Team Nisreen: There’s No Hope 2

هلأ بدي اسألك سؤال. مين اكتر, نحنا ولا هنن؟
halla2 béddi és2alak su2aal. miin aktar, né7na wélla hénnen?
I want to ask you a question. Are there more of us or more of them?

miin aktar?  – Unlike in (at least my) English, you say straightforwardly in Arabic ‘we are [X number]’, ‘we are many’, as opposed to ‘there are X of us, there are a lot of us.

wélla – ‘or’, used commonly in questions where there are two mutually exclusive options.

حسب. شو قصدك بنحنا ؟
7asab. shu 2aSdak b-né7na?

It depends. What do you mean by ‘us’?

7asab – a preposition meaning ‘according to’, ‘depending on’, here used on its own to mean ‘it depends’.

2aSd – meaning, intention.

بشكل عام
bi-shek@l 3aamm.
In general.

w hénnen?
And them?

كمان بشكل عام
kamaan bi-shek@l 3aamm.
In general too.

ولله اذا بشكل عام نحنا اكتر منهن بكتير
waLLa iza bi-shek@l 3aamm, né7na aktar ménnon b@ktiir.
Well, if we’re talking generally – there’s a lot more of us than there are of them.

طيب ليش هنن دائما بيربحونا؟
Tayyib leesh hénnen daa2iman byerba7uuna?
OK, so why are they always beating us?

ايوا. يا سيدي هنن بيربحونا لإنهن عم يطبقو علينا خطة
eewa. yaa siidi, hénnen byerba7uuna la2énnon 3am yTabbe2u khéTTa.
I see. Well, they beat us because they’re carrying out a plan against us.

eewa – in Syrian means ‘I see’ and not usually ‘yes’ (as it does in Egyptian).

yaa siidi – ‘sir’. A common term of address between friends, especially used to begin philosophising.

Tabba2 khéTTa – this is actually a slightly tricky one to translate, although the meaning is clear – Tabba2 means to apply (a law) or put (a plan) into action.

شو هالخطة دخلك؟
shu ha-lkhéTTa dakhlak?
What plan is that then?

dakhlak – this probably originally meant something like ‘under your protection’, and is synonymous with dakhiilak and a range of other words which mean something like ‘if you please’.

خطة فرق تسد
khéTTet farriq tasud.
Divide and conquer.

farriq tasud – divide and conquer, in MSA. Farriq is an imperative ‘divide’ and tasud is a jussive form of tasuudu ‘to rule’. You can put a jussive verb Y after another verb X to mean do X so that you Y.

ايوا… طيب, ليش ما منطبق معهن شي خطة؟
aywa… Tayyib, leesh maa ménTabbe2 ma3on shi khéTTa?
I see… OK, so why don’t we put in place a plan for them?

shi – an optional indefinite article here, like ‘a’.

عم منطبق. مين اللي قللك انو ما عم منطبق؟
3am ménTabbe2. miin élli 2al-lak énno maa 3am
We are. Who told you we weren’t?

‘Who is it that told you that we aren’t putting in place [a plan]?’

انو خطة؟
anu khéTTa?
What plan?

anu – anu/ani mean ‘which’, and in interrogative sentences are synonymous with ayy, the more familiar form from fuSHaa. Some speakers use anu for masculine and ani for feminine, but lots of speakers use either anu or ani generally for both.

نفس الخطة
nafs él-khéTTa.
The same plan.

هاي تبع فرق تسد؟
haay taba3 farriq tasud?
The divide and conquer one?

Taba3, the Levantine bitaa3. It can agree – here it would be tab3et – but often it doesn’t.

The very same.

bi7azaafiira is a fuSHa expression meaning something like ‘lock, stock and barrel’, ‘in its totality’.

وليش هنن عم يربحونا؟
w leesh hénnen 3am yérba7uuna?
But why are they beating us?

لإنو عم نطبق معهن نفس الخطة
la2énno 3am @nTabbe2 ma3on nafs él-khéTTa.
Because we’re putting in place the same plan for them.

ما فهمت عليك
maa fhémt 3aleek.
I don’t understand.

لك قلتلك. عم نطبق معهن نفس الخطة
lak 2élt-éllak. 3am @nTabbe2 ma3on nafs él-khéTTa.
I told you. We’re putting in place the same plan for them.

lak – the old attention grabber again.

