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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

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Lesson 11. Ŋwaari ceeciyaŋ


  1. Intro
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Practical idiomatic winks
  4. Grammar
  5. Exercises (workbook, lesson 11)
  6. Answers (answer book, lesson 11)

11.A. Intro

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Ŋwaari ceeciyaŋ

Due to an extended drought period in combination with devastation of crops by locust swarms in 2004 a serious food shortages has occurred in several parts of Niger in 2005 (see for example the UNICEF website). In the summer of 2005 a Dutch camera team of 'Twee vandaag' visited Niger and interviewed also a Zarma speaking woman. The report broadcasted, containing this and other interviews, is available here. I'm most grateful for their permission to use parts of this report.

Listen to the three text fragments and try to write down what is said. Use the dictionary to check for spelling. Some hints are:

  • the woman speaks a dialect that uses an 'h' instead of an 'f' in some words;
  • the particle 'ma' is indicating often the narrative mood (Lesson 22), and not the subjunctive or imperative mood;
  • be aware of merging of words.

Photo of F. Mohammed before interview in Gouoro, Niger

Photo of some women in Gouoro, Niger

Photo of face of F. Mohammed being interviewed

Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Copyrights pictures and recordings Twee Vandaag, the Netherlands.

Full texts of these parts of the interview in Zarma and English are available here

11.B. Vocabulary

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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.

Learn these words by heart.

Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
bana to pay, to repay, to avenge ban a $
dake to place, to set ke
   dake ... boŋ to put on (not clothing)  
   dake ... gaa put by, put next to  
daŋ to put, to put on (clothing only) d
   daŋ ... ra to put into  
faaba to save, to come to rescue of, to come to aid of faa ba
faka to put on (as a man throws his robe about him) ka
faawa to butcher, to dress a carcass for sale faa wa
fay to divide, to separate fay
gisi to lay down; to depose gi si
haw to put on (as a woman tucks her cloth about her) haw
jin to precede, to be first, to go before jin
jisi to set, to place, to put carefully, to put in a safe place (is used more than dake) ji si $
kortu [kottu] to tear, to rip kor tu
naaru to go on journey, to take a trip, to travel naa ru $
taa to sew taa


$ Indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect. For 'bana', 'jisi' and 'naaru' there are no consistency between sources regarding tone :
bana : ban a (1, 4), ba na (13)
jisi : ji si (1, 4), ji si (13)
naaru : naa ru (1), naa ru (4) and naa ru (13)

Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
ba, baa portion
bundu, bundo stick, wood bun du, bun do
farikoy, farikoyo owner of a field or a farm ri koy, ri koy o
fuula hat, beret (not straw hat) fuu la
garaasa tanner; shoemaker gar aa sa
kanandi, kanando pile, heap (one of several similar) ka nan di
koy, koyo master, possessor, owner koy, koy o
mudun, muduno trousers mu dun, mu dun o
nooyaŋ, nooyaŋo gift (gerund) noo yaŋ, noo yaŋ o $
taafe, taafa cloth (about two meters of fabric, usually very colourful, French: pagne), blanket taa fe
taako, taakwa tailor taa ko, taa kwa
taamu, taamo shoe taa mu $

sewing machine (from English 'tailor')

tay la
zunuubu, zunuubo sin zu nuu bu $



Indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect. For 'nooyaŋ', 'taamu' and 'znuubu' there are no consistency between sources regarding tone :
nooyaŋ : noo yaŋ, noo yaŋ o (1), noo yaŋ, noo yaŋ o (4) and noo yaŋ, noo yaŋ o (13)
taamu : taa mu, taa mo (1, 4), taa mi, taa mo (13)
zunuubu : zu nu bi (1), zu nuu bu (4, 13)

Adverbs, adjectives, etc.
Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
banda (prepostion) after; with (accompanying, not by means of) bàn da $
hala abada (adverb) forever (literally: until never, like French: 'a jamais') hal a ba da $
jina (adverb) yet, in front, already jin a
waato din gaa,
  to gaa (abbreviation)
next, after that, then  
wodin banda (adverb) after that, subsequently, next din ban da



Indicaties that accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect. For 'banda' and 'hal'abada' there are no consistency between sources regarding tone :
banda : bàn da (1), ban da (4), and ban de (13)
hal' abada: hal' a (1, 13), hal' a (4)

[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

11.C. Practical idiomatic winks

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This new item discusses idiom used regularly by Zarma and which could help you to make a conversation more natural as well. It also illustrates the use of word introduced in earlier lessons.

Ba (Lesson 5 and 8: even; to like)

Zarma English
Ay ba fo. I don't care.
Ay ba si. I don't care.
Nd' Irikoy ba. God willing.
A si ba borey ba kayna. He doesn't like the people at all.
Ay sinda nooru ba dala. I don't have money, not even five francs.

