Zulu language: Wikis


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Spoken in South Africa South Africa
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
Malawi Malawi
Mozambique Mozambique
Swaziland Swaziland
Region Zululand, Durban, Johannesburg
Total speakers First language - 10 million

Second language - 16 million

Ranking 68
Language family Niger-Congo
Official status
Official language in South Africa South Africa
Regulated by Zulu Language Board
Language codes
ISO 639-1 zu
ISO 639-2 zul
ISO 639-3 zul

Zulu (Zulu: isiZulu) is the language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority (over 95%) of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population) as well as being understood by over 50% of the population (Ethnologue 2005). It became one of South Africa's eleven official languages in 1994. Like many other Bantu languages, it is written using the Latin alphabet.


Geographical distribution

Geographical distribution of isiZulu in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks isiZulu at home.
     0–20%      20–40%      40–60%      60–80%      80–100%      No population
Geographical distribution of isiZulu in South Africa: density of isiZulu home-language speakers.
     <1 /km²      1–3 /km²      3–10 /km²      10–30 /km²      30–100 /km²      100–300 /km²      300–1000 /km²      1000–3000 /km²      >3000 /km²

Zulu belongs to the South-Eastern group of Bantu languages (the Nguni group).

Zulu migrant populations have taken it to adjacent regions, especially to Zimbabwe, where Zulu is called (Northern) Ndebele.

Xhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, is often considered mutually intelligible with Zulu.


Much like the Xhosa who had moved into South Africa during earlier waves of the Bantu migrations, the Zulu assimilated many sounds from the San and Khoi languages of the country's earliest inhabitants. This has resulted in the preservation of click consonants in Zulu and Xhosa, (the sounds are unique to Southern and Eastern Africa except for the Australian Aborigine Damin ceremonial language) despite the extinction of many San and Khoi languages.

Zulu, like all indigenous Southern African languages, was an oral language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using the Latin alphabet. The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway in 1850 by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder.[1] The first written document in Zulu was a Bible translation that appeared in 1883. In 1901, John Dube (1871–1946), a Zulu from Natal, created the Ohlange Institute, the first native educational institution in South Africa. He was also the author of Insila kaShaka, the first novel written in isiZulu (1933). Another pioneering Zulu writer was Reginald Dhlomo, author of several historical novels of the 19th-century leaders of the Zulu nation: U-Dingane (1936), U-Shaka (1937), U-Mpande (1938), U-Cetshwayo (1952) and U-Dinizulu (1968). Other notable contributors to Zulu literature include Benedict Wallet Vilakazi and, more recently, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali.

The written form of Zulu was controlled by the Zulu Language Board of KwaZulu-Natal. This board has now been disbanded and superseded by the Pan South African Language Board that promotes the use of all eleven official languages of South Africa.

Contemporary usage

English, Dutch and later Afrikaans had been the only official languages used by all South African governments before 1994. However in the Kwazulu bantustan the Zulu language was widely used. All education in the country at the high-school level was in English or Afrikaans. Since the demise of apartheid in 1994, Zulu has been enjoying a marked revival. Zulu-language television was introduced by the SABC in the early 1980s and it broadcasts news and many shows in Zulu. Zulu radio is very popular and newspapers such as isoLezwe, Ilanga and UmAfrika in the Zulu language are available, mainly available in Kwazulu-Natal province and in Johannesburg. Recently, the first full length feature film in Zulu, Yesterday, was nominated for an Oscar.

South African matriculation requirements no longer specify which South African language needs to be taken as a second language, and some people have made the switch to learning Zulu. However people taking Zulu at high-school level overwhelmingly take it as first language: according to recent statistics, Afrikaans is still over 30 times more popular than Zulu as a second language. The mutual intelligibility of many Nguni languages, has increased the likelihood of Zulu becoming the lingua franca of the Eastern half of the country although the political dominance of Xhosa-speaking people on national level militates against this really happening. (The predominant language in the Western Cape and Northern Cape is Afrikaans - see the map below.

