- Malagasy pronunciation
- Transformation of initial letters in compound words
- Word order typology
- Lexical derivation
Malagasy pronunciation is not complicated. Words are pronounced essentially as they are written. Exceptions in pronunciation are summarized in the table below. The final vowel a and certain final syllables are almost silent. The final e and o are, however, always pronounced. In its written form, the i at the end of the word is substituted by y. In compound words, it again becomes i, as in marary - mararin-teny. In the following table, the pronunciation is marked with formal phonetic alphabet IPA in square brackets. In examples, whenever possible, it is marked in an informal way by approximate equivalents in English.
Words, including monosyllables, have their proper stress. It is usually placed on the penultimate syllable. If a word ends with two vowels (e.g. mahay), the stress is placed on the last syllable. For words ending with -na, -ka or -tra the stress shifts to the third syllable from the end. Words borrowed from foreign languages may have irregular stress. In the following examples, the stressed syllable is underlined.
h ⇒ [h] almost silent, ex: ahy ⇒ /ahy/
j ⇒ [dz], ex: mijery ⇒ /midzeri/
ô ⇒ [o], ex: hôtely ⇒ /hoteli/
o ⇒ [u], ex: folo ⇒ /fulʷ/
s ⇒ [ʃ], between /s/ and /sh/, ex: saka ⇒ /shahkə/
ao ⇒ [o], ex: taona ⇒ /tonə/
ao ⇒ [au] end of word, ex: manao ⇒ /manau/
oa ⇒ [o], ex: toaka ⇒ /tokə/
oa ⇒ [uə] end of word, ex: roa ⇒ /ruə/
ts ⇒ [ʈʂ] ex: betsaka ⇒ /beʈʂakə/
tr ⇒ [ʈʳ] /trsh/, ex: trano ⇒ /ʈʳanu/
dr ⇒ [ɖʳ] /drsh/, ex: andro ⇒ /anɖʳu/
ñ, n̈ ⇒ [ɲ], as Spanish /ñ/, in dialectal words, ex: mañelo ⇒ /mañelu/
Notes on grammar
Malagasy is a very beautiful and rich language but at the same time one that is very flexible in its expressions. The following lines will, therefore, serve only as a very brief summary of its basic elements and will be necessarily incomplete and simplified. For a better understanding of the language, not only a much deeper study will be demanded, but also, preferably, an extended stay in Madagascar to get the feel of the living language.
Transformation of initial letters in compound words
f ⇒ p, ex: fo ⇒ am-po (heart - in heart)
h ⇒ k, ex: honko ⇒ alan-konko (mangrove - mangrove forest)
l ⇒ d, ex: loha ⇒ an-doha (head - in head)
r ⇒ dr, ex: rano ⇒ vakin-drano (water - permeable)
s ⇒ ts, ex: saina ⇒ misara-tsaina (intellect - different opinions)
v ⇒ b, ex: Volana ⇒ takonam-bolana (Moon - lunar eclipse)
z ⇒ j, ex: zaza ⇒ afa-jaza (child - having abortion)
Word order typology
In Malagasy, the order of words in sentences is fixed, but somewhat unusual for an European speaker. In linguistic typology it is a VOS language. It means that neutral phrases follow the verb-subject-object pattern. Only 3% of the world's languages have this specific kind of word arrangement, including the Fijian and some of the Mayan languages.
Basic word order
Due to the said word order typology, simple sentences usually begin with a neutral predicate (which may be a verb, but also an adjective for instance), followed by an object (which develops the predicate) and finally the subject. A simple sentence in Malagasy will look like this: Mamaky boky ny mpianatra. ⇒ "read the book the student" - A student reads a book. In more developed sentences the adverbial determining the time and place is written after the subject: Miandry ny taratasinao aho isan'andro. ⇒ "Wait for the letter-your me every day." - Every day I wait for your letter..
