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Igbo (Asụsụ Igbo), or Ibo , one of the largest languages of West Africa, is spoken by 18 million people in Nigeria. It belongs to the Benue-Congo group of the Niger-Congo language family. The language is thought to have originated around the 9th century AD in the area near the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers, and then spread over a wide area of southeastern Nigeria.


Igbo is one of the official languages of Nigeria. It is spoken in the Southern Delta states of AbiaAnambraEbonyiEnugu, and Imo, as well as in the northeast of the Delta state and in the southeast of the Rivers state. In the states of AbiaAnambraEbonyiEnugu, and Imo, Igbo is the main language of trade and commerce. It is used in mass media communication such as radio and television in the southern Delta region.

Although Igbo is taught at all levels in eastern Nigerian schools, English remains the principal literary language of the country while remains a spoken and colloquial language. Reading and writing in Igbo is not very widespread. In many urban areas, Igbo is often replaced by Nigerian Pidgin English. Igbo speakers are typically bilingual in English.



There are approximately 30 Igbo dialects, some of which are not mutually intelligible. For the most part, however, differences are lexical and phonological (Ethnologue). The large number of dialects has hindered the development of a standardized spoken and written Igbo. Standard literary Igbo, based on the Owerri and Umuahia dialects, in use since 1962, is not universally accepted by speakers of other dialects. Standard Igbo aims to include words from other Igbo dialects as well as loanwords from other languages.


Sound system

The sound inventory of Standard Igbo consists of eight vowels, thirty consonants, and two tones, depending somewhat on the analysis. Igbo has only two syllable types: consonant + vowel (the most common syllable type), vowel or syllabic nasal. There are no consonant clusters and no syllable-final consonants.

Igbo features vowel harmony with two sets of vowels distinguished by pharyngeal cavity size. The latter can be described in terms of advanced tongue root (+ATR) which involves the expansion of the pharyngeal cavity by moving the base of the tongue forward, and sometimes lowering the larynx during the pronunciation of a vowel. This adds a breathy quality to the vowel. Vowels within a word harmonize with respect to the [ATR] feature, which means that all vowels in a word are produced with the root of the tongue either advanced or retracted.

i [+ATR] – i [-ATR]
u [+ATR] – u [-ATR]
o [+ATR] – o [-ATR]


The consonant system of Igbo is characterized by two notable features:

  • Doubly articulated consonants, i.e., consonants with two simultaneous places of articulation, e.g., bilabial and velar, both produced in the same manner, e.g., both produced as stops. There are two such sounds in Igbo: /k͡p/ and /g͡b/. To pronounce these sounds, try saying [k] or [g], but close your lips as you would for [p] or [b].
  • Labialized velars, e.g., /kʷ/, /gʷ/. To produce these sounds, try pronouncing [k], [g] or [ng] with rounded lips.


Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Affricate voiceless xxx xx
x x
voiced xx xx
x x
ŋ ʷ
xx xx xxxx
x xx
xx xxxxxx
  • /k͡p, gʷ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /kʷ, gʷ, ŋ ʷ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ɣ /has no equivalent in English
  • /ɹ/ = has no equivalent in American English
  • /j/ = y in yet



Every syllable in Igbo has a tone. There are two tones: high and low. High tone is marked with an acute accent, e.g., á, while low tone is marked with a grave accent, e.g, à. These are not normally represented in the orthography. An interesting feature of Igbo phonology is tonal downstep. For example, two adjacent high-tone syllables will normally be produced with the same pitch. However, if a low-tone syllable occurs between two high tones, then the second high tone will be produced with a lower pitch than the first one, e.g., áá will become áàáarrow.


The structure of words in Igbo is relatively simple which means that grammatical categories are not overtly marked by prefixes, infixes or suffixes.

Igbo nouns are morphologically simple and are not marked for gender, number, or case.

