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In Setswana, the vowels are pronounced as in the following English words:

  • 'a' as in 'car'
  • 'e' as in 'let'
  • 'i' as in 'meet'
  • 'o' as in 'go'
  • 'u' as in 'school'

There are also a few combinations of consonants which are pronounced very differently from English:

  • 'g' = an 'h' sound deep in your throat, like the end of "loch"
  • 'kg' = k + an 'h' sound deep in your throat
  • 'kh' = k + some air
  • 'ph' = p + some air
  • 'th' = t + some air (NOT like English "th")
  • 'ny' = think of isolating the 'ny' in 'canyon'
  • 'tl' = think of isolating the 'tl' in 'Atlanta'
  • 'tlh' = 'tl' + some air
  • 'ts' - think of isolating the 'ts' in 'itself'
  • 'tsh' = 'ts' + some air
  • 'nts' = n + 'ts' sound
  • 'š' = sh


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kereke church
terekere tractor
tsela road
go bona to see/get
phologolo animal
diphala impalas
thata very much/hard/difficult/brave
tlhapa wash
tsala friend
gape again/also/too
sekgoa English
mma woman/mother
ntlo house
ngaka doctor

Accents in written Setswana

You will occasionaly see accents (eg ê) in written Setswana. š is regularly used, but the others are not.

In some dictionaries and learning texts (such as Heinmann "Setswana ya Mophato" by Emang Butale, Mpho Mmopi, Dimakatso Mahlanza ISBN 0-7962-0156-0) circumflex accents are used on ô ê to indicate low toned o and e (????)

Because use of accents makes it difficult to search for words, (eg searching for "yone" will not produce a result for "yônê") in this wiki, no accents other than š should be used (unless a non accented form is also given). However, both forms are used in the dictionary.

Vowel Sounds

High i u
Mid e o
ê ô
Low a