Auxiliary verbs to have and to be
Auxiliary verbs "to be" and "to have" do not exist in Malagasy. Qualities and states of things are expressed by the adjective in predicate position followed by article ny, e.g. Tsara ny andro. ⇒ "Beautiful the day." - It is a beautiful day., or Faly aho ⇒ "Happy me." - I am happy., orTanora ny raiko ⇒ "Young the father mine." - My father is young. To some extent the meaning of the auxiliary verb "to be" can be translated by the expression misy ⇒ there is, like in Aiza no misy ny tranonareo? ⇒ "Where there is the home-yours?" - Where is your home? The negative form of this expression is tsy misy ⇒ there is not. It is often contracted as tsisy as in the sentence Tsisy olana! ⇒ "There is not problem!" - No problem.
Another way to create sentences that bypass the absence of the auxiliary "to be" is the inversion of the word order. The subject is placed first in the sentence followed by the particle no or dia and finally by an object, which can be represented by a verb, an adjective, or a noun. The purpose of such a construction is to highlight the subject, for example, in the sentence Ianao no nanoratra ity taratasy ity. ⇒ "You who write-past-tense this letter this." - It is you, who wrote this letter. Another example, where the particle no is followed by a name in the role of subject is Izaho no mpiandry ondry tsara. ⇒ "Me the one that shepherd sheep good." - I am a good shepherd. Both of the particles can be translated as "who" ("which", "that", etc.). There is, however, a difference between them. No carries a sense of choice. In the first example, we can say It is you (and no one else), who wrote this letter. Conversely, dia has the sense of exclusivity. It expresses, that we cannot say anything about the subject except what is expressed by the predicate. Ianao dia nanoratra ity taratasy ity. ⇒ You wrote this letter (only the letter and nothing else).
It should be noted that neither ny, no, or dia means in itself "to be", although their position in sentences could tempt to such a conclusion. The first one is an article, while the other two are determinative particles. In conclusion, we may add that if the particle no is followed by another particle ho, it gives the sense of movement towards something, as in no mianavaratra ho ⇒ to move northwards. Be careful not to confuse this construction with the conjunction noho, which means because of.
Sentences with passive verbs
Sentences with verb in passive voice are very common in Malagasy. The passive predicate can bear a possessive suffix and indicate an action performed (e.g. by a person) on the subject, as in the sentence Vidiko ny trano. ⇒ " Be-bought-by-me the house." - I bought the house., or in a more complex example Efa ela izay tsy nahitako azy intsony. ⇒ "Already long-time not seen-by-me him not anymore." - It's been a long time since I saw him. Possessive suffixes are further discussed in the section "Pronouns".
If the main emphasis of the sentence is placed on the circumstance expressed by the predicate, i.e. its place, time, way of execution and the like, the "circumstantial voice" is used (see the relevant section in "Verbs"). In English where no such voice exists, such construction is translated by adverbials or dependent clause. For example:
Andidiana ny hena ny antsy. ⇒ "Cut-circumstantial-voice the meat the knife." - It is knife, that is used to cut meat.
Any Fianarantsoa no ividianako trano. ⇒ "There-out-of-sight Fianarantsoa where buy-circumstantial-voice-by-me home." - It is in Fianarantsoa that I buy a house.
Other examples of word order in different sentences are shown in the "Verbs" section.
