Lesson 36: Negation of Twi Verbs | Twi Grammar

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Negation is a grammatical process that turns all or part of the meaning of an affirmative construction/sentence into its opposite/negative.

In English, verbs, clauses and sentences are commonly negated by introducing the negative particle ‘not’ or its contracted form ‘-n’t’.

For example:

 

Affirmative Negative
I am your friend I am not your friend
I can help you I cannot help you
I have paid the money I have not paid the money

 

So how do we negate in Twi? This will be our focus for today’s lesson: lesson 36 of the Twi grammar course.

Whereas in standard modern English, negation is mainly done by placing not after an auxiliary or modal in a clause/sentence, negation in Twi is mostly done right on the verb. Yes, on the verb.

How do we do it? We simply prefix either n- or m- to the verb stem (for the purpose of this lesson, ‘verb stem’ is used here to denote the verb devoid of a prefix). After we attach either of the prefixes, assimilation causes the verb stem’s initial consonant to change to become more like the n- or m- prefixes. Confused? You may skip the ‘somehow’ technical aspects and move straight to the examples tabulated below. I’m sure the many examples I’ve tabulated will be enough for you to get the idea about how negation is done in Twi. But for those of you who want to know the nitty-gritty of how we arrived at the negative forms of the examples, read on.

 

‘da’ means ‘sleep’ in English. If we want to form its negative, we will first consider the place of articulation of the initial consonant ‘d’. This will enable us to settle on which prefix amongst the two (n- and m-) to use. Basically, if the first consonant of the verb’s stem is one that you produce by moving your tongue to touch the ridge behind your teeth or the roof of the mouth (alveolar sounds such as d, t, n, s), you need to use the n- prefix. Also, if the initial consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced with the back of the tongue against the soft palate (velar sounds such as k, g), you need to use the n- prefix. Again, if the initial consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced using your glottis (the glottal sound h), you need to use the n- prefix.

On the other hand, if the first consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced with both lips (bilabial sounds such as m, p, b), or with the bottom lip and the upper teeth (the labiodental sound f), then you negate it by prefixing it with m-.  

 

So, to summarise the above, if you have a Twi verb that starts with the letter m, b, p or f, you negate it by prefixing it with the letter m. Twi verbs that do not begin with any of these letters (m, b, p, f) are to be negated by prefixing them with the letter n. Of course there are a few exceptions but this rule should apply to most Twi verbs. 

As we indicated earlier, after prefixing the verb stems with their respective prefixes, assimilation then sets in. In phonology, assimilation is a common phonological process by which one sound becomes more like a nearby sound.  Assimilation will cause the initial consonant of the verb’s stem to change to become more like the prefix introduced.

So, going back to our earlier example ‘da (sleep)’, ‘d’ is an alveolar sound so, to negate, we will introduce the n- prefix to get

–> n-da

–> ‘d’ then assimilates to become ‘n’ (like the n- prefix). We get: nna.  

 

Let’s do another one.

‘bɛfa’ means come and take/pick in English. To settle on which prefix to use in its negation, we consider the place of articulation of the first consonant of the verb which is ‘b’. ‘b’ is produced with both lips (a bilabial sound) so we need to use the m- prefix to get

–> m-bɛfa

–> Assimilation then causes ‘b’ to change to become ‘m’, just like the introduced prefix. We get: mmɛfa.  

 

Do note, however, that the assimilation of the initial consonants of the verb stems after the introduction of the appropriate negative prefix tends to affect only voiced consonants. Voiceless initial consonants of verb stems undergoing negation tend NOT to assimilate.

For example

–> ‘sere (laugh)’ becomes n-sere (don’t laugh) and NOT ‘nnere’

–> ‘pra (sweep)’ becomes m-pra (don’t sweep) and NOT ‘mmra’

–> ‘kasa (speak)’ becomes n-kasa (don’t speak) and NOT ‘nnasa’

 

Again, verb stems which begin with the semivowels ‘y’ and ‘w’ tend not to assimilate after the negative prefixes are attached to them. For example, constructions such as ‘meyɛ (I am)’, ‘woyɛ (you are)’, ‘yɛyɛ (we are), etc. have their verb stems beginning with the semivowel ‘y’. So, to negate them, we simply introduce the negative marker ‘n-‘ to get ‘menyɛ (I am not)’, ‘wonyɛ (you’re not)’, ‘yɛnyɛ (we’re not)’, etc. No assimilation occurs. Think about it, if the initial ‘y’ did assimilate, we would’ve ended up with ‘ɛnnɛ’, ‘wonnɛ’, ‘yɛnnɛ’, etc. which have nothing to do with the meaning of the positives. You may have come across ‘mennyɛ’, ‘wonnyɛ’, ‘yɛnnyɛ’, etc. (with double ‘n’) before. That brings us to the next point.

