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   IGBO - Our Mother Language    Second Edition

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This book is intended as a reference guide to the Basic Concepts and Essentials of Igbo grammar. It is a book for all ages and all categories of learners. In it, you will discover Igbo language made easy. The materials are easy to read and also easy to follow. Each word is fully tone marked to aid pronunciation. The book is also fully illustrated with clear photographic images. The translations are precise and the pages are formatted with columns and tables to enable the reader test their own progress as they go along. For those who may already be familiar with the language, it also features a collection of some 400 selected Igbo Proverbs and other words of wisdom.

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Book Detailed Description

This book is designed to assist anyone who has a genuine interest in learning to read, write and speak the Igbo language. It is especially intended to support and encourage all Igbo children growing up at home and in the Diaspora who have a strong desire to connect with their heritage language. Although intended to appeal to absolute beginners, it is in fact a fully fledged textbook and will be of immense value and interest to Igbo teachers and students at all levels of education.

The book is structured into two parts, namely:
  • Basic concepts
  • Essentials of Igbo grammar

Each part adequately complements the other. The basic concepts range from the Standard Igbo Alphabet to discussions of Colour, Numerals, Our Concepts of Time, Greetings, Situational Dialogues, Kinship terms, Prayers, Songs and Riddles, Household Objects, Animals, Our food, Musical Instruments, Health and Wellbeing and Parts of the body. Essentials of Igbo grammar on the other hand takes a look at the basic grammatical elements that drive communication in the Igbo language, namely: the recognised grammatical categories, the place of Tones in Igbo, Igbo sentence types, and many more. A familiarization with any number of the above concepts would no doubt place the learner in a good stead towards a general understanding and appreciation of the language as a whole.

It is fully tone-marked to aid pronunciation and also visually and copiously illustrated to aid understanding.
The Second Edition now comes with a collection of some 400 selected Igbo proverbs and other words of wisdom

Table Of Contents

  Title Page . . . . . . . . . i
Dedication . . . . . . . . . iii
Map: Ancient Igbo Trade Routes . . . . . . iv
Appreciation . . . . . . . . . x
Igbo Fact File . . . . . . . . . xii
Foods for Thought . . . . . . . . xiii
Foreword . . . . . . . . . xiv
Readers’ Comments . . . . . . . . xv
Preface . . . . . . . . . . xvi
About this book . . . . . . . . xxii



