Otjiherero Grammar is the grammar of the Herero language (Otjiherero), a Bantu language spoken primarily in Namibia. As a Bantu language, it includes several hallmarks of Bantu languages such as a large number of noun classes, and the use of subject concords.
- 1 Nouns
- 2 Verbs
- 3 Subject Concords (and Tense Construction)
- 3.1 Present and Future Tenses
- 3.2 Past Tenses
- 4 Object Concords
- 5 Relative Concords
- 6 Adjectives
- 7 Adverbs
- 8 Determiners
- 8.1 Demonstratives
- 8.2 Possessives
- 8.3 Quantifiers
- 8.4 Cardinal Numbers
- 8.5 Ordinal Numbers
- 9 Other Important Prefixes and Particles
- 10 Conjunctions
- 11 Prepositions
- 12 Interrogatives
- 13 Other Moods
- 14 Other Grammatical Occurrences
- 14.1 Commonly Implied Nouns (through concords, adjectives, or determiners)
- 14.2 Constructing Nouns From Verbs
- 14.3 Constructing Verbs From Adjectives
- 14.4 Constructing Adjectives From Verbs
- 14.5 Moving Words to the o- and ozo- Classes
- 14.6 Checking For Knowledge/Understanding
- 14.7 Situations Where the -a of a Concord, Directive Prefix, or Noun Class Becomes an -e
- 15 References
Otjiherero includes the standard six personal pronouns, twenty-one noun classes for general nouns, and three prepositions that can exhibit nominal properties.
Nearly every noun in Otjiherero belongs to a noun class. There are nine main noun classes, as well as one rare noun classes. Each of these noun classes has a subclass for singular nouns and plural nouns. Noun classes are critical to the speaking of proper Otjiherero, because each noun class has its own demonstrative, object pronoun, object concord, relative concords, possessive prefix, and pronoun.
A noun's noun class can be determined by the first few letters of the word. This prefix is known as a noun-class prefix, and the rest of the word is called the noun stem. A singular noun can be made plural by changing the noun-class prefix into the corresponding plural noun-class prefix in its noun class. Likewise, a plural noun can be made singular by changing the noun-class prefix into the corresponding singular noun-class prefix in its noun class. This differs greatly from English and many western languages, which typically pluralize words by changing the end sounds—for example, adding "s".
Some of the prefixes occur in multiple classes, such as omu and oma. Knowing which noun class that words with these prefixes belong to can often be guessed based on the type of word, but ultimately one must have the noun class of the word memorized.
Noun classes tend to have loose themes. These are not strictly adhered to, and any type of word may find itself in nearly any noun class. The only noun class that strictly adheres to its theme would be the first class, as any noun in this class will refer to a person or people.
An exception to the two-subclass system occurs in the oo- subclass. This occurs because this subclass is the pluralization of nouns that do not have a noun-class prefix, which is an extremely rare occurrence. Examples of this include the pluralization of mama ("mom") into oomama, tate ("father") into ootate, or the pluralization of a name to refer to the person and those associated with them, such as Ukutura into ooUkutura. It is places as an alternative to ova, because it generally is used for people.
As you can see, most noun-class prefixes begin with the letter "o", yet there is also a noun class with just "o" itself. This class encompasses all nouns that begin with "o" but don't have the noun-class prefix of any other noun class. Said differently, if a noun begins with "o", one must make sure it doesn't have a noun-class prefix from any of the other noun classes before concluding that the noun is in the "o" noun class.
Table of Noun Classes 
|Noun Class||Noun-Class Prefix||Theme||Example||English Translation|
|2. sing||omu-||trees||omumborombonga||Combretum Imberbe (a species of tree)|
|2. plur||omi-||trees||omimborombonga||Combretum Imberbes|
|3. sing||e-||(no strong theme)||engongwa||red wasp|
|3. plur||oma-||(no strong theme)||omangongwa||red wasps|
|5. sing||o-||animals, loanwords||ongombe||cow|
|5. plur||ozo-||animals, loanwords||ozongombe||cows|
|7. sing||oka-||small things||okazandu||small boy|
|7. plur||ou-||small things||ouzandu||small boys|
|8. sing||oku-||body parts||okutwi||ear|
|8. plur||oma-||body parts||omatwi||ears|
|10. sing||oku-||(no strong theme)||okuiya||thorn|
|10. plur||omaku-||(no strong theme)||omakuiya||thorns|
One should note that Otjiherero has no articles, so one must determine concepts such as "the dog" as opposed to "a dog" by context.
The prepositions pu, ku, and mu can sometimes be the subject of a sentence, and have their own subject concords similar to other noun classes. Therefore, it can be useful to think of them as the 11th, 12th and 13th noun classes. The division between pu and ku is sometimes blurrly, but some guidelines are included.
|11.||pu||at (especially, where speaker is currently)|
|12.||ku||at/to (especially, where speaker is not currently)|
Otjiherero personal pronouns are delineated into six pronouns based on person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and plurality (singular, plural). These divisions are equivalent to the six pronouns as seen in English and Romantic Languages. A comparison with an equivalent table in English is presented for the sake of clarity
Table of Personal Pronouns (English)
Each noun class has a corresponding pronoun. From the perspective of an English speaker, for general nouns all of these are equivalent to "it" for singular subjects, and "they" for plural subjects. For the prepositional noun classes, the pronouns are related to "here", "there", and "inside". Additionally, each class has demonstrative pronouns, comparable to "this/these one(s)", "that/those one(s)", and "that/those one(s) over there" in English.
|Noun Class||Pronoun||"this/these one(s)"||"that/those one(s)"||"that/those one(s) over there"|
- Oyo ye ya. It came.
- Indji ye ya. This one came.
Like most languages, verbs in Otjiherero conjugate to denote tense, aspect, and modality. However, to know the correct tense, aspect, and modality of the sentence, one cannot simply look at the verb or the subject concord in isolation, but must look at the combination of the two. Unlike English, verbs do not conjugate differently for different subjects.
Regular verbs in Otjiherero have 3 main conjugations for tense
- The infinitive
- The verb stem of the infinitive
- A main alternative conjugation
All verbs in their infinitive conjugation begin with oku- and end with the letter -a. Oku- is the verb prefix, and the rest of the verb is the verb stem.
- Okutona to hit
- Okuhungira to speak
- Okupenduka to wake up / get up
- Okurya to eat
Verbs can be used as nouns by simply treating them as nouns with the oku- noun-class prefix.
Example: Okutona kwoye eputi Your hitting is a problem
Verb Stem Conjugation
In some tenses, the verb will conjugate by simply dropping the verb prefix
- Mbi tona I hit
- U hungira You speak
- Tu penduka We wake up / get up
- Ve rya They eat
Main Alternative Conjugation
All verbs have a main alternative conjugation. There are 4 possibilities for how these will be related to the verb stem. The alternative conjugation will either be
- identical to the verb stem.
- the -a of the verb stem becomes an -e
- the -a of the verb stem becomes the vowel from the preceding syllable (called "vowel harmonization")
- Me tono I am hitting (Case 3)
- Mo hungire You are speaking (Case 2)
- Twa penduka We woke up / got up (Case 1)
- Matu ri We are eating (Case 4)
Other conjugations occur for location, voice, reflection, behalvatation, and causation.
When an action occurs somewhere else, the directive particle ka is used. In non-command, non-infinitive cases, the verb will be in verb stem form with ka- used as a prefix
- Me katona I am going to go hit
- Mo kahungira You are going to go speak
- Twa kapenduka We went and woke up / got up
- Matu karya We are going to go eat
When used in a command, ka- will again be a prefix to the verb stem, but the last letter of the verb stem changes to -e (regardless of whether or not this is the verb's main alternative conjugation)
- Katone Go hit
- Kahungire Go speak
- Kapenduke Go wake up / get up
- Karye Go eat
When used in an infinitive, -ka- is an infix between the verb prefix and the verb stem
- okukatona to go hit
- okukahungira to go speak
- okukapenduka to go wake up / get up
- okukarya to go eat
Passive voice conjugations are formed by putting a -w- before the final -a of the verb stem (regardless of tense). Irregular verbs may use a form similar to their main alternative conjugation
- Me tonwa I'm being hit
- U hungirwa You are spoken to
- Twa riwa We were eaten
To specify an acting object, the passive particle i comes before the object
- Me tonwa i omiṱiri I'm being hit by a teacher
- U hungirwa i ovanene You are spoken to by adults
- Twa riwa i ozongeyama We were eaten by lions
When a subject does something to itself, one uses reflective particle ri to show this. This same effect is achieved in English by adding "-self/-selves" to the object, such as in "herself" or "themselves". One places the reflective particle exactly as one would place the directive particle (see "Location" above). In the case that a verb uses a reflective particle and a directive particle, the directive particle precedes the reflective particle. Unlike the directive particle, the reflective particle does not cause verbs to switch to verb stem form regardless of tense.
