g. ufudu (tortoise), umumbu (maize)

As seen in the above examples, the consonants are generally easy for English speakers. There are some rules to note though, besides the click sounds which we will cover later. These rules to note are shown here in point form:

  • Aspirated consonants. These consonants are written with an "h" (to show that they are different from non-aspirated ones). You can test that the sound is correct by holding your hand in front of your mouth to feel that air is "aspirated" onto it.
phapha (to fly), phepha! (sorry!), phila (live) e.g. ngiyaphila = I am healthy [in response to Unjani? (how are you?)]
uthango (fence), ulutho (thing)
ikhabe (watermelon), ukhuni (a piece of firewood), ukhezo (spoon)

impala (impala antelope), impela (indeed), impilo (life, also the name of a hospital)
intango (fences), intengo (price), izinto (things)
inkabi (ox), inkezo (spoons), inkuni (firewood)

  • Explosive and implosive 'b' sound. The b sound has an 'h' added, not because it is aspirated but to show it is explosive, i.e. it is like the English 'b' sound but more sharp.
explosive bh (sharp 'b' sound):
bhala (write), bhema (smoke), ibhiza (horse)

implosive b (this sounds almost like a 'v' sound where the lips are places together, there is a momentary intake of air and then a soft 'b' sound is produced)
bala (read), beka (put), ibizo (name)

  • Consonant combinations
    • tsh. In Ndebele, this sounds like "ch" in "church", unlike in Zulu where it sounds like "sh".
      • isitsha (container), tshiya (leave), tshetsha (walk quickly) tshaya (hit. Sounds like Chaya)
    • ng: this is a nasal sound with 2 ways of saying it depending on the word.
      • 'ng' as in 'singing'. A soft sound with almost silent 'g': e.g. indingindi (measles), thenga (buy)
      • 'ng' as in 'finger'. The 'g' sound is audibly pronounced, sounding almost like a 'k' sound: ngena (come in), ingubo (blanket), ngaki? (how many?), amanga (lies)
    • ny: a "n-ya" or "n-yeah" sound: omunye (another person), nyikinyeka (move)
    • hl: to make this sound, put your tongue on the top of your mouth (roof) like you are make an 'l' sound e.g. "la". Expel air and an almost wet "hl" sound will be made as the air escapes round the sides of your tongue with some friction almost. mhlophe (white), buhlungu (pain), kuhle (well)
    • dl: to make this sound, make the "l" tongue position similar to "hl" sound but use your voice to articulate the "d" sound. indlu (house/ hut), ukudla (food)
    • kl: similar way to "hl" to form this sound but with the tongue in a position similar to when you make a "g" sound. klabalala (shriek), klekla (pierce the ear), kloloda (mock)

Click Sounds

Ok, let's look at the 3 consonants which produce the 3 click sounds found in Ndebele. The positioning of the tongue and how your remove it from where it is pressed, determines the 3 types of sound. The 3 clicks are for an 'x', 'c' and 'q'. I spoke about these before, but here they are again:

  1. c is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the front upper teeth and gums, the centre of the tongue is depressed and the tip of the tongue is drawn backwards. The resulting sound is similar to the sound used in English to express annoyance. Some examples are cina (end), cela (ask).
  2. The q sound is made by raising the back of the tongue to touch the soft palate and touching the gums with the sides and tip of the tongue. The centre of the tongue is depressed and the tip drawn quickly away from the gum. The resulting sound is like the "pop" heard when quickly removing the cork from a bottle. Some examples are qalisa (start), qeda (finish).
  3. The x sound is made by placing the tongue so that the back of the tongue touches the soft palate and the sides and tip of the tongue touch the gums. One side of the tongue is quickly withdrawn from the gums. Some examples are xoxa (discuss), ixoxo (frog).
You can also have:
  • aspirated click sounds (followed by aspirated air from your mouth). e.g. uchago (milk), qha (expresses dryness) e.g. ngiwomile qha! (I am thirsty!)
  • nasal click sounds e.g. nxa (when), inqola (cart), inqenye (part), ingxabano (quarrel)

Other pronunciation such as intonation should be learnt by imitation of Ndebele speakers.

Ok, let's practice what we've learnt in pronunciation before we go onto the next lesson, which will be more fun and less technical:

Ixhegu laqhoqhomela laxamalaza (the old man stood on tiptoe and with feet astride)
Iqaqa lalizigiqagiqa laze laqamula unqala (The polecat was rolling along until it broke its neck)
Iqaqa leyiqayeqha amaqhaqheni
Ixoxo axoxa izindaba ezixhagayo (the frog chats about news)

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 2 - The verb (infinitive)

In Ndebele, the verb has a basic "stem" to which prefixes and suffixes are attached.

for example: 'hamba' is the stem for 'go' and 'ukuhamba' means 'to go'.

To this we can add other prefixes and suffixes e.g. 'ngihamba' means 'I go', 'angihambanga' means 'I have never gone'.

If you look in an Ndebele dictionary, you would look for the letter that the stem word begins with e.g. if you were looking at the word 'ukuhamba', you would look under 'h' in the dictionary for 'hamba'.

