FuSHa to Shami 35: حالs

I somehow managed to forget about حالs when writing this series, which considering how many interminable hours you have to spend learning to identify them when studying fuSHa (and how many ‘underline the 7aal‘ exercises I must have done) is quite some feat. To be fair to both me (for forgetting) and your teachers (for harping on about it for so long), 7aals are so omnipresent and so useful in both speech and writing that they’re almost hiding in plain sight. Hopefully this post will clarify some of the ~mysteries~ of the 7aal in spoken Levantine.

Unmarked 7aal

The main difference between the 7aal in fuSHa and its equivalent in 3aammiyye is that, like the related construction tamyiiz, the total disappearance of case marking from the spoken language means there is no accusative ending or other suffix marking the vast majority of 7aals in colloquial (although the old waaw of 7aal often does appear, for which see below).

The exact semantics of 7aals are actually a bit tricky to pin down or describe pithily, and I’m mainly preceding on the assumption you’re familiar with the construction from fuSHa to save me the trouble of doing a decent summary. Usually they’re adverbs of manner, which is to say that a 7aal construction (whether a verb, adjective, noun or participle) expresses an action or state taking place at the same time as the main verb and which gives us more detail about the action. 7aals usually answer, more or less, the question ‘how’.

A lot of these examples overlap with what we discussed in the tamyiiz post, possibly because these phenomena aren’t that distinct to start with and possibly because I’m just not very good at distinguishing them, but as long as you can do them both I don’t think it’s particularly important to be able to separate them analytically.

Verbs and participles generally must agree with the subject, just like elsewhere:

اجو من بعيد عم يركضو حاملين كيسا
éju mén ba3iid 3am yér@gDu 7aamliin kiisa
They came from afar, running, carrying her bag

راح راكب رجع ماشي
raa7 raakeb réje3 maashi
He went riding, he came back walking

جيت مبكر اليوم
jiit @mbakker élyoom
You’ve come early today

قعدت قريبة مني
2é3det 2ariibe ménni
She sat down near to me

واو الحال waaw él7aal 

Probably slightly more common than unmarked 7aals are 7aals formed with the conjunction w- ‘and’. This is always followed directly by a pronoun or a noun, and the sentence always has to be present in structure. If the subject of the 7aal clause is the same as that in the main clause, an appropriate pronoun must be used:

كأنها ميتة وهي عم تمشي بالشوارع
ka2énna mayyte w hiyye 3am témshi béshshawaare3
It’s as if she’s died while walking around in the street[s]

It can also have a different subject, in which case it is almost inevitably translated with ‘when’:

المكياج بدو ساعتين والكهربا قاطعة
élmékyaaj béddo saa3teen w élkahraba 2aaT3a
Makeup takes two hours when the power’s out [= cut]

Sometimes this weird English ‘with’ is a better translation as in the second 7aal here:

كنا نروح عالمدرسة مشي والشتي نازلة ونرجع وجواربنا مي ومبسوطين
kénna @nruu7 3a lmadrase mashi w éshshéte naazle w nérja3 w jawaarébna moyy w mabsuuTiin
We used to go to school on foot during the winter [= when winter had come down] and come back with our socks [soaked with] water, happy

Although the following sentence keeps to our rule by being present in structure, it shows how the use of resultative participles (which express a present state which is the result of an action in the past) can give a sort-of past meaning:

رجع وهو فاتح محاماة
réje3 w huwwe faate7 mu7aamaah
He came back having opened a lawyer’s practice

Alongside this general waaw 7aal there is another, much more specific kind of waaw which is less common and has freer syntax whilst looking at first glance fairly similar. This one can be followed by a sentence in any tense, and means ‘when’ in a way that suggests incompatibility between the action described by the main verb and the action described in the 7aal-like clause. I discussed this in the conjunctions post, but here’s the example sentence given there just for contrast:

كيف بدي ادفع عنك وراتبي خلص من يومين؟
kiif béddi édfa3 3annak w-raatbi khéleS mén yoomeen?
 how am I supposed to pay for you when I used up my salary [= my salary finished] two days ago?

This typically appears in a rhetorical question where the answer is expected to be in the negative (‘you can’t’ here). A similar construction like رجع من برطانيا وراتبو خلص where there is no rhetorical meaning of this kind is wrong – you’d need a participle here (وراتبو خالص).


I said above that case marking was not used in 7aals in spoken Levantine Arabic, and that is mainly true. There are however a huge number of adverbs (or rather a very productive adverb-forming suffix -an) which look like fuSHa 7aals and would probably be interpreted as one in fuSHa because of their function and accusative ending. This is particularly common with, but not exclusive to, nisbe endings.


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