Learn Twi With Public Inscriptions: “Aboterɛ Yɛ”

Onua, akwaaba! Welcome to our second post in our series on learning Twi with public inscriptions. In our first one, we looked at the inscription “Onyame Akwan” on a trotro, arguably the most common means of transport in Ghana.

I want us to follow that up with yet another inscription on another trotro. Today’s inscription is “Aboterɛ Yɛ“. I took the picture of this trotro the last time I visited my folks in Kumasi. The bus was heading towards Bantama from Kejetia, right on the stretch between the Kumasi Cultural Centre and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH).

Just as we did with the first one, let’s look at the meanings of the individual words in the phrase “Aboterɛ Yɛ”, and then we’ll go on to put them together.

Aboterɛ

The Twi word “aboterɛ” means “patience” in English. If we want to say, for example, “Kwadwo has patience”, we’d say “Kwadwo wɔ aboterɛ”, with “wɔ” being “to have”. If we wanted to say “Kwadwo is impatient”, or “Kwadwo doesn’t have patience”, we’d say “Kwadwo nni aboterɛ”, with “nni” being the negative of the “wɔ (to have)”. If you haven’t taken our lesson on the verb “to have” in Twi, you should go check it out here.

Let’s put “aboterɛ” in some more sentence examples:

  1. Aboterɛ wie nkonimdie – Patience ends/results in victory
  2. Nya aboterɛ/Si aboterɛ – Have patience/Be patient
  3. N’aboterɛ nti, ne wɔfa kyɛɛ no fie – Because of his/her patience, his/her uncle gifted him/her a house.
  4. Wode aboterɛ dwa tɛtea a, wohu ne nsono – If you cut open the ant in patience, you find its intestines PROVERB

If there’s one thing you should know about two-letter words in Twi, it’s the fact that almost all of them come with several meanings. For some of them, it’s difficult to keep track of all their meanings because they’re just too many. As a two-letter word, “yɛ” is no exception. But for the purpose of this post, we’re going to limit its meaning to that intended for the phrase “aboterɛ yɛ”.

“Yɛ” here means “to be good”. In other close contexts, “yɛ” could mean “to be well”. This is why we mostly say “ɛyɛ (it is well)” in response to the question “ɛte sɛn? (how’s it?)”.

Let’s look at some sentence examples with “yɛ”:

  1. Me ho – I am well
  2. Adwuma ! – Work’s good!
  3. Akokoɔduro – Courage is good

To form the negative of this “yɛ”, we just place the negative marker “n” before it, and then we get “nyɛ (to not be good)”. So we can have:

  • Me ho nyɛ – I am not well
  • Adwuma nyɛ! – Work is not good!
  • Akokoɔduro nyɛ – Courage is not good

Aboterɛ Yɛ

Following from the breakdown above, the phrase “aboterɛ yɛ” simply means “patience is good”. This is a very popular advice that, especially the elderly in our society tend to give the youth of today. They are admonished not to rush, e.g. in life, but be patient in all their endeavours, for patience is a good virtue that eventually ends in success.

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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