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.



Some more words.....

Salaam, I'm half Kenyan and half American and wanted to know if something else should be added?

What about the following words derived from Arabic in Swahili:

1. farasi- horse

2. Naam- certainly (yes)

3. Isha- finish/end - e.g. in Swhahili imekwisha [derived: (Islamic)] [Terminology: Islamic late evening/night prayer]

4. Saidia/saidiwa/msaada- help

5. Dunia- world/global

6. Ridhi- approve/consent/content

7. Jadi- ancestors/ancestry

8. Karatasi- pieces of paper

9. kibarua-employment/labor

10. kitabu-book

you could also add fish,

you could also add fish, which i'm sure is samaki.

Some more words to add of

Some more words to add of Arabic Origin


Thank you

Hey, thanks for the great list of swahili words. I'm really trying to learn the language. Not for any special reason...but it's nice to expand your network. At this moment I am studying spanish, french, vietnamese, japanese, german, and swahili. I love languages and I thank you for helping me take one more step towards being a very fluent person. By the time I turn sixteen, I want to be able to speak all languages, even if I only know a few words from each. It may be difficult to do in two years but I know I can do it! Thanks again.

All these Languages?

Can you now speak a little of the given above languages? That is two years down the line. I can help you out with both Swahili and German.If you are interested.On the other hand I can try out spanish with you.I use every available moment to learn spanish.I will thereafter learn portugiese.

Thanks for that!

Hi,, tonight at the mess (I work in a mining co.) I just talked to the fellow next to me and he happened to be from East Congo, I was impressed to learn that he speaks (appart from english) French and Swahili. He also told me that Swahili is close to arabic and I am just amazed of how much it actually is!. I speak spanish and because the arabs occupied the spanish peninsula for so many years (Al-andaluz caliphate) I can also relate some sapanish words of arabic origin, here are some:

aceite: oil. From Arabic az-zayt (الزيت) "oil."
aceituna: olive. From Arabic الزيتون (az-zaytun) "olive."
acequia: irrigation canal. From Arabic as-saqiyah (الساقية)"the irrigator."
ademán: gesticulation which expresses the will to do something. From Arabic aD-Daman (الضمان), literally meaning legal guarantees. The change of meaning is due to the exaggerated promises and gesticulations which were offered in such a plea.
aduana: customs house; customs. From Arabic diwan (ديوان).

... just a few from the wikipedia, but there several others!


Another Spanish word from Arabic

How about Spanish "arroz", from Arabic "ar-ruzz", meaning "rice"?

BTW, "zaytun" in Arabic is the plural, meaning "olives". "Zayt" is the singular, viz Hebrew "zayit".

Note: in Arabic, words beginning with "sun" letters, such as "r" and "s", change the definite article "al" to "ar", "as", and so on. Hence "dar es-salaam", abode of peace. Ar-ruzz and az-zayt are part of this pattern. They're called "sun" letters because the word for sun is "shams" (viz Hebrew "shemesh").

actually the word zaytun is

actually the word zaytun is also there in swahili, it is written Zaituni, meaning olive too