Last updated 2021-08-20 15:46:45

A Note on Spelling

While there is some standardization (especially coming from institutional sources, such as translations), it is often that if being told how to spell something by an individual, there may be dialetical spellings, hypercorrections, or loss of double vowels. To the best of my ability, this page includes standard spellings unless otherwise noted.



Somali has 4 cases:

Default/Absolutive (∅)

This case is unmarked, hence it being called the default case. It is used when there is no object of the sentence, such as in adjectival sentences. Such as in "she is nice", "she" would not change case

Subjective (-u)

This case is used when there is an object in the sentence. In general, this is any non-adjectival sentence. It also appears to be used to mark the topic of a sentence. For example, Cimiladu way fiicantanay ⧸ The weather, it is good. This is in contrast to the expected cimilada:the weather.


-ay female
-ow male


Somali has two genders: masculine and feminine. Gender can only reliably be known if one also knows the definite article and so it is recommended to always learn the article with the noun. A noun's gender will also follow the "natural" gender of the noun, if one has one, e.g. a person's gender.

To really reinforce that gender here is purely linguistic, gender may switch between plural and singular forms for the same noun.

Identifying Gender


Definite articles ka, ga, ha, a.


Definite articles sha, ta, da.

For example, cimilada:the weather ends in -da, so it is feminine. guriga:the house ends in -ga, so it is masculine.

The variation is due to sound changes that occur when the masculine (ka) and feminine (ta) definite articles are added to a noun.


There are three types of personal pronouns in Somali: standalone, subject of a intransitive sentence (without an object), and subject of a transitive sentence (with an object).


Standalone pronouns follow casemarkings for nouns. When used in the subjective case, it is perceived as more formal than using just the subjective pronouns below. That is, Iyadu waa ganacsato is seen as more formal than Waxay tahay ganacsato (she is a business woman).

Open question: are annagu/innagu in free variation or are there dialect differences?

1SG aniga anigu
2SG adiga adigu
3SG M. isaga isagu
3SG F. iyada iyadu
1PL annaga / innaga annagu / innagu
2PL adinka / idinka adinku / idinku
3PL ayaga ayagu


Used when there is no object, such as in sentences with only a subject and an adjective.

1 waan waynu
2 waad waydin
3 M. wuu way
3 F. way way


Used when there is an object. Notice how it is the same as the default case, but with -ax- inserted at the beginning.

1 waxaan waxaynu
2 waxaad waxaydin
3 M. waxuu waxay
3 F. waxay waxay


All possessive pronouns are suffixes and change based on the gender of the object being possessed. In their default form, masculine suffixes begin with -k and feminine with -t, the exception being 3SG. With sound changes, it is not always static.

1 -k/tayga -k/teena, -k/taayaga
2 -k/taaga -k/tiina
3 M. -k/tiisa -k/tooda
3 F. -k/teeda -k/tooda

These suffixes are inclusive of the definite article (-ka/ta) and so they do not need to be additionally suffixed.


Demonstratives (this, that, etc.) differ based on the gender of the noun, but only in the singular. For plural (these, those), the worder is not differentiated by gender.

  near far
SG (M) kan kaas
SG (F) tan taas
PL kuwaan kuwaas

These can be suffixed to the end of nouns, which will follow sound change rules. For example, eygaas:that dog.

  1. Kani waa maxaay? Kani waa wiil.
    What is this? This is a boy.
  2. Taasi waa maxaay? Taasi waa gabar.
    What is that? That is a girl.
  3. Kuwaani waa maxaay? Kuwaani waa doofaro.
    What are these? These are pigs.


Verbs can be divided into 5 regular declensions, plus 6 irregular verbs.

Following Saeed 1993 and Zorc & Osman 1993, these will be v1, v2a, v2b, v3a, and v3b. When a listed suffix has an accent mark, that means that the accent shifts to the suffix. If no accent mark is listed, then the whole word is unaccented.

