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The Luo Language of Kenya: Basic Vocabulary and Conversation

Emmanuel loves researching Kenyan culture and history. He is also an artist and likes to share what he knows with others.

A boat for domestic tourists on Lake Victoria

A boat for domestic tourists on Lake Victoria

Luo is classified as a Nilotic language. My first language is Kikuyu, which is a Bantu language, and it is as different from Luo as English is from Russian. However, there are some subtle similarities. I do not claim to be an expert in this beautiful language, but I have sufficient working knowledge that I can share with you. As we explore this language together, we will increase our vocabulary and understand the grammar in finer detail. By the end of this lesson, you too will be able to express yourself in Luo, also known as Dholuo.

Who Speaks Luo?

The Luo of Kenya and Tanzania are a Nilotic-speaking people whose main occupations are fishing, farming, and animal husbandry. They are settled around Lake Victoria where, along the shores and many islands, fish are plentiful. Having come down the Nile, the Luo of Kenya have Luo or Lwo-speaking cousins in Sudan, from where they most recently migrated. Other Luo dialects are spoken in Uganda, such as Alur and Acholi.

First, let us learn the basics.

A. The Luo Language Structure

Luo has a CVC or VC structure—consonant/vowel/consonant or vowel/consonant. This means that Luo words can end in a consonant, like gin, they are. This is unlike Bantu languages, where words must end in a vowel. Luo language is, therefore, more similar to English articulation, while Bantu languages are more like Italian.

B. Luo Pronunciation

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

However, some words can end in the syllables ng and ny. In IPA, the palatal nasal consonant [ɲ], which sounds like ny. For example:

  • Chieng, piny, many

Words can also end in the velar nasal [ŋ], written as ng’. For example:

  • Anyang’ — (a boy’s name)

Another interesting word ending is w. For example:

  • Chiew(to get up)

These endings are impossible in Bantu languages, which would add a vowel at the end of each word—such as in the Kikuyu words nyanya and Ng’ang’a.

In Luo, unlike Bantu, it is also possible to start a word with a 'y' such as in the words below. For example:

  • Ywech, yweyo
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Read More From Owlcation

Mother tongue interference is noticeable when Luo speakers speak in English, especially with words ending with ‘sh’, such as fish. For a Luo speaker, this sound is pronounced ‘s.’ A common example would be the phrase "fresh fried fish"—it is pronounced as "fres' fried fis," in a typical Luo accent.

The Verb "to Be" in Luo

EnglishLuoEnglishLuo

First Person Singular

 

First Person Plural

 

An

I am

Wan

We are

Ne an

I was

Ne wan

We were

Abiro bet

I will be

Wabiro bet

We will be

Second Person Singular

 

Second Person Plural

 

In

You are

Un

You (all) are

Ne in

You were

Ne un

You (all) were

Ibiro bet

You will be

Ubiro bet

You (all) will be

Third Person Singular

 

Third person Plural

 

En

He/She is

Gin

They are

Ne en

He/She was

Ne gin

They were

Obiro bet

He/She will be

Gibiro bet

They will be

Memorize Luo Vocabulary Words

Below, you will find many sets of vocabulary on several helpful topics. It's important to memorize them so that you can hold a conversation and understand your peers!

Numbers

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Achiel

one

Apar gachiel

eleven

Ariyo

two

Apar gariyo, Apar gadek, etc.

twelve, thirteen, etc.

Adek

three

Piero ariyo

twenty

Ang'wen

four

Piero ariyo gachiel, piero ariyo gariyo, etc.

twenty one, twenty two, etc.

Abich

five

Piero adek

thirty

Auchiel

six

Piero angwen

forty

Abiriyo

seven

Piero abich

fifty

Aboro

eight

Piero auchiel

sixty

Ochiko

nine

Piero ochiko

ninety

Apar

ten

Mia achiel

one hundred

Family

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Wuon

father

Wuonwa

my father

Min

mother

Minwa

my mother

Wuod

son

Nyae

daughter

Kwaro

grandfather

Dayo

grandmother

Ner

uncle

Way

auntie

Jobatha

my neighbor

 

 

