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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

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Lesson 6. Subu haabu


  1. Intro
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Greetings
  4. Grammar
  5. Exercises (workbook, lesson 6)
  6. Answers (answer book, lesson 6)

6.A. Intro

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This text is part of a story told by a a young man from the Dosso region, published in Harrison et al. (1997). Some minor changes in spelling have been made to be consistent with the spelling used in this course.

Read the text below and try to answer the questions at the end. Some help is provided, move the cursor to an underlined phrase and the translation appears.

Subu haabu

To, hunkuna ay ne gonda anniya ay ma koy saajo ra ka subu haabu, kaŋ farkay nda bari nda haw ga ŋwa.

Nd'ay du subu, nd'ay ka wiciri kambu ay ga ye ka ye ay goy zeena do koyne.

To, bi fo alhado kaŋ ye ka bisa, ay ye ka koy Koobeeri kwaara fo kaŋ go i jerga.

Ay koy ka ay adda yaŋ hanse zamey do.

Women collecting herbs at ICRISAT farm, Sadore, Niger
 a) Ifo se n'a koy sajo ra?
 b) May no a koy nga addayan hanse?

 a) xxx
 b) xxx


6.B. Vocabulary

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Learn these words by heart.

Move the mouse to one of the underlined words and a sentence in which the word is used will appear. Click the left mouse button and a photo will appear in a popup. When you move the pointer on the screen with your mouse over the photo the translation of the Zarma sentence will show.

Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
ce to call ce
cindi to remain, to be left over
(used also in cardinal numbers above 10, see 6.D.4)
cin di $
jirbi to sleep jir bi
hay to bear (young), to give birth to, to produce (fruit), to rust hay
no to give no
no nda to give outright no nda
saabu to thank, to be thankful saa bu
tonton to add, to increase, to make more ton ton
zumbu to descend, to get down; also means: to dismount, to come down, to alight zum bu $


$ Indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect.
there is no consistency between sources regarding tone for
a) 'cindi' : cin di (1), cin di (4), cin di (13);
b) 'zumbu' : zum bu (1, 4), zum bu (13)
Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
alwaati, alwaato season; (length of) time, period al waa ti
baaba father baa ba
ce time (as in one time, twice, many times) ce
ce fo once ce fo
ciini, ciino night cii ni
fari, faro cultivated field, farm ri
fenetar, fenetaro (F) window fe ne tar, fe ne tar o
gaham, gahamo body, flesh (lit. body meat) ham, ham o
ham, hamo meat hàm , hàm o $
heemar, heemaro harvest (season) hee mar, hee mar o
hayni, hayno Pearl millet
(also applied to cereal grain of any kind)
hay ni
hincin, hincino goat hin cin, hin cin o
Irikoy, Irikoyo God (lit. our chief, note tone) ir i koy, ir i koy o
isa river i sa
   Isa (A)    Zarma name for Jesus    I sa
jirbi, jirbo sleep (used also for counting days) jir bi
koy, koyo chief, master, owner koy, koy o
kwaayi, kwaayo upper garment (sewed, as shirt, dress, blouse, jacket, etc.) kwaa yi
me, meyo mouth; opening, doorway; end, edge, limit me, me yo
waati, waato contraction of 'alwaati', season, time waa ti
zaari, zaaro daytime, day, noon zaa ri


$ Indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect. There is no consistency between sources regarding tone for 'ham' : hàm , hàm o (1), ham , ham o (4, 13).
Adverbs, adjectives, etc.
Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
gaa (postposition) @ against, on, by, from, at gaa
hanno (adjective) pure, good, beautiful, fine, holy (it is never a predicate adjective; accent on quality rather than appearance) han no
hinne (adverb) only, alone, solely hin ne $
mate (adverb) how (interrogative only; rarely equivalent to what) ma te
se (postposition) @ to, for (usually necessary for indirect object) se


@ see for use of these prepositions in combinations with verbs section 6.D.1
$ Indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect. There is no consistency between sources regarding tone for 'hinne' : hin ne (1, 4), hin ne (13).

[1]  Legend for pronunciation (see Pronunciation guide for details)
italic tone is high
  under score tone is low
  vowel with ^ long vowel, e.g., ê
  vowel with ` short vowel, e.g. è
  bold syllable on which the principle emphasis falls

6.C. Greetings (fooyaŋey)

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In earlier lessons we have learned to greet an individual and a group, to greet a person at his work and to say goodbye. We also learned to thank someone and to ask pardon. We mainly learned the initial greetings.

