Amharic ( or ; (Amharic: ), ', ) is an Ethiopian Semitic language
, which is a subgrouping within the Semitic branch
of the Afroasiatic languages
. It is spoken as a first language
by the Amharas
and as a lingua franca
by other populations residing in major cities and towns of Ethiopia
The Amharic language possibly originated as result of a pidgin
ization process with a Cushitic
substratum and a Semitic superstratum to enable communication between people who spoke a mix of different languages.
The language serves as the working language
of Ethiopia, and is also the working language of several of the states within the Ethiopian federal system. With 21,811,600 total speakers as of 2007, including around 4,000,000 second language
speakers, Amharic is the second-most common language of Ethiopia
) and second-most commonly spoken Semitic language in the world (after Arabic
Amharic is written left-to-right using a system that grew out of the Geʽez script
. The writing system is called ''fidäl'' () in Ethiopian Semitic languages. ''Fidäl'' means "script", "alphabet", "letter", or "character". The writing system is also called ''abugida'' (), from the first four symbols; from this the modern term abugida
There is no universally agreed way of romanising
Amharic into Latin script
. The Amharic examples in the sections below use one system that is common among linguists specialising in Ethiopian Semitic languages.
Amharic has been the official working language of Ethiopia, language of the courts, the language of trade and everyday communications and of the military since the late 12th century. It is one of the official language
s of Ethiopia
, together with Oromo
-Amharic is an Afro-Asiatic language of the Southwest Semitic group and is related to Geʿez, or Ethiopic, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox church;Amharic is written in a slightly modified form of the alphabet used for writing the Geʿez language. There are 33 basic characters, each of which has seven forms depending on which vowel is to be pronounced in the syllableHe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
until 2020 Amharic was in fact the only official Ethiopian language on the federal level, alongside English.
As of the 2007 census, Amharic is spoken by 21.6 million native speakers in Ethiopia
[Central Statistical Agency. 2010.]
Population and Housing Census 2007 Report, National
. Accessed 13 December 2016].
and 25 million secondary speakers in Ethiopia.
Additionally, 3 million emigrants outside of Ethiopia speak the language. Most of the Ethiopian Jewish
communities in Ethiopia and Israel speak Amharic. In Washington DC, Amharic became one of the six non-English languages in the Language Access Act of 2004, which allows government services and education in Amharic. Furthermore, Amharic is considered a holy language
by the Rastafari
religion and is widely used among its followers worldwide.
The Amharic ejective consonants
correspond to the Proto-Semitic
", usually transcribed with a dot
below the letter. The consonant and vowel tables give these symbols in parentheses where they differ from the standard IPA
The Amharic script is an abugida
, and the grapheme
s of the Amharic writing system are called ''fidel''.
[Hudson, Grover. "Amharic". ''The World's Major Languages''. 2009. Print. Ed. Comrie, Bernard. Oxon and New York: Routledge. pp. 594–617. .]
Each character represents a consonant+vowel sequence, but the basic shape of each character is determined by the consonant, which is modified for the vowel. Some consonant phoneme
s are written by more than one series of characters: , , , and (the last one has ''four'' distinct letter forms). This is because these ''fidel'' originally represented distinct sounds, but phonological change
s merged them.
The citation form for each series is the consonant+''ä'' form, i.e. the first column of the ''fidel''. The Amharic script
is included in Unicode
, and glyphs are included in fonts available with major operating systems.
As in most other Ethiopian Semitic languages
in Amharic. That is, consonant length can distinguish words from one another; for example, ''alä'' 'he said', ''allä'' 'there is'; ''yǝmätall'' 'he hits', ''yǝmmättall'' 'he will be hit'. Gemination is not indicated in Amharic orthography, but Amharic readers typically do not find this to be a problem. This property of the writing system is analogous to the vowels of Arabic
or the tones
of many Bantu languages
, which are not normally indicated in writing. Ethiopian novelist Haddis Alemayehu
, who was an advocate of Amharic orthography reform
, indicated gemination in his novel ''Fǝqǝr Ǝskä Mäqabǝr'' by placing a dot above the characters whose consonants were geminated, but this practice is rare.