Malagasy allows a great freedom in the formation of words by lexical derivation. Examples of some of the commonly used affixes:
faha-: prefix forming abstract nouns from words beginning with "maha-", may also appear with the suffix -na (also the prefix of numbers, see "Numbers")
ngeza - fahangeza(na) ⇒ large - the size
faha-: prefix marking a time in the past
zaza - fahazaza ⇒ child - in childhood days
fan-: prefix forming from active verbs that start with "man-" nouns designating the way/manner of an action
soratra (manoratra) - fanoratra ⇒ the writing - a writing style
fan-...-ana prefix and suffix forming verbal nouns from active verbs that start with "man-"
soratra (fanoratra) - fanoratana ⇒ the writing (script) - the writing (activity)
fi-: prefix forming verbal nouns from verbs beginning with "mi-"
miarahaba - fiarahabana ⇒ to congratulate - a congratulation
ha-: prefix of adjectives forming abstract nouns
avo - haavo ⇒ high - the height
ha -...-ana: prefix and suffix of numbers signifying the number of days
telo - hateloana ⇒ three - three days
i-: prefix forming place-names meaning "place, where ..."; very common in names of places in Madagascar
vato - Ivato ⇒ a stone - "where the stones are" (name of an airport near Antananarivo)
hosy - Ihosy ⇒ a rope to guide the zebu - "where the rope to guide zebu was left" (name of a city in the south of Madagascar)
Merina - Imerina ⇒ Merina (name of an ethnic group) - "place of the Merina" (the historical name of a region of Madagascar)
i-: prefix forming adjectives or adverbs from nouns
maso - imaso ⇒ eyes - on eyes (well visible)
voho - ivoho ⇒ the back - behind, at the back of
fi(amp)- prefix indicating reciprocity
fandeferana - fifandeferana ⇒ patience - have patience with each other
my-: prefix forming adjectives from nouns
loto - maloto ⇒ dirt - dirty
maha-: prefix forming verbs and adjectives indicating the possibility or ability to perform a certain action
foy - mahafoy ⇒ abandoned - to be able to leave
manka-: prefix forming transitive verbs
hamy - mankamamy ⇒ the sweetness - to find something to be sweet
mp-: personifying prefix; a person who performs an action
maka sary - mpaka sary ⇒ a photograph - a photographer
-om-: infix (a rare example of infixes in Malagasy)
sary - somary ⇒ image - like (in the image of)
tafa-: verbal prefix meaning an action performed on the subject by chance or by an external agent
petraka - tafpetraka ⇒ to sit down - to be seated down (by someone)
voa-: resultative prefix, derived from "voa" - a fruit, marking the result of an action in the past, which has consequences in the present
fidy - voafidy ⇒ a choice - to be chosen (someone or something, which is the result of a past selection)
Example of the derivation from the root adina - examination
adinina ⇒ to be examined
adinadina ⇒ to be a tool used for examination
mahadina ⇒ to be able to examine
manadina ⇒ examine!
manadina ⇒ to examine
madina ⇒ suspicious, who often examines
voadina ⇒ what/who was already examined
fanadina ⇒ the method/way of examination
fanadinana ⇒ the examination
mpanadina ⇒ examinator
ny: generic article which does not distinguish grammatical number. It indicates that the next word has the function of a noun, even if it would normally be of another word class
ny trano ⇒ (a) home or (several) homes
Mankivy ny miaina. ⇒ Life is bitter. (Although miaina is primarily a verb, it translates as a noun.)
ilay: equivalent of the definite article, which refers to a previously mentioned person or thing
Azonao ve, ka marary ilay olona? ⇒ Did you know he was sick? (a person who has already been mentioned)
i: informal article indicating a person
i neny ⇒ mom
Ra-: formal article (as a prefix) indicating a person
Paoly - Rapaoly ⇒ Paul - Mr. Paul
ry: formal article for several people
ry Rasoa ⇒ the Rasoa family
Grammatical gender and number
With the exception of some personal and demonstrative pronouns, Malagasy distinguishes neither the gender nor the grammatical number. Therefore ny trano means (one) house or (more) houses, or in the case of the gender: ny vadiko ⇒ my husband, as well as my wife.
The adjective is usually placed in the sentence immediately after the word to which it relates. For example: olona tsara ⇒ a good man. An adjective may take the role of the predicate and replace the nonexistent auxiliary "to be" in sentences referring to properties and states. Learn more about this phenomenon in "Word order typology".
reduplication: weakens the meaning of the word
mavo - mavomavo ⇒ yellow - somehow yellowish
tsara - tsaratsara ⇒ good - okay, almost good
degrees of comparison: using kokoa/noho and indrindra, a similar function fulfils also tena and dia (see "Auxiliary verbs to have and to be")
tsara - tsara kokoa/noho - tsara indrindra ⇒ good - better (than) - the best
tsara - tena tsara - tsara dia tsara ⇒ good - very good - good and nothing but good
comparison: using comparative expressions tahaka ny, toy ny, and ohatra ny
Tiavo ny ny namanao tahaka tenanao. ⇒ Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Lehibe toy ny fosa ny saka. ⇒ Fosa is as big as a cat.
