Learn the Luo language of Kenya: Vocabulary and Conversation Basics

A boat for domestic tourists on Lake Victoria
A boat for domestic tourists on Lake Victoria | Source

Luo is classified as a Nilotic language. My first language is Kikuyu which is Bantu, as different from Luo as probably English and Russian. However, there are some subtle similarities which I have discussed in the article the Kikuyu and Luo languages of Kenya: some similarities. I do not claim to be an expert of this beautiful language, but I have a sufficient working knowledge to share with you. Hopefully, as we explore together, we will increase our vocabularies and muster the grammar in finer detail. I have enough Luo friends to assist with any issue that may at first appear erroneous, difficult or impossible. By the end of these lessons, you too will be able to state most of your wishes in the Luo language also called Dholuo.


The Luo of Kenya and Tanzania are a Nilotic speaking people whose main occupation was fishing, coupled with some farming and animal husbandry. They therefore chose to settle around Lake Victoria where fish are in plenty along the shores and off the many islands. Having come down the Nile, they have Luo or Lwo speaking cousins in the Sudan which is the area of their most recent migration. Other Luo dialects are spoken in Uganda such as the Alur and Acholi.

Let us learn together the basics in this ‘work in progress’ which will be updated as often as possible. Soon this will be a one stop hub for anyone seeking some knowledge of this language.

A. The Luo language structure

The Luo language has a CVC or VC structure – Consonant/vowel/consonant or Vowel/consonant in the word formations. This means that Luo words can end in a consonant. For example, gin – they are. This is unlike Bantu languages where words must end in a vowel.Luo language is therefore like English in structure, while Bantu languages are like Italian.

B. Pronounciation in Luo

The vowels are similar to English – a, e, i, o, u.

However some words can end in the syllable 'ng' and 'ny' as shown below:

Luo language has words ending the nassalized - ɲ (ny) - Chieng,piny, piny, Many

Words can also end in the nassalized - ŋ (ng’) - Anyang’ (boy’s name)

Another interesting word ending is - w - chiew (to get up)

This are impossible endings in Bantu languages which would otherwise add a vowel at the end such as in the Kikuyu words nyanya and Ng’ang’a.

It is also possible to start a word with a 'y' such as in the words below.

Ywech, yweyo

Mother tongue interference when speaking English is noticeable in words ending with ‘sh’ such as fish. This sound is pronounced ‘s.’ A common joke is to say ' fres' fried fis,' which would be a typical Luo accent.

1. First person singular

An – I am

Ne an – I was

Abiro bet – I will be

2. First person Plural

Wan - We are

Ne wan – we were

Wabiro bet – we will be

3. Second person singular

In – You are

Ne in – you were

Ibiro bet – You will be

4. Second person Plural

Un - You are (plural)

Ne un – you were (plural)

Ubiro bet – You will be (plural)

