Counting in Xhosa
The Xhosa language (isiXhosa) belongs to the Niger–Congo languages family, and more specifically to the Bantu branch. It is spoken in South Africa (where it is co-oficial with ten other languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, and Zulu), in Zimbabwe (where it is co-official with fifteen other languages: Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, and Venda) and in Lesotho. IsiXhosa counts about 8.2 million speakers.
Xhosa numbers list
- 1 – inye
- 2 – zimbini
- 3 – zintathu
- 4 – zine
- 5 – zintlanu
- 6 – zintandathu
- 7 – isixhenxe
- 8 – sisibhozo
- 9 – lithoba
- 10 – lishumi
- 11 – lishumi elinanye
- 12 – lishumi elinesbini
- 13 – lishumi elinesithathu
- 14 – lishumi elinesine
- 15 – lishumi elinesihlanu
- 16 – lishumi elinesithandathu
- 17 – lishumi elinesixhenxe
- 18 – lishumi elinesibhozo
- 19 – lishumi elinethoba
- 20 – amashumi amabini
- 30 – amashumi amathathu
- 40 – amashumi amane
- 50 – amashumi amahlanu
- 60 – amashumi amathandathu
- 70 – amashumi asixhenxe
- 80 – amashumi asibhozo
- 90 – amashumi alithoba
- 100 – likhulu
- 1,000 – iwaka
- one million – kwezigidi
Clicks in Xhosa
Xhosa is a language with clicks, borrowed from the neighboring Khoisan languages from South and East Africa, such as Taa (or !Xóõ), !Kung (or !Xũ), Juǀʼhoans (or Zhuǀ’hõasi), and Khoekhoe (or Nàmá). Other Bantu languages like Sotho and Zulu use clicks. A click is a sound produced with the tongue or the lips without using the lungs. The Zulu language counts three of them: the dental click, the palatal click, and the lateral click.
- The dental click is produced by placing the tongue against the upper teeth and by removing it abruptly, like in the tsk! tsk! onomatopeia. Noted ǀ in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is transcribed by the letter c.
- The palatal click is produced by placing the tip of the tongue in contact with the palate and by lowering the tongue. Noted ǂ in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is transcribed by the letter q.
- The lateral click is produced by placing the tongue against the upper teeth, the air escaping from the sides, like in the tchick! sound used to spur on a horse. Noted ǁ in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is transcribed by the letter x.
Xhosa numbering rules
Now that you’ve had a gist of the most useful numbers, let’s move to the writing rules for the tens, the compound numbers, and why not the hundreds, the thousands and beyond (if possible).
- Digits from zero to nine are specific words, namely unothi , inye , zimbini , zintathu , zine , zintlanu , zintandathu , isixhenxe , sisibhozo , and lithoba .
- Teens are formed by stating the word for ten (lishumi), then the unit digit prefixed with elin(e): lishumi elinanye , lishumi elinesbini , lishumi elinesithathu , lishumi elinesine , lishumi elinesihlanu , lishumi elinesithandathu , lishumi elinesi , lishumi elinesibhozo , and lishumi elinethoba .
- The tens are formed by putting the word amashumi (plural form of lishumi, ten) before the multiplier digit prefixed with ama, except for ten itself: lishumi , amashumi amabini , amashumi amathathu , amashumi amane , amashumi amahlanu , amashumi amathandathu , amashumi asixhenxe , amashumi asibhozo , and amashumi alithoba .
- Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine are formed by saying the ten, then the compound unit form, separated with a space (e.g.: amashumi amabine anesine , amashumi asixhenxe ananye ). When compound, amashumi amabini (twenty) becomes amashumi amabine.
- The word for hundred is likhulu (amakhulu in plural), and the word for thousand is iwaka (amawaka in plural).
- The following higher scale numbers are: kwezigidi (106, million), isigidi sezigidi (109, billion), itriliyoni (1012, trillion), isigidi esiziphindaphinde kane or ikhwadriliyoni (1015, quadrillion), and isigidi esiziphindaphinde kahlanu (1018, quintillion).
Write a number in full in Xhosa
Let’s move now to the practice of the numbering rules in Xhosa. Will you guess how to write a number in full? Enter a number and try to write it down in your head, or maybe on a piece of paper, before displaying the result.
Xhosa-English/English-Xhosa Dictionary & Phrasebook
by Mawadza, editors Hippocrene Books (2017)
Complete Xhosa: A Teach Yourself Guide
by Beverley Kirsch, Silvia Skorge, editors McGraw-Hill (2011)
Other supported languages
As the other currently supported languages are too numerous to list extensively here, please select a language from the full list of supported languages.