Punctuation includes the following:
: section mark
: word separator
: full stop (period)
: preface colon (introduces speech from a descriptive prefix)
: question mark
: paragraph separator
;Simple Amharic sentences
One may construct simple Amharic sentences by using a subject
and a predicate
. Here are a few simple sentences:
Amharic grammar distinguishes person
, and often gender
. This includes personal pronoun
s such as English ''I'', Amharic '; English ''she'', Amharic '. As in other Semitic languages, the same distinctions appear in three other places in their grammar.
; Subject–verb agreement
All Amharic verbs agree
with their subjects
; that is, the person, number, and (in the second- and third-person singular) gender of the subject of the verb are marked by suffixes or prefixes
on the verb. Because the affixes that signal subject agreement vary greatly with the particular verb tense
, they are normally not considered to be pronouns and are discussed elsewhere in this article under verb conjugation
; Object pronoun suffixes
Amharic verbs often have additional morphology that indicates the person, number, and (second- and third-person singular) gender of the object of the verb.
While morphemes such as ''-at'' in this example are sometimes described as signaling object
agreement, analogous to subject agreement, they are more often thought of as object pronoun suffixes
because, unlike the markers of subject agreement, they do not vary significantly with the tense/aspect/mood of the verb. For arguments
of the verb other than the subject or the object, there are two separate sets of related suffixes, one with a benefactive
meaning (''to'', ''for''), the other with an adversative or locative meaning (''against'', ''to the detriment of'', ''on'', ''at'').
Morphemes such as ''-llat'' and ''-bbat'' in these examples will be referred to in this article as prepositional object pronoun suffixes because they correspond to prepositional phrases such as ''for her'' and ''on her'', to distinguish them from the direct object pronoun suffixes such as ''-at'' 'her'.
Amharic has a further set of morphemes that are suffixed to nouns, signalling possession
: ''bet'' 'house', ''bete'', ''my house'', ; ''betwa'', ''her house''.
In each of these four aspects of the grammar, independent pronouns, subject–verb agreement, object pronoun suffixes, and possessive suffixes, Amharic distinguishes eight combinations of person, number, and gender. For first person, there is a two-way distinction between singular (''I'') and plural (''we''), whereas for second and third persons, there is a distinction between singular and plural and within the singular a further distinction between masculine and feminine (''you m. sg.'', ''you f. sg.'', ''you pl.'', ''he'', ''she'', ''they'').
Amharic is a pro-drop language
: neutral sentences in which no element is emphasized normally omit independent pronouns: ' 'he's Ethiopian', ' 'I invited her'. The Amharic words that translate ''he'', ''I'', and ''her'' do not appear in these sentences as independent words. However, in such cases, the person, number, and (second- or third-person singular) gender of the subject and object are marked on the verb. When the subject or object in such sentences is emphasized, an independent pronoun is used: ' 'he's Ethiopian', ' 'I invited her', ' 'I invited her'.
The table below shows alternatives for many of the forms.
The choice depends on what precedes the form in question, usually whether this is a vowel or a consonant, for example, for the first-person singular possessive suffix, ' 'my country', ' 'my body'.
Within second- and third-person singular, there are two additional polite independent pronouns, for reference to people to whom the speaker wishes to show respect. This usage is an example of the so-called T–V distinction
that is made in many languages. The polite pronouns in Amharic are ''ǝrswo'' 'you (sg. polite)'. and ''ǝssaččäw'' 's/he (polite)'. Although these forms are singular semantically—they refer to one person—they correspond to third-person plural elsewhere in the grammar, as is common in other T–V systems. For the possessive pronouns, however, the polite 2nd person has the special suffix ''-wo'' 'your sg. pol.'
For possessive pronouns (''mine'', ''yours'', etc.), Amharic adds the independent pronouns to the preposition ' 'of': ' 'mine', ' 'yours m. sg.', 'yours f. sg.', ' 'hers', etc.
For reflexive pronoun
s ('myself', 'yourself', etc.), Amharic adds the possessive suffixes to the noun ''ras'' 'head': ''rase'' 'myself', ''raswa'' 'herself', etc.
