The letters in Maltese are as follows with their IPA and a description:
Essentially the English “CH” sound like in “Cheese”
- Pronounced like English “J” in “Jew”
Essentially the English hard G sound in words like Ground and Girl, but not like German and Gene
- “Long pharyngealization”, which means slightly restricting back of throat
- Simply not pronounced
- Pronounced like English “Y”, English “J” is pronounced as “Ġ”
Qq /ʔ/ “Glottal stop”, Which means temporarily closing the back of the throat
Xx /ʃ/, /ʒ/
- Pronounced like “SH” in “Shell”, not as English “X”
Zz /t͡s/, /d͡z/
- Pronounced like “TS” in “Tsunami”
EXAMPLES TAKEN FROM TEACH YOURSELF MALTESE & LEARN MALTESE WHY NOT
|aj||igh from high, right, fight|
|aw||ow from 'cow,' 'bow,' 'how.'|
|ew||A combination of a short ‘e’ and ‘w’||E.g. Mewt - Death|
|ej||ay as in 'may,' 'lay,' 'day.'|
|ij||A combination of 'i' and a lengthened 'y'||E.g. hija - iyya|
|għ + i||Same pronunciation as ew|
|iw||A combination of short 'i' and 'w'||E.g. liwja - a bend|
|għ + u||Same pronunciation as aw|
|għ + h||Pronunced as 'ħħ'||E.g. tagħha - taħħa|
Closer look at Maltese script
Interestingly, Maltese scripting has gone through various phases and used to include these letters:
Identical to Ċ, is a Cyrillic letter used by Slavic languages
Identical to X, looks similar to Cyrillic Ш, but also Arabic ش or س (With phonetic values X and S respectively)
Here are all Maltese consonants with their respective Arabic counterpart:
- Bb ب
- Ċċ چ (Not standard)
- Dd د
- Ff ف
- Gg ج (Egyptian Arabic)
- Ġġ ج
- GĦ غ
- Ħħ ح
- Hh ه
- Jj ي
- Kk ﻙ
- Ll ل
- Nn ن
- Mm م
- Pp پ (Not standard)
- Rr ر
- Qq ع
- Ss س
- Tt ت
- Vv ڤ (Not standard)
- Xx ش
- Ww و
- Zz ﻙ (Najdi Arabic)
- Żż ز
This makes Maltese one of the easiest European languages to write using Arabic script, despite the Italian influence which forces for non standard Arabic characters to be used.
The definite article essentially refers to the word “the”, which is used to denote the noun is a specific object or entity. To form “the” in Maltese, we will need to classify the language’s consonants into 2 categories; Xemxin (Sun consonants) and Qamrin (Moon consonants).
Xemxin (sun consonants): ċ d n r s t x ż z
Qamrin (moon consonants): b f ġ g għ h ħ j k l m p q v w
What makes some letters sunny and others not? Ask the Arabs, I haven’t the slightest clue. With Xemxin, the definite article is formed by adding the first letter of the noun onto the letter “i”. So words starting with N have the article “In-” attached to the word as a prefix, those with S have “Is-”, those with Ċ “Iċ-” and so forth.
- Ir-raġel (The man)
- Ix-xemx (The sun)
Moon letters always use “Il-” as the definite article, attached to the word as a prefix, how simple!
- Il-mara (The woman)
- Il-kelba (The dog)
Words starting with two consonants, or with a vowel have the article “L-” attached to the word as a prefix. This is also the case if the previous word finishes in a vowel, as dropping the initial “i” makes a smoother sound.
- L-vjaġġ (The journey)
- L-innu (The hymn)
Maltese has two genders; Male and Female. Gender is important as only adjectives of the same gender of the noun can be paired together (generally).
Some nouns can change gender in some situations, for example the word for “dog” changes gender based on the actual gender of the dog in question (if there is one). As stated, the noun and adjective must match genders, and so being able to change the adjective’s gender to fit the noun is an essential skill. Here are some common rules for performing this:
- If the male adjective ends in a consonant, add an “a” to the end of the male adjective
- If the male adjective ends in an “i”, add “ja” instead
- If the male adjective ends in an “u”, replace the “u” with an “a”
- Qawwi (Beautiful [male])
- Qawwija (Beautiful [female])
- Sabbiħ (Beautiful [male])
- Sabbiħa (Beautiful [female])
- Stupidu (Stupid [male])
- Stupida (Stupid [female])
There are exceptions to better suit Maltese phonetics, and vowels (in typical Semitic fashion) are often omitted, however after practice and experience these will become no trouble. It should also be noted that if the noun is the subject of a verb (the object or person doing the verb), its gender will determine whether which conjugation it will take, but more on this later on, no need to worry now!