In the 1994 film The Lion King, in the "Circle of Life" song, the phrases Ingonyama nengw' enamabala (English: A lion and a leopard come to this open place), Nants ingonyama bakithi Baba (English: Here comes a lion, Father) and Siyo nqoba (English: We will conquer) were used. In some movie songs, like "This Land", the voice says Busa Le Lizwe bo (Rule this land) and Busa ngothando bo (Rule with love) were used too.


Standard vs urban Zulu

Standard Zulu as it is taught in schools, also called "deep Zulu" (isiZulu esijulile), differs in various repects from the launguage spoken by people living in cities (urban Zulu, isiZulu sasedolobheni). Standard Zulu tends to be purist, using derivations from Zulu words for new concepts, whereas speakers of urban Zulu use loan words abundantly, mainly from English. For example:

Standard Zulu urban Zulu English
umakhalekhukhwini icell cell phone
Ngiyaqonda Ngiya-understanda I understand

This situation has led to problems in education because standard Zulu is often not understood by young people.[2]


This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.


IPA Example (IPA) Example (Written) Meaning Notes
[i] [ˈsiːza] -siza "help" This vowel is pronounced somewhat like ease in English.
[u] [uˈmuːzi] umuzi "homestead" Somewhat like English vowel in the word loom.
[e] [umɡiˈɓeːli] umgibeli "passenger" e is e when the following syllable contains an "i" or a "u", or final
[ɛ] [ˈpʰɛːɠa] -pheka "cook" e is ɛ everywhere else
[o] [umaˈɠoːti] umakoti "bride" o is o when the following syllable contains an "i" or a "u", or final
[ɔ] [ɔˈɡɔːɡo] ogogo "grandmothers" o is ɔ everywhere else
[a] [ˈdiːda] -dida "puzzle" Is pronounced somewhat like mama in English.

Vowels are lengthened in the penultimate syllable.


  Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n   ɲ ŋ  
Stop pʰ p ɓ b tʰ t  d     kʰ k  ɠ ɡ  
Affricate     tʃ  dʒ   kx  
Fricative f  v s  z ʃ     h  ɦ
Lat. Fricative   ɬ  ɮ        
Approximant   l   j w  
IPA Example (IPA) Example (Written) Meaning Notes
[m] [uˈmaːma] umama "my/our mother" Pronounced as in English.
[n] [uˈniːna] unina "his/her/their mother" Pronounced as in nine in English.
[ɲ] [iˈɲoːni] inyoni "bird" Pronounced as in French vignette.
[ŋ] [iŋˈɡaːne] ingane "child" Pronounced as in sing.
[p] [iːˈpiːpi] ipipi "pipe for smoking" Pronounced as in speech.
[pʰ] [ˈpʰɛːɠa] -pheka "cook" Pronounced as in pin.
[t] [iːˈtiːje] itiye "tea" Pronounced as in "step".
[tʰ] [ˈtʰaːtʰa] -thatha "take" Pronounced somewhat as in English "top".
[k] [kumˈnaːndi] kumnandi "it is delicious" Pronounced as in English "skill".
[kʰ] [iːˈkʰaːnda] ikhanda "head" Pronounced somewhat like c in "cat".
[b] [ˈbaːla] -bhala "write" Pronounced more or less as in English bed, but fully voiced.
[d] [iːˈdaːda] idada "duck" Pronounced more or less as in English duck, but fully voiced.
[ɡ] [ɔˈɡɔːɡo] ugogo "grandmother" Pronounced somewhat like in go, but fully voiced.
[ɓ] [uˈɓaːɓa] ubaba "my/our father" Pronounced with implosion.
[ɠ] [uˈɠuːza] ukuza "to come" Pronounced with implosion.
[f] [ˈiːfu] ifu "cloud" Pronounced more or less as in English fun.
[v] [ˈvaːla] -vala "close" Pronounced as in English very.
[s] [iːˈsiːsu] isisu "stomach" Pronounced as in English say.
[z] [umˈzuːzu] umzuzu "moment" As in English "zoo"
[ʃ] [iːˈʃuːmi] ishumi "ten" Pronounced as in English shall.
[h] [ˈhaːmba] -hamba "go" Pronounced as in English hand.
[ɦ] [iːˈɦaːʃi] ihhashi "horse" Pronounced as in English ahead.
[l] [ˈlaːla] -lala "sleep" Pronounced as in English leaf.
[ɬ] [ˈɬaːla] -hlala "sit" Pronounced as in Welsh Llanelli.
[ɮ] [ɮa] idla "eat" Voiced form of ɬ.
[tʃ] [uˈtʃaːni] utshani "grass" Pronounced as the English chin.
[dʒ] [ˈuːdʒu] uju "honey" Pronounced as the English jump.
[kx ~ kɬ ~ kl] [umklɔˈmɛːlo] umklomelo "prize" Pronunciation varies by speaker.
[j] [uˈjiːse] uyise "his/her/their father" Pronounced as in yes in English.
[w] [ˈwɛːla] wela "cross" Pronounced as in wall in English.