5. Third person singular

En – He/she is

Ne en – He/she was

Obiro bet – He/she will be

6. Third person plural

Gin – They are

Ne gin – He/she was

gibiro bet – He/she will be

7. The senses

N’gi – Look

Ne – see

Listen – chik iti, Hear – winjo

Touch – mul

Mormor – warm, Liet – hot, Ng’ich – cold

Yom – soft, tek – hard

8. Parts of the body

Wi – head, yie wich - hair

lak - Tooth, Leke – teeth

lep – tongue, tik – chin

Ng’ut – neck, Gok – shoulder

Bat – arm, Okumbo – elbow

kor – chest, Ich - stomach

chong – knee, tielo – leg

9. Items of clothing

Pat kira – slippers, Wuoch – shoes

10. Animals

Mbura – cat, Nyambura – kitten

Guok – dog, oyieyo – rat

Apuoyo – rabbit, Nyuok – he-goat

Diel – she-goat, Ondiek – hyena

Kwach – Leopard, Sibuor – lion

Omuga - Rhinocerous

Jowi - Buffalo

Sibuor madhako – lioness

Tiga – Giraffe, Muga – buffalo

Liech – Elephant

Winyo – bird, Thuol – snake,

Ngong ruok – chameleon

11. Insects and other small living things

Ongogo – locust

Dede – Grasshopper, kich – bee

Suna – mosquito, Pino – wasp

Olwenda – cockroach, Otien’g - spider

Kamnie – snail,

12. Some Verbs

Buonjo – smile

Nyiero – laugh

Yuak – weep/cry

Chikruok – jump

Wuotho - Walk

Ringo – Run

Wer – sing, Liyo – whistle

fuolo - Cough, gir - Sneeze

Miel - Dance

kaw - Take (pronounced like ‘cow’ in English), Kel – bring

Puonji - Teach, Puonjri – Learn

Many – search, yud – find

13. The universe

Chieng – Sun, Sulwe – Star

Boche polo – Cloud, Koth – rain

Otieno – Night, Odi chieng – day

Ong’ngweng’o – fog, Yamo – wind

Mudho – darkness, Ler – Light

Malo – Up, Piny – Down (also Earth)

Malo – High, Mwalo – low

14. Some Adjectives

Ber - Good, rach - Bad

tegno –Strong, yomyom –Weak

chwe –Fat, Odhero– Thin

Piyo – Fast, Mos - slow

Ofuwo – foolish, Riek – clever,

15. Some conjunctions

Koso – or

Bende – also

And – kod (gi)

With – kod (gi)

Therefore – omiyo

So that – mondo

Because – nikech

And then – kae to

So – koro

So what – koro ango

16. some nouns – around the home

Ot - House (hut)

Dero - granary

Todo – roof

Dier ot – floor

Okombe – Cup, Glas – glass

San – plate, agulu – pot

Agwata – half calabash

tol - rope

17. Days of the week

Mok tich – Monday (work day one)

Tich ariyo – Tuesday (work day two)

Tich adek – Wednesday (work day three)

Tich angwen – Thursday (work day four)

Tich a bich – Friday (work day five)

Chieng Nyasaye (sandei) – Sunday (Day of God)

Ndwe – Month (moon), Iga – year

18. The family

Wuon – Father, Wuonwa – my father

Min – Mother, Minwa – my mother

Wuod – son, Nyar – daughter (used to state whose daughter,

where she comes from eg. Nyar Odongo – Odongo’s daughter,

Nyar Ugenya – a girl/woman from Ugenya location.

Kwaro – Grandfather, Dayo – Grandmother

Ner – Uncle, Way – Auntie (read the ‘a’ as in ‘away’)

Jobatha – my neighbor (also Jiranda, borrowed from Kiswahili)

19. Some Professions

Daktar – doctor, Fund Mbao – Carpenter

Japur – farmer, Jakwath – herdsman

Japuonj – teacher

Jaworo - a glutton (loves eating)

20. Furniture

Kom – chair/ seat, Mesa – table,

Kabat – Cupboard, Komb sofa – sofa/couch,

Uriri – bed (also Kitanda from Kiswahili)

Ywech – broom, yweyo – to sweep.

21. Counting

Achiel - One

Ariyo - Two
Adek - Three
Ang'wen - Four
Abich - Five
Auchiel - Six
Abiriyo - Seven
Aboro - Eight
Ochiko - Nine
Apar - Ten
Apar gachiel – Eleven (ten with one)
Apar gariyo – Twelve(ten with two); Proceed in that pattern until
Apar ga ochiko- Nineteen (The vowel after ‘g’ is swallowed so we hear g’ochiko)
Piero ariyo – Twenty, Piero ariyo gachiel ( 21 and so on until 29)Pier adek – Thirty, Piero adek gachiel (31 and so on until 39)

Piero angwen (40), Pier abich (50) and so on until Piero ochiko – 90

Piero Ochiko gachiel – ninety one, (and so on until 99)

Mia achiel – One hundred

A Luo Homestead at the Kisumu Museum
A Luo Homestead at the Kisumu Museum | Source

Conversation Practice

Lesson 1

Me and my family

Nyinga Odongo – my name is Odongo

Wuonwa iluongoni Opiyo – my father is called Opiyo (My father’s name is …)

