Characteristics of the Zulu language in AX Semantics


In Zulu, you need to know the case, number, and gender/bantu class of a noun to form the accompanying adjectives, determiners, numerals, and pronouns correctly.

Zulu has 16 morphological noun classes (i.e. bantu classes), which are similar to the concept of gender in other languages. There are also two numbers: singular and plural. Every class is inherently singular or plural. Odd-numbered classes are singular, even-numbered classes are plural, with the exception of class 14, which is also singular in meaning. Additionally, Zulu has four cases.

grammatical namevaluesexamples
numbersingularudokotela omdala
[bantu class 1]
(old doctor)
pluralodokotela abadala
[bantu class 2]
(old doctors)
bantu class/genderclass 1 [sg]umúntu
class 2 [pl]abántu
class 1a [sg]úbabá
class 2a [pl]ṓbabá 
class 3 [sg]uḿlenze
class 4 [pl]imílenze
class 5 [sg]ī́qandá
class 6 [pl]amáqandá
class 7 [sg]isícebi
(rich person)
class 8 [pl]izicêbi
(rich people)
class 9 [sg]înjá
class 10 [pl]ízinjá
class 11 [sg]ū́phaphé
class 14 [sg/pl]ubúhlalú
class 15 [sg]ukúkhanya
class 17 [sg]úkúdlá
case (noun)nominative (full form)indlu
[class 9]
(a/the house)
vocative (simple form)Ndlu!
[class 9]
[class 9]
(It is a house.)
locativeNgizowela endlini.
[class 9]
(I am going inside the house.)
adjectives (noun)after nouni-apula elibomvu
(a red apple)
verb tensespresentyena udla
(he eats)
past (Recent)yena udle
(he ate)
future (Immediate)yena uzokudla
(he will eat)

The standard order of a noun phrase in Zulu is the following: preposition + noun + determiner + numeral + adjective. See for example:

mayelana  nalaba  baculi   abathathu  abadumile
about     these   artists  three      famous
PREP      NOUN    DET      NUM        ADJ
"about these three popular singers"



Zulu nouns are inflected for case and number. Nouns should be added to the lexicon with their bantu class if they do not inflect regularly.

Lexicon entries for nouns may also be necessary for inflecting determiners, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns correctly. They are omitted, if a lexicon entry is required, but missing.


The basic lexicon entry for indlu (house) contains:

  • gender/bantu class: Bantu class 9
  • inflection table for case and number:


In Zulu, "after noun" is the default for adjective position.


Zulu verbs inflect for gender, number, person, and tense. The most common verbs are encoded in our software. If a verb inflects incorrectly, you should add it to the lexicon.

Container settings


The AX NLG platform supports the following determiners for Zulu: demonstratives (proximal + distal) and possessives.

Demonstratives determiner or pronoun may either precede or follow a noun. If it precedes, the noun appears in the simple form (e.g, ncwadi), while if it follows, the noun is in the full form (e.g., incwadi). For example:

Le ncwadi
(This book)
-> "ncwadi(book)" appears in its simple form,
because the demonstrative "le" precedes it

Incwadi evela kwami
(Book that comes from me)
->"incwadi(books)" appears in its full form,
because the relative pronoun "that" stays after it

The default position for demonstratives is "after noun", so the preceding demonstrative should be added as plain text if it is needed.

Possessive Determiner

In Zulu, possessive determiners agree with the class of the possessed noun, and therefore their form changes depending on the noun class.

incwadi zami
[Class 1]
(my book)
iizincwadi zami
[Class 2]
(my books)

igama lami
[Class 5]
(my name)
amagama ami
[Class 6]
(my names)


The AX NLG platform supports the following pronouns for Zulu: demonstratives (proximal + distal) and personal.


Four types of numerals are possible on the AX NLG platform: cardinal, cardinal as digit, ordinal, and ordinal as digit.

textizinsuku eziyisishiyagalolunye
[class 10]
(nine days)
ngosuku lwesishiyagalolunye
[class 11]
(the ninth day)
digitizinsuku 9
[class 10]
(9 days)
ngosuku lwesi-9
[class 11]
(the 9th day)

For Zulu, ordinal numerals are written out until 12, otherwise (above 12) the output is in digit form. Cardinal numerals are written out until 10, otherwise (above 10) the output is in digit form. Take cardinal numerals for example:

izimoto eziyishumi
[class 10]
(ten cars)

izimoto 11
[class 10]
(11 cars)

The ordinal numeral in digital form (e.g., the 9th day) will get an ordinal prefix and dash before the number, and the ordinal prefix differs depending on the Bantu class, for example:

ingane yesi-2
[class 9]
(the 2nd child)

iqanda lesi-2
[class 5]
(the 2nd egg)