Fusha to Shami 30: Possibility, likelihood, ability and obligation

This should probably have come much earlier, but better late than never!


ممكن mumken/mémken

This one literally means ‘is possible’ and is usually best translated as ‘can’, ‘could’ or ‘might’ depending on context. As an auxiliary, it is followed by a subjunctive verb:

ممكن تروح معنا اذا بدك mémken @truu7 ma3na iza béddak – you can go with us if you want

بتعرف انه الواحد احيانا ممكن يطلع خلقه bta3ref énno ilwaa7ed a7yaanan mumken yéTla3 khél2oyou know that sometimes, a person can lose their temper… [= that one sometimes their temper can rise]

الله وحدو بيعلم شو ممكن تجيني أحاسيس و مشاعير aLLa wa7do bya3lem shu mémken tijiini a7aasiis w mashaa3iir – only God knows what feelings I might have [= what feelings and feelings might come to me]

For the past, we have to use كان as an auxiliary. This gives a counterfactual meaning (could have, but didn’t).

كان ممكن يعمل فتنة بيني وبين امي kaan mémken ya3mel fitne beeni wbeen émmi – it could’ve caused real trouble between me and my mum

كان ممكن يعمل اي شي بدو ياه kaan mumken ya3mel eyy shi béddo yaa – he could have done anything he wanted

It can also be used with subjunctive kaan plus a past verb:

ممكن يكون راح يجيب بيكيت دخان mémken ykuun raa7 yjiib baakeet dékhkhaan – he might have gone to get a packet of cigarettes

It can be used in requests as well, like English ‘could’:

لو سمحت ممكن تسكر الشباك؟ law sama7@t mumken tsakker éshshébbaak? excuse me, could you close the window?

In this sense it can appear without a verb:

ممكن قلم؟ mumken 2alam? – could I have a pen?

It appears on its own as well:

ولا ممكن! wala mumken! – it’s just not possible (anymore!)

اي ممكن ee mumken – yeah, possibly (or yes, I can/could, yes it can/could etc)

كل شي ممكن kéll shi mémken – anything’s possible

اذا ممكن iza mumken – if that’s possible (if you can, etc etc)

يمكن yémken

Yémken is a frozen verbal form without a b- prefix. It is an adverbial form and often means ‘perhaps’ or ‘possibly’. In this sense it is much freer in terms of where it can go in the sentence than mémken is:

يمكن اكتريت المشاكل اللي بتصير بالحياة سببها انو… yémken aktariit élmashaakel élli bétSiir bi-l7ayaat sababa énno… – perhaps the reason for most of the problems that happen in life is…

لحتا تترجمها بدك يمكن تكتب هامش صفحتين شرح لالها حتا يفهمها القارئ la7atta ttarjémha béddak yémken téktob haamesh Séf@7teen shar@7 la2ilha 7atta yéfhamha lqaare2 – in order to translate it you’d need to write maybe a two-page long footnote explaining it for the reader to understand…

مو مكتوبة بصيغة صح يمكن muu maktuube bSiigha Sa77 yémken – it might not be written right

يمكن عمر بن الخطاب كان ناجح نوعا ما yémken 3omar bin al-khaTTaab kaan naaje7 naw3an ma – I guess/maybe (the TV series) Umar bin al-Khattab was sort of good

You can use it with the past too:

يمكن راح يمكن ما راح yémken raa7 yémken maa raa7 – maybe he went, maybe he didn’t

It is also used like mémken as an auxiliary with a subjunctive:

يمكن ما يتوفر معي yémken maa yétwaffar 3éndi – I might not be able to get it (= the money) [= it might not become available with me]

It occasionally acts like a proper verb meaning ‘be possible’:

اكتر ما يمكن aktar ma yémken – as much as possible

بصير biSiir

This is typically an auxiliary and means approximately ‘is it possible/acceptable?’ It appears with subjunctive verbs:

ما بصير تحكي هيك قدام الضيوف maa biSiir té7ki heek 2éddaam léDyuuf – it’s not right for you to talk like that in front of the guests!

بصير احكيلك اشتقتلك ولا الجديدة للي عندك بتغار؟ biSiir é7kiilak @shta2téllak wélla léjdiide lli 3éndak bétghaar? – am I allowed to tell you I missed you or is your new (girlfriend) the jealous type?