Odak Kisumu – He lives in Kisumu

En Japur – he is a farmer

Minwa iluongoni Anyango – My mother is called Anyango (My mother’s name is …)

Odak Kisumu bende gi Wuonwa – She also lives in Kisumu with my father

An gi nyithinda ariyo – I have three children

Yowuoi ariyo – they are two boys

Ka adhi neon wuonwa gi Minwa, adhi gi nyithinda – when I go to see my father and mother, I go with my children

Kwara iluongoni Otoyo – my grandfather is called Otoyo

N’ose tho – he is dead

Ka pok n’otho, ne en japur bende – Before he died, he was also a farmer

Dana iluongoni Nyar-alego – My grandmother is called Nyar-alego (lady from Alego)

N’ose tho bende – she is also dead

Sani, aogegi Kwara Kata dana – now I don’t have a grandfather nor a grandmother

Nikech, wuon wuonwa gi min minwa n’ose tho the – because my fahther’s father and mother’s mother are all dead.

Adak Huruma – I live in huruma

An gi Jobatha mangeny – I have many neighbours

Vocabulary and explanations

Nyathi – child

Nyithindo – children

Nyithinda – my a children

An gi pesa – I have money, aonge gi pesa – I don’t have money (gi – when the thing is stated)

An go – I have it, aonge go – I don’t have it (go – when the object is not stated)

A’ is added to the beginning or ending of words to refer to the first person. An – me, Nyinga – My name Athi – I am going.

I’ is added the same way at the beginning or end to refer to the second person. In – you, Nyingi – your name is;, Ithi – you are going.

O’ is used as at the beginning or end to mean third person. However in some cases it changes place with ‘E’. En – Him/her, Nyinge – he/she’s name is, Othi – he/she is going.

When I was learning, I was tempted to say Wuonwa oluongoni Opiyo – My father is called opiyo,by placing an ‘o’ prefix in luongo – call.Placing ‘I’ instead, as has been done above, means that it is the second person and not the third person who calls my father Opiyo.

Wuonwa iluongoni Opiyo – My father you call Opiyo.

Much as it may sound ungrammatical, I was taught to say it that way. Notice that ‘O’ is properly put in the word Odak – he lives.

Lesson 2

Ka ibiro oda – if you come to my house

Aabiro mii kom ibedie – a chair to sit on

Ntie kom, stul, kabat gi mesa e oda - there is a chair, stool, cupboard and table in my house

Saa chiemo - when it is time to eat

Aketo chiemo e mesa – I put food on the table

Ka ase keto - after placing

Abede kom – I sit on the chair, ka achiemo – when I am eating

Seche moko, ok adwar bet e kom – sometimes, I do not want to sit on the chair

Adwaro stul nikech adwaro madho kongo – I want a stoo because I want to drink beer

Ka imadho kongo, to stul ber – when drinking beer, a stool is best (good)

Iparoga ni in en bar – you will be thinking you are in a bar

An gi kabede ariyo – I have two cupboards

Achiel ntie e jikon – one is in the kitchen

Kabat no en mar keto san – this cupboard is for (placing) plates

okombe gi moko mangeny – cups and many (other) thing

Kabat moro ni e ot ma nindo – the other cupboard is in the bedroom

Kanyo ntie uriri bende – there is also a bed there

Ka awinjo ka adwaro nindo – when I (hear) feel like sleeping

To adhi e uriri – I then go to bed

Ka oka adhi tich – when I am not going to work

Arwako pat kira – I put on sandals

Ka adhi tich, arwako wuoch maber ma rotenge – when I am going to work, I wear good black shoes.

