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Monday, July 30, 2012

Sedi Nyanata :: Negation in the Aorist Tense

In this post we're going to look at a lot of examples of the first and most basic Igbo tense - The Aorist.

This tense is what you're going to use most of the time to make simple Igbo sentences.

This post will explain how to negate in the aorist tense.

Here we go.

Look at the following sentences.

Fa fu nni.  - They saw (some) food.

The verb root root in this sentence is "fu" (see).

In English, the negative version of this sentence would  be "They DID NOT see (some) food."

Igbo isn't like English. .... At all.

In Igbo, verbs are made negative by means of Suffixes.

If you don't know what a suffix is, a Suffix is a grammatical particle that is attached to the end of a verb or verb root to change its meaning.

Igbo has A LOT of suffixes.

In fact, practically EVERYTHING in Igbo involves suffixes and prefixes of some sort.

Now back to the topic.

In Igbo, in order to make a verb in the aorist tense negative, you add the suffix -ro  to the verb root.

In the sentence "Fa fu nni", the verb root is "fu" (see).

To make this negative, we add -ro to this verb root, making "furo".

Now plug that back into the sentence, and you've made the sentence negative.

Fa fu nni (they saw food) = Fa FURO nni (they DID NOT see food)

Pretty easy huh?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grammar 6: The Aorist Tense :: Sedi Nyanata

In the last post we briefly mentioned Sedi Nyanata ( the Aorist Tense)*.

This post is going to be all about the Aorist Tense ( you don't have to memorize the Igbo name) so hang tight.

The Aorist Tense, despite being the simplest and most basic of all the Igbo tenses, is a very tricky thing to define.

The easiest way to explain it is to compare it to another language.

Let us compare Igbo tenses with the following languages - English and Japanese.

English  has three main tenses - Present, Past, and Future

This is very familiar. I buy, I bought, and I will buy.

Japanese on the other hand has only TWO main tenses - Past and Not-the-Past (or Non-Past)

Past - Inu deshita ( It was a dog )

Not-the-Past - Inu desu (It is a dog ... or it will be a dog )

In other words, anything you say in Japanese, that is not expressly in past tense, could be happening now, or some time in the future.

So, how is this related to Igbo?


Igbo is just like Japanese. It has only TWO main tenses.

The only difference between Igbo and Japanese is that, while Japanese is divided into Past and Not-the-Past, Igbo is divided into Future and Not-the-Future.

Future - O ga bu nkita ( It will be a dog)

Not-the-Future - O bu nkita (It is a dog .... or it was a dog )

This means that anything you say in Igbo that is not expressly in the Future could be happening now, or it may have happened yesterday or at some other time in the past.

This tense group that I've been referring to as "Not-the-Future" is what is called The Aorist Tense.

The Aorist Tense is a special tense in which whatever you are saying could be happening presently or it could have happened in the past.

* - [ Sedi = Tense; Nya na Ta = Yesterday and Today ]

Syntax 1: Putting It All Together

Now that we've talked a little about verbs and nouns and pronouns, you need to know how to stitch all those elements together to form a coherent sentence!

To make things simple, this first syntax lesson will deal only with how to make sentences in the Aorist Tense.

We haven't discussed the Aorist Tense yet, (we will in the next post!) but all you need to know for now is that it is the most common tense used in Igbo and it is the easiest of all the tenses.

Now on to sentence making.

The general sentence structure in Igbo is S-P-P-V-S-O-A

Don't be scared.

This stands for:-

Subject - Particle - Prefix- Verb ( root ) - Suffix - Object - Auxiliary

The key above shows you the general order in which all these elements should go when making a sentence in Igbo.

Let's try it!

Subject Particle Prefix Verb Root Suffix Object Auxiliary
Listen   Emeka na e nye kwa fa enye
This table above is an example of an sentence that contains all these elements.

However, as you go from tense to tense, you will see that some of these grammatical elements will be dropped (or added) depending on what tense you are using or what you are trying to say.

Now that you have an idea of the main structure of an Igbo sentence, let's look at the table again as it should appear for the Aorist Tense.

Subject Particle Prefix Verb Root Suffix Object Auxiliary
Listen   Emeka nye fa
Aorist sentence

Notice the difference?

As mentioned before, the Aorist Tense is the simplest tense (and most common) in Igbo so its sentence structure is very basic.

In this sentence, there is no Particle, no Prefix, no Suffix, and no Auxiliary.

It's just Subject, Verb (root), and Object.

Emeka (the subject), gave/gives (the verb), them (the object).

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

That's all there is to it.

To make your first basic sentence, just put in a subject (the party performing the action), a verb (the action being performed), and an object (the party receiving the action or upon whom the action is being performed).

Since we already have a list of nouns, pronouns, verbs and other vocabulary, let's try and make some simple Aorist Tense sentences using the formula we've learned above.

Subject Particle Prefix Verb Root Suffix Object Auxiliary
Listen   Anyi
Listen   Nwaanyi
Listen   Madu
Listen   Unu
Listen   Nkechi
Listen   Fa

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grammar 5 : Personal Pronouns Part 1 - Subject and Object Pronouns

Pronouns are some of the most commonly encountered elements in most languages.

