FuSHa to Shami 8: Present tense

One of the first differences you discover between fuSHa and Shami (or indeed fuSHa and Egyptian) is that the present tense you’re used to seeing in fuSHa is always appearing with a mysterious b- prefix. It’s difficult to miss, since it appears all over the place. Of course, present tense verbs can also appear without b-, and often do – but in this case, they are typically doing something vaguely subjunctive-y which we will discuss in more detail later.

Conjugation

The forms are quite similar to the fuSHa subjunctive. As elsewhere, there are no dual and no plural feminine forms. There are two main sets of prefixes used for the present tense depending on whether the ‘stem’ (the part that remains constant between all the forms, like -dros- or -darres-) begins with a consonant cluster or a single consonant:

درس daras
‘study’

ana b-é-dros (b-a-dros)

بدرس

انا

inte b-té-dros (b-ti-dros)

بتدرس

انت

inti b-té-dros-i (b-ti-dros-i)

بتدرسي

انتي

huwwe b-yé-dros (b-i-dros)

 بيدرس, بدرس

هو

hiyye b-té-dros (b-ti-dros)

بتدرس

هي

ni7na m-né-dros (b-ni-dros)

مندرس

نحنه

intu b-té-dros-u (b-ti-dros-u)

بتدرسو

انتو

hinnen b-yé-dros-u (b-i-dros-u)

بيدرسو

هنن

 

درس darras
‘teach, put through school’

ana b-darres (b-a-darres)

بدرس

انا

inte b-ét-darres (b-it-darres)

بتدرس

انت

inti b-ét-darrs-i (b-it-darrs-i)

بتدرسي

انتي

huwwe b-i-darres

 بدرس

هو

hiyye b-ét-darres (b-it-darres)

بتدرس

هي

ni7na m-én-darres (b-in-darres)

مندرس

نحنه

intu bé-t-darrs-u (b-it-darrs-u)

بتدرسو

انتو

hinnen b-i-darrs-u

بيدرسو

هنن

 

There are some important things to note. Where fuSHa has a in all of its prefixes, Syrian and Lebanese have é throughout and Jordanian and Palestinian have i throughout except in the first person where they have a, like fuSHa. Secondly, because Jo/Pal have a- in the first person, this allows them to contract the third person masculine form byidros to bidros. This can lead to confusion for the learner, because in Leb/Syr bédros is first person, whilst in Pal/Jor it is third person masculine.

Also important to note, although not related to fuSHa, is the first person plural, where b- changes to m- under the influence of n-. This does not happen for all speakers, however, and bn- is common especially in Jo/Pal.

As with the past tense, it’s a bit beyond the scope of this post to provide full conjugation tables for every kind of verb. But we should note one important exception to the Syrian/Lebanese selection of prefixes above. In the very common verbs 3éref ‘know’ and 3émel ‘do’, the prefix vowel is always in these dialects:

عمل ‭3émel
‘do’

ana b-a-3mel

بعمل

انا

inte b-ta-3mel

بتعمل

انت

inti b-ta-3mel-i

بتعملي

انتي

huwwe b-ya-3mel

 بيعمل

هو

hiyye b-ta-3mel

بتعمل

هي

ni7na m-na-3mel

منعمل

نحنه

intu b-ta-3mel-u

بتعملو

انتو

hinnen b-ya-3mel-u

بيعملو

هنن

 

This is not the case in Jor/Pal, where we get instead regular forms like bti3raf.

Usage

The present tense with b- is used to talk about generalisations, habitual action and dispositions. This mainly lines up with its use in fuSHa or the simple present in English:

بحبك b7ébbak ‘I love you’

بدرس دكتور bédros doktoor ‘I study medicine’

بروح لعندو كل يوم bruu7 la-3éndo kéll yoom ‘I go and see him every day’

Sometimes, however, it is best translated as ‘would’. This is its ‘dispositional’ usage and often involves an implied or present conditional:

محلي محلك ما بدفع ma7alli ma7allak maa bédfa3 ‘if I was in your shoes I wouldn’t pay’

It can also occasionally express continuous meaning, (e.g. Jor/Pal بمزح معك bamza7 ma3ak ‘I’m joking’). But this is more commonly expressed with the particle 3am which appears before either the b- form or the b-less form of the present tense:

ما عم بفهم عليك maa 3am béfham 3aleek ‘I’m not understanding you’

عم ييجي لعندك كتير هالإيام 3am yiiji la-3éndak @ktiir hal-2iyyaam ‘he’s coming to your house a lot these days’

Note that the present tense is negated by maa, not by laa as in fuSHa.

It is also used for the future:

اي بروح بكرا ee bruu7 bukra ‘yeah, I’ll go tomorrow’

And for polite requests/suggestions in Syr/Leb:

بتشرب قهوة؟ btéshrab 2ahwe? ‘would you like some coffee?’ [= will you drink]

بكون bikuun

The present tense form of the copula كان has a number of special uses. Firstly, it is commonly used (where we might expect no verb) when describing family relationships:

احمد بكون ابن خالي a7mad bikuun ib@n khaali – Ahmad is my cousin

هلبنت شو بتكنلك؟ halbin@t shu bétkén-lak? – what is this girl to you [= how is she related to you, she’s your what?]

It’s also used for future or for expressing conclusions:

بكرا الصبح بكون ع باب بيتك békra éSSéb@7 bikuun 3a baab beetak – I’ll be at your front door tomorrow morning

كل مخلوق ببعتلو فيديو خمس دقايق وبيضحك بعد دقيقة بكون مخلوق كذاب kéll makhluu2 béb3atlo viidyo kham@s da2aaye2 w byéD7ak ba3@d da2ii2a bikuun makhluu2 kazzaab – every person who I send a 5 minute video to who laughs after a minute is a liar [= will be a lying guy]

Leave a Reply