1. Somali nouns
    1. Basic structure of the Somali noun phrase
    2. Tone notation
  2. Morphological categories of Somali nouns
    1. Declension 1
    2. Declension 2
    3. Declension 3
    4. Declension 4
    5. Declension 5
    6. Declension 6
    7. Declension 7
    8. Variable cases
    9. Irregular cases
  3. Case marking
    1. Subject case
      1. Premodifier tone raising
    2. Genitive case
    3. Vocative case

Somali Nouns

This description is taken from Saeed 1993.

Note on case marking: "absolutive" case is the basic or default form. It is used in citation forms, and in all syntactic positions except for subject. "Subject" case marking is phrasal, it is applied to the last element of the subject phrase, which may well be an article, verb or other category. Thus the head noun of a subject noun phrase will not show subject case marking unless it happens to be the final element of the noun phrase. "Focus" position is different from subject position, and a focused noun phrase will not show subject case marking even if it is the logical subject.

Basic structure of the Somali noun phrase

Within a single noun phrase, a generally head-initial order obtains:
Noun Possessive Definite article 
Relative clause
dál a country
dálka the country
dálkayga my country
dálka wèyn the big country
dálka ann tégayó the country I'm going to
In a genitival construction, the genitive generally follows the head:
mídowga Afriká 
unity-the Africa(gen)
the unity of Africa
iskaashotóoyinka xooláha 
cooperatives-the livestock-the(gen)
livestock cooperatives
boolìiska dálka talyáaniga 
police-the country-the Italians-the
the Italian police 
(the police of the country of the Italians)
However, there are a few constructions in which the head noun is (or appears to be) final:
Cáli waláashíis 
Ali sister-his
Ali's sister 
(Ali his sister)
labá nín 
two man
two men 
(two of man)
labádíi nín 
two-the man
the two men
In the first example (Ali's sister), "sister" really is the head. However, in the second example, the numeral "two" is the head, as indicated by the fact that if this noun phrase were a subject, the verb agreement would be feminine plural (the gender and number of labá) rather than masculine singular (the gender and number of nín).

Tone notation

Saeed's tone notation: acute accent means high tone; no accent means low tone; grave accent (always on the first part of a long vowel or diphthong) means falling tone on the two moras of the syllable.

Not clear whether acute accent on the first mora of a long syllable does or does not mean rising tone across the two moras. If yes, then the system may be characterized as free association of H with any mora, with a maximum of one H normally allowed per word (but this cannot be the orthographic word, as shown by forms like  diidi màayàan  'they are not fainting.'

Tone of  plural (absolutive) is all L, except for declension 5, where it is LH, and declension 6, where it is HL.

Tone of plural in irregular cases cited is always (L)H, but it is not clear whether this is general.

Morphological Categories of Somali Nouns

Declension 1

Feminine in singular, masculine in plural.

Plural is formed by adding /-o/ or /-yo/ after /i/.
Singular does not end in /-o/.
Singular (absolutive) has high tone on the last syllable.
Vowel loss occurs in plural if phonological conditions are met.
Singular does not end in /-o/.

sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
káb kabo shoe
náag naago woman
irbád irbado needle
mindí mindiyo knife
nimrád nimrado numeral
gacán gacmo hand
galáb galbo afternoon
madág madago or madko fire-stick
qolóf qolfo husk

Declension 2

Masculine in singular, feminine in plural.

Plural is formed by adding /-o/ and doubling last consonant if /b/, /d/, /dh/, /l/, /r/, /n/, /m/, or by adding /-yo/ after /i/, /x/, /c/, /q/, and sometimes after /s/ or /g/.
Singular is always polysyllabic and does not end in /e/.

Divided into two subgroups on the basis of tonal behavior:

Declension 2a:

This is the majority case.
Singular ends in HL sequence on last two moras, which can be either one or two syllables; rest of singular is L.
sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
baabùur baabuurro truck
darìiq dariiqyo road
dígsi digsiyo cooking pot
dhínac dhinacyo side
nácas nacasyo fool
sánnad sannaddo year
wáddan waddammo country

Declension 2b:

 "Not more than 50 words in the language."

