Another post in our ‘verbs I might have known’ series (طلع/نزل, بدو, اجى, زبط) s about flexible, useful and common verbs that you probably know but might not realise the true power of. This week’s entry is on قعد ‪2a3ad, literally ‘sit’.


As usual, let’s get the different dialect forms out of the way first. All dialects allow 2a3ad in the past tense, although some North Levantine speakers may have 2ə3ed instead. The present tense form for everyone has o. In North Levantine this means yə23od, and in South Levantine yu23od with the vowel harmony talked about here.

South Levantine has a regular imperative: 2u23od, -i, -u. For some North Levantine speakers the imperative is regular too (according to the NL rules): 23ood, 23ədi, 23ədu. But the hamze is usually dropped, producing the irregular form 3ood, 2ədi, 2ədu.

The maSdar is قعود 23uud or occasionally (for some speakers) قعدان ‪2a3adaan.


The most literal meaning is ‘sit down’, from which the participle 2aa3ed means ‘sitting’:

انتو وين قاعدين؟
2intu ween 2aa3diin?
Where are you sitting?

From this we get the noun of instance قعدة ‪2a3de meaning ‘way of sitting’:

قعدتو معجبتنيش, قعدة زعران
2a3edto ma3ajbatniish2a3det zu3raan (P)
I didn’t like the way he was sitting [= his way of sitting]. It’s a no-good way of sitting [= a gangsters’ 2a3de]

قعدة can also mean a gathering or a face-to-face discussion (‘a sitting’):

عملنا قعدة صغيرة بالبيت
3milna 2a3de zghiire bilbeet (P)
We had a little gathering at home

هالقصة بدا قعدة
hal2əSSa bədda 2a3de (L)
This is something that needs a face-to-face discussion (needs us to sit down and talk about it)

It can also mean the atmosphere/vibe in a place (literally what it’s like to sit/hang around there):

القعدة هنيك كتير حلوة
əl2a3de huniik ktiir 7əlwe (S)
The atmosphere/vibe there is very nice

القعدة بالبيت بتزهق
il2a3de bilbeet bitzahhe2 (P)
Hanging around/sitting at home is boring

It’s very common to say قاعدين (literally ‘we’re sitting [around]’) to mean ‘we’re hanging around’ (at a place where sitting is involved):

هينا قاعدين, بس تفضى تعال
hayyna 2aa3diin. bass tifDa ta3aal (P)
We’re just hanging here. As soon as you’re done come!

لك وين رايح يا زلمة قاعدين!
lak 2ənte ween raaye7 yaa zalame 2aa3diin! (S)
Where are you going, man? We’re hanging out here!

Note also that قعد is often used to mean ‘sitting around [doing nothing]’ in combination with a 7aal:

قاعد عم يلعب بديلو
2aa3ed 3am yəl3ab bdeelo
Sitting around twiddling his thumbs [= playing with his tail] (one of various ruder alternatives)

Note also the combination with another imperative, which although literal is not idiomatic in English:

عود كول معنا
3ood kool ma3na (S)
Come and eat with us! [= to someone who’s just arrived]

The causative قعّد can of course mean ‘make/let someone sit down’:

بس فات ع المكتب قعدوه عالكرسي
bass faat 3almaktab 2a33aduu 3alkursi (P)
As soon as he came in they sat him down on the chair

It can also have a connotation of ‘kept me sitting around’:

قعدوني شي ساعة قبل ما فوتوني لعدنو
2a33aduuni nəSS saa3a 2abəlma fawwatuuni la3əndo (S)
They made me sit around for half an hour before they let me in to see him

Note the causative can have a ‘with’ meaning (like la33ab ‘play with’, 2arra ‘read with’ etc):

قومي قعدي ستك شوي
2uumi 2a33edi sittek shwayy (P)
Go and sit with your grandma for a bit


Specifically, ‘stay’ in the sense of ‘a stay somewhere’:

قديش بدك تقعد بالقدس؟
2addeesh biddak tu23od bil2uds?  (P)
How long are you going to stay in Jerusalem?

انت وين قاعد بالزبط؟
2inta ween 2aa3ed bizzabT? (J)
Where are you staying exactly?

This form also has a causative meaning ‘let someone stay’, etc:

قعدناه عنا لبين ما لقى بيت
2a33adnaa 3ənna labeen ma la2a beet (S)
We let him stay with us/hosted him until he found a house


قعد is often combined with a continuous form, especially in the participle. This should not be understood as meaning literally sitting:

قاعدين عم يقصفو المدن
2aa3diin 3am yə2Səfu lmədon (S)
They’re bombarding the cities [= sitting and bombarding]

قاعد عم احكي مع حيط انا
2aa3ed 3am 2a7ki ma3 7eeT 2ana (P)
It’s like I’m talking to a brick wall [= I’m sitting talking to…]

‘Go around Xing’

Used as an auxiliary قعد can also imply repeated but also unreasonable action:

يلي بصلي الجمعة ويلي بصلي الاحد قاعد يفلح فينا على طول الجمعة
yalli biSalli jjəm3a wyalli biSalli l2a7ad 2aa3ed yəfla7 fiina 3ala Tool əjjəm3a (L)
The ones who pray on Friday and the ones who pray on Sunday give us a hard time all week long

تقعدش تتطلب
tu23udesh tiTTallab! (P)
Don’t go around demanding things!


