Saar-ySiir is another one of those very, very common verbs that appear all the time but that are rarely treated in detail. I said ages ago I was going to write a post about صار, and now seems like a good time to put it out. So here goes!

Happen

One of the core meanings of صار is ‘to happen’. Although حصل and the fuSHa حدث (pronounced 7adas) are also occasionally used, صار is by far the most common verb to appear with this meaning:

شو صار؟
shu Saar?
what happened?

The participle has resultative meaning:

شو صاير؟
shu Saayer?
what’s happened?

بدك تفهم شو اللي صاير بسوريا؟
béddak téfham shu 2élli Saayer bsuurya?
do you want to understand what’s happened in Syria?

The expression ‘it happens’, where ‘it’ refers to a situation or an occurrence, is translated with the feminine:

هي هيك بتصير
hiyye heek bétSiir
it happens like that, that’s how it happens

بتصير بحسن العائلات
bétSiir b2a7san él3aa2elaat
it happens to the best of us [= in the best of families]

For ‘happen to’, both -la- and 3ala are used:

شو صارلك؟
shu Saarlak?
what’s happened to you?

خايف يصير عليه شي
khaayef ySiir 3alee shi
I’m scared that something will happen to him

مع also occurs in a sense similar to the one we see in طلع مع and sometimes can be translated with ‘to’:

شو صار معك؟
shu Saar ma3ak?
 so what happened [with you/to you]?

صار معي كذا مرة
Saar ma3i keza marra
 it’s happened to me (I’ve seen it happen, etc) several times

Become

صار is also the most common verb used in the meaning of ‘become’.

قال ما تضحك على حدا احسن ما تصير متلو ‪
2aal maa téD7ak 3ala 7ada a7san ma tSiir métlo
he said don’t laugh at anyone, in case you end up like them [= become like them]

مبارح حلمت انو شجر التوت صار كتير عالي
mbaare7 7alamt énno shajar éttuut Saar @ktiir 3aali
yesterday I dreamt that the berry tree’d become really tall

Of course Arabic has a huge class of verbs which include the meaning ‘become’ or ‘get’ (مرض ‘become ill’, طول ‘become long(er)’, etc etc), which are very common and are often a more idiomatic choice than صار. But صار makes up for this by being used in lots of contexts where in English ‘become’ would be unidiomatic but where a change of state is implied:

وين صرت؟
ween Sér@t?
where’ve you got to? where are you?

صار عمرا تلت سنين اليوم
Saar 3émra tlét @sniin élyoom
she turned three today [= her age became]

صارت احسن الحمد لله
Saaret a7san él7amdulilla
she’s better [now], thank God

قديش صارت الساعة؟
2addeesh Saaret éssaa3a?
what time is it?

صار سمعت عن كذا حالة من السوريين يلي حصلوا عالجنسية التركية
Saar @smé3@t 3an keza 7aale mn éssuuriyyiin yalli 7aSalu 3a jjinsiyye ttérkiyye
I’ve heard of a few cases now of Syrians who’ve managed to get Turkish citizenship

It very commonly appears with verbs (usually subjunctive) expressing this same change of state. Depending on context it might be nicely translated as ‘these days’:

صار كلو بدو يتجوز
Saar kéllo béddo yétjawwaz
(nowadays, all of a sudden, these days etc) everyone wants to get married

صار عم يبكي كتير بالليل
Saar 3am yébki ktiir billeel
(nowadays) he’s crying a lot at night

صار الواحد اذا بدو يسلم ع ابوه يعمل فيديو ويشهر حاله ع الفيسبوك
 Saar élwaa7ed iza béddo ysallem 3ala abuu ya3mel fiidyo w yshahher 7aalo 3alfeesbuuk
– nowadays when people [=one] are gonna say hi to their dad they make a video (of it) and make themselves famous on Facebook

In some cases though it expresses a much more sudden change, in which case it is often best translated as ‘begin’ or ‘start’:

محشش مات أبو وهو بالعزا رن تلفونو وبعد ماخلص حكي صار يبكي
m7ashshesh maat abuu, bél3aza rann telefoono w ba3@d ma khallaS 7aki Saar yébki
once there was a stoner whose dad died. At the wake his phone rang and after he finished talking he started crying

صار سنو يوجعو
Saar sénno yuuja3o
his tooth started to hurt

There is a related usage with participles which have resultative meaning:

كام مرة صرت قايللك؟
kam marra Sér@t 2aayéllak?!
how many times have I told you?!

هلق صرت دافع تلت مرات
halla2 sér@t daafe3 tlét marraat
now I’ve paid three times

صرلي etc

Saar is also used with -la- pronouns in the sense of ‘have been Xing’, etc (literally ‘it has become X time to me that…). This is a variant of an equivalent construction with الـ (e.g. الي سنتين هون ‘I’ve been two years’). Normally the r assimilates to l.

قديش صرلك هون؟
2addeesh Sallak hoon?
how long have you been here?

صرلي سنة ماني شايفو؟
Salli séne maani shaayfo
It’s been a year since I last saw him, I haven’t seen him in a year

صرلي ساعة عم دقلو بس ما عم يرد
Salli saa3a 3am dé22éllo bass maa 3am yrédd
 I’ve been ringing him (repeatedly) for an hour but he’s not answering

In the above examples (which show off the different kinds of sentences that can be combined with Salli) the structure is Salli [X amount of time] + a verbal or nominal sentence. Rather than a noun expressing duration, you can also use a similar structure with من:

صرلي بالشركة من 2003
Salli bishshérke mn élalfeen w@tlaate
I’ve been at the company since 2003

This example also shows the occasional reordering of the constituent parts of the sentence, though the Salli + time ordering is much more common.

Sometimes it may lend itself to being translated as something like ‘it’s been (X amount of time) since’ or something along these lines depending on the stress of the sentence:

قديش صرلك؟
2addeesh Sallak?
how long’s it been? [since something]

قديش صرلك ما اكلت
2addeesh Sallak maa 2akal@t?

how long has it been since you last ate?

بصير biSiir

This means ‘it is permissible (right, etc)’ or ‘it is possible’. It can be combined with a subjunctive verb:

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 الواحد يزعل على رفيقو؟
biSiir élwaa7ed yéz3al 3ala rfii2o?
is it allowed for someone to be upset for his friend?

It can also be used with noun subjects:

التنتين بصيرو
étténteen biSiiru
both [sentences, ideas] work

This one is quite straightforward. ‘Anymore’ (in one of its senses anyway) expresses that there has been a change from something happening to it no longer happening: I don’t go there anymore.

ما عاد maa3aad مابقى maaba2a

There are two direct equivalents to ‘anymore’/’no longer’, both of them derived from verbs: ما بقى maa ba2a and ما عاد maa 3aad (this one is used in a fuSHa-y form in MSA too). Although they look pretty straightforwardly like negated past tense verbs, they don’t behave much like verbs – for a start, they’re usually invariable, not conjugating for person or number or gender:

ما عاد فيني اتحمل
maa 3aad fiini ét7ammal
I can’t cope anymore/any longer

ما عاد اعرف مثل دور المجامله
maa3aad a3ref massel door lémjaamle
I can’t flatter people anymore [= I no longer know how to act the role of flatterer]

مابقى اعرف شو بدي احكي
maaba2a a3ref shu béddi é7ki
I don’t know what to say anymore/I no longer know what to say

There are exceptions to this, though. Sometimes they do take normal verbal suffixes. Cowell suggests it’s particularly common for this to happen in the third person feminine singular, as in this example:

بحس انو اوجاعي ما عادت تنحمل
b7éss énno 2awjaa3i maa 3aadet tén7amel
I feel that my pain [= pains] is no longer bearable

Despite looking like pasts, they can also appear with negative imperatives:

ما بقى تحكي معي
maaba2a té7ki ma3i
never talk to me again/don’t talk to me anymore

It can also be used in sentences like the following where the reference is to the future. Although English ‘anymore’ can no longer be used here, if my Sunday School acquaintance with Biblical English is anything to go by it used to be possible to, and the meaning is fundamentally very similar even if we have to use a different English phrasing:

معقول ما عاد نرجع؟
ma32uul maa 3aad nérja3?
Can it be true that we’ll never go back [= we’ll not return anymore?]

بطل baTTal

This one literally means ‘stop’ or ‘stop being’. It can be used with either a subjunctive verb or with a noun/adjective, and sometimes can be translated nicely with ‘anymore’:

بطلنا نكيف
baTTalna nkayyef
We’re not having fun anymore [= we’ve stopped having fun]

طيب… رح يصنعو أدوية ويوزعوها ع الجوعانين يسفوها وتسد نفسهن ويبطلو جوعانين؟Tayyib… ra7 yiS@n3u ad@wye w ywazz3uwwa 3a ljoo3aaniin ysiffuwwa w tsidd nafson w ybaTTlu joo3aaniin?
OK… they’re going to produce medicines and hand them out to the starving that they can down and they’ll lose their appetites and won’t be hungry anymore?

Thanks to Aaron for reminding me of this one!

صار Saar

Another less explicit option that you often have is to use صار Saar which we’ve previously written about here and which often expresses a change of state in much the same way that ‘anymore’ does. See that post for more examples, but here’s one:

الواحد صار ما الو خاطر يبتسم من كتر ما قلبو عم يحترق
élwaa7ed Saar maa 2élo khaaTer yébtésem mén két@r ma 2albo 3am yé7tére2
You don’t [= one doesn’t] feel like smiling anymore because of how bad you feel inside [= from how much his heart is burning]

No direct equivalent to ‘already’ exists in Arabic, which is probably why a growing number of speakers familiar with English (and even some who aren’t!) use the borrowed form orredi (or older speakers in Lebanon deeja). This is not yet widespread enough or unstigmatised enough to recommend using, though, so for the moment let’s have a look at some of the partial equivalents you might want to familiarise yourself with instead. Each of these can be used in some of the circumstances ‘already’ can be used in.

من هلق mén halla2 

Literally ‘from now’. Often used to mean ‘from now on’, this is also used to translate a specific, present sense of ‘already’ which expresses surprise at or the unlikeliness of what you’re discussing. This is perhaps not a particularly helpful description, so here’s a couple of examples:

من هلق جعت وعطشت وبلشت نق, عن جد الصيام متعب كتير
mén halla2 jé3@t w 3aTash@t w ballash@t né22, 3anjadd éSSiyaam mét3ib @ktiir
I’m already hungry and thirsty [= got hungry and thirsty] and [I’ve already] started complaining, fasting really is very tiring!