It looks like simple sentences are with waa (or similar?):
Kani waa wiil/This is a boy
Reerkeygu wuu fiicanyahay/my family is good (f. noun)
Cimilada wey fiicantahay/the weather is good (m. noun)

Negative sentences with demonstratives are with "ma aha", which can be before or after the noun:

Kaasi ma aha ey/That is not a dog.
Tani bisad ma aha/This is not a cat.

Negative demonstrative questions are asked with ma and -aa on the noun - Kani ma wiilaa?/Is that not a boy? Plural nouns change from -o to -aa. Kuwaani ma doofaaraa? Kuwaani ma aha doofaaroo/Are these not pigs? They're not pigs.

In PRS.CONT/SIMP, Dahir gives ii as the 2PL vowel for the suffix, whereas Saeed (and searching on the internet) give -taan. Is it dialetical? Dahir said aa as vowel is informal.

To Be

To be uses the transitive pronouns.

1 ahay nahay
2 tahay tihiin
3 yahay (m.) / tahay (f.) yihiin

When the sentence is an adjective, the verb is suffixed to the adjective. If the subject is 1PL, then the n of the verbal form is dropped, making it match the 1SG form.

  1. (Anigu) waxaan ahay arday.
    I am a student.
    Standalone pronouns are optional, note the vowel change at the end (a to u).
  2. Wuu fiicanyahay.
    He is well/good.

Imparative (IMP)

This is the default form of the verb and the lemma form found in most dictionaries. It is often used where other languages might have overt politeness markers, e.g. in requests.

Negative Forms

When followed by a suffix in parentheses, it is (SG/PL).

Conjugation V1 (-in/ina)
Preceded by ha-, ex. ha kéenin:don't (you) bring.

Present Simple/Habitual (PRS.SIMP)

Conjugation V1


1 -aa -naa
2 -taa -taan
3 M. -aa -aan
3 F. -taa -aan


Preceded by ma or aan.

1 -nó
2 -tó/-tíd -tàan
3 M. -àan
3 F. -àan

Present Continuous/Progress (PRS.CONT)

Conjugation V1


1 -ayaa -aynaa
2 -aysaa -aysaan
3 M. -ayaa -ayaan
3 F. -aysaa -ayaan


-i is suffixed to IMP and the following words follow the verb. For example, kéni màayó:I am not bringing.

Preceded by ma or aan.

1 -i màayó -i màynó
2 -i màysó/màysíd -i màysàan
3 M. -i màayó -i màayàan
3 F. -i màysó -i màayàan

Question Words

qofkee / yaa
whose, Gaarigaas yaa iska leh? ⧸ Whose car is that?
kuma (m.) / tuma (f.) / kuwama (pl.)
who, varies on the gender of the person/object being inquired about.
how much, how many

Sentence Structures

And (iyo, oo, -(n)a, ee, -(y)e)

There are five different words/suffixes that correspond to the English "and", all of which have different uses.

for linking nouns/noun phrases together
for linking verbs or clauses together
for linking clauses together, placed after the first grammatical unit in the 2nd clause. If the word ends in -n, then only -a is attached.
for linking an impartive clause with a non-imparative clause or linking a negative and positive clause
for linking an imparative and non-imparative clause. -ye is suffixed to the "end of the statement".Saeed, 274 Y is included when the word ends in a vowel.
  1. Magaceygu waa Parry, waxaana ku noolahay Mareykanka.
    My name is Parry and I was born in America.
    -na is attached to waxaan:I.

Asking Questions

The generic question marker is ma. For example, Ma waxaad tahay macalin? ⧸ Are you a teacher?.

Is it X? (ma X -(b)aa?)

A demonstrative, suffixed with -i, can be placed in front of ma. For example, Kaasi ma eyaa? ⧸ Is that a dog? (kaas:that).

The response to questions of this form is either waa X:it is X (positive form), or ma aha X:it is not X (negative form).

Northern (Somaliland) dialects will use -baa, whereas Southern dialects will use -aa.


to, formal version of u