قاعد لا شغلة ولا عملة ‪2aa3ed laa shaghle wala 3amle ‘sitting around with nothing to do’

الدنيا قايمة قاعدة iddunya/əddənye 2aayme 2aa3de ‘everything’s very chaotic’

قامت القيامة وما قعدت ‪2aamet/2aamat li2yaame w maa 2a3det/2a3dat ‘absolute chaos broke out’

shubiddakFor the latest instalment in our ‘verbs I might have known’ series, we’ll be discussing another one of those words you almost certainly know in at least one or two meanings, but which you might not realise the real flexibility and utility of. This time, we’re talking about the humble Levantine word for ‘want’: بدـ. The word for ‘want’ is one of the first things you learn in any dialect, and one of the common words that is usually cited to demonstrate how diverse dialects can be (‘in Egypt they say عايز!’) We’ll cover that sense briefly in this post for comprehensiveness, but mostly this will be about other meanings you might not be familiar with.


As usual, let’s get the different regional forms out of the way. Palestinians and Jordanians typically have straightforward bidd-. Syrians and many Lebanese speakers have bədd-, which is pronounced very similarly to bidd. The characteristically ‘Lebanese’ form, however, is badd- (also used by many coastal Syrian speakers).

It’s a pseudoverb, suckers

The more pedantic among you might already be working up to point out that بدـ is not, strictly speaking, a verb. This is, strictly speaking, true. Etymologically it’s a preposition + noun combination (بودي bi-waddi ‘[it is] in my desire’) and structurally speaking it marks its subject using possessive pronouns. It can’t take object suffixes directly (it has to use the carrier yaa-), and of course it has no tense forms of its own.

However, in all other respects بدـ acts like a verb. It can’t appear without an attached pronoun marking its subject. It appears generally in the same place as verbs in most structures. And although it’s true that it can’t be itself modified for tense, it can be placed into any tense you want with كان kaan. For some speakers this كان is always in the third person (كان بدي kaan biddi) as you might expect given the etymology, but for lots of speakers it changes along with the person subject (كنت بدي kunt/kənt biddi/bəddi).


The most well-known use of بدـ is to mean ‘want’:

بدي واحد جديد
bəddi waa7ed @jdiid
I want a new one

Note with b-:

شو بدك في؟
shu baddak fii?
What do you want with it?

And with من:

شو بدك مني؟
shu biddak minni?
What do you want from me?

As well as its obvious use with nouns, it can be used with a subjunctive verb to mean ‘I want to…’:

بدي انزل كزدر ع بيروت ع ضهر الجمل
baddi 2ənzel kazder 3a beyruut 3a Dahr @jjamal (L)
I want to go and ride around Beirut on a camel

بدي اشوفك بكرا
biddi 2ashuufak bukra (J)
I want to see you tomorrow

The usual structure for ‘I want X to…’ is as follows: bidd-, plus a noun or an object on the carrier yaa-, plus a subjunctive:

بدي ياك تجي معي
bəddi yaak təji ma3i (S)
I want you to come with me

بدي احمد يصلحلي المواسير
biddi 2a7mad ySalli7li lmawasiir (P)
I want Ahmad to fix the pipes for me


In all Levantine dialects بد can also express need. The most universal structure for this is similar to the English ‘needs fixing’, with a maSdar:

جوازي بدو تجديد
jawaazi bəddo tajdiid (S)
My passport needs renewing

المواسير بدها تزبيط
ilmawasiir biddha tazbiiT (J)
The pipes need fixing

صار بدها سيكارة
Saar biddha sigaara (J)
It’s time for a cigarette [= (the situation, the evening) needs a cigarette)

NL speakers use it more broadly, in constructions like the following:

بدي جدد جوازي
bəddi jaddid jawEEzi (L)
‘I need to renew my passport

Advice, exhortation

A more specialised use with the second person is used in all dialects for moral exhortations, advice etc. This overlaps both with ‘need’, ‘want’ and with the future sense discussed below:

بدك تزبظلت لهجتك
bəddak @tzabbəTli lah@jtak
You need to check your tone/stop talking to me in that tone [= fix your tone] (S)

بدكاش تبطل هالعادة؟
biddkaash itbaTTel hal3aade? (P)
Aren’t you going to stop doing this?

