igbophrases

10 Essential Igbo Phrases (That are NOT Kedu)

Most Nigerians understand an Igbo word or two. Probably the two most widely understood Igbo words are Bia and Kedu.

However, if you’re not Igbo and you ever find yourself in an Igbo speaking area. Or even if you just have a lot of Igbo friends and are always wondering what they’re going on about, Sugabelly is here to rescue you.

Memorise these ten essential Igbo phrases and everyone will think you know how to speak Igbo even if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

10. I wena iwe

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

I – You; We – To “angry”; Na – Suffix that negates; Iwe – Anger. => “You Angry Not Anger”

Figurative Meaning:

Don’t be angry / Don’t be mad

When to Use it:

In place of “excuse me” , Before asking to use something that belongs to someone else, While squeezing past someone, When someone catches you using their property without permission, etc

Example:

Your friend has a book and you’ve come to rip a sheet of paper….

Response:

I wena iwe …. ***Riiiippppp!***

9. Rapu okwu a

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Rapu – Leave / Let go of; Okwu – Speech/Word/Talk/Topic of Discussion; A – That or This => “Leave Talk That”

Figurative Meaning:

Forget that matter / Leave that matter / Let’s forget about that / Forget it / Nevermind

When to Use it:

When someone is trying to persuade you on something you’ve already made up your mind about. When someone is trying to pursue a discussion topic that you don’t want to talk about or that makes you feel irritated / uncomfortable.

Example:

Yo Tunde, I just heard your Dad is going to become a stripper!

Response:

Rapu okwu a ….. ****irritated look on face****

8. Soso

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Soso – Only/Just

Figurative Meaning:

Only? Is that all? Just that?

When to Use it:

Response when you are told to do / or expected to do something ridiculous / inappropriate / or way beyond what you should have to do.

Example:

I need you to wash the dishes, sweep the house, do the laundry, run my shop, cook the food.

Response:

Soso? … ****Give your best hiss****

7. Chelugodu

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Che – wait; Lu – suffix that doesn’t do anything except make the word sound nicer; Godu – suffix that makes the verb sound politer / softens the blow of a command / also indicates action should be performed for just a single instance. NOTE – Godu is fundamentally POLITE but can be made to sound rude.

Figurative Meaning:

Wait a minute / One second / Gimme a moment

When to Use it:

You need a moment; You want to process what someone has just said to you; Someone is talking too much and you want to politely tell them to shut the fuck up.

Example:

Blah, blah, blah, blah, my Range Rover, blah blah my house in Banana Island

Response:

Chelugodu …. then change the topic.

6. Ngwanu

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Ngwa – Quickly (note, this is NOT the adjectival “quickly”. The adjectival quickly is Osiso); Nu – A suffix that implies the speaker is feeling impatient.

Figurative Meaning:

Alright / Very Well / Whatever

When to Use it:

You have been worn down to the bone by someone’s argument or entreaty and have no choice but to acquiesce.

Example:

Come on, let’s watch Tonto Dike’s music video! It can’t be that bad! You’ll like it I promise! I’ll give you fifty naira if you watch it with me!

Response:

Ngwanu … ****Roll your eyes****

5. Jikonata onwe gi

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Ji – To hold; Ko – suffix that implies togetherness; Nata – Suffix that indicates Trying; Onwe – Self; Gi – You / Your/ Yours => “Hold Together Self Your”

Figurative Meaning:

Hold yourself together / Get it together / Get a grip

When to Use it:

Someone is freaking out or totally tripping and it’s not helping matters. Someone is really ill or injured and seems to be losing hope.

 

Example:

(After pricking himself with a pin) – Oh shit! Oh shit! I’m gonna bleed to death!!

Response:

Jikonata onwe gi!!! ….. ****Throw in a slap for good measure****

4. Sam sam

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Sam sam – Never

Figurative Meaning:

HELL NO! No way!

When to Use it:

You will absolutely NOT do whatever you are being asked to do.