Like English, Amharic makes a two-way distinction between near ('this, these') and far ('that, those') demonstrative
expressions (pronouns, adjectives, adverbs). Besides number, Amharic - unlike English - also distinguishes between the masculine and the feminine genders in the singular.
There are also separate demonstratives for formal reference, comparable to the formal personal pronouns: ''ǝññih'' 'this, these (formal)' and ''ǝnniya'' 'that, those (formal)'.
The singular pronouns have combining forms beginning with ''zz'' instead of ''y'' when they follow a preposition: ''sǝläzzih'' 'because of this; therefore', ''ǝndäzziya'' 'like that'. Note that the plural demonstratives, like the second and third person plural personal pronouns, are formed by adding the plural prefix ''ǝnnä-'' to the singular masculine forms.
s can be primary or derived. A noun like ' 'foot, leg' is primary, and a noun like ' 'pedestrian' is a derived noun.
Amharic nouns can have a masculine or feminine gender
. There are several ways to express gender. An example is the old suffix ''-t'' for femininity. This suffix is no longer productive and is limited to certain patterns and some isolated nouns. Nouns and adjectives ending in ''-awi'' usually take the suffix ''-t'' to form the feminine form, e.g. ''ityop̣p̣ya-(a)wi'' 'Ethiopian (m.)' vs. ''ityop̣p̣ya-wi-t'' 'Ethiopian (f.)'; ''sämay-awi'' 'heavenly (m.)' vs. ''sämay-awi-t'' 'heavenly (f.)'. This suffix also occurs in nouns and adjective based on the pattern ', e.g. ' 'king' vs. ' 'queen' and ' 'holy (m.)' vs. ' 'holy (f.)'.
Some nouns and adjectives take a feminine marker ''-it'': ' 'child, boy' vs. ' 'girl'; ''bäg'' 'sheep, ram' vs. ''bäg-it'' 'ewe'; ' 'senior, elder (m.)' vs. ' 'old woman'; ''t'ot'a'' 'monkey' vs. ''t'ot'-it'' 'monkey (f.)'. Some nouns have this feminine marker without having a masculine opposite, e.g. ' 'spider', ''azur-it'' 'whirlpool, eddy'. There are, however, also nouns having this ''-it'' suffix that are treated as masculine: ''säraw-it'' 'army', ''nägar-it'' 'big drum'.
The feminine gender is not only used to indicate biological gender, but may also be used to express smallness, e.g. ''bet-it-u'' 'the little house' (lit. house-FEM
). The feminine marker can also serve to express tenderness or sympathy.
Amharic has special words that can be used to indicate the gender of people and animals. For people, ''wänd'' is used for masculinity and ''set'' for femininity, e.g. ''wänd lǝǧ'' 'boy', ''set lǝǧ'' 'girl'; ''wänd hakim'' 'physician, doctor (m.)', ''set hakim'' 'physician, doctor (f.)'.
For animals, the words ''täbat'', ''awra'', or ''wänd'' (less usual) can be used to indicate masculine gender, and ' or ''set'' to indicate feminine gender. Examples: ''täbat t'ǝǧa'' 'calf (m.)'; ''awra doro'' 'cock (rooster)'; ''set doro'' 'hen'.
The plural suffix ' is used to express plurality of nouns. Some morphophonological
alternations occur depending on the final consonant or vowel. For nouns ending in a consonant, plain ' is used: ''bet'' 'house' becomes ' 'houses'. For nouns ending in a back vowel
(-a, -o, -u), the suffix takes the form ', e.g. ' 'dog', ' 'dogs'; ''käbäro'' 'drum', ' 'drums'. Nouns that end in a front vowel
pluralize using ' or ', e.g. ' 'scholar', ' or ' 'scholars'. Another possibility for nouns ending in a vowel is to delete the vowel and use plain ', as in ' 'dogs'.
Besides using the normal external plural (''-očč''), nouns and adjectives can be pluralized by way of reduplicating
one of the ''radicals''. For example, ''wäyzäro'' 'lady' can take the normal plural, yielding ', but ' 'ladies' is also found (Leslau 1995:173).
