Negation of Twi Verbs | Twi Grammar

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Negation is a grammatical process that turns all or part of the meaning of an affirmative construction/sentence into its opposite/negative.

In English, verbs, clauses and sentences are commonly negated by introducing the negative particle ‘not’ or its contracted form ‘-n’t’.

For example:

I am your friendI am not your friend
I can help youI cannot help you
I have paid the moneyI have not paid the money

So how do we negate in Twi? This will be our focus for today’s lesson: lesson 36 of the Twi grammar course.

Whereas in standard modern English, negation is mainly done by placing not after an auxiliary or modal in a clause/sentence, negation in Twi is mostly done right on the verb. Yes, on the verb.

How do we do it? We simply prefix either n- or m- to the verb stem (for the purpose of this lesson, ‘verb stem’ is used here to denote the verb devoid of a prefix). After we attach either of the prefixes, assimilation causes the verb stem’s initial consonant to change to become more like the n- or m- prefixes. Confused? You may skip the ‘somehow’ technical aspects and move straight to the examples tabulated below. I’m sure the many examples I’ve tabulated will be enough for you to get the idea about how negation is done in Twi. But for those of you who want to know the nitty-gritty of how we arrived at the negative forms of the examples, read on.

‘da’ means ‘sleep’ in English. If we want to form its negative, we will first consider the place of articulation of the initial consonant ‘d’. This will enable us to settle on which prefix amongst the two (n- and m-) to use. Basically, if the first consonant of the verb’s stem is one that you produce by moving your tongue to touch the ridge behind your teeth or the roof of the mouth (alveolar sounds such as d, t, n, s), you need to use the n- prefix. Also, if the initial consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced with the back of the tongue against the soft palate (velar sounds such as k, g), you need to use the n- prefix. Again, if the initial consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced using your glottis (the glottal sound h), you need to use the n- prefix.

On the other hand, if the first consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced with both lips (bilabial sounds such as m, p, b), or with the bottom lip and the upper teeth (the labiodental sound f), then you negate it by prefixing it with m-.  

So, to summarise the above, if you have a Twi verb that starts with the letter m, b, p or f, you negate it by prefixing it with the letter m. Twi verbs that do not begin with any of these letters (m, b, p, f) are to be negated by prefixing them with the letter n. Of course there are a few exceptions but this rule should apply to most Twi verbs. 

As we indicated earlier, after prefixing the verb stems with their respective prefixes, assimilation then sets in. In phonology, assimilation is a common phonological process by which one sound becomes more like a nearby sound.  Assimilation will cause the initial consonant of the verb’s stem to change to become more like the prefix introduced.

So, going back to our earlier example ‘da (sleep)’, ‘d’ is an alveolar sound so, to negate, we will introduce the n- prefix to get

–> n-da

–> ‘d’ then assimilates to become ‘n’ (like the n- prefix). We get: nna.  

Let’s do another one.

‘bɛfa’ means come and take/pick in English. To settle on which prefix to use in its negation, we consider the place of articulation of the first consonant of the verb which is ‘b’. ‘b’ is produced with both lips (a bilabial sound) so we need to use the m- prefix to get

–> m-bɛfa

–> Assimilation then causes ‘b’ to change to become ‘m’, just like the introduced prefix. We get: mmɛfa.  

Do note, however, that the assimilation of the initial consonants of the verb stems after the introduction of the appropriate negative prefix tends to affect only voiced consonants. Voiceless initial consonants of verb stems undergoing negation tend NOT to assimilate.

For example

–> ‘sere (laugh)’ becomes n-sere (don’t laugh) and NOT ‘nnere’

–> ‘pra (sweep)’ becomes m-pra (don’t sweep) and NOT ‘mmra’

–> ‘kasa (speak)’ becomes n-kasa (don’t speak) and NOT ‘nnasa’

Again, verb stems which begin with the semivowels ‘y’ and ‘w’ tend not to assimilate after the negative prefixes are attached to them. For example, constructions such as ‘meyɛ (I am)’, ‘woyɛ (you are)’, ‘yɛyɛ (we are), etc. have their verb stems beginning with the semivowel ‘y’. So, to negate them, we simply introduce the negative marker ‘n-‘ to get ‘menyɛ (I am not)’, ‘wonyɛ (you’re not)’, ‘yɛnyɛ (we’re not)’, etc. No assimilation occurs. Think about it, if the initial ‘y’ did assimilate, we would’ve ended up with ‘ɛnnɛ’, ‘wonnɛ’, ‘yɛnnɛ’, etc. which have nothing to do with the meaning of the positives. You may have come across ‘mennyɛ’, ‘wonnyɛ’, ‘yɛnnyɛ’, etc. (with double ‘n’) before. That brings us to the next point.