Ka pok adhi tich – before I go to work, ayweyo ot gi ywech – I sweep the house with a broom


Ot – house, oda – my house

Dala – home

Mia – give me, Mie – give him/her, Amii – I give you

Ntie – there is, Antie – I am here (I am in), Entie – he/she is here (is in)

Saa – time (singular), Seche – time (plural), sani - now

Seche moko – sometimes, Seche duto – all the time

Ka – here, Kanyo – there, Kucha – over there

Aparo – I think, aparoga – I was thinking, ka aparo – when I think

Tich (wira) – work

Lesson 3a – a short story in past tense

Chon gi lala ne ntie mbura – a long time a go there was a cat

Mbura ni ne ongegi iwe - The cat did not have a tail

Onge mor nikech oongegi iwe – he/she was not happy because he/she did not have a tail

Ne oparo ni obiro bet gi mor chieng moro – he/she thought he/she would be happy one day

Ka mbura the oongegi iwgi bende - if all the cats did not have (their) tails also


Chon gi lala – once upon a time (a long time ago)

ni ne ongegi – he/she did not have

Iw – tail, iwe – its tail

Mor – happiness (happy), amor – I am happy

Aparo – I think, Iparo – you think, oparo – he/she thinks, ne oparo – he/she thought

Abiro – I am coming, abiro bet – I will be, obiro bet – he/she will be

Mbura achiel – one cat, mbura the – all the cats

Lesson 3b – Cat and mouse

Mbura chamoga oyieyo - cats eat mice/rats

Oyieyo chamoga chiemb ngato – mice/rats eat people’s food

Ka ngato oneno oyieyo, onege – when a person sees a rat, they kill it

Lesson 3c – the hair/rabbit and goats and cows

Apuoyo nigi it mabor – rabbit has long ears

Oringo matek ahinya – it runs very fast

Ka ichamo apuoyo - If you eat a rabbit

Ringe mit – its meat is sweet

To ring nyuok mit moingo mar apuoyo – but a he-goat’s meat is sweeter than a rabbits

Ka in gi diel achiel, in ngat matin – if you have one got, you are a small person

Ka in gi diek ariyo, in ngato maduong – if you have two goats, you are a big man

Niketch mano miyo imadho gi jokwath – because that will make you share drinks with pastoralists


Diel – goat, Nyuok – he-goat, Diek - goats

Nduong – big, tin – small

Mit – sweet

Jamni – domesticated animals

Lesson 3d – the Hyena

Ondiek nyiero ka ngato – a hyena laughs like a human

Ka inyiera nyiera seche duto – if you laugh (laugh) all the time

Waluongoni Ondiek – we shall call you a hyena


Nyier – laugh

seche duto – all the time, Chieng machielo, the other day/another day, Chieng moro – one day

Lesson 3e – the leopard, lion, elephant and other animals

Kwach en mbura maduong – the leopard is a big cat

Ohero chamo nyuok gi guok – it likes eating he-goat and dog

Sibuor en ruoth mar le – Lion is king of the animals

Ka sibuor ni gi sibuor-madhako mangeny – when Lion has many lionesses

Ok odhi menyo – he does not go hunting

Orito dala – he waits at home

Sibuor-madhako dhi menyo ne jo -ot duto – Lioness hunts for the whole family

Ng’ut mar tiga bor ahinya – a giraffe’s neck is very long

Onge le maduong ka liech – no animal is bigger than the elephant


Sibuor – Lion, Sibuor-madhako - Lioness

Liech – Elephant, Oliech – person named after elephant

Kwach – Leopard, Okwach – person name after Leopard

Ondiek – Hyena, Guok – dog

Ruoth – king, leader

Many – search/ hunt

Lesson 4

Kich tedo gimoro ma mit – the bee makes something sweet

Suna rach ahinya – a mosquito is bad

Niketch okelo malaria – because it brings malaria

Ok ang’eo ka pino rach koso ber – I do not know if a wasp is bad or good

Olwenda ok nindi otieno – coackroaches do not sleep at night

Ohero mudho – they like darkness

Odichieng ok inyal neno olwenda – daytime you cannot see cockroaches

Kata achiel – even one

Ineno mano ma osetho kende – you will only see the dead ones

Jo wuoi chamoga winy – boys eat birds

Gi chamoga aluru – they eat the Aluru (a bird found in bushes with limited flight)

Onge ng’ato machamo otien’g – no one eats a spider

Winyo nyalo chamo otien’g – a bird can eat a spider

Omieri en thuol – a python is a snake

Kamnie wuotho mos ahinya – the snail moves very slowly

Kamnie wutho mos moingo ng’ongruok – the snail moves slower than a chameleon

Lesson 5

Ka ng’ato okwalo gimoro, onyalo chikore mabor ahinya – if a person steals something he can jump very far

Ka iloso gi Nyasaye, i go chongi piny – when you talk with God, you kneel down

Wuod minwa ringo seche duto – my brother runs all the time

Ka chieng osetuch, ok inind, Ichiew – when the sun rises, you don’t sleep, you wake up.

