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Oromo, also called Afaan Oromo and Oromiffa, is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is a macrolanguage language of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, by close to 40 million people, making it Africa’s the fourth most widely spoken language after HausaArabic, and Swahili.


It is the statutory provincial working language in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, one of the nine ethnically based regions of Ethiopia. It is used as a lingua franca by some 25.5. million people (Ethnologue). In the 20th century, Oromo was banned from use in education, the media, and public life first during the reign of Haile Selassie, and by the communist regime that followed his overthrow. Today, Oromo is used in both regional and national governmental administration, national commerce, and in print and electronic media. It is the medium of instruction in grades 1-8 and is taught in both secondary schools and in institutions of higher education. Oromo achieved the status of a literary language of Ethiopia in 1992.


Even though all Oromos believe that they speak one language, there are  regional differences, making some of the varieties not mutually comprehensible. Besides phonological differences, there are differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. For instance, the dialects spoken in Ethiopia have borrowed many words from Amharic, whereas those spoken in Kenya have many loanwords from Swahili and English. Among the major varieties are West Central Oromo and Borana-Arsi-Guji.


Sound system

Like other Cushitic languages, most syllables in Oromo end in a vowel.

Oromo has five vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that can differentiate word meaning. They can be short or long. The length of the vowel makes a difference in word meaning e.g., laga ‘river’ and laagaa ‘roof of the mouth’. In the table below, long vowels are marked by a macron over the vowel. In writing, long vowels are represented by double letters.

i, ī
u, ū
e, ē
o, ō
a, ā


Oromo has 25 consonant phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. Like its close relative, Somali, native Oromo words do not have the consonants /p/, /v/, and /z/. In the table below, consonants that occur only in loanwords are given in parentheses. /b/, /d/, /ɗ/, /g/, /l/, /m/, /n/, and /r/ can be single or doubled (geminated). In writing, geminated consonants are represented by double letters.

Stops voiceless plain
voiceless ejective
Fricatives voiceless
ʃ x
Affricates voiceless x
voiceless ejective
voiced x x
ɲ x
  • /?/ = sound between the syllables in uh-uh
  • /p’, t’, k’, t?‘/ are ejective consonants produced with a simultaneous closure of the glottis, with the result that when they are released there is a noticeable burst of air. They have no equivalents in English.
  • /ɗ/ is an implosive consonant produced with the air sucked in rather than expelled. It is pronounced with the tip of the tongue curled up and ihas no equivalent in English.
  • /ʃ/ = sh in ship
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chip
  • /dʒ/ = j in jeep
  • /ɲ/ = first n in onion
  • /j/ = y in yet


The tonal system of Oromo is different from the tonal systems of languages, such as Chinese, in which every word is associated with a particular tone. Oromo pitch-accent is dependent on the placement of word stress and to some degree, on grammatical considerations. For instance, accented penultimate or final syllables of Oromo noun roots are produced with a high pitch. Tones are not usually marked in writing.


The grammatical system of Oromo is quite complex and exhibits many features common to other Cushitic languages, i.e., it is an inflected language that uses postpositions more than prepositions.

Nouns and adjectives
Oromo nouns are marked for a number of categories.

  • Most Oromo nouns and adjectives are marked for masculine or feminine gender.
  • Nouns have an inherent masculine or feminine gender which cannot be determined by the form of the noun, with a few exceptions when biological gender is associated with a particular suffix, such as -eessa for masculine and -eetti for feminine nouns, e.g., obboleessa ‘brother’ and obboleetti ‘sister.’
  • Adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in gender.
  • All nouns and adjectives are marked for number: singular and plural, e.g., for masculine nouns nama ‘man’ – namicha ‘the man’; for feminine nouns haroo ‘lake’ – harittii ‘the lake’.
  • All nouns are marked for case. There is a nominativegenitivedativeaccusativeinstrumentalablative, and locative case
  • Nouns can be used attributively to express modification.


Oromo pronouns have the following features:

  • person: 1st, 2nd, 3rd;
  • number: singular and plural;
  • case: nominativegenitivedativeaccusativeinstrumentalablativelocative;
  • 2nd person plural can also be used as a polite form of address;
  • There is a gender distinction in the 3rd person singular but not in the plural.
  • There is a distinction between proximal and distal demonstrative pronouns, e.g., kana ‘this’ and san ‘that’.



  • Oromo verbs consist of a stem plus suffixes representing person, gender, number, tense-aspect, mood, and voice.
  • Verbs agree with their subjects in person and number.
  • Verbs, with the exception of the verb ‘be’, agree with their subjects in gender, when the subject is a 3rd person singular pronoun ‘he’ or ‘she’.
  • There are basically two tense/aspect divisions: complete (perfective/past) and incomplete (present or future progressive). Compound tenses are formed with auxiliary verbs.
  • There are four moodsindicativeinterrogativeimperative, and jussive. The latter is used to express commands, permission, and agreement.
  • There are three voices: active, passive, and the so-called autobenefactive (semi-passive/middle).


Word order
The typical word order in Oromo sentences is Subject – Object – Verb. Modifiers, articles, pronouns, and case markers follow the nouns they modify.


