Gender pt 2: roles

This post is the second part in a series on gender or ubulili ngesiZulu. Please read the first part if you’re lost at any point.

The essential word for human is umuntu. Though it has a related connotation of African human, it is the most generic word. From it are derived the word for child (umntwana / small-human), as well as a host of other interesting words:

isintu – culture, and specifically African culture; African language, customs, food etc.

uluntu – population (in isiXhosa, this is the word for ‘the people’)

ubuntu – {do I really need to explain this?} human-ness, the essence of being a good human being in a human context.

In the same isigaba as umuntu, there are a number of words for specific humans, although these (mostly) actually have an altered prefix (u-) instead of umu-. These are actually names, in this case of family members. Chop off the u- and that’s what you call the person when you speak to them.

umama – my mother; a mother; any woman who is old enough to be your mother or who is your superior.

ubaba – my father; a father; any man who is old enough to be your father or who is your superior.

ugogo – a grandmother; any woman old enough to be your grandmother.

umkhulu* – a grandfather; any man old enough to be your grandfather.

udadewethu – my sister; any woman of your cohort or of equal status.

umfowethu* – my brother; any man of your cohort or of equal status.

umalumekazi – aunt (specifically mother’s side of the family)

umalume – uncle (specifically mother’s side of the family)

umkhwekazi* – mother-in-law (from the man’s perspective)

umukhwe* – father-in-law (from the man’s perspective)

umamezala – mother-in-law (from the woman’s perspective)

ubabezala – father-in-law (from the woman’s perspective)

umakoti – bride, newly married woman.

umkhwenyana* – groom, son-in-law.

There are a few more, but these will suffice for now. What you should have noticed is that they quite often come in pairs, much like the binary divisions evident in the first post on ubulili. These are gendered words. The second thing to notice is that the feminine words are, in two cases, derived from the masculine ones – thus umalume is an uncle, and umalumekazi is a female uncle; umukhwe is a father-in-law, and umkhwekazi is a female father-in-law. This pattern is often repeated in any discussion of gender roles. Another thing to notice is that the words are based in actual speech – so umakoti will call her father-in-law “Babezala”, whereas umkhwenyana will call his father-in-law “Mukhwe”.

But at least these words are all human. That’s one thing. So let’s go and look at the other, non-human, noun classes, using gender-roles and terms as a guide.

Firstly, the most popular of all the izigaba for nouns describing humans (apart from the first one, which we just looked at) is the ‘seasonal’ or ‘phasic’ one (aka NC 9/10, or in-/izin-). In here there are five main iziqu relating to gender, and four of them have a raft of derivations:


As mentioned before, this is a word for ‘man’ or ‘male human’, with an added connotation of ‘husband’ or ‘boyfriend’ when used possessively. It has no negative connotations. From it are derived two other words in this isigaba – indodana (small-man / son) and indodakazi (female-man / daughter). Once again, note the pattern of forming female terms from male ones. There is also one other word here – indodisisa (a real man).


As mentioned in the first post, this is a word meaning ‘fertile female human who has had an unbroken series of menstrual cycles’ – i.e. young unmarried (virginal) female human. It is also used as a pet-name for one’s daughter, and has the connotation of ‘girlfriend’ when used possessively. From it in this isigaba is derived the word intombazane (small-intombi / prepubescent girl).


This is a male bachelor, a young unmarried man who is mostly autonomous. I like to think the word is derived from the passive of siza (help), in that the guy is still being-helped by Mama and Baba on occasion, although I have no linguistic support for this opinion. Vilakazi gives the definition as “1. a young man approaching manhood; vigorous young man who has not yet assumed the head-ring; 2. a hornless ox or bull”. Bulls and cows feature highly in isiZulu as paragons of good behaviour, in contrast with goats (you’ll see what I mean in a moment). From this word is derived a relative stem, -nsizwa, meaning “fully developed; clear or bright; cloudless”, which is a little odd. The next two are also odd – insizwambuzi (lit. a goat-bachelor; an undersized youth or very short man) and insizwankomo (lit. a bovine-bachelor; a fine, strong, well-built young man). Goats are stunted and not particularly well-formed, whereas bovines are strong and majestic.


