FuSHa to Shami 19: Passive

The fuSHa internal passive (e.g. دُرِسَ) is not productive in Shami, although it exists in a number of commonly used set expressions and classicisms and may be used when someone is speaking in elevated language, fuSHa-style. This may seem like good news, but in fact it is not; the passive in Shami is actually much less regular than fuSHa as a result and not all verbs have a passive form.


Generally, although not exclusively, form I verbs correspond to an equivalent passive on form VII (nfa3al) or less commonly form VIII (fta3al):

قرى انقرى ‭2ara n2ara ‘read, to be read’

مسك انمسك mések nmasak ‘catch, to be caught’

نسي انتسى nési ntasa ‘‘forget, be forgotten’

Form II and form III verbs usually correspond to a passive on forms V and VI:

غيّر تغيّر ghayyar tghayyar ‘change, be changed’

صاحب تصاحب Saa7ab tSaa7ab ‘date, be dated’

Form X verbs do not usually have a passive, although there may be some exceptions.

As in fuSHa, the passive equivalent of an active verb usually has as its subject the direct object of a verb. If the verb normally takes an object with a preposition, the preposition is retained and the verb remains in the masculine singular. If the subject does not follow the preposition directly a pronoun stands in for it:

ما بينمشى معها maa byénmasha ma3a ‘she’s impossible to get along with’

ما بينهرب من هالسجن maa byénhareb mén has-séj@n – you can’t escape from this prison [= is not escaped from]

بدي تخت يننام فيه béddi takh@t yénnaam fii ‘I want a bed that can be slept in’ [= is slept in it]


The passive is often used in a way that lines up with English:

لو انمسكت ما بعرف شو كان صار فيني law @nmasak@t maa ba3ref shu kaan Saar fiini ‘if I’d been caught I don’t know what would have happened to me’

Its more idiomatic use which is very common in colloquial is to express things that should or should not be/can or cannot be done:

شغلات ما بتنحكى shéghlaat maa btén7aka ‘things that should not be said’

الزلمة ما بيتقاوى عليه ézzalame maa byét2aawa 3alee ‘the guy can’t be overpowered’

ولله خطك ما بينقرى waLLah khaTTak maa byén2ara ‘I swear to God, your handwriting is incomprehensible’

ما في ولا بنت تتصاحب maa fii wala bént tétSaa7ab ‘there’s not a single girl worth getting together with’

With many expressions it can be used in a way that distances an agent from an action, similar to English ‘I can’t get X to…’

ما عم ينفتح معي maa 3am yénfate7 ma3i ‘I can’t get it open’


  1. لو انمسكت ما بعرف شو كان صار فيني law @nmasak@t maa ba3ref shu kaan Saar fiini ‘if I’d been caught I don’t know what would have happened to me’

    could you touch on when to use fiini and when to use fiyyi? to what extent are they interchangeable?

    1. As to the form VI thing, yes, you’re right! These posts are probably full of typos so it’s very useful for somebody to point them out.

      fii- is covered in a later post (I realised belatedly in organising them that there was no post on prepositions), but in essence there’s no difference. Fiini is the usual Syrian form, fiyyi is found regionally in Syria and as the normal variant elsewhere. They’re interchangeable both as pronominal versions of bi- and as pseudoverbs meaning ‘can’.

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