Sesotho parts of speech

Sesotho parts of speech


*The orthography used in this and related articles is that of South Africa, not Lesotho. For a discussion of the differences between the two see the notes on Sesotho orthography.
*Hovering the mouse cursor over most H:title| [ɪ'talɪk] |"italic"|dotted=no Sesotho text should reveal an IPA pronunciation key (excluding tones). Note that often when a section discusses formatives, affixes, or vowels it may be necessary to view the IPA to see the proper conjunctive word division and vowel qualities.
The Sesotho parts of speech convey the most basic meanings and functions of the words in the language, which may be modified in largely predictable ways by affixes and other regular morphological devices. Each complete word in the Sesotho language must comprise some "part of speech."

There are basically twelve parts of speech in Sesotho. The six major divisions are purely according to syntax, while the sub-divisions are according to morphology and semantic significance.

Absolute pronouns

These merely stand in place of nouns and say nothing else about them. They are formed from the pronomial concord of the noun (Doke & Mofokeng claims that the pronomial concord is actually derived from the absolute pronoun) plus the suffix H:title| [nɑ] |"-na"|dotted=no. Note that any affixes attached to the pronoun do not change its form.In the Nguni languages, for example, prefixes are attached to the pronoun's prefix without a suffix.
: isiXhosa "mna" 1st. person singular absolute pronoun ⇒ "unyana wam" my son, "uthetha nam" he is speaking to me, "ndim" it is me, "yiza'pha kum" come hither to me, etc.]

The tone pattern is [ _ ¯ ] .

: H:title| [wɛnɑ ʊbɑt͡ɬʼɑ ɪŋ̩] |"Wena o batla eng?"|dotted=no You, what do you want? (the pronoun is merely used for emphasis)

When a verb has two objects, the second object cannot be indicated in Sesotho by a concord:: H:title| [kʼɪbɑbon̩t͡sʰit͡sʼe jɔnɑ] |"Ke ba1 bontshitse yona2"|dotted=no I showed it2 to them1.

Demonstrative pronouns

Sesotho has three positional types of pronouns (1 less than many other Bantu languages; the missing one being the 3rd. form "this here") each in two forms.

When the relative concord is used to form the demonstrative pronouns it appears with a more natural high tone instead of the irregular extra-high allotone. However, in the rarely used first form of the first demonstrative it appears with a low tone.

The first demonstrative

The first demonstrative signifies "this" indicating proximity to the speaker. It corresponds to Bantu 1st. position.

The first form has tone pattern [ _ ¯ ] and is formed by suffixing the relative concord with the vowel in the class prefix (the exception being class 1(a) using H:title| [e'ʊ] |"eo"|dotted=no, due to its irregular concords, and class 9 uses H:title| [e'ɪ] |"ee"|dotted=no). This pronoun is not very commonly used.

: H:title| [diɲ̩t͡ʃʼɑ t͡sʼe'ɪ] |"Dintja tsee"|dotted=no These dogs

In common speech they are often simply shortened to the first syllable, and there is at least one commonly used formation where the pronoun for the first person singular is used as an enclitic.

: H:title| [kʼɪn̩nɑ'o] |"Ke nna o"|dotted=no Here I am

The second form has tone pattern [ ¯ ¯ ] and is formed by suffixing H:title| [nɑ] |"-na"|dotted=no to the relative concord (the exception being class 1(a) H:title| [enʷɑ] |"enwa"|dotted=no, but it appears as H:title| [onɑ] |"ona"|dotted=no in non-standard speech). These words have an irregular stress which falls on the final syllable.

: H:title| [bɑtʰʊ bɑnɑ] |"Batho bana"|dotted=no These people

The second demonstrative

The second demonstrative signifies "that" indicating relative distance from the speaker. It corresponds to Bantu 2nd. position.

The first form has tone pattern [ ¯ _ ] and suffixes H:title| [ʊ] |"-o"|dotted=no to the relative concord.

: H:title| [sɪfʊnɪ se'ʊ] |"Sefofane seo"|dotted=no That airplane.

This form is the one employed in indirect relative constructions: H:title| [lɪsedi le'ʊ kʼɪlɪbʊkʼɛl̩lɑŋ̩] |"Lesedi leo ke le bokellang"|dotted=no The data which I am collecting

The second form has tone pattern [ ¯ ¯ ] and suffixes H:title| [nʊ] |"-no"|dotted=no to the relative concord.

: H:title| [mʊʀɛʀɔ onʊ] |"Morero ono"|dotted=no That purpose

The third demonstrative

The third demonstrative signifies "that yonder" indicating distance from both parties. It corresponds to Bantu 4th. position.