-terms have two plural forms with a slightly different meaning. For example, ' 'brother' can be pluralized as ' 'brothers' but also as ' 'brothers of each other'. Likewise, ' 'sister' can be pluralized as ' ('sisters'), but also as ' 'sisters of each other'.
In compound words
, the plural marker is suffixed to the second noun: ' 'church' (lit. house of Christian) becomes ' 'churches'.
has pointed out that Amharic has inherited a large number of old plural forms directly from Classical Ethiopic (Ge'ez)
(Leslau 1995:172). There are basically two archaic pluralising strategies, called external and internal plural. The external plural consists of adding the suffix ''-an'' (usually masculine) or ''-at'' (usually feminine) to the singular form. The internal plural employs vowel quality or apophony
to pluralize words, similar to English ''man'' vs. ''men'' and ''goose'' vs. ''geese''. Sometimes combinations of the two systems are found. The archaic plural forms are sometimes used to form new plurals, but this is only considered grammatical in more established cases.
*Examples of the external plural: ' 'teacher', '; ' 'wise person', '; ' 'priest', '; ''qal'' 'word', '.
*Examples of the internal plural: ' 'virgin', '; ''hagär'' 'land', '.
*Examples of combined systems: ' 'king', '; ' 'star', '; ' 'book', '.
If a noun is definite or ''specified'', this is expressed by a suffix, the ''article'', which is -''u'' or -''w'' for masculine singular nouns and -''wa'', -''itwa'' or -''ätwa'' for feminine singular nouns. For example:
In singular forms, this article distinguishes between the male and female gender; in plural forms this distinction is absent, and all definites are marked with -''u'', e.g. bet-očč-u 'houses', gäräd-očč-u 'maids'. As in the plural, morphophonological
alternations occur depending on the final consonant or vowel.
Amharic has an accusative marker, -''(ə)n''. Its use is related to the definiteness of the object, thus Amharic shows differential object marking
. In general, if the object is definite, possessed, or a proper noun, the accusative must be used (Leslau 1995: pp. 181 ff.).
The accusative suffix is usually placed after the first word of the noun phrase:
Amharic has various ways to derive nouns from other words or other nouns. One way of nominalising consists of a form of ''vowel agreement'' (similar vowels on similar places) inside the three-radical structures typical of Semitic languages
. For example:
*CəCäC: – ' 'wisdom'; ' 'sickness'
*CəCCaC-e: – ' 'obesity'; ' 'cruelty'
*CəC-ät: – ' 'moistness'; ' 'knowledge'; ' 'fatness'.
There are also several nominalising suffixes.
*': – 'relation'; ' 'Christianity'; ' 'laziness'; ' 'priesthood'.
*''-e'', suffixed to place name X, yields 'a person from X': ''goǧǧam-e'' 'someone from Gojjam
*' and ' serve to express profession, or some relationship with the base noun: ' 'pedestrian' (from ' 'foot'); ' 'gate-keeper' (from ''bärr'' 'gate').
*' and ' – '-ness'; ' 'Ethiopianness'; ' 'nearness' (from ' 'near').
As in other Semitic languages
, Amharic verbs use a combination of prefixes and suffixes to indicate the subject, distinguishing 3 persons, two numbers, and (in all persons except first-person and "honorific" pronouns) two genders.
Along with the infinitive and the present participle, the gerund is one of three non-finite verb
forms. The infinitive is a nominalized verb, the present participle expresses incomplete action, and the gerund expresses completed action, e.g. ' ''bälto'' ''wädä gäbäya hedä'' 'Ali, having eaten lunch, went to the market'.
There are several usages of the gerund depending on its morpho-syntactic features.
The gerund functions as the head of a subordinate clause (see the example above). There may be more than one gerund in one sentence.
The gerund is used to form the following tense forms:
* present perfect ' ' 'He has said'.
* past perfect ' ' 'He had said'.
* possible perfect ' ' 'He (probably) has said'.