Singular has L throughout. However, L is exceptional in that the last syllable does not lower before a pause.

sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
abti abtiyo maternal uncle
durbaan durbaanno drum
gorgor gorgorro vulture
huudhi huudhiyo canoe
markhaati markhaatiyo witness
sambab sambabbo lung
suldaan suldanno sultan

Declension 3

 Masculine in both singular and plural.

Plural is formed by adding /-o/, or /-yo/ after /i/.
Singular (absolutive) ends in HL sequence on last two moras.
Vowel loss can occur in plural.


sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
gárab garbo shoulder blade
hílib hilbo meat
ílig ilko tooth
jílib jilbo knee
qódob qodbo or qodobbo article
xádhig xadhko rope
xáraf xarfo letter (of the alphabet)
béri beryo day
gúri guryo house
nàas naaso breast

Declension 4

Masculine in both singular and plural.

Plural is formed by reduplication (repeating last consonant, preceded by /a/).

Singular is always monosyllabic.

Singular (absolutive) has HL pattern if syllable is long, otherwise H.


sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
áf afaf mouth, language
bùug buugag book
dáb dabab fire
mìis miisas table
nín niman men
sán sanan nose
tùug tuugag thief
wán wanan ram
xèer xeerar traditional law
xòor xoorar ratel (honey badger)

Declension 5

 A "small group."

Singular masculine, plural feminine.

Tone is final HL in singular; final LH in plural (or H modulo Saeed's notation)


sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
àwr áwr male camel
bálli ballí pond
Cárab Caráb Arab
díbi dibí bull
èy éy dog
mádax madáx head, chief
órgi orgí male goat
Soomáali Soomaalí Somali (person)
Xabáshi Xabashí Ethiopian
yèy yéy wolf

Declension 6

Singular feminine, plural masculine.
Singular always ends in -o.

Plural is formed by adding /-oyin/.

Both singular and plural have final HL sequence on last two syllables.


sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
ayéeyo ayeeyóoyin grandmother
dáwo dawóoyin medicine
éeddo eeddóoyin maternal aunt
hóoyo hooyóoyin mother
magáalo magaalóoyin town
shéeko sheekóoyin story
tálo talóoyin decision
wáddo waddóoyin road

Declension 7

Singular masculine, plural feminine.

Always end in -e (in singular abs.)

Plural is formed by adding /-yaal/ and changing final /e/ to /a/.

Singular has penultimate-syllable H.

sing. abs. pl. abs. Gloss
áabe aabbayaal father
agaasíme agaasimayaal director
báre barayaal teacher
danjíre danjirayaal ambassador
fúre furayaal key
jáalle jaallayaal comrade
madaxwéyne madaxweynayaal president
túke tukayaal crow
xogháye xoghayayaal secretary

Variable cases

Some words can be treated as members of more than one declension. May be geographical.

Example: dàas "shop" can be Declension 4 (daasas) or Declension 2 (daasyo).

Various irregular cases

Arabic broken plurals

From the examples given, it seems singular has final HL (moras), plural has final H.


búnduq banaadíiq rifle
kúrsi kuraasí chair
márkab maraakíib ship
maxbùus maxaabíis prisoner

"may often be given Somali plurals; for examle the noun kúrsi "chair" can be found with the plural form kursiyo, i.e. treated as a regular Declension 2 noun."

Rare plurals

Addition of /-an/ or /-aan/ is cited.
From the examples given, it seems singular has final HL (moras), plural has final H.
úgax ugxáan egg
dhágax dhagxán stone
qálin qalmáan pen
May also be found with regular endings -- úgax can be treated as a Declension 5 noun, qálin can be treated as a Declension 2 noun.

Case Marking

There are said to be four cases: absolutive, subject, genitive and vocative.
However, it is also necessary to distinguish a premodifier form that may or may not be different from the absolutive.

In general, case marking is phrasal, and is only implemented on the last element in a noun phrase, which may or may not be a noun. For instance, a postnominal determiner counts as such a final element, as does the final verb in a postnominal relative clause.Non-final nouns will always be in the premodifier form.