مبلا مبلا, هاي فهمتها
mbala mbala, haay fhémta.
No, no – I get that.

mbala is like ‘si’ in French here – it’s a negative response to a negative (in this case the implied ‘you haven’t understood). In fuSHaa this is bala بلى.

haay – when ‘this’ refers to a situation or something abstract, it is usually feminine. Literally he says ‘this, I’ve understood it.’

لا هاي بالذات ما فهمتها
la2 haay bizzaat maa fhémta.
No, this is exactly what you don’t get.

bizzaat – precisely, in itself.

لأ فهمتها, عم منطبق معهن نفس الخطة. بس ليش هنن دائما بيربحونا؟
la2 fhémta. 3am ménTabbe2 ma3on nafs él-khéTTa. bass leesh hénnen daa2iman byérba7uuna?!
No, I get it. We’re putting the same plan in place for them. But why do they always beat us?

لك لإنو عم نطبق معهن نفس الخطة. يعني معهن مو عليهن, فهام!
lak la2énno 3am @nTabbe2 ma3hon nafs él-khéTTa! ya3ni ma3hon, muu 3aleyhon! fhaam!
Because we’re putting in place the plan for them! For them, not against them! Understand!

The punchline here rests on the multiple meanings of ma3, which do not translate perfectly into English. Whilst 3ala can only have a meaning of action which is against or to the detriment of what follows it, ma3 has a broader use than English with which it is a bit difficult to explain – na3mel ma3on nafs il7arakaat ‘let’s do the same things to them’. It also, of course, means ‘with’ in the sense of ‘in conjunction with’.

ايوا… ايوا… هلأ فهمت عليك. بتفرق.. بتفرق
eewa… eewa, eewa. halla2 fhémt 3aleek. btéfre2. btéfre2.
Huh. I see. Now I understand. That is different…

btéfre2 (3an) – be different (from), or make a difference. muu faar2a ma3i (maa btéfre2 ma3i, muu far2aane ma3i etc) means ‘it makes no difference to me’.

بتفرق لكان ما بتفرق؟
btéfre2 lakaan maa btéfre2?
Of course it’s different!

lakaan maa btéfre2? – This is yet another use of lakaan. Here it’s a rhetorical question immediately following the statement. ‘Of course it makes a difference – how could it not?’


منيح اللي فهمت عليي
mnii7 élli fhémt 3aleek.
It’s good you understood.

You might expect énno in this sense of ‘that’, and énno would also work here. For unfathomable reasons, though, élli also works with a small set of adjectives which largely seem to express value judgements about a situation.

مو عليون
muu 3aleyyon.
Not against them.

شغلة واضحة متل عين الشمس بدو تلت ساعات ليفهمها
shéghle waaD7a mét@l 3een ésh-shams béddo tlétt saa3aat la-yéfhama.
There as clear as day and it takes him three hours to understand it.

shéghle – thingy, thing.

waaD7a mét@l 3een ésh-shams – ‘clear like the sun’s eye’ (i.e. disc). This is quite a common collocation.

béddo tlétt… – literally the whole structure is ‘a thing that is as clear as the sun’s eye, he needs three hours to understand it’. Béddi is often used in time expressions like this: béddi kham@s da2aaye2 la-2uuSal ‘I’ll be there in five minutes’, ‘it’ll take me five minutes’.


  1. Hi Chris I had a question about going from fus7a to shaami. how should modify or possess words in spoken Arabic when I know they originally ended in taa marbuTTa? Like from fus7a my understanding is the big hospital = المستشفى الكبير; but I feel like I’ve heard Syrians modify words like this with *feminine* adjectives. I might have even heard them “untie” the ending of such words when adding a possessive pronoun suffix (like mašfáton for “their hospital” in Shaami). I may have just misheard.

    1. Hi Indran,

      As I think I mentioned in the nouns post, mustashfa and other words that end not in taa marbuuTa but in an alif maqSuura that represents one of the consonants of the root (which in fuSHa are masculine) – e.g. mustashfa < sh-f-y, ma3na < 3-n-y - are often treated as feminine, so you're right. Some speakers go even further and treat the ending like a full on taa marbuuTa. If you google you will find examples of people using مستشفت mustashfet and مشفت mashfet or whatever in 3ammiyye, and there are a few examples found in fixed phrases (like ma3naata ‘in that case’). But this is I think generally nonstandard.

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