Must, have to, have got to be, should

بد can also mean ‘must’, ‘has to’ etc in contexts like the following:

يلي بدو يفتح الماضي بدو يكون قدّا
yalli baddo yəfta7 @lmaaDi baddo ykuun 2adda (L)
If you want to open up the past you have to be up to the task [= he who wants to… wants to be…]

شو بدي اسوي هلأ؟
shuu biddi 2asawwi halla2? (P)
What should I do now?

Going to, about to

بدو can also be used in a way entirely synonymous with the future senses of the prefix رح ra7 (and all its variants), i.e. to express pre-established planned or scheduled action (i.e. prior to the conversation), or to mean ‘about to’:

بدي اشوفو بكرا وقتيها بحكيلو
biddi 2ashuufo bukra wa2tiiha ba7kiilo (P)
I’m going to see him tomorrow, I’ll tell him then

في زر بدو يوقع من قميصك
fii zərr bəddo yuu2a3 mən 2amiiSak (S)
There’s a button falling off your shirt [= about to fall]

Must be, must have been

بدو can also be used to draw inferences about the world in the same way as English ‘must’ or the alternative structure بكون:

قديش هلقلب بدو يكون قوي ليتحمل هبلنتك
2addeesh hal2alb bəddo ykuun 2awi la-yət7ammal hablantak (S)
How strong this heart must be that it can cope with your stupid behaviour!

 بدو يكون bəddo/biddo ykuun plus a past can by extension be used to express ‘I must have’ in a way more or less synonymous with the more common structure with بكون:

بدي كون غفيت
bəddi kuun @ghfiit (S)
I must have fallen asleep

Likewise, بدو sometimes appears in the result clause of conditionals. This shouldn’t necessarily be read as ‘want’ (‘I would have wanted to be…’):

لو ما صرت مطربة كنت بدي كون بالجيش
law maa Sər@t muT@rbe kənt baddi kuun bijjaysh
If I hadn’t become a singer I would have been in the army

This is a post about the verb اجى (from fuSHa جاء), which you almost certainly know in the literal sense since it’s such core vocabulary. You might not realise quite how useful this verb can be, though – and that’s why we’ve chosen it to be the next instalment of our verbs I might have known series (see also Təle3/nəzelzabaT, and this post about useful -aan participles).

Too many dialects

Let’s get the dialect questions out of the way first. This is an irregular verb (more or less) in all Levantine dialects. To avoid repeating ourselves and to save space from being taken up by ugly tables, if you want to know the full conjugation the North Levantine forms can be found here. The South Levantine forms can be found in the PDF on South Levantine verbs. There are no major differences between the Lebanese and Syrian forms or between the Jordanian and Palestinian forms. The main differences between the North and South forms are:

  • The alif-hamze beginning all forms (which may be dropped when not stressed) carries a fat7a (i.e. it’s 2a) in South Levantine while in North Levantine the vowel is an ə, pronounced here close to i2əja, (2ə)jiina.
  • The present tense forms either have a consistent long ii (2ana biiji, inte btiiji…) or a consistent short ə (bəji, btəji) in North Levantine, while in South Levantine the first person singular form has an aa (baaji) in keeping with the normal conjugation of verbs in the south.
  • In the North (or at least in Syria) the participle is consistently jaaye, whether masculine or feminine. In the South, it’s consistently jaay.

Literal usages

With that out of the way, let’s talk about usage. There’s obviously the literal usage ‘to come’:

اجى لعندي اليوم الصبح
2əja la-3əndi lyoom @SSəb@7 (S)
He came to my house [or to see me, etc] this morning

By extension, اجى is very often an idiomatic equivalent of ‘be here’ or ‘get there’ in sentences like the following (maybe a nice literal translation is ‘arrive’):

بس تيجي خبرني
bass tiiji khabbirni (P)
As soon as you get here let me know

الاستاذ ما اجى اليوم
@l2əstaaz maa 2əja lyoom (S)
Mr [Karim] isn’t here today

As with other verbs of motion اجى can be combined with a subjunctive to express movement plus purpose (‘came to see…’). This is pretty straightforward but it’s worth noting the nice idiomatic way of saying ‘I’m here to…’:

انا جايه شوف الاستاذ طاهر
2ana jaaye shuuf Taaher
I’m here to see Taher

You can use the noun of instance jayye + ‘here is’ to mean ‘I’m just on my way back from’, ‘I’ve just come back from’ (‘here is my coming from’):

هاي جيتي من المحافظة
hayy jayyti mn @lmu7aafaZa (S)
I’ve just got back from the Provincial Government (offices)

Note that it’s not very idiomatic to ask ‘where do you come from’ in Arabic using the verb اجى, which is best asked with a simple انت منين or just منين, من وين؟ Here are a few of the possible interpretations of the sentences you might (mistakenly) use to try and express this idea:

من وين جاي؟
min ween jaay? (P)
Where’ve you been?
Where are you coming from?
Where are you on your way back from?