Click consonants

One of the most distinctive features of Zulu is the use of click consonants. This feature is shared with several other languages of Southern Africa, but is almost entirely confined to this region. There are three basic clicks in Zulu:

  • c - dental (comparable to a sucking of teeth)
  • q - alveolar (comparable to a bottle top 'pop')
  • x - lateral (comparable to a click one may do for a walking horse)

These can have several variants such as being voiced, aspirated or nasalised so that there are a total of about 15 different click sounds in Zulu. The same sounds occur in Xhosa, where they are used more frequently than in Zulu.

ˈ Example (IPA) Example (Written) Meaning Notes
[ǀ] [iːˈǀiːǀi] icici "earring"
[ǀʰ] [uɠuˈǀʰa:za] ukucaza "to fascinate"
[ɡǀʱ] [isiˈɡǀʱi:no] isigcino "end"
[ŋǀ] [iˈŋǀwaːŋǀwa] incwancwa "sour corn meal"
[ŋǀʱ] [iˈŋǀʱoːsi] ingcosi "a bit"
[!] [iːˈ!aː!a] iqaqa "polecat"
[!ʰ] [iːˈ!ʰuːde] iqhude "rooster"
[ɡ!ʱ] [umɡ!ʱiˈɓɛːlo] uMgqibelo "Saturday"
[ŋ!] [iˈŋ!ɔːla] inqola "cart"
[ŋ!ʱ] [iˈŋ!ʱɔːndo] ingqondo "intelligence"
[ǁ] [iːˈǁɔːǁo] ixoxo "frog"
[ǁʰ] [uɠuˈǁʰaːsa] ukuxhasa "to support"
[ɡǁʱ] [uɠuˈɡǁʱɔːɓa] ukugxoba "to stamp"
[ŋǁ] [iˈŋǁɛːɓa] inxeba "wound"
[ŋǁʱ] [iˈŋǁʱɛːɲe] ingxenye "part"


Like the great majority of other Bantu and African languages, Zulu is tonal. It is conventionally written without any indication of tone, despite the fact that tone is distinctive in Zulu. For example, the word for priest and teacher is umfundisi, but they are pronounced with a different tone depending on the meaning.

Zulu is also known for having depressor consonants, which lower a high tone in the same syllable. For example, the verbs ukuhlala "to live" and ukudlala "to play" should both contain a high tone on the penultimate syllable. However, the tone on the penultimate syllable of ukudlala is low as a result of the depressor consonant [ɮ]


Some of the main grammatical features of Zulu are:

  • Constituent word order is Subject Verb Object.
  • Morphologically, it is an agglutinative language.
  • As in other Bantu languages, Zulu nouns are classified into fifteen morphological classes (or genders), with different prefixes for singular and plural. Various parts of speech that qualify a noun must agree with the noun according to its gender. These agreements usually reflect part of the original class that it is agreeing with. An example of this is the use of the class 'aba-':
Bonke abantu abaqatha basepulazini bayagawula.
All the strong people of the farm are felling (trees).
Here, the various agreement that qualify the word 'abantu' (people) can be seen in effect.
  • Its verbal system shows a combination of temporal and aspectual categories in their finite paradigm. Typically verbs have two stems, one for Present-Indefinite and another for Perfect. Different prefixes can be attached to these verbal stems to specify subject agreement and various degrees of past or future tense. For example, in the word uyathanda ("he loves"), the Present stem of the verb is -thanda, the prefix u- expresses third-person singular subject and -ya- is a filler used in short sentences.
Suffixes are also put into common use to show the causative or reciprocal forms of a verb stem.
  • Most property words (words which are encoded as adjectives in English) are represented by things called relatives, such is the sentence umuntu ubomvu ("the person is red"), the word ubomvu (root -bomvu) behaves similarly to a verb and uses the agreement prefix u-, but there are subtle differences, for example, it does not use the prefix ya-.


The Zulu noun consists of two essential parts, the prefix and the stem, though the prefix can be analysed further. Using the prefixes, nouns can be grouped into noun classes, which are numbered consecutively, to ease comparison with other Bantu languages. So, for example, the nouns abafana (boys) and abangani (friends) belong to Class 2, characterised by the prefix aba-, whereas isibongo (surname) and isihlahla (tree) belong to Class 7, characterised by the prefix isi-.

Each noun class has a well-defined grammatical role, as well as a more loosely defined semantic one. The grammatical number of the noun, whether singular or plural, is determined by the prefix; thus, all noun classes can be organised into singular and plural pairs. For example, all nouns of Class 7 (prefix isi-, eg. isigqoko (hat)) have plurals from Class 8 (prefix izi-, eg. izigqoko (hats)).


Singular Plural
umuntu (person) abantu (people)
ugogo (grandmother) ogogo (grandmothers)
igama (name) amagama (names)
inhlanzi (fish) izinhlanzi (fish)

Classes 14 (ubu-) and 15 (uku-) form an exception to this rule, as they have no corresponding plural classes (if necessary, plurals of Class 14 are formed from class 6. nouns of Class 15 have no plural forms).

Furthermore, the class of the noun determines the forms of other parts of speech, i.e. verbs, adjectives, etc - their prefixes are derived from those of the substantive classes, and will be in agreement with them.


umfana omkhulu (large boy)
isihlahla esikhulu (large tree)

In terms of semantics, groups of similar nouns belong to similar noun classes. For example, names and surnames are only found in class 1a. Designations of persons which are derived from verbs (e.g. singer, from sing) are commonly in class 1, abstract concepts (e.g. beauty) in class 14, loanwords in classes 9 and 5, and nouns derived from the infinitives of verbs (e.g. eating, from eat) in class 15.

The following table gives an overview of Zulu noun class, arranged according to singular-plural pairs.

Class Singular Plural
1/2 um(u)-1 aba-2, abe-3
1a/2b u- o-
3/4 um(u)-1 imi-2
5/6 i- ama-, ame-4
7/8 is(i)-5 iz(i)-5
9/10 iN-6 iziN-6
11/10 u- iziN-6
14 ubu- (ama-)7
15 uku-

1 umu- replaces um- before monosyllabic stems, e.g. umuntu (person).

2 ab- and im- replace aba- and imi- respectively before stems beginning in a vowel, e.g. abongameli (president).

3 abe- occurs only in rare cases, e.g. in abeSuthu (the Sotho) or abeLungu (the Whites, the Europeans).

4 ame- occurs only in one instance, namely amehlo (eyes) the plural of iso (eye; originally: ihlo).

5 is- and iz- replace isi- and izi- respectively before stems beginning with a vowel, e.g. isandla/izandla (hand/hands).