The first form has tone pattern [ ¯ ¯ ] and is formed by suffixing H:title| [ɑnɪ] |"-ane"|dotted=no to the relative concord. In this case the H:title|/ɑ/|"a"|dotted=no interacts strongly with the vowel in the concord.

: H:title| [kʼolo'i jɑnɪ] |"Koloi yane"|dotted=no That car there: H:title| [sɪt͡sʰʷɑn̩t͡sʰɔ sɑnɪ] |"Setshwantsho sane"|dotted=no That picture there

The second form has tone pattern [ ¯ _ ] and is formed somewhat irregularly from the relative concord. The suffix is H:title| [lɑ] |"-la"|dotted=no which changes to H:title| [le] |"-le"|dotted=no if the concord ends with an H:title|/ɑ/|"a"|dotted=no. Class 1(a) has an irregular pronoun with H:title| [elʷɑ] |"elwa"|dotted=no (but it appears as H:title| [ole] |"ole"|dotted=no in non-standard speech). In common speech H:title| [le] |"-le"|dotted=no is used throughout.

: H:title| [nɑledi elɑ] |"Naledi ela"|dotted=no That star there

Quantitative pronouns

While many other Bantu languages have several quantitative pronouns, Sesotho only has the H:title| [ɬe] |"-hle"|dotted=no ("all"/"whole") form. It has tone pattern [ ¯ ¯ ] and is formed from the pronomial concord for nouns (singular persons use class 1's concords and plural persons use class 2's concords).

: H:title| [lɪt͡sʼɑt͡sʼi loɬe] |"Letsatsi lohle"|dotted=no The whole day

Qualificative pronouns

Qualificative pronouns are qualificatives used substantivally in a sentence. They are basically formed when a qualificative is used without the substantive, or if it appears before the substantive.This is not merely a formalism. The fact that this action creates a separate part of speech can be more clearly seen in other languages such as isiZulu, where a simple inflected qualificative is sometimes slightly morphologically distinct from its pronomial use.
: "Inja yami emhlophe" My white dog: "Eyami emhlophe" My white one]

: H:title| [dikʼolo'i t͡sʼen̩t͡ɬʼɛ] |"Dikoloi tse ntle"|dotted=no The beautiful cars ⇒ H:title| [t͡sʼen̩t͡ɬʼɛ difiɬile] |"Tse ntle di fihlile"|dotted=no The beautiful ones (cars) have arrived


  • The adjective H:title| [tʼɑlɑ] |"-tala"|dotted=no means "green/blue", while the relative H:title| [tʼɑlɑ] |"-tala"|dotted=no (pronounced exactly the same) means "raw/unripe." The two meanings are obviously related.: H:title| [mʊkʼopʼu omʊtʼɑlɑ] |"mokopu o motala"|dotted=no a green pumpkin, H:title| [mʊkʼopʼu otʼɑlɑ] |"mokopu o tala"|dotted=no a raw pumpkin
  • The H:title|/s/|"s"|dotted=no of the adjective H:title| [sɔ'ɔtʰɔ] |"-sootho"|dotted=no and the H:title|/ʀ/|"r"|dotted=no of the adjective "-rolo" are never nasalized with class 8, 9, and 10 nouns.
  • Adjectives beginning with H:title| [ɬ] |"hl"|dotted=no do not undergo nasalization either.
  • H:title| [fubedu] |"-fubedu"|dotted=no is nasalized irregularly to H:title| [xubedu] |"-kgubedu"|dotted=no,Sesotho H:title| [fu] |"fu"|dotted=no often comes from Proto-Bantu * (otherwise *k normally corresponds to Sesotho H:title|/h/|"h"|dotted=no, though in certain other situations it corresponds to H:title|/s/|"s"|dotted=no or H:title|/ʃ/|"sh"|dotted=no, resulting, for example, in the language name H:title| [sɪsʊtʰʊ] |"Sesotho"|dotted=no and not *"Kesotho" or *"Hesotho"). This may be nasalized to *ŋkû. Since Proto-Bantu *ŋk regularly corresponds to Sesotho H:title|/x/|"kg"|dotted=no, this may explain this irregular form.