You can use 'Hamba!' which means 'Go!' This is the imperative, used when giving a command to one person (e.g. hambani - is saying 'go' to many people). Apart from this situation, the verb stem will always use at least one type of prefix.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 3 - The present tense

Continuing on from lesson 2 about verbs, today we will look at the present tense of a verb.

For example:
'I am going', 'I go' - ngihamba
'I want' - ngifuna
and thus we can say 'ngifuna ukuhamba' - I want to go

Subject concords

1st person singular ngi- I
2nd person singular u- you
3rd person singular u- he/she
1st person plural si- we
2nd person plural li- you (+1 person)
3rd person plural ba- they

Short present tense

This is the subject concord (as described above) + the verb stem. This short present tense is used only when another word follows the verb stem.

For example:
'ngifuna ukuhamba' - I want to go
'ufuna ukuhamba' - You (singular) want to go
'ufuna ukuhamba' - He/she wants to go
'sifuna ukuhamba' - We want to go
'lifuna ukuhamba' - You (plural) want to go
'bafuna ukuhamba' - They want to go

The different versions of 'u-' are distinguished in your speech intonation and gestures. The first (you) has a lower intonation than the second (he/she), which has a higher, slightly longer intonation. Don't worry, this will come later, but you can always gesture towards whom you refer.

Long present tense

If no other words follow the verb (i.e. it is not a longer sentence) than a longer form of the present tense must be used. To form this, we place a '-ya-' between the subject concord and verb stem. You will get used to this so don't worry about the phrasing/ technical names, just practice speaking.

for example:
ngiyafuna - I want
uyafuna - You (sing.) want
uyafuna - He/she wants
siyafuna - We want
liyafuna - You (pl.) want
bayafuna - They want

Ufuna ukuhamba? - You want to go?
Yebo, ngiyafuna - Yes, I want to.

We will look at the short and long forms of the verb in later lessons and you will see that it is quite simple (Lesson 17, for example).

Ok, now to look at some verb vocabulary, look under the vocab tab in the top tabs.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 4 - Noun class 1: UM/ABA

Salibonani bangane. We have 9 classes of nouns in siNdebele, based on how those verbs start i.e. their prefixes. In siNdebele, the noun has 2 parts: the stem and the prefix. 

e.g. umfana (boy) consists of "um' and "fana"
      abafana (boys) consists of "aba" and "fana"
The stem stays the same, but the prefix changes for the singular and plural. The examples given are for the "um/aba" class as the singular uses the prefix "um" and the plural uses "aba". We will look at the other classes in later lessons.

Example sentences:
Umfana omncinyane ogijimayo ucakile.
The boy of small size who is running is thin or just "The little boy who is running is thin".

You will notice that the whole structure of the sentence is based on the noun prefixes, "um" uses "u-cakile". For comparison, let us look at another sentence:

Inja encinyane egijimayo icakile
The little dog which is running is thin

Here, "inja" is from the noun class "i/izi", where inja = dog and izinja = dogs, and you will notice that         "i-cakile" is used for "inja' whereas 'u-cakile" was used for "umfana".

Again, we will look at this more in later lessons and you will start to see that it is quite logical. 

The article in English, such as "a" or "the", does not appear in siNdebele, so the following simply applies, for example:
umfana = a boy/ the boy
abafana = boys/ the boys

Kulungile bangane (ok friends), let us look at some more vocabulary for the first noun class we are looking at lamhla (today):


Singular Plural
Ndebele English Ndebele English
umfana boy abafana boys
umfundisi teacher abafundisi teachers
umlimi farmer abalimi farmers
umuntu person abantu people
umntwana child abantwana children
umtshayeli driver abatshayeli drivers
umzali parent abazali parents
umpheki cook abapheki cooks
umbazi carpenter ababazi carpenters
umfazi wife abafazi wives
umakhi builder abakhi builders
umelusi herdsman abelusi herdsmen
umngane friend abangane friends

Yebo bangane, until next lesson, hamba kahle.

Lesson 5 - Noun class 2: U/O

Salibonani bangane. As described in Lesson 3, nouns in siNdebele can be put into 9 groups depending on their singular and corresponding plural prefixes. You learn't the first one, Um/Aba in Lesson 3. Lamhla, let's look at the noun class U/O.

The singular prefix is "u-" e.g. umama (mother), ubaba (father), ugogo (grandmother)
The plural noun has a prefix "o-" e.g. omama (mothers), obaba (fathers), ogogo (grandmothers)

The Um/Aba nouns have corresponding concords for sentences. The verb in the sentence must respect the prefix of the noun for the singula (u) and the plural (ba).
e.g. ubaba uyapheka (Father is cooking)
      obaba bayapheka (Our fathers are cooking)

Most of the nouns for family members are u/o, with a few different names  father, mother, grandfather (depending on who's fther it is etc)

ubaba - my/our father
uyihlo - your father
uyise - their/ his/ her father

umama - my/ our mother
unyoko - your mother
unina - his/ her/ their mother

ubabamkhulu - my/ our granfather
uyihlomkhulu - your grandfather (oyihlomkhulu - your grandfathers)
uyisemkhulu - his/ her/ their grandfather

See if you can fill in the gaps for the plurals above.

