Luganda, sometimes known as Ganda, is a major language of Uganda, spoken by over three million people mainly in the Buganda region, which includes the Ugandan capital Kampala. It belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Typologically, it is an agglutinating language with subject-verb-object word order and nominative-accusative morphosyntactic alignment.
With 100,000 second-language speakers, it is the most widely spoken second language in Uganda next to English. The language is used in some primary schools in Buganda as pupils begin to learn English, the official language of Uganda.
A notable feature of Luganda phonology is its geminate consonants
and distinctions between long
generally consider consonantal gemination and vowel lengthening to be two manifestations of the same effect, which they call simply "doubling" or "stressing".
All five vowels have two forms: long and short. The distinction is phonemic but can occur only in certain positions. After two consonants, the latter being a semivowel, and before two consonants, the former being a nasal, all vowels are long. Before a geminate, all vowels are short. The quality of a vowel is not affected by its length.
The table below gives the consonant set of Luganda, grouping voiceless
consonants together in a cell where appropriate, in that order.
- The liquids [l] and [r] are actually allophones of a single phoneme but since the distinction is reflected in the orthography and is generally recognised by native speakers, they are shown here as separate phonemes.
- The labiodental fricatives [f] and [v] are slightly labialised and so could also be transcribed [fʷ] and [vʷ] respectively.
Apart from [l]/[r], all these consonants can be geminated, even at the start of a word: bbiri [bb'iri] (two), kitto [ʧ'itto] (cold). The affricates [ʧ] and [ʤ] are realised as [tʧ] and [dʤ] respectively when geminated: kinakkinaye [ʧin'atʧinaje] (to hurry), jjajja [dʤ'adʤa] (grandfather). The semivowels [w] and [j] are geminated as [ggw] and [dʤ]: eggwanga [eggw'aːŋga] (country); jjenje [dʤ'eːnʤe] (cricket)—from the roots wanga [w'aːŋga] and yenje /j'eːnʤe/ respectively, with the singular noun prefix e-, which doubles the following consonant.
Apart from [l]/[r], [w] and [j], all consonants can also be prenasalised—prefixed with a nasal consonant. This consonant will be [m], [n], [ɲ] or [ŋ] according to the place of articulation, and belongs to the same syllable as the consonant it precedes.
The liquid [l]/[r] becomes [d] when geminated or prenasalised. For example ndaba [n̩d'aba] 'I see' (from the root -laba with the subject prefix n-); eddagala [edd'agala] 'leaf' (from the root -lagala with the singular noun prefix e-, which doubles the following consonant.
A consonant can't be both geminated and prenasalised. When morphological processes require this, the gemination is dropped and the syllable [zi] is inserted, which can then be prenasalised. For example when the prefix en- is aded to the adjective -ddugavu 'black' the result is enzirugavu [eːnz'irugavu].
The nasals [m], [n], [ɲ] and [ŋ] can be syllabic at the start of a word: nkima [n̩ʧ'ima] (monkey), mpa [m̩p'a] (I give), nnyinyonnyola [ɲ̩ɲiɲ'oɲɲola] or [ɲɲiɲ'oɲɲola] (I explain). Note that this last example can be analysed in two ways, reflecting the fact that there's no distinction between prenasalisation and gemination when applied to nasal consonants.
can take any of the following forms:
- V (only as the first syllable of a word)
where V = vowel, C = single consonant (including nasals and semivowels but excluding geminates), G = geminate consonant, N = nasal consonant, S = semivowel
These forms are subject to certain phonotactic restrictions:
- Two vowels may not appear adjacent to one another. When morphological or grammatical rules cause two vowels to meet, the first vowel is elided or reduced to a semivowel and the second is lengthened if possible.
- A vowel following a consonant–semivowel combination (except [ggw]) is always long. After [ggw] a vowel can be either long or short.
- A vowel followed by a nasal consonant–non-nasal consonant combination is always long.
- A vowel followed by a geminate is always short. This rule takes precedence over all the above rules.
- The velar plosives [k] and [g] may not appear before the vowel [i] or the semivowel [j]. In this position they become the corresponding postalveolar affricates [ʧ] and [ʤ] respectively.
- The consonants [j], [w] and [l]/[r] can't be geminated or prenasalised.
- A consonant can't be both geminated and prenasalised.
The net effect of this is that all Luganda words follow the general pattern of alternating consonant clusters and vowels, beginning with either but always ending in a vowel:
where V = vowel, X = consonant cluster, (V) = optional vowel
This is reflected in the syllabification rule that words are always hyphenated after a vowel (when breaking a word over two lines). For example Emmotoka yange ezze 'My car has arrived' would be split into syllables as E‧mmo‧to‧ka ya‧nge e‧zze.
In speech, word-final vowels
are often elided
in these conditioning environments:
- Word-final [u] can be silent after [f], [ff], [v] or [vv]
- Word-final [i] can be silent after [ʧ], [tʧ], [ʤ] or [dʤ]
For example, ekiddugavu 'black' may be pronounced /eʧ'iddugavʷu/ or /eʧ'iddugavʷ/. Similarly Naki (a girl's name) may be pronounced /n'aːʧi/ or /n'aːʧ/.
Luganda spelling, which has been standardised since 1947, uses the Roman alphabet augmented with one new letter ŋ and a digraph ny which is treated as a single letter. It has a very high sound-to-letter correspondence: one letter usually represents one sound and vice-versa.
The distinction between simple and geminate consonants is always represented explicitly: simple consonants are written single; geminates are written double. The distinction between long and short vowels is always made clear from the spelling, but not always explicitly: short vowels are always written single; long vowels are only written double when their length cannot be inferred from the context. Stress and tones are not represented in the spelling.
The following phonemes are always represented with the same letter or combination of letters:
- Short vowels (always spelt a, e, i, o, u)
- All consonants apart from [l], [r], [ʧ] and [ʤ]
- The postalveolar affricates [ʧ] and [ʤ], when followed by a short vowel (always spelt c, j), except when the short vowel is itself followed by a geminate consonant, or when the vowel is [i]
The following phonemes can be represented with two letters or combinations of letters, with the alternation predictable from the context:
- Long vowels (spelt a, e, i, o, u where short vowels are impossible; aa, ee, ii, oo, uu elsewhere)
- The liquid [l]/[r] (spelt r after e or i; l elsewhere)
The following phonemes can be represented with two letters or combinations of letters, with unpredictable alternation between the two:
- The postalveolar affricates [ʧ] and [ʤ], when followed by a long vowel, by a short vowel and a geminate consonant, or by an i sound ([i] or [iː]) (can be spelt either with c, j or with ky, gy)
It is therefore possible to predict the pronunciation of any word (with the exception of stress and tones) from the spelling. It's also usually possible to predict the spelling of a word from the pronunciation. The only words where this is not possible are those that include one of the affricate–vowel combinations discussed above.
The five vowels in Luganda are spelt with the same letters as in many other languages (for example Spanish):
- a [a]
- e [e]
- i [i]
- o [o]
- u [u]
As mentioned above, the distinction between long and short vowels is phonemic and is therefore represented in the orthography. Long vowels are written as double (when length cannot be inferred from the context) and short vowels are written single. For example:
- bana /bana/ 'four (e.g. people)' vs baana /baːna/ 'children'
- sera /sela/ 'dance' vs seera /seːla/ 'overcharge'
- sira /sila/ 'mingle' vs siira /siːla/ 'walk slowly'
- kola /kola/ 'do' vs koola /koːla/ '(to) weed'
- tuma /tuma/ 'send' vs tuuma /tuːma/ '(to) name'
In certain contexts, phonotactic constraints mean that a vowel must be long, and in these cases it is not written double:
- A vowel followed by a nasal consonant–non-nasal consonant combination
- A vowel that comes after a consonant–semivowel combination—apart from ggw which can be thought of as a geminated w, and ggy which can be thought of as a geminated y (although the latter is less common as this combination is more often spelt jj)
- ekyuma /eʧ'uːma/ 'metal'
- ŋŋenda /ŋ̩ŋ'eːnda/ 'I go'
- eggwolezo /eggw'olezo/ 'court house'
- eggwoolezo /eggw'oːlezo/ 'customs office'
Vowels at the start or end of the word are not written double, even if they are long. The only exception to this (apart from all-vowel interjections such as eee and uu) is yee 'yes'.
With the exception of ny
[ɲ], each consonant
sound in Luganda corresponds to a single letter. The ny
combination is treated as a single letter and therefore doesn't have any effect on vowel length (see the previous subsection).
The following letters are pronounced as in English:
- b [b]
- d [d]
- f [f]
- j [ʤ]
- l [l]
- m [m]
- n [n]
- p [p]
- s [s]
- t [t]
- v [v]
- w [w]
- y [j]
- z [z]
A few letters have unusual values:
The letters l and r represent the same sound in Luganda—[l]—but the orthography requires r after e or i, and l elsewhere:
- alinda /al'iːnda/ 'she's waiting'
- akirinda /aʧil'iːnda/ 'she's waiting for it'
There are also two letters whose pronunciation depends on the following letter:
- k is pronounced [ʧ] before i or y, [k] elsewhere
- g is pronounced [ʤ] before i or y, [g] elsewhere
Compare this to the pronunciation of c and g in many Romance languages. As in the Romance languages the 'softening letter' (in Italian i; in French e; in Luganda y) is not itself pronounced, although in Luganda it does have the effect of lengthening the following vowel (see the previous subsection). Unlike the Romance languages, however, Luganda orthography has no way of forcing k or g to take on their 'hard' sounds, equivalent to the use of h in Italian or the substitution of qu and gu for c and g in French. This is not needed because the sound combinations [ki], [gi] etc. don't occur in Luganda. See also the previous section on phonotactics.
Finally the sounds [ɲ] and [ŋ] are spelt n before another consonant with the same place of articulation (in other words, before other palatals and velars respectively) rather than ny and ŋ:
- The combinations [ɲ̩ɲ] and [ɲɲ] are spelt nny
- The combination [ɲj] is spelt nÿ (the diaeresis shows that the y is a separate letter rather than part of the ny digraph, and the [ɲ] is spelt n before y as in the above rule; in practice this combination is very rare)
- [ŋ] is spelt n before k or g (but not before another ŋ)
The standard Luganda alphabet is composed of twenty-four letters:
* 18 consonants: b, p, v, f, m, d, t, l, r, n, z, s, j, c, g, k, ŋ, ny
* 5 vowels: a, e, i, o, u
* 2 semi-vowels: w, y
Since the last consonant ŋ does not appear on standard typewriters or computer keyboards, it is often replaced by the combination ng'—including the apostrophe. In some non-standard authographies, the apostrophe is not used, which can lead to confusion with the letter combination ng, which is different from ŋ.
In addition, the letter combination ny is treated as a unique consonant. When the letters n and y appear next to each other, they are written as nÿ, with the diaeresis mark to distinguish this combination from ny.
Other letters (h, q, x) are not used in the standard orthography, but are often used to write loanwords from other languages. Most such loanwords have standardised spellings consistent with Luganda orthography (and therefore not using these letters), but these spelling are not often used, particularly for English words.
The full alphabet, including both standard Luganda letters and those used only for loanwords, is as follows:
- Aa, a
- Bb, bba
- Cc, cca
- Dd, dda
- Ee, e
- Ff, ffa
- Gg, gga
- (Hh, ha )
- Ii, yi
- Jj, jja
- Kk, kka
- Ll, la
- Mm, mma
- Nn, nna
- (NY Ny ny, nnya or nna-ya)
- Ŋŋ, ŋŋa
- Oo, o
- Pp, ppa
- (Qq )
- Rr, eri
- Ss, ssa
- Tt, tta
- Uu, wu
- Vv, vva
- Ww, wa
- (Xx )
- Yy, ya
- Zz, zza
- The letters h, q and x are included when reciting the alphabet and are usually given their English names (apart from ha).
- The digraph ny, although considered a separate letter for orthographic purposes, is generally treated as a combination of n and y for other purposes. It's not included when reciting the alphabet.
Like the grammars of most Bantu languages
, Luganda grammar can be said to be noun-centric
in the sense that most words in a sentence agree with a noun. Agreement is by gender
, and is indicated with prefixes and infixes attached to the start of word stems.
The following parts of speech agree with nouns in class and number:
NB: In the study of Bantu languages
the term noun class
is often used to refer to what we call gender
in comparative linguistics and in the study of certain other languages, and in this article we shall use both terms.
There is some disagreement as to how to count Luganda's noun classes. Some authorities count singular and plural forms as two separate classes while others treat the singular–plural distinction as being separate from class. By the former method there are 17 classes while by the latter there are 10, because there are two pairs of classes with identical plurals and one class with no singular–plural distinction.
The latter method is consistent with the study of non-Bantu languages: we recognise, for example, that German has three genders—masculine, feminine and neuter—and two numbers—singular and plural. To ignore the grammatical and semantic relationship between 'masculine singular' and 'masculine plural' (for example Mann 'man' and Männer 'men') and to treat them as two genders out of a total of six would be artificial; so here we shall regard number as being distinct from gender, giving ten noun classes, nine of which have separate singular and plural forms. This is the usual way to discuss Luganda (but not when discussing Bantu languages generally).
As is the case with most languages, the distribution of nouns among the classes is essentially arbitrary, but there are some loose patterns:
- Class I contains mainly people, although some inanimate nouns can be found in this class: musajja 'man', kaawa 'coffee'
- Class II contains all sorts of nouns but most of the concrete nouns in Class II are long or cylindrical. Most trees fall into this class: muti 'tree'
- Class III also contains many different types of concepts but most animals fall into this class: mbwa 'dog'
- Class IV contains inanimate objects and is the class used for the impersonal 'it': ekitabo 'book'
- Class V contains mainly (but not exclusively) large things and liquids, and can also be used to create augmentatives: ebbeere 'breast', lintu 'giant' (from muntu 'person')
- Class VI contains mainly small things and can be used to create diminutives, adjectival abstract nouns and (in the plural) negative verbal nouns and countries: kabwa 'puppy' (from mbwa 'dog'), kanafu 'laziness' (from munafu 'lazy'), bukola 'inaction, not to do' (from kukola 'to do, act'), Bungereza 'Britain, England' (from Mungereza 'British, English person')
- Class VII contains many different things including the names of most languages: Oluganda 'Luganda', Oluzungu 'English language' (from muzungu 'European, white person)
- Class VIII is rarely used but can be used to create pejorative forms: gubwa 'mutt' (from mbwa 'dog')
- Class IX is mainly used for infinitives or affirmative verbal nouns: kukola 'action, to do' (from the verb kola 'do, act')
- Class X, which has no singular–plural distinction, is used for mass nouns, usually in the sense of 'a drop' or 'precious little': tuzzi 'drop of water' (from mazzi 'water'), tubaka 'sleep'
The class that a noun belongs to can usually be determined by its prefix:
- Class I: singular (o)mu-, plural (a)ba-
- Class II: singular (o)mu-, plural (e)mi-
- Class III: singular (e)n-, plural (e)n-
- Class IV: singular (e)ki-, plural (e)bi-
- Class V: singular li-, eri-, plural (a)ma-
- Class VI: singular (a)ka-, plural (o)bu-
- Class VII: singular (o)lu-, plural (e)n-
- Class VIII: singular (o)gu-, plural (a)ga-
- Class IX: singular (o)ku-, plural (a)ma-
- Class X: (o)tu-
Note that there are a few only cases where prefixes overlap: the singulars of Classes I and II (both beginning with mu-); the singular of Class III and plurals of Classes III and VII (all beginning with n-); and the plurals of Classes V and IX (both ma-). Genuine ambiguity, however, is rare, since even where the noun prefixes are the same, the other prefixes are often different. For example there can be no confusion between omuntu (Class I) 'person' and omuntu (Class II) 'seat' in the sentences Omuntu ali wano 'The person is here' and Omuntu guli wano 'The seat is here' because the verb prefixes a- (Class I) and gu- (Class II) are different, even if the noun prefixes are the same. The same is true with the singular and plural of Class III: Embwa elya 'The dog is eating' vs Embwa zilya 'The dogs are eating' (compare English The sheep is eating vs The sheep are eating where the noun is invariant but the verb distinguishes singular from plural).
In fact the plurals of Classes III and VII, and those of Classes V and IX, are identical in all their prefixes (noun, verb, adjective etc.).
Class V uses its noun prefixes a little differently from the other classes. The singular noun prefix, eri-, is often reduced to e- with an accompanying doubling of the stem's initial consonant. This happens when the stem begins with a single non-nasal consonant, or a single nasal consonant followed by a long vowel, a nasal consonant and then a non-nasal consonant (called a nasalised stem). For example:
- eggi 'egg'; plural amagi (from stem gi)
- eggwanga 'country'; plural amawanga (from nasalised stem wanga—the w becomes ggw when doubled)
- ejjinja 'cricket'; plural amayinja (from nasalised stem yinja—the y becomes jj when doubled)
Other stems use the full prefix:
- erinnya 'name'; plural amannya (from stem nnya)
- eriiso 'eye'; plural amayiso (from stem yiso)
- eryanda 'battery'; plural amanda (from stem anda)
There are also some nouns that have no prefix. Their genders must simply be learnt by rote:
- Class I: ssebo 'gentleman, sir', nnyabo 'madam', Katonda 'God', kabaka 'king', kyayi 'tea', kaawa 'coffee'
- Class III: kkapa 'cat', gomesi 'gomesi (traditional East African women's formal dress)'
Agreement with noun classes
, certain adverbs
, the possessive
and a few special forms of conjunctions
to agree with nouns in Luganda.
As in most Indo-European languages
with the nouns
they qualify. For example:
- omuwala omulungi 'beautiful girl' (Class I, singular)
- abawala abalungi 'beautiful girls' (Class I, plural)
- emmotoka enungi 'beautiful/good car' (Class V, singular)
- amamotoka amalungi 'beautiful/good cars' (Class V, plural)
The adjective -lungi changes its prefix according to the gender (Class I or II) and number (singular or plural) or the noun it's qualifying (compare Italian bella ragazza, belle ragazze, bel ragazzo, bei ragazzi).
As in other Bantu languages
, every verb
must also agree
with its subject
in gender and number (as opposed to number only as in Indo-European languages). For example:
- omusajja anywa 'the man is drinking' (Class I, singular)
- abasajja banywa 'the men are drinking' (Class I, plural)
- embuzi enywa 'the goat is drinking' (Class III, singular)
- embuzi zinywa 'the goats are drinking' (Class III, plural)
- akaana kanywa 'the baby/infant is drinking' (Class VI, singular)
- obwana bunywa 'the babies/infants are drinking' (Class VI, plural)
Here, the verb nywa changes its prefix according to the gender and number of its subject (compare Arabic number and gender agreement in a topicalized-subject construction: ar-rajul yashrib 'the man drinks', ar-rijaal yashribou 'the men drink', al-mara'ah tashrib 'the woman drinks', an-nisaa' yashribna 'the women drink').
Note, in the second and third examples, how the verb agrees with the number of the noun even when the noun doesn't explicitly reflect the number distinction.
When the verb governs one or more objects, there is an agreement between the object infixes and the gender and number of their antecedents:
- mmunywa 'I drink it (e.g. coffee)' (kaawa 'coffee', Class I singular)
- nganywa 'I drink it (e.g. water)' (amazzi 'water', Class IX plural)
See also the detailed section on verbs below.
in the grammatical
sense are far rarer in Luganda than in, say, English
, being mostly translated by other parts of speech—for example adjectives
When the adverb is qualifying a verb
, it's usually translated by an adjective, which then agrees with the subject
of the verb. For example:
- Ankonjera mubba 'She slanders me badly'
- Bankonjera babba 'They slander me badly'
Here, 'badly' is translated with the adjective -bba 'bad, ugly', which is declined to agree with the subject—changing its prefix to mu- when the subject is singular or ba when it's plural.
Other concepts can be translated by invariant particles. for example the intensifying particle nnyo is attached to an adjective or verb to mean 'very', 'a lot'. For example: Lukwago anywa nnyo 'Lukwago drinks a lot'.
There are also two groups of true adverb in Luganda, both of which agree with the verbal subject or qualified noun (not just in gender and number but also in person), but which are inflected differently. The first group is conjugated in the same way as verbs and contains only a few words: tya 'how', ti 'like this', tyo 'like that':
- Njogera bwe nti 'I speak like this'
- Abasiraamu basaba bwe bati 'Muslims pray like this'
- Enkima elya bwe bweti 'The monkey eats like this'
- Enkima zilya bwe ziti 'Monkeys eat like this'
The adverb ti 'like this' (the last word in each of the above sentences) is conjugated as a verb to agree with the subject of the sentence in gender, number and person.
The second group takes a different set of prefixes, based on the pronouns. Adverbs in this group inclusde -nna 'all' (or, with the singular, 'any'), -kka 'only', -mbi, -mbiriri 'both' and -nsatule 'all three':
- Nkola nzekka 'I work alone'
- Nzekka nkola 'Only I work'
- Wekka okola 'Only you work'
- Nzekka ndikigula emmotoka 'Only I will buy the car'
- Ndikigula emmotoka lyokka 'I will only buy the car'
Note how, in the last two examples, the adverb -kka agrees with whichever antecedent it's qualifying—either the implicit nze 'I' or the explicit emmotoka 'the car'.
Note also, in the first two examples, how the placement of nzekka before or after the verb makes the difference between 'only' (when the adverb qualifies and agrees with the subject—the implicit nze 'I') and 'alone' (when it qualifies the verb nkola 'I work' but agrees with the subject).
in Luganda is indicated with a different particle
for each singular and plural noun class
(according to the possessed noun). An alternative way of thinking about the Luganda possessive is as a single word whose initial consonant cluster
is altered to agree with the possessed noun in class and number.
Depending on the possessed noun, the possessive takes one of the following forms:
- Singular wa, plural ba (Class I)
- Singular gwa, plural gya (Class II)
- Singular ya, plural za (Class III)
- Singular kya, plural bya (Class IV)
- Singular lya, plural ga (Class V)
- Singular ka, plural bwa (Class VI)
- Singular lwa, plural za (Class VII)
- Singular gwa, plural ga (Class VIII)
- Singular kwa, plural ga (Class IX)
- Twa (Class X)
If the possessor is a personal pronoun, the separate possessive form is not used. Instead, the following personal possessives are used:
- Wange 'my', wo 'your (singular possessor)', we 'his, her'; waffe 'our', wammwe 'your (plural possessor)', waabwe 'their' (Class I, singular possessed noun)
- Bange 'my', bo 'your (singular possessor)', be 'his, her'; baffe 'our', bammwe 'your (plural possessor)', baabwe 'their' (Class I, plural possessed noun)
- Gwange 'my', gwo 'your (singular possessor)', gwe 'his, her'; gwaffe 'our', gwammwe 'your (plural possessor)', gwabwe 'their' (Class II, singular possessed noun)
- Gyange 'my', gyo 'your (singular possessor)', gye 'his, her'; gyaffe 'our', gyammwe 'your (plural possessor)' gyabwe 'their' (Class II, plural possessed noun)
- Yange 'my', yo 'your', etc. (Class III, singular possessed noun)
Compare these to the French possessive adjectives:
- Mon 'my', ton 'your (singular possessor)', son 'his, her, its'; notre 'our', votre 'your (plural possessor)', leur 'their'—Masculine singular possessed noun
- Ma 'my', ta 'your (singular possessor)', sa 'his, her, its'; notre 'our', votre 'your (plural possessor)', leur 'their'—Masculine singular possessed noun
- Mes 'my', tes 'your (singular possessor)', ses 'his, her, its'; nos 'our', vos 'your (plural possessor)', leurs 'their'—Plural possessed noun
There are also a few nouns that take special forms when used with a possessive:
- Kitange 'my father', kitaawo 'your (singular) father', kitaawe 'his/her father'
Luganda verbs are inflected
and the gender
of the subject
and, if present, objects
Subject and objects
of a verb is indicated with a prefix
that agrees with the antecedent
. In the third person the prefix also agrees in noun class
with its antecedent.
The subject prefixes for the personal pronouns are:
- First person: singular n- 'I', plural tu- 'we'
- Second person: singular o- 'you (singular)', mu- 'you (plural)'
- Third person: singular a- 'he, she', ba- 'they (Class I)'
For impersonal pronouns the subject prefixes are:
- Class I: singular a-, plural ba- (i.e. the third person prefixes shown directly above)
- Class II: singular gu-, plural gi-
- Class III: singular e-, plural zi-
- Class IV: singular ki-, plural bi-
- Class V: singular li-, plural ga-
- Class VI: singular ka-, plural bu-
- Class VII: singular lu-, plural zi-
- Class VIII: singular gu-, plural ga-
- Class IX: singular ku-, plural ga-
- Class X: tu-
When a verb governs one or more objects, they are shown with infixes that agree with the antecedent in person and number. As with the subject prefix, the third person infixes also agree with their antecedents in noun class. The personal object infixes are:
- First person: singular -n- 'me', plural -tu- 'us'
- Second person: singular -ku- 'you (singular)', -ba- 'you (plural)'
- Third person: singular -mu- 'him, her', -ba- 'them (Class I)'
For the third person the object prefixes are:
- Class I: singular -mu-, plural -ba- (i.e. the third person prefixes shown directly above)
- Class II: singular -gu-, plural -gi-
- Class III: singular -ta-, plural -zi-
- Class IV: singular -ki-, plural -bi-
- Class V: singular -li-, plural -ga-
- Class VI: singular -ka-, plural -bu-
- Class VII: singular -lu-, plural -zi-
- Class VIII: singular -gu-, plural -ga-
- Class IX: singular -ku-, plural -ga-
- Class X: -tu-
Note the similarity between each subject prefix and the corresponding object infix: they are the same in all cases except Class I and the singular of Class III. Note also the correspondence between the object infixes and the noun prefixes (see Nouns above): when every m- in the noun prefix is replaced by a g- in the object infix, the only differences are in Classes I and III.
The direct object infix is usually inserted directly after the subject prefix:
- nkirudde 'I ate it' (n- subject 'I' + -ki- object 'it' + -rudde verb 'ate')
The indirect object infix comes after the direct object:
- nkimuwadde 'I gave it to him' (n- subject 'I' + -ki- object 'it' + -mu- object '(to) him' + -wadde verb 'gave')
The negative is usually formed by prefixing te-
to the subject prefix, or, in the case of the first person singular, replacing the prefix with si-
. This results in the following set of personal subject prefixes:
- First person: singular si- 'I', plural tetu- 'we'
- Second person: singular to- 'you (singular)', temu- 'you (plural)'
- Third person: singular ta- 'he, she', teba- 'they (Class I)'
The negative impersonal subject prefixes are:
- Class I: singular ta-, plural teba- (i.e. the third person prefixes shown directly above)
- Class II: singular tegu-, plural tegi-
- Class III: singular te-, plural tezi-
- Class IV: singular teki-, plural tebi-
- Class V: singular teri-, plural tega-
- Class VI: singular teka-, plural tebu-
- Class VII: singular telu-, plural tezi-
- Class VIII: singular tegu-, plural tega-
- Class IX: singular teku-, plural tega-
- Class X: tetu-
When used with object relatives or the narrative tense (see below), the negative is formed with the infix -ta-, which is inserted after the subject and object affixes:
- Omuntu gwe nnalabye 'The person whom I saw'
- Omuntu gwe nnatalabye 'The person whom I didn't see'
in Luganda is explicitly marked on the verb, as it is in most other Bantu languages
The present tense
is formed by simply adding the subject prefixes to the stem:
- nkola 'I do'
- okola 'you do'
- akola 'he, she does'
- tukola 'we do'
- mukola 'you (plural) do'
- bakola 'they (class I) do'
- gukola 'it (class II) does'
- gikola 'they (class II) do'
- ekola 'he, she, it (class III) does'
- zikola 'they (class III) do'
- kikola 'it (class IV) does'
- bikola 'they (class IV) do'
- likola 'it (class V) does'
- gakola 'they (class V) do'
- kakola 'it (class VI) does'
- bukola 'they (class VI) do'
- lukola 'it (class VII) does'
- zikola 'they (class VII) do'
The negative is formed in the same way but with the negative subject prefixes:
- sikola 'I don't do'
- tokola 'you don't do'
- takola 'he, she doesn't do'
- tetukola 'we don't do'
- temukola 'you (plural) don't do'
- tebakola 'they (class I) don't do'
- tegukola 'it (class II) doesn't do'
- tegikola 'they (class II) don't do'
- tekola 'he, she, it (class III) doesn't do'
- tezikola 'they (class III) don't do'
- tekikola 'it (class IV) doesn't do'
- tebikola 'they (class IV) don't do'
- terikola 'it (class V) does'
- tegakola 'they (class V) do'
- tekakola 'it (class VI) doesn't do'
- tebukola 'they (class VI) don't do'
- terukola 'it (class VII) doesn't do'
- tezikola 'they (class VII) don't do'
This is the usual way of forming the negative in Luganda.
Present perfect tense
The present perfect tense
makes use of a special form of the verb stem, called the 'modified form'. This is formed by making various changes to the final syllable of the stem, usually involving either changing the final syllable to one of the following suffixes
, or adding a suffix:
The present perfect is just the subject prefixes plus the modified stem:
- nkoze 'I have done'
- okoze 'you have done'
- akoze 'he, she has done'
- tukoze 'we have done'
- mukoze 'you (plural) have done'
- bakoze 'they (class I) have done'
- gukoze 'it (class II) has done'
- gikoze 'they (class II) have done'
- ekoze 'it (class III) has done'
- zikoze 'they (class III) have done'
The present perfect tense in Luganda is sometimes slightly weaker in its 'past' meaning than in English. It's often used with intransitive verbs with the sense of being in the state of having done something. For example ddange azze means 'my husband has arrived' (using the present perfect form -zze of the verb jja 'to come'; ŋŋenze usually means 'I'm off' rather than 'I have gone'. But to say I have done a Muganda would usually use one of the past tenses nnakoze or nnakola 'I did' because kola is a transitive verb.
The present perfect is also used to show physical attitude. For example, using the verb okutuula 'to sit down': ntuula (present tense) means 'I am in the process of sitting myself down'; to say 'I'm sitting down' in the usual English sense of 'I'm seated', a Muganda would use the present perfect: ntudde.
The negative is formed in the usual way.
Near past tense
The near past
is formed by inserting the infix -a-
before the modified form of the stem. This infix, being a vowel, has the effect of changing the form of the subject prefixes:
- nnakoze 'I did'
- wakoze 'you did'
- yakoze 'he, she did'
- twakoze 'we did'
- mwakoze 'you (plural) did'
- baakoze 'they (class I) did'
The near past tense is used for events that have happened in the past 18 hours. The negative is formed in the usual way.
Far past tense
The far past
is formed with the same infix -a-
as the near past, but using the simple form of the stem:
- nnakola 'I did'
- wakola 'you did'
- yakola 'he, she did'
- twakola 'we did'
- mwakola 'you (plural) did'
- baakola 'they (class I) did'
The far past tense is used for events that happened more than 18 hours ago, and can also be used as a weak pluperfect tense. This is the tense that's used in novels and storytelling.
The negative is formed in the usual way.
Near future tense
The near future
is used when describing things that are going to happen within the next 18 hours. It's formed with the infix -naa-
on the simple form of the stem:
- nnaakola 'I shall do'
- onookola 'you will do'
- anaakola 'he, she will do'
- tunaakola 'we shall do'
- munaakola 'you (plural) will do'
- banaakola 'they (class I) will do'
- eneekola 'they (class III) will do'
- zinaakola 'they (class III) will do'
In the second person singular and the singular of Class III, the infix becomes -noo- and -nee- in harmony with the subject prefix.
The negative form of this tense is formed by changing the final -a of the stem to an -e and using vowel-lengthened negative subject prefixes; no tense infix is used:
- siikole 'I shan't do'
- tookole 'you won't do'
- taakole 'he, she won't do'
- tetuukole 'we shan't do'
- temumkole 'you (plural) won't do'
- tebaakole 'they (class I) won't do'
- teguukole 'it (class II) won't do'
- tegiikole 'they (class II) won't do'
- teekole 'he, she, it (class III) won't do'
- teziikole 'they (class III) won't do'
Far future tense
The far future
is used for events that will take place more than 18 hours in the future. It's formed with the infix -li-
on the simple form of the stem:
- ndikola 'I shall do'
- olikola 'you will do'
- alikola 'he, she will do'
- tulikola 'we shall do'
- mulikola 'you (plural) will do'
- balikola 'they (class I) will do'
Note how the l of the tense infix becomes a d after the n- of the first person singular subject prefix.
The negative is formed in the usual way.
The conditional tense
is formed with the infix -andi-
and the modified form of the stem:
- nnandikoze 'I would do'
- wandikoze 'you would do'
- yandikoze 'he, she would do'
- twandikoze 'we would do'
- mwandikoze 'you (plural) would do'
- bandikoze 'they (class I) would do'
The negative is formed in the usual way.
is a tense in Luganda, rather than a mood
as in some languages. It's formed by changing the final -a
of the stem to an -e
- nkole 'I may do'
- okole 'you may do'
- akole 'he, she may do'
- tukole 'we may do'
- mukole 'you may do'
- bakole 'they may do'
The negative is formed either with the auxiliary verb lema ('to fail') plus the infinitive:
- nneme kukola 'I may not do'
- oleme kukola 'you may not do'
- aleme kukola 'he, she may not do'
- tuleme kukola 'we may not do'
- muleme kukola 'you may not do'
- baleme kukola 'they may not do'
or using the same forms as the negative of the near future:
- siikole 'I may not do'
- tookole 'you may not do'
- taakole 'he, she may not do'
- tetuukole 'we may not do'
- temuukole 'you may not do'
- tebaakole 'they may not do'
Luganda has some special tenses not found in many other languages. The 'still' tense is used to say that something is still happening. It's formed with the infix -kya-
- nkyakola 'I'm still doing'
- okyakola 'you're still doing'
- akyakola 'he, she is still doing'
- tukyakola 'we're still doing'
- mukyakola 'you're still doing'
- bakyakola 'they're still doing'
In the negative it means 'no longer':
- sikyakola 'I'm no longer doing'
- tokyakola 'you're no longer doing'
- takyakola 'he, she is no longer doing'
- tetukyakola 'we're no longer doing'
- temukyakola 'you're no longer doing'
- tebakyakola 'they're no longer doing'
With intransitive verbs, especially verbs of physical attitude (see Present Perfect Tense above), the -kya- infix can also be used with the modified verb stem to give a sense of 'still being in a state'. For example nkyatudde means 'I'm still seated'.
The 'so far' tense is used when talking about what has happened so far, with the implication that more is to come. It's formed with the infix -aaka-:
- nnaakakola 'I have so far done'
- waakakola 'you have so far done'
- yaakakola 'he, she has so far done'
- twaakakola 'we have so far done'
- mwaakakola 'you have so far done'
- baakakola 'they have so far done'
This tense is found only in the affirmative. The 'not yet' tense, on the other hand, is found only in the negative. It's used to talk about things that haven't happened yet (but which may well happen in the future), and is formed with the infix -nna-:
- sinnakola 'I haven't yet done'
- tonnakola 'you haven't yet done'
- tannakola 'he, she hasn't yet done'
- tetunnakola 'we haven't yet done'
- temunnakola 'you haven't yet done'
- bannakola 'they haven't yet done'
When describing a series of events that happen (or will or did happen) sequentially, the narrative form is used for all but the first verb in the sentence. It’s formed by the particle ne (or n’ before a vowel) followed by the present tense:
- Nnagenda ne nkuba essimu 'I went and made a phone call'
- Ndigenda ne nkuba essimu 'I’ll go and make a phone call'
The narrative can be used with any tense, as long as the events it describes are in immediate sequence. The negative is formed with the infix -ta- placed immediately after the object infixes (or after the subject prefix if no object infixes are used):
- Saagenda ne ntakuba essimu 'I didn't go and made a phone call'
- Sirigenda ne ntakuba essimu 'I won't go and make a phone call'
- Sinnagenze ne ndigitakuba 'I haven't gone to make it yet'
Compare this with the negative construction used with the object relatives.
Other tenses can be formed periphrastically
, with the use of auxiliary verbs
. Some of Luganda's auxiliary verbs can also be used as main verbs; some are always auxiliaries:
- okuba 'to be': used with an optional nga with another finite verb to form compound tenses
- okujja 'to come': forms a future tense when used with the infinitive of the main verb
- okulyoka or okulyokka (only used as an auxiliary): appears with another finite verb, usually translated 'and then' or (in the subjunctive) 'so that'
- okumala 'to finish': used with the infinitive to denote completed action, or with the stem of the main verb prefixed with ga- to mean 'whether one wants to or not'
- okutera (only used as an auxiliary): used with the infinitive of the main verb to mean (in the present tense) 'to tend to' or (in the near future) 'about to'
- okuva 'to come from': followed by the main verb in the infinitive, means 'just been'
- okulema 'to fail': used with the inifinitive to form negatives
The meaning of a verb can be altered in an almost unlimited number of ways by means of modifications to the verb stem. There are only a handful of core derivational modifications, but these can be added to the verb stem in virtually any combination, resulting in hundreds of possible compound modifications.
is produced by replacing the final -a
- okulaba 'to see' → okulabwa 'to be seen'
is created by adding the prefix e-
to the verb stem (equivalent to replacing the oku-
prefix of the infinitive
- okutta 'to kill' → okwetta 'to kill oneself'
Many verbs are used only in their reflexive form:
- okwebaka 'to sleep' (simple form *okubaka is not used)
- okwetaga 'to need' (simple form *okutaga is not used)
This is formed by doubling the stem, and generally adds the sense of repetition or intensity:
- okukuba 'to strike' → okukubaakuba 'to batter'
, or prepositional, modification, allows the verb to take an extra object
and gives it the meaning 'to do for or with (someone or something). It's formed with the infix
-ir- inserted before the final
-a of the stem:
- okukola 'to work' → okukolira 'to work for (an employer)'
- okwebaka 'to sleep' → okwebakira 'to sleep on (e.g. a piece of furniture)'
Adding the applied infix twice gives the 'augmentative applied' modification, which has an alternative applied sense, usually further removed from the original sense than the simple applied modification:
- okukola 'to work' → okukolirera 'to utilise, employ'
is formed with various changes applied to the end of the verb, usually involving the final -a
changing to -ya
. It gives a verb the sense of 'to cause to do', and can also make an intransitive verb transitive
- okulaba 'to see' → okulabya 'to show'
- okufuuka 'to become' → okufuusa 'to turn (something or someone) into (something else)'
Appling two causative modifications results in the 'second causative':
- okulaba 'to see' → okulabya 'to show' → okulabizza 'to cause to show'
The neuter modification, also known as the stative
, is similar to the '-able' suffix in English
, except that the result is a verb meaning 'to be x
-able' rather than an adjective meaning 'x
-able'. It's formed by inserting the infix -ik
before the stem's final -a
- okukola 'to do' → okukoleka 'to be possible'
- okulya 'to eat' → okuliika 'to be edible'
The intransitive conversive modification reverses the meaning of an intransitive verb
and leaves it intransitive, or reverses the meaning of a transitive verb
and makes it intransitive, similar to English's
'un-' prefix. It's formed with the infix -uk-
inserted before the stem's final -a
- okukyala 'to pay a visit' → okukyaluka 'to end one's visit, to depart'
This is similar to the intransitive conversive except that it results in a transitive verb. In other words it reverses the meaning of an intransitive verb
and makes it transitive
, or reverses the meaning of a transitive verb and leaves it transitive. It's formed with the infix -ul-
- okukola 'to do' → okukolula 'to undo'
- okusimba 'to plant' → okusimbula 'to uproot'
- okukyala 'to pay a visit' → okukyalula 'to send off'
Two conversive infixes create the augmentative conversive modification:
- okulimba 'to deceive' → okulimbulula 'to disabuse, set straight'
modification is formed with the suffix -na
(or less commonly -ŋŋa
- okulaba 'to see' → okulabagana 'to see one another'
- okutta 'to kill' → okuttaŋŋa 'to kill each other'
is formed with the suffix -nga
. It's used with finite verbs
to give the sense of continuousness:
- ndimukuuma 'I'll look after him' → ndimukuumanga 'I'll always look after him'
- tosinda 'don't whinge' → tosindanga 'never whinge'
This is not really a modification but a clitic, so it's always applied 'after' any grammatical inflexions.
Combinations of modifications
More than one modification can be made to a single stem:
- okukolulika 'to be undo-able (i.e. reversible)'—conversive neuter: kola → kolula → kolulika
- okusimbuliza 'to transplant'—conversive applied causative: simba -> simbula → simbulira → simbuliza
- okulabaalabana 'to look around oneself, be distracted'—reduplicative reciprocal: laba → labaalaba → labaalabana
- okulabaalabanya 'to distract'—reduplicative reciprocal causative: laba → labaalaba → labaalabana → labaalabanya
- okwebakiriza 'to pretend to sleep'—reflexive augmentative applied causative baka → ebaka → ebakira (applied) → ebakirira (augmentative applied) → ebakiriza
There are some restrictions that apply to the combinations in which these modifications can be made. For example the 'applied' modification can't be made to a causative stem; any causative modifications must first be removed, the applied modification made and the causative modifications then reapplied. And since the reflexive is formed with a prefix rather than a suffix, it's impossible to distinguish between, for example, reflexive causative and causative reflexive.
The Luganda system of cardinal numbers
is quite complicated. The numbers 'one' to 'five' are specialised numerical adjectives
with the noun
. The words for 'six' to 'ten' are numerical nouns that don't agree with the qualified noun.
'Twenty' to 'fifty' are expressed as multiples of ten using the cardinal numbers for 'two' to 'five' with the plural of 'ten'. 'Sixty' to 'one hundred' are numerical nouns in their own right, derived from the same roots as the nouns for 'six' to 'ten' but with different class prefixes.
In a similar pattern, 'two hundred' to 'five hundred' are expressed as multiples of a hundred using the cardinal numbers with the plural of 'one hundred'. Then 'six hundred' to 'one thousand' are nouns, again derived from the same roots as 'six' to 'ten'. The pattern repeats up to 'ten thousand', then standard nouns are used for 'ten thousand', 'one hundred thousand' and 'one million'.