    This adjective seems to come from the verb H:title| [fubɛlɑ] |"-fubela"|dotted=no (be/come red) (Proto-Bantu *-kûbid-).
    It is also possible to reconstruct a similar (historical) process for the modern adjective H:title| [xut͡sʰʷɑnɪ] |"-kgutshwane"|dotted=no (short):: Proto-Bantu *-kûpî ⇒ *-fufi ⇒ (alveolarizing diminutive) *-futshwane ⇒ (permanent nasalization) modern H:title| [xut͡sʰʷɑnɪ] |"-kgutshwane"|dotted=nocf. isiZulu "-fuphi" and diminutive "-fushane", both meaning "short".] though it is very common to hear just the nasalized form used with all nouns.
  • The adjective H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no is not to be confused with the enumerative H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no (one) which has a different tone. Like the enumerative, it is also irregular. It appears nasalised as H:title| [ŋ̩ŋʷɪ] |"-nngwe"|dotted=no with class 9 (it is simply H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no for all other classes). Also, for the H:title| [di] |"di-" / "di [N] -"|dotted=no classes it uses the irregular (though normal in Setswana) concord H:title| [t͡sʼedi] |"tse di [N] -"|dotted=no instead of H:title| [t͡sʼe] |"tse [N] -"|dotted=no.: H:title| [dipʼuˌdi t͡sʼediŋ̩] |"dipodi tse ding"|dotted=no some goats: H:title| [dipʼuˌdi t͡sʼeŋɑtʼɑ] |"dipodi tse ngata"|dotted=no many goats, Setswana "dipodi tse dingata"

Eg:: H:title| [bʊʀɑlɛ bobʊŋɑtʼɑ] |"Borale bo bongata"|dotted=no A large amount of (iron) ore: H:title| [siˌt͡sʰiʀɔ sesɪt͡sʰɛɬɑ] |"Setshiro se sesehla"|dotted=no A yellow mask: H:title| [lɪt͡sʼɔhɔ lelɪtʼʊnɑ] |"Letsoho le letona"|dotted=no The right (lit. male) hand


Adjectives are qualificatives used with the relative concords.

In the Bantu languages, the relatives form an open class and are the primary qualificatives used. Relative clauses are also used with the relative concords.

There are two types of relative stems:
#Stems which seem to be radical in nature, and from which abstract nouns in class 14 may be formed.
#Certain nouns unchanged in form.

Examples of both types follow below:


Possessives are qualificatives used with the possessive concords.

The direct possessive

The direct possessive occurs when the concord agrees with the possessee, while the stem indicates the possessor.

Pronomial possessive stems agree with the possessee. Sesotho has these only for the singulars of the first and second persons and class 1(a) (third person) nouns; the other nouns and persons used the full absolute pronouns to indicate possession.


A copulative is a word which does the work of a predicative, and which is formed from some other part of speech by modification of a prefix or concord, or by means of some formative addition.There is a curious widely held belief among some laypersons that Bantu languages have no (easy) way of saying "X is Y"; this couldn't be further from the truth.]

Complete predicates and sentences may be formed with substantives, qualificatives, or adverbs without employing any verbs, according to definite rules. These copulatives generally take the place of the verb "to be" in English. In Sesotho, there are also conjugations of the copulative using verbs (H:title| [bɑ] |"-ba"|dotted=no, H:title| [lɪ] |"-le"|dotted=no, and H:title| [nɑ] |"-na"|dotted=no, as well as their inflected forms) giving meanings of "to become" and "to have."

Forming the copulative

There are six basic rules, used in differing situations to form the most basic copulatives. The first two rules do not use any verbs (the zero copula) using only changes in tone and/or the copulative formative H:title| [kʼɪ] |"ke-"|dotted=no. The other rules employ the irregular verb H:title| [lɪ] |"-le"|dotted=no.

The rules may be classed into 3 categories (plain predication or zero copula, participial, past relative clause participial) and each category may be further divided into 2 groups (all persons with qualificatives and adverbs and 1st. and 2nd. persons substantives, versus 3rd. person substantives). Each rule further has its own unique negative.

Adverbs of time

Apart from certain locative formations with a temporal implication, many nouns and seemingly radical adverbs may be used as adverbs of time.

: H:title| [xɑlɛ] |"kgale"|dotted=no a long time ago: H:title| [buˌsi'u] |"bosiu"|dotted=no night, at night: H:title| [mɑn̩t͡sʼibujɑ] |"mantsibuya"|dotted=no afternoon, in the afternoon: H:title| [mʊɬɑ] |"mohla"|dotted=no day, in the day (H:title| [mɪɬɑ jɑmɑdimʊ] |"Mehla ea Malimo"|dotted=no (in Lesotho orthography) "In the Days of Cannibals" is a landmark historical tale written in 1911 by Edouard Motsamai about Difaqane): H:title| [xit͡ɬʼɑ] |"kgitla"|dotted=no midnight, at midnight

Some use the high tone prefix H:title| [kʼɑ] |"ka-"|dotted=no to form adverbs of time. These nouns include days of the week and months of the year. Certain other nouns which accept the suffix H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no may also take this prefix instead.