بصير احول خطي من اجتماعي لخط زين الجديد؟ biSiir a7awwel khaTTi min ijtimaa3i la-khaTT zeen lijdiid? – is it possible to change my (phone) contract from the ‘sociable’ one to Zain‘s new contract? [‘sociable’ was the name of one of Zain’s phone contracts]

Like mémken it can be used with nouns too:

بصير سؤال صغير؟ biSiir su2aal @zghiir? – can I just ask one question? [= a small question]

Generally this form is invariable (and should not be confused with other uses of Saar like ‘become’ and ‘happen’ which conjugate normally) but some Syrians accept the plural form with nouns like in the following sentence:

التنين بصيرو létneen biSiiru – both are possible, both work

بجوز bijuuz

بجوز is another frozen verbal form used similar to يمكن, meaning ‘possibly’ or ‘might’:

في منن بجوز اصلن من السويدا fii ménnon bijuuz aSlon mn éssweeda – there are some of them who might be originally from Sweida [= that their origin might be from Sweeda]

بجوز قلون رح يشتكي عليون bijuuz 2éllon ra7 yéshtéki 3aleyyon – maybe he told them he was going to make a complaint about them

It can appear with normal b-presents like this – if the verb refers to something general or actually present (as opposed to future):

بجوز بيرمز لشي او لشخص bijuuz byérmoz la-shi aw la-shakh@S – it might be a reference to a thing or a person

It can also appear in counterfactuals meaning ‘might have’ or ‘perhaps’ (depending on context):

لو هربو بجوز كانو نفدو law hérbu bijuuz kaanu nafadu – if they’d run away perhaps they’d have escaped/they might have escaped

Or it can act like mémken with future reference:

كمان في كلمة بجوز تفكرها مشابهة… kamaan fii kélme bijuuz tfakkérha mushaabiha – there’s another word you might think is similar…

بجوز احتاج مساعدتك bijuuz é7taaj musaa3adtak – I might need your help

بركي, بلكي bérki, belki

This one is a loanword from Turkish belki. In Damascus bérki (presumably a corruption) is more common but you will hear both. Belki is the normal form in Jordan and Palestine, I think. It is used almost exclusively with future reference, most commonly with b-present verbs:

بركي جبلك كل يوم بيتزا  bérki jéblak kéll yoom biitza – maybe I’ll bring you pizza every day

بركي منشوفك عن قريب bérki ménshuufak 3an 2ariib – maybe (hopefully) we’ll see you sometime soon

It is sometimes used with a past tense verb, but this also has future reference and carries a very specific meaning which is something like ‘but what if…’:

بركي انمسكت؟ bérki nmasak@t? – what if you get caught?!

وبركي ما قدرت ترجع؟ w-bérki maa 2dér@t térja3 – and what if you can’t come back?!

It is also used to connect two clauses with a sense that is sort of difficult to translate concisely into English. Usually the format is like this: ‘do X, bérki you’ll do Y’ and it means something like ‘so that you might’ in archaic English:

احكيلو بركي بزورنا é7kiilo bérki bizuurna – talk to him and maybe he’ll visit us

This joke illustrates this use well even if it doesn’t say much about marital life:

وحدة قالت لزوجها : حلمت انك علمتني السواقة و جبتلي سيارة كمان ، قلها زوجها ؛ كملي نومك بركي بتعملي حادث والله بياخدك wa7de 2aalet la-zoojha: 7alam@t énnak 3allamtni léswaa2a w-jébtélli siyyaara kamaan! 2éllha zoojha kammli noomek bérki bta3mli 7aades w-aLLa yaakhdik! – a woman said to her husband: ‘I dreamt you’d bought me a car and taught me to drive too!’ Her husband said: ‘go back to sleep and maybe (hopefully) you’ll have an accident!’ [= that you might have an accident, and God take you!]

مستحيل musta7iil

‘Impossible’, ‘it’s impossible’. Used with a subjunctive verb:

مستحيل انساكي musta7iil énsaaki – it would be impossible for me to forget you

The passive

The passive is often used to express general possibility/ability:

الزلمة ما بينمشى معو ézzalame maa byénmasha ma3o – you can’t get along with the guy [= he is not walked with]

ما بينهرب من هالسجن maa byénhareb mén has-séj@n – you can’t escape from this prison


اكيد akiid,  ع الاكيد ‪3al2akiid

Certainly, definitely, surely.

انتي اكيد مالك مقتنعة بيلي عم تقوليه inti akiid maalek méqtan3a byalli 3am t2uulii – you definitely/surely don’t believe what you’re saying

بيجي ع الاكيد خلال اسبوع byiji 3al2akiid khilaal ésbuu3 – it’ll definitely come within a week

ع الاغلب 3al2aghlab

Probably, most likely.

ع الاغلب ما في دوام لاول الشهر ‪3al2aghlab maa fii dawaam la-2awwal éshshah@r – most likely there’ll be no work ’til the beginning of next month

بكون bikuun

Bikuun is often used to express judgements about likelihood in a way similar to ‘must be’.

بدو يكون béddo ykuun

This construction is used to express judgements about likelihood in a way similar to ‘he must be’:

هلق بدو يكون مشي halla2 béddo ykuun méshi – by now he’ll have left

اجباري ijbaari

Literally ‘compulsory’, but used to mean ‘certainly’, ‘definitely’.


