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The “a” tense

I just completed the final checkpoint of the Swahili course, and I’m surprised there was no lesson on the “a” tense. I know it’s not really used in spoken Swahili, but neither is a lot of stuff we learned on this course. It would be nice if it was at least mentioned, like maybe combine it with present tense 3?

November 11, 2019



Could you define what the "a" tense is?

For the benefit of the rest of us.

Thank you.


It is the “present indefinite” tense Example: unakula nyama ya ng’uruwe-you are eating pork(right now) VS Wakula (uakula) nyama ya ng’uruwe-you eat pork, like your are not Muslim/Jewish but you are not necessarily eating it right now.


It is my understanding that this tense is rarely used in daily speech, and that it is mainly used in newspapers (to save space, maybe?). The exception is first person singular which always seems to use this tense (e.g. natembea in stead of ninatembea.

It is pretty straight forward, and easy to understand when reading a newspaper. E.g. for kujibu:

Najibu (I), wajibu (you, sing.), ajibu (she/he), twajibu (we), mwajibu (you, pl.), wajibu (they).

The other noun classes follow suit, more or less.

Since you will probably never use this tense, it suffices to have passive knowledge of it.


Yes, I understand that it rarely occurs in spoken Swahili. But if learners want to tackle the written standard they should be made aware of the existence of this tense and the subtle differences with the “na” tense. Though I understand that this course is being updated on a yearly basis and will be expanded in the future, so it is a suggestion.


The common use of just na- in the first person is not an example of the -a- tense. It's just the ni- collapsing into the the -na-. You can see the difference with the short verbs.

ninakulanakula (-na- tense)
nala (-a- tense)

The tendency of ni- to be collapse in pronunciation a bit can also be seen in the future, where nita- frequently becomes nta- in spoken Swahili (Diamond Platnumz - Ntampata wapi? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFu2wjQMM0Q). It also happens with -ni- as an object as in Sho Madjozi's "Huku", where she pronounces hukuniambia as hukunambia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_EeqZcZ6dI) ... If you do this before -na-, you end up with nna-, which simply collapses to na-.

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