Comparisons of Verbs Without and With Reflective Particles
|okukoha to wash||okurikoha to wash oneself (to bathe)|
|okupura to ask||okuripura to ask oneself (to think)|
|okuyandja to give||okuriyandja to give oneself (to volunteer)|
|okumuna to see||okurimuna to see oneself (to feel)|
|okunana to pull||okurinana to pull oneself (to stretch, to walk around)|
The reflective particle affects preceding concords and directive particles. If any of these parts of speech end with an -a, the -a will be changed to an -e.
Comparisons of Preceding Parts of Speech Without and With Reflective Particles
|Without Reflective Particle||With Reflective Particle|
|Tjiuri ma koho. Tjiuri is washing||Tjiuri me rekoho. Tjiuri is bathing|
|Mba munu. I saw.||Mbe rimunu navi. I felt bad.|
|Me kakoha. I will go wash.||Me kerikoha. I will go bathe.|
|Twa kanana korukaasi. We went and pulled.||Twe kerinana korukaasi. We went and walked around at the location.|
Notice in the final example the reflective particle influenced both the subject concord and the directive particle.
When an action is being done for or on behalf of someone/something else, a benefactive suffix is sometimes used. There are four benefactive suffixes:
The suffix used depends on the end of the verb stem being used. Namely
- If the second-to-last vowel of the verb is an -a-, -e-, or -o-, the first letter of the benefactive suffix will be an -e-. Otherwise, it will be an -i-.
- If the last consonant of the verb is an m, n, or ṋ, the second letter of the benefactive suffix with be an -n-. Otherwise it will be an -r-.
The benefactive suffix replaces the -a of the verb stem. In tenses where the main alternative verb form would be used, the final -a of the benefactive suffix becomes an -e (regardless of the final letter of the main alternative verb form for that verb).
- Mbi ungura. I work.
- Mbi ungurira oPeaceCorpsa. I work for Peace Corps.
- Me ziki. I'm cooking.
- Me zikire Muharukua. I'm cooking for Muharukua.
- Mba nyanda. I played.
- Mba nyandere Okorosave. I played for Okorosave.
When a subject causes the object to do the action, a causatory suffix is added to the verb. The most common suffix is to replace the final -a of the verb witih -isa. However, verbs ending in -uka can sometimes change the -uka to -ura and achieve a similar effect.
Comparisons of normal verbs and causatory verbs
|Normal Verb||Causatory Verbs|
|okuungura to work||okuungurisa to cause to work (to use)|
|okukora to tell||okukorisa to cause to tell (to greet)|
|okuhita to enter||okuhitisa to cause to enter (to put in, insert)|
|okupita to go out||okupitisa to cause to go out (to remove)|
|okuranda to buy||okurandisa to cause to buy (to sell)|
|okuhakahana to hurry||okuhakahanisa to cause to hurry (to rush)|
|okupenduka to wake up||okupendura to wake someone else up|
When forming passive voice with causatory verbs, an -iwa is added rather than a -wa
- ungurisiwa to be used
- hitisiwa to be made to enter
Subject Concords (and Tense Construction)
Unlike English, every verb (except when used as a command or infinitive) is preceded by a part of speech called a subject concord. Subject concords are similar to helping (auxiliary) verbs in English, except that they have no meaning without an accompanying verb, whereas helping verbs such as "was" could be used as a verb in certain sentences. Subject concords also inflect to denote tense, aspect, and modality, but unlike Otjiherero verbs, subject concords also inflect to show subject. Because very often the subject concord implies the subject with little or no ambiguity, nouns and pronouns of subjects are often left out in Otjiherero sentences.
In discussing tenses, the concepts of "verb stem conjugation" and "main alternative conjugation" succinctly describe the conjugation of the verb in many cases. For more information on these terms, see the section on "Verbs" above. Also, since subject concords vary depending by subject, some notation from the "Nouns" section is also used.
Subject concords also carry the negation in Otjiherero sentences. In other words, verbs that "didn't happen" use a different subject concord. Note that some tenses exist only positively or negatively.
Positive Subject Concords
|Subject||General Past||Past Habitual||Present Habitual||Present Progressive / Near Future||Indefinite Future|
Negative Subject Concords
|Subject||Past Copulative||Past Habitual||Present Perfect||Present Habitual||Present Progressive / Near Future||Indefinite Future|
|ami||himba||hee||hi ya||hi||hi naku||himee|
|ove||kawa||koo||ko ya||ko||ko naku||komoo/kamoo|
|eye||ka||kaa||ke ya||ka||ke naku||kanaa/kamaa|
|eṱe||katwa||kaatu||katu ya||katu||katu naku||kamaatu|
|eṋe||kamwa||kaamu||kamu ya||kamu||kamu naku||kamaamu|
|owo/ovo||kava||kaave||kave ya||kave||kave naku||kamaave|
|1s. omu-||kawa||kaa||ke ya||ka||ke naku||kanaa/kamaa|
|1p. ova-||kava||kaave||kave ya||kave||kave naku||kamaave|
|1p. oo-||kava||kaave||kave ya||kave||kave naku||kamaave|
|2s. omu-||kawa||kaau||kau ya||kau||kau naku||kamaau|
|2p. omi-||kavya||kaavi||kavi ya||kavi||kavi naku||kamaavi|
|3s. e-||kara||kaari||kari ya||kari||kari naku||kamaari|
|3p. oma-||kaya||kaaye||kaye ya||kaye||kaye naku||kamaaye|
|4s. otji-||katja||kaatji||katji ya||katji||katji naku||kamaatji|
|4p. ovi-||kavya||kaavi||kavi ya||kavi||kavi naku||kamaavi|
|5s. o-||kaya||kaai||kai ya||kai||kai naku||kamaai|
|5p. ozo-||kaza||kaaze||kaze ya||kaze||kaze naku||kamaaze|
|6s. oru-||karwa||kaaru||karu ya||karu||karu naku||kamaaru|
|6p. otu-||katwa||kaatu||katu ya||katu||katu naku||kamaatu|
|7s. oka-||kaka||kaake||kake ya||kake||kake naku||kamaake|
|7p. ou-||kawa||kaau||kau ya||kau||kau naku||kamaau|
|8s. oku-||kakwa||kaaku||kaku ya||kaku||kaku naku||kamaaku|
|8p. oma-||kaya||kaaye||kaye ya||kaye||kaye naku||kamaaye|
|9s. ou-||kawa||kaau||kau ya||kau||kau naku||kamaau|
|10s. oku-||kakwa||kaaku||kaku ya||kaku||kaku naku||kamaaku|
|11. pu||kapa||kaape||kape ya||kape||kape naku||kamaape|
|12. ku||kakwa||kaaku||kaku ya||kaku||kaku naku||kamaaku|
|13. mu||kamwa||kaamu||kamu ya||kamu||kamu naku||kamaamu|
Present and Future Tenses
Otjiherero has five tenses that occur in the present or future time frames. These are the
- Present Habitual Tense
- Copulative / Associative Tense
- Present Progressive / Near Future Tense
- Indefinite Future Tense
- Present Perfect Tense
Present Habitual Tense
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + present habitual subject concord + verb stem conjugation
- Mbi honga ovivarero. I teach math.
- Maveja u kara kOkahandja. Maveja stays (lives) in Okahandja.
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative present habitual subject concord + main alternative conjugation
- Kave koho ozombanda. They don't wash clothes.
- Ami hi ri onyama. I don't eat meat.
Copulative / Associative Present Tense
Otjiherero includes two special words that have unique parts of speech: the copula, ri, and the associative, na. These correlate with the English verbs "to be" and "to have"/"to be with", respectively (but ri and na are not considered verbs).
Regardless of whether these are used in present progressive situations or habitual situations, they always use the habitual subject concord when used in the present tense. This is similar to English, where "I am happy." and "I have a pencil." are much more common than "I'm being happy." and "I'm having a pencil.", even when used in a present progressive context.
Ri finds its main uses in present tense when used to
- define a location, or
- use certain adverbs
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + habitual subject concord + ri + adverb OR preposition+location OR pi? ("where?")
- Ami mbi ri nawa. I'm not well.
- Tjahere u ri pi? Where is Tjahere?
- Tjahere u ri kOtjiwarongo. Tjahere is in Otjiwarongo.
Note that when used with the interrogative pi, the ri is sometimes omitted as a contraction
- Tjahere u pi? Where is Tjahere?
- Tji pi? Where is it? (the "it" understood by context and knowledge that tji is in the ovi noun class)
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative habitual subject concord + ri + adverb OR preposition+location
- Ami hi ri nawa. I'm not well.