For grandmother, you can apply the same rule, however "ugogo" is the common word used for grandmother in siNdebele. So instead of umamakhulu (shortened to umakhulu), one would use "ugogo/ogogo". It should be noted that, for example, if you wanted to insult someone and refered to "umama" instead of "unyoko", you would actually be insulting your own mother!

Also note that in siNdebele, people refer to a "man" as "baba" and a "woman" as "mama" etc. It just follows the respectful way of addressing a person, especially an older person.
e.g. Yebo, unjani baba? - Yes, how are you gentleman?

For a person your age, you use "bude/ sisi" (brother/ sister)
e.g. Yebo sisi, unjani? Yes sister/girl, how are you? (Again, this may not be your actual sister or father etc)

There are also a few insects and animals in the U/O class, for instance:
umangoye/ omngoye - cat/s
ubabhemi/ obabhemi - donkey/s

e.g. obabhemi bayahamba - the donkeys are going

Peoples' names belong in this U/O class also. For example:

The first name (ibizo) given to a child after birth:

USipho uyadlala - Sipho is playing

UThandi uyagijima - Thandi is running

In siNdebele, the first name is used normally to refer to a child, and adults use their father's clan name/ surname (isibongo). So for Sipho Ngwenya:

Ngifuna uNgwenya - I want Ngwenya

Sithanda oNgwenya - We like the Ngwenyas

When a woman is married, the prefix "Ma-" (from umama) is often used, so for Thadi Khumalo:

e.g. UMaKhumalo uyahamba - MaKhumalo is going away

Also, a grandson can take/ use his ancestral nme (isitemo) which is normlly the grandfather's first name, but he still uses his isibongo (surname). There are only a limited number of clan names in siNdebele, so these will be noticed over time.

Kulungile bangane, until Lesson 6, sahle kahle (stay well).

Lesson 6 - The object of the verb

The object concord
The concords for the 1st, 2nd nd 3rd person were looked at previously e.g. ngiyathanda - I like

The concord appears directly before the verb stem when used as the object of the verb. In siNdebele, the object concord never changes this position, which is quite handy.

e.g. Uyangithanda - She likes me
       Uyasithanda - She likes us

The object is similar to the subject concord, but has:
2nd person singular (you) becomes ku from u
3rd person singular (he/she) becomes m from u

e.g. uyangithanda - he likes me
uyakuthanda - he likes you
ngiyamthanda - I like him
uyasithanda - he likes us
ngiyalithanda - I like you
ngiyabathanda - I like them

The object concord may also be put with an infinitive:
e.g. ufuna ukungitshaya - you want to hit me
ngiyasiza umama - I am helping my mother
ngiyamsiza - I am helping her

Noun as the object of the verb

e.g. ubaba uyatshaya umfana - Father is hitting a boy

The object concord may be used together with the noun:
e.g. ubaba uyamtshaya umfana - Father is hitting a boy

the noun may be before the verb e.g. ugogo ngiyambona - I see the grandmother

Kulungile bangane, until Lesson 7, hamba kahle (go well).

Lesson 7 - Commands and requests (the imperative verb)

The Imperative Verb
We use this form of a verb for commands and requests.

First of all when you speak to one person, you can use main stem of the verb only:
e.g. Hamba!- Go! (singular)
Sebenza!- Work! (singular)
Khangela!- Look! (singular)

Secondly, if you speak to a number of people, add "-ni" after the main verb stem:
e.g. Sebenzani!- Work! (plural)
Khangelani!- Look! (plural)

A third way is not commonly used but it is extra polite, used for plural or singular and involves you adding "-nini" to the end of the main verb stem:
e.g. Dinganini!- Search! (from the verb "dinga" to find/ search)
Fundanini!- Learn! (from "funda" to learn)

There are some irregular imperative forms, such as from the verb "ukuza" (to come) is:
Woza!- Come! (singular)
Wozani!- Come! (plural)

You don't need to put object concords in front of the imperative verbs (e.g. They is "ba-", you is "u-" etc)
The exception is "ngi-", which can be used for the singular imperative:
e.g. Ngikhangela!- Look at me!
Ngisiza!- Help me!

Here are 3 more verbs for vocabulary:
ukulethela- to bring to e.g. Ngilethela! (bring it to me!)
ukunika- to give (to) e.g. nginika! (give it to me!)
ukuyekela- to stop doing e.g. Yekela! (stop it!), yekela ukukhala! (stop crying)

Applying the lesson to talking to people:

When you address someone, you normally drop the initial vowel of the noun you use:
e.g. "umama" (mother) becomes "mama"
Khangela, mama!- Look, mother!

"umfana" (boy) becomes "mfana"
Woza, mfan'ami!- Come here my boy!

"uSipho" (Sipho, a name) simply becomes "Sipho"
Lalela Sipho!- Listen, Sipho!

An exception is the plural noun prefix "o-", such as "omama" (mothers). Remember too, that the polite way of addressing adults is "mama (bomama)" or "baba (bobaba)" even though they may not be your actual mother(s) or father(s)
e.g. Wozani, bomama!- Come, mothers!
Khangelani, bobaba!- Look, fathers!
Ngena mama!- Come inside, mother!
Woza baba!- Come, father!

