Reference > Possessives


Possessives modify a noun to describe its ownership by, or relationship to, another noun.

Possessive participles

Each noun class has a participle which is used to described an 'owned by' or 'of' relationship to another noun. The participle is formed by noun prefix + a (and dropping any initial m). The following table shows participles for each noun class:

# Nouns Participle Example Example (before vowel)
1 umu-, umw- wa umwana wa Teta - Teta's child umwana w'umugore - the woman's child
2 aba-, ab- ba abana ba Jean - Jean's children abana b'Imana - the children of God
3 umu-, umw- wa umusozi wa Kigali - Kigali's hill umusozi w'igihugu - the hill of the country
4 imi-, imy- ya imisozi ya Tanzaniya - Tanzania's hills imisozi y'u Rwanda - the hills of Rwanda
5 i-, iri- rya isomo rya Isaac - Isaac's lesson isomo ry'Ikinyarwanda - a Kinyarwanda lesson
6 ama-, am- ya amasomo ya Ben - Ben's lessons amasomo y'Igifaransa - French lessons
7 iki-, icy-, igi- cya igitabo cya Neza - Neza's book igitabo cy'umwarimu - the teacher's book
8 ibi-, ibi- bya ibitabo bya Claire - Claire's books ibitabo by'umunyeshuri - the student's books
9 i-, in-, inz- ya inka ya Manzi - Manzi's cow inka y'umugabo - the man's cow
10 za inka za Manzi - Manzi's cows inka z'umugabo - the man's cows
11 uru-, urw- rwa ururimi rwa Gana - the language of Ghana ururimi rw'u Burundi - the language of Burundi
12 aka-, ak-, aga- ka akarere ka Gasabo - the district of Gisabo akarere k'abantu - the district of the people
13 utu-, utw-, udu- twa uturere twa Leta - the Government's districts uturere tw'u Rwanda - the districts of Rwanda
14 ubu-, ubw- bwa ubwato bwa Peter - Peter's boat ubwato bw'umurobyi - the fisherman's boat
15 uku-, ukw-, ugu- kwa ugutwi kwa Grace - Grace's ear ugutwi kw'umukobwa - the girl's ear
16 aha-, ah- ha ahantu ha Lambert - Lambert's place ahantu h'inzozi - the place of dreams

Possessive adjectives

These are used to show ownership of a noun, like 'my' or 'your' in English and are formed by adding the possessive participle to a stem. For example:

English Stem Example (umu-) Example (iki-) Example (in-)
my -njye umwana wanjye - my child igitabo cyanjye - my book inka yanjye - my cow
your (singular) -we umwana wawe - your child igitabo cyawe - your book inka yawe - your cow
his/her -e umwana we - your child igitabo cye - your book inka ye - his/her cow
our -cu umwana wacu - our child igitabo cyacu - our book inka yacu - our cow
your (plural) -nyu umwana wanyu - your child igitabo cyanyu - your book inka yanyu - your cow
their -bo umwana wabo - their child igitabo cyabo - their book inka yabo - their cow

The above stems are only used when describing ownership by a person or people (i.e. a class 1 or 2 noun), but of course a noun of any class can own a noun of any other class. For the remaining classes, the stem is created from the possessive participle by replacing the a with o, For example, if we are referring to something owned by a cow, then the stem is -yo:

  • umutwe wayo - its head
  • ikirengi cyayo - its foot
  • amahembe yayo - its horns
  • ubwoya bwayo - its hair
  • ukuboko kwayo - its front leg (lit. arm)

This does mean there are an intimidatingly large number of possessive adjectives, so one shouldn't try to memorize them all, but rather understand how they are formed. The stems for all of the remaining classes are given below:

# Nouns Stem Example (umu-) Example (iki-) Example (in-)
3 umu-, umw- -wo umwana wawo - its child igitabo cyawo - its book inka yawo - its cow
4 imi-, imy- -yo umwana wayo - its child igitabo cyayo - its book inka yayo - its cow
5 i-, iri- -ryo umwana waryo - its child igitabo cyaryo - its book inka yaryo - its cow
6 ama-, am- -yo umwana wayo - its child igitabo cyayo - its book inka yayo - its cow
7 iki-, icy-, igi- -cyo umwana wacyo - its child igitabo cyacyo - its book inka yacyo - its cow
8 ibi-, ibi- -byo umwana wabyo - its child igitabo cyabyo - its book inka yabyo - its cow
9 i-, in-, inz- -yo umwana wayo - its child igitabo cyayo - its book inka yayo - its cow
10 -zo umwana wazo - its child igitabo cyazo - its book inka yazo - its cow
11 uru-, urw- -rwo umwana warwo - its child igitabo cyarwo - its book inka yarwo - its cow
12 aka-, ak-, aga- -ko umwana wako - its child igitabo cyako - its book inka yako - its cow
13 utu-, utw-, udu- -two umwana watwo - its child igitabo cyatwo - its book inka yatwo - its cow
14 ubu-, ubw- -bwo umwana wabwo - its child igitabo cyabwo - its book inka yabwo - its cow
15 uku-, ukw-, ugu- -kwo umwana wakwo - its child igitabo cyakwo - its book inka yakwo - its cow
16 aha-, ah- -ho umwana waho - its child igitabo cyaho - its book inka yaho - its cow