- Ovanatje kave ri kOtjiwarongo. The children aren't in Otjiwarongo.
Na is generally used to show association or having. The associative usually prefixes onto the noun, almost always dropping the a if the noun beings with a vowel.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + habitual subject concord + (n(a)+noun)
- Mbi nozombura omirongo vivari. I have twenty years. (I'm twenty years old.)
- U notjipaturure? Do you have the key?
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative habitual subject concord + (n(a)+noun)
- Hi nozombura omirongo vivari. I don't have twenty years. (I'm not twenty years old.)
- Ko notjipaturure. You don't have the key.
Present Progressive / Near Future Tense
Verbs that are happening in the current moment are usually conjugated in this tense, though some verbs will be conjugated in the recent past tense. Also, verbs that will take place in the arbitrarily "near" future are conjugated in this tense.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + present progressive / near future subject concord + main alternative conjugation
- Me ya nambano I'm coming now.
- Matu kondo ovirongo We're crossing towns/villages. (travelling/visiting)
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative present progressive / near future subject concord U verb stem conjugation
- Ko nakuyenda? You're not going?
- Ozongombe kaze nakunwa kotjitoto. The cows aren't going to drink at the hole.
Indefinite Future Tense
Actions that will take place in some indefinitely distant future are generally conjugated in this tense.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + indefinite future subject concord + main alternative conjugation
- Mokurooro maatu karya ozombe In the summer, we will go eat berries.
- Mee i koAmerica I will go to America.
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative indefinite future subject concord + main alternative conjugation
- Kamaatu zembi We will not forget.
- Himee koho ozombanda. I will not wash clothes.
This tense is only strictly defined for negations. It can be interpreted in English as "haven't/hasn't" or "still haven't/hasn't"
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative present perfect subject concord + verb stem conjugation
- Hi ya zuva. I haven't heard.
- Ke ya honga. He hasn't taught.
In Otjiherero, the majority of tenses occur in the past. These include
- Recent Past
- Yesterday's/Completed Past
- Intermediately Distant Past
- Very Distant Past
- General Non-Recent Past
- Past Continuous
- Past Habitual
- Copulative / Associative Past
The recent past tense generally includes most verbs that were performed earlier in the same day.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + general past subject concord + main alternative conjugation
- Simbuli wa i kOpuwo. Simbuli went to Opuwo.
- Mba zuu. I understood.
Unlike English, some verbs that are still presently occurring will still use the recent past tense. One can interpret this as a verb that captures an initiation or transition occurring at the beginning of the action, and that the action is grammatically understood to still be taking place if conjugated in the recent past tense; however, similar verbs will not always be conjugated in the same tense.
- Eye wa rara. He/She is sleeping. (He/She fell asleep)
- Mba handja. I'm mad. (I became mad.)
yet some similar verbs are conjugated in the present progressive tense
- Me vanga. I want.
- Mave tira. They are afraid.
There is no negation for this tense, as negations will either migrate into the present perfect or yesterday's / completed past tense.
Yesterday's / Completed Past
Verbs performed a day or a few days ago usually find themselves conjugated in this tense.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + general past subject concord + verb stem conjugation with behalvatory suffix(!)
(!) Some irregular verbs, such as okurya, will not use the verb stem conjugation. See the subsection on behalvatory suffixes for instructions on how to create this suffix.
- Ove wa manene oviungura vyoye." You finished your work.
- Twa kunine ozomiriva. We planted corn.
Also, verbs that use the recent past conjugation to indicate that they are presently occurring will use yesterday's / completed past to show they are complete, even if they happened in the current day.
- Ovanatje va rarere. The children slept. / The children fell asleep. (but they're not asleep anymore) (earlier today)
- Mba handjere. I was mad. / I became mad. (but I'm not mad anymore) (earlier today)
There is no negation for this tense, as negations for non-recent past will migrate to the "general non-recent past" tense.
Intermediately Distant Past
Actions not performed yesterday-ish yet not being emphasized as very distantly past will fall in this intermediate category.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + general past subject concord + verb stem conjugation
- Mba honga. I taught. (not yesterday, but not in the far, far past.)
- Ovanatje va koha ozombanda . The children washed clothes (not yesterday, but not in the far, far past.)
There is no negation for this tense, as negations for non-recent past will migrate to the "general non-recent past" tense.
Very Distant Past
This tense represents the greatest possible emphasis on happening long ago. The formation of this tense is exactly the same as that of yesterday's past, but the verbs will have an up-accent on the final vowel. There is no negation for this tense, as negations for non-recent past will migrate to the "general non-recent past" tense.
General Non-Recent Past
This tense only exists in negation, and encompasses the negations of the "Yesterday's / Completed Past", "Intermediately Distant Past", and "Verb Distant Past" tenses.
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative habitual subject concord + verb stem conjugation with behalvatory suffix(!)
(!) Some irregular verbs, such as okurya, will not use the verb stem conjugation. See the subsection on behalvatory suffixes for instructions on how to create this suffix.
- Hi tupikire. I didn't run.
- Ovanatje kave nyandere. The children didn't play.
To emphasize the extended temporal nature of an action in the past, the past continuous tense is used. This would be the same as saying "I was playing." instead of "I played."
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + general past subject concord + ri + (a- + the subject concord you'd use if you were doing the action right now. Thus usually the present progressive subject concord, but for some verbs this would be the general past subject concord.) + main alternative conjugation
- Mba ri ame nyanda. I was playing.
- Ovanatje va ri amave koho ozombanda. The children were washing clothes.
This tense is especially useful for saying that something happened while something else was happening.
- Mama wandje we ndji tonene ongoze tji mba ri ame i. My mother called me while I was leaving.
- Mba zikire omariro womuhuka omunene ove tji wa ri awa rara. I cooked breakfast while you were sleeping.
For the 3rd person singular, certain contractions may be used.
- Kauarive wa ri ama kondjisa omusuko. Kauarive was flirting with the young girl. (theoretical non-contracted sentence)
- Kauarive wa ri aa kondjisa omusuko. (partially contracted)
- Kauarive wa raa kondjisa omusuko. (standard form)
The conjunction ngunda ("while") is also used in the past continuous tense.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + ngunda + (a- + the subject concord you'd use if you were doing the action right now. Thus usually the present progressive subject concord, but for some verbs this would be the general past subject concord.) + main alternative conjugation
In other words, ngunda can replace the general past subject concord and the ri.
- Mama wandje we ndji tonene ongoze ngunda ame i. My mother called me while I was leaving.
- Mba zikire omariro womuhuka omunene ove ngunda awa rara. I cooked breakfast while you were sleeping.
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + past copulative subject concord + ri + (a- + the subject concord you'd use if you were doing the action right now. Thus usually the present progressive subject concord, but for some verbs this would be the general past subject concord.) + main alternative conjugation
- Himba ri ame nyanda. I wasn't playing.
- Ovanatje kava ri amave koho ozombanda. The children weren't washing clothes.
Actions that once took place habitually but are no longer taking place habitually fall into the past habitual tense. This can be compared to "used to" in English.
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + past habitual subject concord + verb stem conjugation
- Ozongombe aaze kara mokuti. Cows used to live in the wilderness.
- Ami ee nyanda, nambano hi nyanda rukwao. I used to play, now I don't play anymore.
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative past habitual subject concord + verb stem conjugation
- Ozongombe kaaze kara mokuti. Cows didn't used to live in the wilderness.
- Ami hee nyanda, nambano mbi nyanda. I didn't used to play, now I play.
Copulative / Associative Past
To use the Otjiherero copula ri in the past tense, the copulative past conjugation is used (unless in the past habitual). This is required when
- Using past continuous (described above)
- Using ri to identify one noun with another noun in the past
- Using na/n- to show association in the past
The following formula describes the formation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + general past subject concord + ri + (noun OR (na/n-+noun))
- Mba ri omiṱiri. I was a teacher.
- Mba ri nokati. I had a stick.
The following formula describes the negation of this tense: (optional pronoun/name/noun) + negative copulative past subject concord + ri + (noun OR (na/n-+noun))
- Himba ri omiṱiri. I wasn't a teacher.
- Himba ri nokati. I didn't have a stick.
In the case of the copula ri in a past habitual tense, the conjugation proceeds in the habitual tense style.
- Ee ri omiṱiri. I used to be teacher.
- Hee ri nokati. I didn't used to have a stick.
Other than when used in possessive determiners, pronouns are rarely used as objects. Instead, Otjiherero speakers use object concords, which replace object pronouns with no change in meaning. Each personal pronoun and noun class has its own object concord
|Personal Pronoun or Noun Class||Object Concord|
Note that these are the same as the present habitual subject concords for each noun class respectively, as well as some impersonal pronouns. The excepted noun class is class 1s, where the object concord corresponds with that of the third person singular personal pronoun, eye.