The word inkosi in itself is on the edge between a gender-term and a hierarchical term, but it almost always refers to a male ruler. It has a few meanings, which I’ll summarise here: a king or paramount chief; a term of respect (lord or sir); a Magistrate; (in plural) the spirits of the ancestors; the Lord (Christian Theological term); certain birds; an Ace in cards. From it are derived three other nouns – inkosana (little-inkosi – prince; first-born-son; term of respect when speaking to the son of an employer or superior; ‘klein-baas’), inkosikazi (female-inkosi – first wife; wife of inkosi; ‘lady’; Mrs) and inkosazana (small-female-inkosi – eldest daughter of inkosi; term of respect for any unmarried lady; Miss).


This word is the odd one out here – it is derived from a causative verb, godusa, which is in turn derived from an isenzukuthi – godu. This disyllabic sound denotes “turning back” or “returning home”, and the verb godusa means “1. send home; 2. escort home a betrothed girl from her visit to her lover; 3. Kill (particularly an old person), assist death”. So the noun means “the one who still goes home after her visits, and doesn’t yet live with her lover”. The closest in English is fianceé.

The words in this noun class are here (and not in the human noun class) because they are ritually significant, and they follow cyclical or repetitive modes of behaviour in the cycle of a year or a month. For more on this concept, have a look at my original post on izigaba zamabizo. Basically, they behave like the moon.

If we move on to other noun-classes, the next most populous one in terms of words for people is the “simple fluids” isigaba (NC 5/6 or i(li)-/ama-). There are three words that stay in here for both singular and plural, and then there are a series of words which take ama- plurals but have in- singulars. Firstly, the three locals:


a teenage girl, or a young girl

This word is derived from the twittering noise (like the cheeping of birds) made by large groups of amatshitshi.


A teenage boy, a lad; a youth of sixteen to twenty years of age, when the voice has just broken and the beard is beginning to grow.

This word comes from an isenzukuthi, bhúngu, denoting “1. disappearing or leaving home; 2. breaking up or pulverising; 3. fluttering like soft grass or down on the wind”, and is related to the verbs bhunguka (leave home, abandon one’s parents, live among foreigners, become detribalised) and bhungula (attract away from home or tribal control, detach a person from his attachment to another, seduce). You get the idea.


This word is interesting because it stands as a reminder of practice no longer carried out among the amaZulu, though it continues among other groups.

A young man who has passed through the circumcision school, and who is old enough to commence courting; a girl’s fiancé; a young man popular with the girls.

The word is derived from the verb soka, meaning ‘circumcise’, and these days it often has the meaning of “dude” or “player”.

These words are in this isigaba because they have a certain uniformity (of shape or substance) and tend to travel in packs indistinguishable from one another. This noun class implies all of this – basically, words here behave like water. For more, check out the post.

But there are some words which start out as seasonal (with an in- prefix) and then have their plurals in the simple fluid (with an ama- prefix). This is a source of much sadism on the part of people assessing high school isiZulu among second-language speakers. Here they are:

indoda >> amadoda

indodana >> amadodana

indodakazi >> amadodakazi

intombazane >> amantombazane

inkosi >> amakhosi

inkosikazi >> amakhosikazi

inkosazana >> amakhosazana

I always explain this by saying that these words change because when there are a lot of these people together, they have a uniformity of shape, character and substance, and are not primarily thought of as being like the moon. Whereas more than one intombi is izintombi, as they are still seasonal humans.

Finally, there are a number of abstract nouns derived from these other words we’ve already looked at. They give us a way in to understanding the idea of gender:


  1. Manliness, virility
  2. Semen


  1. Maidenhood; age or condition of a full-grown girl
  2. Virginity

ubusoka (does not occur in Vilakazi 1958)

  1. The state of being isoka
  2. “game” or “courting ability”

And that is where I leave you, for now.

Part 3 will deal more closely with terms of vituperation or abuse, sadly including all modern terms for alternate sexualities and many words for ‘prostitute’.


Finery / -hlob*

I arrive at my lesson a little early, and catch my student unawares. While he gets his mind in order, and I unpack my stuff, I offer him tea. Yes, I know I’m the guest – but I make myself at home wherever I go. Boarding-school vibes.

I say: ufuna nhloboni yethiye?

He understands the bread of the sentence, but not the meat. The word ‘nhloboni’ is incomprehensible to him. So we embark on an umbhudulo. Having translated my question (“you-want sort-what of-tea?” or “what sort of tea do you want?”), and while making him some red-bush tea, I start with the verb.

ukuhloba – to put on finery, dress up, adorn oneself, attire oneself; to sprout or put forth shoots; to become curdled.

