Malagasy Phrases for Daily Life

Abbreviations and elisions are a common feature of Malagasy. Interior consonants can get skipped, consecutive vowels turn to single vowels, and both beginning and ending vowels can get skipped. This is most common in very commonly said words; the more frequently something is used, the more likely it is to be shortened.

Consider the case of misaotra, one of those multipurpose words that can mean “Thank you”, “Got it”, “That is kind of you”, and other things depending on context. Depending on where you are in Madagascar and whom you are talking to, you might here all four vowels and all four consonants, or one of these shorter derivations:

  • misaotr (shadow “r” at the end)
  • saotra
  • saotr
  • sohtra
  • sotra
  • shotr

During one errand to the pharmacy, the pharmacist and I said this word at least eight times to each other in a 2-minute transaction. No wonder that it gets shortened! Part of the challenge (and the fun) is recognizing the different shortened forms, and (especially when traveling) reaching that communications breakthrough with a stranger when you break through the dialect or accent barriers.

Here are some quotidien tasks and phrases that are a great way to practice these things over and over again, giving you a strong ear for the different abbreviations.

Getting a Hair Cut

Where exactly is the hairdresser?

Aiza ho aiza ny mpanao volo?

I need my hair cut.

Mila hety volo aho.

Haircut please

Hihety volo, azafady.

In the last phrase, “azafady” functions as “please”. The ending “-y” is often dropped. Interestingly enough, when requesting a service, the future form of the verb mihety is used, since you’re asking for something that hasn’t happened yet.

Giving Away Old Things

I don’t need these clothes and these shoes here anymore. Do you want them?

Tsy mila ireo akanjo sy kiraro ireo intsony aho. Mila azy ireo ve ianao?

This is a gift for you.

Fanomezana ho anao ity. OR Ity dia fanomezana ho anao.

Shopping at the Pharmacy

Do you have Benadryl?

Manana Benadryl ve ianao?

Often, pharmaceutical drugs (prescription and otherwise) are sold under different names than they are in the United States. A few quick searches online can give you a list of alternate names to write and bring in. For example, in addition to Benadryl, you might ask for the chemical / generic name diphenhydramine – and write this down so that you can skip past potential differences in pronunciation.

If you are shopping for antihistamines in Madagascar, here’s a list of some alternative antihistamines’ chemical / generic names to look for:

  • cetirizine
  • diphenhydramine [Benadryl]
  • fexofenadine
  • levocetirizine
  • loratadine

Just remember to read the usage instructions for what you are offered – some pharmacies will offer an alternate product, which may or may not be a good substitute for what you want?

We don’t have Benadryl. Would you like loratadine instead?

Tsy manana Benadryl izahay. Tianao ve ny loratadine?

Yes, please. How many tablets per box?

Eny, azafady. Firy ny pilina isaky ny boaty?

Ten tablets.

Pilina folo. 

One box, please.

Boaty iray azafady.

Some synonyms and loan words that you might encounter:

English Malagasy 1 Malagasy 2 Malagasy 3 Malagasy 4
pills pilina pills [English loanword] comprimés [French loanword] fanafody
box boaty [French loanword] baoritra carton [English and French loanword] fonosana


I need to go to the airport. How much?

Mila mankany amin’ny seranam-piaramanidina aho. Ohatrinona? [Note: pronounced “oat-ree-noon”.]

or: Mila mandeha any amin’ny seranam-piaramanidina aho. Firy? 

I need a taxi to go to Ivandry.

Mila taxi aho handeha ho any Ivandry.

I need a taxi-be to go to Ivandry.

Mila taxi-be ho any Ivandry aho.

Some important notes:

  • Taxi Be translates literally as “Big Taxi”, but refers to the commuter buses and not to a large private taxi.
  • The verb mandeha (to go) is convert to future tense by changing the “m” to an “h”.

Do you know the restaurant La Compagnie des Voyageurs?

Fantatrao ve ny trano fisakafoanana La Compagnie des Voyageurs?

or: Fantatrao ve ny hotely fisakafoanana La Compagnie des Voyageurs?

Because trano can refer to both a house (i.e., a resident) and any establishment that has that in its name, sometimes in directions you will end up using hotely to refer to a restaurant, for clarification. Except for government ministries, usually proper nouns in another language are left untranslated.

That’s too expensive. Make it twenty thousand Ariary.

Lafo be! Mety roa alina ariary.

There are longer ways of saying this (Lafo loatra izany literally means “It’s too expensive”, but it always gets shortened to lafo be (“too big/high”) in colloquial speech, to the extent that people may be a little confused with the longer phrase.) Similarly, you could say Ataovy roa alina ariary for a more literal translation, but in practice, the colloquialism is to use Mety (“make it”) instead.

The normal price is ten thousand.

Ny vidiny mahazatra dia iray alina.

Malagasy doesn’t have a “to be” verb in the same sense as most Western European. If you don’t have a verb in the sentence, it’s usually assumed that “to be” is functioning implicitly.

Note that with iray, the first vowel is dropped, so the word sounds almost exactly like the word “ray” in English.


Glosbe. (n.d.). “Misoatra”. Malagasy-English Dictionary.


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