Useful Swahili phrases
Here are some useful words and phrases in Swahili, the most widely spoken language of Eastern Africa. We hope they help you get by in Kenya and add to the success of your holiday or business trip.
As in much of Africa, courtesy and greetings are very important in Kenya’s culture. It is considered rude not to greet someone you are going to speak to.
- Bibi – madam, a term of respect used to address women.
- Mama – a term of great respect, usually reserved for older women.
- Bwana – sir or mister, a term of respect for men.
- Mzee – elder or old person.
- Rafiki – friend.
There are two usual greetings: Jambo (literally ‘matters’) or Habari (literally ‘news’).
Jambo greetings alter depending on number and gender:
- Hujambo bwana – Hello sir
- Sijambo bibi – Hello madam
- Hamjambo mabwana – Hello gentlemen
- Hatujambo bibi – Hello ladies
- Habari bwana – Hello sir
- Habari bibi – Hello madam
The standard reply is:
- Mzuri – Hello, I am fine,Mzuri
- Habari gani? – How are you?
You might hear or say:
- Habari yako bwana – Hello sir, what is your news (yako – your)
- Mzuri tu – Just fine
- Mzuri sana – Very fine
- Mbaya – Bad
- Asante (sana) – Thank you (very much)
- Kwaheri – Goodbye
- Lala salama – Good night
- Karibu – Welcome
- Yes – Ndiyo
- No – Hapana or La
- Please – Tafadhali
- Sorry – Samahani or Pole
- Excuse me please – Nisamehe or Samahani
- Danger – Hatari
- Slowly – Polepole
- I am lost – Nimepotea
- Please show me the way – Nionyeshe njia tafadhali
- I am happy – Nimefurahi
- No problem – Hakuna matata
- Okay – Haya
- Where? – Wapi?
- Why? – Kwa nini?
- When? – Lini?
- How? – Vipi?
- May I have…? – Tafadhali nipe…?
- I want… – Ninataka…
- Come with me – Twende pamoja
- Help! Fire! – Saidia! Moto!
- Taxi – Teksi
- Stop here – Simama hapa
- Wait here – Ngoja hapa
- Where is the hotel? – Hoteli iko wapi?
- I want to go to bed – Nataka kwenda kulala
- Has my luggage been brought down? – Mizigo yangu imeteremshwa chini?