Personal pronouns stand in for people when you don't know their names, don't want to mention names too often, or are simply trying to gossip about people but can't get away from them quickly enough.

In some languages, you don't use personal pronouns a whole lot (e.g. Japanese .... although, "you" is used a lot, but other pronouns not so much)

Igbo isn't like those languages. Igbo LOVES its pronouns and the personal variety are no exception.

So, without further ado, let's look at the first set of pronouns that every successful Igbo learner needs to know.

Subject Pronouns

These are the pronouns that indicate who is performing the action.

Here they are below:

English Igbo
I M (when the next word begins with B, M,P, or F )
N (for all other words)
You (singular) I (pronounced "eeee")
He / She / It O (pronounced "o" as in Hot)
We Anyi
You (plural) Unu
They Fa

Object Pronouns

These are the pronouns that indicate who is receiving the action.

Here they are below:

English Igbo
Me M (Pronounced like Mmm )
You (singular) Gi (sometimes "I" if you want to sound really casual)
He / She / It Ya
Us Anyi
You (plural) Unu
They Fa

And now you know...

In the next lesson I'll explain how to put all the things we've learned so far together into your first complete sentence!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Grammar 4: The Ubiqitious Verb "To Be"

If you're reading this, chances are you've already met our enigmatic friend, the verb 'To Be'. If you haven't, go back to Grammar 3, and check him out, then come back here.

This post is about the verb To Be's most common manifestation, the "Ọọ" form. Specifically, Ọọ is a form of the "Ibụ" variant of the verb "To Be".

The "Ọọ" form is a form of the verb To Be that means "It is" or "It was"

It is the simplest way to make a sentence in Igbo and really really easy.

The form is "Ọọ XYZ" where XYZ is any word.

It translates to "It is XYZ." or "It was XYZ."

Okay, let's try it out.

In the last post, we looked at some common Igbo nouns that are encountered in every day speech.

We'll use three of them in our examples below.

Listen   Mili - Water

Listen   Afia - Market

Listen   Nwoke - Man


Listen   Ọọ mili - It is water / It was water

Listen   Ọọ nwoke - It is a man / It was a man | It is men / It was men

Listen   Ọọ afia - It is a market / It was a market

It's that easy!

Just put Ọọ before any word to form a sentence.

Vocabulary 2: The 20 Most Common Nouns in Igbo

Here's a list of the twenty most common nouns in Igbo. These are words that you hear every day, so learn them quickly and you'll be eavesdropping on Igbo conversations in no time.

# Noun Tone Meaning Listen
1. Madụ HIGH-LOW Person / People Madụ
2. Nwa HIGH Baby / Child Nwa
3. Ụzọ HIGH-LOW Way / Path / Road Ụzọ
4. Ifẹ HIGH-HIGH Thing Ifẹ
5. Nwoke HIGH-MID Man Nwoke
6. Nwaanyi MID-LOW Woman Nwaanyi
7. Anya HIGH-HIGH Eye Anya
8. Aka HIGH-HIGH Hand Aka
9. Nni HIGH-HIGH Food Nni
10. Mili HIGH-MID Water Mili
11. Ẹbẹ HIGH-HIGH Place Ẹbẹ
12. Ndụ HIGH-LOW Life Ndụ
13. Arọ HIGH-LOW Year Arọ
14. Ọlụ HIGH-HIGH Work Ọlụ
15. Akwa HIGH-LOW Clothes / Cloth / Fabric Akwa
16. Nsogbu HIGH-LOW-MID Trouble / Problem Nsogbu
17. Afia HIGH-HIGH Market Afia
18. Ụnọ HIGH-LOW Building / House Ụnọ
19. Bẹ HIGH Home  Bẹ
20. Ọnụ HIGH-HIGH Mouth Ọnụ

Practically 70% of all Igbo spoken involves these nouns in some way, shape, or form. You can't go wrong learning these to start with.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Vocabulary 1: The 20 Most Common Verbs in Igbo

Ever wondered what the most common words in the Igbo language are? Now's your chance to find out.

Here's a list of the twenty most common verbs in the Igbo language. Knowing the verbs on this list inside out is ABSOLUTELY essential to being able to communicate in Igbo. These are the verbs without knowledge of which your life in a purely Igbo speaking region would be completely miserable so learn them as quickly as possible.

# Infinitive Root Meaning Listen
1. Ibụ Bụ To Be Ibụ
2. Idi Di To Be Idi
3. Iwẹ Wẹ To Have, To Get, To Take Iwẹ
4. Imẹ Mẹ To Do, To Make Imẹ
5. Isi Si To Say Isi
6. Ijẹ Jẹ To Go Ijẹ
7. Ima Ma To Know Ima
8. Ifụ Fụ To See Ifụ
9. Ibia Bia To Come Ibia
10. Ichẹ Chẹ To Think, To Wait For Ichẹ
11. Inẹ Nẹ To Look Inẹ
12. Ichọ Chọ To Want, To Look For, To Find Ichọ
13. Inyẹ Nyẹ To Give Inyẹ
14. Iji Ji To Use, To Hold Iji
15. Igwa Gwa To Tell Igwa
16. Ijụ Jụ To Ask, To Refuse Ijụ
17. Ilu Lu To Work, To Build Ilu
18. Ili Li To Eat Ili
19. Irapụ Rapụ To Leave Rapụ
20. Ikpọ Kpọ To Call Ikpọ

Practically 70% of all Igbo spoken involves these verbs in some way, shape, or form. You can't go wrong learning these to start with.