 خلص المسلسل, مين راح يشتاق؟ انا من هلق اشتقت
khéleS élmusalsal, miin ra7 yéshtaa2? ana mén halla2 @shta2@t
The series is over – who’s going to miss it? I miss it already 

The meaning of ‘already’ comes pretty straightforwardly from its literal meaning of ‘from now’, and like the translations of ‘just’ we discussed last time prevents it from being used in non-present contexts.

سبق و saba2 w

One option quite commonly used in Syrian is the fuSHa-esque (but Shami-pronounced) saba2 w-. This literally means something like ‘it previously happened that’, and so can be used in circumstances where ‘already’ can be replaced with ‘previously’ or ‘formerly’:

في داعي روح شخصيا علما انو انا سبق ورحت مرتين واخدو بصمات الاصابع؟
fii daa3i ruu7 shakhSiyyan 3ilman énno ana saba2 w ré7@t marrteen w akhadu baSamaat él2aSaabe3?
Do I need to go in person, given that I’ve already been twice and they’ve taken my fingerprints?

سبق وقلتلك انو كتير صعب قراءة الفيديو بهادا اللون
saba2 w 2éltéllak énno ktiir Sa3b qiraa2t élviidyo bhaada lloon
I’ve already told you (I told you before) that it’s very difficult to read the video in this colour

صرت + resultative participle

An active participle with resultative meaning (e.g. كاتب  ‘having written’) can sometimes be used in conjunction with the verb صار ‘to become’ with a meaning similar to a certain use of ‘already’. It is much less common than ‘already’ in English, however, at least in Syrian – although it seems to be used more in Palestinian. It usually gives a connotation of weariness or frequency, comes along with a number (usually of times) and from personal experience it occurs most frequently by a long way with قال (but perhaps people have to repeat themselves at me more than the average person):

انا كم مرة صرت قايتلك ومفهمتك هي الحركات الولدنة بلاها
ana kam marra Sér@t 2aayéltak w @mfahhémtak hayy 7arakaat élwaldane balaaha!
How many times have I told you – stop it with this childish nonsense [= movements of childishness, without them!]

صرت شايف نفس الصورة شي عشر مرات
sér@t shaayef nafs éSSuura shi 3ashar marraat
I’ve seen the same photo about ten times already…

من الاصل, بالاصل bil2aS@l, mn él2aS@l

This one literally means something like ‘to start with’, but in some specific contexts it can translate ‘already’:

لا يلي بالاصل حلو ومو عامل تجميل بيبقا حلو
la2 yalli bil2aS@l 7élu w muu 3aamel tajmiil byéb2a 7élu
No, the ones who are already pretty [= pretty to start with] without getting surgery are still pretty

You are probably familiar with the fun (or not-so-fun) phenomenon of so-called tamyiiz (تمييز, sometimes translated into English as ‘specification’). In fuSHa, tamyiiz is one of the many uses of the accusative – you take a noun, stick it in the accusative, and it turns into something that can be (often clunkily) translated as ‘in terms of’ or ‘by way of’. This handy PDF gives some nice examples: يزداد ايمانًا ‘increase in belief’, يختلف علوًا ‘differ in height’, اجمل اسلوبًا ‘more pleasant with regard to style’. You’re probably most familiar with it from the last usage, with superlatives and comparatives.

Some arguable examples of the fuSHa forms are occasionally used in speech too (كتابةً kitaabatan ‘in writing’ for example) especially in higher registers, but productively tamyiiz constructions are formed in 3aammiyye without any case ending. This makes them more difficult to spot, but lots of examples of similar constructions do occur – and it’s important to understanding that you can recognise them.

Modifying verbs:

Tamyiiz constructions often appear modifying verbs in an adverbial sense. They can frequently but not always be translated with English ‘as’:

بشتغل مهندس béshtéghel muhandes – I work as an engineer (كـ here sounds funny and is a common non-native mistake)

جيت لجوء jiit lujuu2 – I came as a refugee [= I came refuge]

المصاري بجو شيكات élmaSaari biju sheekaat – the money comes in cheques

Sometimes they modify not the verb itself, but the object:

عطاني ياه هدية ‭3aTaani yaa hdiyye – he gave me it as a present

انت زودت الطين بلة اه inte zawwadt éTTiin bille aah – you’ve made the situation worse [increased the clay in terms of wetness]

They can modify participles, too – as in the following:

الكاس مليان مي élkaas mélyaan moyy – the glass is full of water

مبلول مي mabluul moyy – wet (with water)

compare:

عبيتو مي ‘I filled it with water’

انبليت مي ‘I got wet’

They can also modify the subject:

انقسمو قسمين n2asamu 2ésmeen – they were divided (into) two groups

I’m not sure my divisions into modifying the subject, object and verb are particularly scientific, but hopefully these examples give a decent impression of the breadth of possible semantics.

With question words

With questions with 2addeesh (‘how much’) and shu (‘what’), there is often a tamyiiz which narrows the specification of the question word. Unlike in English (‘what houses’, ‘how much change’), the tamyiiz typically appears later on:

قديش معك فراطة؟ 2addeesh ma3ak @fraaTa? – how much change do you have? [how much do you have (by way of) change?]

شو عندك افكار لتطوير البلد shu 3éndak 2afkaar la-taTwiir élbalad? – what ideas do you have for developing the country

They don’t necessarily have to be actual questions, either:

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 can come to me (by way of) feelings and feelings]

These are of course a subset of the versions above with subjects and objects.

Other uses in fuSHa

In fuSHa tamyiiz is also used for expressions of quantity (‘a glass of water’, ‘a kilo of sugar’) and for superlatives/comparatives where an afDal noun cannot be readily used (اكثر تعقيدًا ‘more complicated’ for example). In 3aammiyye the former is usually expressed with an iDaafe (kaasét moyy, kaast élmoyy) and the latter with a combination of a normal adjective and an afDal (معقد اكتر mu3aqqad 2aktar).

This transcription is of a scene from حلاوة الروح (‘sweetness/beauty of the soul’, though a literal translation doesn’t quite cover the meaning), which if I remember correctly came out a couple of years ago during peak musalsal season. In it our two heroes, Sara and Isma’il, meet in a Beirut bar by chance. Isma’il is the brother of a childhood friend of Sara’s, Nisreen. Sara, an aspiring filmmaker, has just got back to Beirut after months staying at her father’s house in Dubai. She has left without telling her father, who runs a TV station there and had promised her a job, after months of disappointment in which she has not even seen him once. She tells her Lebanese friend (whose name I have forgotten) about her plans, and halfway through the conversation Isma’il comes over to introduce himself.

 

وحياة الله انتي مجنونة. حدا بصيرلو يعيش بدبي بجي بهالوضع ع لبنان؟
wé7yaat aLLa énti majnuune. 7ada biSérlo y3iish b-dubayy biji b-ha-lwaD@3 3a lébnaan?
I swear to God, you’re mad. What kind of a person who’s able to live in Dubai comes to Lebanon with the way the situation is now?

وحياة الله – ‘by God’s life’ (w of oaths again). You might notice the e-like aa that this character has. This is because she’s Lebanese – one of the most marked features of the Lebanese dialect is this high aa sound.

حدا بصيرلو يعيش… بجي… this sentence is literally ‘would someone for whom it is possible (بصيرلو) to live in Dubai come to Lebanon in this situation?’ بصرلو يعيش بدبي is a relative clause attached to 7ada. As you can see, the long vowel in biSiir is shortened to biSér-lo when -lo is attached (as discussed here). Rhetorical questions using this structure are very common – في حدا بينسى لغتو الام؟ ‘what kind of a person forgets their native language?’

اي
ee
Someone like me.

Literally ‘yes’ (in answer to the rhetorical question in the sentence before, but translated liberally by me so that the English makes sense).

لإنك حمارة
la2énnek @7maara
Because you’re an idiot.

حمارة – both 7maar and ja7@sh (literally ‘donkey’) are used liberally to mean ‘idiot’, as in that Lindsay Lohan post.

لك لأ ولي. بس ناوية اعمل فيلمي الاول وشارك فيه بمهرجان المحطة اللي بديرها سيد الوالد واخد الجائزة الدهبية
lak la2 wlee. bass naawye a3mel filmi l2awwal w shaarek fii bmahrajaan élma7aTTa lli bidiira sayyed élwaaled w 2aakhod éjjaa2ize ddahabiyye.
Mate, no. But I’m planning on making my first film, entering it in the competition that father dearest’s TV channel is putting on, and winning gold.

ولي – the feminine equivalent of ولو, which is a familiar term of address similar here to saying ‘no, man’ (though obviously gendered).

ناوية اعمل… شارك… واخد – naawi and its feminine and plural variants are used in the meaning of ‘intending, planning to’, and of course are followed by subjunctive like other expressions of desire and intention. Here there are three verbs, all in firstp person singular: a3mel ‘(I) make’, shaarek ‘(I) participate’ and aakhod ‘(I) take’.

شارك فيه بمهرجان المحطة اللي بديرا سيد الوالد – ‘participate with it in the [film] festival of the [TV] station which sayyed élwaaled runs’. fii is ‘with it’, referring to the film. élli bidiira is ‘that (he) runs’ or ‘that he manages’ (he’s the مدير) – the -a, of course, refers back to the ma7aTTa.

سيد الوالد – a polite, Syrian way of referring to a father (feminine ست الوالدة). Here Sara is presumably using it to emphasise the distant relationship she has with her dad.

ليش نكاية يعني؟
leesh, nkaaye ya3ni?
What, to get back at him?

نكاية nkaaye (pronounced by Sara nikaaye) is literally an act of defiance or spite. In fuSHa the expression نكايةً فيه means ‘to spite him’.

اي نكاية
ee nikaaye.
Yeah, to get back at him.

ومعك تدفعي حقا لهلنكاية؟
w ma3ek tédfa3i 7a22a la-ha-lénkaaye?
And have you got enough money to get back at him?

معك تدفعي – ma3i, ma3ek etc followed by a subjunctive means ‘to have enough (money) to…’

حقها لهالنكاية – ‘the price of this act of defiance’? حق often appears in iDaafa meaning ‘the price of’ (presumably originally ‘the right [price] of’, ‘the [fair] cost of’). The -a la- construction is the same one mentioned here.