Subject Case

To change absolutive case to subject case:

Final HL becomes L; final H becomes L; i.e. H tones (if any) disappear.

In addition, consonant-final feminine nouns add /i/.


Absolutive Subject Gloss
nín nin man
libàax libaax lion
ínan inan boy
gabdho gabdho girls
rún runi truth
béen beeni lies
náag naagi woman
N.B. articles also change shape, e.g. /ka/ masc. def. becomes /ku/ when subject marked.
Absolutive Subject Gloss
nín nin a man
nínkíi nínkii the man (distal)
níinka nínku the man (proximal)

Premodifier tone raising

The premodifier form is used before articles, conjunctions, another noun in the genitive, and anywhere else preceding another element inside a noun phrase. The premodier form is either the absolutive or a version of the absolutive with final H tone.

In general, when a noun has a low tone plural or a low lexical suffix (or what looks like a lexical suffix even though it isn't), the final syllable is made H in the premodifier form. (note that this looks like the appearance of an accent). A similar rule applies to nouns that are all L in the singular. Specifically:

Plural nouns in declensions 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 have final H tone in the premodifier form.

(Morphophonology of definite articles)

absolutive gloss premodifier gloss
naago women naagáha the women
dhinacyo sides dhinacyáda the sides
xadhko ropes xadhkáha the ropes
niman men nimánka the men
odayaal old men odayáasha the old men
Singular nouns of declensions 6 and 7 also have final H in the premodifier form.
absolutive gloss premodifier gloss
dáwo medicine dawáda the medicine
hóoyo mother hooyáda the mother
magáalo town magaaláda the town
áabbe father aabbáha the father
báre teacher baráha the teacher
xogháye secretary xoghayáha the secretary
Numerals and other words that are all L in the absolutive singular have final H in the premodifier form. This also applies irregularly to the numeral for "two" though it is HL:
sagaal nine sagáal nín nine men
toban ten tobán nín ten men
labatan twenty labatán nín twenty men
boqol hundred boqól níin one hundred men
lába two labá nín two men

Genitive case

All nouns in the genitive have the tone pattern LH, or H in the case of a monosyllable (at least in Saeed's tone marking).
Absolutive Genitive Gloss
nín nín man
libàax libáax lion
ínan inán boy
géenyo geenyó mare
In addition, some feminine nouns add a genitive ending:
  1. Other feminine singular nouns ending in /-o/ add /-od/
  2. Other feminine singular nouns add /-eed/ or /-yeed/ after /i/
  3. Feminine plural nouns in /-o/ add /-od/
  1. Some feminine nouns for domestic animals (singular or plural) add /-aad/ instead of /-od/
áf Carabéed language of Arabs, Arabic
nín Soomaaliyéed man of Somalis, a Somali
áf shimbiréed mouth of a bird, a beak
caanó dameeráad donkey's milk
caanó lo'ád cow's milk
hádal naagóod talk of women, women's talk
hílib riyáad goats' milk 
hílib idáad sheep's meat

It's not clear yet what happens with the genitive of multi-word phrases.

Vocative Case

There are two sets of vocative suffixes, which Saeed calls "name" vocatives and "noun" vocatives.
Name vocatives are used for names, kinship terms, and names of occupations when used respectfully.
Noun vocatives are more neutral and are used with common nouns.
name vocatives noun vocatives
masculine and feminine plural -òw/yòw -yohow
feminine singular -èey/àay/òoy -yahay
In the case of the feminine singular "name" vocative, nouns ending in /a/ take -àay, nouns ending in /o/ take -òoy, and all others take -èey.

Tonal vocatives

A kind of name vocative can be formed by tonal change: regardless of the tone of the input, the vocative has H on the first mora, and L thereafter:
Absolutive Vocative Gloss
Cáli Cáli name
Faadúmo Fàadumo name
Guddoomíye Gúddoomiye Chairman
Madaxwéyne Mádaxweyne President
Múuse Mùuse name
Suldàan Súldaan name
Warsáme Wársame name