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Native to Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ethnicity Hutu, Tutsi
Native speakers
9.8 million  (2007)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 rw
ISO 639-2 kin
ISO 639-3 kin
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Kinyarwanda, also known as Rwanda (Ruanda) or Rwandan, is the official language of Rwanda and a dialect of the Rwanda-Rundi language spoken by twelve million people in Burundi and adjacent parts of southern Uganda. (The Kirundi dialect is the official language of neighboring Burundi.)[3] Speakers of Kinyarwanda are subdivided into three ethnic groups, the Hutu (84%), Tutsi (15%), and Twa (1%), a pygmy people.

Kinyarwanda is one of the three official languages of Rwanda (along with English and French), and is spoken by almost all of the native population. This contrasts with most modern African states, whose borders were drawn by colonial powers and did not correspond to ethnic boundaries or pre-colonial kingdoms.[4]



The table below gives the consonant set of Kinyarwanda, grouping voiceless and voiced consonants together in a cell where appropriate, in that order.

Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive p   b t   d c   ɟ k   ɡ
Affricate ts        
Fricative f   v s   z ʃ   ʒ ç     h    
Approximant j w
Rhotic ɾ


The table below gives the vowel sounds of Kinyarwanda.

Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open a

All five vowels occur in long and short forms. The distinction is phonemically distinctive. The quality of a vowel is not affected by its length.


Kinyarwanda is a tonal language.


A a B b C c Cy cy D d E e F f G g H h I i
J j Jy jy K k L l M m N n Nk nk Nt nt Ny ny O o
P p R r S s Sh sh T t U u V v W w Y y Z z

Except in a few morphological contexts, the sequences 'ki' and 'ke' may be pronounced interchangeably as [ki] and [ke] or [ci] and [ce] according to speaker's preference.[citation needed]

The letters 'a', 'e', or 'i' at the end of a word followed by a word starting with a vowel often follows a pattern of omission (observed in the following excerpt of the Rwandan anthem) in common speech, though the orthography remains the same. For example, Reka tukurate tukuvuge ibigwi wowe utubumbiye hamwe twese Abanyarwanda uko watubyaye berwa, sugira, singizwa iteka. would be pronounced as "Reka tukurate tukuvug' ibigwi wow' utubumiye hamwe twes' abanyarwand' uko watubyaye berwa, sugira singizw' iteka."

In the colloquial language, there are some discrepancies from orthographic Cw and Cy. Specifically, rw (as in Rwanda) is often pronounced /ɾɡw/. The most obvious differences are the following:

Orthog. Pron.
rw /ɾɡw/
pw /pk/
bw /bɡ/
mw /mŋ/
my /mɲ/
tw /tkw/
dw /dɡw /
cw /tʃkw/
by /bɟ/

Note that these are all sequences; /bɡ/, for example, is not labio-velar [ɡ͡b]. Even when Rwanda is pronounced /ɾwanda/, the onset is a sequence, not a labialized [ɾʷ].



Kinyarwanda uses 16 of the Bantu noun classes. Sometimes these are grouped into 10 pairs so that most singular and plural forms of the same word are included in the same class. The table below shows the 16 noun classes and how they are paired in two commonly used systems.

Prefix Classification Number Typical words Example
Bantu Cox  ???
umu- 1 1 singular humans umuntu – person
aba- 2 plural abantu – people
umu- 3 2 singular trees, shrubs and things that extend umusozi – hill
imi- 4 plural imisozi – hills
iri- 5 5 3 singular things in quantities, liquids iryinyo – tooth
ama- 6 5/8/9 3/8/9 plural (also substances) amenyo – teeth
iki- 7 4 singular generic, large, or abnormal things ikintu – thing
ibi- 8 plural ibintu – things
in- 9 3 5 singular some plants, animals and household implements inka – cow
in- 10 3/6 5/6 plural inka – cows
uru- 11 6 singular mixture, body parts urugo – home
aka- 12 7 singular diminutive forms of other nouns akantu – little thing
utu- 13 plural utuntu – little things
ubu- 14 8 n/a abstract nouns, qualities or states ubuntu – generosity
uku- 15 9 n/a actions, verbal nouns and gerunds ukuntu – means
aha- 16 10 n/a places, locations ahantu – place


All Kinyarwanda verb infinitives begin with gu- or ku- (morphed into kw- before vowels). To conjugate, the infinitive prefix is removed and replaced with a prefix agreeing with the subject. Then a tense infix can be inserted.

singular singular before vowels plural plural before vowels
I a- y- ba- b-
II u- w- i- y-
III ri- ry- a- y-
IV ki- cy- bi- by-
V i- y- zi- z-
VI ru- rw- zi- z-
VII ka- k- tu- tw-
VIII bu- bw- bu- bw-
IX ku- kw- a- y-
X ha- h- ha- h-

The prefixes for pronouns are as follows:

  • 'I' = n-
  • 'you' (sing.) = u-
  • 'he/she' = y-/a- (i.e. the singular Class I prefix above)
  • 'we' = tu-
  • 'you' (pl.) = mu-
  • 'they' (human) = ba- (i.e. the plural Class I prefix above)

Tense markers include the following.

  • Present ('I do'): - (no infix)
  • Present progressive ('I am doing'): -ra- (morphs to -da- when preceded by n)
  • Future ('I will do'): -za-
  • Continuous progressive ('I'm still doing'): -racya-
Example translations
Yego Yes
Oya No
Uvuga icyongereza? Do you speak English?
Bite? What's Up?
Mwaramutse Hi/Good Morning
Amata Milk
Ejo Yesterday
Ejo hazaza Tomorrow
Nzaza ejo I will come tomorrow
Ubu Now
Ubufaransa France
Ubwongereza England
Amerika America
Ubudage Germany
Ububirigi Belgium

The past tense can be formed by using the present and present progressive infixes and modifying the aspect marker suffix.


  1. ^ Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007
  2. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ "Rundi", Ethnologue, 16th Ed.
  4. ^ Boyd, J. Barron (December 1979). "African Boundary Conflict: An Empirical Study". African Studies Review 22 (3): 1. ISSN 0002-0206. JSTOR 523892. 


  • Habumuremyi, Emmanuel et al. (2006). IRIZA-STARTER 2006: The 1st Kinyarwanda–English and English–Kinyarwanda Dictionary. Kigali: Rural ICT-Net. 
  • Jouannet, Francis (ed.) (1983). Le Kinyarwanda, langue bantu du Rwanda (in French). Paris: SELAF. 
  • Kimenyi, Alexandre (1980). A Relational Grammar of Kinyarwanda. University of California Press. 

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