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Amharic Lesson: Have To/Must

ታዲያስ ለሁሉ ሰው!

This is the second Amharic lesson. In this lesson we’ll be looking at how to say “to have to” and “to not have to”.

A guide to pronunciation

  • ä - said like “e” in 'bed'
  • u - said like “ou” in 'you'
  • i - said like “e” in 'be'
  • a - said like “a” in 'apple'
  • e - said like ”ay“ in 'day'
  • ï - said like “oo” in 'book' (but slightly closer to an “uh” sound)
  • o - said like ”o“ in 'low'
  • č - said like “ch” in 'chain'
  • š - said like “sh” in 'shoe'
  • ž - said like ”s“ in 'pleasure' (a soft “zh” sound)
  • ñ - said like “ni” in 'onion' (same as the Spanish ”ñ“)
  • b - at the start of a word, after r, l, m, or n, or doubled = English “b”
  • b - not in the above positions = closer to English “v”
  • Letters followed by an apostraphe (e.g. tʼ) are ejective consonants. These are pronounced sharper than their non-ejective variants.
  • Letters followed by ʷ are simply pronounced as “consonant + w”

A guide to abbreviations

  • m. = Masculine (said to a male)
  • f. = Feminine (said to a female)
  • frm. = Formal (said to someone older, or of higher authority, than you)
  • inf. = Informal (said to people the same age/younger, or of equal or lower authority)
  • pl. = Plural (said to more than one person)


መሄድ [mähed] - To go
መምጣት [mämtʼat] - To come
መብላት [mäblat] - To eat
መጠጣት [mätʼätʼat] - To drink
መሆን [mähon] - To be
ማቆም [makʼom] - To stop
መጠበቅ [mätʼäbäkʼ] - To wait
መሥራት [mäsrat] - To work
መጠቀም [mätʼäkʼäm] - To use
መናገር [mänagär] - To speak
መስማት [mäsmat] - To listen/To hear
መግባት [mägbat] - To enter
መውጣት [mäwtʼat] - To exit
መርዳት [märdat] - To help
መክፈት [mäkfät] - To open
መዝጋት [mäzgat] - To close

To Have To

In Amharic, there is no direct verb for “to have to”. Instead, you say “It is on (me) to …”, for example, “መሄድ አለብኝ” [mähed alläbbïñ] - “I have to go”, although literally translated it says, “It is on me to go”. This structure is in fact the same as Arabic, although Arabic verbs work differently to Amharic verbs.

This table shows the “on + pronoun” for each person:

Notice that for both እሳቸው and እነሱ the form is the same. Where this form is used, context can usually be used to work out which is meant, however in total ambiguity, the pronoun can be used.

Here are some example sentences:
⇒ ወደ ቤት መሄድ አለብን [wädä bet mähed alläbbïn]
We have to go home”
⇒ ተማሪዎች መማር አለባቸው [tämariwočč mämar alläbbaččäw]
“Students have to learn
⇒ መስኮቶቹን መዝጋት አለብሽ [mäskotoččun mäzgat alläbbïš]
You (f.) have to close the windows”

To Not Have To

To negate the part of the sentence meaning “to have to” (e.g. አለብኝ), all you have to do is remove the initial አ- (a-), add የ- (yä-) at the beginning, and add -ም (-ïm) at the end if it ends in a consonant, or -ም (-m) if it ends in a vowel. So አለባት [alläbbat] “She has to” (“It is on her”) becomes የለባትም [yälläbbatïm] “She doesn’t have to” (“It is not on her”).

This table shows the “not on + pronoun” for each person:

One thing to note is that the -ችሁ (-ččuh) in አለባችሁ (alläbbaččuh), when in the negative form, becomes -ččïhu-. This is because in Amharic, stress falls on the second-last syllable in verbs, and the addition of the final -ም causes the pronunciation to shift.

Here are some example sentences:
⇒ ቀን ሁሉ መሥራት የለብዎም [kʼän hulu mäsrat yälläbbïwom]
You (frm.) don’t have to work all day”
⇒ ባይፈልግ መምጣት የለበትም [bayfällïg mämtʼat yälläbbätïm]
He doesn’t have to come if he doesn’t want to”
መጠበቅ የለባችሁም [mätʼäbäkʼ yälläbbaččïhum]
You (pl.) don’t have to wait

This form is also used for the future tense:
⇒ ምግብ ባታመጡ መግዛት አለባችሁ [mïgïb battamätʼtʼu mägzat alläbbaččuh]
“If you (pl.) don’t bring food you’ll have to buy it”
⇒ ቋንቋውን ብትናገር አስተርጓሚ መጠቀም የለብህም [kʼʷankʼʷawïn bïtïnagär astärgʷami mätʼäkʼäm yälläbbïhïm]
“If you (m.) speak the language you won’t have to use an interpreter”

For the past tense, here is the positive form:

And here is the negative form:

These are used exactly the same as the present tense:
⇒ ትናንት ወደ ሐኪም ቤቱ መሄድ ነበረብኝ [tïnnant wädä hakim betu mähed näbbäräbbïñ]
“Yesterday I had to go to the hospital”
⇒ ሥራው ቀላል ስለነበር መርዳት አልነበረባትም [sïrraw kʼälal sïlänäbbär märdat alnäbbäräbbatïm]
She didn’t have to help because the work was easy”

NOTE: There is another way to say “I have to“ which uses the verb ማስፈለግ [masfälläg], but since this requires more advanced knowledge of both Amharic verbs and object pronouns I've left it out.

Ethiopia/Amharic Posts Directory

July 27, 2015



Love the colored tables! Thumbs up!




Super cool. Now I should go read lesson 1.

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