  • 1. The Igbo Alphabet . . . . . . . 2
  • 1.1 Double Consonants . . . . . . . 3
  • 1.2 Vowels . . . . . . . . . 4
  • 1.2.1 Vowel Harmony . . . . . . . 6
  • 1.3 Dialectal Variations . . . . . . . 7
  • 2. Àgwụ̀gwà (Colours) . . . . . . . 9
  • 3.  Ọ́nụ́ ọ́gụ̄ (Numerals) . . . . . . . 10
  • 3.1 Dialectal Variants . . . . . . . 14
  • 3.2 Counting in Cardinal Numbers . . . . . . 15
  • 3.3 Counting in Ordinal Numbers . . . . . . 17
  • 4.  Ógè (Time) . . . . . . . 19
  • 4.1 How we reckon with time . . . . . . 19
  • 4.2 Élékéré (The Clock) . . . . . . . 22
  • 4.3 Phrases associated with Time . . . . . . 23
  • 5.  Èkèlé (Greetings) . . . . . . . 24
  • 6.  Ụ́bụ̀bọ̀ (Dialogues) . . . . . . . 28
  • 6.1 At home: A woman and her children . . . . . 28
  • 6.2 At home: A man and his children . . . . . 29
  • 6.3 At home: A woman and her mate . . . . . 30
  • 6.4 On the road: A woman and her mate . . . . . 31
  • 6.5 Somewhere abroad: A Youth and her mate . . . . 32
  • 6.6 At the market . . . . . . . . 34
  • 7.  Introducing Self and others . . . . . . 35
  • 8.  How Old Are You? . . . . . . . 36
  • 9.  Òkwùkwé (Faith) . . . . . . . 37
  • 9.1 Ọ̀fọ́ (Traditional Prayer) . . . . . . 37
  • 9.2 Èkpéré (Prayer) . . . . . . . 38
  • 9.3 Èkpéré ǹkè Ónyé nwē ānyị̄ (Our Lord’s Prayer) . . . . 39
  • 9.4 Èkèlé Màrị́à (Hail Mary) . . . . . . 39
  • 10. Ábụ̄ òtùtó (Songs of Praise) . . . . . . 40
  • 11.  Égwú Ághā (War Chants) . . . . . . 42
  • 12.  Égwú Ọ́nwā (Moonlight Songs/Games) . . . . . 44
  • 13. Ágwụ̀gwá (Riddles) . . . . . . 54
  • 14. Ákụ̀kụ́ āhụ̄ (Parts of the body) . . . . . . 56
  • 15. Àhụ́ íkē (Health and Physical Wellbeing) . . . 59
  • 16. Èjìrìmárá (Personal Qualities and Attributes) . . . . 64
  • 17. Àgbụ̀rụ̀ (Kinship) . . . . . . . 70
  • 18. Ọ̀dị́dị́ ǹké ụ̀wà (Nature) . . . . . . 72
  • 19. Ụ́mụ̀ Ánụ́mànụ̀ (Animals) . . . . . . 73
  • 19.1 Élúlú (Livestock) . . . . . . 73
  • 19.2 Ánụ́ ọ́hị̄ā (Wild Animals) . . . . . . 74
  • 19.2.1 Ánụ́ jī ārā āzụ̀ ụ́mụ̀ (Mammals) . . . . . . 75
  • 19.2.2 Ánụ́ nā-ēyī akwa (Animals that lay eggs) . . . 76
  • 13.3 Ánụ́ ūfē (Flying Animals) . . . . . . 77
  • 19.4 Ụ́mụ̀ árị́rị́ (Creepy Crawlies) . . . . . . 78
  • 19.5 Ńkọ́wá ụ́mụ̀ ánụ́mànụ̀ (More about Animals) . . . . 79
  • 20. Íhé dị̄gāsị̄ n’ụ̄lọ̀ (Household Objects) . . . . . 88
  • 21. Ńgwá Égwū (Musical Instruments) . . . . 96
  • 22. Ńrí (Food) . . . . . . . . 97
  • 22.1 N’úbì (At the farm) . . . . . . . 97
  • 22.2 Íhé ōrīrī (Staple foods) . . . . . . . 99
  • 22.3. Ḿkpụ́rụ́ ósísí (Fruits) . . . . . . . 101
  • 22.4. Ákwụ́kwọ́ ńrī (Vegetables) . . . . . . 102
  • 22.5 Érímérí (Delicacies) . . . . . . . 103
  • 22.6 Ńkọ́wá Íhé Ōrīrī (More about foodstuff) . . . . 105
  • 22.6.1. Jí (Yam) . . . . . . . . 105
  • 22.6.2. Ákpụ́ (Cassava) . . . . . . . . 106
  • 22.6.3. Édè (Cocoyam) . . . . . . . . 107
  • 22.6.4. Òsìkápá (Rice) . . . . . . . . 108
  • 22.6.5. Ọ́kà (Maize) . . . . . . . . 109
  • 22.6.6 Ńkwụ́ (Oil palm) . . . . . . . 110
  • 22.6.7. Ọ́jị́ (Kola nut) . . . . . . . . 111
  • 23.  Ǹkà nà Ọ́rụ́ Ákā (Crafts and Enterprises) . . . . 112
  • 23.1 Ị́kọ̀ úgbó (Farming) . . . . . . . 112
  • 23.2 Ị́zụ̄ āhị̄ā (Buying and Selling) . . . . . . 113
  • 23.3 Íkwē ākwà (Textile weaving) . . . . . . 113
  • 23.4 Ítē n̄kwụ̄ (Wine tapping) . . . . . . 114