Lesson 8 - Interjections

Here are some interjections in isiNdebele:

Yebo/ Ye - Yes
Yebo-ke - Certainly ('ke' is used for emphasis)
Ehe - Yes, that's it/ approval
Hayi/ Hatshi - No
Hatshi bo - No way/ Certainly not
A'a/ Ah-ah - No (with disapproval)

Some exclamations of surprise or disapproval can be made with your tone of voice:
Hawu!- Wow!
Bakithi! - My people!
Bantu! - People!
Dadewethu! - Sister!
X! - expression of annoyance, e.g. to naughty dog or child
C! - expressing pity or disgust or grief
Phepha! - Phew! or "that was a lucky catch"
Maye! - expressing dismay or grief for another person
Uxolo! - "I beg your pardon! or "excuse me!" (From ngiyaxolisa - I apologise)

From ukubonga (to thank) you get:
ngibongile/ sibongile - I am thankful/ we are thankful

or to thank someone, use their clan name with "e-" before:
e.g. ENdlovu - Thanks, Ndlovu!
EKhumalo - Thanks, Khumalo!

Lesson 9 - Questioning

To make a sentence into a question, one can add to the end:

1) "na?" For example:

Umngane uyahamba - My friend is going away
Umngane uyahamba na? - is my friend going away?

Abafana bathanda ukugijima kakhulu - The boys like to run fast
Abafana bathanda ukugijima kakhulu na? - Do boys like to run fast?

2)"yini?" For example:

Uyamthanda - you love him
Uyamathanda yini? - Do you (really) love him?

["yini?" by itself means 'What do you want?' or 'What's the matter?' or 'What is it?']

3) "angithi?" For example:

Angithi, ufuna ukufunda? - Isn't it so, you would like to learn?
Ufuna ukufunda, angithi? - You want to learn, don't you?

To answer these in agreement, you can use "sibili" to emphasize or say "indeed"
e.g. Abantwana bathanda ukudla - Ye, sibili!
Children like eating - Yes, indeed (definitely)!

Lesson 10 - Greetings

When one enters a traditional isiNdebele village, one should stand at the gate a call out "Ekuhle". When someone responds to say yes, "Yebo", one may approach the housing and take a seat so that people from that village may greet one.

The greeting dialogue to address some people could be as follows (with an English translation with a similar meaning):

+Salibonani (we see you)
-Yebo, salibonani (yes, we see you)
+Linjani? (how are you [plural]?)
-Sikhona, singabuza lina? (We are here [present], may we ask you?)
+Sikhona (We are present)

This is the plural form of greetings but nowadays may even be used for greeting one person. The singular greeting, however, would be:

+Sakubona (we see you)
-Yebo, sakubona (yes, we see you)
+Kunjani? (how are you [singular]?)
-Sikhona, singabuza lina? (We are here [present], may we ask you?)
+Sikhona (We are present)

In the morning, the greeting in isiNdebele is made by asking about how the person slept or woke up, using the verb "ukuvuka" (to wake up). I, personally, use it as a joke when a colleague has been dozing off in a meeting, in which case I say "uvukenjani?" (how did you wake?), haha. You can thus also ask how a person woke (uvuke njani?) or if they woke up (uvukile?).

+Livukile? (have you [plural] woken up?)
-Sivukile, singabuza lina? (we have woken up, and you [plural]?)
+Sivukile (we have woken up)

Note: Use "uvukile" for the 'you, singular' and "ngivukile" for 'I/me' instead of the plural 'we'

To greet a person in the evening, after you have already seen them that day or recently, use the verb "ukutshona" (to set [the sun]). It describes the sun setting, so is difficult to directly translate, but perhaps use for the below "is your day winding down?" or something equivalent greeting.

-Sitshonile, singabuza lina? 

Remember that you can use the singular too - "u-" and "ngi-", and the alternative "utshone'njani?" etc.

"Njani" is an adverb which means "how" and can be used to ask about "how" someone is or "how" something of theirs is.

For example, Linjani/ kunjani? (how are you [plural/ singular]?)
                      Sikhona/ siyaphila? (we are here/ we are healthy) would be possible replies
                      Banjani ekhaya? (how are they at home/) Bayaphila - they are well.

Lesson 11 - Saying goodbye

To say goodbye in isiNdebele, one would say either "go well' or "stay well', depending on who is physically leaving that place and who is remaining behind.

The verbs are "ukusala" for to stay/remain, and 'ukuhamba' for to go.

+Uhambe'kuhle (go well [singular])
-Usale'kuhle (stay well [singular])

+Hambani kuhle (go well [plural])
-Salani kuhle (stay well [plural])

There are alternative ways to say goodbye, such as to say goodnight. here one should use the verb "ukulala" (to sleep):

Lala kuhle (sleep well [singular])
or Ulale'kuhle (sleep well [singular])
or Lalani kuhle (sleep well [plural])

Further, one could say if someone has to go off to his home "uyelala" (go sleep) or if someone is leaving, they could say to one, "kuhlwile" (it is dark [outside]).

Lesson 12 - How are you?