بتجي من وين؟
btəji mən ween? (S)
Where does it come (in) from? (e.g. where is it imported from)
Which direction do you come from? Which way do you come? (mən ween = from where = which way, see mən here)

End up in, get on etc

There are quite a few contexts in which اجى expresses more or less the same meaning (of movement) but where ‘come’ is not idiomatic in English. Usually ‘get onto’ or ‘end up in’ covers these:

منيح ما اجت الرصاصة بعينو
mnii7 maa 2əjet l@rSaaSa b3eeno (L)
It’s good the bullet didn’t go in/end up in his eye

اجت المي ع الورقة
2ajat ilmayy 3alwaraga (J)
The water got onto/went on the paper

Get, have

In a very limited sense of get or have – i.e. usually ‘experience’ – اجى often appears in a meaning that is pretty straightforward to understand:

بتجيني نوبات هلع
btijiini nobaat hala3 (J)
I get panic attacks [panic attacks come to me]

الله وحدو بيعلم شو ممكن تجيني أحاسيس و مشاعير
2aLLa wa7do byə3lem shuu məmken təjiini 2a7asiis w masha3iir (S)
only God knows what feelings I might have [= what can come to me (by way of) feelings and feelings]

Note also the sense of ‘receive’, also fairly transparent from the meaning of the verb:

اجاني سكري من حلاوة شوفتك
2əjaani səkkari mən @7leewet shooftek (L)
I got diabetes from how pretty you look [حلاوة = beauty, sweetness – from how ‘sweet’ you look diabetes came to me]

اجتني رسالة من بويا
2ajatni risaale min buuya (J)
I got a message from my dad [= a message from my dad came to me]

About to

اجى can also mean ‘about to’ when used with a subjunctive verb (sometimes combined with la- in Syrian):

جيت اوقع
jiit 2awqe3 (P)
I almost fell, I was about to fall

كنت جايه احكي نفس الحكي
kənt jaaye 2ə7ki nafs @l7aki (L)
I was about to say the same thing! [= I was coming to talk the same talk]

كل ما اجي لإحكي معو بخجل بأجلها لبعدين
kəll ma 2əji la-2ə7ki ma3o bəkhjal b2ajjəla la-ba3deen
Whenever I’m about to (I come to talk) to him I get embarrassed and put it off

Be approximately

اجى is often used to express ‘comes to about’ or ‘is about’:

بجي شي تلاتين ليرة
bəji shi tlaatiin leera
It’d be about 30 lira

Judging an action

اجى also has another nice idiomatic use expressing a value judgement of the action on the part of the speaker. It often expresses that the speaker thinks that the action is unacceptable, presumptuous or brazen:

جيل كامب دافيد اللى شاف الحريه ع ايام جيل 93 جاى يحكم علينا بالاعدام علشان عرفناه طريق الحريه والثورات
jiil kaamb daafiid illi shaaf il7urriyye 3a2iyyaam jiil ittlaate wtis3iin jaay yi7kom 3aleena bil2i3daam 3ashaan 3arrafnaa Tarii2 il7urriyye w@ththawraat (P)
The Camp David generation, who got to experience [saw] freedom, in the days of the generation of 93 have the gall to condemn us to death because we introduced them to the path of freedom and revolutions

هلق جايه تصالح هلق؟
halla2 jaayi tSaale7 halla2? (L)
Oh, now you want to make up? [= coming to make up now] (i.e. it’s too late)


Note also the following expressions:

اجى على ‪2əja, 2aja 3ala ‘to fit’ (of clothes)
بتجي بمعنى btəji, btiiji bma3na ‘it means’
بروح وبجي biruu7 w biji ‘comes and goes’ (note the opposite order to English)
الكلمة بتجي لحالها ilkilme btiiji la7aalha, @lkəlme btəji la7aala ‘the word comes on its own’
بتجي ظرف طويل btəji, btiiji Zarf Tawiil ‘it comes as a big envelope’
حمدالله اجت بالحديد ‪7amdilla 2əjet bil7adiid (also mar2et) ‘thank God, only the car was damaged’ [= it happened to the metal, when talking about a car accident]
اجى ع بالي, جاي ع بالي ‪2əja/2aja, jaay(e) 3a baali ‘feel like’ (see this post for more)

A long, long time ago, we did a brief post about the use of ابو in Egyptian to express a certain kind of possession. This post is a specifically Levantine expansion on that one.

‘The one with’, ‘the one wearing’

Very much a شب ابو لحية

Even if you’ve only taken your first few steps in learning Arabic, chances are you know the word ابو abu ‘father of’ – even if it’s only from people’s names. You will probably also have learnt the word أم ‘mother’, at least in fuSHa. (While 2abu is the same in all dialects in this context, its counterpart, ام ‘mother’, is either 2əmm (Sy/Leb), 2imm (Pal or Palestinian-Jordanian) or 2umm (Jor), depending on where you’re from. The first two alternatives are pronounced very similarly.)