  • 1 Igbo Nouns . . . . . . . 116
    • 1.1 Building vocabulary: Derivation . . . . . 117
    • 1.2 Igbo Nouns in Grammar . . . . . . 120
    • 1.2.1 Nouns as Subject/Object . . . . . . 120
    • 1.2.2 Nouns as Instrument . . . . . . . 120
    • 1.2.3 Nouns as Indirect Object . . . . . . 121
    • 1.2.4 Nouns as Complement . . . . . . 121
  • 2 Igbo Pronouns . . . . . . . . 123
    • 2.1 Table of Personal and Impersonal Pronouns . . . . 123
    • 2.2.1 Subject Pronouns . . . . . . . 124
    • 2.2.2 Object Pronouns . . . . . . 125
    • 2.2.3 Possessive/Relative Pronouns . . . . . . 126
    • 2.2.4 Impersonal Pronouns . . . . . . . 127
    • 2.3 Inclusive and Exclusive Pronouns . . . . 127
    • 2.4 Reflexive Pronouns . . . . . . . 128
    • 2.5 Emphatic Pronouns . . . . . . . 129
  • 3  Igbo Verb Forms . . . . . . 131
    • 3.1 Verb Root . . . . . . . . 131
    • 3.2 Infinitives . . . . . . . . 134
    • 3.3 Participles . . . . . . . . 137
    • 3.4 Gerunds . . . . . . . . 142
  • 4  Igbo Verb Types . . . . . . . 145
    • 4.1 Verbs of Activity . . . . . . 145
    • 4.2 Verbs of State . . . . . . . 147
  • 5. Igbo Tones . . . . . . . 150
  • 6. Igbo Modifiers . . . . . . . . 156
  • 7. Associative Constructions . . . . . . 166
  • 8.  Igbo Connectives . . . . . . 168
  • 9.  Igbo Preposition . . . . . . 174
  • 9.1 Illustrations of Igbo Preposition . . . . . 176
  • 10. Igbo Sentence Types . . . . . . . 178
  • 10.1 Affirmatives . . . . . . . . 178
  • 10.2 The Simple Past . . . . . . . 182
  • 10.3 The Present Perfect . . . . . . . 184
  • 10.4 The Present Progressive . . . . . . 186
  • 10.5 Expressing the future . . . . . . . 188
  • 10.6 Negative Sentences . . . . . . . 190
  • 10.7 Interrogatives . . . . . . . . 193
  • 10.8 Commands . . . . . . . 198
  • 11.  Íjì íhé tụ̀nyéré íhē (Comparing Objects) . . . . 202
  • 12.  Expressing Plurality . . . . . . . 204
  • Appendix I: Igbo Verbal Complexes: Alphabetical Listing . . . 208-214
  • Appendix II: Igbo Words of Wisdom . . . . . . 215-244
  • Answers to riddles . . . . . . . . 245-246
  • Notes . . . . . . . . . . 247
  • Suggested Further Reading . . . . . . . 248
  • Useful websites . . . . . . . . 248
  • Image Sources . . . . . . . . 249-250

    List of Tables:

    • Igbo Alphabet . . . . . . . . . 2
    • Double Consonants . . . . . . . . 3
    • Vowels . . . . . . . . . 4
    • The 9th Vowel . . . . . . . . . 7
    • Colours . . . . . . . . . 9
    • Numerals . . . . . . . . . 10-12
    • Dialectal Variants . . . . . . . . 14
    • Counting in Cardinal numbers . . . . . . . 15-16
    • Counting in Ordinal numbers . . . . . . 17-18
    • Time . . . . . . . . . . 19-20
    • Greetings . . . . . . . . . 24-26
    • Health and Physical Wellbeing . . . . . . . 59-60
    • Personal Qualities and Attributes . . . . . . 64-66
    • Kinship Terms . . . . . . . . . 70
    • Nature . . . . . . . . . . 72
    • Igbo Nouns . . . . . . . . 116
    • Derivation . . . . . . . . 117-118
    • Personal and Impersonal Pronouns . . . . . 123
    • Inclusive Personal Pronouns . . . . . . 127
    • Exclusive Personal Pronouns . . . . . . 128
    • Reflexive Pronouns . . . . . . . . 128
    • Emphatic Pronouns . . . . . . . . 129
    • Infinitives . . . . . . . . . 134
    • Participles . . . . . . . . . 137
    • Participles/Complements . . . . . . . 140
    • Gerunds . . . . . . . . . 142
    • Gerunds as Modifiers . . . . . . . . 143
    • Verbs of Activity . . . . . . . 145
    • Verbs of State . . . . . . . . . 147
    • Igbo Tones . . . . . . . . 153
    • Igbo Modifiers . . . . . . . . . 157, 159
    • Igbo Connectives . . . . . . . 168
    • Igbo Preposition . . . . . . . . 174-175
    • The Simple Past . . . . . . . . 182
    • The Present Perfect . . . . . . . . 184
    • Negative Sentence Type . . . . . . . 191
    • Question Words . . . . . . . . 193-195
    • Commands . . . . . . . . 198
    • Pluralization . . . . . . . . . 205-206

Languages are not simply a collection of words. They are living, breathing organisms holding the connections and associations that define a culture. When a language becomes extinct, the culture in which it lived is also lost” Claude Hagege

In November 1999, the United Nations (through its lead agency on language preservation, UNESCO) proclaimed the International Mother Language Day, in recognition of the very serious threats now faced by many indigenous languages around the world as a direct consequence of globalization. Since then, IMLD has been celebrated annually around the world on the 21st of February, in memory of that day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh2.   Acknowledging the need to protect and preserve world languages, UNESCO observed that “on average, a language ceases to be spoken every two weeks, and within the space of a few generations, there is a chance that more than half the 7,000 languages spoken in the world will disappear, and, with them, an irreplaceable dimension of our knowledge and understanding of human thoughts”3.   Experts on the subject of language death have recognised that the future of a language may be threatened when its native speakers show no great desire to pass it onto their children for onward transmission to the next generations. According to Ethnologue:   “a language may also become endangered because it is being used for fewer and fewer daily activities and so loses the characteristically close association of the language with particular social functions. Since form follows function, languages which are being used for fewer and fewer functions also tend to lose structural complexity, which in turn may affect the perceptions of users regarding the suitability of the language for use in a broader set of functions. This can lead to a downward spiral which eventually results in the loss of the language altogether”4.

