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Amharic (amarəñña, አማርኛ), also known as Abyssinian, Amarigna, Amarinya, Amhara, Ethiopian, belongs to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Amharic has close to 22 million first-language speakers and 4 million second-language speakers worldwide, of which slightly over 21.6 million live in Ethiopia (Ethnologue). It is related to Ge’ez, a liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. mapAmharic has been the language of the ruling class of Ethiopia since the end of the 13th century. In the early 17th century it became the lingua franca of Ethiopia, a multilingual country with 87 living languages (Ethnologue).

Amharic, with 22 million first- and 4 million second-language speakers, is the official working language of Ethiopia, along with English and Tigrinya. It is used in government, public media, national commerce, and in education up to the seventh grade. It has been the working language of government, the military, and of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church throughout modern times. Many speakers of Amharic also speak EnglishArabicAfaan Oromo, and Tigrinya.


Amharic has a variety of local dialects, all of which are mutually intelligible. There are three major dialects: Gondar, Gojjami, and Showa.There are especially marked differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar between the northern Gojjami and the southern Showa dialects. The standard spoken and written language is based on the speech of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.


Sound system

Amharic has seven vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that distinguish word meaning. They are given in the table below (based on Wikipedia).

Front Central Back
  • /ɨ/ =similar to e in roses
  • /ə/ = a in about


Amharic has a rich consonant system. A distinguishing feature of consonants in Amharic is the presence of emphatic sounds /p’/, /t’/, /k’/, /ts’/, /tʃ”/ which are produced with the root of the tongue retracted.

voiceless plain
voiceless emphatic
voiceless plain/emphatic
h/ hw
Affricates voiceless plain
    • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
    • /ʒ/ = s in pleasure
    • /tʃ/ = ch in chap
    • /ʒ/ = s in vision
    • /dʒ/ = j as in joy
    • /ʔ/ = sound between the vowels in uh-oh
    • /χ, ʁ/ have no equivalents in English
    • /ɲ/ = second n in canyon
    • /j/ = y in yet


Stress in Amharic does not affect the meaning of words. In verb stems, stress falls on the penultimate syllable. In non-verb stems, stress falls on falls on the leftmost syllable (A. & K. Wedekind).


The grammatical structure of Amharic is quite similar to that of other Semitic languages. Amharic uses both prepositions and postpositions to mark relations in sentences.

Nouns and articles

  • Nouns are marked for two genders: masculine and feminine. The feminine gender can also be used to express smallness, e.g. bet-it-u (bet– ‘house’ + feminine marker it- + definite article –u). It can also be used to express intimacy.There are special words that indicate gender for people and animals, e.g., wänd hakim ‘male doctor’ and set hakim ‘female doctor;’ awra doro ‘rooster’ and set doro ‘hen.’
  • Nouns have two numbers: singular and plural. Plural is marked by the suffix –-očč, e.g., bet ‘house’ and betočč ‘houses‘.
  • There are four cases: nominativegenitiveaccusative, and vocative.
  • Definiteness is expressed by an article that has a masculine form, e.g., bet-u ‘the house’ and a feminine form gäräd-wa ‘the maid’.
  • Possession is signalled by noun suffixation, e.g., bet ‘house’,  bete ‘my house’, betwa ”her house’.


Like other Semitic languages Amharic has a very elaborate verb system.

  • Amharic verb roots usually consist of three to five consonants. Verb forms are derived by applying vowels and suffixes to the roots. A verb form normally has one or more suffixes and prefixes. Sometimes, consonants are geminated (doubled).
  • Verbs are marked for person, number, and gender.
  • Verbs agree with their subjects and sometimes with the direct or indirect objects.
  • There are at least ten different classes of verbs, each modifying its stem in a number of different ways.
  • There are two aspects: imperfect and perfect.
  • Compound tenses are expressed by means of auxiliary verbs.
  • There are four moodsindicativeimperative, and optative.
  • Verbs are marked for voice: active and passive.


Word order
The typical word order in Amharic is Subject – Object – Verb. All modifiers precede the nouns they modify


Amharic vocabulary has been strongly influenced by Arabic and by Cushitic languages, especially Afaan Oromo.

Listen to a few basic words and phrases in Amharic.

Below are the Amharic numerals 1-10.



Amharic ScriptAmharic has been a written language for at least 500 years, and has a fairly sizable written literature. It is written in a script called fidel (or fidäl) which means ‘letter’, a consonant-based syllabary which was adapted from Ge’ez, the extinct classical language of Ethiopia. Originally, the script contained only symbols for consonants. Vowels were added in the 3rd century AD. The script has 33 basic characters, each of which has seven forms depending on which vowel is added to the consonant. It is written horizontally from left to right. An example of the consonant with diacritics indicating vowels is given on the right (from Omniglot).There is no standardized system for the romanization of Amharic.