جمعت شوي من المصاري اللي اغدقها عليي سيد الوالد تعويضا عن اني ما شفتو بدبي ورح اشتري كامريا وقولي يا معين
jama3@t shwayy mn élmaSaari élli aghdaqa 3aleyyi sayyed élwaaled, ta3wiiDan 3an énni maa shéfto bdubayy, w ra7 éshteri kaamera w 2uuli yaa mu3iin.
I saved up some of the money that father dearest rained down on me to make up for the fact that I didn’t see him in Dubai, and I’m going to buy a camera, and… say good luck!

المصاري اللي اغدقها عليي سيد الوالد – the money that sayyed élwaaled poured [it] down on me. The -a here refers to مصاري, which can be plural or singular feminine depending on the context. اغدق is a fuSHa word – form IV – and Sara pronounces it with a qaaf although a colloquial form ghada2 from the same root also exists.

تعويضا عن اني ما شفتو – ta3wiiDan is a مفعول لأجله, a distinctly fuSHa construction that we see most commonly in speech in a few set phrases (محبةً بـ ‘out of love for’, خوفًا من ‘for fear that’ etc), especially when somebody is trying to be a bit more eloquent than usual. This whole sentence is a bit fuSHa-y, probably again to emphasise how distant her dad was being. تعويضا عن انو is literally ‘to make up for/as compensation for [the fact] that’.

قولي يا معين – literally ‘say O Helper’, literally a request for help from God – in usage something like ‘wish me luck’.

موفقة اي
mwaffa2a ee
Yeah, good luck.

اجى
éja
He’s coming.

Literally ‘he’s come’.

معناتا هو كمان بيعرفك
ma3naata huwwe kamaan bya3rfek
Then he must recognise you too…

معناتا – literally ‘its meaning’.

بيعرفك – as we’ll see below 3éref is often better translated with ‘recognise’ than ‘know’.

مسا الخير
masa lkheer
Good evening.

مسا النور
masa nnuur
Hi.

عفوا بس… سارا مو؟
3afwan bass saara muu?
Sorry, but… it’s Sara, right?

عفوا – pardon, excuse me, sorry.

اي
ee
Yes.

تذكرتيني؟
tzakkartiini?
Do you remember me?

Like lots of other verbs mentioned in this post, tzakkar is often used in the past when in English a present would be used – literally ‘have you remembered me?’

بصراحة طول الوقت كنت عم شبه عليك بس لأ ما تذكرت
bSiraa7a Tool élwa2@t ként 3am shabbeh 3aleek bass la2a maa tzakkar@t
To be honest, I’ve been trying to work out where I know you from this whole time, but no, I don’t remember.

شبه عليك – literally something like ‘making similar with someone’, i.e. trying to work out who it is you look like, comparing you with other people in my mind

اسماعيل اسماعيل اخوها لنسرين الاحمد
smaa3iil, smaa3iil, akhuwwa la-nisriin él2a7mad
Isma’il – Nisreen al-Ahmad’s brother.

اه اهلين اهلين اسماعيل كيفك؟ لك متغير كتير عن جد ما عرفتك. كيفا نسرين, وين صارت, شو الاخبار؟
aah 2ahleen 2ahleen smaa3iil! kiifak? lak métghayyer @ktiir, 3an jadd maa 3réftak! kiifa nisriin, ween Saaret, shu l2akhbaar?
Right! Hi, hi – how are you doing? You’ve changed so much – I honestly didn’t recognise you! How’s Nisreen? Where is she these days, what’s she up to?

متغير – ‘having changed’. This is a participle with resultative meaning.

عن جد – seriously, honestly.

ما عرفتك – the word عرف here is in the meaning of ‘come to know’ or ‘recognise’ and not ‘to know’. ما عرفتك can mean both ‘I don’t recognise you’ (with 3éref here working like tzakkar above) or ‘I didn’t recognise you’.

نسرين… عطتك عمرا.
nisriin… 3aTétek 3émra.
Nisreen… passed away.

عطتك عمرا – a euphemism for ‘died’, literally ‘gave you her life’. The etymological logic here is similar to the one you get in the expression العمر الك when somebody dies.

شو؟ كيف يعني, بالاحداث؟
shu? kiif ya3ni… bil2a7daas?
What? How? In the ‘situation’?

الاحداث – a euphemism you will hear all the time if you talk to Syrians. Literally ‘the events’ (plural of حدث), referring to the situation in Syria.

هي اي بالاحداث. من شي سنة تقريبا. انا اسف, ما كان بدي ديقك بهيك موضوع. قوليلي انتي كيفك؟
ان شاء الله تمام؟ مستقرة هون ببيروت؟
hiyye… ee, bil2a7daas. mén shi séne ta2riiban. 2ana 2aasef, maa kaan béddi dayy2ék bheek mawDuu3. 2uuliili énti kiifek? nshaLLa tamaam? méstaqérra hoon bbeeruut?
Uhh… yeah, in the situation. About a year ago. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to bother you with something like that. Tell me, how are you – good I hope? Are you living here in Beirut?

شي سنة – shi often appears with singular nouns meaning ‘some’ or acting like an indefinite article. With expressions of time it usually means ‘about’.

بهيك موضوع – ‘with that sort of subject’

مستقرة – literally ‘settled’

اي. من وقت طلعنا من الشام  اجينا لهون على بيروت. بعد فترة رحت لعند ماما على مصر وبعدين رحت لعند ابي بدبي. قعدت شي تلت تشر واليوم اجيت اليوم وصلت.
ee… mén wa2t @Tlé3na mn éshshaam éjiina lahoon 3ala beeruut. Ba3@d fatra ré7@t la3énd maama 3ala maS@r w ba3deen ré7@t la3énd 2abi 3ala dubayy. 23édt shi tlét téshor w élyoom éjiit, élyoom wSél@t.
Yeah… When we left Damascus, we came here to Beirut. After a while I went to stay with Mum in Egypt, and afterwards I went to stay with my father in Dubai. I was there about three months and I came back today, I arrived today.

لهون على بيروت, لعند ماما على مصر, لعند ابي على دبي – all of these are examples of two directional phrases appearing together in a way that cannot be literally translated into English since we would prefer ‘in’ for the second one: (‘to here to Beirut’, ‘to by mum to Egypt’, ‘to by my father to Dubai’). Another example is فات لعندي ع الغرفة ‘he came into my room’ or اجى لعنا ع البيت ‘they came to see us at home’.

قعدت شي تلت تشر – the verb 2é3ed is literally ‘to sit’ but is used to mean ‘stay’ (usually temporarily) – وين قاعدة؟ ‘where are you staying?’ shi tlét téshor shows off the special plural used with numbers in téshor ‘months’, and has another shi (here we can say ‘some three months’ in English).

حمد لله ع السلامة
7amdélla 3assalaame.
I’m glad you arrived safely.

Maybe a more natural equivalent might be ‘welcome back’. A polite thing to say to someone who’s just got back off a journey – ‘thanks be to God for your safety’.

طب يلا تفضل عود معنا
Tabb yaLLa tfaDDal 3ood ma3na.
OK, well – sit down, come and sit with us!

تفضل عود معنا – go ahead, sit with us. 3ood is the irregular imperative of قعد.

لأ معليشي انا بس حبيت هيك… شفتك وقلت بسلم عليكي
la2 ma3leeshi. 2ana bass 7abbeet heek… shéftek w2él@t bsallem 3aleeki
Ah, don’t worry about it, uhh… I just wanted to… I saw you and I thought I’d say hi.

معليشي – a variant of the more common ma3leesh, used for various purposes including ‘don’t worry about it’, ‘pardon’, ‘never mind’ and here a (semi-sincere?) refusal of the invitation.

حبيت هيك – an incomplete sentence. ‘I wanted to… you know…’ heek is a filler, ‘that sort of thing’.

قلت بسلم عليكي – ‘I said’ (قلت) is used with a subjunctive or a b-present to mean idiomatically ‘I thought I would’. sallam 3ala – originally ‘say salaam to’ – now means ‘say hi to’, or by extension ‘shake hands with’. When someone leaves you can say سلملي على… ‘say hi to… for me’.

اذا كان عندك وقت خلينا نشرب شي شغلة
iza kaan 3éndak wa2@t khalliina néshrab shi shéghle
If you’ve got time why don’t we have a drink?

اذا كان عندك وقت – the kaan here arguably adds an element of reasonable doubt here for Isma’il to back out (rather than just saying iza 3éndak, which is equally grammatical). ‘If you happen to have the time…’

خلينا نشرب شي شغلة – let’s drink something. shi shéghle is that shi yet again (‘some’) plus ‘thingy’ or ‘thing’, shéghle.

تفضل
tfaDDal
Go ahead.

He gets the literal go-ahead from her friend.

طيب اوكي. لو سمحت
Tayyeb oke. law sama7@t!
OK then. Excuse me!

طيب – OK then.

اوكي – used mainly in the sense of ‘agreed’, indicating acceptance.

لو سمحت – the usual way to say ‘excuse me’ to waiters, for example.

This clip is from بقعة ضوء buq3et Daw2 (spotlight), a sketch show which has been airing for quite a long time now and has featured at one time or another basically every Syrian actor. It is the first scene of the episode حمام السلام ‭‭7amaam éssalaam ‘the dove of peace’.

The entire episode is an allegorical tale about destroying what you have by fighting with your friends and neighbours over political differences. The two main characters, Wa7iid and Sherko, are pigeon-fanciers (كشاشة kashshaashe or حميماتي  ‭‭7amiimaati). This hobby (or sometimes profession) is provided with the following saucy definition by one internet site discussing a decision to impose government licensing laws on people who want to keep pigeons:

الكشاشون فئة لم تكتف بتربية الحمام لرقته وجماله وحنين هديله بل تعلقوا بالحمام تعلق العاشق بالمعشوقة وبذلوا في سبيله المطال والوقت حتى قيل إن الكشاش <سلبة>, هي نفسها الاستلاب في لغة الفصحاء>

Romantic attachment to birds aside, a kashshaash is somebody who catches pigeons, doves etc by maintaining a flock of birds (كشة kashshe) who from time to time they send flying off into the sky. Other birds (probably belonging to another kashshaash) will mingle into the flock and then when it lands the kashshaash grabs them and sticks them away in a cage. Profit can then be made out of selling them, if you’re that way inclined. This activity (known as كش kashsh, the maSdar of the verb kashsh ykéshsh) has something of a bad reputation and the kashshaashe are known for stealing from one another and for lying, which is referenced by popular proverbs and slang (لا تكش laa tkéshsh ‘don’t lie’).