6 The placeholder N in the prefixes iN- and iziN- for m, n or no letter at all, i.e. in classes 9 and 10 there are three different prefixes, though only one per noun stem. Examples:

iN- = i-:  iMali (money)
iN- = im-: impela (truth)
iN- = in-: inhlanzi (fish)

7 Rare, see above.


In contrast to the noun, the Zulu verb has a variable number of components, which are arranged in sequence according to a defined set of rules. Examples of these include:

  • a subject prefix (SP), which agrees with the subject of the sentence
  • a temporal morpheme, which indicates the tense of the verb
  • an object prefix (OP), which agrees with the object of the sentence
  • the verb stem (VS), which carries the underlying meaning of the verb
  • a suffix, which can signify various aspects of the verb (e.g. tense or modality)

The verb stem and the suffix are always present, but the other parts are optional, i.e. their presence depends on the function of the verb in the sentence.

Simple verb stems

Simple verb stems are ones to which no suffixes are attached that would alter the basic meaning of the verb. Examples include:

-w- to fall
-dl- to eat
-enz- to make, to do
-nqamul- to break [something]
-os- to cook, to roast
-siz- to help

Complex verb stems

Complex verb stems are derived from simple verb stems by attaching various suffixes, thus changing the meaning. Thus, we can take the stem -enz (to make, to do) and apply a few common suffixes to get different shades of meaning. E.g.:

-enz- to make, to do
-enzan- to do something together
-enzek- to be doable i.e. possible
-enzel- to do something for someone
-enzis- to bring someone for doing something
-enziw- to be made, to be done

Subject prefixes

In Zulu, a subject prefix corresponds to the subjective case of English personal pronouns, such as I or he. Unlike personal pronouns, however, Zulu subject prefix cannot stand alone, but must be attached to a verb. Zulu does possess a set of independent personal pronouns; however, these are only used to emphasise the subject to whom they refer.

An example with the subject prefix si- and the personal pronoun thina (both meaning we):

Sihamba manje. We are going now.
Thina sihamba manje. We are going now.

There is a unique subject prefix for each grammatical person and each noun class.

initial SP
Person Singular Plural
1st ngi- si-
2nd u- ni-
Class Singular Plural
1/2 u- ba-
1a/2b u- ba-
3/4 u- i-
5/6 li- a-
7/8 si- zi-
9/10 i- zi-
11/10 lu- zi-
14 bu-
15 ku-
non-initial SP-
Person Singular Plural
1st -ngi- -si-
2nd -wu- -ni-
Class Singular Plural
1/2 -ka- -ba-
1a/2b -ka- -ba-
3/4 -wu- -yi-
5/6 -li- -wa-
7/8 -si- -zi-
9/10 -yi- -zi-
11/10 -lu- -zi-
14 -bu-
15 -ku-

The non-initial subject prefixes (SP-) are used when a further prefix is attached to the SP, for example in the negative of certain tenses.

Object prefixes

In Zulu, the object prefix is used to designate the direct object or indirect object of a verb (formal Zulu does not distinguish between these two cases). Just like the subject prefixes, object prefixes cannot stand independently, but must be attached to a verb stem. Independent personal pronouns can be used in conjunction with object prefixes as well, serving, again, to shift the emphases of the sentences.

Examples with the OP -m- (him/her/it) and the personal pronoun yena (him/her/it):

Ngiyambona. I see him.
Ngimnika isipho. I give her a gift.
Ngimbona yena. I see him.

There is a unique object prefix for each person and noun class.

Object prefixes
Person Singular Plural
1st -ngi- -si-
2nd -ku- -ni-
Classe Singular Plural
1/2 -m- -ba-
1a/2b -m- -ba-
3/4 -wu- -yi-
5/6 -li- -wa-
7/8 -si- -zi-
9/10 -yi- -zi-
11/10 -lu- -zi-
14 -bu-
15 -ku-

The imperative

Formation of the imperative:

without object with object
Singular: (yi) - VS - a OP - VS - e
Plural: (yi) - VS - ani OP - VS - eni

The only exception to this is the common verb stem -z-, to come, whose singular and plural imperative forms are woza and wozani respectively.


without object with object
Stem Singular Plural Singular Plural
-dl- Yidla!




Yidle (inhlanzi)!

Eat it (the fish)!

Yidleni (inhlanzi)!