: H:title| [pʰupʼu] |"Phupu"|dotted=no July ⇒ H:title| [kʼɑpʰupʼu] |"ka Phupu"|dotted=no in July: H:title| [lɑbʊnɛ] |"Labone"|dotted=no Thursday ⇒ H:title| [kʼɑlɑbʊnɛ] |"ka Labone"|dotted=no on Thursday

Adverbs of manner

Some adverbs of manner are radical in formation; others are miscellaneous formations from nouns. There are also several ways of forming adverbs of time from other parts of speech by using affixes (H:title| [hɑ] |"ha-"|dotted=no, the conjunctive H:title| [lɪ] |"le-"|dotted=no, H:title| [kʼɑ] |"ka-"|dotted=no, H:title| [ʒʷɑle kʼɑ] |"jwale ka-"|dotted=no (which is a complete word followed by a prefix), the copulative H:title| [kʼɪ] |"ke-"|dotted=no, etc).

: H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no one ⇒ H:title| [hɑŋ̩] |"hang"|dotted=no once (also H:title| [hɑŋ̩ hɑŋ̩] |"hang hang"|dotted=no post-haste): H:title| [ŋɑtʼɑ] |"-ngata"|dotted=no many ⇒ H:title| [hɑŋɑtʼɑ] |"hangata"|dotted=no often: H:title| [m̩mɔhɔ] |"mmoho"|dotted=no together: H:title| [t͡ʃʼenɑ] |"tjena"|dotted=no thus: H:title| [kʼɪmʊɬʊt͡sʼɪ kʼɑbʊɬɑlɪ] |"Ke mohlotse ka bohlale"|dotted=no I defeated him with (my) genius: H:title| [kʼɑbo'omʊ] |"ka boomo"|dotted=no on purpose: H:title| [kʼɪʃʷɪlɛ kʼɪt͡ɬʼɑlɑ] |"Ke shwele ke tlala!"|dotted=no I am dead from hunger! (I'm so hungry I could eat a horse!)

Additionally, in slightly non-standard speech, absolute pronouns may be inflected to form adverbs meaning "on X's own" by prefixing the instrumental H:title| [kʼɑ] |"ka-"|dotted=no and the class 14 noun prefix H:title| [bʊ] |"bo-"|dotted=no to the pronoun.

: H:title| [se'ʊ ʊsɪ'en̩t͡sʼeŋ̩ kʼɑbʊwɛnɑ] |"Seo o se entseng ka bowena"|dotted=no That which you did on your own

The interrogative

The high tone adverb H:title| [nɑ] |"na"|dotted=no may be used to mark or emphasise questions. It, and its variant forms, may appear before, after, or both before and after the complete sentence.

: H:title| [nɑ uˌbu'ile lɪjɛnɑ] |"Na o buile le yena?"|dotted=no Did you speak to her?


An ideophone is a word, often onomatopoeic in nature, which describes the qualities of a predicative, qualificative, or adverb.

In the Bantu languages ideophones form a distinct part of speech, which resembles to a certain extent the adverb in function, but unlike which it may (in some languages) be used as a predicate. In Sesotho there are two ways of using ideophones; one involves the use of the verb H:title| [hʊʀɪ] |"ho re"|dotted=no ("verbum dicendi") which in this case means "to express" instead of the usual "to say." The other way involves simply placing the ideophone after a verb or qualificative with the aim of intensifying its meaning.

Often when using ideophones in speech, the speaker may accompany the utterance with an action (indeed, with the ideophone "mpf" "of being finished completely" the action — running ones index finger very close in front of the lips — is necessary to pronounce the word properly).

: H:title| [hʊʀɪ fi] |"ho re fi!"|dotted=no to suddenly become dark, H:title| [lɑbɔnɛ lɑtʼimɑ fi] |"lebone la tima fi!"|dotted=no the light suddenly went out: H:title| [hʊʀɪ tʼʷɑ] |"ho re twa!"|dotted=no to be very white, H:title| [dipʰɑɬɔ dit͡sʰʷe'u tʼʷɑ] |"diphahlo di tshweu twa!"|dotted=no the clothes are very white: H:title| [hʊʀɪ pʼududu] |"ho re pududu"|dotted=no to be gray or dirty, H:title| [ʊmuˌpʼut͡sʼʷɑ pʼududu] |"o mo putswa pududu"|dotted=no his is rather gray (from dirt or from not applying moisturiser after bathing)

The verb H:title| [ʀɪ] |"-re"|dotted=no when used with ideophones may take a direct object (indicated by an objectival concord). It should be noted that it is this verb which carries all forms of inflexion on behalf of the ideophone. Its mood, transitivity, tense, objects, aspect, etc. are all reflected in the verb H:title| [ʀɪ] |"-re"|dotted=no, while the ideophone itself does not in any way change.

