List of Swahili Words of Arabic Origin


Swahili is a language that fuses African Bantu with Arabic. Arab sailors and traders have established links and ties with East Africa for centuries, their language  strongly merged with the local language to produce a creole derivative.

The word Swahili itself is derived from Arabic Sawahili سواحلي which is plural for ساحل meaning [Language] of the Coast

This article gives  some examples of Arabic words still in today's Swahili.

Here are some words. 

Swahili Arabic Meaning
hatari خطر Danger. Also the  title of a 1962 movie starring John Wayne, set in Africa.
Safari سفر Travel. Also: trip
mahali محل Place
vitabu كتاب Book
msumari مسمار Nail
kata قطع Cut, chop
habari خبر news
huru حر free
dhamiri ضمير conscience
kamusi قاموس dictionary
baridi بارد cold
samahani سامحني forgive me, excuse me
rafiki رفيق companion, friend
tafadhali تفضل please
furahi فرح happy


The terms for time are strongly influenced by Arabic.  Many of it taken by the prayer times of Islam.

Swahili Arabic Meaning
asubuhi صبح morning
dakika دقيقة minute
saa ساعة hour
wakati وقت time
alasri العصر late afternoon
magharibi المغرب sunset
alfajiri الفجر dawn
karne قرن century

The Swahili names for the first five days of the week all start with Juma, then the order of the day of the week, Saturday being the first day of the week. Jumaa is derived from the Arabic word جمعة which means Friday, as well as "week. Only two days of the week got the Arabic names:

Swahili Arabic Meaning
alkhamisi الخميس Thursday
ijumaa الجمعة Friday

Animal  Names

Animal names are all native African Bantu (e.g. simba lion). However, there are  a few exceptions.

Swahili Arabic Meaning
Tausi طاوس Peacock, being non-native to Africa, it took the Arabic name, which in turn took it from Persian.


The number system is also heavily Arabic, although not exclusively so.

Swahili Arabic Meaning
nusu نص Half. The proper classical Arabic word  is نصف nisf. In many present day dialects it is "nus", like in Swahili.
robo ربع Quarter
sita ستة 6
saba سبعة 7
tisa تسعة 9
ishrini عشرين 20
thalathini ثلاثين 30
arubaini أربعين 40
hamsini خمسين 50
sitini ستين 60
sabini سبعين 70
thamanini ثمانين 80
tisini تسعين 90
mia مئة 100.  The middle letter in classical Arabic is Hamza, however, in present day dialects, like Swahili, it is a Y sound.
elfu ألف 1000


Here are some useful links on Swahili.



modernity in swahili, in arabic


Does anyone know how would we say 'modernity' in Swahili? What would the correct Arabic form be? From Google translate and such tools, I get





شىء عصري

I'm guessing usasa? Which loosely translates to now-ness. But I am looking for something that also captures the full breadth of what we mean by modernity, i.e. encounter, transformation, and continuation. Is it sufficient to say usasa? I haven't heard anyone using it, it just seems to be the first thing that comes to mind.

More words

Dawa - Medicine
Marahaba - I'm fine
Shukran - Thankyou
Salamu - Greetings