Sadly, both of these premises are now true of our own mother language, Igbo, which ironically still commands the envy of many as one of the three major Nigerian languages.   In the introduction to their Igbo-English Dictionary, Nicholas Awde and Onyekachi Wambu made the following observation:   “Despite the adoption of [the Onwu Orthography], Written Igbo has not really developed - mainly because Igbos (sic) passionately embraced the English language for pragmatic reasons. They saw it as the way to get ahead in the new scientific and political colonial world which confronted them...   This passion for English can be seen in the number of prominent Igbo writers ... who have gained worldwide reputations by writing African literature in English. The main consequence of this has been that the Igbo language has very little literature...”5   In his introduction to The Rise of the Igbo Novel, Ernest Emenyọnụ noted as follows:   “... It even seems there is not much enthusiasm any longer among the Igbo people to create literature in their vernacular... It has only fallen into the background because the present-day Igbo (not least, popular Igbo authors) have come to see and accept English not only as the official language of Nigeria, but also as the language of Igbo literature...”6   Lamenting on the same situation, Adiele Afigbo observed in the Ropes of Sand that:   “The Igbo resisted British political and economic domination but allowed its language to fall the abject victim of the English language. The clearest demonstration of this fact is that while there is hardly any Igbo literature to talk of, the Igbo elite are in the vanguard of those who created what is now popularly known as African literature in English...”7

Well, the sad irony is not just in the dearth of Igbo literature; it is more so in the fact that despite producing some of the best brains and finest writers of African history and literature in English, the Igbo nation has remained largely illiterate as far as reading and writing its own language is concerned. The average Igbo man not only finds reading and writing Igbo a challenging experience but also considers it wholly unnecessary, an attitude often summed up in that arrogant quip: “Èjì m̀ yà èmé gị́nị̄?” (“What do I need it for?”)   The result is that today, generations of Igbo children are growing up - or have grown up - in many parts of the world unable to speak a word of Igbo. And as if that was not bad enough, even children growing up in the heart of Igbo land and raised by “educated” Igbo parents now speak English as their first language.

As we have seen, it is not a secret that the educated Igbo man has a special fascination for the English language. It has become something of a status symbol and our measure of the next man’s level of education and intelligence. As adults, we communicate with one another in English, even in the most mundane conversations, no doubt to impress it upon our listeners that we too have been to school. If we could not do it in proper English, we do it in broken English. In fact, it seems that anything would do as long as it is not Igbo! For some, the mentality goes well beyond a mere fascination for English words. It is possibly only an Igbo man that could passionately argue that to give an Igbo child an Igbo name in this day and age is to permanently cripple the child’s life potentials in the wider world. What is so frightening is that we actually take ourselves seriously holding such views. That is why an adult would go out of his way to mutilate his ancestral family name to a point where it is no longer recognisable as an Igbo name. Or why another would drop the family name altogether and go for something which he considers more fanciful. All of which would go to support the view by Paul Lewis that when people begin to think of their language as useless, they think of their own identity as useless too8.   It is also not a secret that the Igbo man is so adventurous and so widely travelled, and has made a home even in the most inhospitable corners of the earth. As a result, he is at home with virtually every language of the world except his own. But come to think of it, the Igbo man is hardly the only bird in the world to have ever left its nest, nor the first to have come into contact with other cultures or learned the use of a foreign tongue. Asian birds of all plumes do it all the time. So do our Yoruba neighbours closer to home. In fact, the latter could possibly claim to have embraced the wider world for much longer than we have. Yet, neither they nor the various Asian nationalities would allow any exposures to other cultures interfere with their own sense of who they are. Which is why they never lose their tongues wherever they go. Which in turn explains why they tend to command such a collective vocal presence wherever you find them, often to the irritation of many.   Even the few conscientious Igbo who still make an effort now and again to speak Igbo find they can no longer communicate without unconsciously sliding back into English. This is because the essential Igbo vocabularies no longer come naturally to us at any but the most superficial and rudimentary level. Gone are the deep idioms and proverbs once credited as the very palm oil with which our words were eaten; the expressions through which we found acceptable explanations for various human frailties; the expressions that gave us an alternative handle to life’s harsh realities, and the expressions by which our forebears measured their own wells of wisdom and intelligence. For was it not said that when a man is given a proverb and he has to have it interpreted for him, then it becomes obvious that the bridal price that was paid to marry his mother was a total waste, “Ónyé á tụ̀ụ̀rụ̀ ílú, kọ́wáárá yā, màrá nà àkụ̀ é jìrì lụ́ọ́ ńnē yā fùrù èfù”.  

