Lesson 1. Ni kani baani?
  1. Intro
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Greetings
  4. Grammar
  5. Exercises


1.A. Intro

photo of two men greeting each other in a field

Musa: Fofo.

Hama: Ngoyya.

Musa: Ni kani baani?

Hama: Baani samay. Ni kani ka baan, dey?

Musa: Baani samay.

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1.B. Vocabulary
  1. Verbs
  2. Nouns
  3. Adjective

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1. B.1 Verbs
Zarma English Pronunciation
neera to sell nee/ ra
kani to lie down, to rest, to go to bed ka/ ni
kaŋ to fall kaŋ
zuru to run, to run away zu/ ru
koy to go koy
day to buy day

1.B.2 Nouns
Zarma English Pronunciation
bari, bariyo horse / ri, bàri/ yo
farkay, farka donkey farkay
hansi, hanso dog hân/ si
fu, fuwo house, home fu, fu/ wo
yo, ywa camel, dromedary yo, ywa
musu, muso cat (usually domestic, but sometimes lion) / su
haw, hawo cow ("bovine", generic, not gender) hàw
wayboro, waybora woman, female way/ bo/ ro
wande, wando wife wan/ de
kwaara village, town, compound (of several houses) kwaa/ ra
zanka child, youngster (size and age, not offspring) zan/ ka

1.B.3 Adjectives
Zarma English Pronunciation
afo, afa one a/ fo


1.C. Greeting (foyan)

Greetings form an important aspect of west African languages in general and therefore also of the Zarma language. For this reason, extra attention for this aspect of the language is self evident. Like in any language some greetings are time dependent others aren't. In addition the context, i.e. the circumstance of the encounter, are of importance.

In the greetings grammar is used beyond the grammar explained in this lesson.


Person A: Fofo. (Hello; also mean thanks)

Person B: Ngoyya. (likewise)

In general: reply with ngoyya to any greeting beginning with a Fo. It may mean: likewise, same to you or thank you, but it is used only to reply to a greeting.

Morning (to individuals only):

Person A: Ni kani baani? (one must supply the question words)

Person B: Baani samay. Ni kani ka baan, dey?

Person A: Baani samay.

Person A
: (Did) you sleep well?
Person B: Just fine. Did you sleep well?
Person A: Just fine.

Afternoon (to individuals only):

Person A: Ni foy baani?

Person B: Baani samay. Ni foy ka baan, dey?

Person A: Baani samay.

Person A
: You had a good day?
Person B: Just fine. Did you have a good day?
Person A: Just fine.


1.D. Grammar


It is important to realise that Zarma grammar sometimes differs from English grammar or from grammar of other European languages likes German or French. With one respect Zarma grammar is not so different, the number of exception on rules is at least equal to the number of rules and sometimes it is not possible to discover rules at all. In such cases the only way to learn the language is to learn those thing by heart.

Subjects in this lesson

  1. Personal pronouns
  2. The definite article
  3. Definite plural of nouns
  4. The indefinite article
  5. The verb-completed action (past tense)
  6. Simple questions

1.D.1. Personal pronouns

The personal pronouns are invariable in all cases; that is: whether used in nominative case or objective case, or as possessives.

Zarma English
ay I, me, my
ni you, you, your (singular) (thou, thee, thy)
a (+ nga) he, she, it; his, her, it; his, her, its

Zarma English
iri we, us, our
araŋ you (ye), you, your
i (+ ngey, ey) they, them, their

You will learn more about the use of the long forms (ngey, ey, nga) later (a/o lesson 3.D.4 and 4.D.1). The initial "n" of these two words is actually pronounced like the 'in' in the word 'linger'.

1.D.2. The Definite Article

The idea of a definite article (the) is expressed by either the vowel 'a' or 'o' on the end of the noun in the singular. As a general rule:

  1. Nouns ending in 'a do not change for the definite, but the 'a' at the end is accentuated when you pronounce it.
  2. Nouns ending in 'o' either change to 'a' or add an 'a'.
  3. Nouns ending in 'e', 'i', 'u' or a consonant change to 'o' or add an 'o'.
indefinite definite UK indefinite UK definite
bari bariyo a horse the horse
fu fuwo a house the house
hansi hanso a dog the dog
wande wando a wife the wife
wayboro waybora a woman the woman
yo ywa a camel the camel
zanka zanka a child the child

As there does not seem to be any rule for whether to add or change this definite indicator, the indefinite and the definite singular of all nouns are given in the vocabularies. You must learn them, as you learned whether it was feminine of masculine with each French noun.

1.D.3. Definite Plural of nouns

By replacing the final vowel of the definite singular of a noun with ey the definite plural ending with the 'Definite Plurals' are derived.

Zarma English
indefinite singular definite singular definite plural indefinite singular definite singular definite plural
fu fuwo fuwey a house the house the houses
haw hawo hawey a cow the cow the cows
zanka zanka zankey a child the child the children
hansi hanso hansey a dog the dog the dogs
bari bariyo bariyey a horse the horse the horses

1.D.4. The indefinite Article

Strictly speaking, the indefinite article 'a' or 'an', as we have it in English, does not exist in Zarma. In translating, you will often have to supply it where there is nothing in Zarma.

If there is a need to particularise, or to specify number, the numeral adjective fo (one) is placed after the noun.

One way to figure whether to use the fo in Zarma is to ask yourself how you can substitute the "a" or 'an' in English. If you can substitute 'a' or 'an' which is in your mind by "any" then don't use the fo in this case. If you can substitute them with 'a certain' or 'a single' or 'one' then use the fo.

Zarma English
musu fo a (certain) cat, one cat
bari fo a (certain) horse, one horse
kwaara fo a (certain) village, one village

1.D.5. The Verb-Completed Action (Past Tense)

It has been pointed out in the introduction, and we repeat it here: don't expect English or French grammatical ideas to fit Zarma at all points. Our ideas of tense in a verb and their ways of looking at time don't really coincide. In the indicative mood, a Zarma verb really can show just one of two things: whether the action is completed or not.

An uncompleted action can be something that was happening, that is happening, that happens regularly, that is about to happen, or that will happen. Actual time elements will quite often be gotten from the context rather than from the verb, though if a verb has auxiliaries, they can give some clues.

A Zarma verb, without any auxiliaries, is in the past (or completed) tense (or state of being). There are no conjugation endings, the verb itself never changes, either for person or number.

Zarma English
ay neera I sold
ni neera you sold (singular)
zanka neera the child sold
iri day we bought
a kani he (she, it) lay down (went to bed)

1.D.6. Simple Questions

There a two way to ask a simple question:

a) Add wala at the end of the sentence.

The English translation in the "past tense" will begin with "Did ....?"
This form is roughly equivalent to the French "n'est-ce pas?"

Zarma English
Araŋ kani, wala? Did you go to bed? (lie down?)
I zuru, wala? Did they run away?
A kaŋ, wala? Did it fall?

b) One may also merely raise the tone of the voice, as we do in English.

Zarma English
Araŋ kani? You go to bed? (lie down?)
I zuru? They run away?
A kaŋ? It fall?


Last updated: 10 februari 2012