Teaching isiZulu

Melusi Tshabalala has been using his Facebook account to teach isiZulu. He regularly posts a new Zulu word online and explains how to use it.


Melusi Tshabalala has started something we didn’t know we needed! He posts isiZulu words and their meanings in the hopes to educate his fellow South Africans. Melusi shares his educational post publicly, so it is easy to follow him and get informative updates.

Here is one of his very educational posts; we are chuffed because today we learned something new.

Because Thursday has been turned into a mini Friday and this time of the year is a mini festive season, today’s Zulu word is the suffix “-nyana”. Yes, -nyana of “smallanyana skeletons”.

This –suffix is a diminisher; it denotes the smaller form. As in, a boy is “umfana” and a small boy is “umfanyana”, a girl is “intombazane” and a little girl is “intombazanyana”, a mouth is “umlomo” and a small mouth is “umlonyana”, an animal is “islwane” and a small animal is “islwanyana”. While it can be applied to many words to achieve the effect of diminishing, it doesn’t work with all.

Actually, I lie.

Traditionally, there ARE many words it shouldn’t work with but because language, like Zodwa Wabantu, belongs to the people, it has come to work the way people want it to. Where a bit of “impuphu” (powder) should be “impushana”, you’ll now hear people say “impuphunyana”. isiZulu purists hate this, but what are they gonna do?

The word is not confined to isiZulu and it exists in other languages too, serving the same or similar purpose. In seSotho, for instance, you have ngwanyana (girl), moshimanyana (small/boy) and it doesn’t stop there. These days it has transcended its roots and invaded everyday, Southern African speak.

Even a bit of hummus is hummus-nyana, while what’s happening in Zim is a coup-nyana.

It can also be used, as a stand-alone word to downplay. Here is an example:

Generous friend: Are you hungry?
Tactful friend: Nyana.

Another example.

Nosey friend: How did the date go? Did you… you know?
Bashful friend: Nyana.
Nosey Friend: What the hell does that mean?
Bashful friend: Mind your own business.

In the above, two instances –nyana could mean “maybe/sort of/a little”

Yet another example.

Girl 1: I think your crush is gay.
Girl 2: Nyana neh?
Girl 1: Not nyana. Gay gay.
Girl 2: Nyana, man!

In the above example, it means “a little/a bit/a hint”

Back in its –suffix from, -nyana works like Afrikaans’ ‘tjie”.

In isiXhosa nyana is son.

Go out there and enjoy this Friday-nyana.

Today’s word made us giggle!

Today’s Zulu word is not a Zulu word but it has to be shared. We’ll call it a bonus word. The word is “Mgabe”.

It’s the shorthand of Mugabe and it’s a type of mean, threatening look. It came about because president Mugabe always looked mean and threatening so when you give someone that kind of look, you’re being like him.

I swear I am not making this up.

If you want people to know you’re not in the mood to be messed with, you spot a mgabe – ubashaya ngo mgabe.

So give Melusi a follow, and you could broaden your South African language knowledge. You can follow his Facebook page here.

Source: Facebook 
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Tyler Vivier
About the Author

Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.


  1. Who remembers “Siyafunda” of the 1970’s? Learnt a lot there because the presenter had a wonderful way of explaining things in a sensible way.

  2. Good job, Melusi.
    I hate it at church when song and say ‘Uyingqwele uyingqwele’; or ‘uyigqine le mpilo yami’. With Uyingqwele it just loses the intended meaning.

  3. I would like to be on the list for your version of “A word a day” Please add me to the list, or tell me what to do! Yours Gloria.

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