We explore the rest of the umbhudulo once seated, with Vilakazi and Doke open in front of us, starting with i(li)hlobo. Of course, like i(li)bele (I owe you a blog about this word – it’s fascinating), there are two very different tonal patterns (and thus two different words) spelt in exactly the same way. Here we go:

i(li)hlobo ( [no plural] – Summer, the summer season; early summer mealies or pumpkins.

i(li)hlobo (2.6.3-8.9) [plural amahlobo] – article of finery for adornment; something fashionable.

We discuss the fact the the first word is more common, and that it has one of the more regular tonal patterns for nouns – rising initially and then bottoming out on the last two syllables. We also look at the fact that the word for Summer comes from the fact that the trees have put on all their finery (after the winter nakedness), and as such one type of tree can be told from another. And then we shift, to look at the complex solid hloba thing – isihlobo.

isihlobo – a relative, a blood relation {113 specific terms for relatives}

A relative is a complex solid because there are a number of constructed modes of behaviour involved in being related. It really is complex, as you can see from the myriad of highly specific terms for different family members. But what does it have to do with decorating? Basically, it’s the group of people who decorate themselves the way that you do. And this comes out in the other nouns from this isiqu:

inhlobo – a species, kind, class, denomination, sample; a style or method

u(lu)hlobo – a genus, species or breed; a kind, sort or variety; a nationality, a race

umhlobo – a friend, an acquaintance; a relative, kinsman or relation; a race of mankind, a nationality

ubuhlobo – friendship; relationship

If you look at all of these through the lens of the izigaba zamabizo, with the meanings of ukuhloba in mind, it makes a bit more sense:

inhlobo – the seasonal / varying similarly decorated thing

u(lu)hlobo – the complex fluid / mutable similarly decorated thing

umhlobo – the simple solid similarly decorated thing

ubuhlobo – the essence of being decorated (in a similar way)

It’s at this point that I point out a small oddity in this list – the fact the umhlobo is not in the human noun class at all, but is rather a non-human solid. It has an imi- plural, imihlobo – like a few other notables such as umlozi and umkhovu. I advise him to be careful when working with the word, and avoid humanising it.

We practise using the various words for another ten minutes, briefly look at the umbhudulo for ukuhlela (to be unpacked another time) and then shift gears and begin on passives. They take us the remaining half an hour, and then I enter the darkness for the final leg of my journey home, satisfied by this exploration of a single root.

Feel free to use this umbhudulo to explain the isiqu HLOB* to anyone who cares to hear. I hope it helps. If you have any suggestions for other imibhudulo, let me know in the comments.



When I get to this word, in that first explanation of the complex beauty of the izigaba zamabizo, I can barely contain my excitement. I’m sure that people I’ve taught can attest to this. I try my hardest to keep to the Socratic method, and to rely on the learner’s knowledge. This is important. It’s a form of hypothesis-testing.

You see, I’ve been interested in the izigaba zamabizo for a long time now, probably longer than I consciously realise. In my interest, I attempted to work out some sort of understanding of them – the whys and whats that made them what they are. Some were very easy, and others took a little longer. What I discovered is that, usually, there is one word which can work as an exemplar for each isigaba – umuntu, umuthi, amanzi, isimo, ubisi, ubuntu, ukudla. These exemplars were able to explain the criteria for a word’s inclusion in that class. But I couldn’t work out an exemplar for the in- isigaba. It eluded me.

One day, I was teaching a student somewhere in Kensington, and we were running through the noun classes. We got to the in- class and I admitted to him, after many words being fed into it, that I had no clear idea of what sort of nouns this class was for. And then I looked at the word ‘inyanga’ written there, and it began to click into place.

You see, it’s a particular favourite of mine. But on that day, I looked at it differently.

Here’s what it means:

  1. the Moon; a lunar month {2.3-8.8-3}
  2. a herbalist; a diviner; a renowned doctor {2.3-8.9}
  3. an expert, one skilled in a particular profession {2.3-8.}

The tones are noticeably different for ‘Moon’ and ‘herbalist’, but the words are incredibly close to each other. There’s a related verb, which Vilakazi contended is derived from the noun, although it is more probably from an Ur-Bantu root -yañga (apologies for not being able to reproduce the proper phonetics) meaning ‘heal’. It’s tone is 6.6-3. The verb means “do skilled work; be a professional; practise as a doctor; divine; use charms”.