There are cases where you’ll find a double ‘n’ or ‘m’ used in the negative of verbs whose stems begin with either of the semivowels (‘y’ and ‘w’). That happens when the verb, in its positive form, already has an ‘n’ before the semivowel. This is usually the case with imperatives.  Imperatives are constructions used to give orders, commands, instructions, warnings, etc. For example, to tell people to do something in Twi, we say ‘monyɛ (do it)’. If we want to make this negative, then we need to add an additional ‘n’ to the one that already exists in the positive form to get ‘monnyɛ (don’t do it)’.

 

–> ‘Ɔse menyɛ (he/she says I should do it)’ becomes ‘Ɔse mma mennyɛ (he/she says I shouldn’t do it).

–> ‘Monyi Onyankopɔn ayɛ (praise God – plural addressees)’ becomes ‘Monnyi Onyankopɔn ayɛ (don’t praise God).

 

Alright! Let me not bore you any further. Let’s look at some examples.

 

English Affirmative (Aane Kabea) Negative (Dabi Kabea)
I am meyɛ menyɛ
you are woyɛ wonyɛ
he/she is ɔyɛ ɔnyɛ
it is ɛyɛ ɛnyɛ
we are yɛyɛ yɛnyɛ
you (pl.) are moyɛ monyɛ
they are wɔyɛ wɔnyɛ
drink nom nnom
bite ka nka
open bue mmue
eat didi nnidi
urinate dwonsɔ nnwonsɔ
take (pick) fa mfa
sweep pra mpra
plant dua nnua
worship som nsom
draw closer pinkyɛn mpinkyɛn
struggle pere mpere
stop gyae nnyae
cut twa ntwa
listen tie ntie
give ma mma
take (collect) gye nnye
cry su nsu
learn sua nsua
grow nyini nnyini
begin hyɛ aseɛ nhyɛ aseɛ
write twerɛ ntwerɛ
compete si akan nsi akan
pour hwie nhwie
think dwene nnwene
burn hye nhye
pull twe ntwe
push pia mpia
tie kyekyere nkyekyere
run dwane nnwane
break bu mmu
respond bua mmua
walk nante nnante
he/she will sleep ɔbɛda (‘bɛ’ is the future tense marker) ɔnna
I will dance mɛsa mensa
I will sleep mɛda menna
we shall meet yɛbɛhyia yɛnhyia
we will help yɛbɛboa yɛmmoa
I will help mɛboa memmoa
I will go with you me ne wo bɛkɔ me ne wo nkɔ
I have bathed madware mennwareeɛ
you are a man! woyɛ barima! wonyɛ barima
give me some (to plural addressee) momma me bi mommma me bi
run home (plural addressee) monnwane nkɔ fie monnnwane nnkɔ fie
take it to school (plural addressee) momfa nkɔ sukuu mommfa nnkɔ sukuu
fold the cloth (plural addressee) mommobɔ ntoma no mommmobɔ ntoma no
eat the food (plural addressee) monni aduane no monnni aduane no
wake up (plural addressee) monsɔre monnsɔre
we will come yɛbɛba yɛmma
I’m surprised/shocked me ho adwiri me me ho nnwirii me
show me the way (plural addressee) monkyerɛ me kwan no monnkyerɛ me kwan no
send me some money (plural addressee) mommane me sika mommmane me sika
ask Kofi (plural addressee) mommisa Kofi mommmisa Kofi
I need your help mehia wo mmoa menhia wo mmoa
help me (plural addressee) mommoa me mommmoa me
listen to me tie me ntie me
jump the fence (plural addressee) monhuri ban no monnhuri ban no
think about yourself dwene wo ho nnwene wo ho
he/she is shy ɔfɛre ɔmfɛre
he/she is sitting on me ɔte me so ɔnte me so
are you feeling sleepy? w’ani kum? w’ani nkum?
eat, drink and sleep (plural addressee) monnidi, monnom, na monna monnnidi, monnnom, na monnna

 

I know, negation in Twi is not as easy as it is in other languages. But with time and practice, I’m hopeful that you’ll grasp it fully. Do watch out for the video for this lesson. I will try to make things easier to grasp in that.

Please subscribe, comment and share. I’ll see you next time.




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Tikya Yaw
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5 Responses
  1. Victor

    Thank you for your great lesson, Yaw.
    I have noticed that at times there’s a change in the part that is stressed. For example, take “minim sɛ” (I know that..) and “minnim sɛ” (I don’t know that…). I’ve noticed that in the first example the stress is in the “nim”, while in the second, it’s in the “mi”.
    Is that correct?
    Are there any rules (or hidden rules) that can help non native Twi speakers to differentiate between the imperative and the negation in the spoken language?

    Please I’m looking forward to a lesson about tones also (Me papa se papa no yɛ papa)

  2. Victor

    I apologise, I just found the lesson about tones 🙁
    Last time I looked it wasn’t there yet. I will look more often.
    Media wo ase paaa

  3. Rhoda Acheampong

    Wow I find it so educative. But I think learners will also like it if u make something small on zero morphs, suppletion and portmanteau morphs

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