: H:title| [hʊmʊʀɪ mu] |"ho mo re mu!"|dotted=no to hit him over the head with a walking stick: H:title| [ɪne ɪʀɪ tʼɛpʼɛ] |"e ne e re tepe!"|dotted=no it was wet: H:title| [ɑʀɪ fuɲɑfɛɬɛ] |"...a re funyafehle!"|dotted=no ...while he was completely drunk

This illustrates that the ideophone itself is neither transitive nor intransitive, etc., and they are usually translated to English with the construction "of...."

: H:title| [tʼo] |"to!"|dotted=no of being alone

Many Sesotho ideophones are radicals, and many of them are shared by many Bantu languages (such as Sesotho H:title| [tʼu] |"tu!"|dotted=no and isiZulu "du!" / "dwi!" of silence), though many are formed from other parts of speech. Indeed it is common for a speaker to intensify the meaning of a descriptive word or verb by improvising ideophones and placing them after the word, or by simply leaving the listener to surmise the meaning from the context or accompanying action. Ideophones are often created from verbs by simply replacing the final vowel H:title| [a] |"-a"|dotted=no of the basic verb with a high tonedH:title| [i] |"-i"|dotted=no.

: H:title| [ɑ'ɪt͡sʰʷɑʀɑ t͡sʰʷɑʀi] |"a e tshawara tshwari!"|dotted=no, H:title| [ɑ'ɪʀɪ t͡sʰʷɑʀi] |"a e re tshwari!"|dotted=no he grabbed it (accompanied by the action of reaching out and quickly grasping an invisible object): H:title| [ɑmʊʀɪ xʊm] |"a mo re kgom!"|dotted=no and he grabbed him by his shirt (accompanied by the speaker performing the action on himself)

Ideophones, being very emotional in nature, tend to not follow the phonetic rules of the language and may be pronounced in peculiar ways. For example, the stress may fall on the last or first syllable of all ideophones regardless of length, vowels may be indefinitely lengthened (H:title|poː|"po..."|dotted=no of being cold), syllabic H:title| [ʀ] |"r"|dotted=no may be heard (H:title| [t͡ʃʼɛʀ̩] |"tjerr"|dotted=no of frying), syllables may have codas (H:title| [tʰetʰeŋtʰeŋ] |"thethengtheng"|dotted=no of performing with a stop), prenasalized consonants may occur (H:title| [xɑmpʼɛpʼɛ] |"kgampepe"|dotted=no of running), vowels may be devocalised (H:title| [pʰʊ̥] |"phu"|dotted=no of smelling bad), and various consonants not found in core Sesotho may be used (H:title| [viː] |"vi..."|dotted=no of a thrown projectile travelling through the air in a hyperbolic path). There is even a case of three syllabic nasals with contrasting tones pronounced with three separated air breaths (not as a very long nasal with an undulating tone) H:title| [ŋ̩ŋ̩ŋ̩] |"nnng"|dotted=no [ _ ¯ _ ] of refusing outright.


Conjunctives introduce or join up sentences.

Sesotho conjunctives may be studied from two aspects: form and function.

The are four forms of conjunctives:
#Primitive conjunctives, which we may call "conjunctions",
#Other parts of speech unchanged in form but used as conjunctives,
#Inflected forms of conjunctives and other parts of speech, and

There are four functions of conjunctives:
#Non-influencing conjunctives which don't affect the grammatical mood of the succeeding predicate,
#Conjunctives which govern the indicative mood,
#Conjunctives which govern the subjunctive mood, and
#Conjunctives which govern the participial sub-mood.


  • Conjunctions are very rare, and many may have originated from simpler forms.
    : H:title| [hɑ] |"ha"|dotted=no if/when: H:title| [m̩mɪ] |"mme"|dotted=no and: H:title| [xɑn̩tʰɪ] |"kganthe"|dotted=no whereas
  • Other parts of speech unchanged including nouns, pronouns, adverbs, and deficient verbs (used with the indefinite concord H:title| [ɪ] |"e-"|dotted=no) may be used as conjunctives.
    : H:title| [hʊʀɪ] |"ho re"|dotted=no to say ⇒ H:title| [hʊʀɪ] |"hore"|dotted=no that/such that (pronounced with different tones): H:title| [holɑ] |"hola"|dotted=no that over there (class 15 demonstrative pronoun) ⇒ H:title| [hoʒɑ] |"hoja"|dotted=no if only (note the irregular palatalization): H:title| [fɛlɑ] |"fela"|dotted=no only (adverb) ⇒ H:title| [fɛlɑ] |"fela"|dotted=no but, however (pronounced with an irregular stressed final syllable, distinctly from the adverb): H:title| [m̩pʼɑ] |"-mpa"|dotted=no deficient verb implying "may as well just, act notwithstanding" ⇒ H:title| [ɪm̩pʼɑ] |"empa"|dotted=no but
  • Inflected forms of conjunctives and other parts of speech may be used as conjunctives.

