Twi Q&A 3: Between “ne (is)” and “yɛ (is)”; When to Use Either

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My cherished Akan learners, I welcome you to yet another Twi Q & A session. Under the Twi Q & A series, I attempt addressing questions that I receive from learners like yourself. If you have a pressing question that you’d like me to attempt answering, please e-mail it to me via [email protected].

So, this week, I received another good question. Take a read.

Hello Yaw,

Question: when does one use “ne”/is instead of “yɛ”/is in Asante Twi? Are they interchangeable in that context, or is there a clear difference in the usage of “ne” and “yɛ”?

For example:
Onyame ne panin
Onyame yɛ panin

Meda wo ase pii!

My response

Indeed, both ne and used in such contexts correspond to “is” in English. However, there are specific cases where either is used; you cannot use them interchangeably. Consider the following:

  • Kofi tenten (Kofi is tall)
  • Kofi ne tenten (Kofi is the tallest)
  • Onyame panin (literally: God is an adult)
  • Onyame ne panin (literally: God is the eldest)
  • Kwabena sɔfo (Kwabena is a pastor)
  • Kwabena ne sɔfo (Kwabena is the pastor)

I hope you are making out the difference from the examples above. We can see from the examples that strictly corresponds to is in English. On the other hand, the introduction of ne conveys some kind of comparison between the subject and some other entity or entities (aforementioned or understood within the context). “ne” here roughly denotes “is the”… among the lot.

So, when you say, for example, “Kofi ne sɔfo” it is understood roughly as “between the two, or, among the lot, Kofi is the pastor. This stands in contrast to “Kofi sɔfo” which simply means “Kwabena is a pastor”. This applies to all the examples above, including yours:

  • Onyame yɛ panin (literally: God is an adult)
  • Onyame ne panin (roughly “between all others, or, among the lot, God is the eldest).

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2 Responses
  1. Kobie

    Wow! This little nuance really helped me a lot. I’ve been studying Twi for years and didn’t realize this. Without knowing this information, I would have probably said something like “Kwabena yɛ tenten sen ɔɔmo nyinaa” without realizing I could just keep it simple “Kwabena ne tenten”. Learning how to keep it simple is great for me when trying to be conversational in Twi. Thanks Yaw and keep up the good work!

    1. Yaw

      “Kwabena yɛ tenten sen wɔn nyinaa” would translate as “Kwabena is taller than all of them”. What you would’ve done in this case would simply have been to tell us more about whom Kwabena is taller than, which we didn’t do in our examples. Remember I mentioned in the case of our examples that the entity/entities that the subject is being compared with is either aforementioned or understood within the context. So, I could equally make the compared explicit by saying “Kwabena ne tenten wɔ wɔn nyinaa mu”

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