The gerund can be used as an adverb:
''alfo alfo'' ' 'Sometimes he laughs'. (From ማለፍ 'to pass')
s are words or constructions used to qualify nouns. Adjectives in Amharic can be formed in several ways: they can be based on nominal patterns, or derived from nouns, verbs and other parts of speech. Adjectives can be nominalized by way of suffixing the nominal article (see Nouns
above). Amharic has few primary adjectives. Some examples are ' 'kind, generous', ' 'mute, dumb, silent', ' 'yellow'.
:CäCCaC – ' 'heavy'; ' 'generous'
:CäC(C)iC – ' 'fine, subtle'; ' 'new'
:CäC(C)aCa – ' 'broken'; ' 'bent, wrinkled'
:CəC(C)əC – ' 'intelligent, smart'; '' 'hidden'
:CəC(C)uC – ' 'worthy, dignified'; ' 'black'; ' 'holy'
:-äñña – ' 'powerful' (from ''hayl'' 'power'); ' 'true' (from ' 'truth')
:-täñña – ' 'secular' (from ''aläm'' 'world')
:-awi – ' 'intelligent' (from ' 'heart'); ' 'earthly' (from ' 'earth'); ''haymanot-awi'' 'religious' (from ''haymanot'' 'religion')
:''yä-kätäma'' 'urban' (lit. 'from the city'); ' 'Christian' (lit. 'of Christianity'); ' 'wrong' (lit. 'of falsehood').
Adjective noun complex
The adjective and the noun together are called the 'adjective noun complex'. In Amharic, the adjective precedes the noun, with the verb last; e.g. ' 'a bad master'; ' (lit. big house he-built) 'he built a big house'.
If the adjective noun complex is definite
, the definite article is suffixed to the adjective and not to the noun, e.g. ' (lit. big-def
house) 'the big house'. In a possessive construction, the adjective takes the definite article, and the noun takes the pronominal possessive suffix, e.g. ' (lit. big-def
house-my) "my big house".
When enumerating adjectives using ' 'and', both adjectives take the definite article: ' (lit. pretty-def
girl came) "the pretty and intelligent girl came". In the case of an indefinite plural adjective noun complex, the noun is plural and the adjective may be used in singular or in plural form. Thus, 'diligent students' can be rendered ' (lit. diligent student-PLUR
) or ' (lit. diligent-PLUR
Not much has been published about Amharic dialect differences. All dialects are mutually intelligible
, but certain minor variations are noted.
Mittwoch described a form of Amharic spoken by the descendants of Weyto language
but it was likely not a dialect of Amharic so much as the result of incomplete language learning as the community shifted languages
from Weyto to Amharic.
There is a growing body of literature in Amharic in many genres. This literature includes government proclamations and records, educational books, religious material, novels, poetry, proverb collections
, dictionaries (monolingual and bilingual), technical manuals, medical topics, etc. The Bible was first translated into Amharic by Abu Rumi
in the early 19th century, but other translations of the Bible into Amharic
have been done since. The most famous Amharic novel is ''Fiqir Iske Meqabir
'' (transliterated various ways) by Haddis Alemayehu
(1909–2003), translated into English by Sisay Ayenew with the title ''Love unto Crypt'', published in 2005 ().
The word ''Rastafari
'' comes from ''Ras Täfäri'', the pre-regnal
title of Haile Selassie
, composed of the Amharic words ''Ras'' (literally "Head", an Ethiopian title equivalent to duke
) and Haile Selassie's pre-regnal name, Tafari.
Many Rastafarians learn Amharic as a second language, as they consider it to be sacred. After Haile Selassie's 1966 visit to Jamaica, study circles in Amharic were organized in Jamaica as part of the ongoing exploration of Pan-African identity and culture. Various reggae
artists in the 1970s, including Ras Michael
, Lincoln Thompson
and Misty in Roots
, have sung in Amharic, thus bringing the language to a wider audience. The Abyssinians
, a reggae group, have also used Amharic, most notably in the song "Satta Massagana
". The title was believed to mean "give thanks"; however, this phrase means "he thanked" or "he praised", as ' means "he gave", and ' "thanks" or "praise". The correct way to say "give thanks" in Amharic is one word, ''misgana''. The word "satta" has become a common expression in the Rastafari dialect of English, Iyaric
, meaning "to sit down and partake".