What you might not have come across, however, is the idiomatic use of these two words in contexts like the following, where it means ‘the one with’, ‘the one wearing’ etc (and is more or less synonymous with fuSHa ذو and similar to one of the uses of another useful word, تبع):

شفت ام الاحمر؟
shəf@t 2əmm @l2a7mar? (S)
Did you see the one (the girl) in red? [the mother of red]

لا لا ابو العيون الزرقا
la la, 2abu l3ayuun izzar2a (P)
No, no, the one (the guy) with blue eyes [the father of the blue eyes]

ام الجاكيت والبنطلون شفتك واقفة فوق البلكون
2əmm @jjakeet w@lbanTaloon shəftek waa2fe foo2 @lbalkoon (L)
The girl with the jacket and the trousers, I saw you standing on the balcony

All these three examples refer to actual people. But ابو and ام can be used in more or less the same meaning to refer to any masculine or feminine object respectively. Likewise, 2əmm can be used with plurals where feminine singular agreement is permissible:

هات ام الخمسين ليرة
haat 2əmm @lkhamsiin leera (S)
Give me the fifty lira one [bottle, قنينة, fem.]

هات ابو الخمسين ليرة
haat 2abu lkhamsiin leera (S)
Give me the fifty lira ones [courgettes, كوسا, masc. collective]

ناس ام وجهين
naas 2umm wijheen (J)
Two-faced people [plural]


ابو and ام are also used, as you probably know, in conjunction with the eldest (male) child’s name to form common terms of address.People with children are usually known by these names rather than their first name, and some people are sensitive about their wives’ or mothers’ actual first names in particular being used instead of this form. Note that although this sort of name is formally called كنية kunya in fuSHa, in Syrian كنية kənye usually refers to the surname instead and these names fall under the general category of لقب laqab ‘nickname’. You’re more likely to hear people 2abu and 2əmm 3ammaar for example.

Some men who don’t have children still have nicknames of this kind, usually derived from their father’s name (on the assumption that your oldest male child will be named after your dad, which is common).

ابو and ام are also used with a form derived from people’s first names (usually CuuC) to form nicknames entirely unrelated to the names of their children:

ابو اللول abu lluul < lu2ayy
ابو اللوس abu lluus < 2ilyaas
ام السوس imm issuus < sawsan, su3aaad

Some men’s names have associated nicknames not derived in this way. Usually this is because of a historical or culturally important figure with a child of the same name:

ابو علي abu 3ali < 7seen (Husayn, i.e. because of Ali Abu Talib, whose son was named Husayn, whose son was thus named 3ali)

Nicknames of this kind are also often used as pseudonyms in artistic or political contexts.

unnamedThis is another post about a common and versatile verb you probably won’t get taught in colloquial classes: زبط (sometimes spelt ظبط, though this does not reflect a different pronunciation) zabaT. Although its meanings and uses are more or less the same in all four dialects, its exact vowelling in the present tense is different: while Syr, Jor and Pal all have o (yəzboTyuzboT and yuzboT respectively, with predictable differences you can read more about in the South Levantine verbs post) Leb has yəzbaT, with an a.

Probably the most common use of the expression is to mean ‘work out’, or ‘manage’ in the sense of get something done/succeed in something:

هيك تسريحة ولا عمرها زبطت معي
heek tasrii7a wala 3umrha zabTat ma3i (PAL)
I’ve never been able to get that sort of style right
That sort of style has never worked for me

ما رح تزبط معك
maa ra7 təzboT ma3ak (SYR)
It’s not going to work out for you
You won’t be able to do it

مش عم تزبط معي
mish 3am təzbaT ma3i (LEB)
I just can’t get it right!
I just can’t understand it! (this is the title of a Nassif Zeytouni song)

حياتي مش زابطة
7ayEEti mish zaabTa (LEB)
My life’s a mess
My life just isn’t in order

في اشي مش زابط
fii 2ishi mish ZaabeT (JOR)
There’s something not right [about this situation]

اذا واحد ضد التاني بيزبط
2iza waa7ed DiDD ittaani byizboT
if it’s one against the other then that’s fine/that’ll work

You can use a subjunctive verb to form sentences like the following:

مش رح تزبط معك تكوني متلي
mish ra7 təzbaT ma3ik @tkuuni mitli (LEB)
You’ll never be like me [it won’t work for you to be like me]

Relatedly, ‘suit, work well’:

هيك محل بيزبط لكل شي
heek ma7all byəzboT lakəll shi (SYR)
A place like this could be anything [would work for anything]

كتير زابطين لبعض
ktiir zaabTiin laba3@D
They go very well together, they suit one another well

زابط عليك الدور صراحة
zaabeT 3aleek iddoor Saraa7a
The role suits you very well to be honest [زبط على = work on, suit]

