Basic Sentence Construction


The identifying copulative morpheme ke is often used to create basic statements in Sesotho. This is used to identify a person or object. In some books it is written as to distinguis from ke (I). The morpheme can literally be translated as "this is". The negative of this form is created by replacing the ke with ha se, look at these examples:

Ke mosadi. (This is a woman.)
Ke banna. (These are men.)
Ke tafole. (This is a table.)
Ha se ngwana. (This is not a child.)
Ha se buka. (This is not a book.)

Questions are formed using this construction with the pronunciation (where the last syllable carrying a high tone and a lengthening of the second last syllable) or by adding the interrogative na. For example:

Ke bukantswe? (Is this a dictionary?)
Ke Thabo? (Is this Thabo?)
Ke mang? (Who is this?)
Na ke titjhere? (Is this a teacher?)
Na ke sejana? (Is this a plate?)
Na ha se ramolao? (Is this not a lawyer?)


To create a Sesotho sentence you need a subject, subject concord, verb and optional object (noun) or adverb. For basic present tense sentences a common structure is used:


For example to say "Mother is reading a book" it would be "Mme o bala buka". 
Mme is the subject which means "mother", while the "o" is the subject concord - see table below. All sentences require a subject concord. The word "bala" means to read. Note that as this is a present tense sentence the verb ends in an "a". In this case an object, "buka" (meaning book) was also added. But the extension after a verb can also be an adverb.

For a sentence without an object the sentence structure would be:


For example to say "The man is walking" it would be "Monna o a tsamaya". 
An "a" is therefore added after the subject concord if the verb is not extended with an adverb or object. 

The SUBJECT in the sentence may also be left out and be implied by the SUBJECT CONCORD, like "O a tsamaya". which translates "He (the man) is walking". Or "Di a robala". which translates "They (the cats) are sleeping". Note that a subject concord such as "o" does not indicate any gender - therefore with the example "O a tsamaya" it could read "He is walking" or "She is waling". The gender is usually determined by the context of a whole text.

Steps in forming a basic Sesotho sentence:
1. Choose SUBJECT (noun refering to person/thing that is going to perform an action).
2. Add the subject's SUBJECT CONCORD (nouns are divided into classes and each class has its own subject concord).
3. Is there an extension after the verb (OBJECT or ADVERB)? If YES go on to number 4. If NO then add an "a".
4. Choose the VERB (action to be performed by the subject).
5. Add optional OBJECT (thing action is performed on) or ADVERB (way in which the action is done).


Class Prefix Subject 
Example Translation
of example
1 mo- o mosadi woman
2 ba- ba basadi women
1a - o ntate father
2a ba- ba bontate fathers
3 mo- o mose dress
4 me- e mese dresses
5 le- le leleme tongue
6 ma- a maleme tongues
7 se- se sefate tree
8 di- di difate trees
9 - e ntja dog
10 di- di dintja dogs
Classes 11, 12 and 13 are mainly used in languages such as isiZulu and isiXhosa
14 bo- bo bohobe bread
15 ho- ho ho tsamaja to walk
16 - ho fatshe down
17 ho- ho hodimo up
18 mo- o mose abroad


Above the workings of the present tense was explained. There are three more tenses used in Sesotho, they are: past, perfect and future.

Lepolesa le ja dijo. = The policeman eats the food.
Ntja di loma katse. = The dog bites the cat.
Ke tswa Afrika Borwa. = I come from South Africa.
Ntate o a sebetsa. = Father works.
Mme o ya toropong. = Mother is going to the town.
John o dula ka America. = John lives in America.
John o dula faatshe. = John sits on the ground.
Motswalle wa ka o reka diaparo. = My friend (the friend of mine) buys clothes.
Ke tla ja. = I will eat. 
Ntate o rekisa dieta. = Father bought shoes. 

To join sentences and words together in Sesotho, the following conjunctions can be used: 
and (between words) - le 
and (between sentences - mme 
because - hobane 
but - empa 
either / or - kapa 
if - ha 
since - haesale 
until - ho fihlela 
whereas - athe 

Negative sentences

The following basic structures can be used for negative sentences: 

Basic structure: 

SUBJECT (or implied subject) + HA + SUBJECT CONCORD + VERB(-e) + OBJECT (or adverb) 

Example: Mme ha a bale buka. (Mother is not reading book.) Literally the sentence means: Mother not she read a book.

If no object is present in a sentence, the following strucutre is used: 

SUBJECT (or implied subject) + HA + SUBJECT CONCORD + a + VERB(-e) 

Example: Lesea ha le a lle. (The baby is not crying.) 
Literally the sentence translates as: The baby not she/he cry.

- Add ha before subject concord. 
- Subject concord o of class 1 and 1a changes to "a". 
- Verb ending -a is replaced by -e. 

Ha a a sebetsa. (You are not working.) 
Basadi ha ba a hlatswe. (The women are not washing.) 
Morena ha a a dule. (The king is not sitting.) 
Tonki ha e a tsamaye. (The donkey is not walking.) 
Tau ha e lome nyamatsane. (The lion is not biting the wild buck.) 
Dikatse ha di robale mantsiboya. (The cats are not sleeping in the evening.) 

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J. Olivier (2009)