Days of the Week

LuoEnglish

Mok tich

Monday

Tich ariyo

Tuesday

Tich adek

Wednesday

Tich angwen

Thursday

Tich a buch

Friday

Chieng nyasaye

Sunday

Ndwe

month

Iga

year

Around the Home

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Ot

house/hut

Dero

granary

Todo

roof

Dier ot

floor

Okombe

cup

Glas

glass

San

plate

Agulu

pot

Agwata

half calabash

Tol

rope

Kom

chair/seat

Mesa

table

Kabat

cupboard

Komb sofa

sofa/couch

Uriri

bed

Ywech

broom

Pat kira

slippers

Wuoch

shoes

Professions

LuoEnglish

Daktar

doctor

Fund mbao

carpenter

Japur

farmer

Jakwath

herdsman

Japuonj

teacher

Jaworo

glutton

Body Parts

LuoEnglish

Wi

head

Yie wich

hair

Lak

tooth

Leke

teeth

Lep

tongue

Ng'ut

neck

Gok

shoulder

Bat

arm

Okumbo

elbow

Kor

chest

Ich

stomach

Chong

knee

Tielo

leg

The Senses

LuoEnglish

N'gi

look

Ne

see

Chik iti

listen

Mul

touch

Mormor

warm

Liet

hot

Ng'ich

cold

Yom

soft

Tek

hard

Animals

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Mbura

cat

Ondiek

hyena

Nyambura

kitten

Kwach

leopard

Guok

dog

Sibuor

lion

Oyieyo

rat

Sibuor madhako

lioness

Apuoyo

rabbit

Omuga

rhinoceros

Nyuok

he-goat

Jowi

buffalo

Diel

she-goat

Tiga

giraffe

Thuol

snake

Liech

elephant

Ngong ruok

chameleon

Winyo

bird

Ongogo

locust

Dede

grasshopper

Kich

bee

Suna

mosquito

Pino

wasp

Olwenda

cockroach

Otien'g

spider

Kamnie

snail

The Sun and Sky

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Chieng

sun

Sulwe

star

Boche polo

cloud

Koth

rain

Otieno

night

Odio chieng

day

Ong'ngweng'o

fog

Yamo

wind

Mudho

darkness

Ler

light

Malo

up

Piny

down (or Earth)

Malo

high

Mwalo

low

Common Verbs

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Buonjo

smile

Nyiero

laugh

Yuak

weep

Chikruok

jump

Wuotho

walk

Ringo

run

Wer

sing

Liyo

whistle

Fuolo

cough

Gir

sneeze

Kaw

take

Kel

bring

Puonji

teach

Puonjri

learn

Miel

dance

 

 

Adjectives

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Ber

good

Rach

bad

Tegno

strong

Yomyom

weak

Chwe

fat

Odhero

thin

Piyo

fast

Mos

slow

Ofuwo

foolish

Riek

clever

Conjunctions

LuoEnglishLuoEnglish

Koso

or

Bende

also

Kod (gi)

and/with

Omiyo

therefore

Mondo

so that

Nikech

because

Kae to

and then

Koro (ango)

so (what)

A Luo Homestead at the Kisumu Museum

A Luo Homestead at the Kisumu Museum

Conversation Lesson 1: Me and My Family

  • Nyinga Odongo – My name is Odongo.
  • Wuonwa iluongoni Opiyo – My father’s name is Opiyo.
  • Odak Kisumu – He lives in Kisumu.
  • En japur – He is a farmer.
  • Minwa iluongoni Anyango – My mother’s name Angayo.
  • 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 neno 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.
  • N’ose tho bende – She is also dead.
  • Sani, aonge gi Kwara Kata dana – Now I don’t have a grandfather nor a grandmother.
  • Nikech, wuon wuonwa gi min minwa n’ose tho te – Because my father’s father and mother’s mother are all dead.
  • Adak Huruma – I live in Huruma.
  • An gi Jobatha mangeny – I have many neighbours.

Lesson 1 Vocabulary and Grammar Explanation

  • Nyathi – child
  • Nyithindo – children
  • Nyithinda – my children
  • An gi pesa – I have money
  • Aonge gi pesa – I don’t have money
  • An go – I have it.
  • Aonge go – I don’t have it.