ولله بتزبط هو رئيس بلدية
waLLa btəzbaT huwwe ra2iis baladiyye [LEB]
Actually I could see him as a mayor [= he’d work as a mayor]

The causative, which is zabbaT yzabbeT everywhere, has a lot of different meanings. Some are causative equivalents or extensions of the meanings above:

بدنا مين يزبطلنا الباب
bəddna miin yzabbTəlna lbaab [SYR]
We need someone to sort the door out/fix the door for us

المحبس زغير بدو تزبيط
@lma7bas @zghiir baddo taZbiiT [LEB]
The ring’s too small, it needs fixing/adjusting [= it wants adjustment/fixing]

بدك تزبط لهجتك اه
biddak @tzabbeT lah@jtak aa [PAL]
You’d better change your tone [= fix your tone]
You need to do something about your accent/dialect [= fix your dialect]

There are also a few other idiomatic meanings not predictable from these (even if they are obviously semantically linked):

بدك تزبطلك واحدة حلوة
bəddak @tzabbəTlak waa7de 7əlwe [SYR]
You want to pick up/pull a hottie [zabbaT banaat = pick up, pull]

مش مزبط حالو بالمدرسة
mish @mzabbeT 7aalo bilmadrase [PAL]
He’s not doing well/settled in well in school [zabbaT 7aalo = sort yourself out, settle down, get your affairs going smoothly]

مزبط شعراتو كتير منيح
mzabbeT sha3raato ktiir @mnii7 [JOR]
He’s done his hair very nicely

مرتو بتزبط حالها
marto bitzabbeT 7aalha [LEB]
His wife does herself up, makes herself look nice [zabbaT 7aalo = do yourself up]

Another post on a common expression.

You’ll know the relative pronoun اللي (illi/@lli, and its variants يلي yalli and الـ l-), and if you don’t, you should read this post. The equivalent to ‘it’s X who Ys’ in English is expressed literally as X illi Y. Note that the verb (Y) agrees with the pronoun, whereas in English we usually use the third person form invariably. Note as well that the first vowel of illi/@lli is, like the vowel of the definite article, usually dropped following a vowel:

هي اللي كسرتو
hiyye lli kassarəto [SYR]
It was her who broke it
She’s the one that broke it

هو اللي بعرف الطريق
huwwe lli bi3raf iTTarii2 [PAL]
It’s him that knows the way
He’s the one that knows the way

Note that unlike English it can be combined with imperatives – this sentence works in response to someone telling you تيسر tyassar ‘get out of here, go, leave’:

انتي اللي تيسري!
2inti lli tyassari!
You’re the one who [should] get out of here!
You get out of here!

This is the literal meaning of the expression. But this structure is also commonly used as a very affirmative response to a question which affirms that you do  For example:

 انت بتعرف الطريق ع الحارة؟ انا اللي بعرفها. عشنا فيها عشرين سنة بعدين انتقلنا
2ənte bta3ref @TTarii2 3a l7aara? / 2ana lli ba3rəfa! 3əshna fiyya 3əshriin səne ba3deen @nta2alna [SYR]
Do you know the way to the neighbourhood? / Of course I do! We lived there twenty years and then moved.

It might be easiest to understand the meaning here as ‘better than most!’ The implication is that the second speaker knows the way very well, because – as he says – he lived there for twenty years.

بتعرف ابو اللول؟ – انا اللي بعرفو
bta3ref 2abu lluul? – 2ana lli ba3rfo! [SYR]
Do you know Wa2el? – Of course I know him!

Here the implication is that you know Wa2el (nicknamed abu lluul) very well indeed, perhaps because you went to school with him or are very close friends with him. Here again ‘better than most!’ might work to express the meaning as well. But this construction isn’t limited as the title of this post might suggest to just the first person or to the verb بعرف. For example:

ما منلعب؟ – نحنا اللي منلعب
maa mnəl3ab? / nə7na lli mnəl3ab!
Are we [you] not card players? / Of course we are!

Here the implication is not only that you play cards but that you play cards a lot.

بتحب الملوخية؟ ولو انا اللي بحبها
bit7ibb limluukhiyye? / walaw, 2ana lli b7ibbha! [PAL]
Do you like mulukhiya? / I love it!

And here ‘I don’t just like it – I love it!’ might be a nice idiomatic translation.


This is a short post about one (very useful) aspect of a much bigger phenomenon we’ve written about in detail elsewhere (specifically in this post and in more detail in this PDF), namely participles and their uses and abuses.

If you’re relatively new to spoken Arabic, you may well have encountered words like طولان Toolaan, نحفان na7faan or كتران katraan. You might be wondering how these words differ from their simpler and more familiar equivalents طويل, نحيف and كتير. And if you’re like I was a few years ago, you might be misusing them by mistaking them for more colloquial synonyms of the words you know from fuSHa. Well, wonder no longer!