Plurals denote several of a noun (Cars, rather than car. Men rather than man). Plural nouns also require the adjective to be in plural form as well, in addition to being in the same gender. For Italian nouns and adjectives, an “i” is added onto the end of the word, or if the final letter of the word is already a vowel, that final vowel is replaced with the “i”
- Karozza -> Karozzi
They come after the verb
A comparative is a form of adjective that describes the noun it is linked with as having a higher degree of something in comparison to others. For instance, “ber” is a comparative of “b”, as “stronger” implies one entity has a higher degree of strength than another.
Some words will have their own comparative form that will need to be learned, however for words without there are still options. Using the word “more” before the adjective forms the comparative for adjective deprived of a comparative.
- Iktar; Aktar More
A superlative refers to an adjective that modifies a noun to describe that not only does it have a higher degree of something like the comparative, but that it has the HIGHEST degree of something, like “best” in comparison to just “ber”, which only describes that one entity has more strength than another, while “strongest” implies no entity can even rival with it.
To form the superlative, one adds “L-aktar” before the adjective they wish to make into the superlative.
- L-aktar ġdid
- L-aktar qadim
Maltese uses Semitic roots to derive meanings for words. Roots are based on 3 consonants (called radicals), but infrequently, 4 or 5. Let’s look at some examples:
The root √K-T-B, is used for words related to writing.
- KTieB - A noun meaning book
- KiTTieB - A noun meaning writer
- KiTeB - A verb meaning to write.
Semitic are not just prevalent in Maltese, but also other Semitic languages like Hebrew or Arabic. Words in these languages, with the K-T-B root, will also give you words relating to writing.
When conjugating in Maltese, a verb can be conjugated in four ways that will be known as the
Singular Imperative (SI)
Conjugation for present tense when only ony one person or entity performs a verb (Conjugation for imperfect singular)
Plural Imperative (PI)
Conjugation for present tense when several people or entities performs a verb (Conjugation for imperfect plural)
Papa (this is a nickname I’ll denote for this conjugation)
Conjugation for past tense when the speaker or listener (1st person and 2nd person) performs a verb (Conjugation for perfect 1st and 2nd person)
Conjugation for past tense when someone other than speaker or listener (1st person and 2nd person) performs a verb (Conjugation for perfect 3rd person)
These forms will serve as base terminology for the rest of this chapter.
Imperfect (present tense)
the imperfect tense refers to verbs that are done in the present. It is formed by getting SI for when one subject acts out the verb and PI when several subjects act it out, and adding the appropriate suffixes to denote WHO did the verb. The prefixes added for the imperfect are as follows:
- N –> ‘I’ [with SI]; We [with PI]
- T –> ‘You’; ‘She’ [with SI]
- J –> ‘He’ [with SI]; ‘They’ [with PI]
There are vague rules that can be used to form PI based on the SI:
- If SI ends in a vowel and then a consonant, swap the last two letters around and make last letter “u” to make root 2.
- If SI ends in 2 consonants in a row, [SI] + “u” = [PI]
- If SI ends in “a” or “e”, then [SI] + “w” = [PI]
- If SI ends in “i”, then [SI] - “i” + “u” = [PI]
Perfect (past tense)
the perfect tense refers to verbs that have already been done in the past, the past tense. Imperfect uses suffixes to denote who performed the verb, while the perfect uses suffixes instead, as well as requiring the mamma and Papa conjugations
- [Papa] + “t” = I [perfect verb]; You [perfect verb]
- [Mamma] = He [perfect verb]
- [Mamma] - [last consonant] + “et” = She [perfect verb] - [Papa] + “na” = We [perfect verb]
- [Papa] + “tu” = You [plural; perfect verb]
- [Mamma] - [last consonant] + “u” = They [perfect verb]
Some verbs that end in an “a” or “e” (Italian verbs included here), as well as some shorter verbs follow a slightly different pattern, as demonstrated below:
- [Papa] + “jt” = I [perfect verb]; You [perfect verb]
- [Mamma] = He [perfect verb]
- [Mamma] + “t” = She [perfect verb]
- [Papa] + “jna” = We [perfect verb]
- [Papa] + “jtu” = You [plural; perfect verb]
- [Mamma] + “w” = They [perfect verb] NOTE: Sometimes “għu” is used instead of “w” (usually for verbs with GĦ as their final root)
The imperative denotes that a verb is a command, an instruction to do a verb, and can be directed to a singular or several entities. This is by far the easiest mood, as the singular form is simply the SI and the plural is the PI.
