Fulfulde has a robust list of noun classes which can act as definite articles and emphasize the nouns they modify (in which case they follow the noun), or can be used to signify or replace a subject (come before or replace the noun entirely). Fulfulde has between 22 – 26 noun classes, depending on the dialect. Maasinankoore has approximately 22 but it varies based on the area.
Noun classes are sometimes related to what they are describing; other times, they are too abstract to define criteria for membership. Becoming familiar with the list of noun classes can provide a foundation, but listening for how and when these classes are used in conversation is the best way to learn them.
|1||o||(1) Words related to singular humans
(2) Borrowed words (from French, Arabic, Bambara)
|(1) O debbo ana wiye Bolo – That woman’s name is Bolo
(2) Biki o yo bula bula – That pen is blue
|Plural Noun Classes|
|2||ɓe||Plurals for humans||Yimɓe ɓe ngala kaalisi – Those people do not have money|
|3||ɗe||Plural nouns ending in e and augmentative
*Note: When using the class marker to replace a subject, need to add an “e” before the ɗe.
|Eɗe dewte min jey – These are my books|
|4||ɗi||Plural nouns ending in i
*Note: When using the class marker to replace a subject, need to add an “e” before the ɗi.
|Eɗi lebbi ana ngooli – These months are hot|
|5||koy||Plural diminutive||ɓikoy faa heewi – Many small children
*Note that bikoy is a contraction of bingel (children) + koy. Noun classes are frequently contracted with verbs.
|Size (Diminutive and Augmentative) Classes|
*Note: All nouns have diminutive forms
**When using the class marker to replace a subject, need to add an “e” before the ngel.
|Engel binngel ana weeli haakilde – This small child is very intelligent|
|7||ngal||(1) Singular augmentative
(2) Words ending in -al
*Note: When using the class marker to replace a subject, need to add an “e” before the ngal.
|(1) Mi yihi goral ngal – I saw a big man (gorko –> goral)
(2) Cofal ngal an jey – That chicken is yours
|8||ɗum||Quantity or adjective||Eɗe hunde belɗum – These things are very good
*This example has two class markers; Eɗe which acts as demonstrative for “things” and ɗum, which emphasizes good
|9||nge||Cow class. Also includes fire and sun.
*Note: When using the class marker to replace a subject, need to add an “e” before the nge.
|Nagge nge yari ndiyum – That cow drank water
Enge yaari ndiyum – They drank water
|10||ɗam||(1) Liquid class (incl. blood and salt)
(2) Some emotions and behaviors (rare to use class markers for these)
|(1) Ndiyum ɗam ana boobi – That water is cold
(2) ɗam puyɗam mawni sanne – That laziness is very big
|11||ki||Tree class||ɓokki ki yo huɗo hecco – That baobab is green|
|12/13 / 14||ba / nga / mba
*Note: Ba is used in the Maasina floodplain, but in northern Mali it becomes nga.
|Working animal class (goats, donkeys, camels)||Mbeewa ba kanko jey – That goat is hers|
|15||ndi||Singular nouns ending in i||Hoto woni leydi ndi? – Where is that country/ territory?|
|16||nde||Singular nouns ending in e, de, re||Dewterre nde ana mawni – That book is big|
|17||ngo||Singular nouns ending in go||Daago ngo ana ŋarɗi sanne – That mat is very beautiful|
|18||ngol||Singular nouns ending in ol||Jokku laawol ngol – Follow that road|
|19||ka||Singular nouns ending in a||Laana ka an jey? – Is that boat yours?|
|20||ko||Singular nouns ending in ko, o||Na’i ana yidi durude huɗo ko – Cows like to eat that grass|
|21||ndu||Singular nouns ending in u (but this class is less consistent)||Bunnɗu ndu ana woɗɗi – That well is far (away)|
|22||ngu||Singular nouns ending in u (this class is also less consistent and is not commonly used in the Maasina)||Nduŋngu ngu tidi – That rainy season was difficult|