 

Example:

Can I borrow your diamond studded Louboutins for this party on campus?

Response:

Sam sam!

3. Ezi okwu

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Ezi – Good / Proper / True; Okwu – Word / Speech ; => True Talk / True Words

Figurative Meaning:

Is that so? That’s the truth! Oh yeah?

When to Use it:

What you are being told is too incredible to believe. You are trying hard to swallow the news and you suspect this might be the Bobogisting of the century.

Example:

A whale just washed up in the middle of Abuja

Response:

Ezi okwu!

2. Ewo

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Ewo – Exclamation of sadness / unpleasant surprise / pity => Direct equivalent of Eyaaa!

Figurative Meaning:

Oh no!

When to Use it:

Anything bad happens; You don’t give a shit but you need to look like you care.

Example:

I can’t connect to the Internet! My life is ruined!

Response:

Ewoooooo!!!!!! *****Look Sympathetic*****

1. Jisie Ike

Literal Grammatical Breakdown:

Ji – To Hold; Si – suffix that implies thoroughness or that the action has been completed; E – suffix that indicates the verb is a command; Ike – strength / power / Energy => Hold Thoroughly Strength

Figurative Meaning:

Jisie ike is REALLY DIFFICULT to describe in English, but strangely enough has THE EXACT SAME MEANING as the Japanese phrase Gambate/Gambare. It’s a way of encouraging someone.

When to Use it:

Say it to anyone in a tough situation or about to embark on a difficult task. Also good to encourage someone who is in the process of doing something and is succeeding.

Example:

I have exams tomorrow

Response:

Jisie ike!



There are 78 comments

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  1. bob-ij

    My dialect, we won’t say ‘sam sam’, we’ll say ‘cha cha’ or ‘chaa’!
    This is so cool though. another blogger needs to do this for another Nigerian language, let’s learn a thing or two! lol!
    Kudos miss!

    • sugabelly

      I’ve heard cha cha too! And chaa! I wish I could speak Yoruba but sadly I only know a few words. I hope some of the bloggers who speak other languages will do similar posts.

  2. Curiousshe

    Awesome! This is amazing!
    I use jisie ike as well done. That’s the simplest way to put it. And my I usually use hapu instead of rapu but I suppose it’s all a matter of dialect.

    But you should make more! Please and thank you 🙂

    • sugabelly

      Yeah, a situation where you might say Well Done is usually pretty appropriate to use Jisie ike. It can be used in all sorts of situations, that’s why it’s so difficult to explain. It really has no real equivalent in English.

  3. Toinlicious

    Awesome! Now leme go daze me igbo friends. I actually thought “Jikonata onwe gi “would be said with more force (and a slap sound too lol)

    And i thought “sam sam” was Hausa

  4. Salt

    I love this. Especially cos, even though I am Yoruba, I know some of these and use them with my Ibo sistafriends. Jisie Ke, Ewo o! , Sam sam and Ngwanu! Lol! I am suprised you did not put this one: Odiro easy (hope I got the spelling right?).

    Maybe I just might do the Yoruba version of this blog…….. someday…..Lol! For now, I just jotted down some of the more ‘conc’ ones up there I did not know. I shall use them to stun some friends.

    • sugabelly

      If you did a Yoruba version that would be awesome! Please send me the link so I can link to it on this post. I didn’t include “Odiro easy” because not only does it include English, it’s not the correct way to say something is not easy.

      Odiro easy follows the English structure of “It is not….” which is why ‘easy’ has to be added at the end because there is no separate Igbo word for easy.

      Igbo and English have completely different structures so in English, adjectives like Easy are single words whereas in Igbo, almost all adjectives are Verbs.

      It is not easy in Igbo takes the following verb form: O fia(lu) aru. – Literally, It Stresses the Body – which is used for difficulty of action, and O si(li) ike – Literally, It Comes From Strength – which is used for difficulty of nature or as a characteristic.

      Igbo has no true state for easy, rather it uses opposite states.