قدر / بيقدر ‪2éder/byé2der

This is the normal equivalent to ‘can’, but typically expresses ability of a person rather than possibility. It uses subjunctive:

بتقدر تقول مثلا بطلت من الشغل bté2der @t2uul masalan baTTal@t mn éshshégh@l – you can say for example ‘I stopped working…’

It can be used in the past to mean ‘couldn’t’, if it refers to one specific time:

بس ولله ما قدرت اعمل شي bass waLLa maa 2dér@t a3mel shi – but I swear, I couldn’t do anything

It can also be used in participle form (2édraan) referring to a specific time-delimited period:

متل اللي تعبان ومو قدران يمشي mét@l élli ta3baan w-muu 2édraan yémshi – like someone who’s worn out and can’t walk (normally)

With the preposition على it can also be used with nouns and pronouns:

اللي بتقدر عليه élli bté2der 3alee – what you can do, what you’re capable of

احسن بيحسن a7san byé7sen

Sometimes 7asan instead of a7san. In fuSHa this means ‘to do well’ or ‘do properly’ but in Syrian it’s used for simple ‘be able to’ or ‘can’ as a slightly less common synonym of 2éder:

ما احسنت نام maa a7san@t naam – I couldn’t sleep

Its participle is حسنان ‪7asnaan:

مو حسنان نام  muu 7asnaan naam – I can’t sleep

عرف / بيعرف ‪3éref bya3ref

Literally ‘to know’. Used with a subjunctive verb to indicate ‘know how to’:

انا بعرف سوق ana ba3ref suu2 – I know how to drive

Its semantics however often cover things we use ‘can’ for in English:

ما عم اعرف افتح الباب maa 3am a3ref éfta7 élbaab – I can’t work out how to open the door

لو سمحت وطي صوتك شوي! خليني اعرف كمل شغلي law sama7@t waTTi Sootak shweyy, khalliini a3ref kammel shéghli – please lower your voice and let me do my job [= know how to finish my work]

فيـ fii-

The pronominal forms of the preposition b- or a slightly different variation with an n added (fiini, fiik/fiinak, fiiki/fiinek, fii/fiino, fiyya/fiina, fiina, fiikon, fiyyon/fiinon) can be used with a subjunctive verb to express ability:

فينك تقول انو fiinak @t2uul énno – you could say that…

ما فيني امشي maa fiini émshi – I can’t walk

For the past, it requires kaan:

ما كان فيني اعمل شي maa kaan fiini a3mel shi – I wasn’t able to do anything


لازم laazem

‘Must’, ‘have to’, ‘should’. Used with a subjunctive verb:

لازم تروح laazem @truu7 – you have to go, you should go

With a negative (either muu or maa works, though maa is more common) it usually means ‘you shouldn’t/mustn’t’ etc and not ‘you don’t have to’:

ما لازم تروح maa laazem @truu7 – you shouldn’t go

It can be used in the past, but then its meaning is almost always counterfactual ‘should have (but didn’t)’. In order to say ‘I had to’ or ‘I was forced to’ you have to make use of other verbs (e.g. njabar@t). Laazem can either be placed into the past with كان or have a past verb used directly after it:

كان لازم تروح kaan laazem @truu7 – you should have gone

لازم رحت laazem ré7@t – you should have gone

لازم can also be used as a normal adjective meaning ‘necessary’:

هي الورقة مو لازمة hayy élwara2a muu laazme – this one’s not necessary

In this sense it can take a direct pronominal object:

المصاري لازمينني élmaSaari laazmiinni – I need the money [note maSaari is plural]

Often laazem + object suffix is used almost like a verb meaning ‘to need’ which then takes direct objects normally and uses yaa- with pronoun objects:

لازمني ياهون laazémni yaahon – I need it (the money) [= I need them]

ضروري Daruuri

Usually ‘urgent’ or ‘absolutely necessary’, used with a subjunctive verb:

ضروري تضوج هيك دغري؟ Daruuri TDuuj heek déghri? – do you have to get upset like that straight away??

اضطر مضطر DTarr méDTarr

Stronger than laazem. Often appears with انو:

اضطريت اني اشتري واحد جديد DTarreet énni éshtéri waa7ed @jdiid – I had to buy a new one

It can take a nominal object with على:

ماني مضطر عليون maani méDTarr 3aleyyon – I don’t need them urgently

انجبر مجبور majbuur njabar

‘Obligated’, ‘forced’. Majbuur is the participle, انجبر is the verb.

مجبور سافر majbuur saafer – I have to/I’m obliged to go abroad

كانت الطريق مسدودة فانجبرت ارجع kaant éTTarii2a masduude fa-njabar@t érja3 – the road was blocked so I had to come back

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