Eat it (the fish; inhlanzi: cl. 9; OP: -yi-)!

-enz- Yenza!





Do this!


Do this!

-siz- Siza!





Help him!


Help him!

The infinitive

Formation of the infinitive:

Aff.: uku - (OP) - VS - a
Neg.: uku - nga - (OP) - VS - i


Verb stem Infinitive Meaning
-w- ukuwa to fall
ukungawi not to fall (cf. note)
-dl- ukudla to eat
ukungadli not to eat
ukuyidla to eat it (e.g. inhlanzi, the fish; OP: -yi-)
ukungayidli not to eat it
-enz- ukwenza to do
ukungenzi not to do
-os- ukosa to roast
ukungosi not to roast

Several sound changes occur, when two vowels occur together. These include:

-nga- -ng- before vowels
uku- uk- before o
uku- ukw- before other vowels - this sound change occurs automatically in speech.

Note: Furthermore, the suffixe -a will be found with verb stems which end in w, never -i; e.g.: uku-nga-w-a.

The present

Formation of the present tense:

Aff.: SP - (ya) - (OP) - VS - a
Neg.: a - SP- - (OP) - VS - i

The form -ya- is found when:

  • the verb is the last word in the sentence
  • the verb contains an object prefix, and the object follows the verb
  • the speaker wants to emphasise the factuality of the statement.


Uyahamba. He is going.
Uhamba ekuseni. He is going in the morning.
Akahambi. He is not going.
Uyangisiza. He is helping me.
Ungisiza namhlanje. He is helping me today.
Akangisizi. He isn't helping me.
Usiza uyise.
Uyamsiza uyise.
He is helping his father.

The participial form

Formation of the participle:

Aff.: SPP - (OP) - VS - a
Neg.: SPP - nga - (OP) - VS - i

In the participial form, the subject prefixes (SP) u-, ba- and a- of the classes 1, 1a, 2, 2b and 6 become e-, be- and e- respectively (SPP). The participial form is used, among others:

  • to indicate simultaneity
  • in subordinate clauses with certain conjunctions.
  • with certain auxiliary verbs.


Ukhuluma edla. He talks while he eats (Eating, he talks).
Ngambona engasebenzi. I saw that he was not working

The subjunctive

Formation of the subjunctive:

Aff.: SPS - (OP) - VS - e
Neg.: SPS - nga - (OP) - VS - i

In the subjunctive, the subject prefix u- of classes 1 and 1a (SP) becomes a- (SPS). The subjunctive is used

  • in wishes and polite requests
  • in sequences of requests
  • with certain auxiliary verbs


Ngamtshela ahambe. I told him he should go.
Woza lapha uzame futhi! Come here and try it again!
Umane ahleke. He only laughs.

The perfect

The perfect tense describes the recent, although what is meant by 'recent' depends on the speaker. In the colloquial language, the perfect is often preferred to the preterite.

Formation of the perfect:

Aff.: SP - (OP) - VS - e/ile
Neg.: a - SP- - (OP) - VS - anga

The long form in -ile is found when the verb is the last word in the sentence or clause, otherwise the short form in -e is used, with the -e- accented.


Sihambile. We went.
Sihambe izolo. We went yesterday.
Asihambanga. We did not go.
Asimbonanga. We have not seen him/her.

The stative

A range of Zulu verbs indicate a change of state or a process, which tends towards some final goal (cf. inchoative verbs). To indicate that this final state has been achieved, the stative verb, which is related to the perfect, is used.

Formation of the stative:

Aff.: SP - VS - ile
Neg.: a - SP- - VS - ile


Uyafa. He is dying.
Ufile. He is dead.
Ngiyalamba. I am becoming hungry.
Ngilambile. I am hungry.
Siyabuya. We are turning back.
Sibuyile. We have returned.