      So it is easy is O fiaro aru ( It DOES NOT stress the body) and O siro ike ( It DOES NOT come from strength).

      So that’s the long explanation of why that express did not make it into the list.

      • Salt

        I see. Which means I have been talking nonsense all this while. Lol!

        If I ever do the Yoruba version, I will be sure to send you the link. Somehow I doubt I would be able to do it justice like you did here for the Igbo phrases…..Anyway, we shall see.

      • Girly

        What about “odiro ofele” or “odiro nfe” ? Same language structure as English and both mean “it’s not easy”

      • 9jaBrozz

        The Igbo word ‘Ofele’ found in some Igbo dialects directly translates to Easy.

        Odiro Easy = Odiro Ofele

        Dalu Ada. Jisie Ike!

  5. dazzledax

    jisie ike for me is usually “take care” I used to be so good at speaking igbo,(I’m half igbo and half bini) but moving and living abroad without a lot of people to practice with, I’ve lost a good chunk of my skill, although I was so happy I could still recognize the ones in the list

    • sugabelly

      I understand what you mean about not having a lot of people to practise with. A lot of Igbo people are very unwilling to speak Igbo when they meet other Igbo people, whereas Yorubas will launch into Yoruba as soon as they suspect the other person is Yoruba. It’s a terrible habit we have as Igbo people and that’s why fewer children know how to speak Igbo each generation.

      And yeah Jisie ike can be used to mean take care. It has a lot of different uses which is why it’s so difficult to explain.

  6. YinklezDimplez

    SugaBelly, U have done well. I am yoruba and I grew up amidst lots of Igbo friends, even my colleagues at work. I have learnt words like Biko kwa, Enugo, Odiegwu (which happens to be my fave at the moment), Anumabia, Cherego, Cherekambia, Okpia (doubt the spellin’ tho). Nice work.

  7. Emeka

    odiro easy
    just to quickly add, that you can maintain the same English syntax, when saying it in Igbo. Easy in Igbo is mfe or ofere or ofele or fecha fecha

    o diro mfe, o diro ofele, o diro fecha fecha (fecha fecha is in the same class with sam sam, fiam fiam, etc)

    • sugabelly

      This is true, but the significant issue is usage. You can only use mfe/efe/ofele and maintain English syntax with some instances and not for others.

      But the focus shouldn’t be trying to find ways to make Igbo fit more easily into English syntax. That just produces terrible Igbo speakers. In fact I was going to do a post about this.

  8. Ginger

    Excellent job SugaB. I love the examples too (very explanatory). Sending this post to someone very special right now. I expect to hear a lot of #3, 7, 8, 9 in future convos lol.

    mwah mwah

  9. Yemzi

    My guy is going crazy (I am Yoruba & he is Igbo), he wants to know how I know this ‘hardcore Igbo’, I’m laughing so much right now, thanks for sharing SB!

  10. Magic Whale

    VERY nice. Thank you! I have Igbo friends here in London and now am looking forward to impressing the socks off them with your your help! Would be handy to know a few bed wsipers in Igbo too please. 🙂

  11. Ugochi

    Love this! Pride in our culture and language is sooooo important and as i think you mentioned in a comment above, sorely lacking! Jisike o!

    my questions is, on whether or not you could craft a more central Igbo version of this article? you mentioned sticking to what you know which is more anambra Igbo (makes perfect sense!) but just thought i would ask.

  12. Ekene

    Thank you for making this important post.

    The first should be ‘Ewena iwe’ not “I wela iwe”. E and A are used in Igbo to begin negated statements, depending on vowel harmony.

    Abiana – do not come
    Erina nri – do not eat
    Ebena akwa – do not cry
    Ewena iwe – do not be angry
    Akuna aka – do not clap
    Atuna ujo – do not be afraid

    • sugabelly

      In Igbo you can have directional statements and non-directional statements.

      All the statements you listed are non-directional. They are used when making a generalised negative command that is not directed to anybody in particular.

