Filler words you should start using straightaway

We often instinctively reach for filler words when struggling to string sentences together in a foreign language. These are some of the filler words that I hear most often each day that Egyptian Arabic learners can start using right away to make their speech sound more natural. This post does come with two warnings attached: one, don’t depend on يعني too much because it will harm your capacity for quick-thinking in Arabic / you will start to sound like the Egyptian equivalent of a valley girl, and two, these words WILL make their way into your English speech patterns if you get really good.

1. يعني – ‘ya3ny’

This is the Arabic equivalent of ‘like’–this goes for Shami as well. Just put it wherever you’d put ‘like’ in a normal sentence, and you’re good.

Use يعني in moderation. Please.

2. بس – ‘bas’

بس both means ‘but’ and ‘only/just’ in Egyptian Arabic, and it is a wonderful little word that you will quickly start using no matter what language you’re speaking. Here you can find some usage examples.

3. هو – ‘hwa’

This is a good one for starting sentences. It’s difficult to pin down an exact meaning but ‘It’s just that…’ is kind of an equivalent. You start a sentence this way more often when you’re explaining the ‘why’ behind something, and it can be combined with بس too. It’s especially useful when you’re trying to soften a request or be extra polite. For example:

هو بس كنت عايزة اتأكد أنه المدير موجود = I just wanted to check that the Director is in.

4. ماشي – ‘mashy’

This word is basically the Arabic version of okay–if someone asks you to do something, they’ll often end the sentence with ماشي and you can also respond with a ماشي. Ex: أنا عايزاكي تقراي الصفحة, ماشي؟ ماشي = I want you to read the page, okay? -Okay.

But this is also a filler word in the sense that you can pepper your speech with ماشي while telling a story to make sure the other person is following For example, you could say:

طب انا كنت في شارع التحرير, ماشي؟ = Okay, I was on Tahrir St. Okay? …and then continue on with your riveting narrative.

 

I know there are other good ones out there, but these are the first I could think of–add your suggestions in the comments!

2 comments

  1. طيّب (tayyib) should probably be in the list.
    Also, “bas” can mean “Stop doing that!” if yelled out loudly. Usually hear parents say it to kids, or kids to each other.

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