So when I looked at the word, I started to imagine it. The Moon. In many languages, the word for the Earth’s satellite and for the period it takes for one cycle is the same – so it is in isiZulu. For the 28 days of a lunar cycle, one is aware of the following characteristics – it rises and sets at different times on different days; it moves across the sky in a pattern that, while an arc, is not the same relative to time each night; it changes shape in a predictable way, dying and filling again; and it has a noticeable effect on flora and fauna.

This last aspect of the moon is what links it to the idea of healing. When I was doing my MA and interviewing izinyanga and izangoma, I had a long conversation with one particular inyanga in Durban. He knew our family, and had been to visit us on my father’s birthday. He was the man who led me around the garden, pointing out the remedies available to us in its limited scope. What he told me was that, while an inyanga gains some inspiration from the amadlozi, and some from the knowledge handed down from parent to child, that he (and other izinyanga) had a special sense of when to harvest medical material from the environment. He spoke of how the trees communicate with people, and how grass communicates with the herbivores that feed on it, and how there were certain times of the night when that communicative and healing energy would be at its strongest. He mentioned the effect of the moon in this, and at the time I was not fully aware of its significance.

You see, the moon itself is a focus of mystical energy in many cultures because it is complex. That complexity may have been one of many patterned things which contributed to the growth of human knowledge and culture – in solving the mysteries of the Moon’s passage across the sky every day, humanity became able to apprehend other mysteries. At first, those mysteries were truly cosmic – Stonehenge is a shining example of the mystical power of observing Sol’s pattern of movement across the sky over the solar year. Those who were able to decode the patterns of the heavenly bodies became ‘experts’, ritually recognised as healers and diviners because of their knowledge.

Enough diversion – all of this was apparent to me at that moment, sitting at that table in Kensington. And it became clear to me – that the in- isigaba was one where the dominant metaphor was ‘moon-like’ or ‘seasonal’ or even ‘phasic’. I’ve tried it out since, and even used my experimental method on unsuspecting conservationists, who have since confirmed my initial hypothesis.

So, next time you look at the moon, think of that.

izitho zomzimba (parts of the body)

As you grow up, you primarily learn the names of words for those things closest to you – your parents, things around the house, different relations, foods, animals etc. One of the vocabulary sets you almost unconsciously pick up contains words for parts of your own body.

In English, this represents a dizzying array of words borrowed from Greek, Latin, Old English and French (to name but a few of the donors). In most instances each part of the body has two words for it – there are the imprecise colloquial words (usually of Germanic origin) and there are the precise anatomical ones (usually from Greek or Latin). In most instances, if you dig hard enough, you find in their names archaic metaphors linking to arcane concepts like the four humours, as well as taken-for-granted links to emotions (such as the heart representing love).

In isiZulu, the concepts behind the naming of the parts of the body are clear – the noun classes into which they are grouped, as well as the family of meaning from which each word comes, make perfect sense upon examination. Let me show you.

Let’s look purely at Noun Class, for now. The metaphors and imibhudulo will follow later.

In the NC for static or generic objects (umu- & imi-), there are the following parts of the body:

umlomo (mouth), umphimbo (throat), umhlane (back), umhlathi (jaw), umqala (neck), umkhono (forearm), umunwe (finger), umbala (shin), umlenze (leg), umgogodla (spine), umnqonqo (artery), umsipha (muscle), umuzwa (nerve) and umzimba (body).

In the NC for homogenous fluid or round objects (ili- & ama-) there are the following nouns:

i(li)khanda (head), i(li)so (eye), i(li)khala (nostril), i(li)zinyo (tooth), i(li)hlombe (shoulder), i(li)dolo (knee), i(li)qakala (ankle), i(li)thanga (thigh), i(li)vi (patella), i(li)thambo (bone), i(li)phaphu (lung) and amathumbu (intestines).

The NC for modified or crafted nature contains the following body-parts:

isihlathi (cheek), isilevu (chin), isiphongo (forehead), isandla (hand), isihlakala (wrist), isithupha (thumb), isihluzu (calf), isinqe (buttock), isithende (heel), isibindi (liver), isicubu (muscle), isifuba (chest), isikhumba (skin), isinye (bladder) and isisu (stomach).

The animal NC (still a working title, as I haven’t managed to crack this one yet, with the prefix in- & izin-) doesn’t contain very many words at all:

indlebe (ear), indololwane (elbow), inhliziyo (heart), inso (kidney), inqulu (hip) and ingalo (arm).