There are cases where you’ll find a double ‘n’ or ‘m’ used in the negative of verbs whose stems begin with either of the semivowels (‘y’ and ‘w’). That happens when the verb, in its positive form, already has an ‘n’ before the semivowel. This is usually the case with imperatives.  Imperatives are constructions used to give orders, commands, instructions, warnings, etc. For example, to tell people to do something in Twi, we say ‘monyɛ (do it)’. If we want to make this negative, then we need to add an additional ‘n’ to the one that already exists in the positive form to get ‘monnyɛ (don’t do it)’.

–> ‘Ɔse menyɛ (he/she says I should do it)’ becomes ‘Ɔse mma mennyɛ (he/she says I shouldn’t do it).

–> ‘Monyi Onyankopɔn ayɛ (praise God – plural addressees)’ becomes ‘Monnyi Onyankopɔn ayɛ (don’t praise God).

Alright! Let me not bore you any further. Let’s look at some examples.

EnglishAffirmative (Aane Kabea)Negative (Dabi Kabea)
I ammeyɛmenyɛ
you arewoyɛwonyɛ
he/she isɔyɛɔnyɛ
it isɛyɛɛnyɛ
we areyɛyɛyɛnyɛ
you (pl.) aremoyɛmonyɛ
they arewɔyɛwɔnyɛ
take (pick)famfa
draw closerpinkyɛnmpinkyɛn
take (collect)gyennye
beginhyɛ aseɛnhyɛ aseɛ
competesi akannsi akan
he/she will sleepɔbɛda (‘bɛ’ is the future tense marker)ɔnna
I will dancemɛsamensa
I will sleepmɛdamenna
we shall meetyɛbɛhyiayɛnhyia
we will helpyɛbɛboayɛmmoa
I will helpmɛboamemmoa
I will go with youme ne wo bɛkɔme ne wo nkɔ
I have bathedmadwaremennwareeɛ
you are a man!woyɛ barima!wonyɛ barima
give me some (to plural addressee)momma me bimommma me bi
run home (plural addressee)monnwane nkɔ fiemonnnwane nnkɔ fie
take it to school (plural addressee)momfa nkɔ sukuumommfa nnkɔ sukuu
fold the cloth (plural addressee)mommobɔ ntoma nomommmobɔ ntoma no
eat the food (plural addressee)monni aduane nomonnni aduane no
wake up (plural addressee)monsɔremonnsɔre
we will comeyɛbɛbayɛmma
I’m surprised/shockedme ho adwiri meme ho nnwirii me
show me the way (plural addressee)monkyerɛ me kwan nomonnkyerɛ me kwan no
send me some money (plural addressee)mommane me sikamommmane me sika
ask Kofi (plural addressee)mommisa Kofimommmisa Kofi
I need your helpmehia wo mmoamenhia wo mmoa
help me (plural addressee)mommoa memommmoa me
listen to metie mentie me
jump the fence (plural addressee)monhuri ban nomonnhuri ban no
think about yourselfdwene wo honnwene wo ho
he/she is shyɔfɛreɔmfɛre
he/she is sitting on meɔte me soɔnte me so
are you feeling sleepy?w’ani kum?w’ani nkum?
eat, drink and sleep (plural addressee)monnidi, monnom, na monnamonnnidi, monnnom, na monnna

I know, negation in Twi is not as easy as it is in other languages. But with time and practice, I’m hopeful that you’ll grasp it fully. Do watch out for the video for this lesson. I will try to make things easier to grasp in that.

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Tikya Yaw
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7 Responses
      1. Tikya Yaw

        Yes, it does. We achieve negated future tense in two ways and using the “re” is one of them. But, in speech, we almost always use the other one. There’ll be a lesson on this soon.

  1. Victor

    Thank you for your great lesson, Yaw.
    I have noticed that at times there’s a change in the part that is stressed. For example, take “minim sɛ” (I know that..) and “minnim sɛ” (I don’t know that…). I’ve noticed that in the first example the stress is in the “nim”, while in the second, it’s in the “mi”.
    Is that correct?
    Are there any rules (or hidden rules) that can help non native Twi speakers to differentiate between the imperative and the negation in the spoken language?

    Please I’m looking forward to a lesson about tones also (Me papa se papa no yɛ papa)

  2. Victor

    I apologise, I just found the lesson about tones 🙁
    Last time I looked it wasn’t there yet. I will look more often.
    Media wo ase paaa

  3. Rhoda Acheampong

    Wow I find it so educative. But I think learners will also like it if u make something small on zero morphs, suppletion and portmanteau morphs

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