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Amharic (አማርኛ amarəñña) is a Semitic language spoken in North Central Ethiopiamarker by the Amhara. It is the second most-spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic, and the official working language of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Thus, it has official status and is used nationwide. Amharic is also the official or working language of several of the states within the federal system, including the Amhara Region and the multi-ethnic Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, among others. It has been the working language of government, the military, and of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church throughout medieval and modern times. Outside Ethiopia, Amharic is the language of some 2.7 million emigrants (notably in Egyptmarker, Israelmarker, and Swedenmarker).

It is written using Amharic Fidel, ፊደል, which grew out of the Ge'ez abugida—called, in Ethiopian Semitic languages, ፊደል fidel ("alphabet", "letter," or "character") and አቡጊዳ abugida (from the first four Ethiopic letters which gave rise to the modern linguistic term abugida).

Sounds and orthography

Consonant and vowel phonemes

There is no agreed way of transliterating Amharic into Roman characters.The Amharic examples in the sections below use one system that is common, though not universal, among linguistsspecializing in Ethiopian Semitic languages. The Amharic ejectives correspond to the Proto-Semitic "emphatic consonants", usually transcribed with a dot below the letter.The consonant and vowel charts give these symbols in parentheses wherethey differ from the standard IPA symbols.

Bilabial Dental consonant Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal (ñ)
Plosive voiceless
ejective (p', p̣) (t', ) (q, )
Affricate voiceless (č)
ejective (s') (č', č̣)
Fricative voiceless (š)
voiced (ž)
Approximant (y)

Front Central Back
High (ə)
Mid (ä)

Fidel signs

The following chart represents the basic forms of the consonants, ignoring the so-called "bastard" (Amh. ዲቃላ ) labiovelarized forms of each consonant (represented by the addition of a superscripted "w," i.e. ) and not including the wholly labiovelarized consonants (Ge'ez ), , and . Some phonemes can be represented by more than one series of symbols: , /s'/, and (the last has four distinct letter forms). The citation form for each series is the consonant+/ä/ form, i.e. the first column of fidel. You will need a font that supports Ethiopic, such as GF Zemen Unicode, in order to view the fidel.

Non-speakers are often disconcerted or astonished by the remarkable similarity of many of the symbols. This is mitigated somewhat because, like many Semitic languages, Amharic uses triconsonantal root in its verb morphology. The result of this is that a fluent speaker of Amharic can often decipher written text by observing the consonants, with the vowel variants being supplemental detail.

Chart of Amharic fidels
ä u i a e ə o


As in most other Ethiopian Semitic languages, gemination is contrastive in Amharic. That is, consonant length can distinguish words from one another; for example, alä 'he said', allä 'there is'; 'he hits', 'he is hit'. Gemination is not indicated in Amharic orthography, but since there are relatively few minimal pairs such as these, Amharic readers seem not to find this to be a problem. This property of the writing system is analogous to the vowels of Arabic and Hebrew or the tones of many Bantu languages, which are not normally indicated in writing. The noted Ethiopian novelist Haddis Alemayehu, who was an advocate of Amharic orthography reform, indicated gemination in his novel by placing a dot above the characters whose consonants were geminated, but this practice has not caught on.



Personal pronouns

In most languages, there is a small number of basic distinctions of person, number, and often gender that play a role within the grammar of the language. We see these distinctions within the basic set of independent personal pronouns, for example, English I, Amharic እኔ ; English she, Amharic እሷ . In Amharic, as in other Semitic languages, the same distinctions appear in three other places within the grammar of the languages.
Subject-verb agreement
All Amharic verbs agree with their subjects; that is, the person, number, and (2nd and 3rd 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/aspect/mood, 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 (2nd and 3rd person singular) gender of the object of the verb.
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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').
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Morphemes such as -llat and -bbat in these example 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'.
Possessive suffixes
Amharic has a further set of morphemes which are suffixed to nouns, signalling possession: ቤት bet 'house', ቤቴ bete 'my house', ቤቷ 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').

Like other Semitic languages, Amharic is a pro-drop language.That is, neutral sentences in which no element is emphasized normally do not have independent pronouns: ኢትዮጵያዊ ነው 'he's Ethiopian,' ጋበዝኳት ‘gabbäzkwat'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 (2nd or 3rd 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: እሱ ኢትዮጵያዊ ነው hes Ethiopian', እኔ ጋበዝኳት I' invited her', እሷን ጋበዝኳት '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 1st person singular possessive suffix, አገሬ agär-e'my country', ገላዬ gäla-ye'my body'.

Amharic Personal Pronouns

Within second and third person singular, there are two additional "polite" independent pronouns, for reference to people that the speaker wishes to show respect towards.This usage is an example of the so-called T-V distinctionthat is made in many languages.The polite pronouns in Amharic are እርስዎ 'you sg. pol.' and እሳቸው 'he/she pol.'. Although these forms are singular semantically — they refer to one person — they correspond to 3rd 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 yä-'of': የኔ yäne'mine', ያንተ yantä'yours m. sg.', ያንቺ 'yours f. sg.', የሷ yässwa'hers', etc.

Reflexive pronouns

For reflexive pronouns('myself', 'yourself', etc.), Amharic adds the possessive suffixes to the noun ራስ 'head': ራሴ 'myself', ራሷ 'herself', etc.

Demonstrative pronouns

Like English, Amharic makes a two-way distinction between near ('this, these') and far ('that, those') demonstrativeexpressions (pronouns, adjectives, adverbs). Besides number, as in English, Amharic also distinguishes masculine and feminine gender in the singular.Amharic Demonstrative PronounsThere are also separate demonstratives for formal reference, comparable to the formal personal pronouns: እኚህ 'this, these (formal)' and እኒያ 'that, those (formal)'.

The singular pronouns have combining forms beginning with zzinstead of ywhen they follow a preposition: ስለዚህ 'because of this; therefore', እንደዚያ 'like that'. Note that the plural demonstratives, like the second and third person plural personal pronouns, are formed by adding the plural prefix እነ to the singular masculine forms.


Amharic nounscan 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 -tfor feminity. This suffix is no longer productive and is limited to certain patterns and some isolated nouns. Nouns and adjectives ending in -awiusually take the suffix -tto form the feminine form, e.g. ityop':ya-(a)wi'Ethiopian (m.)' vs. ityop':ya-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 -itsuffix 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-DEF). 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, wändis used for masculinity and setfor femininity, e.g. wänd 'boy', set '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 setto indicate feminine gender. Examples: täbat 'calf (m.)'; awra doro'cock (rooster)'; set doro'hen'.


The plural suffix is used to express plurality of nouns. Some morphophonologicalalternations 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 vowelpluralize 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 reduplicatingone of the radicals. For example, wäyzäro'lady' can take the normal plural, yielding , but 'ladies' is also found (Leslau 1995:173).

Some kinship-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'.

Archaic forms
Amsalu Akliluhas pointed out that Amharic has inherited a large number of old plural forms directly from Classical Ethiopic (Leslau 1995:172). There are basic two archaic pluralizing 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 apophonyto pluralize words, similar to English manvs. menand goosevs. geese. Sometimes combinations of the two systems are found. The archaic plural forms are not productive anymore, which means that they are not be used to form new plurals.

  • Examples of the external plural: 'teacher', ; 'wise person', ; 'priest', ; '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 -uor -wfor masculine singular nouns and -wa, -itwaor -ätwafor 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-ochch-u 'houses', gäräd-ochch-u 'maids'. As in the plural, morphophonologicalalternations occur depending on the final consonant or vowel.


Amharic has an accusative marker, -(ï)n. Its use is related to the definiteness of the object, thus Amharic shows differential object marking. In general, if the object is definite, the accusative must be used.'The child chased the dog.'

The accusative suffix is usually placed after the first word of the noun phrase:

'He bought this watch.'


Amharic has various ways to derive nouns from other words or other nouns. One way of nominalizing consists of a form of vowel agreement(similar vowels on similar places) inside the three-radical structures typical of Semitic languages. For example:
  • : — 'wisdom'; 'sickness'
  • : — 'obesity'; 'cruelty'
  • : — 'moistness'; 'knowledge'; 'fatness'.
There are also several nominalizing suffixes.
  • : — 'relation'; 'Christianity'; 'laziness'; 'priesthood'.
  • -e, suffixed to place name X, yields 'a person from X': goǧǧam-e 'someone from Gojjammarker'.
  • 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 the second person singular) two genders.


Along with the infinitive and the present participle, the gerund is one of three non-finite verbforms. The infinitive is a nominalized verb, the present participle expresses incomplete action, and the gerund expresses completed action, e.g. bältowädä gäbäya hedä'Ali, having eaten lunch, went to the market'.There are several usages of the gerund depending on its morpho-syntactic features.

Verbal use
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'.

Adverbial use
The gerund can be used as an adverb:alfo alfo 'Sometimes he laughs'. dägmo 'I also want to come'.


Adjectivesare 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 Nounsabove). Amharic has few primary adjectives. Some examples are 'kind, generous', 'mute, dumb, silent', 'yellow'.

Nominal patterns

CäCCaC — käbbad 'heavy'; läggas 'generous'
CäC(C)iC — räqiq 'fine, subtle'; addis 'new'
CäC(C)aCa — säbara 'broken'; t'ämama 'bent, wrinkled'
— 'intelligent, smart'; ' 'hidden'
— 'worthy, dignified'; 'black'; 'holy'

Denominalizing suffixes

— 'powerful' (from hayl 'power'); 'true' (from 'truth')
— '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')
In the same way, a relative perfectumor imperfectumcan be used as an adjective by prefixing :
yä-bässälä 'ripe, done' (lit. 'what has been cooked/prepared'); yä-qoyyä 'old' (lit. 'what remained'); yä-mm-ikkättäl 'following' ('that what is following', from tä-kättälä 'to follow'); yä-mm-ittay 'visible' (lit. 'what is seen')

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-defhouse) '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-defhouse-my) 'my big house'.

When enumerating adjectives using 'and', both adjectives take the definite article: (lit. pretty-def-and intelligent-defgirl 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-PLURstudent-PLUR).

Literature in 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, technical manuals, medical topics, etc. The Holy Bible was first translated into Amharic by Abu Rumiin the early 19th century, but has been retranslated a number of times 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 (ISBN 9781418491826).

Translation companies

Because of the rapid growth of Ethiopiancommunities in Europe, the United States and Canada, several public service organizations started to offer Amharic language translation and interpretation services.


Many Rastafarianslearn Amharic as a second language because they consider it to be a sacred language, and even the original language. Various rootsreggaemusiciansincluding Lincoln Thompsonand Misty-in-Rootshave written songs in Amharic, thus bringing the sound of this language to a wider audience.

A notable early attempt to use Amharic in reggae was the anthem Satta Amassagana, mistakenly believed to mean "Give thanks". However, this "Amharic" phrase seems to have been derived from looking in a bilingual dictionary and finding the entries for "give" (actually "he gave") and for "thank" or "praise" (actually "he thanked" or "he praised"), by those unaware of the correct inflections of these verbs, the convention of always listing verbs in the past tense third person, or the pronunciation of the diacritical marks . The actual way to say "give thanks" is a related word, misgana. Ironically, owing to the vast popularity of this song, "to satta" has even entered modern Rastafarian vocabularyas a verb meaning "to sit down and partake".


The Amharic script is included in Unicode. Now people can post in forums and blogs, send e-mail, or publish Web sites in Amharic. There are several free software programs, and also some commercial ones, for writing in Amharic. Some such software packages are: Keyman, GeezEdit, Hewan Amharic Software, AbeshaSoftand PowerGe'ez.



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External links

'I saw Almaz'
'I opened the door for Almaz'
'I closed the door on Almaz (to her detriment)'
Object pronoun suffixes
Possessive suffixes

you (m. sg.)

you (f. sg.)




you (pl.)


Number, Gender
ይቺ , ይህች

masculine sg
masculine sg definite
feminine sg
feminine sg definite
the house
the maid

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