The pronouns in Bantu are in most cases traceable to some such general forms as these: -

I, me, my

ñgi, mi,[16] ñgu.

Thou, thee, thy

gwe, ku; -ko.

He or she, him, her, his, &c

a-, ya-, wa- (nom.); also ñgu-
(which becomes yu-, ye-, wu-,
hu-, u-); -mu (acc.); -ka,
-kwe (poss.); there is also
another form, ndi (nom. and
poss.) in the Western Bantu sphere.

We, us, our

isu, swi-, tu-, ti-; -tu- (acc.);
-itu (poss.).

Ye, you, your

inu, mu-, nyu-, nyi-, -ni;
-nu, -mu- (acc.); -inu (poss.).

They, them, their

babo, ba-; -ba- (acc.); -babo (poss.).

The Bantu verb consists of a practically unchangeable root which is employed as the second person singular of the imperative. To this root are prefixed and suffixed various particles. These are worn-down verbs which have become auxiliaries or they are reduced adverbs or prepositions. It is probable (with one exception) that the building up of the verbal root into moods and tenses has taken place independently in the principal groups of Bantu languages, the arrangement followed being probably founded on a fundamental system common to the original Bantu tongue. The exception alluded to may be a method of forming the preterite tense, which seems to be shared by a great number of widely-spread Bantu languages. This may be illustrated by the Zulu tanda, love, which changes to tandile, have loved, did love. This -ile or -ili may become in other forms -idi, didi, -ire, -ine, but is always referable back to some form like -ili or ile, which is probably connected with the root li or di (ndi or ni), which means "to be" or "exist." The initial i in the particle -ile often affects the last or penultimate syllable of the verbal root, thereby causing one of the very rare changes which take place in this vocable.

In many Bantu dialects the root pa (which means to give) becomes pele in the preterite (no doubt from an original pa-ile). Likewise the Zulu tandile is a contraction of tanda-ile.

Two other frequent changes of the terminal vowel of the common root are those from a (which is almost invariably the terminal vowel of Bantu verbs), (1), into e to form the subjunctive tense, (2) into i to give a negative sense in certain tenses. With these exceptions the vowel a almost invariably terminates verbal roots. The departures from this rule are so rare that it might almost be included among the elementary propositions determining the Bantu languages. And these instances when they occur are generally due (as in Swahili) to borrowed foreign words (Arabic, Portuguese or English).[17] This point of the terminal a is the more interesting because, by changing the terminal vowel of the verbal root and possibly adding a personal prefix, one can make nouns from verbs. Thus in Luganda senyua is the verbal root for "to pardon." "A pardon" or "forgiveness" is ki-senyuo. "A pardoner" might be mu-senyui. In Swahili pataniša would be the verbal root for "conciliate"; mpatanaši is a "conciliator," and upatanišo is "conciliation." Another marked feature of Bantu verbs is their power of modifying the sense of the original verbal root by suffixes, the affixion of which modifies the terminal vowel and sometimes the preceding consonant of the root.

Familiar forms of these variations and their usual meanings are as follows: -

Supposing an original Bantu root, tanda, to love; this may become


to be loved.

tandeka or tandika

to be lovable.

tandila or tandela[18]

to love for, with, or by some other person.

tandiza (or -eza)


to cause to love.

tandisa (or -esa)[19]


to love reciprocally.

The suffix -aka or -añga sometimes appears and gives a sense of continuance to the verbal root. Thus tanda may become tandaka in the sense of "to continue loving."[20]

The negative verbal particle in the Bantu languages may be traced back to an original ka, ta or sa, ki, ti or si in the Bantu mother-tongue. Apparently in the parent language this particle had already these alternative forms, which resemble those in some West African Negro languages. In the vast majority of the Bantu dialects at the present day, the negative particle in the verb (which nearly always coalesces with the pronominal particle) is descended from this ka, ta or sa, ki, ti or si, assuming the forms of ka, ga, ñga, sa, ta, ha, a, ti, si, hi, etc. It has coalesced to such an extent in some cases with the pronominal particle that the two are no longer soluble, and it is only by the existence of some intermediate forms (as in the Kongo language) that we are able to guess at the original separation between the two. Originally the negative particle ka, sa, etc., was joined to the pronominal particles, thus: -


not I.

(Therefore Ka-ngi tanda = not I love.)

Ka-ku or ka-wu

not thou.


not he, she.


not we.


not ye.


not they.

In like manner sa would become sa-ngi, sa-wu, etc. But very early in the history of Bantu languages ka-ngi, or sa-ngi, became contracted into kai, sai, and finally, ki, si; ka-ku or ka-wu into ku; and kaa or saa have always been ka or sa. Sometimes in the modern languages the negative particle (such as ti or si) is used without any vestige of a pronoun being attached to it, and is applied indifferently to all the persons. Occasionally this particle has fallen out of use, and the negative is expressed (1) by stress or accent; (2) by suffix (traceable to a root -pe or -ko) answering to the French pas, and having the same sense; and (3) by the separate employment of an adverb. If not a few Bantu languages, the verb used in a negative sense changes its terminal -a to -i. The subjunctive is very frequently formed by changing the terminal -a to -e: thus, tanda = love; -tande = may love.