Even remembering the names of the most ordinary things in our world is now a huge struggle. As a simple example: butterfly is probably the most beautiful and most recognisable insect in the world. Yet, ask any ten Igbo men or women outside the shores of Igbo land what they called butterfly in Igbo and you are sure to find that about 80% of them would have forgotten within one year of leaving home. Which, perhaps, is why you would find butterfly listed on the internet and in an Igbo-English Dictionary as “ihe na-efe efe” (something that flies), as though we never had any proper names for the creature in our different villages. The truth is, we are all guilty of this gross amnesia and it is set to get a lot worse unless we can all come to our senses and contemplate the inevitable doom and take steps now to avert it.   What are we saying here? If those of us who swam the rivers and drank from the springs of the ancestral hills could be struck by such drastic amnesia, what hopes are there for our children who are already handicapped by the lack of exposure to the language in our various homes? Or, for that matter, their children and children’s children? And therein lies the tragedy. But I am not under any illusions here, as I am well aware that this kind of sentiment probably means not a great deal to a lot of people. I once overheard someone rationalise, in some casual conversation in London, that the reason he did not regret his children’s inability to speak Igbo was because he reckoned that by the time they would need to go “home”, there would be nobody left in his homestead who did not speak at least a smattering of English!   There are perhaps two tacit inferences that one can draw from this kind of rationalisation. One is that our friend has already resigned himself to what he considered the inevitable fate of the Igbo language once the few remaining folks who did not speak any English have passed away: it would either die with them, or cease to be of any practical use to the living. The other is that for as long as English was there to take its place, then communication could carry on regardless, and we would not have missed a thing!   Of course, we do not seek to imply here that every single educated Igbo man and woman out there has failed in their duties to instil the ways of their fathers in their offspring. Nor is it intended to suggest that every Igbo child out there is a complete and utter lost case. There are of course lots of children who are as fluent in Igbo as they are in English and other languages and are capable of perfect code-switching as occasions demand. I think therefore that it is important to give credit to whom it is due. For that reason, I duff my hat to any parents and guardians out there who will never have or feel a need to communicate with their children in a foreign language, at home or out of it. Among such people are my very good friends, Matthew and Chinyere Ụkanwa whose five children in London spoke Igbo as soon as they could talk, such that by the age of three they had all attained as much fluency and proficiency in Igbo as any child growning up in their native village, Okporo Ọlụ. Matthew and Chinyere were able to achieve this enviable feat because they had the wisdom and foresight to seek out the proverbial black goat when it was still daytime. But the point here is that people like Chinyere and Matthew are now very few and far between.

I guess that those of us who could not provide a similar enabling environment to our own children have got our different excuses. Perhaps we were so overwhelmed by the pressures of our individual pursuits or the demands of our immediate circumstances that we just could never find the time or energy. Or perhaps we did make an effort but it just was never enough to stimulate or sustain any level of fluency in the children. Or we just found it more convenient to speak to them in the dominant language of our immediate environment. Or worse still, we made a conscious decision never to speak Igbo to them, either because we believed it would interfere with their acquisition of our chosen language, or because we felt that Igbo did not promise as much prestige and practical prospects in the wider world as, say, the English language.   To those who had the desire but could not help the situation, I would say these simple words: there is still a chance for some redemption as it is never too late to begin to make amends. And the way to start is by actually speaking the language to our children at home. It may be hard-going, especially if the children are already past a certain stage in their early cognitive developments. If it helps, get them enrolled in a Saturday School for at least a couple of hours so they get to interact with other children in the language, and then reinforce the effort with more interaction at home.   It is perhaps common knowledge that language provides a vehicle for communication. What may not be so obvious is that, in a cyclical fashion, language in turn feeds on communication for its own survival. That means that a language will cease to exist once communication ceases to operate in that language. On an individual level, that is what could happen to a child who is taken into a new linguistic environment before the age of five with no sustained effort to maintain the original language. It would then be only a matter of time before the old data is permanently replaced by a new. On a wider scale, this could involve an entire population losing its language due to a superimposition of another language by a dominant social group. Ask the former native speakers of these languages of the Middle Belt: Ajawa, Kpati, Kubi, Auyokawa and Teshenawa,9 all of which starved to death because everyone took to speaking Hausa, the dominant language of Northern Nigeria.  