To ask about someone's health in isiNdebele, one would use the adverb 'njani' ('how') with the applicable concord before it. For example:

Unjani/ kunjani? (How are you/ greeting? [singular])
Linjani? (How are you? [plural])

Unjani umntwana? (How is the child?)
Banjani abantwana? (How are the children?)
Banjani ekhaya? (How are they at home?)

To answer, for example, one could use 'khona' (to be there/ present) or 'ukuphila' (to live/ be well) to say;

Sikhona (we are present)
Siyaphila (we are well)

also, for example, ukhona - he/ she is present
                              bayaphila - they are well
(see the prefix lesson in Lesson 3 for a recap).

Lesson 13 - Question adverbs

To ask questions in isiNdebele, one should mainly know these four words:

  1. njani? - how?
  2. nini? - when?
  3. ...-ni? (at end of verb) - what?
  4. ngaphi? - where?
These adverbs are used with any Ndebele verb, while the verb is in the short form without "uku" or "ya". The questionning adverb is normally directly after the verb, for example:

uthunga njani? - How do you sew? (u-thunga njani - you-sew how?)
unyoko upheka nini? - When does your mother cook?
ufunani? - What do you want? (as in u-funa-ni? - you want what?)
Basebenza ngaphi khathesi? - Where are you working now?

What is interesting when talking, is that the stress on the word is at the second last syllable, thus 
uFUna, becomes ufuNAni?

Lesson 14 - "Ukuya..", the verb for "to go to..."

Remember that "uku"  is in front of a verb to mean "to", for example "gijima" is "run" and "ukugijima" for "to run". Thus, ukuya is "to go to...".
For example, "uya ngaphi?" (where are you going?)
or abafana bayahamba (the boys are in in the process of walking).

Lesson 15 - "Ubani?", "whom?"

The word "bani" is often put at the end of a verb to ask a question using "who/ whom". The noun "ubani" or "obani" means "who?" or "who (plural)?"
For example, from the verb "ukudinga" (to look/ search for), similarly to asking "udingani" (what are you looking for?), one could ask "udinga bani?" (Whom are you looking for?).

Lesson 16 - Questioning without using a verb

In English, one would use the verb "to be", as shown by "is" in a sentence such as "Where is father?". In siNdebele, we would simply say "Ungaphi ubaba?" There is no verb used here so it would translate literally to "Where father?" Similarly, we say "Banjani abafana?" for "how are the boys?" Notice the use of prefixes, "u-" and "ba-" for the words "ubaba" and "abafana". This is covered in Lesson 5 and previous lessons on noun classes.

Lesson 17 - The present tense: Long form

For the long form, we use the "...ya..." extension, for example:
Ufuna ukunatha itiye na? (Do you want to drink tea?)
Yebo, ngiyafuna (Yes, I do)

The long form is also used for when the verb is still being done. For example, you can say that you are going (Ngiyahamba) versus saying that you go (Ngihamba).

Remember that "na" is placed at the end of a sentence if we would like to make sure an isiNdebele sentence is heard as a question, and not simply a statement. Saying "uyafuna" (you like), would not be a fully understood question if one didn't say "uyafuna na?" (Do you want to?).

The long form is also used when the concord for an object is used with the verb, for example:
uyambona umfana na? - Do you see the boy? [Note the "m" before the word "bona" (to see)] or
uyabafuna abantwana na? Do you want the children?

Lesson 18 - The present tense: Short form

The short form is different to the long form in that it does not use the "...ya...".
ngiyafuna ukupheka - I am learning to cook (at this exact time) versus
ngifunda ukupheka - I am learning to cook (in general).

Note the short form appears before a infinitive/ general expression such as ngizama ukufuna (I am trying to learn).

Another use of the short form is in a question, where the adverb allows for the use of "na?" to be unnecessary. For example:
umama upheka nini? - When does mother cook? (literally "Mother cooks when?")

If there is no object concord with the verb and there is another word after the verb, one can use the short form, for example, to say:

Ngifuna itiye - I want tea, or
Abafana banatha utshwala na? ... Hayibo, abafana banatha itiye. (Do boys drink beer?.. No way, boys drink tea).

Lesson 19 - The negative of a present tense verb

The negative form of a present tense verb in isiNdebele  is quite simple. We add "ka-" to the beginning of the verb, before a subject concord, and change the final vowel at the end of the word to the letter "-i".

For example, Ngihamba (I go) becomes kangihambi (I don't go).

Often the "ka-" can be shortened to "a-". So angihambi.

In siNdebele, unlike some languages like isiXhosa, two vowels do not appear next to eachother. If two words come together causing two vowels to be next to eachother, either one vowel will be dropped (often using an apostrophe to substitute the dropped vowel), or they may have the letters "w" or "y" placed in between them as a semivowel.
Thus upheka (you cook) would have a negative form with "ka-upheki" which can be written "kawupheki".
Also, the noun object can be dropped, for example, so that "kangifuni ...imali" becomes "kangifuni mali", or (angifuni'mali).

Remember the use of the different types of prefixes for I, you, he/she, we, you plural, they. For example, Omama kabapheki (Our mothers (they) don't cook). Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 20 - Noun class 3: Um/ Imi 

The third of the noun classes we will look at in Ndebele, is that with:

Um- or umu- as the prefix for the singular noun and
Imi- as the prefix for the plural noun.

umfula uyageleza - the river is flowing. Uyageleza (it is flowing).
umlilo uyavutha - the fire is burning. Uyavutha (it is burning).