Unless involved in a sentence with a verb in the infinitive form, object concords situate themselves directly before the verb. When the verb is in the infinitive form, the object concord is infixed between the oku- and the verb stem. If a directive particle is also being used, the object concord is infixed between the directive particle and the verb stem.
An important grammatical consideration is that object concords are one of several grammatical pieces in Otjiherero that cause -as of preceding parts of speech to change into -es. They are able to affect subject concords, directive particles, and relative concords.
- Ove we ndji pe ovikurya. You gave me food.
- Matu ku vatere. We are helping you.
- Me mu raere. I/He/She will tell him/her/you pl..
- We ze munu pi? Where did you see them? (some mutually understood noun from the ozo- noun class)
- Oviṋa vyoye matu vi paha. We are looking for your things.
- [Okambihi] mbe ke zepa. I killed it [the cat].
- [Okambihi] me vanga okukezepa. I want to kill it [the cat].
- [Ngurije] me sokumupaha. I must look for her [Ngurije]
- [Okambihi] me vanga okukekezepa. I want to go kill it [the cat].
- [Ngurije] me sokukemupaha. I must go look for her [Ngurije].
- Omundu ngwe ku tono u ri pi? Where is the person who hit you?
Note the ambiguity created in the third example by the inclusion of an object concord. It is possible that native speakers could determine the exact meaning of the sentence by the tone of me and mu. For non-native speakers or written Otjiherero, one can gain clarification by including pronouns.
- Eye, Ami me mu raere. I will tell him/her.
Relative concords cause a verb or verb phrase to act as an adjective. They are comparable to "that", "which", and "who" in English. They come after the subject and replace the subject concord of the verb phrase.
Basic Relative concords
|Subject||Past||Present Habitual||Present Progressive / Near Future|
|ami||ngu mba||ngu mbi||ngu me|
|ove||ngu wa||ngu u||ngu mo|
|eṱe||mbu twa||mbu tu||mbu matu|
|eṋe||mbu mwa||mbu mu||mbu mamu|
|1s. omu-||ngwa||ngu||ngu ma|
|1p. ova-||mba||mbe||mbu mave|
|1p. oo-||mba||mbe||mbu mave|
|2s. omu-||mbwa||mbu||mbu mau|
|2p. omi-||mbya||mbi||mbi mavi|
|3s. e-||nda||ndi||ndi mari|
|3p. oma-||nga||nge||ngu maye|
|4s. otji-||tji tja||tji tji||tji matji|
|4p. ovi-||mbya||mbi||mbi mavi|
|5s. o-||ndja||ndji||ndji mai|
|5p. ozo-||nḓa||nḓe||nḓu maze|
|6s. oru-||ndwa||ndu||ndu maru|
|6p. otu-||tu twa||tu tu||tu matu|
|7s. oka-||ku ka||ku ke||ku make|
|7p. ou-||mbwa||mbu||mbu mau|
|8s. oku-||ku kwa||ku ku||ku maku|
|8p. oma-||nga||nge||ngu maye|
|9s. ou-||mbwa||mbu||mbu mau|
|10s. oku-||ku kwa||ku ku||ku maku|
|11. pu||pu pa||pu pu||pu mape|
|12. ku||ku kwa||ku ku||ku maku|
|13. mu||mu mwa||mu mu||mu mamu|
Basic relative concords come after the subject and replace the subject concord of the verb phrase. If there is a copula ri, associative na or both, they come after the relative concord.
- Omuatje wa tono ombwa yandje The child hit my dog
- Omuatje ngwa tono ombwa yandje The child who hit my dog
- Ovanatje mbe nyanda otjimbere ve ri pi? Where are the children that play soccer?
- Toneye ozondana nḓu maze nyamu! Hit the calves that are breast-feeding!
- Ovandu mbe nozombanda mave nyanda. The people who have clothes are playing.
- Ovanadu mba ri nozombanda mave nyanda. The people who had clothes are playing.
- Orukuṋe ndu ri pekuma ru rira ndu ri pezuko. The firewood which is in the wood holder becomes (the wood) which is in the fire.
If the subject of the action in the relative verb phrase is different from the original subject, the following formula is used:
[First word of the present progressive relative concord] + [tense-appropriate subject concord for the relative subject]
- Ombwa ndja suvera The dog that loves (Dog is the initial subject and the subject that "loves" in the relative verb phrase)
- Ombwa ndji mba suvera The dog that I love (Dog is the initial subject, but "I" is the subject that "loves" in the relative verb phrase)
- Ryanga u mune oviṋa mbi u zuva uriri. Visit around so that you can see the things which you only hear about.
- Oove omundu ngu me vanga. You are the person who I like.
To negate in the present habitual, simply put the negatory particle ha after the habitual relative concord. The verb is conjugated in the main alternative form.
To negate in the present progressive, simply replace the second word of the present progressive relative concord with hi naku-. The verb is conjugated in the verb stem form
To negate with na or ri in the present, insert he between the habitual relative concord and the na or ri.
- Omuatje ngu ha ungura ka vangwa. The child who doesn't work isn't wanted.
- Ami me tono omuatje ngu hi nakuungura. I'm going to hit the child who isn't working.
- Ami me tono omuatje ngu he nozombanda. I'm going to hit the child who doesn't have clothes.
- Ame me tono omuatje ngu he ri metuwo. I'm going to hit the child who isn't in the room.
Similar to Otjiherero nouns, all standard Otjiherero adjectives have a noun-class prefix and an adjective stem. Unlike nouns, adjectives do not have invariable prefixes that are essential to their identity as a word. Instead, adjectives simply inherit the noun-class prefix of the noun they are describing. Thus, since a part of an adjectives depends on the subject it's modifying, standard adjectives cannot be written without implying a subject (or at the most, a possible set of subjects). However, since the adjective stem remains the same regardless of subject, it is useful to use adjective stems as a way to record adjectives.
Common Adjective Stems
|Adjective Stem||English Counterpart|
Standard adjectives usually come after nouns, and consist of a noun-class prefix and an adjective stem.
- Tara omundu omunene. Look at the big person.
- Tara ekopi enene. Look at the big cup.
- Tara orutuwo orunene. Look at the big spoon.
Unlike English, adjectives themselves aren't declined to show comparison, such as "big" becoming "bigger". Instead, the preposition pu is added as a prefix to the noun which the initial noun is being compared to. Pu will almost always omit the u when prefixed to a noun beginning with a vowel, which most do. Exceptions include loanwords that are proper nouns.
- Ombwa onene pomuautje. The dog is bigger than the child.
- Tjiuri u nozondunge puMojao. Tjiuri is more clever than Mojao.
- Otjitarazu omure pEtengarindi. December is longer than February. (Here the adjective uses the omu- prefix in order imply omueze, meaning "month")
Superlatives can be formed in two ways. The first way is to double the last two syllables of the adjective stem, or in the case of single syllable adjective stems, simply double the adjective stem
- Muniehi omurere moklasa. Muniehi is the tallest in the class.
- Eye wa haama motjihavero otjinenenene. He/She sat in the biggest chair.
- Owami omunazondungendunge. I'm the most clever.
The other approach to superlatives is formed just like comparatives, except tjinene is added after the adjective, and a form of "all" placed after the compared group. While these may arguably be comparatives, the addition of tjinene indicates a unique form.
- Munieji omure tjinene povanatje avehe moklasa. Muniehi is taller than all the children in the class.
- Eye wa haama motjihavero otjinene tjinene povihavero avihe. She/He sat in the chair bigger than all the chairs.
- Owami omunazondunge tjinene povandu avehe. I'm more clever than all the people.
Using Relative Concords
One may quickly notice that Otjiherero has very few adjectives compared to English. Similar to English relative concords are used to modify a noun when the adjective doesn't exist.
- Ombwa ya urwa The dog is tired (There is no adjective stem for "tired" in Otjiherero, but there is a verb)
- Ombwa ndja urwa The tired dog / The dog which is tired (Using the relative concord ndja, "tired" acts as an adjective rather than a verb)
Unlike many languages, Otjiherero does not have a formula for changing adjectives to adverbs. Compare this to English where many adjectives can become adverbs by adding "-ly".
Selected Important Adverbs
|navi||badly, a lot|
|tjinene||very much, a lot|
|kaṱiṱi||a little, slowly|
For situations where a verb, adjective, or adverb must be modified in a way that no existing adverb allows, an extended adverb may be created by using the following formula
verb + a- + [subject concord and verb modifying the original verb]
This is comparable to "while" in English. Note that verbs normally use recent past subject concords to describe the present tense will use a recent past concord here as well. All other verbs will use present progressive subject concords.
