FuSHa to Shami 5: Adjectives

Adjectives work pretty similarly to fuSHa, but are simpler.

Masculine, feminine and plural

Adjectives typically only have three or four forms in colloquial – a masculine singular, a feminine singular, and a plural which does not distinguish gender. In most adjectives the feminine is formed through addition of -a/e, sometimes dropping an unstressed short vowel:

كبير كبيرة kbiir kbiire – big

شاطر شاطرة shaaTer shaaTra – clever

مشهور مشهورة mashhuur mashhuura – famous

The only other regular feminine pattern that exists is for adjectives of ‘colour and defect’ (basically adjectives with masculines formed on af3al), which have a feminine in fa3la and usually a plural in fé3l:

أهبل هبلا ahbal hable hébl – idiot

اسود سودا aswad sooda suud – black

اسمر سمرا asmar samra sémr – brown-skinned

The plural is formed either through the addition of the suffix -iin or on a broken plural pattern (some of which are rare or nonexistent in fuSHa):

شاطر شاطرين shaaTer shaaTriin – clever

كبير كبار kbiir kbaar – big

قليل قلايلة ‭2aliil 2alaayle – few

Many speakers have an optional feminine plural in -aat which can only occur with feminine plurals:

طيب طيبين طيبات Tayyeb Tayybiin Tayybaat – tasty


Dual nouns usually take plural nouns:

رجالين اوادم réjjaaleen 2awaadim – two nice guys

شغلتين مهمين shégh@lteen muhummiin – two important things

Plural inanimate nouns, unlike in (modern) fuSHa, can occur with both feminine singular and plural adjectives. Where there is a nuance, it is that the singular generalises or collectivises more:

الكراسي فاضية élkaraasi faaDye – the chairs are empty

الكراسي فاضيين élkaraasi faaDyiin – the (various, different) chairs are empty

When the plural noun is used in a generic sense (i.e. when it is translated as ‘Xes are good’ and not ‘the Xes are good’), however, only the feminine is acceptable.

الكتب مفيدة élkétob mufiide – books are useful (or ‘the books are useful’)

الكتب مفيدين كتير élkétob mufiidiin @ktiir – the books are very useful = the ones you gave me

Matching feminine singular adjectives (or verbs) with plural animate nouns is also possible, although much less common (and again generalises).

Modifying adjectives

Unlike in fuSHa, adverbs modifying adjectives, like ktiir ‘very’ (and its fancier equivalent, jiddan) can go before the adjective as well as after it:

كتير صعب ktiir Sa3@b – very difficult

عن جد جدا مفيد ‭3an jadd jiddan mufiid – [it] really [was] very useful

بس شوي حامي صراحة bass shwayy 7aami Siraa7a – but it’s a bit hot, to be honest

Superlative and comparative

As in fuSHa not all adjectives can have a superlative derived from them. Only the simpler superlative and comparative constructions (with no agreement) appear in colloquial. Superlatives cannot usually stand on their own and require a noun to come after them:

أشطر واحد ashTar waa7ed – the cleverest (one)

If an adjective cannot form its own superlative, a construction with aktar immediately preceding the noun is used with the normal adjective:

اكتر واحد مجنون aktar waa7ed majnuun – the craziest one

This construction can also be used with verbs to translate ‘the X I Yed most’:

اكتر شي حبيتو بالاردن aktar shi 7abbeeto bélérdon – the thing I liked most about/in Jordan

Comparatives follow as in fuSHa:

واحد اشطر مني waa7ed ashTar ménni – someone cleverer than me

If an adjective cannot form its own comparative, a structure with the plain adjective plus aktar following it is used:

مجنون اكتر majnuun aktar – crazier

Negating adjectives

Unlike fuSHa, nominal sentences (i.e. sentences like ‘the X is Y’) are usually negated with a particle rather than a verb. This particle is muu in Syrian and mish in the other Levantine dialects:

هو مش جديد huwwe mish @jdiid – he’s not new

This particle, as well as the غير you may be familiar with from fuSHa, can precede adjectives with articles, in which case they take the article:

المو معقول انو يرشح حالو él-muu ma32uul énno yrashshe7 7aalo – the unreasonable/unbelievable thing was that he nominated himself

الشخص المو منيح ésh-shakhS él-muu mnii7 – the not good person

In Leb/Syr, adjectives can also be negated with the sort-of-verbal negative ‘to be’ structure, which conjugates for person as maani, maanak, maanek, maano, maan(h)a, maanna, maankon, maan(h)on:

ماني جديد maani jdiid – I’m not new

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