As you probably know from fuSHa, Arabic has a huge number of verbs that in a single word express concepts we often need ‘become X’ or ‘get X’ to get across in English. Some have nice English equivalents and others don’t. Most are on the form I pattern fə3el/yəf3al (fi3el/yif3ain South Levantine – you can read i for every ə in the following forms if you’re learning Jordanian or Palestinian). Here are a few examples with their corresponding adjectives:

طول يطول Təwel yəTwal ‘get longer’ < طويل Tawiil ‘long, tall’
قصر, يقصر ‪2əSer, yi2Sar ‘get shorter’ < قصير ‪2Siir ‘short’
كتر يكتر kəter yəktar ‘increase (in number), become more numerous’ < كتير ktiir ‘many, a lot’
قل يقل ‪2all y2əll ‘decrease (in number), become less numerous’ < قليل ‪ 2aliil ‘few’
خف يخف khaff ykhəff ‘lighten, become lighter’ < خفيف khafiiflight
تقل, يتقل tə2el, yət2al ‘become heavier’ < تقيل t2iilheavy
كبر, يكبر kəber, yəkbar ‘grow, get bigger, older’ < كبير kbiir ‘big, old, adult’
صغر, يصغر zəgher, yizghar ‘shrink, get smaller’ < صغير zghiir ‘small’
نحف, ينحف nə7ef, yən7af ‘get thin(ner)’ < نحيف n7iif ‘thin’
سمن, يسمن səmen, yəsman ‘get fat(ter)’ < سمين smiin ‘fat’
غلي, يغلى ghəli, yəghla ‘get (more) expensive’ < غالي ghaali ‘expensive’
رخص, يرخص rəkheS, yərkhaS  ‘get cheap(er)’ < رخيص rkhiiS ‘cheap’
حلي يحلى ‪7əli, yə7la ‘get nicer, better looking’ < حلو ‪7əlw ‘nice, good-looking’

This is a fairly small selection from a very large class of verbs, although I’ve tried to pick out some of the most commonly used ones. But what do these have to do with the -aan forms we mentioned earlier, you might ask?

The answer is that those forms are the participles of these verbs. As I’ve gone into tedious detail about elsewhere, many verbs have participles whose meanings express the result of the action expressed by the verb, which can often be roughly translated using the present perfect in English. The -aan forms carry exactly this meaning. The difference between طويل and طولان is that while the former is a sort of absolute judgement – this is long, he is tall – the latter expresses a judgement relative to some previous state:

طولان Toolaan ‘having got long(er)/tall(er)’
قصران ‪2aSraan ‘having got short(er)’
كتران katraan ‘having got (more) numerous’ (for some reason قلّ has no participle)
تقلان ta2laan ‘having got heavy, heavier’
خافف khaafef ‘having got light(er)’ (this one isn’t -aan)
كبران kəbraan ‘having got big(ger)’
زغران zaghraan ‘having got small(er)’
نحفان na7faan ‘having got thin(ner)’
سمنان samnaan ”having got fat(ter)’
غليان ghalyaan ‘having got (more) expensive’
رخصان rakhSaan ‘having got cheap(er)’
حليان ‪7alyaan ‘having got nice(r), better/good-looking)

Here are some examples of these in use:

رخصان الليمون هلإيام  بعد ما خلص موسمو
rakhSaan @llimoon hal2əyyaam ba3d ma khəleS maw@smo (S)
Lemons have got cheaper these days – [now] the season is over

الاسبوع الماضي اكتشفت اني طولانة سنتي بس نحفانة كيلو
@l2əsbuu3 @lmaaDi ktashaf@t 2ənni Toolaane santi bass na7faane kiilo (S)
Last week I discovered that I’ve got a centimetre taller but a kilogram thinner

حدا غيري حسّ انّو ابو فارس زغران شي ١٠ سنين
7ada ghayri 7ass 2ənno 2abu faaris zaghraan shi 10 @sniin? (L)
Does anyone else feel like Abu Fares has got about ten years younger?

كنت خايف تقللي سمنان
kunt khaayef @t2ulli samnaan(P/J)
I was scared you were going to say I’d got fat

ياخي والله كترانة تفاهة الناس ولا ايش!
yakhi waLLa katraane tafaahet innaas willa 2eesh? (J)
Mate, have people got stupider than they used to be or what? [has the stupidity of people got more…]

Another short post about a useful and common expression.

نفسي (for most people nifsi or nəfsi, you may hear some people say nafsi) means ‘I’d love…’ or ‘I wish (I had…)’. You can replace ـي with other pronouns, of course.

