This is a list of the most common ‘basic’ prepositions (i.e. not the ones that are combinations of a preposition and a noun or an obvious derivation from a noun).
ب b- or bé-
b- perhaps most commonly expresses static location and lines up with English ‘in’, ‘at’ or fuSHa في.
بالبيت bi-lbeet – at home
بالسيارة bi-ssiyyaara – in the car
It is also used to express the instrument or means by which something is done:
عملتو بايدي 3mélto b-2iidi – I made it by hand [= with my hand]
بسرعة b-sér3a – quickly [= with speed]
It is also commonly used with the meaning ‘about’:
اليوم ما بقدر احكي فيه élyoom maa bé2der é7ki fii – I can’t talk about today
It is also idiomatically used in names of food, etc to mean ‘with’:
رز بعدس rézz b-3ad@s – rice and lentils (i.e. Jordanian-style mjaddara)
It is also used idiomatically replacing normal direct objects in a way that adds a nuance of long, continuous action (like the colloquial English use of ‘on’):
عم يضرب فيني 3am yéDrob fiini – he’s beating on me
As with other prepositions it is also used commonly with verbs in senses that seem relatively unconnected to its independent use:
اتطلع بـ TTalla3 b- ‘look at’
التقى بـ lta2a b- ‘meet with’
Most speakers do not have في as an independent preposition, but when pronoun suffixes are added to b- it becomes فيـ. In Syrian the pronoun forms are فيني فيك فيكي فيه فيا فينا فيكون فيون fiini fiik fiiki fii fiyya fiina fiikon fiyyon (occasionally fiiha, fiihon) – فيني is irregular. The regular form fiyyi is found in other dialects. In Pal/Jor fiyyo (for fii), fiikom and fiihom are used.
In Syrian and Lebanese, fii- is also very commonly used as a pseudoverb with subjunctive constructions, expressing ability:
ما فيني احكي هلق maa fiini é7ki halla2 – I can’t talk now [in Lebanese, maa fiyye/fiyyi…]
مع as a preposition almost always means ‘with’:
مع اختي ma3 ékhti – with my sister
There are occasions when it is idiomatically translated using another preposition in English, but its basic meaning is the same:
ما عم ينفتح معي maa 3am yénfate7 ma3i – I can’t get it to open [= it’s not opening with me]
شو صار معك shu Saar ma3ak – what happened to you [= what’s happened with you?]
كيفني معك؟ kiifni ma3ak? – what do you think of me? [= how am I with you?]
It is also used as a pseudoverb meaning ‘to have on you’, ‘to have with you’:
اي معي المصاري ee ma3i lmaSaari – I’ve got the money with me, yeah
In Jor/Pal, some speakers use the Egyptian-style form ma3aa- with suffix (معاي ma3aay) rather than the expected form ma3- (ma3i).
3énd (or sometimes in Syr/Leb 3and) expresses location near something or in the vicinity of something:
عند المدخل 3énd élmadkhal – by the entrance
انا عند الكازية ana 3énd élkaaziyye – I’m by the petrol station
It is commonly used in ways which are tricky to translate into English directly but preserve this meaning intuitively (often it can be translated with French chez):
كنت عند خالد ként 3énd khaaled – I was at Khaled’s
المشكلة عندك élmésh@kle 3éndak – the problem’s at your end
وقف عندك wa22ef 3éndak – stop where you are
It is frequently used as a pseudoverb meaning ‘have’, as in fuSHa:
عندي تلت اخوات 3éndi tlett ékhwaat – I have three brothers
Its pronoun forms are regular, except the 1pl form: عنا 3énna ‘we have’/’by us’.
3an commonly expresses distance or movement away from something:
قديش بتبعد عن البيت؟ 2addeesh btéb3od 3an élbeet – how far away is it from the house?
اذا نفصل راسو عن جسمو نهائيا iza nfaSal raaso 3an jismo nihaa2iyyan… – if his head was totally separated from his body…
It also commonly means ‘about’:
اللي قلتلك عنو élli 2éltéllak 3anno – the one I told you about
It means ‘for’ in the sense of ‘instead of’, as in these examples:
شيل عنك؟ shiil 3annak? – should I carry [it] for you [= instead of you]?