As you can see, the indicator gi is used when the object is stated, and go is used 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 is...
  • 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 – His/her 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...)

Conversation Lesson 2: My House

  • Ka ibiro oda – If you come to my house...
  • Aabiro mii kom ibedie – I will give you 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 aketo chiemo e mesa - When it is time to eat, I put food on the table.
  • Abede kom ka achiemo I sit on the chair 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 stool because I want to drink beer.
  • Ka imadho kongo, to stul ber – When drinking beer, a stool is best.
  • Iparoga ni in en bar – You will think 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 okombe gi moko mangeny this cupboard is for the plates, cups, and many other things
  • 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 to adhi e uriri When I feel like sleeping, I go to bed.
  • Ka oka adhi tich arwako pat kira When I am not going to work, 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 ayweyo ot gi ywech Before I go to work, I sweep the house with a broom.

Lesson 2 Vocabulary

  • 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

Conversation Lesson 3: The 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 oongegi iwgi bende - If all the other cats also didn't have tails.
  • Mbura chamoga oyieyo - Cats eat mice.
  • Oyieyo chamoga chiemb ngato – Mice eat people’s food.
  • Ka ngato oneno oyieyo, onege – When a person sees a rat, they kill it.
  • Apuoyo nigi it mabor – A rabbit has long ears.
  • Oringo matek ahinya – It runs very fast.
  • Ka ichamo apuoyo, ringe mit - If you eat a rabbit, its meat is sweet.
  • To ring nyuok mit moingo mar apuoyo – But a he-goat’s meat is sweeter than a rabbit's.
  • Ka in gi diel achiel, in ngato matin – If you have one goat, you are a small person.
  • Ka in gi diek ariyo, in ngato maduong Nikech mano miyo imadho gi jokwath – If you have two goats, you are a big man because you can share drinks with the shepherds.
  • Ondiek nyiero ka ngato – A hyena laughs like a human.
  • Ka inyiera nyiera seche duto waluongoni ondiek – If you laugh all the time, we shall call you a hyena.
  • 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 – The lion is the king of animals.
  • Ka sibuor ni gi sibuor-madhako mangeny ok odhi menyo – When a Lion has many lionesses, he does not go hunting
  • Orito dala – He waits at home.
  • Sibuor-madhako dhi menyo ne jo-ot duto – The 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.

Lesson 3 Vocabulary

  • 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 te – all the cats
  • Diel – goat, Nyuok – he-goat, Diek - goats
  • Nduong – big, tin – small
  • Mit – sweet
  • Jamni – domesticated animals
  • Nyier – laugh
  • seche duto – all the time, Chieng machielo, the other day/another day,
  • Chieng moro – one day
  • Sibuor – lion, Sibuor-madhako - lioness
  • Liech elephant
  • Kwach – leopard
  • Ondiek hyena
  • Guok – dog
  • Ruoth – king, leader
  • Many – search/hunt

Conversation Lesson 4: Pests

  • Kich tedo gimoro ma mit – The bee makes something sweet.
  • Suna rach ahinya niketch okelo malaria – A mosquito is bad because it brings malaria.
  • Ok ang’eo ka pino rach koso ber – I do not know if a wasp is good or bad.
  • Olwenda ok nindi otieno – Cockroaches do not sleep at night.
  • Ohero mudho – They like the darkness.
  • Odichieng ok inyal neno olwenda, kata achiel – In the daytime, you cannot see cockroaches, not even one.
  • Ineno mano ma osetho kende – You will only see the dead ones.
  • Jo wuoi chamoga winy – The 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 spiders.
  • 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.

Conversation Lesson 5: The Weather

  • 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 every night. You only see it on 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 the wind good or bad?
  • Saa moro, yamo nyal dhi go lawi ka ni kete oko – Sometimes the wind can blow your clothes away 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.

Lesson 5 Vocabulary

  • Kwalo – steal
  • Chikore – to jump
  • Mabor – far, long
  • Wuod minywa – my brother
  • Nyaminwa – my sister
  • Ochieng – sun, day
  • Ndalo duto – all nights
  • Ndalo moko kende – some nights
  • Rateng – dark, black
  • Lawi - clothes

Questions & Answers

Question: how do Luos' greet each other?

Answer: nade - how is it