- Ami mbe mu undura amba pindike. I pushed him angrily. / I pushed him while angry.
- Ove we mu undura awa pindike. You pushed him angrily. / You pushed him while angry.
- Eye we mu undura a pinkike. She pushed him angrily. / She pushed him while angry. (notice that eye/omu- has this grammatical exception for past tense)
- Ami mbe ku munu ame tupuka. I saw you while I was running.
- Ove we ndji munu amo tupuka. You saw me while you were running.
One important conjunctive adverb in Otjiherero is nu, meaning "then" or "and then". If followed by a word that starts with a vowel, the nu is often dropped, and the n- added a prefix to the word. If followed by wa or we, the past subject concord for 3rd person singular personal nouns/pronouns, the u and w are dropped, and the words combine to na or ne
- Ovandu vevari va vanga okuvaka, nowo [nu owo] ave kamburwa. Two people wanted to steal, and then they were caught.
- Omuatje wa ri ama tupuka na [nu wa] u. The child was running and then fell.
- Omukazendu wa toora omuatje ne mu pukata. The woman picked up the child and sat him on her lap.
Otjiherero makes use of the following determiners:
- Cardinal Numbers
- Ordinal Numbers
Most notably omitted when compared to English are articles, which are compensated for by context or demonstratives
In Otjiherero, each noun class has its own demonstratives, and the demonstrative corresponds to the noun class of the noun it refers to. Some noun classes have multiple demonstratives in use due to generational differences or regional differences, and these are represented in the table below by fields with multiple entries. The oru- and otu- classes specifically have a wide range of demonstratives in use, and not all possibilities are listed.
Demonstratives by Proximity and Nounclass
|Noun Class||Near ("This")||Further ("That")||Even further ("That over there")|
Demonstratives can be positioned before or after their corresponding noun. When positioned after, they are used exactly as in the table above. When written before the noun, an i- is prefixed to the demonstrative.
- omuatje ngwi this child
- ingwi omuatje this child
- otjiṋa ho that thing
- iho otjiṋa that thing
- ozondundu nḓena" those hills over there
- inḓena ozondundu" those hills over there
A common usage of demonstratives in Otjiherero involves placing them directly after a corresponding pronoun. This creates a new meaning, along the lines of "Here it is / There it is / There it is over there" or "It's this one here / It's that one there / It's that one over there"
- "Ongombe i ri pi?" "Oyo ndji." "Where is the cow?" "Here it is."
- "Simbuli u ri pi?" "Eye ngo." "Where is Simbuli?" "There she is."
- "Zaongara u ri pi?" "Owami ngwi." "Where is Zaongara?" "I'm here."
Demonstratives can stand alone as demonstrative pronouns. See the pronouns section above.
Possessive determiners are composed of two parts: a possessive concord prefixed to a possessive suffix. Possessive concords correspond to the noun class of the noun being possessed, while the possessive suffix corresponds to the noun class of the possessor.
Possessive Concords (similar to "of")
|Noun Class||Possessive Concord|
Exception: omuṱena (opposite-sex sibling) has an irregular possessive concord, using kwa- instead of wa-
The possessive suffix can take four different forms, creating four different classes of possessive determiners
- Personal Pronoun Possessive Determiners
- Proper Noun Possessive Determiners
- Common Noun Possessive Determiners
- Impersonal Pronoun Possessive Determiners
Personal Pronoun Possessive Determiners
Personal pronoun possessive determiners are possessive determiners with a personal pronoun (or noun from the first noun class) doing the possessing. For these, the suffix is a personal possessive pronoun.
Personal Possessive Suffixes
|Pronoun||Personal Possessive Pronoun|
The final a of the possessive concord is dropped when the possessive determiner is formed. Also note that possessors in the first noun class, omu/ova are treated as eye/ova respectively.
- Eta embo randje. Give me my book (the book of mine).
- Eye nomukazendu we. He and his wife (the wife of his).
- Omurumendu nomukazendu we. A man and his wife (the wife of his).
- Ovaherero nozongombo zawo. The Hereros and their goats (the goats of theirs).
Proper Noun Possessive Determiners
When a proper noun is doing the possessing, the possessive concord is simply prefixed to the proper noun. Two types of inflection are possible:
- If the proper noun has a noun class (example: Okahandja) the first letter of the proper noun is dropped
- If the proper noun does not have a noun class, no letters are dropped
- embo raAnna Anna's book (the book of Anna)
- ovandu vaKahandja people of Okahandja
- omundu waMama Mother's person (meaning you're related)
- ozongombo zaTate Father's goats (goats of Father)
Common Noun Possessive Determiners
When a common noun is doing the possessing, the -a of the possessive concord is dropped.
- otjipaturure tjomberoo office key (key of the office)
Impersonal Pronoun Possessive Determiners
When an impersonal pronoun is doing the possessing, the -o of the impersonal pronoun is dropped.
- otjipaturure tjayo its key ("it" quite possibly referring to "office", as "omberoo" is in the o- noun class and would thus use the oyo pronoun)
Important quantifiers in Otjiherero include
1. tjiva some 2. -arwe other, another, different 3. -kwao another 4. o- -ngi many, most 5. a- -he all
Tjiva expresses the idea of "some" in Otjiherero. Tjiva positions itself after the noun like a standard adjective, but does not inflect.
- Mba munu ozongombe tjiva. I saw some cows.
Other, another, different
-arwe expresses the idea of "other", "another" or "different" in Otjiherero. -arwe is prefixed with the possessive prefix of the noun it modifies, with the a- of the possessive prefix dropped. -arwe is similar to -kwao, but -arwe can be used to imply difference, where as -kwao almost always means "another".
- omundu warwe another person / other person / a different person
- eyuva rarwe another day / other day (not today)
-kwao expresses the idea of "another" in Otjiherero. It inflects as a standard adjective. -arwe is similar to -kwao, but -arwe can be used to imply difference, where as -kwao almost always means "another".
-arwe and -kwao can be confusing for an English speaker because we often use "another" for two very different ideas. One use involves addition, while another involves replacement.
- Ngatu ungure eyuva ekwao. Let's work another day. (in addition to today)
- Ngatu ungure eyuva rarwe. Let's work another day. (instead of today)
o- -ngi expresses the idea of "many" (and sometimes "most") in Otjiherero. It does not inflect as a standard adjective; rather, the present habitual subject concord of the modified noun is infixed between the o- and the -ngi.
Examples ovandu ovengi many people otumwe otungi many mosquitoes
a- -he expresses the idea of "all" in Otjiherero. It does not inflect as a standard adjective; rather, the present habitual subject concord of the modified noun is infixed between the a- and the -he.
Examples ovandu avehe all people otumwe atuhe all mosquitoes aruhe always, usually (short for oruveze aruhe, "all of the time")
1 through 5
For numbers 1 through 5, cardinal numbers work like standard adjectives, except number stems are prefixed with the present habitual subject concord of the noun they modify instead of the noun-class prefix.
|English||Otjiherero number stems|
The ozo- class inflects differently. Instead of being prefixed, the number stem stands alone. Moreover, number stems starting with v- change to mb- and number stems starting with t- change to nd-.
The number 4 has a few irregular inflections
- For the oma- noun class, 4 is prefixed with ya-, thus yane
- For the ova- noun class, 4 is prefixed with va-, thus vane
- For the ozo- noun class, 4 is prefixed with i-, thus ine
When using numbers in and of and themselves (not modifying anything), they are treated as if modifying a word in the ozo- class, except an i- is always prefixed (even beyond 5). For example, the first five numbers are imwe, imbari, indatu, ine, indano
- omundu umwe one person
- omapanga yetano five friends
- ozongombe ndatu three cows
- ozongombo ine four goats
- imwe, imbari, indatu, ine, indano... one, two, three, four, five... (counting for the sake of counting)
6 through 10
Numbers 6 through 10 do not inflect. Numbers 6 through 8 are simply 1 through 3 as if inflected for the ozo- noun class, with hambo- prefixed.
- omambo hambombari seven books
- ozongombo hambombari seven goats
11 through 19
Numbers 11 through 19 are simply formed through addition. For example, 15 would be "ten and five". Note that the number in the unit's place still inflects as it normally would if it stood alone.
- otumwe omurongo na tutatu thirteen mosquitoes
- ovirongo omurongo na vivari twelve towns
20 through 99
Numbers 20 through 99 are also formed through addition. Multiples of 10 are created by treating 10 as a noun, and modifying it with a number 1 through 9.
