Greetings in Kiswahili have two basic lexical structures:
1. Based on the word [jambo] an abstract noun in this case having the meaning of a problem.
2. Based on the word [habari] a word of Arabic origin that means news.
The grammatical structure of the first example is a question in negative form.
It translates to asking if the greeted person (s) do not have a problem.
Let us look at this greeting in second person singular form.
Hujambo? This is a contraction. The complete phrase would be: Huna jambo?
Hu- (you do not) –na (have) jambo (problem). There are no articles in Kiswahili, so the “a” is implied.
Other forms are: Hamjambo? (You plural) All of you do not have a problem?
Hajambo? (3rd person singular) He/She does not have a problem?
The responses are: Hujambo? Sijambo I do not have a problem.
Hamjambo? Hatujambo We do not have a problem.
Hajambo? Hajambo. He/She does not have a problem.
There is no gender in Kiswahili. Notice that “he” and “she” are identified by the concord [A-] (3rd person singular). Also, questions and responses have the same syntactic order. Questions can be preceded by [Je,] to indicate that a question is to follow. In conversation, the tonal pattern is raised to indicate a question is being asked.
The second structure is asking, what is the news? This approach is very flexible.
It can focus on the time of day: Habari ya asubuhi? Jioni? “Morning, evening”.
Or a length of time: Habari tangu juzi? What is the news since day before yesterday?
Or habari za siku nyingi? What is the news of many days?
The basic form is: Habari gani? Literally: “which news?”
[Habari] is a N class noun. Plurality is indicated in the agreements.
Look at Habari ya asubuhi? [ya] meaning [of] is the singular form.
Now look at Habari za siku nyingi? [za] is the plural form.
Unlike English, “news” can be expressed in both singular and plural forms in Kiswahili.
These two greetings can be combined: Hujambo dada? Habari za siku nyingi?
You do not have a problem sister? What is the news of many days?
To greet elders the younger person says: Shikamoo. The response is: Marahaba!