Shona Nominal Classes

Shona Noun Classes

Nouns in chiShona are categorized according to the prefix in singular and plural forms of the noun. Nouns determine grammatical agreement in a sentence. A noun class in chiShona is called mupanda. There are the 20 noun classes in Standard Shona and 21 with the dialects included.

Class 1 (mu-): Nouns that refer to people. The prefix as indicated is mu- or mw-. Examples: munhu (person), and mukadzi (woman). There is a subclass, 1a which consists of nouns with zero prefix like baba (father), chiremba (doctor), etc.

Class 2 (va-): Plural of Class 1 – nouns that begin with va- like vanhu (people) and wakadzi (women). There are two subclasses. 2a bear the prefix va– but it is not a regular plural prefix. It is a honorific indicating title/respect – the plural of politeness. VaTinashe (Mr. Tinashe), vasekuru (respectful for ‘grandfather’). 2b has nouns that start with a– such as amai (mother) and ambuya (grandmother).

Class 3 (mu-): Mainly plants, and other nouns. examples are muti (tree) and mubhanana (banana plant).

Class 4 (mi-): Plural of Class 3 with nouns such as miti and mibhanana.

Class 5 (diverse prefixes, sometimes zero): Inanimate things such as fruits but also animals. Borrowed nouns can be found here as well. examples are ranjisi (orange) and ziso (eye).

Class 6 (ma-): Plural of Class 5 and starts with ma-. Examples – maranjisi and maziso.

Class 7 (chi-): Nouns of inanimate objects, diminutives, and languages. Examples: chinhu (small person), chiShona and chimuti (small tree).

Class 8 (zvi-): Plural of Class 7 with examples such as zvinhu and zvimiti.

Class 9 (N-class): The singular of animals, borrowed nouns or abstract ideas. Usually starts with prenasalized N or M but with other prefixes too. nyoka (snake), mbudzi (goat), mombe (cow) and imba (house) are examples of nouns in this class.

Class 10: Plural of Class 9. The structure does not change; grammatical agreement denotes singular (Class 9) and plural (Class 10). Example: nyoka yakaurawa (a snake was killed) – nyoka dzakaurawa (snakes were killed).

Class 11 (ru-) – verbal derivative of abstract meaning or long and thin object or organ such as the tongue (rurimi). The plural of the nouns in this class are either in Class 6 like rungano (plural – ngano) (story/stories), or ruoko (maoko) (hand/hands).

Class 12 (ka-): Diminutives such as kamuti (small tree) and kasikana (little girl).

Class 13 (tu-): Plural of class 12 nouns such as tumuti and tusikana.

Class 14 (u-): Mostly abstract nouns. Examples: Usikana (girlhood), ukuru (hugeness but also authority and power), upenyu (life), hwana (childhood). U– changes to hw– if the root starts with a vowel.

Class 15 (ku-): The infinitives class. Examples: kudya (to eat), kuenda (to go), kubika (to cook), kupfeka (to dress), etc.

Classes 16, 17 and 18: The locatives classes.

Class 16 (pa-): Means on/at. Examples: Panzira (on the road), pachipatara (at the hospital), pachikoro (at the school).

Class 17 (ku-): indicates being far and direction – to. towards, from. Examples: kusitadhiyamu (at the station), kumuchechi (towards the church), etc.

Class 18 (mu-): indicates in or inside. Examples: mumwisha (in the homestead), mupoto (in the pot), mutafitera (in the window), etc.

Class 19 – found only in the Karanga dialect.

Class 21 (zi-): Augmentative nouns that indicate hugeness or even pejorative meaning. Their plural forms are in Class 6 (ma-). Examples: zidumbu (huge stomach), zimba (huge house), zibhuku (huge book), etc.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.