Standard Swahili Translation

Dear Swahili translators, linguists: Help put it clear. Are the words “Onesha” and “Onyesha” used interchangeably when translating English verbs like exhibit, highlight, show, demonstrate?

Are they synonyms? What are the contextual and standard usage of the words? What formality do they bear?

References from relevant authorities responding to the topic would be much appreciated.

Kindly find attached TUKI translations of the entries.



Hi @ombeni and thank you for reaching out :dizzy:

Let’s tag our great Swahili Language Lead @paul who’ll kindly provide us with a useful answer :innocent:


My fellow Swahili linguists are too busy to respond :grin:

In my experience (Kigoma region, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar), yes -onyesha and -onesha may be used interchangeably for exhibit, show, etc. as you said. -onyesha seems to be the grammatically “proper” (aka Zanzibar?) form, but -onesha somewhat common in Kigoma region (aka Congo-Swahili or provincial Swahili?). Hope this helps. Bottom line, -onyesha more common, but interchangeable and both easily understood in context. Hope this helps!

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Thank you for your contribution, Christina. Of course, both are easily understood, and I came to realize that onyesha is most used in spoken form but onesha is used in written form especially in government documentation. Look at government-organized exhibitions: like Sabasaba exhibitions, and Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair. They call it Maonesho ya Sabasaba not Maonyesho ya Sabasaba.

I think they consider stems of these words:
Onesha comes from stem on from which we get words like ona, onesha, oneana, onana, onekana, etc. Ona is the key verb here. (to see)

Onyesha comes from sterm “ony” from which we get words like onya, onyesha, onyeshana, onyana, etc. Onya is the key verb here. (to warn)

So, they intentionally write onesha instead of onyesha on the basis of this explanation. It is something that people go to see (ona) not to warn (onya).

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Good analysis, Ombbeni! There are several issues to unravel about this…

  1. The interchangeability of the words to express to show or exhibit
  2. -onyesha as in to cause/make to warn or forbid
  3. -onesha as in to cause/make to see, therefore to show
    Swahili is a language deeply rooted in the specific context, more so than English I think.
    It’s fun to analyze language. Cheers!
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Dear @ombeni thank you for bring up such an enriching discussion in the forum. I see that @clquig has provided a befitting response with clear illustrations from Kamusi ya Kiswahili. Just to add that always locate the root of the term (noun or verb), that way you can get it right since you will be able separate the affixes and their function in a word. As you know Swahili being an agglutinating language, affixation can lead to change of a part of speech, eg, from a noun we can get a verb, but also there are affixation that simply provide grammatical information. I hope I have enriched an already rich discussion.

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Thank you, Paul, for your addition.