Whereas there are a surprising number of nouns from the complex products NC (ulu- & izin-):

u(lu)nwele (hair), u(lu)debe (lip), u(lu)limi (tongue), u(lu)gebhezi (skull), u(lu)zipho (fingernail), u(lu)nyawo (foot), u(lu)zwani (toe), u(lu)bambo (rib), u(lu)khalo (waist) and u(lu)qwanga (cartilage).

Finally, there is only one noun for a body part from the Essences NC (ubu-): ubuchopho (brain).

Check these words against the system I proposed in my previous post on the izigaba zamabizo – I think you’ll find they correlate remarkably well!

iziGaba zamaBizo – the Noun Classes {in full}

For those of you reading this who know what Noun Classes are in terms of isiZulu, you can skip the next paragraph. For the rest of you, read on. For a list of the different blogs dealing with specific nouns in each isigaba, go here.

Many languages classify nouns. Indo-European languages like German, Latin, Sanskrit and Greek classify things according to whether they are masculine, feminine or neuter. Other language families classify according to different criteria – there is a class of nouns reserved for long wooden objects in certain Aboriginal Australian languages, into which the word for ‘aeroplane’ fits seamlessly. Where English is satisfied with using a single word, ‘it’, to refer to any thing that isn’t human, isiZulu has 7 different versions of ‘it’ in singular and plural (the number varies according to which 19th century linguist you follow, but there are basically 8 in total in modern isiZulu). A thing is not just a thing – it belongs to any of the 8 classes into which nouns are divided in isiZulu, characterised by a specific noun prefix for each class.

The noun classes are usually taught on a ‘memorise each word and don’t ask questions’ basis – which is a primary reason why people give up here. As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been a sustained attempt to develop a classificatory key for understanding WHY nouns are in those specific classes. This is one of many quests I am currently on – to find out what the metaphors are behind each of the noun classes.

My quest has many wrong turns, many dead ends, and much puzzlement, but the ideas are beginning to crystallise. There are two things which act as keys to understanding what inclusion in a specific noun class means – the way that stems in isiZulu are used in different noun classes to differentiate between related concepts, and the amazing etymological work done by the linguists of the last two centuries working on the Bantu language family. I list here each of the izigaba zamabizo, together with a description of the sort of nouns included in them (mostly in order to act as proofs for my hypothesis). This is a work in progress, and any help would be much appreciated.

1. Humans (umu- & aba-)

This is the easiest one – none of the nouns in this noun class stand for anything other than human beings. Some of the key nouns here are umuntu (person), umlungu (white person), umbhali (writer) etc. If you want to construct the name of someone who does a certain thing as their profession, you add um- to the verb stem and suffix -i (umfundi, umshayeli, umthengi etc.)

1a. Names and Kin (u- & o-)

This one is slightly trickier, but the governing idea is that the words here are names. These are mostly for people and family members – ubaba (my father), umama (my mother), ugogo (grandmother), udokotela (doctor), uthisha (teacher) – but there are also borrowed names for things – ubhanana (banana), ubhatata (sweet potato), ushukela (sugar) and utamatisi (tomato).

2. Simple Solids (umu- & imi-)

This noun class is usually called the Rivers and Trees class, primarily because almost all the names for trees and rivers belong here, as well as the word for River (umfula) and Tree (umuthi). However there are other nouns here which are not rivers or trees – umuzi (homestead), umsindo (sound), umhlaba (land), umzimba (body), umbono (opinion), umcabango (thought) etc. With a more complete survey, it appears that these nouns are regarded as generic elements, like features of a landscape.

3. Simple Fluids (ili- & ama-)

This seems like a very strange label to give to a noun class, but it isn’t the first attempt – this has been called the ‘Round, Old and Borrowed’ noun class, as well as the ‘Round and Old’ noun class. neither of those actually work, and so they were discarded. The new label refers to the fact that the nouns in this class tend to have the following characteristics: they are regarded as a single homogenous substance, acting like a fluid in that they can expand or contract (or be filled and emptied, increased and decreased, be bigger or smaller) in the same way as amanzi (water), amandla (power), and amafutha (oil). Some interesting extensions of this idea are the words for men and chiefs – amakhosi and amadoda – which are regarded as a homogenous fluid-type mass. Other words in this class include ilanga (the sun), ithemba (hope), itshe (a stone),  isondo (a tyre) etc.