Cindi (Lesson 6: remainder; to remain)

Zarma English
Man no cindo go? Where is the rest?
Ni ma si  nooru cindo wi. Don't spend the rest of the money
A cindi mooto hinka There remains two cars.
A si cindi hay kulu. There remains nothing.

Gay (Lesson 8: to stay a long time)

Zarma English
Ay gay niizeer laabo ra. I have stayed a long time in Niger.
Ay gay ay mana di nin. I have stayed a long time without seeing you.

11.D. Grammar

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Subjects in this lesson:

  1. The verb 'to have' (review)
  2. The imperative mood
  3. Variations in personal pronouns 'ay' and 'ni'
  4. Nouns formed with the suffix 'koy', 'kom', and 'kooni'
  5. Nouns formed by adding the suffix 'ko' to verbs

11.D.1. The verb 'to have' (review)

The Zarma verb 'to have' has two forms, a positive and a negative form:

  • positive: gonda ( 'go' plus 'nda')
  • negative: sinda ( 'si' plus 'nda').

There are no auxiliaries for different tenses.

Zarma English
Bi, ay gonda dala hinza. Yesterday I had three dalas.
Hunkuna ay sinda  nooru. Today I have no money.
Ba suba ay sinda  nooru. Even tomorrow I shall have no money.


11.D.2. The imperative mood


The imperative mood is the verbal mood that expresses a command or request. It may be used with the second and third person in the singular and with all three persons in the plural. In the beginning you might be greatly inconvenienced or feel irritated because you do not know how to formulate a polite request in Zarma, and especially looking for a way to say 'please', the word that may do miracles in English. And that is certainly the case when you hit it off well and will use on some occasions the phrasing: 'Bring me water' or 'Give me the dish' without adding 'please'.

The use of the imperative of Zarma is simple. It is sufficient to use just the verb.

Zarma English
Ma! Listen!
Tun! Get up!
Goro! Sit down!
A jisi ne. Place it here.
Ay no hari. Give me water.
Kaa ne. Come here.
Furo. Enter.
Fatta. Leave.

The problem is that 'please' does not exits in Zarma because it is not necessary, for the Zarma society is much more traditional and structured. That what might seem impolite in English is not the case among the Zarma, because they consider it as the proper form.

It is entire normal behaviour to use the imperative when requesting something of someone one knows well, as well as of someone one meets for the first time. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances, it might be necessarily to use a polite formulation. There exists a sentence structure for such occasions. This is the case when one requests a service of a mayor, a governor or an honourable El-Hajji. When addressing to someone respectable because of rank, social position or age one may used the particle 'ma'.

Zarma English
Ma goro. Sit down.
Ma tun. Get up.
Ni ma goro Sit down.
Ni ma tun. Get up.

So, the particle 'ma', we have seen in the previous lesson, is also the sign of the imperative mood. It should be stressed again that in most cases the polite formulation of a request is absent and the Zarma use most frequently the standard formulation without 'ma' amongst each other. 

A positive and negative imperative mood are distinguish and discussed below. Also the additional use of 'ma' will be explained.


Positive imperative mood

In the strict sense of a command, in the second person, the personal pronoun may be omitted and usually is. In the singular, the verb may be used alone for a command, but not in the plural.
  Zarma English
singular Kaa! Come!
  Ma kaa! Come!
plural Wa kaa! Come!
The whole form may also be used, both in the singular and plural. This is more deliberate and forceful.
  Zarma English
singular Ni ma kaa! Come!
plural Araŋ ma kaa! Come!
but not Araŋ wa kaa!  - incorrect use of Zarma -
In the third person singular and in the first and third person plural, the pronoun subject must be used (or noun, as the case may be). This gives the effect of saying 'let him' (or her, it), 'let us', 'let them', whatever the verb is. Not permit however.
Zarma English
A ma koy. Let him go.
He may go.
Boro kulu ma kaa Let every one come.
Iri ma te ya din. Let us do so.
I ma koy. Let them work.
Zankey ma kand'a ne. Let the children bring it here.


Negative imperative mood

The particle 'si' is the negative used with the imperative mood, and it directly follows the 'ma'.
Zarma English
(Ni) ma si ci hay kulu. Say nothing
Don't say anything.
Boro kulu ma si furo. Let nobody enter.
Araŋ ma si kaŋ. Don't fall. (plural)
Araŋ ma si gay. Don't linger. (plural)


11.D.3. Variations in personal pronouns 'ay' and 'ni'

One of the difficulties one stumbles across in learning Zarma arises from the way the native Zarma speakers enjoy joining and contracting words at the level of pronouns and conjunctions, which are already very short. This is similar to what we have seen in earlier lesson regarding joining auxiliaries and pronouns (e.g. Lesson 3.D.2) and nouns and demonstrative adjectives (e.g. Lesson 7.D.3).

Personal pronouns, especially 'ay' and 'ni', may be used either together or either one combined with another pronouns; see below.

