FuSHa to Shami 16: Relative (adjective) clauses


As in fuSHa, relative clauses require a relativising particle when attached to a definite noun and no particle if attached to an indefinite noun. Unlike fuSHa – where this particle declines for case, gender, and number – in colloquial it is invariable, either élli/illi or yalli (depending on speaker and region):

الرجال اللي بعرفو érréjjaal élli ba3rfo – the man I know

البنت يلي شفتها فايت عالبناية élbén@t yalli shéfta faayte 3a-lbinaaye ‘the girl you saw going into the building’

اليوم من الإيام اللي ما بقدر احكي فيها élyoom mn él2éyyaam élli maa bé2der é7ki fiyya ‘today is one of those days I can’t talk about’

élli/illi‘s initial vowel drops when preceded by a vowel, as if it was the definite article:

انا اسفة عاللي صار امبارح ana 2aasfe 3a-lli Saar @mbaare7 ‘I’m sorry for what happened yesterday’

Note that just like in fuSHa, a pronoun has to appear in the relative clause in the place of the noun you’ve ‘extracted’ unless it is the subject of the relative clause (I saw the girl who I know her), either as a direct object or attached to a pronoun.

élli/illi is sometimes shortened to él-/il-. In this case it looks the same as the definite article, but does not assimilate to sun letters:

شو الفكرة الآخدينا عن السوريين؟ shu élfékra él-2aakhdiina 3an éssuuriyyiin? – what do you think about Syrians? [= what’s the idea you’ve taken…]

élli is also used where man and maa are used in fuSHa as relative pronouns for ‘the one who’ and ‘the thing that’/’what’ (ما الموصولة). Whilst in fuSHa a direct object pronoun in the relative clause here is optional, with élli it is compulsory:

انا اسفة عاللي صار امبارح ana 2aasfe 3a-lli Saar @mbaare7 ‘I’m sorry for what happened yesterday’

اللي بدك ياه élli béddak yaa ‘what you want’

اللي صايرة بالبلد élli Saayre bi-lbalad ‘what’s happened in the country’

انا هيك اللي عاجبو عاجبو واللي ما عاجبو ينسانيا ana heek. élli 3aajbo 3aajbo wélli muu 3aajbo yénsaani ‘this is how I am – those who it pleases it pleases and those who it doesn’t please should forget me’


Indefinite nouns require no particle, as in fuSHa:

واحد اسمو جان waa7ed ésmo jaan ‘a guy whose name is Jaan’

واحد بيعرف انجليزي waa7ed bya3ref ingliizi ‘a guy who knows English’

When the indefinite noun in question is not only grammatically indefinite but also does not refer to a specific thing, the relative clause has the b-less verb form:

بدي بنت تعرف انجليزي béddi bén@t ta3ref ingliizi – I want a girl who speaks English’

This contrasts with a sentence like عم دور على بنت بتحكي انجليزي, which would also translate as ‘I’m looking for a girl who speaks English’ – but in this case the speaker has a specific girl in mind they are looking for. This distinction is basically identical to one found in French and explained at length here. The use of these sorts of relative clauses often lines up with ‘an X to Y’ structures in English:

شباك اهرب منو shébbaak éhrob ménno ‘a window to escape from’

مفتاح افتح فيه هالباب méftaa7 éfta7 fii ha-lbaab ‘a key to open/with which I can open this door’

Structures with ma

The particle ما ma can be attached to a number of nouns, producing constructions that translate as English relative clauses even though they are not strictly speaking relative clauses in Arabic. These structures have no equivalent in fuSHa:

لحظة ما la7Zet ma – the moment that

وقت ما wa2@t ma – the time that (when)

يوم ما yoom ma – the day that (when)

ساعة ما saa3et ma – the hour that (when)

محل ما, قرنة ما ma7all ma, 2érnet ma/2urnet ma – the place that

Most productively this appears with superlatives:

أحسن ما يمكن a7san ma yémken – as good as/the best possible

اقرب ما يكون a2rab ma ykuun – as close as/the closest there is


When a pronoun is used before a relative clause, the verb in the clause usually agrees with that pronoun (unlike in modern English, which usually puts the relative clause in the third person whatever):

انا يلي عطلت الاسونسير ana yalli 3aTTalt él2asoonseer – I’m the one who broke the lift

انا يلي بعرف ana yalli ba3ref! – of course I know (I’m the one who knows!)

With certain expressions like X mén noo3 él-… élli (X is the type of… who’), you sometimes see odd agreement patterns with the subject rather than with the noun the relative clause is actually attached to:

سوسن من نوع البنات يلي بيتغنى عنها sawsan mén noo3 élbanaat yalli byétghanna 3anha – Sawsan is the type of girl that you hear about in songs (= that is sung about)

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