Imifula iyageleza - the rivers are flowing. Iyageleza.
Imililo iyavutha - the fires are burning. Iyavutha.

Concords with either "w" or "y" before the vowel.
Ngiyawubona umfula - I see the river. Ngiyawubona (I see it)
Ngiyayibona imifula - I see the rivers. Ngiyayibona (I see them).

Finally, let us look at the negative tense. Placing "ka-" in front of the subject concords, to form the negative, we need to put either a "w-" or a "y-" before the vowels. Remember to also end the word with an "-i", not an "-a".

Umfula kawugelezi - the river is not flowing.
Imifula kayigelezi - the rivers are not flowing.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 21- Noun class 4: Ili/ Ama

The fourth of the noun classes we will look at in Ndebele, is that with:

Ili- or i- as the prefix for the singular noun and
Ama- as the prefix for the plural noun.

Examples, using concords li- and a- respectively, to make sentences:
Ijaha liyasebenza - The youth is working. Amajaha ayasebenza - The youths are working.
Ilitshe lingaphi? - Where is the stone? Amatshe angaphi? - Where are the stones?

Concords with "w" before the vowel "a-" are needed.
Ngiyalibona ijaha - I see the youth.
Ngiyawabona amajaha - I see the youths.

Finally, let us look at the negative tense. Placing "ka-" in front of the subject concords, to form the negative, we need to put a "w-" before the vowels. Remember to also end the word with an "-i", not an "-a".

Ijaha kalisebenzi - The youth is not working.
Amajaha kawasebenzi* - The youths are not working.
*Note: here the two a vowels can be combined when talking, to sound like a long a sound:
 amajaha kasebenzi.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 22- Noun class 5: Isi/ Izi

The fifth of the noun classes we will look at in Ndebele, is that with:

Isi- as the prefix for the singular noun and
Izi- as the prefix for the plural noun.

Examples, using concord si- to make sentences:
Isalukazi siyagula - The old woman is feeling sick. Izalukazi ziyagula - The old women are sick.
Isinkwa singaphi? - Where is the bread? Izinkwa zingaphi? - Where is the bread (plural)?

Object concords with -si- and -zi-.
Ngiyasibona isinkwa - I see the bread.
Ngiyazibona izalukazi - I see the old women.

Finally, let us look at the negative tense. Placing "ka-" in front of the subject concords, to form the negative, and also ending the word with an "-i", not an "-a".

Isinkwa kasitshisi -  The bread is not hot
Izalukazi kaziguli - The old women are not ill.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Salibonani bangane (hello friends). For those of you who would like to learn isiNdebele more formally, these are semi-formal lessons we are trying to make. The lessons are highlighted to help you find the next lesson to go to:

Lesson 23 - In/ Izin

The sixth of the noun classes we will look at in Ndebele, is that with:

In- or im- as the prefix for the singular noun and
Izin- or izim- as the prefix for the plural noun.

Examples, using concord i- to make sentences:
Inja iyadla - The dog is eating. Izinja ziyadla - The dogs are eating.
Isinkwa singaphi? - Where is the bread? Izinkwa zingaphi? - Where is the bread (plural)?

Object concords of the vowel i- is with a y, and a z- is for the plural.
Ngiyayibona inja - I see the dog.
Ngiyayibona - I see it.
Ngiyazibona izinja - I see the dogs.

Finally, let us look at the negative tense, again using y-, and placing "ka-" in front of the subject concords, to form the negative, and also ending the word with an "-i", not an "-a".

Inja kayidli -  The dog is not eating.
Imbuzi kazidli (goats plural) - The goats are not eating.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 24 - Ulu/ Izin

The seventh of the noun classes we will look at in Ndebele, is that with:

Ulu- or u- as the prefix for the singular noun and
Izin- or izim- as the prefix for the plural noun.

Most nouns (just the noun stems themselves) in this class, have more than one syllable. For these, u- is used, for example ugwalo (book or letter) and izingwalo (books or letters).

For noun stems of only one syllable, ulu- is used. For example, uluthi (stick) and izinti (sticks).

Example sentences:
Ulutho lungaphi - Where is the thing. Izintho zingaphi - Where are the things?.
Usane luyakhala - The baby is crying Insane ziyakhala - The babies are crying

Ngiyalubona uluthi - I see the stick.
Ngiyazibona izinti - I see the sticks

Finally, let us look at the negative tense, again using lu- or zi-, and placing "ka-" in front of the subject concords, to form the negative, and also ending the word with an "-i", not an "-a".

Ufudu kaludli - The tortoise is not eating.
Insane kazikhali - The babies are not crying.

Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.

Lesson 25 - Ubu

This class of noun only has one prefix, Ubu- for the singular and plural.

For example: ubunyonyo - either one ant or many ants,
Ubusuku - night(s)
Ubuhlungu - pain(s)

Most of the nouns are abstract words, such as:
Ubuhle - beauty (from -hle - beautiful).

