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Agya Nan vs. Agyanan

At the surface level, agya nan and agyanan look very similar. Heck, one might even pass as a typo of the other. But these two Twi terms are very different, and the difference goes way beyond just the presence or absence of space in either of them.

The Meaning of “Agya Nan”

This two-worded expression is quite safe, I promise. ‘Agya’ means ‘father’ in English. This is only one of the few names that you can use to refer to your dad.

So I can say, for example:

ɔyɛ m’agyahe is my father
Ɛwɔ Agya, Ɔba, ne Honhom Kronkron din muin the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
agya bɛyɛfather will do it

Other Twi terms that we use to refer to our dads include ‘papa’ and ‘se’. So I can say, for example:

me papa ho yɛ denmy father is strong
me papa waree me maame afe apem ahankron aduɔwɔtwe baako mumy father married my mother in the year 1981
wo se wɔ fie?is your father home?

The use of ‘se’ can come off offensive, but we’ll get to that later. For now, you’d be better off sticking with ‘agya’ or ‘papa’.

The ‘Nan’ in ‘Agya Nan’ is the Twi term for the leg(s), the body part. I put (s) in parenthesis after leg because almost all the Twi body part names do not have separate plural forms. For the most part, the same form is used as both singular and plural.

So, ‘agya nan’ simply means dad’s leg(s). I told you it’s a safe expression, didn’t I?

So I can say, for example:

m’agya nan wowamy dad’s legs are long
Kwame de abaa bɔɔ n’agya nanKwame hit his dad’s legs with a stick
meka m’agya nanI swear by my father’s leg(s)

The Meaning of “Agyanan”

Now this is where things get a little interesting… To ensure that you understand this properly, let’s do a little breakdown.

The main parts of the term ‘agyanan’ are gya and nan. So we have:

  • a, which is a nominal prefix. This is used to form a noun out of all that come after it.
  • gya, which is a verb. This means ‘to leave behind’
  • nan, which is the same nan that we looked at under ‘agya nan’. So, nan here also means leg(s)

Thus, if we put the above together, we get ‘the leaving behind of (one’s) leg(s)’. This doesn’t make any sense! I agree with you, but hang on a second.

‘the leaving behind of (one’s) leg(s)’ here is just the literal meaning. ‘Agyanan’ actually comes from the idiomatic phrasal verb gya nan. While, again, gya nan would literally translate as ‘to leave behind (one’s) leg(s)’, this phrasal verb is used figuratively to mean to defecate… to poop… to do a number two… to shit.

And, if you don’t already know, we’re able to form nouns out of most Twi phrasal verbs. The nouns that are formed out of Twi phrasal verbs are typically gerunds. They convey the-act-of-doing/being meanings of their respective verbs.

For example:

to pono
to throw a party
the act of throwing a party; party NOUN
di dwa
to trade
the act of trading; trade NOUN
si nnoɔma
to wash
the act of washing; washing NOUN

Back to pooping. So if the phrasal verb gya nan figuratively means to poop, based on above, the noun agyanan that’s formed out of this phrasal verb will mean ‘the act of pooping’, or simply ‘poop’ as a noun.

So ‘agya nan’ means ‘dad’s leg(s)’, and ‘agyanan’ means ‘poop’, or ‘faeces’ , if you will. Isn’t this wonderful? Two words that look so similar in form yet so different in meaning.

Difference Between “Agya Nan” and “Agyanan” in Speech

Now you know the difference between “agya nan” and “agyanan”, but only in writing. How can you tell the difference between the two when it’s spoken to you, or you want to say either yourself?

You can tell the difference by two variables. The first distinguishing variable is tone.

When we say “agya nan (father’s leg(s)), we say it with a higher tone on two out of its three syllables. The only syllable that we say with a lower tone is the first a. So we have àgyá nán.

On the other hand, we say “agyanan (faeces)with a lower tone on all its syllables: àgyànàn

The second variable by which we can distinguish between “agya nan” and “agyanan” is whether or not there’s a pause somewhere in the middle when spoken.

Just as we split agya and nan in writing for ‘father’s leg(s)‘, so is there a noticeable pause between them in speech. “agyanan (faeces)”, on the other hand, is pronounced as we do most whole words, with no pause between its syllables.

At this point, I really hope you can, not only tell the difference between agya nan and agyanan, but also be able to use them appropriately on your own. If in doubt, just remember w’agya nan nyɛ agyanan! your dad’s legs ain’t shit!


Tikya Yaw
STEPHEN AWIBA, known here as YAW, is the founding editor of LEARNAKAN.COM and LEARNAKANDICTIONARY.COM. He was born and raised in Kumasi, the Ashanti regional capital of Ghana, where Akan (Asante Twi) is spoken as the first language. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Linguistics and Theatre Arts from the University of Ghana and an MPhil in English Linguistics and Language Acquisition from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

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