In this lesson we will learn about the greetings that may be used after the initial 'hello' and the inquiry about their night or day.


Greetings following the initial greetings

Zarma English
Mate ni gahamo? How are you? (How's your body?)
Mate ni go? How are you?
Mate ni bara? How are you? (How've you been?)
Mate ni ga bara nda? How are you? (How're you getting along?)


Replies, any of these fit any of the above greetings

Zarma English
Ay g' Irikoy saabu. I'm thanking God.
Ay go baani. I'm well.
Baani samay. Just fine.
Kala baani. Nothing but health.
Taali kulu si. Nothing at all wrong.


Replies to reply

Zarma English
Irikoy ma saabu tonton. May God increase thanks. (To first reply at 2.)
Madala! Praise the Lord! Wonderful!
A bori. All right.


Additional greetings and replies

Zarma English
greeting Mate ni fu? How're things at home?
reply Fu g' Irikoy saabu. Home thanks God.
reply to reply Irikoy ma saabu tonton. May God increase thanks.
Zarma English
greeting Mate ni fuborey? How's the folk at home?
reply I g' Irikoy saabu.
I ga sabu Irikoy se.
They thank God.
They are thankful (for / to) God.
reply to reply Irikoy ma saabu tonton. May God increase thanks.

6.D. Grammar

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Subjects in this lesson:

  1. The use of some verbs in combination with postpositions
  2. The indirect object
  3. The passive voice
  4. The cardinal numbers above 10 (11 - 20)
  5. Use of 'ya.. no' (to be)

6.D.1. The use of some verbs in combination with postpositions

In Zarma most adpositions are postpositions and not prepositions (see section 4.D.2).

a) The postpositions 'gaa' and 'se' with the verbs 'go' and 'no' (to be)

The postposition 'gaa' indicates a close relation, but not of possession; more of contact or of one thing being part of another.

Zarma English
Kwaayi go ay gaa. I have a shirt on. (lit. A shirt is upon me.)
Hari no a gaa. It's water on it.
Jirbi go ay gaa. I'm sleepy. (lit. Sleep is upon me.)
Jirbi no ay gaa. It's that I'm sleepy.

The postposition 'se' shows possession when the verb is 'go no' or other part of to be, besides indicating the indirect object.

Zarma English
A go ay se. I have it.
Ham go ay baaba se. My father has meat.
Hayni go ni se, wala? Do you have millet?
Zanka kayna go a se. She has a small child.
Alumeti no ay se. It's matches I have.

b) The postpositions 'boŋ', 'gaa', 'ra' and 'se' with other verbs.

Saabu + ‹‹object›› + se = to be thankful to, to be thankful for

Zarma English
Ay ga ni saabu. I thank you.
Ay ga saabu ni se. I am thankful (give thanks) for you (or to you)
Ay ga Irikoy saabu ni se. I thank God for you.

Zumbu + ‹‹object›› + ‹‹postposition›› (boŋ, gaa, ra, se)

zumbu + ‹‹object›› + boŋ can mean 'to descend from' or 'to descend upon', according to the context.

Zarma English
Boro ga zumbu bari boŋ. A person dismounts from a horse.
Curey zumbu tuuri-ɲa boŋ. The birds came down into the tree. @
@ We say birds are in the tree, but Zarmas see them 'on top' of a tree.

zumbu + ‹‹object›› + gaa can mean 'to come down upon', 'to descend upon' or 'to alight upon' according to the context.

Zarma English
Yaw hinza zumbu ay gaa hunkuna. Three guests descended on (came to stay) me today.
Curo fo zumbu ay boŋo gaa. A bird landed on my head.
Hari ga zumbu farey gaa. Rain comes down on the fields.

zumbu + ‹‹object›› + ra can mean 'to descend from in' or 'to get out in', according to the context.

Zarma English
Boro ga zumbu mooto ra. A person gets down from in a car.
Yaw kaŋ zumbu ni laabo ra. Foreigners who are in your land.

zumbu + ‹‹object›› + se can mean 'to come to live'

Zarma English
Laabo kaŋ ra ni zumbu se. The land in which you have lived as a foreigner.

Tonton + ‹‹object›› + ‹‹prepositions›› (se, gaa)

tonton + ‹‹something›› + gaa = a thing receives to increase, if 'something' precedes 'tonton', the meaning is slightly different (see below).