Examples of multiples of 10
|twenty (two tens)||omirongo vivari|
|thirty (three tens)||omirongo vitatu|
|forty (four tens)||omirongo vine|
|seventy (seven tens)||omirongo hambondatu|
|ninety (nine tens)||omirongo muvyu|
- ozongombe omirongo vitano na ndatu fifty-three cows
- ovandu omirongo muvyu na vetano ninety-five people
100 and beyond
Numbers 100 and beyond are formed through addition, with each place value modified as a noun to create its multiples. Like English, place values of "thousand" and beyond are modified up to hundreds in order to create three places (example: thousands, ten thousands, hundred thousands; millions, ten millions, hundred millions)
|uncountable (like infinity)||ehavarwa|
- ozongombe omayovi hambombari, omasere yane nomirongo vivari na imwe seven thousand four hundred twenty-one cows
- ovandu engete omayovi omasere yane omasere yevari nomirongo vitatu na vane one million four hundred thousand two hundred and thirty-four people
The following formula converts cardinal numbers to ordinal numbers
o + [present habitual concord of ordered noun] + tja + [number stem]
The exceptions are "first" and "last". These are constructed as standard adjectives, with -tenga as the adjective stem for "first", and -senina as the adjective stem for "last".
- embo etenga first book
- oruveze orutjavari second time
- ombapira oitjahambombari seventh paper
- eyuva esenina last day
Other Important Prefixes and Particles
In Otjiherero, the prefix ka- can be used with nouns, adjectives, and verbs in the infinitive form. It functions similar to "not" or "it's not a". When being prefixes onto a work, the first vowel of the original word is dropped if it began with a vowel. There is no ambiguity with the directive prefix ka- because the directive prefix is only prefixed to verb stems, whereas the negative prefix will prefix to the beginning of the infinitive verb.
- kangombe it's not a cow / is not a cow
- kamuatje it's not a child / is not a child
- ongombe kanene the cow is not big / the not-big cow
- Kanao. It's not like that (Nao. = like that)
- Kakuhepa! Not thank you! / You weren't supposed to say thank you!
Similar to the negative prefix, the negative particle ha adds negation. It can be thought of as similar to "Not" "Non-" "Un-" "In-". It is normally used as an infix in adjectives and their derivatives (placed between the noun-class prefix and the noun stem) or as a particle before verbs in sentences asking "why" or with relative concords.
- -kohoke clean
- oukohoke cleanliness
- -hakohoke unclean
- ouhakohoke uncleanliness
- Ongwaye ombi tji i ha tuka? Why doesn't the ostrich fly?
- Omuatje ngu ungura ongu vangwa, ngu ha ungura ka vangwa. The child who works is the one who is wanted, [the child] who doesn't work isn't wanted
The nominal prefix o- can be added to words to make them more independent. Main uses occur with personal pronouns, personal and impersonal noun-class possessives, relative concords, and interrogatives. One can think of this in 2 ways.
- cause the word to become a full noun
- adds a sense of "it is / is it?" or "they are the ones / are they?" to the word
- ozongombe zeṋe which cows (incomplete sentence)
- Ozongombe ozeṋe. Which cows are they? / The cows are which ones? (complete sentence)
- uṋe who (incomplete sentence)
- Ouṋe? Who is it (complete sentence)
- ekori raTate Father's hat (incomplete sentence)
- Ekori oraTate. It is Father's hat. (complete sentence)
- Owami ngwi. I'm here (notice that for the special case of ami, a -w- is added)
- Oove omundu ngu me vanga. You are the person who I like.
- Omuatje ngu ungura ongu vangwa, ngu ha ungura ka vangwa. The child who works is the one who is wanted, [the child] who doesn't work isn't wanted.
The copula in Otjiherero is ri. It functions similar to "be/is/am/are" in English, though it is not a verb. Common uses include identifying with adverbs, querying location, and specifying location. It also is used for identifying two nouns in the past, as seen in the "Copulative / Associative Past" above. Lastly, it comes up in the past continuous tense.
- Mbi ri nawa. I am fine.
- Tjikuru u ri pi? Where is Grandma?
- Eye u ri koskole. He/She is at school.
The associative in Otjiherero is na. It functions similar to "have" in English, thought it is not a verb. It is generally prefixed to a following noun, and drops its a- if the following noun begins with a vowel.
- Mbi nozombura omirongo vivari. I'm twenty years old. / I have twenty years.
- Tjiuri u nozondunge. Tjiuri is clever. / Tjiuri has intelligence.
- U notjipaturure? Do you have the key?
- Mba ri nokati. I had a stick.
The non-contrasting conjunction in Otjiherero is na, similar to "and" in English.
If the following word begins with a vowel, the u will often be dropped and the n- prefixed to the following word. Alternatively, sometimes the vowel of the following word is dropped, and the na- is prefixed to the word.
- Anna na Vehambana va ire kOpuwo. Ann and Vehambana went to Opuwo.
- Anna nepanga re va ire kOpuwo. Ann and her friend went to Opuwo.
The most fundamental contrasting conjunction is posi ya or posi ya kutja, meaning "but". Other forms include mara (loan word from Afrikaans); nungwari, which is more similar to "however"; and nangwari, which is similar to "however"/"actually".
- Twa vanga okuyenda pamwe, posi ya we ndji esa po. We wanted to go together, but she left me here.
- Omuatje we ire kondjuwo, nagwari otjipaturure ka ri natjo. The child went to the house, however he didn't have the key.
The conjunction for alternative in Otjiherero is poo, meaning "or".
- Oove Maria poo oove Anna? Are you Maria or are you Anna?
The consequential conjunction in Otjiherero is okutja, meaning "so"/"therefore".
- Hi nakuvanga okuvera, okutja hi nakurya oLuncheon Rolla. I don't want to get sick, therefore I'm not going to eat a Luncheon Roll.
Selected Important Subordinating Conjunctions
|mena rokutja, orondu, tjinga||because||Ami mbi kara mondjuwo mena rokutja hi nakutjiwa ovandu votjirongo. I stay in the house because I don't know the people of the town.|
|kutja||that||Me tjiwa kutja ovanatje va pindike. I know that the children are mad.|
|nanda, nanga, nangarire (kutja)||even, even if, even though||Ami me ya nangarire kutja we ndji tono. I'm coming even though you hit me.|
|tjinga||when||Tjinga mbe ya, mo ndji sutu. When I came, you paid me.|
|tji||if/when||Ove tji mo i kOkahandja, ndji twaerera. If/When you go to Okahandja, take me along.|
|ngaa, ngandu (tji)||until [for verbs]||Ami me kara mOtavi ngandu/ngaa tji mba pakwa. I'll live in Otavi until I am buried.|
|nga ku||until [for nouns]||Ami me kara mOtavi nga ku Otjitarazu. I'll live in Otavi until December.|
|ngunda||while||Jesus novahongewa ve ngunda amave piti moJeriko... While Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jeriko...|
|tjandje||while, at that time, that was when||Tjandje ponganda pa ri omukandi, ovandu ve ura While there was a party at the home, people filled it.|
Selected Important Correlative Conjunctions
|kutja—poo||whether—or||Kutja mo vanga poo ko nakuvanga. I stay in the house because I don't know the people of the town.|
Otjiherero contains an assortment of prepositions, with pu, ku, and mu being the most important.
|kongotwe (y-)||behind [at the behind (of)]||Mbi ri kongotwe yoye. I am behind you.|
|kehi (y-)||below [at the below (of)]||Ombwa i ri kehi yohauto. The dog is under the car.|
|tjimuna/tjina||like||Mo munika tjimuna Petrus. You look like Petrus|
|otja||as, like||Wa haama otjomutengwa. He sat as a gentleman.|
|pendje na||except, unlike||Ovahongwa avehe ve nozondunge pendje na Petrus. All the learners are smart except Petrus.|
|tjinene||especially||Ovakambure vaNjdambi avehe mave mu minike, tjinene imba ovondjuwo yombara yokombandambanda. All the believers of God greet you, especially these of the house of the highest chief.|
|nokuhina-[noun], nokuhinaku-[verb]||without||Mba rarere nokuhinakurota. I slept without dreaming. Tjikuru ma tjiwa okurya onyama nokuhinomayo. Grandma knows how to eat meat without teeth.|
Pu, Ku, and Mu
Pu, ku, and mu have special applications. Note that it is difficult to define the difference between pu and ku, and the provided definitions will not always hold.
|pu||at (a place the speaker is currently at)||Mbi ri ponganda. I am at home.|
|ku||at (a place the speaker is currently not at), to||Me i kOpuwo. I'm going to Opuwo.|
|mu||in||O hiti mondjuwo! Don't enter in the house!|
What makes pu, ku, and mu special is that they can behave like quasi nouns. When used this way, they are able to have subject concords, demonstratives, relative concords, and conditional concords.
Prepositional Subject Concords
|Noun Class||Past||Present Habitual||Present Progressive / Near Future|
These create situations similar to "there are" or "here is" in English
- Mondjuwo mamu nyanda ovanatje. In the house there are children playing.
