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Soo dhawoow – Welcome

Somali (Af Soomaali, الصوماليه) belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is closely related to Oromo. Although Somalis claim descent from Arabs who settled on the Somali coast 1,000 years ago, the origin of the Somali people can be traced to a much earlier time.

Somali has been the national language of Somalia since 1972. It gained official status with standardization and adoption of the Latin alphabet . After the collapse of the central Somali government in the Somali civil war in the 1990s, Somali has remained an official language or de facto national language of the various regional governments such as Somaliland and Puntland.

Somali is spoken by 7.8 million people in Somalia and Somaliland. It is also spoken in EthiopiaDjibouti, and Kenya where it is one of the official languages.The total number of Somali speakers worldwide is estimated at 12.6 million (Ethnologue). This figure may be higher due to the difficulty of collecting data on the numerous expatriate Somali communities around the world.

In Somalia, Somali is used in education, administration and the media.It is taught as a subject and used as a medium of instruction in the primary schools and as a subject in secondary schools. There are over 20 radio and TV stations around the world that broadcast some of their programs in Somali.


Somali is usually divided into three main dialect groups (Ethnologue):

  • Northern Somali, also known as Common or Standard Somali, is the most widely used dialect which is also used in broadcasting.
  • Benaadir (coastal Somali) is spoken on the Benadir coast and also in the capital of Mogadishu.
  • Af-Ashraaf which may have limited intelligibility to speakers of Standard Somali.


Sound system
Somali shares many features with other Cushitic languages. Somali syllables typically end in a vowel or a single consonant. Consonant clusters do not occur in the beginning or at the end of words. Roots usually consist of one or two syllables.

Somali has five vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that can differentiate word meaning. The number of vowel phonemes can differ somewhat from dialect to dialect. The vowels can be short or long. Vowel length makes a difference in word meaning. In the table below, long vowels are marked by a macron over the vowel. In the orthography, long vowels are represented by a double vowel, e.g., a ‘tart,’ aa ‘father.’ In addition to short and long vowels, Somali has numerous diphthongs.

i, ī
u, ū
e, ē
o, ō
a, ā

Somali has 24 consonants. Like its close relative, Oromo, native Somali words do not have the consonants /p/, /v/, and /z/. These sounds occur only in borrowed words. The language is rich in velaruvularpharyngeal, and glottal consonants, sounds that are produced at the back of the oral cavity.

Dental Postalveolar Retroflex
Stops Voiceless


Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless x
  • /b/, /d/, /ɗ/, /g/, /l/, /m/, /n/, and /r/ can be single or doubled (geminated). In writing, geminated consonants are represented by a double consonant letter.
  • The retroflex stop /ɗ/ is pronounced with/, the tip of the tongue curled so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth. In some dialects, it may have an implosive quality.
  • /G, X, ħ, ?/ have no equivalents in English.
  • /?/ = sh in ship
  • /t?/ = ch in chip
  • /j/ = y in yet

Tones and stress
The tonal system of Somali is similar to that of Oromo. There are three basic tones: high (marked by an acute accent), low (marked by a grave accent), and falling (marked by a circumflex accent). Somali tone operates at the grammatical, rather than at the lexical level, as it does in languages such as Chinese.For instance, the masculine-feminine distinction is represented by tone in words such as ínan ‘boy’ and inán ‘girl.’ Tone is closely associated with stress: high tone has strong stress, falling tone has weaker stress, and low tone has no stress. Stress typically falls on the final or on the penultimate vowel of a word.

Somali is an agglutinative language that uses suffixes attached to roots for representing grammatical information.

Somali nouns are marked for the following categories:

  • Definiteness is marked with the suffix -ki or -ka for masculine nouns and -ti or -ta for feminine nouns. Indefiniteness is not marked, e.g., nin ‘(a) man,’ and nin-ka ‘the man.’
  • There are two genders: masculine, feminine. Gender is not generally predictable. It can be marked by a difference in tone, e.g., ínan ‘boy’ and inán ‘girl.’ It can also be marked by the definite article, e.g., buug-ga ‘the book’ (masculine) and hacan-ta ‘the hand’ feminine.
  • Number: singular, plural. Number can be marked by a suffix, e.g, buug-ga ‘the book’ and buug-ga-ta ‘the books.’ Plurality can also be marked by tonal change, e.g.,díbi ‘ox’ and dibí ‘oxen,’ or through reduplication.
  • There are four cases: absolutive, nominative, genitive, and vocative. Cases are marked in different ways. The nominative case is used for the subject of a sentence. It is marked with a vowel change in the definite article, e.g., nin-ku ‘The man + verb.’ In the absence of a definite article, the nominative case is marked by a change in tone. The genitive and vocative cases are marked either by a change in tone or by a suffix.