Zarma English
I na hayni tonton a gaa. They added millet to it.
(There was already something else there.)
Iri ga tonton hayno gaa. We will put in more millet.
(There was already some millet there.)

tonton + ‹‹someone›› + se = a person receives the increase / more (additional)

Zarma English
I na goy tonton albora se. They gave the man more work.
(Literally: They increase work to the man.)
Ay ga  nooru tonton ni se. I will give you more money.
(Literally: I will increase money to you)


6.D.2. The indirect object

In Zarma the indirect object is practically always followed by the postposition 'se', even with words where we customarily leave it out in English such as tell etc. This adpositional phrase regularly follows the verb directly. Exceptions are given in (b) and (c) below.

Three cases are discussed:
(a) the Zarma regular verbs,
(b) the Zarma irregular verbs with respect to the direct object, and
(c) the Zarma verb 'no' (to give).

a) Regular verbs whose direct object precedes the verb

Regular verbs normally have the direct object before the verb (see section 2.C.1) and the indirect object directly after the verb:
   ‹‹subject›› + ‹‹auxiliary›› + ‹‹direct object›› + ‹‹verb›› + ‹‹indirect object›› + se

Zarma English
A n' a neer' ay se. He sold it to me.
I ga haw day araŋ se. They will buy a cow for you.
A na ize hay a se. She bore him a child.
Iri na baaro wo kulu ci ni se. We told you all these things.
Ni baaba ci ay se i kaa. @ Your father told me they came.
A binde ne a se nga ya a baabo beero no. @ He told her that he was her father’s brother


@ There are some exceptions where the direct object may come after the verb even if it is regular (section 2.C.3). If there also is an indirect object, if follows the rules given here right below at b).

Special case

Sometime the place of the indirect object is used to give a different meaning to the sentence. The examples come from Bornand [3]

Example Zarma English
1 Ay ga ni hã hay fo. I want to ask you something.
  Ay ga hã ni se hay fo. I will ask something for you.
  Ay ga hay fo hã ni se. I will ask something for you.
2 Ay ga ni cawandi. I (will) teach you.
  Ay ga cawandi ni se. A (will) teach for you.

b) Irregular verbs whose direct object follow the verb

Irregular verbs have the direct object after the verb. When the indirect object is a pronoun it comes first after the verb. When the indirect object is a noun, the direct object comes first.

ind.obj. is a pronoun:   ‹‹ subject›› + ‹‹verb›› + ‹‹indirect object›› + se + ‹‹direct object››
ind.obj. is a noun:        ‹‹subject›› + ‹‹verb›› + ‹‹direct object›› + ‹‹indirect object›› + se

Zarma English
A kand' ay se hayni. She brought me millet.
Zanka konda ŋwari hanso se. The child took food to the dog.

c) The irregular verb 'no' (to give)

The verb 'no' 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':

   ‹‹subject›› + ‹‹auxiliary›› + ‹‹indirect object›› + no + ‹‹direct object››

This is the most used form for the indirect object with this verb 'no'.

Zarma English
A na Gambi no fari. He gave a field to Gambi.
Ni g' iri no goroŋo, wala? Are you going to give us a chicken?

When the verb is 'no nda', indicating outright gift, the indirect object also comes before the verb, without 'se', and the direct object follows the 'nda', which may contract with it.

Zarma English
Ay na ni no nd' a. I gave it to you.
Ni izo n' ay no nda feeji. Your child gave me a sheep.

This form 'no nda' means an outright gift, whereas the other form 'no' may mean that the thing is put into possession of the one receiving it for a time only.

When the direct object is a noun, it may (not must) follow the indirect object, which is just after the verb.

Zarma English
A no ay se hincin. He gave him a goat.
Iri ga no ni se hay fo. We will give you something.

When the direct object of the verb 'no' is a personal pronouns, the indirect object can follow the rule given in part a above (regular verbs). As a matter of fact, you are always safe in using this form, no matter whether the object is a noun or a pronoun.

Zarma English
Ay g' a no ni se. I 'll give it to you.
Ay ga kwaayo no ni se. I 'll give you the shirt.


6.D.3. The passive voice

Strictly speaking, there is no passive form in Zarma. The effect of a passive, in a sentence where the agent is not specified, can be achieved by using the third person plural pronoun 'i' as the subject, in the same way we use 'they' for an indefinite pronoun (as in 'they say that ...').
Zarma English
I na farkay kar. They hit the donkey. (The donkey was hit.)
I n' a kar. They hit me. (I was hit.)
I ga hayni wi heemar alwaati. Millet is reaped in the harvest season.

A regular way to indicate a person's name is:

I ga ne + ‹‹pronoun›› + se + ‹‹name›› = ‹‹Pronoun›› + is called + ‹‹name››

Zarma English
I ga ne a se John. He is called John.