To turn a verb into it’s negative, The auxiliary verb “ma” is added before the verb. If the verb starts with a vowel, this is shortened to “m’” and is attached directly to the verb. Then the letter “x” is added onto the end of the verb.
- M’inix kuntent. (I am not happy.)
- Ma tiekolx ċikkulata? (You don’t eat chocolate?)
- Ma jifhmux it-Taljan. (They don’t understand Italian.)
Subject pronouns are important in Maltese as they serve many purposes. Since Maltese (like Arabic) makes limited use of the copula (“To be”), subject pronouns often link words together in the same way as English “is”. They can also be used before verbs to add more emphasis to them, which can make your Maltese sound more authentic when properly employed.
- Jien; Jiena –> I (am)
- Int; Inti –> You (are)
- Hu; Huwa ♂ –> He (is); It (is)
- Hi; Hija ♀ –> She (is); It (is)
- Aħna –> We (are)
- Intom (Plural) –> You (are)
- Huma –> They (are)
- Jiena sfortunatament xiħ. (I am unfortunately an old man.)
- Inti kilt l-Ħobż?! (YOU ate the bread?!)
- Hija sabbiħa hafna… (She’s so beautiful…)
The direct object is best described as the “victim” of a verb. It has been said that subject pronouns are often the entity executing the verb, but the direct object represents rather what is on the receiving end of a verb.
- ni Me
- -ok You
- -nu Him
- -ha Her
- -na Us
- -kom You [plural]
- -hom Them
- Inħobbok. (I love you)
- Int tiekol il-ħobż?! (YOU ate the bread?!)
- Hija sabbiħa ħafna… (She’s so beautiful…)
- -li Me
- -lok You
- -lu Him
- -ilha Her
- -ilna Us
- -ilhom Them
- -ilkom You [plural]
The preposition is followed by the definite article. Prepositions are also joined to sun letters.
- Bi -> in
- Bi -> with
- Ma’-> with
- Ta’-> of
- Sa -> as far as
- Minn -> From; Than
- Għal -> for
- Lil -> to
- Bħal -> like
To state the owner or origin of an object or entity, possessive pronouns become the main way of describing the ownership of nouns. In Maltese, to link the ownership of one noun to another, “Ta’” can simply be used in between to mean “of”. Otherwise, inflections of “Ta’” (as seen below) and possessive suffixes to add to nouns must be used to describe possession. Here are the required words:
- Ta’ -> Of
- Tiegħi -> My; Mine
- Tiegħek -> Your; Yours
- Tiegħu -> His; Its [male]
- Tagħha -> Her [possessive]; Hers; Its [female]
- Tagħkom -> Your [plural]; Yours [plural]
- Tagħna -> Our; Ours
- Tagħhom -> Their; Theirs
- -i; -ja -> My [noun suffix]
- -ok; -ek; -k -> Your [noun suffix]
- -u; -h -> His [noun suffix]
- -ha -> Her [possessive; noun suffix]
- -na -> Our [noun suffix]
- -on -> Their [noun suffix]
- -kom -> Your [plural; noun suffix]
There are irregular cases as usual, these patterns will become apparent as you learn.
In English, we often use “this” and “that” to give more context to a noun that is close and distant respectively (in terms of distance or time). Maltese is capable of the same grammatic function, except it will require matching the correct counterpart to the correct gender and plurality of the noun in question. Here are the translations:
- Dan -> This [male]
- Dak -> That [female]
- Din -> This [male]
- Dik -> That [female]
- Dawk -> Those
- Dawn -> These
That’s a wrap!
Wow, you’ve done well!