بدفع عنك bédfa3 3annak – I’ll pay for you
It also expresses, occasionally, duration (e.g. of a contract):
العقد عن سنة él3aq@d 3an séne – the contract is for a year
With pronouns it acquires an extra n: عنو 3anno ‘about him’, for example.
Mén (sometimes reduced to mn before vowels) is most commonly translatable as ‘from’, expressing movement away from something:
جاية من بيروت jaaye mén beeruut – I’m coming from Beirut
انا من برطانيا ana mén briTaanya – I’m from Britain
In this sense, it can be combined with other prepositions:
هات من عندك haat mén 3éndak – give me some of yours [= from by you]
من ع النيت mén 3a-nneet – off the internet
It also frequently means ‘by way of’ or ‘via’ or ‘through’:
من هون؟ mén hoon? – is it this way? (this is the root of the common arabophone English mistake ‘from here?’)
فات من الباب التاني faat mn élbaab éttaani – he came in through the other door
القطار بيمرق من هون élqiTaar byémro2 mén hoon – the train comes through here
من تحت الجسر mén ta7t éjjés@r – (go) underneath the bridge
It also very commonly expresses cause:
من غير شي متدايق mén gheer shi métdaaye2 – I’m annoyed because of something else
As a time expression, it means ‘since’ or ‘ago’ (equivalent to fuSHa mundhu):
من تلت سنين mén tlétt @sniin – three years ago
Like عن it gains an extra n when pronouns are attached: منو ménno ‘from him’.
la- generally lines up with fuSHa li-. It typically means ‘for’:
هدية لمرتي hdiyye la-marti – a present for my wife
It is also used, as in fuSHa, to express belonging outside the iDaafe construction:
لمين الشنطة؟ lamiin éshshanTa? – whose is the bag?
غنية لفيروز ghanniyye la-feeruuz – a song by Feyrouz, a song of Feyrouz’s (thus the common Arabophone mistake ‘a song for Feyrouz’, which means something else in English)
In some other limited contexts (mainly with function words) it expresses motion to or reason:
لوين؟ laween? – where to?
لعندك la3éndak – to your house
لهيك laheek – because of that, as a result
It also means ‘until’:
لهلق سهرانين؟ lahalla2 sahraaniin? – you’re still up? [= until now staying up?]
سهرانين للصبح sahraaniin la-SSéb@7 – we’re staying up until morning!
It is also commonly associated with verbs:
دقّ لـ da22 la- ‘ring up, phone’
حكى لـ 7aka la– ‘speak to’
It is also often combined with a normal object or possessive pronoun and a following noun for emphasis or, sometimes, for unclear reasons:
رفيقو لابوي rfii2o la-2abuuy – my father’s friend
سألو لإلو s2alo la-2élo – ask him [not me]
la- has two sets of pronominal forms, one independent and one which commonly attaches to verbs (and occasionally other parts of speech). We have discussed the attaching set already in the object pronoun section. The independent set are formed by attaching pronouns not to la- but to él-: الك الو élak élo etc. These sometimes come with an additional la- prefixed to them: لإلك la2élak:
الشنطة لإلك؟ ésh-shanTa la-2élak? – is the bag yours?
These independent forms are sometimes used as a pseudoverb expressing possession, as in fuSHa:
الك اخوات؟ élak ékhwaat? – do you have any brothers and sisters?
Ka- is comparatively rarely used in colloquial. It is usually used in the sense of ‘as’ you see in the following sentence:
ما بقدر انكر اصلي كعربي maa béd2der énkor 2aSli ka-3arabi – I can’t deny my origins as an Arab (or ‘as an Arab, I can’t…’ depending on pause)
In a related usage you may occasionally hear it in a difficult-to-translate sense meaning something like English -wise:
هلق انا كوضعي المالي تمامhalla2 2ana ka-waD3i lmaali tamaam – now I’m, money-wise, fine
This is by far the most complicated and multi-meaning preposition in both colloquial and probably fuSHa as well. It has two forms: على and simple عـ 3a-. The contracted form is always used before the definite article (3a-lbeet) and optionally used elsewhere too (3a raasi ‘on my head’).