A story of this kind forms the basis for the allegory. Wa7iid steals a bird belonging to Sheeko’s flock, a طاير حر Taayer 7érr (‘free bird’). In return, Sherko steals one of Wa7iid’s, nicknamed البغدادي élbaghdaadi. Their quarrel, which is rooted in their ‘political differences’ (the names of the birds are allusions to the Free Syrian Army and ISIS, of course), escalates despite the warnings of their wiser, older mutual friend, and in the end results in the destruction of both their flocks and the loss of everything and the ‘intervention’ of outsiders.

This transcription is of the first scene. Although it includes a lot of very fast shouting and some avian vocabulary, the entire episode is worth watching.

حيو الطير الكشميييييري
7ayyo TTeer élkashmiiri
Hooray for the Kashmiri bird!

حيو is a difficult one to translate. ‘hooray’ sounds much stupider in English than حيو does, but it covers a vaguely similar semantic territory.

 شفلي هالكشة شفلي… شي رفع
shéfli halkashshe shéfli… shi rafi3.
Just take a look at that flock, eh? Glorious.

شفلي shuuf + li with shortening of the long vowel. شاف is typically glossed as ‘see’, but can also have the meaning of ‘look at’ (i.e. seeing deliberately).

شي رفع shi rafi3 – شي often appears before adjectives like this as a kind of dummy noun for the adjective to modify: shi ghaali ktiir ‘wow, that’s pretty expensive’, shi 2akiid ‘of course’, etc.

تعال تعال تعال هاتو هاتو
ta3aal ta3aal ta3aal… haato haato
Come over here, come on, give it here.

طيرو طيرو ليكو مبين فريخ يعني بعدو
Tayyro Tayyro. Leeko mbayyen @freekh ya3ni ba3do
Come on, let it go. It’s obviously just a chick still.

طيّر is obviously the causative of Taar ‘fly’. Here it means ‘let it fly away’, ‘send it flying away’ – i.e. release the bird that they’ve caught with the كشة.

ليكو – literally ‘there it is’.

مبين ‘clearly’.

بعدو – ba3d plus personal pronouns can mean ‘still’ in the same meaning as لسا.

شو هادا معلمي سيكي ما؟
shu haada m3allmi, siiki maa?
What’s this, boss? A siiki, right?

ما – one of various different ways to do tag questions, alongside مو, صح, مو هيك, ما هيك etc.

سيكي؟ لك تعلم. هادا اسمو طير حر
siiki? lak @t3allam. haada ésmo Teer 7érr
Siiki? Listen up and learn something. This is called a ‘free bird’.

لك is a difficult particle to define. It often emphasises or gets someone’s attention. It is invariant.

I have no idea what a سيكي is (or if I’ve even heard it right), but a طير حر is actually a real bird, apparently called a Lanner falcon.

يعني… اصطفل؟
ya3ni… éSTéfel?
So… do whatever you want?

اصطفل is an impolite way to say ‘do whatever you want’, ‘get lost’, ‘whatever’. It literally means ‘act freely’, but is usually a rude thing you say to someone who insists on doing something different from what you think is the best thing to do. I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be a pun on طير حر (perhaps in the meaning ‘fly free’), a reference to حر, or if he’s just saying ‘so, uhh… I should just piss off then’ or what. Regardless, it’s not that important.

ايوا
eewa
You got it!

ايوا with a certain intonation is used to mean ‘yes, exactly!’ in response to guesses at the answers to questions.

لك يا وحيد يا وحيد انت ما عندك منو. يعني مالك علاقة فيه
lak yaa wa7iid yaa wa7iid maa 3éndak ménno. ya3ni maalak 3alaa2a fii
Come on, Wa7iid. You haven’t got any of these, the bird’s nothing to do with you!

ما عندك منو – literally ‘you don’t have of it’. The -o here refers to the طير حر.

مالك علاقة فيه – in Damascene مالـ can be one of two things – either a negative of الـ él- in the sense of ‘to have’, or a variant of مانـ (the negative particle). Here it’s the former. مالك علاقة فيه obviously literally means ‘you have nothing to do with it’ (‘you have no connection with it’) but this translation in English gives a different meaning from the intention here, which is not literal.

رزقة من عندو لله معلم
réz2a mén 3éndo la2aLLa m3allem
A gift from God, mate.

من عندو لله – you might mistake this for ‘from him, to God’ but in fact this is an example of the construction mentioned here with direct objects. Any attached pronoun – whatever it’s attached to – can be made explicit by following it up with la- plus what it refers to (here -o = الله).

بس هادا اكيد لحدا معلمي
bass haada 2akiid la7ada m3allmi
But this surely belongs to someone already, boss…

لـ la- is probably the most common way of expressing possession.

معلم m3allem is literally ‘teacher’ and commonly used to mean ‘boss’, but it’s also one of the most common informal styles of address between men, as used above. معلمي on the other hand is what you call your boss and is more unambiguously respectful.

مزبوط عم يحكي هادا الوزوز. لإنو الطير الي
maZbuut 3am yé7ki haada lwazwaz! la2énno éTTeer 2éli!
The little gosling’s right. The bird belongs to me!

مزبوط عم يحكي – exact/precise(ly), he’s talking.

مزبوط هادا الحكي! هادا الحر النا! رجعو!
maZbuut haada l7aki! haada l7érr 2élna! rajj3uu!
It’s true! The free bird’s ours! Give it back!

رجع is obviously the causative of réje3 ‘to return’ and means ‘put back’, ‘give back’, etc etc…

اي لا يا سيدي مو الك. شو اذا حر صار الك يعني؟
ee la2 siidi muu 2élak. shu iza 7érr Saar 2élak ya3ni?
Nah mate, it doesn’t belong to you. What, does every ‘free bird’ belong to you?

سيدي – literally ‘sir’, and what you call superiors in the army for example. It’s also used in informal conversations (along with its feminine equivalent ستي) as a normal term of address, often when laying down the law or giving advice.

اذا حر صار الك –  literally if (it’s) a free bird, then it’s (become) yours?

وحيد؟ رجعو احسنلك اه؟ رجعو لا تزيدا!
wa7iid! rajj3o a7sallak aah! rajj3o, laa tziida!
Wa7iid! Give it back or it’ll go badly for you, huh? Don’t make it worse!

رجعو احسنلك – literally ‘give it back, it’d be better for you’. the n of a7san assimilates to the next letter. احسنلك is a good word to use to be aggressive.

لا تزيدا – zaad is literally ‘increase’ (‘don’t increase it’). The ـا here doesn’t really refer to anything specific – usually these dummy pronouns are feminine in Arabic.

لا يا سيدي بدي زيدا لإنو هادا الطير اساسا مو لالك
laa yaa siidi béddi ziida. la2énno haada TTeer 2asaasan muu la2élak.
No, mate, I’m gonna make it worse. Because this bird isn’t yours to start with.

لك شو هالحكي شو هالحكي رج تجنني رح تجنني! عم نقللك الي هادا الله وكيلك الي
lak shu hal7aki shu hal7aki! ra7 @tjannénni ra7 @tjannénni! 3am @n2éllak 2éli haada, aLLa wakiilak éli!
What the hell are you saying? You’re going to make me go mad! We’re telling you that it belongs to me, I swear to God, it belongs to me!

شو هالحكي – ‘what’s this talk’, very common expression for surprise.

جنن – ‘drive mad’. The causative of jann yjénn ‘go mad’. Whilst بجنن bijannen is often a positive description of something nice, the verb can be used in a sense similar to English too.

الله وكيلك – something like ‘as God as my witness’.

اي وبدي فكاكو
ee w béddi fkaako.
OK. Then I want a ransom.

لك يا جبيبي يا عيني يا روحي انت الطير شك لعندك هيك بالغلط يعني مو بشطارتك سحبتو لك رح تجنني
lak yaa 7abiibi, yaa 3eeni, yaa roo7i inte. éTTeer shakk la3éndak heek bélghalaT, ya3ni muu bshaTaartak sa7abto! Lak ra7 tjannénni!
Look, pal, listen to me. The bird came down on your side by accident. It wasn’t your cleverness that brought it down there. You’re going to make me go mad!

يا حبيبي يا عيني يا روحي – my love, my eye, my soul. All terms of affection, although their use here isn’t very affectionate.

شك لعندك – this use of shakk apparently literally means ‘swoop down (on prey)’ and is presumably unrelated to the ‘doubt’ meaning. لعندك is ‘down to (where you are)’, probably naturally translated by something like ‘on your side’ or just ‘to you’ in English.

بالغلط – by accident, by mistake (literally ‘in error’, I guess – the article is generic).

مو بشطارتك سحبتو – you didn’t bring it down (سحب, literally ‘pull’) by (b-) your cleverness (شطارة).

لك مزبوط هادا الحكي رجعلنا الحر احسن ما اجي عدللو شاربو لهاني
lak mazbuuT haada l7aki! rajj3élna l7érr a7san ma éji 3addéllo shaarbo lahaani
Yeah, it’s true! Give us the bird back or else I’ll come over there and rearrange Hany’s moustache!

احسن ما – often ‘in case’ or, to rely a bit on archaism, ‘lest’. It’s the latter meaning here.

عدللو شاربو – the first word is a verb 3addal ‘rearrange, set right’, in the first person subjunctive (so it has no prefix at all). In other dialects it would be 2a3addel. The –lo on the end is one of the -l- suffixes discussed here. Taken together as a unit, it means ‘I’ll rearrange (for) him his moustache!’ The la-haani bit is another one of these additional la- objects we’ve seen, here connecting Hany with the -lo. As you can see, this construction is very common.

خراس انت خراس حاج… متل الفرخ
khraas inte khraas 7aaj twazwez métl élfar@kh
Shut your mouth, you. Stop squeaking like a chicklet.

حاج – literally ‘stop’, followed by a subjunctive. We’ve seen this before elsewhere.