With nouns it takes بـ:

نفسي بفنجان قهوة
nəfsi bfənjaan 2ahwe
I’d love a cup of coffee

نفسي بإيشي يفرحني
nifsi b2ishi yfarri7ni
I wish I had something to make me cheery

With verbs it triggers the subjunctive:

نفسي شي مرة احلم حلم صورتو واضحة كل احلامي تصوير نوكيا
nəfsi shi marra 2ə7lam 7əl@m Suurto waaD7a kəll 2a7laami taSwiir nookya
I’d really like sometime to have a dream where the picture was clear. All my dreams are filmed on Nokias

There’s a high-quality rap by the guy from El Morabba that makes extensive use of this construction:

ايش نفسك؟
2eesh nifsak?
What’s your wish? / What would you like to happen?

نفسي نقعد نفكر ونخطط لقدام نفسي نبعد ونكرر نخبط نكسر الحيطان
nifsi nu23od nfakker nkhaTTet la2uddaam nifsi nub3od w nkarrer, nkhabbeT nuksor il7iTaan
I want us to sit down and think, to plan ahead / I want us to go away and repeat, slam and break down the walls

نفس is also used in the very useful expression:

ما إلي نفس
maa 2əli nəf@s
I don’t feel like it, I don’t have any appetite

This is a short post about how to avoid literally translating English in a very common set of constructions.

In English, the word ‘one’ pops up all over our syntax like a bad smell. As well as being a number, the source of the indefinite article (even if ‘a’ and ‘an’ no longer look much like it) and an incredibly pretentious personal pronoun, we use it a lot with adjectives and other similar words to express an example of something, an object or a person characterised by the quality of the adjective. Explaining the semantics of words using other words is tough, but you know exactly what I mean: ‘the big one’, ‘the small one’, ‘that one’, ‘this one’.

For indefinites, there is a very similar construction in Arabic:

بدي واحد كبير
bəddi waa7ed @kbiir  (SYR)
I want a big one [masc]

جبت واحدة جديدة
jibet waa7de jdiide  (PAL)
I got a new one [fem]

بدي واحد طويل
baddi waa7ad Tawiil (LEB)
I want someone tall [or a long one, etc]

For definites, though, we absolutely cannot use ‘one’. Instead, a definite adjective is used on its own (or a demonstrative pronoun, etc). (There’s also the construction with ابو or ام, discussed here). Using waa7ed in the following sentences is straightforwardly ungrammatical:

بدي الكبير
bəddi ləkbiir (SYR)
I want the big one

جبت الجداد
jibet lijdaad (PAL)
I brought the new ones

عطيني هداك
3aTiini hadaak (SYR)
Give me that one [masc]

مش هديك, التانية
mish hadiik, ittaanye (JOR)
Not that one, the other one [fem]

This works for relative clauses too:

يلي كان يشتغل عندك
yalli kaan yəshtəghel 3əndek (SYR)
The one who used to work for you

The only place where الواحد works is as a pronoun conveniently similar in meaning (but not in pretentiousness – it’s far more common than its English equivalent) to English ‘one’. Note that it by default takes masculine agreement:

الواحد صار يندم اذا اعترف بحبه
ilwaa7ad Saar yindam 2iza 3taraf b7ubbo (PAL)
These days if you admit you‘re in love you‘ll regret it [= it’s become that one regrets if he admits to his love


A quick post about a common and useful expression.

على كيفك (for most people 3ala keefak, you may hear 3ala kiifak from some people) literally means ‘on your mood’. The 3ala here is in the sense of ‘according to’ of which some other examples are given in this post. Although 3ala keefak/keefek is probably the most common form the expression can appear with any pronoun.

This expression has several distinct but related uses. The first is to say ‘as you like’, ‘in whatever way that you like’, ‘however you like’ etc:

داوم على كيفك من سيارتك
daawem 3ala keefak mən səyyaartak
Work whenever you feel like it/however much you want from your car

ايش شغل الحكومة في البلد اذا كل واحد مجتهد على كيفو بحرم وبحلل واللي مش عاجبو بفجرو
2eesh shughl il7ukuume fii halbalad 2iza kull waa7ed mujtahed 3ala keefo bi7arrem w bi7allel?
What’s the point of having a government if everyone is a mujtahed and gets to decide what’s haram and halal as they like? [= according to his mood deems (things) haram or halal]

A nice translation in many contexts is ‘up to’ as in ‘up to you’ or ‘up to him’. For example:

ما بدو يشتغل؟ شو على كيفو؟
maa bəddo yəshtəghel? shuu 3ala keefo?
He doesn’t want to work? Does he think it’s up to him? [what, (is it) up to him?]

لك مو على كيفك
lak muu 3ala keefak!
You don’t get to decide! It’s not up to you!

It can also be used as a kind of positive intensifier. In this sense the meaning is closer to ‘that you will really like’ or more broadly just ‘amazing’. It is often emphasised further by addition of another keef (on your mood’s mood):

بساويلك فنجان قهوة على كيفك
bsaawiilek fənjaan 2ahwe 3ala keefek
I’ll give you a great cup of coffee

شوتة على كيف كيفك معلم
shoote 3ala keef keefak @m3allem
It was an incredible shot, man