Swahili For Dummies
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Whether you’re planning to visit East Africa for a few days or stay long term, it’s a good idea to have some basic phrases up your sleeve to help you manage conversations in Swahili smoothly. In this cheat sheet, you’ll find useful phrases to use in greetings, asking questions, dealing with numbers, and understanding the calendar days.

Greeting in Swahili

Every initial social interaction in Swahili begins with a greeting and ends with a farewell. Here are some basic greetings and farewells to remember.

habari?(hah-bah-ree) (How are you?) Nzuri (n-zoo-ree) (fine/well)
hujambo? (hoo-jah-mboh) (How are you?) Sijambo (see-jah-mboh) (I am fine.)
mambo? (mah-mboh) (How are things?) Poa (poh-ah) (great)
kwaheri (kwah-heh-ree) (goodbye) kwaheri (kwah-heh-ree) (goodbye)
baadaye (bah-ah-dah-yeh) (later) baadaye (bah-ah-dah-yeh) (later)

Basic Swahili questions

Asking questions is a great way of showing interest and getting to know someone or a place. Dive straight into conversing with Swahili speakers by asking them questions about themselves and things you want to see. Start by learning the basic question words — what English speakers refer to as the W- words:

  • nani? (nah-nee) (who?)
  • wapi? (wah-pee) (where?)
  • lini? (lee-nee) (where?)
  • nini? (nee-nee) (what?)
  • gani? (gah-nee) (which?)

With those under your belt, you can start asking questions like the ones that follow:

  • Jina lako ni nani? (jee-nah lah-koh nee nah-nee) (What is your name?)
  • Unatoka wapi? (oo-nah-toh-kah wah-pee) (Where are you from?)
  • Unaishi wapi? (oo-nah-ee-shee wah-pee) (Where do you live?)
  • Unasema lugha gani? (oo-nah-seh-mah loo-gah gah-nee) (Which language(s) do you speak?)
  • Unasoma nini? (oo-nah-soh-mah nee-nee) (What do you study?)
  • Unafanya kazi gani? (oo-nah-fah-nyah kah-zee gah-nee) (What’s your job?)
  • Ni saa ngapi? (nee sah-ah ngah-pee) (What is the time?)
  • Posta iko wapi? (poh-stah ee-koh wah-pee) (Where’s the post office?)

Swahili numbers

Get ready to state your phone number, exchange money, buy goods, and tell the time by practicing Swahili numbers. Here are some numbers to get you started:

0 sufuri (soo-foo-ree) 18 kumi na nane (koo-mee nah nah-neh)
1 moja (moh-jah) 19 kumi na tisa (koo-mee nah tee-sah)
2 mbili (mbee-lee) 20 ishirini (ee-shee-ree-nee)
3 tatu (tah-too) 21 ishirini na moja(ee-shee-ree-nee nah moh-jah)
4 nne (n-neh) 22 ishirini na mbili (ee-shee-ree-nee nah m-bee-lee)
5 tano (tah-no)
6 sita (see-tah) 30 thelathini (theh-lah-thee-nee)
7 saba (sah-bah) 40 arobaini (ah-roh-bah-ee-nee)
8 nane (na-neh) 50 hamsini (ham-see-nee)
9 tisa (tee-sah) 60 sitini (see-tee-nee)
10 kumi (koo-mee) 70 sabini (sah-bee-nee)
11 kumi na moja (koo-mee nah moh-jah) 80 themanini (theh-mah-nee-nee)
12 kumi na mbili (koo-mee nah m-bee-lee) 90 tisini (tee-see-nee)
13 kumi na tatu (koo-mee nah tah-too) 100 mia moja (mee-ah moh-jah)
14 kumi na nne (koo-mee nah n-neh) 1000 elfu moja (ehl-foo moh-jah)
15 kumi na tano (koo-mee nah tah-jah) 10,000 elfu kumi (ehl-foo koo-mee)
16 kumi na sita (koo-mee nah see-tah) 100,000 laki moja (lah-kee moh-jah)
17 kumi na saba (koo-mee nah sah-bah) 1,000,000 milioni moja (mee-lee-oh-nee moh-jah)

The Swahili calendar

To make sure you don’t miss any of your crucial appointments, be sure to learn the basics of the Swahili calendar. Here are the Swahili days of the week as well as the months of the year to help you.


  • Jumamosi (joo-mah-moh-see) (Saturday)
  • Jumapili (joo-mah-pee-lee) (Sunday)
  • Jumatatu (joo-mah-tah-too) (Monday)
  • Jumanne (joo-mah-n-neh) (Tuesday
  • Jumatano (joo-mah-tah-noh) (Wednesday
  • Alhamisi (al-hah-mee-see) (Thursday)
  • Ijumaa (ee-joo-mah-ah) (Friday)


  • mwezi wa kwanza (m-weh-zee wah kwah-n-zah) (January)
  • mwezi wa pili (m-weh-zee wah pee-lee) (February)
  • mwezi wa tatu (m-weh-zee wah tah-too) (March)
  • mwezi wa nne (m-weh-zee wah n-neh) (April)
  • mwezi wa tano (m-weh-zee wah tah-noh) (May)
  • mwezi wa sita (m-weh-zee wah see-ta) (June)
  • mwezi wa saba (m-weh-zee wah sah-bah) (July)
  • mwezi wa nane (m-weh-zee wah nah-neh) (August)
  • mwezi wa tisa (m-weh-zee wah tee-sa) (September)
  • mwezi wa kumi (m-weh-zee wah koo-mee) (October)
  • mwezi wa kumi na moja (m-weh-zee wah koo-mee nah moh-jah) (November)
  • mwezi wa kumi na mbili (m-weh-zee wah koo-mee nah m-bee-lee) (December)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Seline Ayugi Okeno was born and raised in Siaya, Kenya. She holds a B.Ed. Arts from Maseno University in Kenya and an M.A. in Applied Lin­guistics from Ohio University. She is currently a Swahili and English Teaching Fellow at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Asmaha Heddi hails from Arusha, Tanzania. She is a Kiswahili lecturer at the University of Kansas. She holds a B.A. from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from Ohio University.

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