Grammar 3: The Mysterious Verb "To Be"

In Grammar 2, I talked about the Infinitive. Now you may or may not have noticed, but missing in the list of verbs I gave in the last post was one of the commonest verbs in any language, much less Igbo: The verb "To Be".

I deliberately omitted the verb "To Be" from the list because the verb "To Be"s situation in Igbo is very complicated .... to say the least.

While in English there is only one verb "To Be", the Igbo version of the verb is an international master of disguise.

It has many forms and lurks in many shadowy corners waiting to jump out at you when you didn't even realise it was in the sentence. And when you think you need it to say something? It simply isn't there.

Needless to say, the Igbo verb "To Be" is not to be taken lightly and requires the utmost attention.

Here are the three most common forms "To Be" in Igbo, but by no means, the only ones.

Listen   Ibụ - To be

Listen   Idi - To be

Listen   Inọ - To be

Telling the difference: 

If you're familiar with the Spanish language (a language which like Igbo has more than one form of the verb To Be) understanding the difference between the three above will be pretty obvious to you. For the rest of you, here's how you tell the difference:

As a rule of thumb,

Ibụ  - expresses identity, essential qualities, personality, occupation, and origin.

Listen   Identity  - She is a Nigerian (Ọ bụ onye Naijiriya)
Listen   Essential Qualities - I am a woman (M bụ  nwaanyi)
Listen   Occupation - You (all) are doctors (Unu bụ  dibia )
Listen   Origin - They are from Anambra ( Fa bụ  ndi Anambara)

Idi - expresses condition, characteristics, emotions, and TEMPORARY location

Listen   Condition - It is alive  ( Ọ di ndụ  )
Listen   Characteristics - You are tall ( I di ogonogo )
Listen   Emotions - He is happy (Ọ di anwụli )
Listen   Temporary location - It is there (Ọ di ẹbẹ a)

Inọ - expresses SEMI-PERMANENT and PERMANENT location

Listen   More Permanent Location - She is in Abuja  (Ọ nọ  Abuja)

There are of course other forms of the Verb not shown here. 

Its most common form, the "Ọ" form will be discussed in the next lesson.

Grammar 2: The Infinitive

The Igbo Infinitive is a verb form representing 'to + any action'.

In Igbo, The Infinitive is formed by adding any verb root to the suffix " i " (pronounced ee - high toned).

Igbo Infinitive =  i + Verb Root

For instance, the infinitive of the verb root bia would be Ibia ( i + bia ).

Below is a list of verb roots and their infinitive forms showing how to form the Infinitive.

Verb Root Infinitive Meaning Listen
Bia Ibia To Come Ibia
Wẹ Iwẹ To Have, To Get, To Take
Mẹ Imẹ To Do, To Make
Si Isi To Say
Jẹ Ijẹ To Go
Ma Ima To Know
Nyẹ Inyẹ To Give
Chẹ Ichẹ To Think
Nẹ Inẹ To Look
Fụ Ifụ To See
Jụ Ijụ To Ask, To Refuse

Now you know how to form the Infinitive. It's really really easy. Whenever you want to say "To do something" you just add the infinitive marker "i" to the verb root!

"i" (infinitive marker) + "chẹ" (verb root meaning 'Think')



(To think)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Grammar 1: Igbo Sounds :: Mkpọtụ Igbo

Where do you start when you want to learn a language?

At the beginning of course!

You can't learn Igbo if you don't know the sounds that make up the Igbo language so this is probably one of the most important lessons to learn.

Igbo is made up of consonant sounds and vowel sounds.

The consonant sounds are not a big deal, it's the vowels you should keep an eye out for. 

Because Igbo is a tonal language, each of the vowels have different tones (ranging from high to low).

The most common tones are High and Low, but occasionally, you'll come across a tricky mid tone that is always rising.

Vowel Sounds
Listen   A (AH) as in Cat Listen   E (AY) as in Fame Listen    (EH) as in Bed
Listen   I (EE) as in Pin Listen   O (O) as in Show Listen    (O) as in Hot
Listen    (U) as in Put Listen   U (UU)as in Shoot

Consonant Sounds

B (as in Bee) Listen   CH (as in Chair) D (as in Dog) F (as in Food) G (as in Goat)
Listen   GB (as in Gbenga) Listen   GH (as in Ghee) Listen   GW (as in Guido) H (as in House) J (as in Jump)
K (as in Kangaroo) Listen   KP Listen   KW (as in Queen) L M
N Listen   NW Listen   NY P R
S Listen   SH T V W
Y Z (as in Zebra)
These are the basic sounds needed to speak Igbo