يا سيدي نزل لعندي بالغلط وما بدي فكاكو وما بدي رجعو منيح هيك؟
yaa siidi nézel la3éndi bélghalaT w maa béddi fkaako w maa béddi rajj3o. mnii7 heek?
OK, pal. It came down on this side by accident, and I don’t want a ransom and I’m not going to give it back. How’s that for you?

منيح هيك؟ literally ‘good like that?’

شو هاد؟ اي, ماشي يا وحيد. ماشي. انا بورجيك انا اللي لورجيك!
shu haad!? ee, maashi yaa wa7iid. maashi. 2ana bwarjiik. 2ana élli la-warjiik.
Whaaaaaat?! Right, okay then Wa7iid. OK. I’ll show you. I’ll show you all right!

شو هاد – literally ‘what’s this?!’ but very common as an expression of surprise

ماشي – used far less in Syrian than in some other dialects, means ‘fine then’ or ‘all right’, literally ‘it is walking’

انا اللي لورجيك – the verb here is warja/ywarji ‘to show’. The prefix la- is probably future. The اللي makes it literally ‘I’m the one who is going to show you’. انا اللي is often used in a way which is not best translated into English with a relative clause, as in for example انا اللي بعرف ‘of course I know’.

لك روح يا
lak ruu7 yaa!
Get out of here!

خلصنا لك وحيد بلا مشاكل رجعلو الطير مبين نزل لعندك بالغلط
khalléSna lak wa7iid bala mashaakel. rajjé3lo TTeer, mbayyen nézel la3éndak bilghalaT.
Come on, Wa7iid, don’t make problems. Give him back the bird, it obviously landed over here by accident.

خلصنا – come on, leave it out, etc etc.

بلا مشاكل – literally ‘without problems’, but بلا is used a lot on its own like this in a kind of imperative sense.

يا سيدي لو واحد غيرو لرجعو بلا فكاكو بس هادا السل المسوس لأ.
yaa siidi law waa7ed gheero la-rajj3o bala fkaako bass haada sséll lémsawwes la2.
Mate, if it was anyone else I’d give it back without a ransom. But this rotten sneak, no way.

لو واحد غيرو – we discussed the basic syntax of conditionals here. This is a nominal sentence, so it needs no verb – the conditional is law waa7ed gheero ‘if it was someone else’, and the main verb is لرجعو ‘I would (be going to) give it back’, with what looks like a future marker on it.

غيرو – ‘other than him’, ‘different from him’, etc etc.

السل المسوس – séll is, I think, someone sneaky. مسوس msawwes is literally something like ‘rotten’ or ‘decayed’ – it refers to crops infested with سوس suus, a type of insect, or to teeth which have rotted because of plaque (also called سوس).

هادا بالذات انا صدتو معلم.
haada bizzaat 2ana séDto m3allem.
I caught it myself, boss.

صاد Saad – literally ‘to hunt’ or ‘to fish’ (same verb).

صرت تعرف تصيد ولا؟ روح كش روح روح
Sér@t ta3ref tSiid wla? ruu7 késhsh ruu7 késhsh.
Oh, all of a sudden you know how to catch birds? Go and kish.

صرت تعرف تصيد؟ – literally ‘you’ve become knowing how to hunt’? صار typically expresses changes of state and has a much broader use than English ‘become’. It is usually followed by a subjunctive verb, as is عرف in the meaning of ‘know how to’

ولا – an aggressive term of address

هلق بس فهمني انت الله يرضى عليك شو قصتك انت وشيركو على نقار ونقير
halla2 bass fahhémni énte, aLLa yérDa 3aleek, shu 2éSStak énte wsheerko 3ala n2aar w@n2iir?
Just explain to me, please – what’s wrong with you and Sheerko, always at one another’s throats?

فهمني – causative of féhem, literally to ‘make understand’.

الله يرضى عليك – ‘may God be pleased with you’. Often used to say thankyou, or – as here – attached to requests in the meaning of ‘please’, often in an exasperated way.

شو قصتك – literally ‘what’s your story’. Typically means ‘what’s wrong with you’, ‘what’s up with you’.

على نقار ونقير – at each other’s throats, always fighting, etc.

بدك ياه من الاخر؟
béddak yaa mn él2aakher?
You want the truth?

من الاخر – literally ‘from the end’.

اي
ee.
Yes.

انا واياه ما منتفق بالآراء السياسية
2ana wéyyaa maa mnéttafe2 bil2araa2 éssiyaasiyye.
Me and him disagree on politics.

انا وياه – me and him. Coordinated pronouns (‘me and him‘, ‘me and her‘ etc) always appear on the yaa- carrier.

ما منتفق بالآراء السياسية – we don’t agree in (our) political opinions

بشو؟
bishuuu?!
On what?!

انا وياه مالنا طيبات يعني مالنا ز… شرحلو ياها
2ana wéyyaa maalna Tayybaat… ya3ni maalna za… shra7lo yaaha.
Me and him, we don’t have… I mean, we’re not… go on, explain.

مالنا طيبات – not entirely sure why طيبات appears in the feminine plural here, but this is a set expression meaning we’re not friends, we’re not good, etc. The word he cuts off is probably زابطين zaabTiin, with a similar meaning (not suited to each other, don’t work for each other’).

شرحلو ياها – -ha again referring to something general – the situation etc.

يعني قصدو معلمي انو هي هداك شو اسمو عرفت شلون يعني هي هيك بتصير
ya3ni 2aSdo m3allmi énno hiyye hadaak, shu ésmo, 3réft @shloon, ya3ni hiyye heek béTSiir.
Well, what my boss means is, it’s like, so, that guy, what’s-his-name, you know what I mean? So, like, that’s how it happens.

شو اسمو – what’s-his-name. A common filler word. This whole sentence is fillers.

بتصير – in the feminine بتصير usually means ‘it happens’. Again the feminine here doesn’t really refer to anything. بصير on the other hand tends to mean ‘is possible’ (though this can sometimes take feminine agreement).

خلص روح كش روح
khalaS ruu7 késhsh ruu7 késhsh
Forget about it. Go and kish.

ايوا..
eewa
I see.

This is the other common use of ايوا, with a distinctly different intonation from the other one. This one means ‘I see’ or ‘OK, I understood’.

شفلي هي الكشة وحياة اختي وقت شوفا طايرة كإني شربان ليترين عرق صك
shéfli hayy élkashshe… wé7yaat ékhti wa2@t shuufa Taayra ka2énni shérbaan litreen 3ara2 Sékk.
Look at that flock! I swear to you, when I see them up there, it’s as if I’ve drunk two litres of araq straight.

وحيات اختي – this is the waaw of swearing oaths (the same one we all know from ولله). But of course we don’t say ‘on my sister’s life’ in English that much.

وقت شوفا – wa2@t can be used as a conjunction meaning ‘when’, literally (the) time (that). I’m pretty sure وقت بشوفا would also be acceptable here, but often these sorts of time expressions trigger subjunctive. The -a of course refers to the كشة.

كإني – (it’s) as though I…

شربان – the participle (in Syrian) of shéreb yéshrab ‘to drink’ and means ‘(in the state of) having drunk’, i.e. it has a resultative meaning. Araq is of course the famous cloudy white Levantine variant of the traditional Mediterranean way to get completely off your face, aniseed-based alcohol.

This clip is from بقعة ضوء buq3et Daw2 (spotlight), a sketch show which has been airing for quite a long time now and has featured at one time or another basically every Syrian actor. It is the first scene of the episode حمام السلام ‭‭7amaam éssalaam ‘the dove of peace’.

The entire episode is an allegorical tale about destroying what you have by fighting with your friends and neighbours over political differences. The two main characters, Wa7iid and Sherko, are pigeon-fanciers (كشاشة kashshaashe or حميماتي  ‭‭7amiimaati). This hobby (or sometimes profession) is provided with the following saucy definition by one internet site discussing a decision to impose government licensing laws on people who want to keep pigeons:

الكشاشون فئة لم تكتف بتربية الحمام لرقته وجماله وحنين هديله بل تعلقوا بالحمام تعلق العاشق بالمعشوقة وبذلوا في سبيله المطال والوقت حتى قيل إن الكشاش <سلبة>, هي نفسها الاستلاب في لغة الفصحاء>

Romantic attachment to birds aside, a kashshaash is somebody who catches pigeons, doves etc by maintaining a flock of birds (كشة kashshe) who from time to time they send flying off into the sky. Other birds (probably belonging to another kashshaash) will mingle into the flock and then when it lands the kashshaash grabs them and sticks them away in a cage. Profit can then be made out of selling them, if you’re that way inclined. This activity (known as كش kashsh, the maSdar of the verb kashsh ykéshsh) has something of a bad reputation and the kashshaashe are known for stealing from one another and for lying, which is referenced by popular proverbs and slang (لا تكش laa tkéshsh ‘don’t lie’).

A story of this kind forms the basis for the allegory. Wa7iid steals a bird belonging to Sheeko’s flock, a طاير حر Taayer 7érr (‘free bird’). In return, Sherko steals one of Wa7iid’s, nicknamed البغدادي élbaghdaadi. Their quarrel, which is rooted in their ‘political differences’ (the names of the birds are allusions to the Free Syrian Army and ISIS, of course), escalates despite the warnings of their wiser, older mutual friend, and in the end results in the destruction of both their flocks and the loss of everything and the ‘intervention’ of outsiders.

This transcription is of the first scene. Although it includes a lot of very fast shouting and some avian vocabulary, the entire episode is worth watching.

حيو الطير الكشميييييري
7ayyo TTeer élkashmiiri
Hooray for the Kashmiri bird!

حيو is a difficult one to translate. ‘hooray’ sounds much stupider in English than حيو does, but it covers a vaguely similar semantic territory.

 شفلي هالكشة شفلي… شي رفع
shéfli halkashshe shéfli… shi rafi3.
Just take a look at that flock, eh? Glorious.

شفلي shuuf + li with shortening of the long vowel. شاف is typically glossed as ‘see’, but can also have the meaning of ‘look at’ (i.e. seeing deliberately).

شي رفع shi rafi3 – شي often appears before adjectives like this as a kind of dummy noun for the adjective to modify: shi ghaali ktiir ‘wow, that’s pretty expensive’, shi 2akiid ‘of course’, etc.

تعال تعال تعال هاتو هاتو
ta3aal ta3aal ta3aal… haato haato
Come over here, come on, give it here.

