3. Kosila – to finish
By now you’re well on your way to speaking Lingala. Using the conjugations patterns presented for of the first 20 verbs, the three key irregular verbs and your growing vocabulary list – along with the full verb and vocabulary lists at the back of this book – you should be able to make yourself understood in a variety of situations.
But there are a few more aspects of Lingala that are helpful to understand and that you’ll no doubt encounter as you become increasingly proficient.
3.1 Action tenses
Up to this point, we’ve concentrated on the four basic tenses – present, past, future and imperative – for each of the verbs that we’ve looked at, which will get you a long way down the Lingala-speaking road. But if you’ve made it this far, then it’s time to add some action to the mix.
There are a few ways to convey action in Lingala. The simple present tense allows you to talk about things that you do on a routine basis. The present progressive tense presents things that are underway. And the past progressive presents things that were underway in the past.
3.1.1 Simple present tense
The simple present tense is used to talk about things that you do all the time, such as ‘I usually buy’ or ‘I usually pay attention’.
The construction of this tense is pretty simple and straightforward. For kosomba (to buy), first, drop the ‘ko-’, which leaves ‘-somba’. Add the appropriate subject pronoun at the beginning and then ‘-ka’ at the end. That’s it.
So for kosomba, the simple present tense becomes:
na+somba+ka – nasombaka – I usually buy
o+somba+ka – osombaka – you usually buy
a+somba+ka – asombaka – he/she usually buys
to+somba+ka – tosombaka – we usually buy
bo+somba+ka – bosombaka – you usually buy (plural)
ba+somba+ka – basombaka – they usually buy
e+somba+ka – esombaka – it usually buys
And for kokeba (to pay attention), it becomes:
na+keba+ka – nakebaka – I usually pay attention
o+keba+ka – okebaka – you usually pay attention
a+keba+ka – akebaka – he/she usually pays attention
to+keba+ka – tokebaka – we usually pay attention
bo+keba+ka – bokebaka – you usually pay attention (plural)
ba+keba+ka – bakebaka – they usually pay attention
e+keba+ka – ekebaka – it usually pays attention
3.1.2 Present progressive tense
The present progressive tense is used to say things like ‘I am speaking’ or ‘We are hearing’.
As with all of the other tenses, the construction of the present progressive starts with infinitives and subject pronouns. But this one might seem a bit tricky at first.
The present progressive requires the use of two verbs: kozala (to be) and the infinitive of the verb that matches what you’re doing or want to talk about.
So to be able to say that you, or someone else, or a group is speaking, you first need to conjugate the present tense forms of kozala, which you should already be familiar with:
nazali – I am
ozali – you are
azali – he/she is
tozali – we are
bozali – you are (plural)
bazali – they are
ezali – it is
Next, drop everything after the ‘z’ and add an ‘o’, which makes:
This prefix is used in every single present progressive conjugation and you’ll soon become familiar with its use as well as starting to be able to recognise the distinctive ‘-zo-‘ sound of the tense.
Next, drop the ‘ko-’ from the infinitive form of koloba (to speak), leaving just ‘-loba’.
Then combine with appropriate prefix with the –loba suffix to make the correct form of the verb for what you want to say:
nazo+loba – nazoloba – I am speaking
ozo+loba – ozoloba – you are speaking
azo+loba – azoloba – he/she is speaking
tozo+loba – tozoloba – we are speaking
bozo+loba – bozoloba – you are speaking (plural)
bazo+loba – bazoloba – they are speaking
ezo+loba – ezoloba – it is speaking
And it will be the same for any other verb. For kosomba (to buy):
nazo+somba – nazosomba – I am buying
ozo+somba – ozosomba – you are buying
azo+somba – azosomba – he/she is buying
tozo+somba – tozosomba – we are buying
bozo+somba – bozosomba – you are buying (plural)
bazo+somba – bazosomba – they are buying
ezo+somba – ezosomba – it is buying
And for koyoka (to hear):
nazo+yoka – nazoyoka – I am hearing
ozo+yoka – ozoyoka – you are hearing
azo+yoka – azoyoka – he/she is hearing
tozo+yoka – tozoyoka – we are hearing
bozo+yoka – bozoyoka – you are hearing (plural)
bazo+yoka – bazoyoka – they are hearing
ezo+yoka – ezoyoka – it is hearing
3.1.3 Past progressive tense
The past progressive form is used to describe things that were done in the past or that happen a lot.
This is the tense that you’ll want to use if you want to say something like ‘I was cooking’ or ‘We were giving’.
It is formed through the combination of the past tense of kozala and the infinitive you want to use.
So for kolamba (to cook), again start with kosala, only this time make the complete version of the past tense, which will be:
nazalaki – I was
ozalaki – you were
azalaki – he/she was
tozalaki – we were
bozolaki – you were (plural)
bazolaki – they were
ezolaki – it was
Next, simply add the infinitive form of the verb.
So for kolamba, the past progressive is:
nazalaki kolamba – I was cooking
ozalaki kolamba – you were cooking
azalaki kolamba – he/she was cooking
tozalaki kolamba – we were cooking
bozolaki kolamba – you were cooking (plural)
bazolaki kolamba – they were cooking
ezolaki kolamba – it was cooking
And for kopesa (to give), the past progressive is:
nazalaki kopesa – I was giving
ozalaki kopesa – you were giving
azalaki kopesa – he/she was giving
tozalaki kopesa – we were giving
bozolaki kopesa – you were giving (plural)
bazolaki kopesa – they were giving
ezolaki kopesa – it was giving
3.2 The subjunctive
Yes, Lingala has a subjunctive form, but it’s a bit limited compared with a lot of other languages.
The subjunctive is commonly restricted to just three main verbs – kolinga (to want or to like or love), kozela (to wait for), and kosengela (to need). And then it is used in conjunction with a second verb whose conjugation is slightly modified.
In many ways, the construction is similar to the future tense construction, with a conjugated first verb and the infinitive form of a second. For example, ‘I am going to buy’. Using the standard form, this would be nakei (I am going) + kosomba (to buy).
But with the subjunctive form, this changes slightly to ‘I want to buy’. To construct this, first conjugate the verb kolinga (to want):
nalingi – I want
olingi – you want
alingi – he/she wants
tolingi – we want
bolingi – you want (plural)
balingi – they want
elingi – it wants
Next, create the subjunctive form you want to use, in this case, kosomba.
To create the subjunctive form, drop the ‘ko-‘ at the beginning, but keep the ‘- a’ at the end. Then add the appropriate subject pronoun. So this becomes:
na+somba – nasomba
o+somba – osomba
a+somba – asomba
to+somba – tosomba
bo+somba – bosomba
ba+somba – basomba
e+somba – esomba
Now combine the two to make the complete form:
nalingi nasomba – I would like to buy
olingi osomba – you would like to buy
alingi asomba – he/she would like to buy
tolingi tosomba – we would like to buy
bolingi bosomba – you would like to buy (plural)
balingi basomba – they would like to buy
elingi esomba – it would like to buy
And it will be the same for the other verbs. Here’s another example using komona (to see):
nalingi namona – I would like to see
olingi omona – You would like to see
alingi amona – he/she would like to see
tolingi tomona – we would like to see
bolingi bomona – you would like to see (plural)
balingi bamona – they would like to see
elingi emona – it would like to see
The same approach is used when using kozela (to take) as the primary verb, in this case paired with kozua (to take):
nazeli nazua – I wait to take
ozeli ozua – you wait to take
azeli azua – he/she waits to take
tozeli tozua – we wait to take
bozeli bozua – you wait to take (plural)
bazeli bazua – they wait to take
ezeli ezua – it waits to take
And for kosengela (to need) as the primary verb, here paired with kosala (to work):
nasengeli nasala – I need to work
osengeli osala – you need to work
asengeli asala – he/she needs to work
tosengeli tosala – we need to work
bosengeli bosala – you need to work (plural)
basengeli basala – they need to work
esengeli esala – it needs to work
3.3 Lingala nouns and verbs
Many of you will have no doubt noticed that there is often a relationship between the formation of Lingala verbs and nouns. For example, kosala – to work – and mosala – work. This happens fairly regularly and you can use it to both help decipher one or the other, or to make an educated guess about what a verb or noun might be.
Here’s a list to get you started, but you’ll most likely find that you find more and more as you continue to learn:
kobala – to marry
libala – marriage
kobota – to give birth
libota – family; moboti (baboti) – parent(s)
kokanisa – to think
likanisi – idea, thought
kokima – to run
mokima (bakima) – runner(s)
kokomba – to sweep
komba – broom
kolemba – to be tired
malembe – slow, slowly
koponama – to elect
maponami – elections
kosana – to play
lisano (masano) – sport(s)
kosolola – to chat, to talk
lisoto (masoto) – chat(s), talk(s)
kotambuisa – to drive
motambuisi (batambuisi) – driver(s)
koteya – to preach
liteya (mateya) – lesson(s)
moteyi (bateyi) – pastor(s)
koyekola – to learn
moyekeli (bayekeli) – school boy(s)/school girl(s)
koyemba – to sing
moyembi (bayembi) – singer(s)
koyiba – to steal
moyibi (bayibi) – thief (thieves)
Alfred Mosher Butts, the inventor of Scrabble, would have had a difficult time designing a Lingala edition. Nearly a third of all Lingala words begin with the letter M, with N and L comprising a fair number, as well. A, D, F, G, O, U, V and W barely get a look in. And no Lingala words start with H, I, J, Q, R or X.
Head fire man
By now you’ll have realised that Lingala often uses the same word for different things.
Nowhere is that more apparent than with the word moto, which can mean ‘man’, ‘head’ or ‘fire’. So in Lingala, ‘The man’s head is on fire’ is ‘Moto moto eza moto’.
3.4 Colours and numbers
Finally, it’s probably worthwhile to take a look at two aspects of Lingala that I found to be a bit hard when I first started out: colours and numbers.
I’ve always found the words for Lingala colours to be particularly hard to remember. And in my experience Kinois who use the Lingala words for colours tend to be pretty orthodox in their approach: no shortcuts – no ‘pondu’ or ‘mwindu’ on their own. Nope, it has to the whole langi ya mayi ya pondu or langi ya mwindu. Go figure.
These are the only ones that I’ve been able to document so far, and you’ll most likely be able to find others if you try hard enough. Personally, like a lot of Kinois, I tend to revert to French colour words.
ba langi – the colours
langi ya mayi ya pondu – green
langi ya motane – red
langi ya mwindu – black
langi ya pembe – white
As with colours, a lot of Kinois prefer to use the French words numbers, but it’s still useful to know the Lingala numbering system.
Lingala numbers will probably seem a bit complex at first, but once you learn the basics, you’ll quickly come up to speed.
As with a lot of numbering systems, the most common, useful and important numbers to learn are from one to 10. These are then incorporated and combined to form all of the larger numbers.
So, from one to 10, the Lingala numbers are:
1 – moko
2 – mibale
3 – misato
4 – minei
5 – mitano
6 – motoba
7 – nsambo
8 – mwambi
9 – libwa
10 – zomi
For the ‘teens’, simply add zomi (10) and na (and) and then the appropriate number.
So, from 11 to 19, the Lingala numbers are:
11 – zomi na moko
12 – zomi na mibale
13 – zomi na misato
14 – zomi na minei
15 – zomi na mitano
16 – zomi na motoba
17 – zomi na nsambo
18 – zomi na mwambi
19 – zomi na libwa
For the ‘-ties’ – 20 through 90 – it seems a little more complicated, but if you approach it with an open mind, it starts to make sense. In English, the ‘-ty’ in the ‘-ties’ – twen-ty, thir-ty, for-ty, etc. comes at the end of the word. Lingala simply puts that numerical reference point at the beginning of the number instead of the end.
And in Lingala, the ‘-ty’ is replaced word ntuku. As you’ll see, ntuku is used at the beginning of every number from 20 through 99 (and then again for every number between 120 and 199, 220 and 299 and so forth).
So, for numbers between 20 and 30, begin with ntuku and then mibale (which denotes ‘two’ and is used to indicate that it is a 20 value) and then add the appropriate other numbers as needed.
20 – ntuku mibale
21 – ntuku mibale na moko
22 – ntuku mibale na mibale
and so on…
For 30 to 39, start with ntuku and then misato (‘three’, so as to indicate that it is a 30 value) and then the appropriate number:
30 – ntuku misato
31 – ntuku misato na moko
32 – ntuku misato na mibale
and so on…
And the same system is used for the rest of the numbers from 40-99:
40 – ntuku minei
50 – ntuku mitano
60 – ntuku motoba
70 – ntuku nsambo
80 – ntuku mwambi
90 – ntuku libwa
Once you get to 100, a new prefix is added to indicate that the number is in the hundreds. Like the ‘-ties’ prefix, the Lingala prefix for ‘hundred’ – nkama – comes at the beginning.
So for 100 to 110, start with nkama and then add the other appropriate number:
100 – nkama
101 – nkama na moko
102 – nkama na mibale
For 111-119, begin with nkama and zomi and then add the other numbers:
110 – nkama na zomi
111 – nkama na zomi na moko
112 – nkama na zomi na mibale
Follow the same system for 120 to 199, starting with nkama, then ntuku, and then the other numbers.
And continue to same approach for the rest of the hundreds:
200 – nkama mibale
300 – nkama misato
400 – nkama minei
500 – nkama mitano
600 – nkama motoba
700 – nkama nsambo
800 – nkama mwambi
900 – nkama libwa
Once you get to 1,000, a new prefix – nkoto – is used, again at the beginning of the number, and ahead of any other prefixes and numbers that follow.
Nkoto follows the same pattern as nkama:
1,000 – nkoto moko
1,001 – nkoto moko na moko
1,002 – nkoto moko na mibale
1,011 – nkoto moko na zomi na moko
1,012 – nkoto moko na zomi na mibale
1,020 – nkoto moko na nkutu mibale
1,021 – nkoto moko na nkutu na moko
1,022 – nkoto moko na nkutu na mibale
1,100 – nkoto moko na nkama moko
1,101 – nkoto moko na nkama moko na moko
1,200 – nkoto moko na nkama mibale
2,000 – nkoto mibale
2,001 – nkoto mibale na moko
2,100 – nkoto mibale na nkama moko