Zarma English
in da nin you and I
literally: I and you (singular)
in d' a she and I / he and I
literally: I and he/she
in d' araŋ you and I
literally: I and you (plural)
in d' ey they and I
literally: I and they
nin d' a you and he / you and she
nin d' ey you and they
iri nda nin you and we
literally: we and you (singular)
nin da boro fo you and someone

     Note: In Zarma, the person speaking always refers to himself first.

There is a variation of 'ay' and 'ni' in the following instances:



An appositive is a short noun phrase, usually set off from the rest of the sentence by commas, which describes or explains some noun in the sentence. 

In the imperative mood
Zarma English
Iri ma koy, in da nin. Let's go, you and I (singular).
Iri ma si goy, in d'araŋ. Let's not work, you and I (plural).
Araŋ ma sobay, nin da hanso. Go on, you and your dog.
In the indicative mood
Zarma English
Iri kaa, in d' a. We came, he and I.
Iri ga kaa, in d' ey. We shall come, they and I.
Araŋ n' ay jin, nin da taakwa. You preceded me, you and the tailor.


Compound sentences

In compound sentences the 'contraction' is the subject.
Zarma English
In d' a koy. He and I went.
Nin da Ramatu ga caw. You and Ramatu will read.
In da nin si wodin te. You and I wouldn't do that.


Special cases of changes of 'ni' to 'nin'

The emphatic form of 'ni' is 'nin', and was discussed earlier in Lesson 8.D.7. There are three instances which show a change of 'ni' to 'nin'.

1. In direct address

Zarma English
Ifo ni go ga te, nin? What are you doing, you?
Nin, man ni ga koy? You, where are you going?
Nin no may? Who are you?

2. When the pronoun is a direct object after a verb

Zarma English
Ay di nin. I saw you
Ay ga ba nin. I like you ; I love you

But not when the pronoun is a possessive adjective, then you just use 'ni'.

Zarma English
A di ni kwaayo. I saw your shirt.
I koy ni do. They went to you(r place).

3. When it ends a sentence

Zarma English
I ne ngey ga faakaaray da nin. # They said they will visit with you.
I ma kande nin. Let them bring you.

# note the use of 'ngey'


11.D.4. Nouns formed with the suffix 'koy', 'kom', and 'kooni'

The suffix 'koy' is added to certain nouns to show ownership, possession or chieftainship. The definite and plural endings go on the 'koy' and not on the noun to which 'koy' is added. Sometimes you will see the noun and the suffix written apart.

Zarma English
bari, bariyo, bariyey a horse, the horse, the horses
a owner of a horse, horseman
the owner of a horse, the horseman
the owners of a horse, the horsemen
more examples of this combination of noun with 'koy'
butikkoy, butikkoyo shopkeeper, retailer
fukoy, fukoyo home-owner, proprietor; head of a house
gorokoy, gorokoyo retailer of cola nuts (Cola acuminata)
Irikoy God (our possessor, our Lord)
mootokoy, mootokoyo driver; owner of a car
zunuubukoy, zunuubukoyo sinner (one who has sinned)

The (original) noun may be followed by an adjective before the 'koy'. The noun, adjective and suffix should be written separately to avoid too long words.

Zarma English
bari boobo koy one who owns many horses
fu kayna koy one who owns a small house

The suffixes 'kom' and 'kooni' have more or less a similar significance as 'koy' and may be found rather than 'koy'. Sometimes 'kom' and 'kooni' are interchangeable, sometimes not. One will just have to learn from experience which are actually used.

Zarma English
baanikooni well person, healthy person
boŋkooni king, person having headship over other rulers
doorikom [doorikooni] # patient, ill person, one in pain
gaabikooni [gabikom] # powerful person; muscleman, strong person
garawkooni debtor
lakkalkooni savant, wise person
maakooni homonym
noorukooni rich person (person well supplied with money)
windikooni head of the house

      # term between [ ] is less frequently used


11.D.5. Nouns formed by adding the suffix 'ko' to verbs

The suffix 'ko' is added to certain verbs to show the person or agent performing the action of the verb. The definite ending is 'kwa'. Not everyone uses this form consistently. The final syllable may be shortened to 'ka', e.g. hantumka in stead of the formal hantumkwa (the writer). The regular plural of this form is 'koy'. You will sometimes see it written as 'key', but hardly ever pronounced so.

Zarma verb English Zarma noun English

to (re)pay;
to avenge

banako, banakwa paymaster;
bu to die buko, bukwa dead person, corps
cawandi to teach cawandiko, cawandikwa teacher
day to buy dayko, daykwa buyer
fansi to dig (day) fansiko,
(day) fansikwa
(well) digger
faawa to butcher faawako, faawakwa butcher
hantum to write hantumko, hantumkwa writer
taa to sew taako, taakwa tailor
te to make teeko, teekwa maker
zuru to run zuruko, zurukwa runner


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Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016