طيرو طيرو ليكو مبين فريخ يعني بعدو
Tayyro Tayyro. Leeko mbayyen @freekh ya3ni ba3do
Come on, let it go. It’s obviously just a chick still.

طيّر is obviously the causative of Taar ‘fly’. Here it means ‘let it fly away’, ‘send it flying away’ – i.e. release the bird that they’ve caught with the كشة.

ليكو – literally ‘there it is’.

مبين ‘clearly’.

بعدو – ba3d plus personal pronouns can mean ‘still’ in the same meaning as لسا.

شو هادا معلمي سيكي ما؟
shu haada m3allmi, siiki maa?
What’s this, boss? A siiki, right?

ما – one of various different ways to do tag questions, alongside مو, صح, مو هيك, ما هيك etc.

سيكي؟ لك تعلم. هادا اسمو طير حر
siiki? lak @t3allam. haada ésmo Teer 7érr
Siiki? Listen up and learn something. This is called a ‘free bird’.

لك is a difficult particle to define. It often emphasises or gets someone’s attention. It is invariant.

I have no idea what a سيكي is (or if I’ve even heard it right), but a طير حر is actually a real bird, apparently called a Lanner falcon.

يعني… اصطفل؟
ya3ni… éSTéfel?
So… do whatever you want?

اصطفل is an impolite way to say ‘do whatever you want’, ‘get lost’, ‘whatever’. It literally means ‘act freely’, but is usually a rude thing you say to someone who insists on doing something different from what you think is the best thing to do. I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be a pun on طير حر (perhaps in the meaning ‘fly free’), a reference to حر, or if he’s just saying ‘so, uhh… I should just piss off then’ or what. Regardless, it’s not that important.

ايوا
eewa
You got it!

ايوا with a certain intonation is used to mean ‘yes, exactly!’ in response to guesses at the answers to questions.

لك يا وحيد يا وحيد انت ما عندك منو. يعني مالك علاقة فيه
lak yaa wa7iid yaa wa7iid maa 3éndak ménno. ya3ni maalak 3alaa2a fii
Come on, Wa7iid. You haven’t got any of these, the bird’s nothing to do with you!

ما عندك منو – literally ‘you don’t have of it’. The -o here refers to the طير حر.

مالك علاقة فيه – in Damascene مالـ can be one of two things – either a negative of الـ él- in the sense of ‘to have’, or a variant of مانـ (the negative particle). Here it’s the former. مالك علاقة فيه obviously literally means ‘you have nothing to do with it’ (‘you have no connection with it’) but this translation in English gives a different meaning from the intention here, which is not literal.

رزقة من عندو لله معلم
réz2a mén 3éndo la2aLLa m3allem
A gift from God, mate.

من عندو لله – you might mistake this for ‘from him, to God’ but in fact this is an example of the construction mentioned here with direct objects. Any attached pronoun – whatever it’s attached to – can be made explicit by following it up with la- plus what it refers to (here -o = الله).

بس هادا اكيد لحدا معلمي
bass haada 2akiid la7ada m3allmi
But this surely belongs to someone already, boss…

لـ la- is probably the most common way of expressing possession.

معلم m3allem is literally ‘teacher’ and commonly used to mean ‘boss’, but it’s also one of the most common informal styles of address between men, as used above. معلمي on the other hand is what you call your boss and is more unambiguously respectful.

مزبوط عم يحكي هادا الوزوز. لإنو الطير الي
maZbuut 3am yé7ki haada lwazwaz! la2énno éTTeer 2éli!
The little gosling’s right. The bird belongs to me!

مزبوط عم يحكي – exact/precise(ly), he’s talking.

مزبوط هادا الحكي! هادا الحر النا! رجعو!
maZbuut haada l7aki! haada l7érr 2élna! rajj3uu!
It’s true! The free bird’s ours! Give it back!

رجع is obviously the causative of réje3 ‘to return’ and means ‘put back’, ‘give back’, etc etc…

اي لا يا سيدي مو الك. شو اذا حر صار الك يعني؟
ee la2 siidi muu 2élak. shu iza 7érr Saar 2élak ya3ni?
Nah mate, it doesn’t belong to you. What, does every ‘free bird’ belong to you?

سيدي – literally ‘sir’, and what you call superiors in the army for example. It’s also used in informal conversations (along with its feminine equivalent ستي) as a normal term of address, often when laying down the law or giving advice.

اذا حر صار الك –  literally if (it’s) a free bird, then it’s (become) yours?

وحيد؟ رجعو احسنلك اه؟ رجعو لا تزيدا!
wa7iid! rajj3o a7sallak aah! rajj3o, laa tziida!
Wa7iid! Give it back or it’ll go badly for you, huh? Don’t make it worse!

رجعو احسنلك – literally ‘give it back, it’d be better for you’. the n of a7san assimilates to the next letter. احسنلك is a good word to use to be aggressive.

لا تزيدا – zaad is literally ‘increase’ (‘don’t increase it’). The ـا here doesn’t really refer to anything specific – usually these dummy pronouns are feminine in Arabic.

لا يا سيدي بدي زيدا لإنو هادا الطير اساسا مو لالك
laa yaa siidi béddi ziida. la2énno haada TTeer 2asaasan muu la2élak.
No, mate, I’m gonna make it worse. Because this bird isn’t yours to start with.

لك شو هالحكي شو هالحكي رج تجنني رح تجنني! عم نقللك الي هادا الله وكيلك الي
lak shu hal7aki shu hal7aki! ra7 @tjannénni ra7 @tjannénni! 3am @n2éllak 2éli haada, aLLa wakiilak éli!
What the hell are you saying? You’re going to make me go mad! We’re telling you that it belongs to me, I swear to God, it belongs to me!

شو هالحكي – ‘what’s this talk’, very common expression for surprise.

جنن – ‘drive mad’. The causative of jann yjénn ‘go mad’. Whilst بجنن bijannen is often a positive description of something nice, the verb can be used in a sense similar to English too.

الله وكيلك – something like ‘as God as my witness’.

اي وبدي فكاكو
ee w béddi fkaako.
OK. Then I want a ransom.

لك يا جبيبي يا عيني يا روحي انت الطير شك لعندك هيك بالغلط يعني مو بشطارتك سحبتو لك رح تجنني
lak yaa 7abiibi, yaa 3eeni, yaa roo7i inte. éTTeer shakk la3éndak heek bélghalaT, ya3ni muu bshaTaartak sa7abto! Lak ra7 tjannénni!
Look, pal, listen to me. The bird came down on your side by accident. It wasn’t your cleverness that brought it down there. You’re going to make me go mad!

يا حبيبي يا عيني يا روحي – my love, my eye, my soul. All terms of affection, although their use here isn’t very affectionate.

شك لعندك – this use of shakk apparently literally means ‘swoop down (on prey)’ and is presumably unrelated to the ‘doubt’ meaning. لعندك is ‘down to (where you are)’, probably naturally translated by something like ‘on your side’ or just ‘to you’ in English.

بالغلط – by accident, by mistake (literally ‘in error’, I guess – the article is generic).

مو بشطارتك سحبتو – you didn’t bring it down (سحب, literally ‘pull’) by (b-) your cleverness (شطارة).

لك مزبوط هادا الحكي رجعلنا الحر احسن ما اجي عدللو شاربو لهاني
lak mazbuuT haada l7aki! rajj3élna l7érr a7san ma éji 3addéllo shaarbo lahaani
Yeah, it’s true! Give us the bird back or else I’ll come over there and rearrange Hany’s moustache!

احسن ما – often ‘in case’ or, to rely a bit on archaism, ‘lest’. It’s the latter meaning here.

عدللو شاربو – the first word is a verb 3addal ‘rearrange, set right’, in the first person subjunctive (so it has no prefix at all). In other dialects it would be 2a3addel. The –lo on the end is one of the -l- suffixes discussed here. Taken together as a unit, it means ‘I’ll rearrange (for) him his moustache!’ The la-haani bit is another one of these additional la- objects we’ve seen, here connecting Hany with the -lo. As you can see, this construction is very common.

خراس انت خراس حاج… متل الفرخ
khraas inte khraas 7aaj twazwez métl élfar@kh
Shut your mouth, you. Stop squeaking like a chicklet.

حاج – literally ‘stop’, followed by a subjunctive. We’ve seen this before elsewhere.

يا سيدي نزل لعندي بالغلط وما بدي فكاكو وما بدي رجعو منيح هيك؟
yaa siidi nézel la3éndi bélghalaT w maa béddi fkaako w maa béddi rajj3o. mnii7 heek?
OK, pal. It came down on this side by accident, and I don’t want a ransom and I’m not going to give it back. How’s that for you?

منيح هيك؟ literally ‘good like that?’

شو هاد؟ اي, ماشي يا وحيد. ماشي. انا بورجيك انا اللي لورجيك!
shu haad!? ee, maashi yaa wa7iid. maashi. 2ana bwarjiik. 2ana élli la-warjiik.
Whaaaaaat?! Right, okay then Wa7iid. OK. I’ll show you. I’ll show you all right!

شو هاد – literally ‘what’s this?!’ but very common as an expression of surprise

ماشي – used far less in Syrian than in some other dialects, means ‘fine then’ or ‘all right’, literally ‘it is walking’

انا اللي لورجيك – the verb here is warja/ywarji ‘to show’. The prefix la- is probably future. The اللي makes it literally ‘I’m the one who is going to show you’. انا اللي is often used in a way which is not best translated into English with a relative clause, as in for example انا اللي بعرف ‘of course I know’.

لك روح يا
lak ruu7 yaa!
Get out of here!

خلصنا لك وحيد بلا مشاكل رجعلو الطير مبين نزل لعندك بالغلط
khalléSna lak wa7iid bala mashaakel. rajjé3lo TTeer, mbayyen nézel la3éndak bilghalaT.
Come on, Wa7iid, don’t make problems. Give him back the bird, it obviously landed over here by accident.

خلصنا – come on, leave it out, etc etc.

بلا مشاكل – literally ‘without problems’, but بلا is used a lot on its own like this in a kind of imperative sense.

يا سيدي لو واحد غيرو لرجعو بلا فكاكو بس هادا السل المسوس لأ.
yaa siidi law waa7ed gheero la-rajj3o bala fkaako bass haada sséll lémsawwes la2.
Mate, if it was anyone else I’d give it back without a ransom. But this rotten sneak, no way.