Note that the form verbs with certain endings, the ending -ile is not used. These are:

Verb stem Stative
-al-, -el- -ele
-an-, -en- -ene
-am-, -em- -eme
-ath-, -eth- -ethe
-as-, -es- -ese
-aw-1 -ewe

1 This is a unique case, namely the irregular passive -bulaw- from -bulal-.

The preterite

The preterite is used to indicate the distant past, the past preceding the perfect, and as a narrative perfect.

Formation of the preterite:

Aff.: SP + a - (OP) - VS - a
Neg.: a - SP- - (OP) - VS - anga (cf. the perfect tense)

In the affirmative, because of the merger of the SP with a following a in the spoken language, the following subject prefixes result for the preterite:

Person Singular Plural
1. nga- sa-
2. wa- na-
Class Singular Plural
1/2 wa- ba-
1a/2b wa- ba-
3/4 wa- ya-
5/6 la- a-
7/8 sa- za-
9/10 ya- za-
11/10 lwa- za-
14 ba-
15 kwa-


Sahamba. We went.
Asihambanga. We did not go.
Asimbonanga. We did not see him/her.

The consecutive

Formation of the consecutive:

Aff.: SP + a - (OP) - VS - a
Neg.: SP + a - nga - (OP) - VS - a

The consecutive is used to describe a sequence of consecutive events in the preterite, and differs from it only in the negative.


Wavuka wagqoka wahamba. He woke up, dressed, and went out.
Wabaleka wangabheka emuva. He ran away and did not look back.

The future I

Formation of the future tense I:

Aff.: SP - zo - (OP) - (ku) - VS - a
Neg.: a - SP- - zu - (ku)- (OP) - VS - a

The marker of the future tense is the prefix zo- in the affirmative and the corresponding zu- in the negative. The form is constructed from the auxiliary verb uku-za (or with the auxiliary uku-ya) and the infinitive of the verb. So, ngiza ukusiza (I am coming to help) = ngizosiza (I will help), or, alternatively ngiya ukusiza (I am going to help) = ngiyosiza (I will help) - English (as well as French and others) has had a similar development, whereby the verb to go has become the marker of the future tense. To form the negative, the auxiliary verb is negated and then merged with the following verb, thus angizi ukusiza = angizusiza. In the case of monosyllabic verb stems, as well as those that begin with vowels, the prefix -ku- is added to the stem – this becomes -k- before o and -kw- in front of other vowels.


Ngizokuza. I will come.
Angizukuza. I will not come.
Ngizokwakha. I will build
Angizukwakha. I will not build.
Ngizomsiza. I will help him.
Angizumsiza. I will not help him.

Other tenses

Other forms, such as the pluperfect, the future II, the progressive forms or the conjunctive forms are somewhat complicated. They are formed with single or double uses of the auxiliary verb -ba-, to be, but in practical usage are abbreviated further.


The following is a list of phrases that can be used when visiting a region where the primary language is Zulu.

Sawubona Hello, to one person
Sanibonani Hello, to a group of people
Unjani? / Ninjani? How are you (sing.)? / How are you (pl.)?
Ngisaphila / Sisaphila I'm okay / We're okay
Ngiyabonga (kakhulu) Thanks (a lot)
Ngubani igama lakho? What is your name?
Igama lami ngu... My name is...
Isikhathi sithini? What's the time?
Ngingakusiza? Can I help you?
Uhlala kuphi? Where do you stay?
Uphumaphi? Where are you from?
Hamba kahle / Sala kahle Go well / Stay well (used as goodbye)
Hambani kahle / Salani kahle Go well / Stay well, to a group of people
Eish! Wow! (No real European equivalent, used in South African English) (you could try a semi-expletive, such as oh my God or what the fuck. It expresses a notion of shock and surprise)
Hhayibo No! / Stop! / No way! (used in South African English too)
Yebo Yes
Cha No
Angazi I don't know
Ukhuluma isiNgisi na? Do you speak English?
Ngisaqala ukufunda isiZulu I've just started learning Zulu

Sample text

(From the preamble to the South African Constitution)

Thina, bantu baseNingizimu Afrika, Siyakukhumbula ukucekelwa phansi kwamalungelo okwenzeka eminyakeni eyadlula; Sibungaza labo abahluphekela ubulungiswa nenkululeko kulo mhlaba wethu; Sihlonipha labo abasebenzela ukwakha nokuthuthukisa izwe lethu; futhi Sikholelwa ekutheni iNingizimu Afrika ingeyabo bonke abahlala kuyo, sibumbene nakuba singafani.


