FuSHa to Shami 11: Participles

Participles (اسم فاعل واسم مفعول) are much more broadly used in Shami than in fuSHa. Often described lazily as equivalent to the English continuous, this is only sometimes the case and learning to use them properly (and understand their meaning) is very important to understanding normal speech.


Passive participles are basically the same as in fuSHa, except that those which are formed with a mu- prefix are usually formed with a m(é)- prefix instead (مكسر mkassar ‘broken’). Form I hollow participles are regularised (مبيوع mabyuu3 ‘sold’, not مباع) and in Syr/Leb – though not in Jor/Pal – form I defective participles are prefixed with me-, not ma- (مطفي méTfi ‘switched off’).

Outside form I, active participles are also generally formed similarly to fuSHa, with the same exception of m(é)– replacing mu- (متعلم mét3allem ‘educated’, mtarjem ‘having translated, translator’). In form I most verbs form their participles on a variant of the faa3el pattern as in fuSHa.

It is important to note as well that in recent ‘borrowings’ from fuSHa, in more educated speech, etc, fuSHa forms are used as well even in colloquial: مثقف musaqqaf ‘cultured’, متداول mutadaawel ‘ranging’ etc.

There is an additional form I participle pattern in fa3laan (or for a few irregular verbs fé3laan) for some form I verbs (تعبان ta3baan ‘tired’, بردان bardaan ‘cold’, ربيان rébyaan ‘having grown up’, سكران sékraan ‘drunk’). You have probably already encountered this in fuSHa with تعبان, جوعان and other related forms, although some teachers will tell you that this is not in fact proper fuSHa. Regardless of its correctness in writing, this form is found with quite a few verbs in the Levant. In Jor/Pal/Leb, these forms are almost exclusively used with a relatively small set of verbs of becoming: تعب ‘get tired’, برد ‘get cold’, سكر ‘get drunk’. In Syrian in particular, however, its usage has been extended to a lot more verbs, and this much broader use (عرفان , فهمان, وصلان, شربان)  is very characteristic of Syrian.

Whether a verb has a fa3laan or a faa3el participle is to some extent unpredictable and has to be learnt, especially in Syrian. Most form I verbs of becoming, however, have one of these participles.



Active participles especially are very common in colloquial. The use you’ve probably encountered if you have any familiarity with any dialect at all is with certain verbs of motion. For these, the participle is often used in a continuous way:

وين رايح؟ ween raaye7? – where are you going?

ماشيين maashyiin – we’re walking

This can of course be used in a future sense similar to the English continuous:

نازل هون؟ naazel hoon? – are you getting out here?

With most verbs, however, the participle has the sense of completion of an action often lining up with the English present perfect. This is easiest to show with verbs of becoming. You probably already know تعب té3eb ‘get tired’ and its participle تعبان ta3baan ‘tired’. Another good example is طول Téwel ‘get long, tall’ and its causative equivalent Tawwal ‘lengthen, let grow longer’, whose participles contrast with simple طويل ‘long, tall’.

دقنك طولان da2nak Toolaan – your beard has got longer/is longer

مطول دقنك mTawwel da2nak – you’ve grown your beard out/let it grow longer

Do not mistake forms like كاتب, دارس etc for ‘writing’, ‘studying’. This will confuse your understanding and, if you use them that way, the meaning you’re trying to put across!

There are some verbs which typically have a ‘becoming’ sense in colloquial which are not necessarily used in the same way in fuSHa. لبس lébes for example in colloquial means ‘get dressed’ or with an object ‘put on’, and as such لابس laabes means ‘wearing’ or ‘having got dressed’. بلبس bélbes means ‘I get dressed’ or ‘I put on’; it doesn’t mean ‘I’m wearing’. The same applies to نام naam, which usually means ‘go to sleep’ (thus نايم is sleeping and بنام means ‘I go to sleep’ and not ‘I’m sleeping’), سكن sakan, which usually means ‘take up residence’ (thus ساكن is ‘living’), and many others.

The sense of completion, however, is not restricted to verbs of becoming or intransitive verbs:

سمعت انو فاتح محامي smé3t énno faate7 mu7aami – I heard he’s opened a lawyer[‘s practice]

كاتبلك كل شي ع الورقة kaatéblak kéll shi 3alwara2a – I’ve written everything down for you on the paper

Confusingly, even verbs of motion can have this sense. We saw رايح above in a continuous meaning, but it can also mean ‘have been’:

رايح شي على المانيا؟ raaye7 shi 3ala 2almaanya? – have you ever been to Germany?

قديش صارلكون طالعين من الحارة ‭2addeesh Sallkon Taal3iin mn él7aara? – how long has it been since you left the neighbourhood [= how long has it become for you having left the neighbourhood?]

Participles can also be used in an emphatic future sense stressing the certainty (or impossibility) of an action:

اي من هلق موقع عليه ee mén halla2 mwaqqe3 3alee – consider it signed [from now I’ve signed it]

ماني باعتة حدا لعندك maani baa3te 7ada la3éndak – I’m not sending anyone to your house! (depending on context this could also be ‘I haven’t sent…’)

Participles with objects

With noun objects participles do not form an iDaafe but act like verbs. This is not clear in the masculine, but in the feminine (where -e should become -et) it is obvious:

انا كاتبة رسالة ana kaatbe risaale – I’ve written a letter

When object pronouns are attached to a feminine participle with ة, the ة becomes -t:

مسويتو msawwiito – she’s done it

Furthermore, when the subject is second person انتي, participles gain an -ii- when a pronoun is added. This does not apply if the subject is otherwise feminine:

مخبيتيه؟ mkhabbiitii? – have you hidden it?

Participles and nouns-from-participles

Some participles proper (i.e. parts of the verbal paradigm) are also nouns with a distinct meaning – كاتب kaateb and طالب Taaleb can either be participles ‘having written’ and ‘asked for’ or nouns meaning ‘writer’ or ‘student’. These are obviously etymologically derived from the participles, but they’re distinct and often have their own broken plurals (kéttaab and Téllaab in these cases) which do not work for the plurals of the participles. They also form iDaafe with their objects rather than taking direct objects normally:

هي كاتبة لكتاب hiyye kaatbet léktaab – she’s the author of the book

There are a number of cases with non-form I verbs where rather than using the colloquial participle, the noun equivalent is taken from fuSHa and has mu- instead:

mudarreb – coach / mdarreb having trained (someone)

mufawwaD – commissioner / mfawwaD – commissioned

These are distinct. To use mdarreb for ‘coach’ (or, for that matter, mudarreb for ‘having trained’) is incorrect.



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