Igbo verbs are inflected for the following categories by adding prefixes and suffixes to verb roots. Most verb constructions consist of a verb + complement, e.g., ịgba ọsọ ‘run’, ịbga nkwa ‘dance’, ịgba ụtụ ‘rot’.

  • tense: past, present, future
  • aspect: progressive: perfective, durative, inchoative
  • imperative constructions are marked by suffixes
  • negation is represented by prefixes


Word order
Word order in Igbo sentences is Subject-Verb-Object.


The principal source of word formation in Igbo is compounding, e.g., ugbo ‘vehicle’ + igwe ‘iron’ = ugwo igwe ‘locomotive’. Igbo also uses reduplication. The language has borrowed many words from English as well as from other African languages, e.g., opareto ‘operator’.

Below are some basic Igbo words and phrases.

Good day ụbochi ọma
Welcome nnọọ
Good bye ka e mesịa
Please biko
Thank you imela
No mba
Yes e-e
Man nwoke
Woman nwanyị


Igbo numerals 1-10 are given below.



The first book in Igbo, Isoama-Ibo, a primer, was produced in 1857 by Samuel Ajayi Crowther, an ex-slave, teacher and linguist. Today, Igbo is written in an expanded version of the Latin alphabet. However, the wide variety of spoken dialects has made agreement about a standard orthography for the language very difficult. The current orthography which has been in use since 1962 is given below.

A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
Gb gb
Gh gh
H h
I i
Ị ị
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
Ṅ ṅ
O o
Ọ ọ
P p
Kp kp
R r
S s
Sh sh
T t
U u
Ụ ụ
V v
W w
Y y
Z z
Ch ch
Gw gw
Kw kw
Nw nw
Ny ny


Take a look at article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Igbo.

Nkeji edemede 1.
A mụrụ mmadụ nile n’ohere nakwa nha anya ugwu na ikike. E nyere ha uche na mmụọ ime ihe ziri ezi nke na ha kwesiri ịkpaso ibe ha agwa n’obi nwanne na nwanne.
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.

Did You Know?

Chinua Achebe

Albert Chinụalụmọgụ Achebe is a Nigerian writer, one of the most widely read African authors. He was born in 1930s in the Igbo village of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria. He began writing stories as a university student and gained worldwide attention in the late 1950s for his novel Things Fall Apart. His later novels include No Longer at EaseArrow of GodA Man of the Peopleand Anthills of the Savannah. (1987). Although Achebe wrote in Englishhe relied heavily on the Igbo oral traditionAchebe has also published short stories, children’s books, and essay collections.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Igbo?
There is no data on the difficulty of Igbo for speakers of English.

38 Responses to Igbo

  1. Victoria Uwandu

    In fact,there is no difficulty in igbo learning,it all depends on interest.

    • Irene Thompson

      Did you mean to say that Igbo is not a difficult language to learn? If so, who did you have in mind? Speakers of Indo-European languages with no prior experience with African languages or speakers of languages that are close to Igbo?

    • Ann Chizoba Okuefuna

      Learning 8 years with avid interest….difficult. My teeth need readjusting…but finally getting there and that’s only because I have immersed myself in the culture. To a non-indigene it’s hard to do but not impossible. Hausa and Yoruba are much easier to learn….onwards and upwards.

      • Irene Thompson

        We agree that immersion in the culture of the language is necessary for acquiring a high level of proficiency in it.

