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.




How did you come up with this list? Are you a Muswahili native,or you are a linguist who specialize in Kiswahili and others related to it.I have a short list that I got from Max Planck Institute which includes some of the words on your list.Some of the words on your list I could not find in my Kamusi ya Kiswahili,but it is a small one.Which kiswahili dictionary one can find your list in?
Thank you for your contribution and keep up the good work.
Israel Ntaganzwa

In my opinion as a student in

In my opinion as a student in linguistics in Kiswahili and Arabic from Swahili Region this is a big work you have done my bro Ahmed Bhegani thanks a lot or shukran or ahsanta in Kiswahili. But I would like to add that some of listed words above are not used by ordinary swahili people except for that have strong relation with Arabic many of them are those still have Arabic accent in their tongues or have studied arabic well so they put these words in some situations.

Swahili should be more African than Arabic

Hey Guys,
I wonder if we are willing to build Africa from all the ashes of all the Arab and Western settlers and cancell all their former influences and cultural polutions.
Many African brothers are learning the largest "African language" the Swahili, I think is time for Africans to make some changes in their heritage poluted.
ASHE NALENG!!! (thanks a lot - in Maasai language)

Culture and civilization are cumulative

A civilization or a culture are cumulative. This means that every part contributes to the bigger whole. This is true anywhere. Even the British have a language that is part French. Arab and Islamic civilization has a lot of elements in it (Persian, Turkish, ...etc.). Many of today's civilizations are a product of an amalgamation of several civilizations.

There are of course bigots who try to rewrite history to shape it according to their prejudice, excluding elements that are not in fashion today. So, look at things as they are, not as your prejudice wishes them to be. Hiding from your accumulated past or trying to create an alternate reality is not productive.

Some nationalism may be good, but too much of it turns ugly and destructive.
Khalid Baheyeldin

I can understand you Khalid.

I can understand you Khalid. I remember when I was small boy swahili was meant to be the 4th language in the world but it could not qualify and the 'reason'was that Swahili is not pure language is sort of creole because it has a lot of arabic words. Therefore I think is time now some fixing should happen and the plan is to pick some tribe words and replace some of the unwanted arabic words. There are a lot of non arabic words which are rarely used eg kenda 9 tisa=arab and so many words, so its our duty to promote our native words and drop the borrowed words even English ones.


Could some one enlighten me? I have been trying to understand is Arab a blood line or just a language and culture? What is an Arab/ African?
Thanks Much! Charlene

spelling corrections

30 should be thelathini, 40 = arobaini, 80 = themanini, and late afternoon = alasiri

poa kachizi kama ndizi

Asante! Mimi ni mwalimu aliyofundisha Tanzania kwa miaka miwili. Nimeanza kusoma Kiarabic... Kumbe! Sijajua kwamba najua maneno mengi tayari. Thanks for your work!

I love Tanzania and Swahili

Hey all ,
Im lebanese but i recently went to Tanzania for a vacation and a Safari and fell in love with this country . Im planing to go back so im trying to learn Swahili .
Thanks for the list...

just comment and more

My query: Is there any word as Tarikh = Dtae/History, Kalam/Mal/Jamaa
my family name Khoshnabish (good writer )may be included