Tswana: Theme 1 - Greetings and Courtesies

Previous greetings and courtesies | asking for help, emergencies | numbers, days, months, seasons | question words, quantities, weather and time | banks, taxis and restaurants | transportation and finding your way | touring and socializing | at the filling station | the human body and ailments | shopping and sport Next

Click here to download a printable version of this theme.


The most important and effective way to reach out to a person is to greet him/her in his/her own language.  In true Setswana tradition greeting is a very important procedure.  It is a structured encounter and it is considered ill-mannered not to greet either a friend or a stranger in passing. Ubuntu (humanity towards others) plays a prominent role in the African culture.  It is therefore not sufficient to merely say “Dumelang!”.  You should also take the time to enquire about the other person’s well-being. “Le kae?” is actually a plural form, which indicates that you are inquiring about the person and his/her family members.  It is also an indication of respect.   

Who greets first?

The person who arrives somewhere is supposed to greet those present first - status or seniority does not play a role.  Should it happen that two people arrive at the same place simultaneously, e.g. if they meet in town, it does not matter who greets first. 

Forms of address:

When greeting a person older than yourself (more or less your parents’ age),  rra 'father' would be used for a man and mma 'mother' for a woman.  For greetings of people of your grandparents’ age rramogolo 'grandfather', and mmemogolo‘grandmother’ are used as forms of address.  Greeting someone of your own age you would address her as  mma, 'misses/miss', and rra, 'sir' for the male counterpart.

Saying goodbye:

The person leaving first, should be the first to say goodbye.  It would be impolite of the other person(s) to terminate the conversation first.  When saying goodbye to one person you would say Tsamaya sentle (‘Go well’) or Sala sentle (‘Stay/remain well’).  When saying goodbye to more than one person, Tsamayang sentle or Salang sentle would be used.