  2. Abrahamụọgụ Aṅụsịobi Madụ.

    Ụmụ nne Abrahamụọgụ Aṅụsịobi Madụ.
    Mazị Prof. Chinụalụmọgụ Achebe etinye go Igbo na wọldụ mapụ site na edemede akwụkwọ ya ana akpọ Things Fall Apart.
    Ọdịzịrị anyị bụ ụmụ Igbo ndị nọ ndụ ịgba mbọ ịna ede ma na agụ Igbo,HO! HA!
    Ọdịghị asụsụ na esighị ike ọmụmụ mgbe ịgafere afọ asa,HO! HA!
    Ma ọbụrụ na nne gị na nna gị sụara gị asụsụ ha mgbe ịdị na nwata, ịmụta ya anaghị ara ahụ cha cha!
    Eji mụ oherea ekele ndị nile na ahụ na asụsụ Igbo na aga n’iru na ụzọ nile ha nwere ike.
    Chineke ụmụ Igbo gba unu ume.
    Na edenyeghị Ikwere nay a apụtaghị na Ikwere abụghị Igbo,maka na edenyeghị ọtụtụ ọnụma obodo ọzọ mụ mara.
    Chetekwa nụ na anaghị agbalarị otele n’ọsọ.
    Mgbe ọbụla ikuliri ọtọ, otele gị esoro gị ,HO! HA!
    Aa Bb CH Dd Ee Ff G Gb Gh Gw H I Ị J K KP KW L M N Ṅ NW NY O Ọ P R S SH T U Ụ V W Y Z
    Nkea bụ ọlụọrọ ọhụ.
    Ka anyị gba nụ mbọ na ịmụ n aide asụsụ Igbo,HO! HA!
    Ya kpọtụba!
    Ya gazie
    Ụmụ nne Abrahamụọgụ Aṅụsịobi Madụ.

    • Irene Thompson

      Your comment will have to be in English. Thank you.

      • DA Corsen

        Why do comments have to be in English on a Website that is ABOUT the Igbo language? I understand your desire that the comments be made understood to a global audience, but please do not disregard the community of Igbo speakers who do understand the language. You wrote this article shedding light on the language, which is phenomenal, but just show some kindness.

        • Irene Thompson

          The website is about many languages and we had to make a decision to use a language that we know and one that will be comprehensible to the greatest number of readers. We fully understand your desire to create a community of Igbo-speaking individuals interested in the Igbo language. But there would be no way for us to moderate the comments. You should be able to create such a community outside this website.

  3. ijeoma

    Ka chineke mezie okwu 🙂

  4. chinwendu

    If the post was in Igbo, Igbo would be the language of response but since it was posted in English, English is the language of response. The courtesy request is not ignoring those that speak Igbo in anyway. Wouldn’t it better serve both and all, if one feels the need to respond in Igbo to translate it in English too? Honestly, it is rather rude not to.

  5. mteehall

    To write in igbo is not as easy as it is speaking the language. I can actually understand Mr. Madu’s response. many cannot express as well as he has.It is also not easy to translate his comments because of many idiomatic expressions used as are when igbo is spoken. In fairness, igbo is a difficult language to write.
    Do not limit responses to English. there are not that many who can write the Igbo language, as well as they can speak it. The ones responding in igbo have a interested audience.

    • Irene Thompson

      The blog is moderated. If the moderator cannot read the comments, they will not be posted.

  6. Ugo

    This is the translation of what he said:
    Prof. Chinua Achebe has put the Igbos in the world map through his writings in Igbo language. It is now left for the rest of us Igbos who are still alive to write and read Igbo Language, simple and plain. There is no language that is not difficult to learn especially when you are older than 7 years of age, plain and simple. If your mother spoke the language to you as a child, then it is not difficult to learn at all.
    I use this opportunity to thank everyone who in one way or the other contributed in the progress of Igbo language, may the God of the Igbos strengthen you.
    That Ikwerre language was not included among the Igbo languages does not mean Ikwerre is not a part of Igboland, as there are many other languages he knows about that are not included.
    Remember, you cannot outrun your ‘backside’, as soon as you stand up, your backside stands up with you (Idiomatic expression)
    The Igbo Alphabets listed above by the moderator is the new revised one, the old ones are: Aa Bb CH Dd Ee Ff G Gb Gh Gw H I Ị J K KP KW L M N Ṅ NW NY O Ọ P R S SH T U Ụ V W Y Z

    Let us all try our best to learn to read and write Igbo language, simple.
    Let it happen, It is well
    Relations of Abrahamụọgụ Aṅụsịobi Madụ

    • Nenette Ucheoma

      Please can u send to my email igbo sounds,vowels,nasal if there are and consonants and transcribe some word in igbo(phonetics)thank u

    • Bej Bejim

      Did Chiunua Achebe really write in Igbo language? It will be interesting to know the Igbo titles of his writings.