4. Complex Solids (isi- & izi-)

You could also call this the ‘modified things’ noun class, since each of the nouns has undergone either physical or metaphysical modification from an original subtance or root or concept. Into this noun class fall the nouns for hand (isandla), shoe (isicathulo), bag (isikhwama), human culture (isintu), an isangoma, a meal (isidlo), a fool (isilima) and an old woman (isalukazi). The three words for people in this list are strange, especially if you glance up to the umu- or human noun class. The reason why they aren’t in that noun class is because these names are descriptive, crafted to resemble the thing they describe – an isangoma is ‘the thing that is like a drum’, an isilima is ‘the farming-type person’ or ‘country bumpkin’, and an isalukazi is (most probably) ‘the female who weaves at home’. In fact, most derogatory or descriptive names for people, and many nicknames, are found in this noun class.

5. Seasonal (in- & izin-) 

Almost every single word for common indigenous animals is in this noun class – inkomo (cow), inja (dog), indlovu (elephant), ingulube (pig), indlulamithi (giraffe), inyoni (bird), inyoka (snake) etc. However there are also many words for people here – inkosi (chief, king, lord), indoda (man, husband), intombi (girl, girlfriend), insizwa (bachelor), intandane (orphan) and inyanga (traditional healer), imbongi (praise-singer) and intatheli (reporter) to name just a few. So why are there people in the same class as animals?

I have a theory. I think that the first few words moved into this category because the people were regarded as something other than simple ‘humans-doing-actions’ – they all occupy a hierarchical or culturally relevant position in society, and are almost all connected with rituals connected with certain life events – coming-of-age (intombi is linked to the verb for menstruation, indoda is linked to the verb for ejaculation), spiritual investiture in a traditional position (inyanga and inkosi), as well as others. For this reason they are linked metaphorically to the animal totems that existed (and in some cases still do exist) alongside the ancestral systems of belief – and possibly to the practices (like the trance-dance) adopted by the amaNguni from the indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples of Southern Africa. This practice can also be seen from the way that Isilo samabandla (the king of the amaZulu) is referred to as ‘ingonyama’ (lion).

They no longer defy understanding (I hope) – the common thread to the nouns in this class is that they are either seasonal or phasic (phase-defined), or they represent concepts regarded as occurring in a certain season or appointed time (a phase). Think about it – the people in this class are all defined by the fact that their positions depend on certain life-phases or seasons, and they are being defined according to the season or phase. Indoda is ‘fertile male’, intombi is ‘fertile female’.

This new understanding actually makes the animals here make more sense too – all animals are seasonal, in their breeding patterns, migrations and availability. The animals in this class are generic, too – often with no specification as to gender or sub-species. Those specifications often result in the words being in different noun classes, like the ili-, umu- or isi- ones.

In terms of the other nouns, there will usually be some aspect of cyclicality or seasonality to them. {perhaps this still needs more work…}. See if this hypothesis works for the following words: indlela, inkathi, ingqondo, inhlakanipho, inkohlakalo and inkinga.  

6. Complex Fluids (ulu- & izin-)

Where the last noun class was tricky in the extreme, this one is fairly easy – nouns in this class can be defined (for the most part) as ‘the complex products of unseen and often chemical processes’ – such as ubisi (milk), ulazi (cream), uju (honey), uthando (love), usizi (grief) and ukhetho (an election). There are also a few animals here (ufudu is a tortoise, and ukhozi is an eagle), but this noun class is mostly reserved for non-living things.

7. Essences (ubu-)

This is also very easy – the nouns in this class have been boiled down, distilled, or reduced to the point where only the essence remains – ubuhle (beauty), ububi (evil), utshwala (alcohol), and ubuhlungu (pain) are just some of the many mostly abstract nouns in this class.

8. Actions (uku-)

In case you weren’t confused already, every single verb in isiZulu can also act as a noun – much like gerunds in English (writing, driving, eating etc.). These nouns then denote action, complete with conjugation, implication and object of that action. Some examples include ukudla (the eating, food), ukufunda (the learning, education, reading) and more extended ones like ukungasahlali (the-no-longer-sitting, the fact that someone is no longer resident at a place).

And that brings us to the end of the Noun Classes. If I’ve confused you, I apologise. If you can suggest refinements and alterations to the list, let me know.