Tsy lehibe ohatra ny anay ny tranonao. ⇒ Your house is not as big as ours.
Pronouns in Malagasy distinguish grammatical number, but not the gender. The only exception to this are informal personal pronouns such as ise and indry which are used only in addressing men and women in certain social contexts. The first person plural (we) distinguishes exclusive form (exc.) and inclusive form (inc.). The exclusive form does not include the addressee into the "we", like in the sentence Miarahaba anareo izahay. ⇒ We are greeting you., where a group of speakers is talking to the newcomers. The inclusive form, on the other hand, includes into the "we" the addressee, as in the sentence Hiainga isika rahampitso. ⇒ We leave tomorrow., where the leader of the group is speaking to his fellow travelers.
Personal Pronouns - Independent
These pronouns stand alone in the sentence, usually at its end in the role of subject, as in Miarahaba anareo aho. ⇒ I am greeting you. Izaho is an empathic form of aho, and is placed in the beginning of the sentence in constructions like izaho no ... ⇒ It is me, who ... The pronoun ianao has the character of respect and is used as a polite form of address. As the familiar form of address between close people, instead of ianao, use can one of the following words: ise, ialahy, indry ... for their exact meaning, see the dictionary.
he, she: izy
they, they: izy ireo
Personal Pronouns - Dependent
They take the place of object in sentences. They are usually placed between the subject and the predicate, for example Miarahaba anareo izahay. ⇒ We are greeting you.
him / her: azy
them: azy ireo
The following suffixes have a twofold function. When connected to a noun or an adjective, they give it the sense of possession (trano - tranonao ⇒ a house - your house). If they are connected to a predicate, they mark the person, who performed the action: voavonjy - voavonjiko ⇒ be saved - who was saved by me, or better the one who I saved.
my / by me: -(k)o
your / by you: -(n)ao
his, her / by him, by her: -ny
our / by us (exc.): -(n)ay
our / by us (inc.): -(n)tsika
your / by you: -(n)areo
their / by them: -(n)dreo
Demonstrative pronouns are summarized together with adverbs in the section "Adverbs" because they share with them an important part of morphology.
The individual cardinal numbers are listed in the dictionary. Here are some rules of formation of higher cardinals. It is important to note that Malagasy numbers are read by orders starting with the units, then tens etc. ... and orders are connected by conjunctions ambin'ny, amby and sy:
firy: how many
ambin'ny: conjunction for numbers from 11 to 19
roa ambin'ny folo ⇒ twelve ("two and ten")
amby: conjunction for numbers from 21 to 99
roa amby fitopolo ⇒ seventy-two ("two and seventy")
-polo: suffix forming decimals
roa - roapolo, fito - fitopolo ⇒ two - twenty, seven - seventy
-(n)jato: suffix forming hundreds (derived from zato ⇒ hundred)
roa - roanjazo, fito - fitonzato ⇒ two - two hundred, seven - seven hundred
arivo: mark of thousands
arivo - roa arivo ⇒ thousand - two thousand
alina: mark of tens of thousands
iray alina - roa alina ⇒ ten thousand - twenty thousand
hetsy: mark of hundreds of thousands
iray hetsy - roa hetsy ⇒ hundred thousand - two hundred thousand
sy: conjunction in hundreds and thousands
23 456 ⇒ enina amby dimampolo sy efajato sy telo arivo sy roa alina ⇒ " six and fifty and four hundred and three thousand and two ten-thousand"
taona 2014 ⇒ taona efatra ambin'ny folo sy roa arivo ⇒ year four and ten and two thousand
