“I don’t know how to sleep”

مش عارفة انام

mesh arefa anam” (said by a female)

This actually strangely means “I can’t sleep.” The structure مش عارفة (I don’t know) is used very commonly in Egyptian to mean ‘cannot.’

True story: when I went back to America for a visit last year after just 6 months in Egypt, I said a whole host of ridiculous things, including “I don’t know how to open the door mom,” as well as the above. Another good one I almost said before catching myself: “I won’t know how to come to the party” (مش هاعرف اجي للحفلة / I can’t come to the party). The main idea here is, once you get to a certain point, Arabic syntax will creep its way into your native language and wreak havoc on your speaking  ability, so just prepare yourselves for that.

Anyone have other examples of Arabic grammatical structures invading your English speech?


  1. Egyptian Arabic syntax in questions has a times corrupted my English syntax resulting in lovely phrases like “You are doing what?”, “You are going where”, etc.

  2. A tiny example, not a whole line though: my Spanish instructor used to tell us that when she would go back to Spain she would call people with “ya” يا before the name and people would give her the “what the hell?” look 😀

  3. I frequently forget that it’s acceptable in English to list items with only a comma and use ‘and’ only for the last item.

  4. A buddy asked me what time it was, I looked at my watch and said “four and a half.” Luckily, he speaks Arabic also and thought it was amusing.

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