Two nouns which are in this class, though they appear to have the prefix u- only, are:
utshani - grass
utshwala - beer

Example sentences:
Ubunyonyo buyahamba - the ants are going
Ngiyabubona - I see them
Utshani kabukhuli kuhle - the grass is not growing nicely

Sahle kahle (stay well) until next lesson.

Lesson 26 - Uku

This class has the verb infinitives used as nouns. The prefix is Uku-.

For example: ukudla - means both "to eat" (verb infinitive) and "food"
Ukuthula - means "to be quiet", and "peace"

The subject concord is ku-, and the object concord is -ku-. For example:
Ukudla kunjaphi? - Where is the food? (The food is where?)
Ngiyakufuna - I want it (the food)

It should be noted that the ku- concord may be used instead of the pronoun "it", when you are not refering to a particular thing/ person. For example:

Kuhle - It is nice/ good
Kuyini? -  What is it?
Kukhala inyoni - There is a bird crying (it cries, a bird).

For the negative, as usual, you change the last letter from the verb from "-a" to "-i", for example:
Ukuthula kakufiki -  Peace does not come.

Sahle kahle (stay well) until next lesson.

Lesson 27 - Words derived from different languages

For this lesson, we will look at the use of nouns derived from other languages, such as English. The words often have their spelling changed, in order to adopt them for isiNdebele use. For example, "police" becomes "ipholisa". These derived nouns can be sorted into the noun types/ classes discussed previously, such as I-/Ama-, In-/Izin- (mostly for borrowed words beginning with a M or N), Isi-/Izi- (mostly for words beginning with a S), U-/O- (mostly for words for people).

Some examples:
Ipholisa liyafika - The policeman is arriving
Amapholisa ayafika - The policemen are arriving.

Injini ihamba kuhle - The engine is going well.

Isikolo singaphi? Ngiyasidinga - Where is the school? I am looking for it.

Udokotela ungaphi? Where is the doctor?
Ngiyawabona amadokotela - I see the doctors.

There are other noun classes that the derived words can be placed in, but these are the main ones. More can be seen in the vocabulary pages.

Ok, sahle kahle (stay well) until next lesson.

Lesson 28 - Using "here is..." or "there is..."

For this lesson, we use "here is" to indicate a person or object. In Ndebele, we should use, depending on the noun which follows, either "nan-" or "nam-" to say "here is...".

e.g. Nangu umama (nangu'mama) - Here is mother
Alternatively, you could say Umama nangu.

There are three slight variations, depending on whether you say "here is...", "there is..." or "over there is...".

e.g. Nanzi izinja - Here are the dogs
Nanzo izinja - There are the dogs
Nanziya izinja - Over there are the dogs

In the last instance, -ya or -yana can be used. For example, nankaya amaqanda - over there are the eggs. If you want to ask where something is and reply simply, it would be:
Ungaphi umganu? - Where is the plate?
Nanku - Here it is

Ok, sahle kahle (stay well) until next lesson. If you have any questions, you can ask in the Community Questions tab:

Lesson 29 - Adverbs for Relative Positions of Items

For this lesson, we will look words used for the relative positions of items, such as "behind" in
Inja isemuva - The dog is behind

The main adverbs for positioning are:
phandle (outside) and phakathi (inside)
khonapho (there) and khonapha (here)
khatshana (far) and eduze (near)
emuva (behind) and phambili (in front)
phansi (down/ on the floor) and phezulu (up/ in the sky)
phetsheya - on the other side (also used for something/someone who is abroad)

In a sentence, for example, we would use them as:
Abantu bavela phetsheya - the people are coming from abroad.
Imbiza iphansi - the pot is on the floor.
Inja kayisemuva - the dog is not behind.
Unyoko ukhona na? - Is your mother present? (Remember "na" is used to make the sentence a question)
Ye, umama ukhona phakathi - Yes, mother is here inside.
Amabhasi akhona koGwanda - There are buses in Gwanda.

Ok, hlala kahle (stay well) until next lesson.

Lesson 30 - Adjectives and Words for Relative Sizes of Items

To describe things using adjectives such as -mnandi (nice), we must use connecting words or stems, such as "ku-" in this example:
Ukudla ku-mnandi (The food is nice. Ukudla kumnandi).

Some of the adjectives include:
-lula (light or easy)
-nzima (heavy)
-mnandi (sweet or nice or delicious)
-buhlungu (painful/ sore) such as umunwe u-buhlungu (the finger is sore)

A negative can also be made from these words, for example:
Umunwe kawubuhlungu (The finger is not painful)
Ukudla kakumnandi (the food is not delicious)

Ok, sala kahle (stay well) until next lesson.

Lesson 31 - The Past Tense and Perfect Tense

In Ndebele, there are two ways to talk about the past. For this lesson, we will look at these two ways. It is either using the Past Tense (for something which happened quite long ago in the past) or the Perfect Tense (for something that happened not long ago; in the last few days or so).

In the Present Tense, use 'a' instead of 'i', for example, ngi becomes nga, ngibona becomes ngabona.
In the Perfect Tense, use '-ile' at the end of the verb, for example hamba becomes hambile.

For example: 'Amajaha abona' would be used to say the young people saw, in the past tense.
'Ijaha lihambile' would be used to say the young person has left, in the perfect tense.