Oromo vocabulary is Cushitic in origin, but the language also includes many loanwords from AmharicArabicPortugueseFrenchEnglish, and Nilo-Saharan languages, e.g., biro ‘office’ from French or kitaaba ‘book’ from Arabic.

Below are a few Oromo words and phrases.

How are you? Akkam Jirtuu?
Goodbye Nagaati!
Thank you
Excuse me Dhiifama
Yes Ee, eeyyee
No Lakki
Man Nama
Woman Dubartii


Below are Oromo numerals 1-10.



Until the 1970s, Afaan Oromo was written with either the Ge’ez (Ethiopic) script or in the Latin alphabet. Between 1974 and 1991 under the military regime, the writing of Oromo in any script was forbidden. The Latin alphabet was adopted after the overthrow of the military regime in 1991. This has led to a greatly increased production of written texts. The Latin-based alphabet (Qubee) is given below.

A a
B b
Ch ch
D d
Dh dh
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
Ny ny
O o
P p
Ph pj
Q q
R r
S s
Sh sh
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Qubee.

Qabxii 1
Namooti hundinuu birmaduu ta’anii mirgaa fi ulfinaanis wal-qixxee ta’anii dhalatan. Sammuu fi qalbii ittiin yaadan waan uumamaan kennameef, hafuura obbolummaatiin walii-wajjin jiraachuu qabu.
Article 1
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.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Oromo?
There is no data regarding the difficulty level of Oromo for speakers of English.

27 Responses to Oromo

  1. Pingback: OSA Letter on Erroneous Classification of Afaan Oromo » Ayyaantuu News Online

    • Irene Thompson

      Take a look at Ethnologue considered one of the best resources on language classification. You will have to look at several members of the Oromo group.

  2. Pingback: OSA Letter on the Correction of Erroneous Oromo Language Classifications | Dhaamsa Ogeettii

    • Irene Thompson

      We are not aware of such an organization. Give us more information.

      • Abdata

        The Oromo Studies Association is an organization established in the early 90s to coordinate efforts to learn more about the Oromo people. Here is their website:
        On a personal note, I would like to point out the different “dialects” are not anymore different than the variety of accents of English found with the US which are not considered dialects.

        • Irene Thompson

          What makes you say that different sound systems found among speakers of English are not considered dialects?

  3. Deju DMojo

    Afaan Oromoo yookin Oromiffa jedhama jettu; Garuu, inni Oromiffa jedhu kun sirriidha jettuu? Maaliif yoo jettan namoonni baay’een isa kana hin deeggaran.

  4. Motto

    would you give us few examples for borrowed Amharic words? The fact is there are many borrowed Oromifa words to Amharic than vis-a-vis.

  5. rembo

    the number of oromo speaker is exactly 40 million.
    you use wrong info about the number of oromo.
    im history student & i know about huge oromo population

  6. Lammii Gadaa

    The followings are correct:

    Goodbye Nagaatti!
    Yes Ee or eeyyee!
    No Lakki!
    Woman Dubartii!

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the input.

      • Abdata

        Here are a few translations of Heartsong. I’ve written both the Oromo spelling and the Pronounciation:
        1. Weedduu Onne / Waiddu On’né or On’nay
        2. Leelisaa Onne / Laylisa
        3. Sirbaa Onne / Siirbaa (not surbaa)

        Onne means heart and the rest are various ways of saying song. Contact me fore further info at

        • Irene Thompson

          Thank you very much for the translations. Do you have the source?

  7. Ruth

    I’m writing a novel featuring descendants of Oromo peoples. I’d like to to name a mountain pass in the Oromo language. In English its name would be Heartsong Pass. Could you tell me what that would be in Oromo? Your help is greatly appreciated.

    • Irene Thompson

      Sorry, but we cannot help you. You will need to do some research.

  8. Giulia

    I’m looking for Oromo speakers in the UK – Do you know where I could look? We work with the NHS and provide interpreters for them.

    thank you.

    • Irene Thompson

      Unfortunately, we do not know where you could find Oromo speakers in the UK.

  9. Tamrat Kebede

    Blive me Afan oromoo is largest language in Ethiopia & The Horn Of Africa.

  10. Desta Duguno

    cultivating, socializing, en-culturing Ormo people culture to others or with in Oromos is good I appreciate it.In the Oromo some times there may be phonetics or dialectics difference due to cultural diffusion of others so tolerate it. Go on but do not positioned others by language.

    • Irene Thompson

      Next time you post, have your entry edited by someone with a good knowledge of English. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand what you are trying to say. Thank you.

  11. Megan

    Your statement is unclear to me. Was Oromo banned only from Ethiopia, or in all of Africa?

  12. Ismail yahye

    How long it will take me to learn Oromo language

    • Irene Thompson

      Your question is almost impossible to answer. It depends (1) on your native language; (2) time you intend to spend on learning it; (3) how well you need to know the language; (4) your level of motivation; (5) environment in which you will be studying it; (6) your language aptitude; (7) familiarity with languages closely related to Oromo; (8) access to learning materials and instructors. I can think of a few more factors, but these should be enough to consider.


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