The correct way of saying someone is born is given below. If the regular form is used, the entire meaning is different.

Zarma English
I n' ay hay Ɲamay, Garba kwaara. I was born in Niamey at Garba's compound.


6.D.4. The cardinal numbers above 10 (11 - 20)

The cardinal numbers above 10 are formed by adding to the word for the tens (10, 20, 30, etc.) 'cindi' (remains, left over) and then the unit (1, ..., 9). For example, 14 is 'iway cindi taaci'; literally ten and four left over. These units contract according to the rule established in section 3.D.1.

The numbers just below the tens ending on the unit 8 or 9 can be expressed in two ways. In addition to the regular way using 'cindi' one can use 'si' (without, missing). For example 'waranka ihinka si' and 'waranka afo si' represent 'twenty less two' and 'twenty less one', respectively, and are alternate way of saying 18 and 19.

Cardinal numbers 11-20
number Zarma Pronunciation
11 iway cindi fo i way cindi fo
12 iway cindi hinka i way cindi hin ka
13 iway cindi hinza i way cindi hin za
14 iway cindi taaci i way cindi taa ci
15 iway cindi gu i way cindi gu
16 iway cindi iddu i way cindi id du
17 iway cindi iyye i way cindi iy ye
18 iway cindi ahakku
waranka ihinka si
i way cindi a hak ku
 war an ka i hin ka si
19 iway cindi yegga
waranka afo si
i way cindi yeg ga
 war an ka a fo si
20 waranka war an ka


6.D.5. Use of 'ya.. no' (to be)

The verb 'to be' has in Zarma many forms (see Lesson 4.D.3). The combination 'ya.. no' is a special form of the verb 'to be' which is not yet discussed. When the verb 'no' has its subject stated and not implied (it is, he is, they are, etc.) the auxiliary 'ya' must follow the subject. It is used for example to tell your origin or nationality, the place where you come from, or your occupation.

To express your nationality or the origin of someone there are two ways to tell this, you could say 'He is English' or 'He is an Englishman'. In Zarma this is similar.

Zarma English
Ni ya Ingilise no. You are English.
Ni ya Ingilisi boro no. You are an Englishman.
Nga ya Amerken no. @ He is American. / She is American.
Nga ya Amerik boro no. @ He is an American. / She is an American (woman).
Ni ya Zarma no. You are Zarma.
Ni ya Zarma (boro) no. You are a Zarma.
Ay ya Franse no. I am French.
Ay ya Fransi boro no. I am a Frenchman.


@ The short form of the third person singular and plural personal pronoun, 'a' and 'i', are not used in combination with 'ya ... no' only the longer forms 'nga' and 'ngey'.

To tell someone the place where you come from you use 'ya ... no' as well in combination with the name of the place were you come from: 'Ay ya ‹‹name of place›› boro no'.

Zarma English
Ay ya Saayi boro no I 'm from Say. / I come from Say.
Ngey ya Ɲamay boro yaŋ no. @ They are from Niamey.


@ The indefinite plural form of nouns will be discussed in Lesson 12.D.2.

Finally, the form 'ya ... no' is used to tell someone your occupation:
'Ay ya ‹‹occupation›› no'.

Zarma English
Ay ya cawandiko no. I 'm a teacher (an instructor).
Araŋ ya lokkolize yaŋ no. @ Your are students (apprentices, pupils).
Ni ya butikkoy no. You are a shopkeeper.
Iri ya day fansiko yaŋ no. @ We are well diggers.


@ The indefinite plural form of nouns will be discussed in section 12.D.2.

The form 'ya ... no' is invariable and can be used for phrases in affirmative and interrogative form.

Zarma English
Ni ya man boro no? Where are you from?
Araŋ ya Niizeeru boro yaŋ no. @ Your are Nigerien.
Ni ya mootokoy no. You are a chauffeur.
Iri ya volontaire yaŋ no. @ We are volunteers.


@ The indefinite plural form of nouns will be discussed in section 12.D.2.

Summarising, 'ya ... no' is a form of the verb 'to be' used when the verb 'no' has its subject stated and not implied, for example to tell or ask someone's origin or nationality, the place where the person comes from, or his or hers occupation.

The short form of the third person singular and plural personal pronoun, 'a' and 'i', are not used in combination with 'ya ... no', but only the long forms 'nga' and 'ngey'.

In certain regions one may hear 'wo ... no' in stead of 'ya ... no'. The negative form will be discussed in section 8.D.3.


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Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016