Basic lesson of Nigerian pidigin

Nigerian Pidgin


Vowels: i, e, e, a, , o, u (plus nasals)

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Consonsants: p, f, m, b, v, t, s, n, d, z, l, r, tú, dú, j, k, ×, g, kp, gb, w, h


Yoruba: oyibo – white man, wahala – trouble

Portugese: pikin – child, palava – discussion, sabi – to know

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Hausa: wayo – tricks

new coinage: pele – disappear/escape quickly


  • reduplications: katakata (scatter) – confusion, chaos, wakawaka (walk) – wander perpetually, toktok (talk) – gossip
  • compounds: kresman – crazy man, switmaut (sweet mouth) – flattery, greed, wochnait – night watchman



  1. Sg. a 1. Pl. wi
  2. Sg. yu 2. Pl. una
  3. Sg. i/in 3. Pl. dem


  1. Sg. mi 1. Pl. wi/os
  2. Sg. yu 2. Pl. una
  3. Sg. am/in 3. Pl. dem


  1. Sg. mai 1. Pl. ia/awa
  2. Sg. yo 2. Pl. una
  3. Sg. in 3. Pl. dem/den



  1. Sg. mi
  2. Sg. yu
  3. Sg. in


  1. Pl. wi
  2. Pl. una
  3. Pl. dem

Definite Article

Singular: di + noun

Plural: di + noun + dem

Indefinite Article

Singular: won + noun

Plural: plenti, meni etc. + noun

Demonstrative Article


  • dis + noun
  • dat + noun


  • dis + noun + dem
  • dat + noun + dem


won – one, tu – two, tri – three, etc.

di tu – both, di tri – all three, di faif – all five, etc.

won won – one each, tu tu – two each, tri tri – three each, etc.

fes – first, sekon – second, nomba tri – third, nomba faif – fifth, etc.


little usage of prepositions, all-purpose „fo(r)“, occasional fixed verb-prepositions, as in „I vex wit di man.“


Na (it is) / No bi (it is not) + emphasized part of clause + rest of clause


Singular: kom kwik!, folo am go!

Plural: mek una getop!, una sidon!, mek wi go nau

Subordinate clauses

se – that, we – who, di tin we – what, wetin – what, til – until, if – if, wen – when, wie – where, bifo – before, mek – so that, etc.


Yes/No Question: Shebi + clause (no inversion)? – Isn’t it the case that …?

Clause-initial question item: (Na) wetin i de du?

nko = what about?: Una mama nko? (how is your mother?)

nko = what if?: If a si di man nko? (what if I see the man?)

Non-verbal clauses: Hau nau? (how are things?), Hau bodi? (how are you?), No be so? (is it not so?)

Tense and Aspect

Present Past Future
1. neutral i kom i go kom
he came he will come
2. imperfective i de kom i de kom i go de kom
he comes/is coming he is coming/usually comes he will be coming/continue coming
3. perfective
a) inchoative i don de kom i don de kom i go don de kom
he has started coming he had started coming he will have started coming
b) terminative i don kom i don kom i go don kom
he has come/arrived he has come arrived he will have come/arrived

Aspect and Tense: Examples

  1. Past or Present? Watch out for indications of past tense and/or context.
  • Wen yo mama rich hie yestade, a de chop. When your mother arrived here yesterday, I was eating.
  • A si am las mont, i stil de krai. I saw him/her last month, he/she was still crying.
  • Dem don chop di chop finish, wen a rich haus las nait. They had eaten the food completely, when I arrived home last night.
  1. Present Perfective
  • A don de tek bat. I have started taking my bath (and am still bathing).
  • A don tek bat. I have taken my bath (and am clean now).
  1. Future
  • A tel mai papa se a go de kom si am evri de. I told my father that I would (will) be coming/will continue coming to see him every day.
  • If wi go go fo Lagos fo ivnin, NEPA go don tek lait. If we go to Lagos this evening, NEPA will have taken the light/will have switched off electricity.
  • A go don de kuk di sup wen yu de rich haus fo ivnin. I will have started cooking when you arrive home tonight.
  1. Past marker bin
  • A bin chop. I ate.
  • A bin de chop. I was eating.
  • A bin don chop. I had eaten.

Translation of the English to be

  • as zero, with an adjective:
    • A veks. I was angry.
    • Di tin fain tru tru. The thing is really/truly beautiful.
  • as de, with a location:
    • I still de fo haus. He is/was still at home.
    • Wi de fo Lagos. We are/were in Lagos.
  • as na, when linking to noun phrases (esp. in 1st person singular also bi):
    • Mercedes na dash. Mercedes (cars) are a bribe.
    • A bi jos wuman. I am only a woman.

Source: Ben Obi Elugbe and Augusta Phil Omamor. Nigerian Pidgin: Background and Prospects. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books, 1991.

Forms of Popular Nigerian English: Examples

A Variations

  1. Errors/Variants

1.1. Classification

1.1.1. Category Shift: reclassification of noun/adjective/adverb as verb: Horn before overtaking! Off the light! It tantamounts to fraud. I was not chanced/opportuned to come.

1.1.2. Countable/Uncountable Nouns: Singular of a SE mass noun: a staff, a cutlery Abstraction in SE, instances of abstract idea in PNE: behaviour, issue Reclassification of countable nouns as uncountable: give chance, take bribe, make mistake

1.1.3. Progressive in State Verbs: I am seeing/hearing/smelling. I am not having much money. Let me be going.

1.1.4. Object Patterns: He allowed them go. She made him to work hard. The child refused going to bed. She avoided to meet him. She didn’t arrive on time – she always likes to disappoint. It was a wonderful party – we enjoyed!