لو واحد غيرو – we discussed the basic syntax of conditionals here. This is a nominal sentence, so it needs no verb – the conditional is law waa7ed gheero ‘if it was someone else’, and the main verb is لرجعو ‘I would (be going to) give it back’, with what looks like a future marker on it.

غيرو – ‘other than him’, ‘different from him’, etc etc.

السل المسوس – séll is, I think, someone sneaky. مسوس msawwes is literally something like ‘rotten’ or ‘decayed’ – it refers to crops infested with سوس suus, a type of insect, or to teeth which have rotted because of plaque (also called سوس).

هادا بالذات انا صدتو معلم.
haada bizzaat 2ana séDto m3allem.
I caught it myself, boss.

صاد Saad – literally ‘to hunt’ or ‘to fish’ (same verb).

صرت تعرف تصيد ولا؟ روح كش روح روح
Sér@t ta3ref tSiid wla? ruu7 késhsh ruu7 késhsh.
Oh, all of a sudden you know how to catch birds? Go and kish.

صرت تعرف تصيد؟ – literally ‘you’ve become knowing how to hunt’? صار typically expresses changes of state and has a much broader use than English ‘become’. It is usually followed by a subjunctive verb, as is عرف in the meaning of ‘know how to’

ولا – an aggressive term of address

هلق بس فهمني انت الله يرضى عليك شو قصتك انت وشيركو على نقار ونقير
halla2 bass fahhémni énte, aLLa yérDa 3aleek, shu 2éSStak énte wsheerko 3ala n2aar w@n2iir?
Just explain to me, please – what’s wrong with you and Sheerko, always at one another’s throats?

فهمني – causative of féhem, literally to ‘make understand’.

الله يرضى عليك – ‘may God be pleased with you’. Often used to say thankyou, or – as here – attached to requests in the meaning of ‘please’, often in an exasperated way.

شو قصتك – literally ‘what’s your story’. Typically means ‘what’s wrong with you’, ‘what’s up with you’.

على نقار ونقير – at each other’s throats, always fighting, etc.

بدك ياه من الاخر؟
béddak yaa mn él2aakher?
You want the truth?

من الاخر – literally ‘from the end’.

اي
ee.
Yes.

انا واياه ما منتفق بالآراء السياسية
2ana wéyyaa maa mnéttafe2 bil2araa2 éssiyaasiyye.
Me and him disagree on politics.

انا وياه – me and him. Coordinated pronouns (‘me and him‘, ‘me and her‘ etc) always appear on the yaa- carrier.

ما منتفق بالآراء السياسية – we don’t agree in (our) political opinions

بشو؟
bishuuu?!
On what?!

انا وياه مالنا طيبات يعني مالنا ز… شرحلو ياها
2ana wéyyaa maalna Tayybaat… ya3ni maalna za… shra7lo yaaha.
Me and him, we don’t have… I mean, we’re not… go on, explain.

مالنا طيبات – not entirely sure why طيبات appears in the feminine plural here, but this is a set expression meaning we’re not friends, we’re not good, etc. The word he cuts off is probably زابطين zaabTiin, with a similar meaning (not suited to each other, don’t work for each other’).

شرحلو ياها – -ha again referring to something general – the situation etc.

يعني قصدو معلمي انو هي هداك شو اسمو عرفت شلون يعني هي هيك بتصير
ya3ni 2aSdo m3allmi énno hiyye hadaak, shu ésmo, 3réft @shloon, ya3ni hiyye heek béTSiir.
Well, what my boss means is, it’s like, so, that guy, what’s-his-name, you know what I mean? So, like, that’s how it happens.

شو اسمو – what’s-his-name. A common filler word. This whole sentence is fillers.

بتصير – in the feminine بتصير usually means ‘it happens’. Again the feminine here doesn’t really refer to anything. بصير on the other hand tends to mean ‘is possible’ (though this can sometimes take feminine agreement).

خلص روح كش روح
khalaS ruu7 késhsh ruu7 késhsh
Forget about it. Go and kish.

ايوا..
eewa
I see.

This is the other common use of ايوا, with a distinctly different intonation from the other one. This one means ‘I see’ or ‘OK, I understood’.

شفلي هي الكشة وحياة اختي وقت شوفا طايرة كإني شربان ليترين عرق صك
shéfli hayy élkashshe… wé7yaat ékhti wa2@t shuufa Taayra ka2énni shérbaan litreen 3ara2 Sékk.
Look at that flock! I swear to you, when I see them up there, it’s as if I’ve drunk two litres of araq straight.

وحيات اختي – this is the waaw of swearing oaths (the same one we all know from ولله). But of course we don’t say ‘on my sister’s life’ in English that much.

وقت شوفا – wa2@t can be used as a conjunction meaning ‘when’, literally (the) time (that). I’m pretty sure وقت بشوفا would also be acceptable here, but often these sorts of time expressions trigger subjunctive. The -a of course refers to the كشة.

كإني – (it’s) as though I…

شربان – the participle (in Syrian) of shéreb yéshrab ‘to drink’ and means ‘(in the state of) having drunk’, i.e. it has a resultative meaning. Araq is of course the famous cloudy white Levantine variant of the traditional Mediterranean way to get completely off your face, aniseed-based alcohol.

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

Possibility

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

Likelihood

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’.

Ability

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

Obligation

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

This ~bonus post~ is a list of the most commonly used conjunctions in Shami. Some of them are probably not by any technical definition conjunctions (and some of them have e.g. prepositional uses that I’ve included here for completeness’s sake), so if you prefer the term ‘linking words’ you can go with that too.

احسن ما a7san ma

Means ‘in case’ or more precisely ‘lest’ (but obviously English stylistic concerns prevent us from translating it that way):

ما تضحك على حدا احسن ما تصير متلو maa téD7ak 3ala 7ada a7san ma tSiir métlo – don’t laugh at/trick anyone lest you become like them

This is a fixed meaning of a7san ma. But like other superlatives, a7san can also combine with ma in the meaning of ‘the best that’:

احسن ما يمكن a7san ma yémken – as good as possible, the best possible

For some Syrian speakers it can also be used in a way synonymous with احسن من انو ‘better than…’ with a following sentence.

أصبح aSba7

Syrian. Means ‘in that case’, ‘then’ (and NOT ‘became’ as in fuSHa):

أصبح بكرا بشوفك aSba7 bukra bshuufak – then I’ll see you tomorrow

او aw

‘Or’, as in fuSHa. However in colloquial aw almost never coordinates nouns, only sentences:

او فينك تحكي معها انت اذا بدك aw fiinak té7ki ma3ha inte éza béddak – or you can talk to her yourself if you want

بعدين ba3deen

Literally ‘afterwards’ or ‘later’ and often used in this meaning:

بعدين بتعرف ba3deen @bta3ref – I’ll tell you know [= you’ll find out later]

طب ممكن تطلع من قبرك تاخدني بحضنك وترجع بعدين؟ Tabb mémken téTla3 mén 2abrak taakhédni b-7aDnak w-térja3 ba3deen? – OK, can you please come back from the grave and just hug me and go back later? 

Also commonly expresses ‘then’, ‘in that case’, and ‘anyway’:

بعدين انا شو ذنبي؟ ba3deen 2ana shu zanbi? – in any case, what have I done? [= what’s my sin?]

وبعدين؟ w-ba3deen? – yeah, and what then? / so what?

بقى ba2a

Syr/Leb. Generally means ‘then, in that case’:

بقى شو بدنا نعمل؟ ba2a shu béddna na3mel – so, what are we going to do?

It can also be attached after imperatives and similar expressions. In this context it has no direct English translation but adds force to the imperative (maybe it’s equivalent to American ‘already’?):

لك خلصني بقى lak khalleSni ba2a – stop it already! [= save me already]

بس bass

The normal word for ‘but’ or ‘just’, much more common than classicising لكن:

بس ما بحبو bass maa b7ébbo! – ‘but I don’t love him!’

هدول بس hadool bass – ‘just these’

It also commonly mean ‘as soon as’, ‘when’. In this case it is usually followed by a subjunctive or a past:

امي بس تمرض ما بتركها émmi bass témroD ma bétrékha – when my mother gets ill I don’t abandon her

بس بدك تيجي لعندي اتصل فيني bass béddak tiiji la-3éndi ttaSel fiini – when you want to come here tell me

ف fa-

Used commonly for ‘so’. Can trail off at the end like English ‘so…’:

بعدين ما شفتو, فـــــ ba3deen maa shéfto, faaaaaaa – anyway, I didn’t see him, so…

كإنو ka2énno

Means ‘as if’:

كإنو مبارح تركنا ka2énno mbaare7 tarakna – [it’s] as if we broke up yesterday

Like la2énno it can be shifted to the end of the sentence:

ما حنشوفو اليوم كإنو maa 7a-nshuufo élyoom ka2énno – seems like we’re not going to see him today

It can be used on its own or with a sentence to mean something like ‘looks like…’, ‘looks that way’.

اي كإنو ee ka2énno – yeah, it looks that way

لا لا laa… laa

The structure laa… laa or لا ولا laa.. wala means ‘neither… nor’:

لا شاي ولا قهوة laa shaay wala 2ahwe – neither tea nor coffee

لا رحت ولا حروح laa ré7@t wala 7aruu7 – I didn’t go, nor will I

لإنو la2énn(o)

The equivalent to fuSHa li2anna and the normal word for ‘because’ in Syrian. Unlike in fuSHa it can be shifted to the end of the sentence as a kind of afterthought:

كل هاد لإنو قللا انو شعرا مو مظبط kéll haad la2énno 2élla énno sha3ra muu mZabbaT – all that because he told her her hair didn’t look good!

ما رح شوفو اليوم لإنو maa ra7 shuufo lyoom la2enno – because I’m not going to see him today

لـ, لحتى la-, la7atta

Both of these mean ‘until’ and ‘in order to’. The latter is distinctively Syrian:

نستنى لييجي néstanna la-yéji – let’s wait ’til he comes back

نكشت البيت لحتى جبتها nakasht élbeet la7atta jébta! – I had to turn the house upside down to get it [= I rifled through the house until I got it]

ليش لحتى لحكي معو؟ leesh la7atta é7ki ma3o? – why should I speak to him?

