Nsuo vs. Osuo vs. Asuo

If you check with any standard Twi dictionary, you will find that the Twi word “nsuo” means “water” in English. However, there are different kinds of water, aren’t there? Or I’m I thinking too much? Every water is water, huh?

Well, for us, there are different kinds of water, and each has a different name. We have “nsuo”, “osuo”, and “asuo” and, technically, these aren’t same. I’ll come to why I added “technically” in there but let’s start by looking at these three “water” names and what they actually stand for.


“Nsuo” is used to refer to your very regular water, what comes to mind first when you think of the concept “water”. The drinkable, bathable (is there even a word like that?), sometimes swimmable (e.g. that in a pool, well, pond, aquarium, flooded area, etc.) kind of water. The regular water you use at home to cook, drink, bathe, wash, etc. We call this kind of water “nsuo” in Twi.

Let me put that in some examples for you:

  1. Merenom nsuo – I am drinking water
  2. Merenoa nsuo – I am boiling water
  3. Hwie nsuo gu kuruwa no mu – Pour water into the cup
  4. Nsuo no atwa – The water has ceased
  5. Nsuo taa apɔnkyerɛne a, ɔgye “wɔɔ!” PROVERB – When the frog gets fed up/choked with water, it exclaims “wɔɔ!”
  6. Nsuo wɔ bokiti no mu – There’s water in the bucket
  7. Ama saa nsuo firii abura no mu – Ama fetched water from the well
  8. Ma me nsuo nnom – Give me water to drink
  9. Nsuo no bɔn – The water stinks
  10. Nsuo no ani yɛ fɛ – The (surface of the) water looks clean


Now, from the more general “nsuo”, let’s look at the rather specific “osuo”. Unlike “nsuo”, “osuo” is only used to refer to rain. Just that. So you see when it’s raining, the drops of water that fall from the skies? That’s what we call “osuo” in Twi. This is so specific to the raindrops such that, we don’t even call harvested rain “osuo”. Once you harvest rain into a container, or the rain ends up as flood in an area, that’s not more “osuo”. What would that be? “Nsuo!”

Let’s see “osuo” used in some example sentences:

  1. Osuo retɔ – it’s raining
  2. Osuo hwee me – I got drenched in water
  3. Osuo no te a, awia bɛbɔ – When the rain stops, the sun will shine
  4. Osuo no tɔ wieeɛ no, nyankontɔn no pueeɛ – When it was done raining, the rainbow emerged
  5. Osuo taa tɔ wɔ Kumase sene Nkran – It often rains in Kumasi than in Accra.
  6. Mefaa osuo no mu kɔɔ adwuma – I went through the rain to work
  7. Osuo atɔ ama awɔ aba – It’s rained and brought in cold weather.
  8. osuo retɔ a, m’ani gye pa ara – When it’s raining, I get very happy
  9. Osuo antɔ afe yi – It didn’t rain this year
  10. Ɔkɔmhyɛni no hyɛɛ nkɔm sɛ osuo bɛtɔ da biara wɔ bosome yi mu, nanso amma mu – The prophet prophesied that it will rain every day of this month, but it didn’t come to pass.


Lastly, let’s look at “asuo”. Like “osuo”, “asuo” is also quite specific. This is used to refer to a “waterbody”. So streams, rivers, the sea, lakes, etc. We refer to those as “asuo”. Let’s look at some example sentences with “asuo”:

  1. Asuo Firaw mu dɔ – The Volta lake is deep
  2. Asuo no ayiri – The river/stream has flooded/risen
  3. Asuo no tene firi Bɔkina Faso ba Gaana – The waterbody/stream/river flows from Burkina Faso into Ghana
  4. Yɛde kodoɔ no twaa asuo no – We went across the waterbody with a canoe
  5. Mempɛ asuo so akwantuo – I don’t like travel over a waterbody.
  6. Suhyɛn no si asuo no so – The ship is on the waterbody.
  7. Asuo no afa aberanteɛ no – The young man has drowned in the water body
  8. Osuo tɔɔ wɔ asuo no so – It rained on the waterbody/river/stream/lake
  9. Yɛnni nsuo a yɛbɛnom wɔ asuo no so – We don’t have water to drink on the river/lake/waterbody
  10. Ɔfee m’ano wɔ asuo no ano – He/she kissed me at the bank of the river/waterbody

Do We Really Use Them As Such?

Now that you know the technical difference between them, let’s answer the question as to whether we do actually make the distinction between them in use. Do Ghanaians generally use “nsuo”, “osuo”, and “asuo” in their respective, proper contexts as distinguished above? The answer is “no”. And this is why I used “technically” in my introduction.

So, while “nsuo”, “osuo”, and “asuo” technically refer to different “water” concepts, generally, Ghanaians tend to use “nsuo” for all use cases.  In speech, you’re less likely to hear Ghanaians use “osuo” and “asuo”. It’s quite uncommon. For most use cases, Ghanaians tend to use “nsuo” instead.

So you’ll hear:

  1. Nsuo retɔ – It’s raining
  2. Ɛnnora nsuo tɔeɛ – It rained yesterday
  3. Nsuo ntaa ntɔ wɔ Nkran – It seldom rains in Accra
  4. Yɛretwa nsuo no – We’re crossing the river/waterbody
  5. Nkramoni no bese atɔ nsuo no mu – The Muslim’s cola nut has fallen into the waterbody
  6. Nsuo de Nkramo rekɔ na worebisa ne fugu – The Muslim is drowning in the waterbody and you’re asking about his smock.

The above use examples are quite common. But it’s worth knowing about the technical difference between all three, just in case.

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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