Click here to see your name written in Amharic.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Amharic. Note that “:” represents a comma, and “::” represents a period.

Yä-säw lïj hullu siwwäläd näs’a-nna bä-kïbrïnna bä-mäbtïm ïkkulïnnät y-alläw näw yä-täfät’ro yä-mastäwalïnna hïlinaw sïlalläw andu lelawn bä-wändïmamacïnnät mänfäs mämälkät yä-gäbbawal.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

The name Rastafari comes from ras (ራስ ) ‘head’ + täfäriyawyan (ተፈሪያውያን) ‘Rastafarians.’ It refers to Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia. Many Rastafarians learn Amharic because they consider it to be a sacred language. Various roots reggae musicians have written songs in Amharic.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Amharic?
Amharic is considered to be a Category III language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.


Basic Resources

Amharic (Wikipedia)

Amharic (Ethnologue)

OLAC Resources in and about the Amharic language

17 Responses to Amharic

  1. Irene Thompson

    Our statement is based on the general consensus in the literature.

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    I’m no longer positive where you are getting your info,
    however great topic. I needs to spend a while learning much more or understanding
    more. Thank you for fantastic info I used to be on the lookout for this
    info for my mission.

  3. መስፍን

    U stupid !why u ignore wello while u mention gojam gondar and shewa? you racist and ignorant.don’t you know the orgin of amharic is wello?i.e amhara sayint where it is in south wello. So i do not agree and accept you false and wrong presentation and conclussion.

    • Irene Thompson

      You don’t have to be insulting if you want to express an opinion. In this case, the ignorance is all yours. Check the literature if you want to learn the facts.

    • Markos

      Wollo as province existed recently after 1850 and Amhara Sayint and money other districts incorporated in Wollo very recently in 1941. Geographically and historically, Amhara Sayint is closer to Gojjam and Gondar than proper Wollo (South Wollo). Don’t miss ancient Amharas expanded in all directions (Estern Gojjam, Northern Showa and parts of Gondar)

  4. Saleh Al-Mutairi

    A useful article with good basic information about Amharic. Interesting to know here is that Amharic has a verb-final wordorder, probably like Turkish.

    Another point, I think most emphatic sounds including the sound transcribed as(x)are now virtually lost in Amharic, or they were shifted to vowels or to an (h)sound.

    • Irene Thompson

      Amharic is not related to Turkish, even though the two share similar word order. They belong to different families.

    • Irene Thompson

      Many world languages, many totally unrelated to each other have a verb-final word order, simply because there is only a limited number of order possibilities with S, V, and O.

    • Irene Thompson

      Word order similarities exist among numerous unrelated languages.

    • Aural Architect

      @Saleh Al-Mutairi­–re: emphatic sounds
      What source is your reference for this “thought”?
      Although not a native speaker, I lived in Ethiopia as a child, have visited recently and have many Amharic speaking friends. I can assure you that the ejective consonants have not been lost, in fact they are a defining, shared feature of nearly all Ethiopian languages!

  5. Abiny

    What do you think of Amharic Semantics and Pragmatics?

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the interesting comment. I looked up a couple of sources, and found the following one quite interesting: The problem is that the number of ethnic individuals, in this case Tatars, does not equate with the number of actual speakers of the language. This problem is not unique. It persists in numerous sources that, more often than not, rely on survey and/or census data where the question of language use is not taken into account.

    • Irene Thompson

      Could you be more specific?

      • Markos

        I wonder how incomplete information can grossely mislead readers. It is only within the last 25 years that the actual figures of all Amharic speakers in Ethiopia is ignored or highly supressed. Can that be deliberate??Language is basically a tool to communicate and therefore the information of how many people can speak Amharic (whether native or second users) is very much helpful. I believe over 90% of Ethiopians can speak Amharic and many in Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea.

    • Irene Thompson

      Can you elaborate? Your question needs to be more specific.

  6. Aural Architect

    You list Amharic as difficulty level 2 for English speakers, but the link (to a page on this same site!) clearly articulates and shows that levels 2 & 3 are grouped together (in terms of FSI # of course hours), but has Amharic marked with an * and explains that this language with be significantly more difficult than those without the asterisk.

    How does that NOT mean it is a level 3 difficulty language?! And it IS most certainly a level 3 difficulty language for native English speakers.

    I have to say that I’m losing confidence in this site based on the number of problems on this page alone.

    • Irene Thompson

      I am sorry you are losing confidence in this website. FSI ratings are grouped when the data are based on a very small sample of language learners. This is often the case with LCTLs (Less Commonly Taught Languages). You are right that e should have listed Amharic as a Level 3, not a level 2.


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