Pronouns have the following features:

  • There are three persons: 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
  • Third person singular pronouns are marked for gender, eg., isagu ‘he’ and iyadu ‘she.’
  • Each pronoun has an emphatic and a short form, e.g., adigu ‘you’ (emphatic) and aad ‘you’ (short).
  • Each pronoun has a subject and an object form, e.g., anigu ‘I’ and aniga ‘me.’
  • There is an inclusive and an exclusive first person plural, e.g., innagu ‘we’ (including the listener) and annagu ‘we’ (excluding the listener).

Somali verbs consist of a stem to which suffixes are added. Verbs in indicative mood exist in four tenses, present, present continuous, past and past continuous, in addition to a subjunctive mood form for present and future tense. Verbs in Somali conjugate mainly through the addition of suffixes, although a very small number of common verbs maintain an archaic conjugation using prefixes.Verbs are marked for the following categories:

  • person: 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
  • number: singular, plural
  • gender: masculine, feminine
  • mood: indicativeimperativesubjunctiveconditional
  • tense: present, present continuous, past and past continuous
  • polarity: affirmative, negative

Word order
Cushitic language, word order in Somali sentences is typically Subject-Object-Verb. In general, Somali has a topic-focus grammatical category that marks the information structure of sentences, i.e. those elements that indicate where the focus is located in the sentence.

The markers baa, ayaaand waxaaplaces the focus on nouns and noun phrases, e.g., in the example below, the focus is on Who went out? The marker waa places the focus on verbs and verb phrases, e.g., in the example below the focus is on What did John do?
Jamal baa baxay. Waxaa baxay Jamal.
Jamal (focus) went out.’ (Focus) went out Jamal.

Somali vocabulary is Cushitic in origin. The most productive ways of word derivation are reduplication and compounding. Somali has been heavily influenced by Arabic mainly through the medium of Islam. It has also borrowed words from the languages of its former colonizers, such as ItalianEnglish, and French.

Below are a few basic words and phrases in Somali.

Hello Nabadeey
Good bye Nabadeey
Thank you Mahadsanid
Yes Haa
No Maya
Man Nin
Woman Naag


Below are Somali numbers 1-10.



Somali was not written until the Osmanya alphabet was developed in 1920 in an attempt to forestall the implementation of an Arabic-based alphabet.Osmanya was written from left to right in horizontal rows. The names of the letters were taken from Arabic.


Osmanya Script

The Latin alphabet was adopted in 1972. Below is the current Somali Latin-based alphabet with the letters listed in the traditional Arabic order. There is no standardized orthography so variations occur.

B b
T t
J j
X x
KH kh
D d
R r
S s
SH sh
DH dh
C c
G g
F f
Q q
K k
L l
M m
N n
W w
H h
Y y
A a
E e
I i
O o
U u

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Latin-based Somali alphabet.

Qod I
Aadanaha dhammaantiis wuxuu dhashaa isagoo xor ah kana siman xagga sharafta iyo xuquuqada Waxaa Alle (Ilaah) siiyay aqoon iyo wacyi, waana in qof la arkaa qofka kale ula dhaqmaa si walaaltinimo ah.
Article 1
All human b
eings 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?


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Somali?
There is no information on the difficulty level of Somali for speakers of English.

7 Responses to Somali

  1. Ahmed Abdi

    I can see some mistakes in the English to Somali translation above and I am here to correct.
    Hello : nabadeey
    Good bye: Nabad gelyo
    Thank you: Mahadsanid

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you very much. We love to see corrections like this.

  2. Mahad

    shouldn’t there be a distinction between naag (married women) and dumar (single woman)?

  3. osman

    1=kow 2=labo(or lamo) 3=saddex(ʕ) 6=lix(ʕ) 8=sidee(æ)d 10=toban(or taman)
    no “di–?” at the end, only used for time or date on all of the numbers todobadi=7 o’clock or the 7th.
    also note somali times are different from western
    12 pm is lix sac(ʕ) or 6th hour etc.
    nabadey can be used as bye as well.
    waan ku baryaa = I beg you not please.


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