Emmanuel loves researching Kenyan culture and history. He is also an artist and likes to share what he knows with others.
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
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
First Person Singular
First Person Plural
I will be
We will be
Second Person Singular
Second Person Plural
You (all) are
You (all) were
You will be
You (all) will be
Third Person Singular
Third person Plural
He/She will be
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!
Apar gariyo, Apar gadek, etc.
twelve, thirteen, etc.
Piero ariyo gachiel, piero ariyo gariyo, etc.
twenty one, twenty two, etc.
Days of the Week
Tich a buch
Around the Home
The Sun and Sky
down (or Earth)
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