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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

Boys on a donkey cart in a Zarma village in western Niger
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Grammar help

Irregular verbs

Irregular Zarma verbs are irregular with respect to the sentence order and not with respect to conjugation. This irregularity concerns the position of the direct and indirect object or, in one case, of the indirect object only.

regular subject (+auxilliary) + direct object + verbs + indirect object
  Ay + na + hayni + wi + da zaama
  I + (positive past aux.) + millet + harvested + with a knife
irregular subject (+auxilliary) + verbs + direct object + indirect object
  I + (-) + dirnyaŋ ka kande + buuru + a se
  They + (-) + forgot to bring + bread + to him

A list of all irregular verbs is given below with example sentences.


Direct and   indirect object
Indirect object   only

Direct and indirect object

General rule for the place of the direct object

The direct object in Zarma generally precedes the verb, while the indirect object and adverbial and other modifiers regularly follow it (see examples in Lesson 2.C.2).

General exception

There is one general class of verbs, those showing subjective perception or emotion, which regularly take the direct object afterwards, see Lesson 2.C.3. These verbs are marked with an '#' in the vocabularies as they occur in lessons.

Other exceptions

A very few common verbs, notably 'day' (buy) and 'neera' (sell), will sometimes be heard with the direct object after them, but the regular way is correct as well, and more commonly heard. In Lesson 2.C.3 to the above rules are discussed.

Verb auxiliary

When there is a direct object before the verb, there is always some kind of verb auxiliary preceding it to distinguish it from the subject. But in all tenses, aspects and moods of the verb, the same sentence order is preserved.

Irregular verbs with respect to the position of the direct and indirect object

Zarma Example Translation


baa Ay ga baa r' a. I like it.


bisa A bisa iri ma s' a ŋwa. We'd better not eat it.


ciya A ciya ay cora. He was my friend.


di Araŋ di ey, wala? Did you see them?


dirnyaŋ I dirnyaŋ ka kande buuru. They forgot to bring bread.

17, 21

do . .


doonay Inglisi boro yaŋ ga doonay beene hari. English people are used to rain.


du Man ay ga du a? Where shall I get it?


faham A beerey mo faham ka bay kaŋ ngey baaba ga baa r' a. His (elder) brothers understood that their father preferred him to them.


fongu Ni fongu nin da ni ɲa-izo game ra gonda hay fo. You remembered that your brother has something against you.


gonda Haab'izo gonda goroŋo taci. The trader had four chicken.


hima Ni ga hima ka taalo yaaf' a se. You ought to forgive him the fault.


hin A ga hin k' a te. He can do it.


humburu Iri humburu nodin koyyaŋ. We are afraid to install ourselves there in that place.


kande I kande ngey bariyey. They brought their horses.


konda Ni ga konda hay fo Musa do. You will bring something to Musa.


maa Iri maa r' ey. We heard them.


naanay Ay ga naanay a ga. I trust in him.


to Fondo wofo no ga to Dosso? Which road lead to Dosso?


waani Ay ga waani cawyaŋ sohõ. I know how to read now.


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Indirect object only

General rule for the place of the indirect object

In Zarma the indirect object is practically always followed by the preposition 'se', even with words where we customarily leave it out such as tell (ci) etc. This prepositional phrase regularly follows the verb directly.

i man'a ci ay se they didn't tell me (it)
lit.: they / negative past auxilliary / it / tell / me / to)

General exception

With verbs whose direct object follow the verb, the irregular verbs listed above, there are two possibilities. When the indirect object is a pronoun it comes first. When the indirect object is a noun, the direct object comes first.

pronoun Ni ga kond' a se hay fo
  You will bring him something
noun Ni ga konda hay fo Musa do
  You will bring something to Musa

Other exception

The verb 'no' (to give) is only irregular as regards the indirect object, not in other respects. Reverse the normal positions of the direct object and the indirect object (the one before, the other just after the verb), and omit the 'se'. This is the most used form for the indirect object with this verb 'no'.

The three cases are discussed in detail in Lesson 6.D.2: the regular and the irregular verbs with respect to the direct object and the verb 'no' (to give).

Irregular verb only with respect to the position of the indirect object

Zarma Example Translation Lesson
no A na Gambi no fari. He gave a field to Gambi. 6
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Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016