fahafiry: what ranking, "how many -th"
faha-: prefix of ordinals
iray - ny voalohany ⇒ one - the first (exception)
roa - ny faharoa ⇒ two - the second
telo - ny fahatelo ⇒ three - the third
efatra - ny fahefatra ⇒ four - the fourth (with "efatra" and "enina" the prefix changes to "fah-")
iraika ambin'ny folo - ny faharaika ambin'ny folo ⇒ eleven - the eleventh
impiry: how many times
in-: prefix of multiples
iray - indray ⇒ one - one time
roa - indroa ⇒ two - two times
telo - intelo ⇒ three - three times
fanimpiry: for how many times
fanin-...-ny: prefix and suffix of repetition
iray - voalohany ⇒ one - for the first time (exception)
roa - fanindroany ⇒ two - for the second time
telo - fanintelony ⇒ three - for the third time
efatra - faninefany ⇒ four - for the fourth time (exception)
folo - fanimpolony ⇒ ten - for the tenth time
ampahafiriny: in how many parts
ampaha-...-ny: prefix and suffix of fractions (the prefix is the result of joinint "an-" and the prefix and ordinal numbers "faha-")
roa - antsasaka ⇒ two - one-half (exception)
telo - ampahatelony ⇒ three - one-third
efatra - ampahefany ⇒ four - one-quarter (exception)
dimy - ampahadiminy ⇒ five - one-fifth
folo - ampahafolony ⇒ ten - one-tenth
telo ampahefany ⇒ three-quarters
tsifirifiry: (counting) by how many
tsi-: prefix marking the division into groups, it is followed by a reduplicated cardinal number
iray - tsirairay ⇒ one - by one
roa - tsiroaroa ⇒ two - by two
telo - tsitelotelo ⇒ three - by three
efatra - tsiefatrefatra ⇒ four - by four
The root in the following examples is vidy ⇒ price
present: m-/mi-/man- ⇒ mividy
Mividy trano aho. ⇒ I am buying a house.
past: n-/ni-/nan-⇒ nividy
Nividy trano aho. ⇒ I bought a house.
future: h-/hi-/han- ⇒ hividy
Hividy trano aho. ⇒ I will buy a house.
present: -ana/-ina ⇒ vidina
Vidiná ilay trano. ⇒ The house is (being) bought.
past: n(o)-...-ana/ina ⇒ novidina
Novidina ilay trano. ⇒ The house was bought.
future: h(o)-...-ana/ina ⇒ hovidina
Hovidina ilay trano. ⇒ The house will be bought.
In English this voice does not exist. It is often translated from Malagasy by adverbs or by a dependent clause. This voice serves to emphasize the place/time/circumstances etc. of the action described by the verb.
present: i-/an-...-ana ⇒ ividianana
Any Fianarantsoa no ividianako trano. ⇒ It is in Fianarantsoa, where I am buying a house.
past: ni-/nan-...-ana ⇒ nividiana
Tany Fianarantsoa no nividianako trano. ⇒ It is in Fianarantsoa, where I bought a house.
future: hi-/han-...-ana ⇒ hividiana
Any Fianarantsoa no hividianako trano. ⇒ It is in Fianarantsoa, where I am going to buy a house.
Perfective and Imperfective Aspect
perfective: voa- ⇒ voavidy
Voavidy ny fiarakodia aho. ⇒ I (already) bought the car.
imperfective: no- ⇒ novidy (also the prefix of past tense of verbs in passive voice)
Novidy ny fiarakodia aho. ⇒ I was buying a car.
active verbs (stronger imperative): -(n)a/-(s)a ⇒ mandehana
mandeha - mandehana! ⇒ to leave - leave!
passive verbs (less strong imperative): -y/-o ⇒ vidio
vidina - vidio! ⇒ to be bought - buy (please)!
negative imperative: aza + indicative ⇒ aza mandeha
mandeha - aza mandeha ⇒ to go - don't go!
attenuated imperative, or expression of desire: mba + imperative + kely ⇒mba omeo kely
omeo - mba omeo sokola kely ⇒ to give - give me, please, some chocolate
closed questions: an indicative sentence with the addition of the interrogative particle ve or moa, or adverbs angaha or sahady
Tonga ve ny taksy borosy? ⇒ Did the taxi-brousse (already) arrive?
