Six MSA words you need to stop using in conversation yesterday

As we all know, literally no one on the planet speaks Modern Standard Arabic as their native language, and as such, using MSA in normal, daily sounds unnatural and strange. Following is a list of words that FusHa learners often use in conversation while transitioning to colloquial Arabic that are quite abrasive on Egyptian ears.

What I’m really trying to say is: you literally sound like you are reciting Canterbury Tales right now. Stop. Please.

1. من فضلك

This means ‘please’ in MSA, but in Egypt, it is not often used. If you’re trying to get someone’s attention or order something, you can say لو سمحت. If you’re trying to say please in the “please come in,” sense, you can say تفضل to a man and تفضلي to a woman. (Anote: Arabic is a SUPER gendered language which can present d obvious ifficulties for trans* and gender non-conforming folks. Power to you for navigating this language.)

2. س or سوف to mark future tense

NOPE. Nope nope nope.

In Egyptian, you can talk about the future by adding a هح (I’ve seen it written out both ways) before a conjugated verb.

Example: هنسافر المانيا في ديسمبر = We’ll travel to Germany in December.

Levantine does almost the exact same thing to mark future tense, but using راح instead of هح. So: راح اروح = I’m going to go…

3. أعطيني

This word works just fine in Levantine Arabic, but in Egyptian, if you want you say ‘give me’ you should say اديني or هات (the latter also appears alongside أعطيني in Levantine). Anything else sounds off.

4. ولكن

I know, I know, it really does just roll off the tongue…but you hear this word only very rarely in Egyptian Arabic. بس is the widely accepted translation for ‘but,’ and also conveniently means ‘only.’

An example: sentence انا جعانة بس هاطلب واحد بس = “I’m hungry, but I’ll just order one.” The first بس here means ‘but’ while the second means ‘only/just.’

A note: This is an extremely versatile word that has been known to infiltrate Arabic learners’ English speech patterns (aka, I somehow produce this word ALL THE TIME no matter what language I’m speaking). Even when highly educated Egyptians–and other Arabs of different nationalities–speak English, their speech is often littered with ‘bs.’ It’s fantastic, I think.

5. هل

Albeit a very useful question word, هل is virtually non-existent in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. Most questions, in fact, don’t involve a question word at all–if you want to say “Are you going?” All you have to say is: هتروح؟

One exception, though, includes questions that start with “Weren’t you…”

Example: “Weren’t you going to read this book?” امش كنت هتقرا الكتاب دا؟ –In this case, امش marks ‘were you not.’ This is a very useful little tip it took me a while to internalize

6. الى for ‘to’

This sounds super weird when you say it in Egyptian. In MSA, to say that you’re going to go the university, for example, you would say سوف اذهب الى الجامعة. In Egyptian, the same thought is expressed as: “هاروح للجامعة”

ل is most often used to replace الى in the ‘going to’ sort of sense, although this is a bit flexible. In Levantine, على replaces الى for this specific context.



Stay tuned for more of these types of lists as I encounter more foreigners awkwardly speaking FusHa while ordering stuff.

Tell me what you would add to this list in the comments!


  1. I hear a lot of بخير from students, which usually sounds stilted given the context
    فضط (but you indirectly covered that with bs
    خارج and داخل
    مطر for rain, طقس for weather
    there’s a lot of them but you definitely nailed the essentials! what a great resource you’re putting together.


    our resident khawaja said this one all the time. and the other result of this is random people seeing you are foreign and automatically speaking to you in Very Slow Fus7a.

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