Okine dwe ndalo duto. Inene ndalo moko kende – You do not see the moon all nights. You only seet it some nights.

Bocho polo ma rateng’ kelo koth – Dark clouds bring rain

Ka idhi oko otieno, inyalo neno sulwe mang’eny ahinya – if you go out at night you can see many stars

Apenji, yamo ber koso rach? – I ask you, is wind good or bad?

Saa moro, yamo nyal dhi go lawi – sometimes the wind can go with your clothes

Ka ni kete oko – if you leave them outside.

Saa moro, onge koth – sometimes there is no rain

Ka ntie Ong’weng’o ok ineno maber – when there is fog, you will not see properly


Kwalo – steal

Chikore – to jump

Mabor – far, long

Wuod minywa – my mother’s son (my brother)

Nyaminwa – My mother’s daughter (my sister)

Ochieng – sun, day

Ndalo duto – all nights

Ndalo moko kende – some nights

Rateng – dark, black

Lawi - clothes

Comments 10 comments

Mildred Matara profile image

Mildred Matara 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Thanks Emmanuel, will check it out.

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks for visiting this page Mildred Matara. Unfortunately I do not offer classes. There doesn't seem to be a college that teaches indigenous language in Nairobi. However I have seen an advert on OLX of someone who gives private lessons at Ksh. 800/= for a 30 minutes tutoria - sounds stiff but you could bargain.

Mildred Matara profile image

Mildred Matara 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya


I am happy I came across this. I have been trying to learn Luo.

Thanks so much for this, but was wondering if you offer practical classes or lessons or know someone who does. I would really appreciate coz am really interested in learning the language.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

When you are through with Croatia, try this one - just kidding, and thanks for your comment. Very encouraging.

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Interesting language but I am not keen on learning any languages right now still focusing on the Croatia language however you have explained to the point.

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks Bosko. I will build on it slowly and eventually it will be a page to reckon with. Thanks for your continued support.

fjbosko 4 years ago from Brazil

Superb Emmanuel!

I hope you can improve this Luo language part as you do with the Kikuyu one. You are doing an excellent job

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks Barrack Ogutu and Chris Zach. Your comment will go along way in correcting during the revision. I am also getting more enlightened and leaving 'mudho' so to speak.

Chris Zach 4 years ago

Ohero mudho – they like darkness O" is singular so Gi becomes plural

Ohero mudho-Gihero mudho hence they like darkness

Barrack Ogutu 4 years ago

This is a good initiative.

I stand to be corrected because am not an expert in the language, but I have suggestions for corrections from my experience as a first language speaker:

Insects: otien'g - Scorpion

Mbui/mbuwi - Spider

Animals: Omuga - buffalo

Sibuor- madhako - a lioness

Sibuoche-mamon - many lionesses

Ng'ielno/ng'ielo - Python ( Omieri was a specific python which was extraordinarily huge)

Leader - Jatelo

Ruoth - King/Chief

Ring - Run

Ringo - Running

Ring'o -Meat

Laktar - Doctor

Ajuoga - traditional doctor/medicineman

Hunt - Dwar

Search - Many; Searching - Manyo

Yip/yiw - tail; yiwe - its tail; yiwgi -their tails

San -plate

Sende - plates

Counting: Piero ariyo, piero adek.... Not ''pier'' ariyo! ( pier means something else unprintable!)

Yweyo - sweep/ to rest

Ywecho - to sweep

Ywech -broom

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article