Grammar | Relative Constructions and Pronouns

Relative Pronoun is significant in two respects:

  1. It represents a noun/pronoun previously mentioned
  2. It represents the introduction of a subordinate clause.

If a subordinate clause starts with who it is also a relative pronoun

English relative pronouns: that, which, what, who

In a restrictive clause, “who” would offer meaning essential to the sentence.

A non-restricted clause, it would be a parenthetical aside, in that the sentence could exist without it.

“That” is only used in restrictive clauses, and “which” represents non-restrictive clauses.


In Swahili, relative constructions are called virejeshi. The must agree with their antecedent’s noun class.

Here are the forms and the agreements that mark them. This chart is copied from Schleicher and Thompson’s Swahili Learners’ Reference Grammar, cited at the bottom of this page.


Class Relative Suffex Realtive Infix
1 -ye -ye-
2 -o -o-
3 -o -o-
4 -yo -yo-
5 -lo -lo-
6 -yo -yo-
7 -cho -cho-
8 -vyo -vyo-
9 -yo -yo-
10 -zo -zo-
11 -o -o-
14 -o -o-
15 -ko -ko-
16 -po -po-
17 -ko -ko-
18 -mo -mo-

Uses with amba-

Amba- is a relative construction that is a pronoun and takes the relative suffix. Amba- is used to translate English meanings of “who, whom, whose that and which” (Thompson, 97).

Mamangu ambaye alisoma chuo kikuu cha Cal State Northridge alifanya biashara baada ya kumaliza shahada yake.

My mom who studied at Cal State Northridge University did business after she finished her degree.

Nilitaka kula wali ambayo ulipikiwa na dada yule.

I wanted the rice that was cooked by that sister.

Msamiati ambao uliotolew nasi kwa mwalimu yetu ni muhimu kwa mtihani tutaokuwa na wiki ijayo.

The vocabulary that was given to us by our teach is important for the test that we will have next week.

The “tutaokuwa na” in the last example sentence represents the infixed relative, or kirejeshi-kati. The infix goes “after the tense marker and before the verb root.” (Thompson, 98)

The infixed relative is not allowed to go with the perfect tense or the -a- tense. When used with the future tense, insert -ka- after that marker. I.e.

Kwa mfano: Nina rafiki atakayesoma chuo kikuu mwaka ujayo.

I have a friend who will study at university next year.

Tenseless relativeKirejeshi bila tensi is the relative form that works as a verbal suffix. There is no tense marker and the relative form comes after the verb root.

“li + jengwa + lo = lijengwalo which is built (class 5)” (Thompson, 99).

Without the tense, the relative expresses a state/activity that is a regular occurrence.

Nina binamu asomaye historia. I have a friend who studies history.

Remember, with future/past tense, you cannot use the tenseless relative. Further, if you want to stay in the perfect/simple present tense, you must use amba.


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