To those of us who may have vowed never to speak Igbo to our children, I proffer my sincere sympathy. But it may help to remember that for all the profits and prestige that we have found in our adopted languages, there is a greater profit and prestige in keeping faith with our own, because that is what makes us who we are. Think about it this way: people all over the world are known by what they speak. Languages did not come about by accidents, or even by personal designs; they form an integral part of what defines a people and sets them apart from their neighbours and all others. That means that we would have ceased to exist as a people the day the world is greeted with the Obituary Announcement that the Igbo language is dead. We just would not be Igbo without Igbo! It will not matter one bit that some of us may still be walking the face of the earth, happily or foolishly carrying the banners or waving the flags of another man’s language like we already do today.   It is not for nothing that the Igbo said that the cow never quite knows the value of its tail until it is chopped off. “Éhí ámāghị̄ ūrù ọ́dụ̀ yá bàrà, rúó m̀gbè é jìrì bépụ̄ ya”.   In the words of Paul Lewis, “When a language dies, there is always a social and cultural ache that remains, where people for generations realize that they have lost something"10.

This book is intended as an essential companion for anyone with a genuine desire and interest in learning the Igbo Language. It is especially hoped that the generations of Igbo children growing up in the Diaspora will find this a useful stepping stone, with a careful guidance from committed parents and guardians, towards a reconnection and re-engagement with their heritage language. It is also hoped that this will serve a useful reference material for anyone teaching the Igbo Language in any formal education setting.   It is not a collection of ready-made pass-phrases. It is rather an attempt at a simple explanation of the way the Igbo language works, with some useful examples that I hope will encourage the learner to formulate their own phrases to communicate different realities as they go along.  

  I believe that the key to learning a new language is having a vocal role model, whether it comes in the form of a person or in the form of a pre-recorded audio material. While I hope that the learner will be able to get the necessary support that they may need from people around them: teachers, parents, guardians, partners, or friends as the case may be, I also think that there is a room for independent learning. That is why we have now created an online interactive audio package to assist the absolute beginner. This robust and comprehensive tool is available at: www.ezeogupublication.co.uk. It is interactive because it relies on user-inputs and encourages the learner to click any words, phrases or objects they wish to know, listen to the voice that is generated, and then repeat what they hear. There is no greater way to learn a language than by actually speaking it. The package is ideal for independent learning, but can also be quite useful for group participations, whether it be at home or in small-sized classes. It is mobile friendly and quite compatible with most gadgets that have internet capabilities.

  The translations (in the book as in the audio package) have been carefully chosen to ensure that the meanings are as close as they can get. The underlying interpretation of a concept is always more important than the surface transliteration of individual words and phrases, for not only is Igbo structurally different from English, it also shares a different thought pattern.  

  Igbo is a highly tonal language, as it relies on Tones to distinguish between otherwise identical words and phrases. There is a high chance that, at the first attempt, a lot of the expressions will be given the wrong tones and the wrong pronunciations, and hence the wrong meanings. This is to be expected of anyone unfamiliar with the language. It is for this reason that I have tone marked all the examples used, in the hope that this will provide a useful guide to the uninitiated. There is nothing more challenging in learning a language than not knowing how the words and phrases on a printed page are voiced.  

Key to Notations:


In isolated words, there are three basic tones to watch out for. These are represented as follows:  
  Low Tone: [ ` ]
High Tone: [ ´ ] and
Downstep [ - ]



àlà land
áká hand
àzụ́ back
ázụ̀ fish
bíkō please

 To strike the right notes, it would be best to think of these as the equivalents of the musical notations popularly known as [Dò], [Ré] and [Mī], thus:   àlà [DòDò]
áká [RéRé]
àzụ́ [DòRé]
ázụ̀ [RéDò]
bíkō [RéMī]


Tone Marking Convention:

I recognise that some experts may prefer to leave all High tones unmarked, and some may also mark only the first in a line of successive Downsteps, whatever their pitch differences. I also acknowledge that some may prefer not to mark any tones at all, in the belief that it creates less clutter on the page. However, as this book is intended to guide the uninitiated, I consider it more helpful to apply tone marks on every possible syllable. The only exception is where the standard tone marks are not enough to account for all the different pitch changes as words mix and mingle in phrases and sentences. This is especially so when we have a succession of Downsteps where some are of a different pitch level than others, and it would be misleading to treat them as though they were the same, more like trying to speak Igbo with a foreign accent. As an example, the phrase “ụmụ anyị” (our children) is tone marked as “ụ́mụ̄ anyị”, not “ụ́mụ̄ ānyị̄”, because the Downsteps on anyị are on a different pitch level than that on the syllable immediately preceding them.   Consider another example. In the phrase “Ágāālā m” (I have already gone), the pitch on the m (certainly a Downstep) is a step lower than the three preceding Downsteps. Contrast this with the phrase “Ágwālā m̄” (Don’t tell me), where all the three Downsteps, including the m̄ are of the same pitch level.   It is important to bear in mind that whether they are on the same or different terrace levels, once a chain of Downsteps sets in, it will not be broken until there is either a natural pause in speech or an intervening low tone.   With these observations in mind, it means that wherever we have left a syllable unmarked, it is because the affected Downsteps have dropped to a new level and it would be misleading to use any of the standard tone marks in those contexts. Otherwise, we have marked every possible syllable in the hope that this would aid pronunciation. Applying tone marks to all possible syllables in this way accounts for not just the lexical but also the structural use of tones in Ìgbò. It would be counter productive if we selectively applied some tone marks and expected the learner - who may be an absolute beginner - to work out the rest for him/herself. It would be equally misleading to leave all tones unmarked, as it poses a big challenge to anyone unfamiliar with the language. For this reason, I share the views of Íkóńnē, Ọ̀hàíkē and Yusuf1 on the subject. For more details on Ìgbò Tones, see Part II, Chapter 5.  

In general, the variety of Igbo presented in this book is the Standard model which has been universally adopted because of dialectal differences. However, where necessary, I have cited examples from different dialects in the spirit of celebrating the vast richness of the language. Sometimes the difference between dialectal variants may be just a simple case of consonant/vowel shifts, e.g. name: áhà, [áfà], [ávà], [ẹ́hà]; thing: íhé, [ífé], [ívé], [íyé], they: há [fá], [wá], [wé], [nwó]; body: àhụ́, [àrụ́], [ụ́hụ́], [ẹ̀shị́]; face: íhú, [írú], [íhwú]; market: áhị́á, [áfị́á], [ávị́á], [áshị́á], [áshwá]; etc. Sometimes there may be completely different words for specific concepts, e.g. leg: ụ́kwụ́, [ọ́kpà]; bottom: íkè, [òtùlà], [òtùlè], [ọ́hụ́]; clothes: ákwà, ùwé, [ḿwéyí], [àfè], [èfè], [ǹjà], [úkpò]; peanut: àhụ́ékérē, [àpàpá], [ọ̀kpàm̀pá]; maggot: [ìkpúrì], [ìkpúrù], [àgụ́], [ǹdù], [ḿpú], etc. Other times, the words may be the same but the tonal renditions may vary across dialects, e.g. night: ányàsị̀; ànyásị̀; ànyàsị̀; ànyáàsụ̀.  

Some forms no doubt have gained greater currency over time and are therefore more popular than others. But each one is just as valid. Tonal variations are irrelevant as long as they do not constitute any differences in meanings across dialects. For differences involving consonant/vowel shifts or totally different words, I have put the dialectal variants in square brackets for clarity. It is by celebrating varieties in this way that languages generate synonyms and enrich their vocabularies, reducing the need for loan words. In non-formal situations, there is no such thing as the right or wrong dialect. Every dialect is a different but legitimate variation of its parent language and therefore must never be suppressed. It is only fair in today’s world that no language form, whatever its historical advantages, should have the right or the ability to eclipse another. Nor should anyone feel that they have to apologise for speaking the way they do. Nor for that matter, should the dialectal differences become an impediment to communication, or an excuse for us to think of any borrowed medium as a way out.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is a showcase of some very basic concepts, ranging from the Igbo alphabet and the counting system to Igbo greetings; Rhymes and folk songs; Riddles; Prayers; the clock and parts of the body. Some of the rhymes may be untranslatable and may even sound silly and meaningless. However, you may find them a useful distraction from the monotony of the text, and any child unfamiliar with them will no doubt enjoy the novelty. It is hoped that many parents will find in them some fond reminders of their own childhoods, from those nearly forgotten moonlight games, and can take their children down those memory lanes.   This section also has a useful array of objects, animals and foods in the Igbo world. You will enjoy a pleasure trip to the farm and the kitchen all at once. I have chosen all the objects featured in this book in the hope that they will help to hold the readers’ attention and interest for long enough to make them want to take a closer interest in the subject matter of this book, our Ìgbò Language.   The second part of the book is all about the Essentials of Ìgbò Grammar. The approach has been deliberately simple, a description/explanation rather than a technical analysis of the various grammatical concepts. Efforts have been made to keep the technical terms to a minimum as this can often get in the way of learning itself and leave the learners more confused than they started. It is possibly one of the reasons a lot of adult Igbo speakers find reading and writing Ìgbò rather challenging.   It is my belief that anyone with a genuine interest will find reading this book a rewarding experience. It may not be totally exhaustive in its scope. No book ever is. But the examples have been chosen to provide a talking point around which communication can begin to flourish in many homes where the use of Igbo was hitherto non-existent or severely limited. I hope that by the time you are through with the first section we would have done enough to hold your attention and interest for long enough to make you want to find out more. Whatever your level of interest and expertise in the subject, I hope that you will find enough in the menu to satisfy your individual thirst and curiosity.  

