Top 10 Basic isiXhosa Words You Need to Know


We continue to preach rainbow nation yet we do not know each other’s languages. How about we all take some in learning the basics? Remember we still have people who are illiterate, those that do not speak nor understand the medium of instruction (English). Does this mean they are not part of our Rainbow Nation? Should there be left out of the conversation?

But first…a lesson in clicks.

Molo, unjani? – Hello, how are you?

In Xhosa culture, the greeting is the most important step to any conversation. Even if you don’t intend on having one, it’s good to greet people in the morning. If you are greeting more than one person, you will say “molweni”.

Ndiphilile, enkosi – I’m fine, thanks 

This is a response you give after a greeting. It’s important you respond, it is seen as a sign of respect. The “ph” sound is pronounces just as you see it, like “pee” rather than the phonetic ph sound.

Ukucela – to ask/asking

This is a definite must know. This is the word you use when asking for time, directions etc. This is how it can be used in a sentence; ngiCela ixesha- what’s the time now? ngiCela idirections zesegarage ekufutshane – could you please give me directions to the nearest garage.

If you simply ask for directions without using the word ‘ukucela’, you’re might not get them. Or worse – get the wrong directions!

Uyaphi? – where are you going?

This is pretty much self-explanatory. Should an old lady ask you for a lift or something, to find out where they are headed, this is the word to use.

Ngubani ixesha?- What’s the time now? 

We’ve all heard the saying: ‘time is of the essence’. We need time to operate, so it is important to know which words to use should you be in need of the “Time”.

Ungowapi- Where are you from?

If you are new in the city, you’re more likely to come across these words, ungowaphi? It’s a good conversation starter beyond asking how you are.

Masambe? – Let’s go

When you want to go somewhere, this is the phrase to use.

Iphi? – Where is it?

This word can be used on many occasions for a different context. For example; iphi londawo- where’s the place? Iphi lanto- where’s that thing? This is an adjective you use when you want to locate something.

Mamela – Listen (Mamela apha – Listen here) 

In Xhosa, this word is used in many ways but the meaning is the same. It can be used in a conversation when you trying to make an emphasis of the statement you’re making. You use it to get the attention of whoever you’re initiating a conversation with and also when you want to bring the person back to the conversation when it seems you have lost them.

Andazi – I don’t know

Well, this is the response you give when you’re asked for something you have no knowledge of. Earlier I made an example of asking for directions:

Ndicela ubuza indawoni igarage ekufutshane- Where can I find the nearest garage?

In response, one would say…

Andazi uba iphi – I have no idea/ I don’t know where it is.


Knowing the basics will get you started, this country needs more Athol Trollips. Each one, teach one. Of course, these are not the only basic words but you likely to use most of these 10 selected words in almost every conversation.



Written by How South Africa

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