In English some verbs can be both active and passive, depending on the context - for example:

The mother is cooking.

The chicken is cooking.

In the case of my mother, I am using the active sense - e.g. my mother is actually doing the cooking. However in the case of the chicken I am using a passive sense, I really mean that the chicken is being cooked.

I am wondering if the same applies in Kiswahili?

Mama anapika.

Kuku anapika.

Would the second sentence be understood to mean that the chicken is being cooked? or can it only ever mean that the chicken is the one doing the actual cooking?

  • 1
    Such English verbs are called ergative verbs, and I strongly doubt they can be found in Swahili, since it marks both the subject and object very consistently. "Kuku anapika" can mean only that the chicken is the one doing the actual cooking, the prefix a- shows that it is the chicken who is the subject.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 30, 2015 at 18:51
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    @YellowSky They're not 'ergative'. Maybe 'unaccusative', or just simply verbs with multiple related senses.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 31, 2015 at 0:51
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    @YellowSky I did read those pages - they're junk! They are misusing linguistic terminology, as non-linguists often do. In a discussion with English teachers use 'ergative' if you like, but on this site we should be using the terms as linguists do. Stative verbs in English are not ergative.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 31, 2015 at 1:24
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    I agree with @curiousdannii that usage of 'ergative' for English verbs is found among teachers of English, it's not used by linguists. Jan 31, 2015 at 8:44
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    Also, 'the chicken is cooking' is not passive, it's a middle construction. Jan 31, 2015 at 8:46

3 Answers 3


I assume your choice of -pika was deliberate -- with "boil", for example, you have distinct transitive and intransitive (stative) stems -chemsha and -chemka. As far as I know, you have to use the stative suffix for kuku inapikika. This would go for -funga, -vunja (close, break) and other such verbs.


Or kuku anapikika -- both agreement patterns are accepted, because chicken stew is inanimate, if made correctly.

  • This originally stemmed from a memory aid.. -pika (tenuously) rhymes in "Twiga anapika" and I had an amusing image of a Giraffe wearing a chefs hat. All was well until the question was raised of a Giraffe being cooked.
    – James
    Feb 1, 2015 at 21:11

Yes there are, it all depends on how the verb is conjugated. The way you wrote it "Kuku anapika" can only be understood to as the chicken is actually doing the cooking

The correct passive form is "Kuku anapikwa" ...... which translates as the action of being cooked is happening to the chicken. also there is "Kuku anapikika" ...... which translates as the chicken is cooking / can also be more along the line of the chicken is actually getting cooked(like it's accepting to cook)

I can't really get into it all here but Swahili has different ways to conjugate verbs to bring out meanings...... by adding morphemes to the stem of the original verb. Different conjugation can bring even more meanings.


The clauses are grammatically correct but one is semantically awkward it can only be used in academic arguments not in common conversation. But however the sentence 2. Kuku anapika it is active because the null object is affected by the action of the verb.

But again the verb can be conjugate otherwise in the same grammatical pattern to denote passive in which the subject will be affected by the action of the verb Ex. Kuku anapik-w-a Here the writer has added suffix -w- which has altered the meaning of the sentence.

Thank you

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