It often means ‘on’ or ‘onto’, as in fuSHa:
علقو ع الحيط 3all2o 3al7eeT – hang it on the wall
ع التخت 3a-ttakh@t – on the bed
It also often translates English ‘at’ in the sense of alongside, by:
ع الشباك 3a-shshébbaak – at the window
ع الشارة 3a-shshaara – at the (traffic) lights
It has a similar meaning with a few other verbs:
قوص عليي 2awwaS 3aleyyi – he shot at me
تطلع على TTalla3 3ala – look at (or تطلع بـ)
In colloquial it is also the most common way of expressing movement towards or into something, replacing إلى in fuSHa (which does not exist):
رايحين ع الجامعة raay7iin 3a-jjaam3a – we’re going to university
فات ع الغرفة faat 3a-lghérfe – he came into the room
It is translated by ‘for/to’ in expressions like the following:
عزيز عليي 3aziiz 3aleyyi – dear to me
صغير عليك zghiir 3aleek – it’s (too) small for you
It often means something along the lines of ‘according to’:
ع الدور 3a-ddoor – take it in turns/you have to wait your turn [= (it works) according to (a system of) turns]
ماشي ع النظام maashi 3a-nniZaam – operating according to a system, in an orderly fashion
It can express a meaning of being in a particular state, as in the following expressions:
قديش صارلو على هالحالة؟ 2addeesh Sallo 3ala hal7aale? – how long’s he been in this state?
It is used in a large number of adverbial and adjectival expressions in a related sense:
على انفراد 3ala infiraad – in private
ع القديم 3a-l2adiim – old-fashioned
It also often expresses that its object is negatively affected by a verb, as in the following expressions:
تجوز عليي tjawwaz 3aleyyi – he married [a second wife, to my detriment] (this expression literally means ‘he married a second wife whilst I was still married to him’ and is difficult to translate pithily into English for obvious reasons)
طلّع عليي إشاعات Talla3 3aleyyi 2ishaa3aat – he started rumours about me
عم اطفي الشوفاج ع الاولاد بالليل 3am éTfi shshoofaaj 3a-l@wlaad billeel – I’ve been turning the heating off on the kids at night [i.e. to the kids’ detriment]
راح عليك الباص raa7 3aleek élbaaS – you missed the bus [the bus went, to your detriment]
As in the second example, it can mean ‘about’, often in a negative context: حكى على and حكى عن are supposedly distinct, with the first meaning ‘talk negatively about’ and the second a more neutral ‘talk about’. In reality it seems that على is increasingly becoming a neutral ‘about’ in some expressions:
اللي قلتلك عليه élli 2éltéllak 3alee – what I told you about
It can express ‘in spite of’:
انت معك حق على حيونتك – inte ma3ak 7a22 3ala 7eewantak – even though you’re a moron, you’re right
انت ولد ازعر وصرصري بس بحبك على عيبك inte walad az3ar w SarSari bass @b7ébbak 3ala 3eebak – you’re a petty thug, but I like you in spite of your flaws
Finally, it can express (like English ‘on’) that someone will pay for something or is responsible for something:
العرس عليي él3ar@s 3aleyyi – the (cost of) the wedding’s on me!
على حساب مين؟ 3ala 7saab miin? – who’s paying? [= on whose account?]
خلي الباقي عليي khalli lbaa2i 3aleyyi – leave the rest to me [= on me]
In a related sense, it can be used as a pseudoverb with a subjunctive verb following it in the meaning ‘must’ (also found in fuSHa):
عليكون تدفعو 3aleekon tédfa3u – you must pay
The pronominal forms are attached to the root 3alee-: عليي 3aleyyi etc.