La- is also sometimes affixed to first person subjunctives meaning ‘let’s’ or ‘let me’:

لشوف واحد تاني lashuuf waa7ed taani – let’s speak to [= see] someone else

ما ma

On its own, ma is used to link together two sentences with a kind of causal relationship (this should not be mistaken for the occasional use of maa, with a long vowel, in various negative meanings). It is always followed by a noun or a pronoun:

ناميين فوق. ما هنن ما نامو من امبارح naaymiin foo2 – ma hénnen maa naamu mén @mbaare7 – they’re asleep upstairs. I mean, they haven’t slept since yesterday

Here ma adds the nuance that the listener and the speaker both understand the obvious intuitive causal connection between what was said before and the sentence prefixed with ma. The same applies in the following sentence although here it can be translated with ‘but’:

مو صايم؟ ما الدنيا رمضان muu Saayem? ma éddénye ramaDaan – you’re not fasting? but it’s Ramadan!

ما عاد maa3aad, مابقى maaba2a

‘No longer’, ‘not anymore’. Clearly etymologically ‘he did not return’ and ‘he did not remain’. These typically trigger subjunctive. For some people they conjugate, especially with third person feminine, though they are often invariable:

ماعاد اعرف شو بدي احكي maa3aad a3ref shu béddi é7ki – I don’t know what to say anymore/I no longer know what to say

They can also mean ‘never again’, including in negative imperatives:

ما بقى تحكي معي maaba2a té7ki ma3i – never talk to me again/stop talking to him’

معقول ما بقى نرجع؟ ma32uul maaba2a nérja3? – can it be we’ll never go back? [= is it reasonable we’ll no longer return?]

 

مادام maadaam 

‘Since’ or ‘while’. Takes pronoun suffixes:

مبسوط مدامك معي موجود mabsuuT maadaamak ma3i mawjuud – I’m happy as long as you’re with me

مادامك بالبيت maadaamak bilbeet – since you’re at home

مشان, منشان, عشان méshaan ménshaan 3ashaan

Méshaan, ménshaan, 3ashaan all mean ‘in order to’:

منشان تروح معو ménshaan @truu7 ma3o – so you (can) go with him

They are also prepositions which can be used with nouns to mean ‘because of’ or ‘for the benefit of’:

مشان هيك méshaan heek – for that reason

منشان الله ménshaan aLLah – for God’s sake

In Jor/Pal (like Egyptian) these words can be used in the sense of ‘because’ (i.e. equivalent to لإنو). This is not found in Syria.

كرمال kurmaal/kérmaal

Probably originally derived from the fuSHa kurma(tan) la- ‘in X’s honour’ this is a less common alternative to ménshaan meaning ‘in order to’, ‘for the sake of’, ‘because of’ etc. Like ménshaan it is mainly a preposition but is worth mentioning here because like ménshaan it can be used with subjunctive verbs to mean ‘in order to’.

شي, شي shi… shi

This means approximately ‘sometimes like… and sometimes…’ or ‘some… and some…’ Effectively it expresses two exclusive, alternative, but related situations:

عندون اعلى مؤهلات, شي عندو شهادة, شي عندو دكتوراه 3éndon a3la mu2ahhilaat, shi 3éndo shihaade, shi 3éndo doktuuraa… they had the highest qualifications – some of them have degrees, some of them doctorates…

هلق كتير مهم وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي لانو كل واحد صار بمكان شي بالشام شي بحلب halla2 ktiir mohumm wasaa2el éttawaaSul él2ijtimaa3i la2énno kéll waa7ed Saar b-makaan, shi b-éshshaam, shi b-7alab… – nowadays social media is very important because everybody’s in a different place, some in Damascus, some in Aleppo…

ماني عايش هون طول حياتي, انا شي باسطنبول, شي بالشام maani 3aayesh hoon Tool 7ayaati. ana shi b-IsTanbuul shi bi-shshaam – I haven’t lived here all my life – sometimes in Istanbul, sometimes in Damascus

و w-

Used as ‘and’ to coordinate sentences, nouns etc:

خبز وملح khébz w-mél@7 – bread and salt

As in fuSHa, it can be used to form 7aal sentences with present tense sentences, including verbs and participles. In this case it must be followed by a noun:

بغني وانا سايق bghanni w-2ana saaye2  – I sing when I’m driving

وهو ماشي سمع صوت w-huwwe maashi séme3 Soot – as he was walking along he heard a sound

انا وصغير كنت اقرى كتير ana w-@zghiir ként é2ra ktiir – when I was young I used to read a lot

It can also be used with all tenses in a very specific meaning of ‘when’, ‘given that’, when the first clause is a a rhetorical question:

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?

ولا wélla, willa

‘Or’. Used to offer two contradictory options:

بدك شاي ولا قهوة؟ béddak shaay wélla 2ahwe? – do you want tea or coffee?

Also used to mean ‘or else’, sometimes triggering the past:

سكوت ولا بضربك skoot wélla beD@rbak – shut up or [else] I’ll hit you

يا yaa, يإما ya2émma

Yaa/ya2émma means ‘or’, and offers two contradictory options. It is most commonly used in the structure يا… يا yaa… yaa ‘either… or’:

يا بتروح معي, يا بتضل هون yaa bétruu7 ma3i, yaa bétDéll hoon – either you go with me or you stay here

 

Structures with إنو

بما انو bima 2énno ‘since, given that’

بسبب إنو bésabab énno ‘because’

مع إنو ma3 énno ‘although’

لدرجة انو la-darjet énno ‘to the extent that’

Prepositions with -ma

A number of prepositions can be transformed into conjunctions by adding -ma. Many of these commonly trigger the subjunctive. Some can take pronoun suffixes, producing a form identical to the maan- or maal- negative but without a negative meaning:

متل مانك شايف mét@l maanak shaayef ‘as you see’

بعد ما ba3@d ma ‘after’

بعد ما تقرأ عن الله ba3@d ma té2ra 3an aLLah – after you read about God

قبل ما ‪2ab@l ma ‘before’

This is usually followed by a subjunctive, even when the meaning is past, e.g. قبل ما يوصل 2ab@l ma yuuSal ‘before he arrived/arrives’

لبين ما labeen ma ‘until’ or ‘by the time’

لبين ما ييجي منكون خلصنا labeen ma yiiji ménkuun khallaSna – by the time he gets here we’ll be finished

 لحد ما la7add ma ‘until’

لحد ما تموت من الضحك la7add ma tmuut mn éDDa7@k – until you die of laughing

حسب ما ‪7asab ma ‘according to how’, ‘depending on’, ‘as’

بس حسب ما شفت bass 7asab ma shéf@t – but as far as I know [= as I’ve seen]

فوق ما foo2 ma ‘on top of’

فوق ماني كذاب foo2 maani kazzaab – on top of me being a liar

متل ما mét@l ma ‘like, as’ (in Jor/Pal زي ما zayy ma)

متل ما بدك mét@l ma béddak – as you like

متل مانك عرفان mét@l maanak 3arfaan – as you know

زي ما قلت zayy ma 2ult – as I said

بلا ما bala ma, بدون ما biduun ma, من دون ما mén duun ma ‘without’

مسموح يأرغل بس بلا ما يطلع دخان بالغرفة masmuu7 y2argel bass bala ma yéTla3 dékhkhaan bé-lghérfe – he’s allowed to smoke shisha but [only] without smoke filling up the room

واحدة نزلتو بالصفحة من دون ما تتأكد من مصدر الخبر waa7de nazzaléto béSSéf7a mén duun ma tét2akkad mén maSdar élkhabar – someone uploaded it to the page without making sure of its source

 

بدال ما badaal ma, عواض ما ‪3awaaD ma ‘instead of’

بدال ما تعمل مظاهرات وتوقف بالشوارع … روح وقف ع باب دار النائب الي انتخبته وخليه يمثلك badaal ma ta3mel muZaaharaat w-@twa22ef bé-shshaare3… ruu7 wa22ef 3a baab daar énnaa2eb élli ntakhabto w khallii ymasslak – instead of demonstrating and standing around in the street, go and stand at the door of the MP you elected and make him represent you

الا ما élla ma ‘certainly’, ‘it is always the case that’

المجرم الا ما يرجع ع مسرح الجريمة élmujrem élla ma yérja3 3a masra7 éljariime – the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime

طول ما Tool ma ‘as long as, while’

طول مانك عم تتنفس عندك فرصة لواقع افضل Tool maanak 3am tétnaffas 3éndak férSa la-waaqe3 afDal – as long as you’re breathing you have the opportunity for a better reality

لما lamma ‘when’

لما شفتو استغربت lamma shéfto staghrab@t – when I saw him I was surprised

 

ياما yaama ‘how much!’

ياما في ناس هيك yaama fii naas heek – there are so many people like that

Nouns with -ma

We’ve seen a couple of these in the relative clauses post:

مكان ما makaan ma, محل ما ma7all ma, مطرح ما maTra7 ma, قرنة ما ‪2érnet ma ‘(in, from etc) the place that’

لحظة ما la7Zet ma ‘the moment that’

مجرد ما mjarrad ma ‘as soon as’, ‘the very moment that’

وقت ما wa2@t ma ‘(at) the time when’, ‘when’

ساعة ما saa2et ma ‘(at) the time when’, ‘when’

يوم ما yoom ma ‘(on) the day when’, ‘when’

Question words with -ma

These are typically combined with a past form or a subjunctive:

ايمتى ما eemta ma, eemat ma ‘whenever’

كنا ايمتى ما فتحنا الراديو الصبح نلاقيهن حاطين فيروز عكل القنوات kénna eemta ma fata7na rraadyo éSSéb@7 nlaa2iyyon 7aaTTiin feeruuz 3a-kéll élqanawaat – whenever we turned on the radio in the morning we’d find they’d put Feyrouz on all the channels

وين ما ween ma ‘wherever’

الله يسعد صباحكن وين ما كنتوا يا سوريين  aLLa yis3ed Sabaa7kon ween ma kéntu tkuunu yaa suuriyyiin – God make your morning happy wherever you might be, o Syrians!

شو ما shu ma ايش ما eesh ma ‘whatever’

شو ما صار عليكي انا حدك موجود  shu ma Saar 3aleeki 2ana 7addek mawjuud – whatever happens to you, I’ll be there

قد ما ‪2add ma ‘however much’, ‘as much as’, ