1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Swahili
  4. >
  5. The M-Wa class


The M-Wa class


The M-Wa noun class is generally used to refer to human beings. Singular words get the m- prefix and plural words get the wa- prefix.

Singular Plural English
mtu watu person
mtoto watoto child
mgeni wageni guest
mgonjwa wagonjwa sick person
mpishi wapishi cook
mkulima wakulima farmer

This also includes nationalities and ethnical and religious identities.

Singular Plural English
Mtanzania Watanzania Tanzanian
Mchina Wachina Chinese
Mreno Wareno Portuguese
Mswahili Waswahili a Swahili person
Mkikuyu Wakikuyu a Kikuyu person
Mkristo Wakristo Christian
Myahudi Wayahudi Jew

Notable exceptions, M-Wa words that don’t refer to humans, include mnyama (animal) and mdudu (insect).


Disclaimer: only for people who love morphology. Some people might prefer to study these rules by heart, while others might unconsciously acquire the rules by a lot of practice and input. Do whatever you feel comfortable with. :)

M- & Wa-

The M-Wa nouns in all previous examples have a stem starting a consonant. These words follow this basic rule m- for singular words and wa- for plural words. The following formation rules will apply to word stems starting with a vowel.

M- + -U = Mu-

Words with stems starting with -u follow the normal M-Wa pattern, for example mume - waume (husband).

M- + vowel = Mw-

If the first letter of the stem is another vowel than -u, the m- usually becomes mw-. Examples are Mwingereza (Brit), Mwarabu (Arab), mwalimu (teacher), mwizi (thief) and mwenyeji (inhabitant).

Wa- + -A = Wa-

Because waanafunzi would be too long ;)

Singular Plural English
mwana wana child
mwalimu walimu teacher
mwanafunzi wanafunzi student

! Exception: Mwarabu (Arab) → Waarabu

Wa- + -I/E = We-

Singular Plural English
mwizi wezi thief
mwenyewe wenyewe owner
mwenyeji wenyeji inhabitant

! Exceptions: Mwislamu (Muslim) → Waislamu (not Weslamu) and Mwingereza (Brit, Englishman) → Waingereza (not Wengereza)


• The Swahili word for woman, mwanamke, is a compound word. It is derived from the words mwana (child/daughter) and mke (wife). The plural form is wanawake, in which you can recognize the words wana (plural of mwana) and wake (plural of mke).

• An alternative for the word mwanaume (man, pl. wanaume) is mwanamume, derived from mwana (child/son) and mume (husband). Its plural form is the same as the plural of mwanaume (wanaume).

August 2, 2019



It was always this I struggled on and now I understand. Thanks so much! ^-^


Hakuna shida! / De rien! / !عفوا ^^


Danke für diese Erklärung. thanks for this explanation, gracias por tu explicacion, merci pour tu explication


This is cool! Do you know of a resource that summarizes the morphology of object infixes etc. for each noun class too?


thank you for the resource, here's a list of 369 m-wa class nouns on wiktionary: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Swahili_m-wa_class_nouns


Asante sana. I like this explanation. I agree with morganpratt that an explanation of object infixes would be very helpful. The notes provided in the lesson are not very useful and it is a hard topic to master.

Learn Swahili in just 5 minutes a day. For free.