Amharic is supported on most major Linux
distributions, including Fedora and Ubuntu.
The Amharic script is included in Unicode
, in the Ethiopic block
(U+1200 – U+137F). Nyala font is included on Windows 7 (see YouTube
video) and Vista (Amharic Language Interface Pack
) to display and edit using the Amharic Script. In February 2010, Microsoft released its Windows Vista
operating system in Amharic, enabling Amharic speakers to use its operating system in their language.
added Amharic to its Language Tools
which allows typing Amharic Script online without an Amharic Keyboard. Since 2004 Wikipedia has had an Amharic language Wiki that uses Ethiopic script.
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(1698). ''Grammatica Linguæ Amharicæ.'' Frankfort.
* 'rewritten version of 'A modern grammar of spoken Amharic', 1941''
* Afevork Ghevre Jesus (1911). ''Il verbo amarico''. Roma.
* Amsalu Aklilu & Demissie Manahlot (1990). ''T'iru ye'Amarinnya Dirset 'Indet Yale New!'' (An Amharic grammar, in Amharic)
* Anbessa Teferra and Grover Hudson (2007). ''Essentials of Amharic.'' Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
* Appleyard, David (1994). ''Colloquial Amharic''. Routledge
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* Bender, M. Lionel
. (1974) "Phoneme frequencies in Amharic". ''Journal of Ethiopian Studies'' 12.1:19–24
* Bender, M. Lionel and Hailu Fulass (1978). ''Amharic verb morphology.'' (Committee on Ethiopian Studies, monograph 7.) East Lansing: African Studies Center, Michigan State University.
* Bennet, M. E. (1978). ''Stratificational Approaches to Amharic Phonology.'' PhD thesis, Ann Arbor: Michigan State University.
* Cohen, Marcel
(1936). ''Traité de langue amharique.'' Paris: Institut d'Ethnographie.
* Cohen, Marcel (1939). ''Nouvelles études d'éthiopien merdional.'' Paris: Champion.
* Dawkins, C. H. (¹1960, ²1969). ''The Fundamentals of Amharic.'' Addis Ababa.
* Kapeliuk, Olga
(1988). ''Nominalization in Amharic.'' Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden.
* Kapeliuk, Olga (1994). ''Syntax of the noun in Amharic.'' Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. .
* Łykowska, Laura (1998). ''Gramatyka jezyka amharskiego'' Wydawnictwo Akademickie Dialog.
* Leslau, Wolf
(1995). ''Reference Grammar of Amharic.'' Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.
* Praetorius, Franz (1879). ''Die amharische Sprache.'' Halle: Verlag der Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses.
* Abbadie, Antoine d'
(1881). ''Dictionnaire de la langue amariñña.'' Actes de la Société philologique, t. 10. Paris.
* Amsalu Aklilu (1973). ''English-Amharic dictionary.'' Oxford University Press.
* Baeteman, J.-É.
(1929). ''Dictionnaire amarigna-français.'' Diré-Daoua
* Gankin, É. B. (1969). ''Amxarsko-russkij slovar'. Pod redaktsiej Kassa Gäbrä Heywät.'' Moskva: Izdatel'stvo 'Sovetskaja Éntsiklopedija'.
* Guidi, I.
(1901). ''Vocabolario amarico-italiano.'' Roma.
* Guidi, I. (1940). ''Supplemento al Vocabolario amarico-italiano.'' (compilato con il concorso di Francesco Gallina ed Enrico Cerulli
* Kane, Thomas L. (1990). ''Amharic–English Dictionary.'' (2 vols.) Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
* Leslau, Wolf (1976). ''Concise Amharic Dictionary.'' (Reissue edition: 1996) Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
* Täsämma Habtä Mikael Gəṣṣəw (1953 Ethiopian calendar
). ''Käsate Bərhan Täsämma. Yä-Amarəñña mäzgäbä qalat.'' Addis Ababa: Artistic.
Selected Annotated Bibliography on Amharic
Category:Languages of Ethiopia
Category:South Semitic languages
Category:Transverse Ethiopian Semitic languages