- Maku wondjo omundu omure. There walks a tall person.
- Pomuvero pa rara omuatje. At the door there sleeps a child.
|Noun Class||This||That||That Over There|
- Indjo mba. Come here.
Prepositional Relative Concords
|Noun Class||Past||Present Habitual||Present Progressive / Near Future|
|pu||pu pa||pu pu||pu mape|
|ku||ku kwa||ku ku||ku maku|
|mu||mu mwa||mu mu||mu mamu|
- Omahongero, mu mwa za ozomiṱiri zetu. Education, in which our teachers come from.
Prepositional Conditional Concords
- Andaku ovandu ve ṱa nomana, katjaku kara ozofano. If people died with [their] names, there wouldn't be surnames.
Otjiherero contains an assortment of interrogatives, with ongwaye (why) being the most unusual.
Selected Interrogatives 
|pi||where||Anna u ri pi? Where is Ann?|
|vi||how||Pe ri vi? How is it?|
|ye/iye||what, who||Mo ungura ye? You are doing what?|
|ruṋe||when||Mo ya ruṋe? When are you coming?|
Ongwaye has two uses. The first is a stand-alone word asking "what?", which could mean, for example, "what did you say?" or "what are you laughing at?". The second use is to ask "why?" questions. In these circumstances, it will nearly always be paired with tji. If the subject noun or pronoun is included in the sentence, it will come between ongwaye and tji. These constructions vary greatly between a positive question and a negative question.
Positive constructions simply begin the sentence with ongwaye and tji. Note that for the personal 3rd person, the recent past subject concord wa will combine with tji to form tja, and the habitual subject concord u will combine with tji to form tje.
- Ongwaye tji mo tjiti nao? Why are you (sing.) doing that?
- Ongwaye tji mamu pahere omunamuinyo movaṱi? Why are you (pl.) searching for a living person amongst dead people?
- Ongwaye tje tupuka? Why does he run?
- Ongwaye tja tupuka? Why did he run?
- Ongwaye tji ma tupuka? Why is he running?
For negatives in the recent past, use the following formula:
ongwaye + [optional noun/pronoun] + tji + [habitual subject concord] + hi ya + [verb in "verb-stem" conjugation]
- Ongwaye tje hi ya zika? Why did he not cook? (recently)
For negatives in the non-recent past, use the following formula:
ongwaye + [optional noun/pronoun] + tji + [negative particle ha] + [verb in "yesterdays past" conjugation]
- Ongwaye tje ha zikire? Why did he not cook? (non-recently)
For negatives in the habitual tense, use the following formula:
ongwaye + [optional noun/pronoun] + tji + [habitual subject concord] + [negative particle ha] + [verb in "main alternative" conjugation]
- Ongwaye ombo tji i ha tuka? Why doesn‘t the ostrich fly?
For negatives in the present progressive tense, use the following formula:
ongwaye + [optional noun/pronoun] + tji + [habitual subject concord] + hi naku–
- Ongwaye tji u hi nakuyenda? Why are you not going?
- Ongwaye tje hi nakutupuka? Why is he not running?
As with all other languages, Otjiherero includes a variety of grammatical moods to express the speaker's attitude toward what they are saying.
The conditional mood of Otjiherero can be subdivided into three distinct subtypes. These would all be constructed with "if" in English, so English speakers often struggle to internalize and implement correctly these three types.
The factual and predictive conditional indicator in Otjiherero is tji. It functions as "if/when" in English. Whether it functions more strongly as an "if" or a "when" is determined through context. Sentences are constructed similarly to English, except that if a noun/pronoun is included in the conditional statement, tji will come directly after the noun and before the subject concord. Notice that negative forms will take the grammatical structure of "why" questions formed with the interrogative ongwaye + tji, as outlined above.
- Matu hakaene ove tji mo vanga okurihonga Otjiherero. We will meet if/when you want to learn Otjiherero.
- Tji u hi nakuvanga, o ndji pe. If you don‘t want (to give me), don‘t give me.
Speculative moods (speculating as to how things would be or would have been) are formed through a form of andakuzu and a conditional concord. As such, the speculated condition will always be in the past or present tense, though the consequence could be in any tense
Note that a less common, older style of positive conditional concords replaces the initial vowel with i-. For example, etje would be itje, otjo would be itjo, etc.
- Andakuzu kaweṱe mbu twa munu ihi otjipuka, eṋe katjamu kara na tji mamu ramba. If we hadn't seen this wild animal, you wouldn't have had (anything) which you chased.
- Tjikuru, Oritjatano, tji mba ire kOkakarara, andaku ove we ndji pere ovimariva, e(tje) kaeterera oruhere. Grandma, Friday, when I went to Okakarara, if you would‘ve given me money, I would‘ve went and brought along porridge.
- Ripura uri, kutja eṱe omahupiro wetu atjaye rira tjike andakuzu eṱe katu hungire. Just think, that us our lifestyles would become what if we didn‘t talk. (Just think, what would our life be like if we didn‘t talk.)
- Andakuzu eṱe tu noskole, atjatu kahongisa omuatje wetu. If we had school (had education / had finished school), we would go make our child be taught (probably means, like, send him to a good school in Windhoek).
Also, be aware that sometimes andakuzu gets used two times, without the use of a conditional concord.
- Andakuzu me riyozike omuini, andakuzu ondjozikiro yandje katjiṋa. If I honor myself, my honor would be nothing.
Worth noting is that the conditional concord does not change with tense. Thus, the tense of the consequence must be determined through context. The following examples, being spoken by a volunteer during Term 2, illustrate this. In these examples, one would not know the tense of the consequence unless it was previously established that the conversation took place in term 2.
- Andakuzu hee vanga okuhonga moTerm1, etje yaruka moTerm1. If I wasn‘t wanting to teach during Term 1, I would‘ve gone back in Term 1.
- Andakuzu hee vanga okuhonga moTerm1, etje yaruka ndino. If I wasn‘t wanting to teach during Term 1, I would be going back today. [perhaps isn't allowed to go back until term 2, but had to decide during Term 1 whether or not to go back]
- Andakuzu hee vanga okuhonga moTerm1, etje yaruka moTerm3. If I wasn‘t wanting to teach during Term 1, I would be going back in Term 3. [perhaps isn't allowed to go back until term 3, but had to decide during Term 1 whether or not to go back]
The dubitative mood indicates doubt. This mood is constructed by beginning the clause with ndovazu, ndaazu, ndeeri, or tjinangara. They are all nearly equivalent, with ndeeri sounding more childish, and tjinangara sounding more poetic.
- Tjinangara oOve Omuna waNdjambi, raera omawe nga kutja ye rire ozomboroto. If it‘s really true that You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.
- Tjinangara oOve Omuna waNdjambi, rurumina pehi, orondu Omatjangewa... If it‘s really true that You are the Son of God, throw yourself to the ground, for the scriptures...
- Ndaazu ove mo i, okutja ami hi nakuyenda. If it‘s really true that you are going, I‘m not going.
- Ndeeri ove mo i, ami noho me i. If it‘s really true that you are going, I‘m going too.
- Ongwaye tjoo (tji+wa+ri+amo) paha opencila mondjaṱu ndeeri kai mo? Why were you searching for a pencil in the bag if it really wasn‘t in? [as in, the student told you earlier that the pencil wasn't in the bag, and now she's saying she was looking for it in the bag]
The subjunctive mood in Otjiherero is used to compose phrases such as "let us", "let it", "may it", or "it should". The subjunctive mood is constructed by simply replacing the subject concord with a subjunctive concord. The verb uses a special conjugation, using the verb stem conjugation with the final -a replaced with -e.
Note that the subjunctive for ami is used seemingly exclusively for questions. In these contexts, the meaning is similar to "can I?", "should I?" or "shall I?"
- Ngatu yende. Let's go. (in speech often sounds like Kati yende.)
- Ngatu lese nokutjanga mOtjiherero. Let's read and write in Otjiherero.
- Ozombapira ngaze hindwe. Let the papers be sent.
- Nge ye. Let him/her come. (not Nga ye." because ye is a form of okuya, which is a special verb in that it changes the -a of proceeding concords to -e)
- Ngape tjitwe nao. May it be done that way.
- Hi ye? Shall I come?
- Hi ete? Shall I give?
- Hi ku vatere? Can I help you?
The absolute negative mood is similar to "never" or "ever" in English. There are two distinct formulas for the absolute negative mood
Negative habitual subject concord + na + pu + positive past subject concord
- Otjiṋa tji tja sana ngwi katji na pu tja tjitirwe moIsrael! Something like him has never happened in Israel!
- Ozongu ndatu nḓo kaze na pu ze kemumuna rukwao. Those three bears never went and saw her again.