      When making a directional command, you MUST include the pronoun in order to “direct” the statement to its intended target.

      So, for example.

      I am in a crowd of people, but I want YOU in particular to not cry. – I bena akwa
      I am pasting an instruction on the wall because I want anyone that reads it to not cry – Ebena akwa.

      In this post, it’s pretty clear that the usage I’ve set is directional. (i.e. I am giving examples intending for people to use them while speaking to PARTICULAR other people, as opposed to speaking in general)

      It’s an important distinction that lots of Igbo people overlook in their daily speech.

  13. jay

    This is so beautiful. I had to quickly jot down a couple for my next song. Glad I found your blog.. plus, you’re so good with your explanations. You definitely write like a Prof like someone mentioned earlier. KUDOS!

  14. Chizoba Okeke

    I am igbo but unfortunately I do not know igbo. I am 19 years old and I”m no trying to teach myself igbo, I just want to say thank you for this blog. Your explanations are really nice and concise and I appreciate that you added soundbites along with the nigerian word. For you native speakers, any tips you have for me who is trying to learn igbo? Thank you again!

  15. JemVaris

    wow! I just happened on your blog per chance and i am glad i did. What you do is so cool, reading all your blogs or all i can read this night…lol.

    Maybe you should open a school where you teach igbo, i will definitely sign up there…#DesperatelySeekingToLearnIgbo

  16. Yemi

    Thanks so much for this blog! It’s such a great delight to encounter someone with a deep and confident grasp of their language! I think you have a vocation to teach Igbo. May this be the beginning of greater things. I’m Yoruba and just relocated to the southeastern part of Nigeria and I’m in dire need of speaking Igbo asap! Thanks again! Respect!

  17. henry Eze

    Message my sister…i really appreciate this…but how could you say igbo has no word for easy…or rather the correct translation of odiro easy…if so, please tell me what ofele means….or what is meant when one says odiro ofele. once again…good job.

    • Faith

      I was wondering too. Easy means ‘nfe’ . There is always a single Ibo word for an English word but many people dont know

      • sugabelly

        Igbo and English are not parallel languages. There are single English words that have no single Igbo word, and there are single Igbo words that have no single English word.

  18. Akos

    I am non Nigerian but I love igbo language and trying hard to learn. If you had an app for Igbo I’ll buy it. I love the way you give situational examples but most of all the audio to teach how to properly say it (whether Na Anambra dialect or nsukka dialect I don’t mind)

  19. Akos

    I am learning Igbo (am not nigerian let alone igbo) cos i love the language and i have searched and searched and searched and i must say you are the BEST teacher ever. Are you from Anambra? I love the fact that you include audio to teach us exactly how it is pronounce. Please dont stop – you dont have a clue how many people you are helping. Do you have a youtube page.

    Thank You Nne.

      • Gift

        oh. ok thank you. How do you know where you come from based on the type of Igbo? my parents speak all types, I just know the basics of one of them

        • sugabelly

          Some Igbo people moved around as children or went to school with Igbo people from other areas and so speak a combination of the two main dialects of Igbo.

          This is bad manners / poor grammar and you shouldn’t do it. Mixing Igbo dialects when you speak is the equivalent of sounding like poorly educated commoner from the rough part of town as opposed to someone who speaks Queens English.

          If your parents speak both because they picked up both during childhood, you have to ask each parent where they’re from because there’s no way to tell since they speak both.

          However if they say predominantly “hapu”, “miri” and “ri” or “ra”, your parents are probably from Imo/Abia and not from Anambra/Enugu.

          If the Igbo they speak matches mostly what you see on this blog, then they’re probably from Anambra/Onicha or Enugu.

  20. Luke

    Hello! I just listened to a quite beautiful love song by Phyno.

    In the chorus I think he says: Say na I ga’e ko’m o.

    I’ve never come across the verb “ko” so I looked for info and found you! From your post I’d guess it means, say you’ll be together with me?

    You might want to listen. A lot of current Naija music is superb. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRvTB_dl58U


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