The words used for this system are:
Numerical adjectives (declined to agree with the qualified noun):
- emu (mumu, limu, kamu, kimu, ...) 'one'
- bbiri (babiri, abiri, ...) 'two'
- ssatu (basatu, asatu, ...) 'three'
- nnya (bana, ana, ...) 'four'
- ttaano (bataano, ataano, ...) 'five'
- 'Six' to 'ten' (Class II)
- mukaaga 'six'
- musanvu 'seven'
- munaana 'eight'
- mwenda 'nine'
- kkumi 'ten'; plural amakumi
- 'Sixty' to 'one hundred' (Classes III and IV)
- nkaaga 'sixty' (Class III)
- nsanvu 'seventy'
- kinaana 'eighty' (Class IV)
- kyenda 'ninety'
- kikumi 'one hundred'; plural bikumi
- 'Six hundred' to 'one thousand' (Class VII)
- lukaaga 'six hundred'
- lusanvu 'seven hundred'
- lunaana 'eight hundred'
- lwenda 'nine hundred'
- lukumi 'one thousand'; plural nkumi
- 'Six thousand' to 'ten thousand' (Class VI)
- kakaaga 'six thousand'
- kasanvu 'seven thousand'
- kanaana 'eight thousand'
- kenda 'nine thousand'
- (archaic) kakumi 'ten thousand'; plural bukumi
- omutwalo 'ten thousand'; plural emitwalo (Class II)
- akasiriivu 'one hundred thousand'; plural obusiriivu (Class VI)
- akakadde 'one million'; plural obukadde (Class VI)
- akawumbi 'one trillion' (1,000,000,000,000); plural obuwumbi (Class VI)
- akafukunya 'one quintillion' (1,000,000,000,000,000,000); plural obufukunya (Class VI)
- akasedde 'one septillion' (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000); plural obusedde (Class VI)
Digits are specified from left to right, combined with na (following kkumi) and mu (following any other word). For example:
- 12 kkumi na bbiri (10 + 2)
- 22 amakumi abiri mu bbiri (10 × 2 + 2)
- 65 nkaaga mu ttaano (60 + 5)
- 122 kikumi mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri (100 + 10 × 2 + 2)
- 222 bikumi bibiri mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri (100 × 2 + 10 × 2 + 2)
- 1,222 lukumi mu bikumi bibiri mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri (1000 + 100 × 2 + 10 × 2 + 2)
- 1,024 lukumi mu amakumi abiri mu nnya (1000 + 10 × 2 + 4)
- 2,222 nkumi bbiri mu bikumi bibiri mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri (1000 × 2 + 100 × 2 + 10 × 2 + 2)
- 2,500 nkumi bbiri mu bikumi bitaano (1000 × 2 + 100 × 5)
- 7,500 kasanvu mu bikumi bitaano (7000 + 100 × 5)
- 7,600 kasanvu mu lukaaga (7000 + 600)
- 9,999 kenda mu lwenda mu kyenda mu mwenda (9000 + 900 + 90 + 9)
- 999,000 obusiriivu mwenda mu omutwalo mwenda mu kenda
- 1,000,000 akakadde (1000000)
- 3,000,000 obukadde gibiri (1000000 × 3)
- 10,000,000 obukadde kkumi (1000000 × 10)
- 122,000,122 obukadde kikumi mu amakumi abiri mu bubiri mu kikumi mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri (1000000 * (100 + 10 × 2 + 2) + 100 + 10 × 2 + 2)
The numerical adjectives agree with the qualified noun:
- emmotoka emu 'one car'
- omukazi mumu 'one woman'
- amamotoka ataano 'five cars'
- abakazi bataano 'five women'
- amamotoka kikumi 'a hundred cars'
- abakazi kikumi 'a hundred women'
- abasajja kkumi na mumu 'eleven men'
- ente kkumi na emu 'eleven cattle'
The forms emu, bbiri, ssatu, nnya and ttaano are used when counting (as well as when qualifying nouns of classes III and VII).
However, a complication arises from the agreement of numerical adjectives with the powers of ten. Since the words for 'ten', 'hundred', 'thousand' and so on belong to different classes, each power of ten can be inferred from the form of the adjective qualifying it, so the plural forms of the powers of ten (amakumi 'tens', bikumi 'hundreds', nkumi 'thousands', bukumi 'tens of thousands') are usually omitted, as long as this doesn't result in ambiguity.
- 40 amakumi ana → ana
- 22 amakumi abiri mu bbiri → abiri mu bbiri
- 222 bikumi bibiri mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri → bibiri mu abiri mu bbiri
- 1,024 lukumi mu amakumi abiri mu nnya → lukumi mu abiri mu nnya
- 2,222 nkumi bbiri mu bikumi bibiri mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri → nkumi bbiri mu bibiri mu abiri mu bbiri
- 2,500 nkumi bbiri mu bikumi bitaano → nkumi bbiri mu bitaano
- 7,500 kasanvu mu bikumi bitaano → kasanvu mu bitaano
- 122,000,122 obukadde kikumi mu amakumi abiri mu bubiri mu kikumi mu amakumi abiri mu bbiri → obukadde kikumi mu abiri mu bubiri mu kikumi mu amakumi mu bbiri
Note that while amanda amakumi ana '40 batteries' will usually be shortened to amanda ana, embwa amakumi ana '40 dogs' cannot be shortened to embwa ana because ana is the form of nnya used with embwa, so this actually means 'four dogs'! The confusion doesn't arise with amanda because 'four batteries' would be amanda gana.
Nkumi 'thousands' is also not usually omitted because the form the numerical adjectives take when qualifying it is the same as the counting form, so 3,000 will always be rendered nkumi ssatu.
- Ashton, Ethel O., and others (1954) A Luganda Grammar, London: Longmans, Green.
- Snoxall, R.A. (1967) Luganda-English Dictionary. Clarendon Press, Oxford
- Katamba, Francis (1993) A new approach to tone in Luganda, in Language. 69. 1. pp.33-67
- Murphy, John D. (1972) Luganda-English Dictionary. Catholic University of America Press
- Chesswas, J. D. (1963) Essentials of Luganda. Oxford University Press
- Ethnologue report for Ganda/Luganda
- Luganda Basic Course, developed by the USA Foreign Service Institute (1968)
- The Word in Luganda, by Larry M. Hyman & Francis X. Katamba
- An excellent online summary of the Luganda language can be found at http://www.buganda.com/luganda.htm.
- Free online Luganda Dictionary on the Ganda Ancestry website http://www.gandaancestry.com/dictionary/dictionary.php
- Free online talking Luganda Dictionary and Crossword Puzzle on the Ganda portal http://www.GandaSpace.com
- Luganda - English Dictionary
- The website of a team developing Luganda language capability for computers is at http://www.kizito.uklinux.net
- PanAfrican L10n page on Ganda