The other formula goes as follows For personal pronouns or noun classes: Negative habitual subject concord+naa + positive past subject concord. For non-personal noun classes: kanaa + positive past subject concord
- Ami hinaa mba ire. I never went.
- Eye kenaa wea ire. He never went.
- Epanga kanaa ra ire. The friend never went.
- Otjipuka kanaa ya ire. The wild animal never went.
- Hinaa mba ri nokati. Nambano mbi nokati. I never had a stick. Now I have a stick.
The intentional mood is similar to "so that" or "in order to" in English. The intentional phrase follows a statement, question, or command to expand on the intent.
The formula for positive intentional sentences is as follows: [Statement, question, or command] + [positive intentional concord] + [verb in verb stem form, with final -a replaced with -e]
The formula for negative intentional sentences is as follows: [Statement, question, or command] + [negative intentional concord] + [negative particle ha] + [verb in verb main alternative form]
Note that, excepting 3rd person singular personal positive concords (eye and omu personal classes), the positive intentional concords are the same as their class's positive habitual subject concords. For all negative concords, the negative intentional concords are the same as their class's positive progressive subject concords, with the initial m- dropped.
Also note that kutja or kokutja can be inserted before the intentional concord for additional emphasis.
- Eta onyama mbi zike. Give me the meat so that I can cook.
- Indjo mbi ku raere. Come so that I can tell you.
- Anna we ya tu ungure pamwe. Anna came so that we could work together.
- Toma wa i kostora ma rande ei. Tom went to the store in order to buy an egg.
- Toma wa i kostora kutja ma rande ei. Tom went to the store in order to buy an egg.
- Okuwa okurikarera kutja o ha hungire puna ovandu. It is good to stay alone so that you don't speak to people.
- Ami mbe mu raere omambo nga, kokutja eṋe amu ha poka kongamburiro yeṋu. I have told you these words so that you don't break your faith.
When narrating a series of actions, sometimes the subsequentory mood is used instead of the standard tense. This is constructed by using the progressive concord without the m- for all verbs after the first.
- Mo kanda ongombe, o twa omaihi mondjupa, o ṱuka. You milk the cow, then put the milk in the calabash, then shake.
- Twa i kostora, atu i kombar. We went to the store, then we went to the bar.
Other Grammatical Occurrences
Commonly Implied Nouns (through concords, adjectives, or determiners)
Often in Otjiherero a noun is omitted, implying that the noun class of the concord, adjective, or determiner is enough to make a reasonable assumption as to what the missing noun is. The following table gives the commonly implied word for come noun classes.
Commonly Implied Nouns
|Noun Class||Commonly Implied Noun||Example Context|
|1s. omu-||omundu person||omure tall person|
|1p. ova-||ovandu people||ovanahepero important people|
|2s. omu-||omuinyo life||Kauhandua Kauhandua (name of a person, with the meaning "life cannot be held on to")|
|3s. e-||eyuva day, sun||Ra toko. The sun has set.|
|4s. otji-||otjiṋa thing||otjinamuinyo living thing|
|4p. ovi-||oviṋa things||Avihe mbi mo vanga. Everything that you want.|
|5s. o-||onganda home||Me i koyetu I'm going to our home.|
|6s. oru-||oruveze time, space, venue||orure long time|
|6p. otu-||otuveze times, spaces, venues||tutatu three times|
Constructing Nouns From Verbs
Many nouns in Otjiherero are similar to the verb they perform. An example in English would be the similarity between "jog" and "jogger". There are two main type of transitions
Verbs Brought Into the omu-, ova-, otji-, ovi-, or ou class
Typically, verbs brought into these noun classes replace the oku- of the infinitive verb with the noun-class prefix of the specified noun class. They also change their last letter from -a to -e. People go into the omu- and ova- noun classes, concrete objects tend to be placed in the otji-/ovi- classes, and more abstract nouns fall into the ou- class.
- okutunga to build => omutunge builder
- okuhinga to drive => ovahinge drivers
- okutjanga to write => otjitjange writing utensil
- okutjitwa to be done => ovitjitwa events (done things) (an example where the final -a does not become -e
- okuhepa to need => ouhepe poverty
- okukohoka to become clean => ouhakohoke Uncleanliness (ha is the negative particle)
Verbs Brought Into the oma- or o- class
Typically, verbs brought into these noun classes replace the oku- of the infinitive verb with the noun-class prefix of the specified noun class. They also change their last letter from -a to -ero, -iro, -eno or -ino. The suffix is determined by the same procedure as seen in "Yesterday's/Completed Past", except the last letter will be -o instead of -e. Also note that many transitions to the o- class will be effected by extra changes, as discussed in "Moving Words to the o- and ozo- Classes" below.
- okuhonga to teach => omahongero education
- okumwina to be quiet => omamwinino silence
- okuzira to answer => omaziriro answers
- okupingena to replace => ombingeneno replacement
- okukambura to believe => ongamburiro trust
- okupandjara to be lost => ombandjarero loss, damnation
Constructing Verbs From Adjectives
Although rare, some adjectives can become verbs by adding the oku- prefix and adding -para at the end.
- -nene big => okunenepara to become big
- -hona ruling => okuhonapara to rule over
Constructing Adjectives From Verbs
A common occurrence, constructed by removing the noun-class prefix and changing the final -a to an -e.
- okukohoka to become clean => -kohoke clean
- okuhepa to need => -hepe needed
Moving Words to the o- and ozo- Classes
When a noun stem, verb stem, or adjective stem beginning with w-, t-, z-, k-, v-, p-, t-, y-, or tj- is used in the o- or ozo- noun class, the first letters of the stem will change
|Conversion||Example Stem||Non o-/ozo- Usage||o-/ozo- usage|
|r => nd||-re||omuatje omure tall child||ombo onde tall ostrich|
|w => mbw||-wa||okanatje okawa good child||ozongombe ozombwa good cows|
|z => nḓ||-zeu||orukuṋe oruzeu heavy wood||ondjaṱu onḓeu|
|k => ng||-karo||otjikaro attitude, lifestyle||ongaro attitude, lifestyle|
|ṱ => nḓ||-ṱiṱi||okati okaṱiṱi small stick||ongombo onḓiṱi small goat|
|v => mb||-vi||okanatje okavi ugly child||ozondjise ozombi ugly hair|
|t => nd||-tenga||omundu omutenga first person||ondjira ondenga first road|
|p => mb||-pandjara||okupandjara to get lost||ombandjarero loss|
|y => ndj||-yokiza||okuyozika to respect||ondjozikiro respect|
|tj => ndj||-tjivisa||okutjivisa to make known||ozondjivisiro announcements|
Also note that the reverse change can happen for words that originate from o- or ozo- noun class.
- ombaze foot => okapaze little foot
- onḓu sheep => okazu little sheep
Checking For Knowledge/Understanding
There exists a short way to ask if someone knows about something. The formula is
[present habitual subject concord] + [object concord] + i
- Oruzo u ru i? Do you know what oruzo is?
- Anna ko mu i? Do you not know Ann?
- Okupunda Omuhiva u ku i? Do you know how to dance the Omuhiva?
- Opencila ko i i? Do you not know what a pencil is?
Situations Where the -a of a Concord, Directive Prefix, or Noun Class Becomes an -e
Some grammatical situations cause the ending -a of a concord, directive prefix, or noun class to become -e. These situations are:
- Reflexive particles, ri-
- Object concords
- The verbs okuya, okukuka, okukura, okuura, and okukuta. (Note that okukuta can mean "to satiate hunger" or "to fasten". When used as "to fasten", this discussion does not apply.)
- Ozondjise zandje ze kuru tjinene. My hair grew a lot.
- Zaongara me ya nambano. Zaongara is coming now.
- We kuta? Are you full (hunger)?
- Eṱe twe rihonogo. We learned.
- Omerihongero. Learning (noun). (Nouns constructed from verbs like this would otherwise start with oma-. Note that the noun still behaves as a noun in the oma- noun class.)
- Eṱe twe ku raere. We told you.
- Me kerikoha. I will go bathe.
- Me kemuraere. I will go tell him/her.
- Nguaiko, Nduvaa (2011). The New Otjiherero Dictionary. Indiana, USA: AuthorHouse. p. 4. ISBN 146346066X.
- Booysen, Jacobus (1982). Otjiherero: ’n Volledige Grammatika met Oefeninge en Sleutels in Afrikaans. Namibia: Gamsberg Macmillan. ISBN 9780868481364.
- Kamupingene, Theofellus (2006). Otjiherero: Woordeboek, Dictionary, Embo Rombambo. Namibia: Gamsberg Macmillan. ISBN 0868481955.
- Bryner, Ann (2011). Otjiherero: Grammar Manual. Namibia.