Vita sahady ve ny asa? ⇒ Is the work (already) done?
Efa masaka ve ny vary? ⇒ Is the rice is (already) ready?
open questions: sentences begin with an interrogative adverb
Nanao ahoana ny faran'ny herinandro? ⇒ How did you spend your weekend?
Aiza izy? ⇒ Where is he?
Avy aiza ity taksy borosy ity? ⇒ Where does the taxi-brousse come from?
Firy ny ombinao? ⇒ How many cattle do you have?
Inono no tadiaviano? ⇒ What are you looking for?
Iza no miresaka? ⇒ Who is speaking?
Manahoana i reninao? ⇒ How is your mother?
Mankaiza ity taksy borosy ity? ⇒ Where is this taxi-brouse going?
Nahoana ianao no tonga? ⇒ Why did you come?
Ohatrinona ity omby ity? ⇒ How much is the zebu?
Rahoviana no ho tonga izy? ⇒ When will he arrive?
simple: tsy ...
Tsy azoko. ⇒ I do not know.
not anymore: tsy ... intsony
Tsy mila ny fanampianao intsony aho. ⇒ I do not need help anymore.
not at all: tsy ... velively
Tsy azoko velively. ⇒ I do not know at all.
not at all: tsy ... akory
Tsy azoko akory izay lazainao. ⇒ I do not know at all what are you talking about.
negative imperative: see "Imperative"
Adverbs of place
In Malagasy grammar there is a fairly fine distinction of deixis in space. The speaker's distance can be expressed in seven levels from zero distance to a great distance. For each degree moreover, there is distinction in visibility or invisibility of the object to the speaker. In the case of demonstrative pronouns relating to objects visible to the speaker singular and plural number is further distinguished. This is one of the rare cases wherein Malagasy distinguishes grammatical number. The morphological composition of demonstrative pronouns and adverbs of place is quite similar and follows very simple rules. This is why both grammatical categories are presented here together.
The base of each word is the "root", which indicates the distance from the smallest to the greatest: -ty, -to, -o,- tsy, -ny, -roa, -ry. Before this "root" are placed prefixes indicating whether the word is an adverb or a pronoun and further denoting the visibility and invisibility to the speaker. Prefixes are summarized in the following table:
ire-: visible, plural
Diacritical marks are sometimes used as in irèo, èto. The diacritic is not mandatory and in written Malagasy it is often omitted, cf. ireo, eto.
Some adverbs and pronouns are rarely used in common language. They are marked with an (*). In the following table, a slash between words divides the visible / invisible case, for example ety / aty for right here (in sight) / right here (out of sight). As mentioned above, grammatical number is only distinguished in demonstrative pronouns referring to visible objects. Adverbs of place (but not demonstrative pronouns), bear in the past tense prefix t-, for example ao - tao as in Tonga tao Ihosy aho. ⇒ I arrived at Ihosy.
small or no distance: -ty, -to
ety / aty ⇒ right here, close
ity / izaty* ⇒ this one (which is right here)
eto / ato ⇒ here, very quite close
ito / izato* ⇒ this one (quite close)
ireto ⇒ these (which are quite close)
average distance:-o, -tsy
eo / ao ⇒ there (near)
io / izao ⇒ that one (which is fairly near)
ireo ⇒ those (who are close)
etsy / atsy ⇒ over there (not far)
itsy / izatsy* ⇒ that one over there (which is not far)
iretsy ⇒ those (who are not very far)
great distance:-ny, -roa, -ry
eny / any ⇒ there (a little further)
iny / izany ⇒ that one over there (which is a little further)
ireny ⇒ those (who are a little further)
eroa / aroa* ⇒ there (quite far)
iroa* / izaroa* ⇒ that one over there (which is quite far)
ireroa* ⇒ those (who are quite far)
ery / ary ⇒ there (very far)
iry / izary* ⇒ that one over there (which is very far)
irery* ⇒ those (who are very far)