    This may be done with certain words through the use of a handful of prefixes and suffixes.
    : H:title| [hɑ] |"ha"|dotted=no if ⇒ H:title| [lɪhɑ] |"leha"|dotted=no even if: H:title| [ho'ʊ] |"hoo"|dotted=no class 15 demonstrative pronoun ⇒ H:title| [kɑho'ʊ] |"kahoo"|dotted=no therefore: H:title| [ɪm̩pʼɑ] |"empa"|dotted=no but ⇒ H:title| [ɪm̩pʼɑnɪŋ̩] |"empaneng"|dotted=no but
  • Compounds may also be used as conjunctives.
    : H:title| [mʊɬɑ omʊŋ̩] |"mohla o mong"|dotted=no some day ⇒ H:title| [mʊɬomʊŋ̩] |"mohlomong"|dotted=no perhaps


  • Non-influencing conjunctives do not affect the mood of the following predicate. They are co-ordinating and merely form compound sentences.
    : H:title| [hɑ'ɑn̩t͡sʼɪbɪ] |"Ha a ntsebe"|dotted=no He does not know me (indicative mood) ⇒ H:title| [kʼɪ'ɑmʊt͡sʼɪbɑ ɪm̩pʼɑ hɑ'ɑn̩t͡sʼɪbɪ] |"Ke a mo tseba empa ha a ntsebe"|dotted=no I know him but he does not know me: H:title| [kʼɪt͡ɬʼʊhɛlɛ hʊ'ʊbʊt͡sʼɑ] |"Ke tlohele ho o botsa?"|dotted=no Should I stop asking you? (subjunctive mood) ⇒ H:title| [ʊt͡ɬʼɑn̩tʰusɑ kʼɑmʊsebet͡sʼi onɑ kʼɑpʼɑ kʼɪt͡ɬʼʊhɛlɛ hʊ'ʊbʊt͡sʼɑ] |"O tla nthusa ka mosebetsi ona kapa ke tlohele ho o botsa?"|dotted=no Will you help me with this work or should I stop asking you?
  • Conjunctives which govern the indicative mood are followed by clauses in the indicative mood.
    : H:title| [uˌ'it͡sʼe ʊ'ɑmʊt͡sʼɪbɑ xɑn̩tʰɪ ʊne ɑʀɪtʰet͡sʼɑ] |"O itse o a mo tseba kganthe o ne a re thetsa"|dotted=no He said he knew him and yet he was lying to us: H:title| [ʊ'ɑbɔnɑ hʊʀɪ pʼulɑ ɪ'ɑnɑ] |"O a bona hore pula e a na"|dotted=no You can see that it's raining (this H:title| [ʊʀɪ] |"hore"|dotted=no is pronounced with tone pattern [ _ _ ] )
  • Conjunctives which govern the subjunctive mood are followed by (subordinate) clauses in the subjunctive mood.
    : H:title| [lɪɬɔkʼɑ hʊpʼʊt͡ɬʼɑkʼɑ hʊʀɪ liˌfiɬe kʼɑnɑkʼɔ] |"Le hloka ho potlaka hore le fihle ka nako"|dotted=no You need to hurry up in order that you may arrive on time (this H:title| [ʊʀɪ] |"hore"|dotted=no is pronounced with tone pattern [ _ ¯ ] )
  • Conjunctives which govern the participial sub-mood are followed by clauses in the participial sub-mood. Note that some of these conjunctives are followed by a pure participial form, while others are followed by a relative construction (since all relative clauses in Sesotho are in the participial sub-mood).
    : H:title| [lɪkʼɑ'ɪǃɛtʼɑ hɑ liˌ'ikʼemisedit͡sʼe] |"Le ka e qeta ha le ikemiseditse"|dotted=no You can finish it if you are prepared/willing: H:title| [bɑbɑbulet͡sʼɪ lɪhɑ bɑne bɑse bɑkʼʷet͡sʼɪ] |"Ba ba buletse leha ba ne ba se ba kwetse"|dotted=no They opened for them although they had already closed: H:title| [ʊbon̩t͡sʰit͡sʼe ɑsɑtʰɑbɑ kɑmo'ʊ ɑneŋ̩ ɑbu'ɑ kʼɑtʼeŋ̩] |"O bontshitse a sa thaba kamoo a neng a bua kateng"|dotted=no He showed that he was sad from the way in which he was speaking


Interjectives are isolated words or groups of words of an exclamatory nature, used to express emotion, or for the purpose of calling attention, giving commands, or conveying assent or dissent. They may themselves also constitute complete sentences, without the use of predicates.

In the Bantu languages interjectives may be divided into three types:
#Radical interjectives, or "interjections",
#Vocatives, and
#Verb imperatives.