The responsibility for ensuring that continuity falls on the current generation of Ndịigbo, the leaders and the led, because if we didn’t, no one else would. As Sylvia Leith-Ross, a young British researcher, argued in January 1939, the ultimate future of the Igbo language must lie in the hands of the Igbo himself, and this will depend on (a) his attitude towards the teaching of the language and (b) whether he loves the language well enough to want to transform it from just the spoken language of his past to a vibrant written language capable of expressing the wider thought of his future.2.... (paraphrasing and emphasis, mine). Those arguments are as valid today as they were 77 years ago. The title of the book has been chosen as an appeal to our collective conscience and sense of patriotism. It says to the reader: “If you call this language yours, and you love it so much, then you cannot afford to watch it die”. Who knows, Igbo might even one day become the language of medical and space science, but it is unlikely to ever get there if there is no guarantee that it will even live from one generation to the next. In order for it to have any kind of future at all, it demands to be spoken and written and read, just like any other language we may have adopted for whatever pragmatic reasons. The language itself is not asking for a great deal. It just demands to be taken seriously by its native speakers. It demands to be continuously enriched through constant usage and through the creation of authentic literature in every branch of human knowledge: the Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. Above all, it demands to be passed on to the next generations, for that is the only passport they will ever need to identify themselves in the world as Ụmụ Ìgbò. If it were down to them, every child would love a chance to be able to speak their heritage language as soon as they could talk, but they need someone around them to show them how and why.     


January 2016
  Ezike Bon Ugwu

Ezike Bon Ugwu was educated at St James’ Catholic Primary School, Aku; Boys’ Secondary School, Aku and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His journey with the Igbo Language began with a brief stint in 1982 as a Guest News Translator and Broadcaster at the Anambra Broadcasting Corporation (ABC1), Enugu. In 1988, along with fellow alumni, Ikechukwu Nnaji and Chinyere Ọfụrụm, he pioneered the teaching of the Igbo Language at the Ondo State College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti. He was a co-contributor to the book: IGBO - Nigerian Certificate in Education Series, published for the Ondo State College of Education in 1990. He currently lives in London with his wife and three daughters and works with a Local Government.

Here is an audio excerpt of the welcome speech he presented during the launch of this Edition

The book presents to the outside world the natural Igbo environment, plus the diversity, richness and the productivity of the Igbo language. Bon Ugwu took Igboland on a cruise. His illustrations with real images are attractive and his preference of dialectal Igbo words to ones borrowed from other languages is didactic. His use of the grammar-translation method is very impressive. Readers will no doubt learn Igbo with this book, but they will also learn better English from his translations. I strongly recommend this book to all Igbo families not only in the diaspora but also here at home. I also recommend it to peoples of other races and ethnic groups who may wish to learn Igbo

The book presents to the outside world the natural Igbo environment, plus the diversity, richness and the productivity of the Igbo language. Bon Ugwu took Igboland on a cruise. His illustrations with real images are attractive and his preference of dialectal Igbo words to ones borrowed from other languages is didactic. His use of the grammar-translation method is very impressive. Readers will no doubt learn Igbo with this book, but they will also learn better English from his translations. I strongly recommend this book to all Igbo families not only in the diaspora but also here at home. I also recommend it to peoples of other races and ethnic groups who may wish to learn Igbo

The book presents to the outside world the natural Igbo environment, plus the diversity, richness and the productivity of the Igbo language. Bon Ugwu took Igboland on a cruise. His illustrations with real images are attractive and his preference of dialectal Igbo words to ones borrowed from other languages is didactic. His use of the grammar-translation method is very impressive. Readers will no doubt learn Igbo with this book, but they will also learn better English from his translations. I strongly recommend this book to all Igbo families not only in the diaspora but also here at home. I also recommend it to peoples of other races and ethnic groups who may wish to learn Igbo

The book presents to the outside world the natural Igbo environment, plus the diversity, richness and the productivity of the Igbo language. Bon Ugwu took Igboland on a cruise. His illustrations with real images are attractive and his preference of dialectal Igbo words to ones borrowed from other languages is didactic. His use of the grammar-translation method is very impressive. Readers will no doubt learn Igbo with this book, but they will also learn better English from his translations. I strongly recommend this book to all Igbo families not only in the diaspora but also here at home. I also recommend it to peoples of other races and ethnic groups who may wish to learn Igbo

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