      • Irene Thompson

        To our knowledge, Chinua Achebe wrote all his novels in English.

  7. Ugo

    Personally, any language is difficult to learn but the Igbo is one of the easiest languages to learn just pronounce the letters as you see them. It is not like English or french or other languages where words change at will. Igbo words do not change into something else.
    E.g in English, come is spelled with a C and pronounced Kome, in Igbo, Bia is spelled the way it is pronounced – Bia

    • Irene Thompson

      There is a lot more to how easy or hard a language is than being able to correlate letters with sounds they represent. this is just too simplistic a view of the issue.

  8. adaeze

    Pls can u refer me to the original source of ur writeup?

    • Irene Thompson

      Multiple sources. Among them, Ethnologue, A Descriptive Grammar of Igbo. M. M. Green & G. E. Igwe. Akademie-Verlag (1963).
      -Igbo Grammar. M. A. Uwalaka. The Pen Services (1997).

  9. adaeze

    Pls .Do u have any writeup about the future of the igbo language in the world with analysis from the condition of the igbo language i n the past nd present with references.

  10. prince ikechukwu

    Irene Thompson: please could you kindly go to the Bookshops and ask About Achebe Books because all his Books was in Igbo b/4 it got to any others Languages

    • Irene Thompson

      It may come as a surprise to you, as it does to many people, but Achebe actually did write his novels in English. They were subsequently translated into more than 50 languages, including Igbo. That’s why you found his books in Igbo in a bookstore. If you read his biography, you can see why he wrote in English. “Achebe’s decision to write in English has been a source of debate since the beginning of his career, with writers such as the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o criticising his use of the colonial language. In 1965 Achebe wrote: “I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings.” It is a position that he has, broadly, stuck to, although he also points out that some of his best poetry has been first written in Igbo.” Hope this clarifies things.

  11. Nnaji Friday Akachukwu, Linguistics department, UNN.

    Kudos to the writer of this article. It’s just a little error i want to point out. Igbo is actually of the ‘Kwa’ group of languages, under Western Sudanic group of languages in the Niger-Congo language family. Thanks for your effortKudos to the writer of this article. It’s just a little error i want to point out. Igbo is actually of the ‘Kwa’ group of languages, under Western Sudanic group of languages in the Niger-Congo language family. Thanks for your effort.

  12. Joachim Ndukaaku

    The article is ok. I suppose a non Igbo writing about the Igbo language with precision, a challenge to the Igbo language scholars. And to these scholars, there is the need for research and concomitant revolution on the writing and spelling of Igbo words to tally with the pronunciation, for effective reading and writing. A situation whereby ‘Owere’ (oh-way-ray) as correctly pronounced is written ‘Owerri’ (oh-way-re) calls for a revolution. There are large number of such misplaced spellings including, but not limited to, Enugwu (spelt Enugu), Ugwuta (spelt Oguta), Olu (Orlu), Oka ( Awka), Onicha ( Onitsha), etc. ‘Uzoma’ should be correctly spelt ‘Uzooma’, ‘Uloma’ for ‘Ulooma’, ‘Anayo’ for ‘Anaayo’, ‘Ndukaku’ for ‘Ndukaaku’,etc. A day can begin a great story.


    Please what are the phonological processes in Igbo?

    • Irene Thompson

      Can you be more specific about what you mean by phonological processes?

  14. Lori

    Question~ how do you spell the word PLAYFUL in Igbo ?

  15. Pingback: What Is The Meaning Of Ajayi In Yoruba Language |

  16. david clarke

    Why igbo sounds bajan?


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