Interjections have no grammatical or concordial bearing on the sentence; they are merely attached as appendages.

As with ideophones, their emotional nature causes some of them to be pronounced in peculiar ways, but these irregularities are not as great as those exhibited by ideophones.

: H:title| [dumɛlɑŋ̩] |"dumelang!"|dotted=no greetings!: H:title| [xele] |"kgele!"|dotted=no of astonishment: H:title| [ǁ] |"nxa"|dotted=no of contempt (really just an isolated lateral click): H:title| [ɛhɛː] |"ehee"|dotted=no of approval (the final vowel is lengthened): H:title| [helɑ] |"hela!"|dotted=no of calling: H:title| [it͡ʃʰu] |"itjhu!"|dotted=no of pain ("ouch!"): H:title| [t͡ʃʰɛː] |"tjhee"|dotted=no of dissent ("no") (the vowel is long with a very irregular low rising tone {}): H:title| [ɛʔɛ] |"e'e"|dotted=no of dissent (the two vowels are separated by a glottal stop; see hiatus): H:title| [eː] |"e"|dotted=no of assent ("yes") (the vowel is long with a high falling tone { }): H:title| [eiʃ] |"eish"|dotted=no of being dumfounded (this is a common interjection among all language groups in the more cosmopolitan areas of South Africa): H:title| [tʼɑŋ̩kʼi] |"tanki"|dotted=no of thanks (from Afrikaans "dankie")


Vocatives are formed in Sesotho from nouns and 2nd. person pronouns (since all proper vocatives are naturally addressed to "the second person").

No change in form takes form in the noun.: H:title| [bɑn̩nɑ] |"banna!"|dotted=no oh my! (only used by men): H:title| [wɛnɑ] |"wena!"|dotted=no hey you!: H:title| [m̩mɑ'ʊ] |"mmao!"|dotted=no your mother! (used as an insult similar to Afrikaans "jou ma!")

A suffix/clitic H:title| [tʼʊwɛ] |"-towe"|dotted=no and its plural equivalent H:title| [tʼiŋ̩] |"-ting"|dotted=no may be used to indicate insult: H:title| [mʊlot͡sʼɑnɑtʼʊwɛ] |"molotsana towe!"|dotted=no you wretched evil hag!

The adverbial instrumental prefix H:title| [kɑ] |"ka-"|dotted=no is used to form interjectives of oath: H:title| [kʼɑn̩tʼɑtʼe] |"ka ntate"|dotted=no by my father!


Imperatives have neither subjects nor subjectival concords. They are 2nd. person forms, and have the same force as other interjectives, but, being verbal, they may also take objects and assume extensions.

The rules for the formation of the singular imperative are as follows:

  • Verbs with more than one syllable are used without any modification: H:title| [mɑtʰɑ] |"matha"|dotted=no run!
  • Most monosyllabic verbs may either suffix H:title| [ɑ] |"-a"|dotted=no or prefix H:title| [ɪ] |"e-"|dotted=no: H:title| [t͡sʼʷɑ] |"-tswa"|dotted=no exit ⇒ H:title| [ɪt͡sʼʷɑ] |"etswa!"|dotted=no / H:title| [t͡sʼʷɑ'ɑ] |"tswaa"|dotted=no get out!
  • The verbs H:title| [ʀɪ] |"-re"|dotted=no (say), H:title| [jɑ] |"-ya"|dotted=no (go), and H:title| [bɑ] |"-ba"|dotted=no only use the prefix: H:title| [ʀɪ] |"-re"|dotted=no say ⇒ H:title| [ɪʀɪ] |"ere"|dotted=no
  • The imperative of the verb H:title| [t͡ɬʼɑ] |"-tla"|dotted=no (come) is H:title| [t͡ɬʼo'o] |"tloo"|dotted=noNote also the irregular isiZulu "woza" and Kiswahili "njoo" — all with the same meaning and from the same Proto-Bantu root (L verb *-jîj- come). Setswana and isiXhosa have regular forms in "etla" and "yiza" respectively.]

Sometimes an epenthetic H:title|/h/|"h"|dotted=no or H:title|/j/|"y"|dotted=no may be inserted between the two H:title|/ɑ/|"a"|dotted=no's or H:title|/o/|"o"|dotted=no's for emphasis.