'Inja yabona' - The dog saw (past tense)
'Inja kayibonanga' - The dog did not see (past tense, in the negative)
'Umfana ubonile' - The boy has seen (in the perfect tense, so it happened recently)
'Umfana kambonanga' - The boy did not see (note that the negative is the same in the two tenses)

Hambani kahle (go well), until next lesson.


  1. thanx umgani, uyasiza kakhulu

    1. Siyajabula ukuzwa ukuthi uyafunda kahle, mngane. Siyajabula kakhulu. (We are happy to know that you are learning well, friend; very happy).

  2. thanks, i really want to learn isiNdebele

  3. I am and will be living in the city of kings for the next few years, i want to learn the language and culture.

  4. this is great!!!! good job keep the good work!!!! WELL DONE :-)

  5. This good I am impressed I could give u £/$5000

  6. Ngiya bonga kakhulu. my native tongue is Shona and i find this very helpful in my quest to be multilingual.

  7. Would want to learn isiNdebele private tutor lessons I live in the uk London, please let me know

    1. Unfortunately we don't give 1 on 1 sessions at this time.

  8. it was not much help it needs stuff like bathandana njenga mathe le limi

    1. If you have suggestions, we welcome things to add, please email your thoughts to northernndebeleblog@gmail.com .

  9. pretty good lessons! keep it up! ngiyathanda isiNdebele lehliziyo yami yonke!!!

    1. U say 'Ngiyasithanda isiNdebele ngenhliziyo yami yonke".

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Good stuff but I feel we must differentiate between spoken and correct language. I have made few observations on this lessons:
    1. Inkezo I think you should also highlight that it also means a cup.
    2. Where you say 'ixhegu laxoxomela laxamalaza' am not sure whether 'xoxomela' is regional because most people use 'qoqomela' instead.
    3. Where you say' umfana omncinyane ogijimayo ucakile', ucakile is spoken language but the correct language ucakile is used for animals and the correct word to used for people is uzacile.
    4. Brother/Sister (bhudi/sisi), the correct words to use is Brother {mfowethu/ mnewethu for older brother/ mnawami for younger brother} and Sister (dadewethu).
    5. isitemo is widely used but the most correct word is (isangelo).

    1. Ngiyabonga mngane. We appreciate feedback and contribution in this community, and are happy to improve together. Email us any time, northernndebeleblog@gmail.com.

  12. thank you ,'Ngiyasithanda isiNdebele kakhulu"

  13. Thank you for the lessons. do also do 1 on 1 sessions?

    1. Unfortunately we don't give 1 on 1 sessions at this time.

  14. I note a couple of people have asked for i on 1 sessions, do you offer these at all?

  15. Unfortunately we don't give 1 on 1 sessions at this time.

  16. Lessons appreciated. Thank you.

  17. sibongile kakhulu

  18. Kwaze kwakuhle sibili,ngiyabonga mina

  19. I have been looking for such lessons online for the past six months. ngizoba inxitshi. ngayabonga kakhulu

  20. Ngiyabonga , ye sibili. Ngibongile mfundisi.

  21. You are a life saver. Been struggling for months to find easy to follow Ndebele lessons that go beyond basic greetings. Ngiyabonga, ngiyabonga, ngiyabonga!

  22. Ai ngi jabule ka khulu..ngi fundile uku khuluma indebele.
    Ngini thanda nonke ��

    1. TswanaQueen, mina ngiyajabula futhi. Khuluma phela. Isindebele is yours, have fun and keep learning.

  23. Thank you for the lessons. How do you write, 'Konthutu ziyatunqa,' and what does it mean?

  24. thank you so much. My son is very interested in Isindebele and just knew Salibonani and names of animals. siyabonga umgane wami...

  25. Your impressive and unique content amazed me. You have written perfect piece. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

  26. Thank you for this wonderful work. Don't get tired. Keep going.

  27. Ngiyabonga baba ,zinhle izifundo Lexi

  28. Ngyabonga mgane wami ngifundile isiNdebele kodwa ngifuna ukufunda yonke

    1. I thank you my friend that i am learning isiNdebele and i wish to learn the whole language.

  29. Kuhle kuyabukeka lokhu mfowethu. muhle umsebenzi owenzayo. ngizizwa ngilomlandu omkhulu wokufundisa abanye abantu ulimi lwesiNdebele. Mina ngizaqala ukufundisa abantu isinNdebele 1-on-1

    1. NorthernNdebeleBlogNovember 4, 2019 at 1:46 AM

      Kuhle sibili, email northernndebeleblog@gmail.com.

  30. Surely 'school' is not isitolo? I thought that meant town or shop? What is "school" in isiNdebele?

    1. You are 100% correct, ngiyabonga Unknown, we have corrected the spelling mistake, thank you.

  31. Keep it up Ngowethu/Dadewethu uyabukekha umsebenzi wakho muhle

    1. NorthernNdebeleBlogNovember 4, 2019 at 2:53 AM

      Siyabonga mngane :)

  32. Hi,I was born in Zimbabwe but I left at 8 and forgotten how to speak isiNdebele. Is it possible to get in contact with an online tutor?

  33. Ngiyabonga kakhulu, ngiceli ukhuthi unikhe more syllables


Comment lapha please