We, the people of South Africa, Recognize the injustices of our past; Honor those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

Common place names in Zulu

Zulu place names usually occur in their locative form, which combines what would in English be separate prepositions with the name concerned. This is usually achieved by simply replacing the i- prefix with an e- prefix (for example, 'eGoli' translates literally as 'to/at/in/from Johannesburg' when iGoli is simply Johannesburg), but changes in the name can also occur (see Durban below). The locatives are given in brackets.

  • South Africa - iNingizimu Afrika / uMzansi Afrika
  • Durban - iTheku (eThekwini)
  • Johannesburg - iGoli (eGoli)
  • Cape Town - iKapa (eKapa)
  • Pretoria - iPitoli (ePitoli)
  • Pietermaritzburg - uMgungundlovu (eMgungundlovu)
  • Ladysmith - uMnambithi (eMnambithi)
  • Overseas - phesheya

The 'Zulu'/'isiZulu' debate

The Zulu language is called 'isiZulu' in Zulu, 'isi-' being the prefix associated with languages (e.g., isiNgisi = English, isiXhosa = Xhosa, isiBhunu = Afrikaans, isiJalimane = German, etc.).

The root word Zulu can take many other forms in Zulu, each with a different meaning. Here is a table showing how the meanings of two roots - Zulu and ntu - change according to their prefix.

Prefix -zulu -ntu
um(u) umZulu (a Zulu person) umuntu (a person)
ama, aba amaZulu (Zulu people) abantu (people)
isi isiZulu (the Zulu language) isintu (culture, heritage, mankind)
ubu - ubuntu (humanity, compassion)
kwa kwaZulu (place of the Zulu people) -
i(li) izulu (the weather/sky/heaven) -
pha phezulu (on top) -
e ezulwini (in, at, to, from heaven) -

Some prefer to call Zulu isiZulu in English as per the Zulu name for the language.[citation needed]

Zulu words in South African English

South African English has absorbed many words from the Zulu language. Others, such as the names of local animals (impala and mamba are both Zulu names) have made their way into standard English. A few examples of Zulu words used in South African English:

  • Muti (from umuthi) - medicine
  • Donga (from udonga) - ditch (udonga actually means 'wall' in Zulu)
  • Indaba - conference (it means 'an item of news' in Zulu)
  • inDuna - chief or leader
  • Shongololo (from ishongololo) - millipede
  • Ubuntu - compassion/humanity


  • Dent, G.R. and Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1959) Compact Zulu Dictionary. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0760-8
  • Dent, G.R. and Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1969) Scholar's Zulu Dictionary. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0718-7
  • Doke, C.M. (1947) Text-book of Zulu grammar. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Doke, C.M. (1953) Zulu-English Dictionary. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 1-86814-160-8
  • Doke, C.M. (1958) Zulu-English Vocabulary. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 0-85494-009-X
  • Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1957) Learn Zulu. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0237-1
  • Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1970) Learn More Zulu. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0278-9
  • Wilkes, Arnett, Teach Yourself Zulu. ISBN 0-07-143442-9
  • Colenso, John William (1882). First steps in Zulu: being an elementary grammar of the Zulu language (Third ed.). Martizburg, Durban: Davis. http://www.archive.org/details/firststepsinzulu00coleuoft. 

See also



  1. ^ Rakkenes, Øystein (2003) Himmelfolket: En Norsk Høvding i Zululand, Oslo: Cappelen Forlag, pp. 63-65
  2. ^ Constance Samukelisiwe Magagula. Standard versus non-standard isiZulu: a comparative study between urban and rural learners' performance and attitude. Thesis (M.A.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2009[1]

External links

Zulu language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia





Literature and culture


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