The negative may be formed in several ways:

  • By prefixing H:title| [sɪ] |"se-"|dotted=no to the basic verb and changing the final H:title| [ɑ] |"-a"|dotted=no to H:title| [ɪ] |"-e"|dotted=no: H:title| [ʒɑ] |"-ja"|dotted=no eat ⇒ H:title| [ɪʒɑ] |"eja"|dotted=no / H:title| [ʒɑ'ɑ] |"jaa"|dotted=no eat!, H:title| [sɪʒɪ] |"se je"|dotted=no do not eat!
  • By using H:title| [sɪ] |"se-"|dotted=no with the infix H:title| [kʼɑ] |"-ka-"|dotted=no with no change in the verb's final vowel: H:title| [kʼɛnɑ] |"-kena"|dotted=no enter ⇒ H:title| [sɪkʼɑkʼɛnɑ] |"se ka kena"|dotted=no don't come in!
  • A commonly used negative, although technically not an interjective (as it contains a subjectival concord) is made by employing the (inflected) Group IV deficient verb H:title| [kʼe] |"-ke"|dotted=no in the subjunctive mood (that is, with the "auxiliary concord" prefixed to the main verb). The above negative is most probably a contraction of this form (hence the final vowel was not changed due to the contracted concord): H:title| [bu'ɑ] |"bua"|dotted=no speak ⇒ H:title| [ʊsɪkʼe wɑbu'ɑ] |"o se ke wa bua"|dotted=no don't say a word!
If the first person is included in the plural subjects, the hortative prefix H:title| [hɑ] |"ha-"|dotted=no is used in the subjunctive mood. This is an example of the cohortative mood (a form of the subjunctive): H:title| [hɑʀɪsɪkʼe ʀɑjɑ] |"ha re se ke ra ya"|dotted=no let us rather not go

Again in the subjunctive mood, an object may be specified in all of the above forms by an objectival concord. This is in the subjunctive mood, and so the final vowel of the verb changes to H:title| [ɛ] |"e"|dotted=no (in the positive) or H:title| [ɪ] |"e"|dotted=no (in the negative) when the deficient verb H:title| [kʼe] |"-ke"|dotted=no is not used: H:title| [ʒʷet͡sʼɑ] |"-jwetsa"|dotted=no tell ⇒ H:title| [bɑʒʷet͡sʼɛ] |"ba jwetse"|dotted=no tell them!, H:title| [lɪsɪkʼe lɑbɑʒʷet͡sʼɑ] |"le se ke la ba jwetsa"|dotted=no y'all should not tell them!, H:title| [hɑʀɪbɑʒʷet͡sʼɛ] |"ha re ba jwetse"|dotted=no let's tell them!

Except for forms employing subjectival concords, the plural is formed by adding the suffix H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no to the verb (or the deficient verb H:title| [kʼe] |"-ke"|dotted=no when it is used). This H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no may regularly result in vowel raising if the verb ends with the open vowel H:title|/ɛ/|"e"|dotted=no: H:title| [sɪmɑtʰɪŋ̩] |"se matheng"|dotted=no y'all must not run!

When subjunctive tenses are used "imperatively" they are not interjectives since they have subjectival concords (and have more typical verbal tonal patterns), but note that in this case there is a distinction between singular, dual, and plural number in the 1st. person. In this case dual number is marked by the hortative prefix H:title| [hɑ] |"ha-"|dotted=no and 1st. plural subjectival concord, and plural is marked by the prefix, the concord, and the suffix H:title| [ŋ̩] |"-ng"|dotted=no to the verb (or the deficient verb H:title| [kʼe] |"-ke"|dotted=no if it is used).

: H:title| [mɑtʰɑ] |"matha!"|dotted=no run! (singular 2nd. person): H:title| [hɑʀɪmɑtʰɛ] |"ha re mathe!"|dotted=no let (the two of) us run! (dual 1st. person): H:title| [hɑʀɪmɑtʰɛ] |"ha re matheng!"|dotted=no let us (more than two) run! (plural 1st. person): H:title| [hɑʀɪsɪkʼeŋ̩ ʀɑmɑtʰɑ] |"ha re se keng ra matha"|dotted=no let us (more than two) not run! (plural 1st. person negative)

All imperatives addressed to the 2nd. person (even if that person is included in a 1st. person plural) may be strengthened by using the enclitic H:title| [bo] |"-bo"|dotted=no. This formative leaves the stress in place, thus resulting in words with stress on the antepenultimate syllable.

: H:title| [mɑtʰɑbo] |"matha bo!"|dotted=no run I say!



*Coupez, A., Bastin, Y., and Mumba, E. 1998. "Reconstructions lexicales bantoues 2 / Bantu lexical reconstructions 2". Tervuren: Musée royal de l’Afrique centrale.
*Doke C. M. 1963. "Text Book of Zulu Grammar". Cape Town.
*Doke, C. M., and Mofokeng, S. M. 1974. "Textbook of Southern Sotho Grammar". Cape Town: Longman Southern Africa, 3rd. impression. ISBN 0 582 61700 6.
*Tucker, A. N. 1949. "Sotho-Nguni orthography and tone marking". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, pp. 200-224. University of London, Vol. 13, No. 1. (1949)

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