1.1.5. Prepositional and Non-Prepositional Verbs: You should dispose your car. Why did you not reply my letter? The library comprises of many sections. They are demanding for money. He emphasized on the importance of rest. I regret of not arriving earlier. Let us request for more lectures.

1.2. Inflexion

1.2.1. Indiscriminate Use of Infinitive/Basic Form: Yesterday they go to your office. She cook delicious peppersoup.

1.2.2. Double marking: He did not went. Did she wanted him?

1.2.3. Wrong Formation of Parts of Irregular Verbs: hitted, splitted, grinded

1.2.4. Inflexion of Relevant Words of Idioms: They ran for their dear lives.

1.2.5. Spelling Errors (faulty inflexions due to wrong analogy): dinning, strenght, maintainance

1.3. Selection

1.3.1. Shift of Sense or Reference: Rice is too cheap nowadays, unlike what it was last year. His hand pained him too much that he could hardly write.

1.3.2. Prepositions: in –> at: at my old age, of –> at: as at now, on –> at: at my arrival, at –> on: on the table, in –> on: to deal on, in –> with: with the belief, for –> to: I left Lagos to Ibadan, except –> unless: Nobody knows the answer, unless myself, unless –> except: You cannot receive the money except you show your I.D. card

1.3.3. Tense Past Perfect Instead of Present Perfect: In 1986 the nation was selling her crude oil at 28 Naira per barrel. Today, the price of oil had tumbled to an all-time low of 10 Naira per barrel. Might Have: After the referee might have arrived the match will begin. Reported Speech: Yusuf said he is entering the house when his brother drove up.

1.4. Copying (syntactically redundant use of words):

1.4.1. Subject Copying: My father he works under NEPA.

1.4.2. Object Copying in Relative Clauses: The car which he bought it last year is already giving trouble.

1.4.3. Relative and Possessive Sequence: I know the man who his father died.

1.4.4. of  Before which: It was a very horrible experience of which I hope it  will not happen again.

1.4.5. Other Cases: in case –> should in case, better –> more better, can –> can be able, repeat –> repeat again

1.5. Ordering

1.5.1. Demonstrative + Possessive + Noun: this town of ours –> this our town

1.5.2. No Reversal of Inversion after Wh-Words in Indirect Speech: He asked me what was the time.

  1. Loan Words

2.1. Food: akara (Yoruba: small deep-fried bean balls), buka (Haussa: cheap eating-place), ogbono (Igbo: soup based on the seed of the Williamson tree), ogogoro, kai-kai etc. (various languages: local gin)

2.2. Dress: agbada (Yoruba: large gown worn by men, often embroidered at the neck and cuffs and with flowing sleeves that can be hitched over the shoulders), danshiki (Hausa: gown with wide armpits reaching to the knees)

2.3. Forms of Address and Titles: alhaji (Haussa: Muslim who has been to Mecca), oba (Yoruba: primarily a specific title, often used loosely to refer to any traditional ruler), obi, eze (Igbo: specific titles), oga (Yoruba: big man, master, fairly general in the South), baba (Haussa, Yoruba: father, old man, fairly general in the West and North)

2.4. Traditional Religion: babalawo (Yoruba: diviner), Ifa (Yoruba: oracle), chi (Igbo: personal god), ogbanje (Igbo: changeling)

2.5. Interjections, Discourse Particles: a-a! (Yoruba: strong surprise, disbelief), … abi? (Yoruba: isn’t it?), kai, chei (Haussa, Igbo: strong surprise), ooo! (various languages: yes), … o(h)! (Yoruba: appendable to almost any word, indicates speakers’s personal involvment, implications according to context, e.g.: sorry-oh!)

B Restriction

  1. Avoidance of SE Syntactic Forms

1.1. Reflexive Tag and Echo Questions

1.1.1. All-Purpose Tag: isn’t it?

1.1.2. All-Purpose Verificational Question: Is that so?

1.2. Tenses: future perfect, perfect infinitive and continuous forms of perfect tenses are avoided particularly in V1 and V2.

1.3. Auxiliaries: must and should most frequent, ought less frequent, needn’t, dare and be to usually avoided

1.4. Passives: generally avoided particularly in V1 and V2, they + active  form often used: There was a security light outside my house but they have stolen it.

  1. Style: prevalence of an abstract, impersonal, formal style

2.1. stilted or pedantic English: Everybody must bring his or her book. They all went to their respective homes.

2.2. ‘bookish English’, biblical echoes: harlot

2.3. Mixture of Styles:

2.3.1. formal style in informal context: How are you? I hope you are in good health. For your information, I arrived home on the 28th of March.

2.3.2. informal style in formal context: I was sorry to hear that your mother kicked the bucket.

2.4. Clichés:

2.4.1. Clichés of formal style: in the final analysis, in no small measure, to mention but a few, the order of the day

2.4.2. Clichés of informal style: men of the underworld, the national cake, spread like a bushfire in the harmattan, we have a long way to go

2.5. Proverbs:

2.5.1. SE proverbs: (What is) sauce for the goose is (also) sauce for the gander. (There is) no smoke without fire.

2.5.2. NE proverbs: Nobody is above mistake. God never sleeps. What a man can do a woman can also do.

2.5.3. Direct translation from MT: When two elephants fight, the grass suffers.

2.5.4. Pidgin proverbs: Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.

Source: David  Jowitt. Nigerian English Usage: An Introduction. Ikeja: Longman Nigeria, 1991.

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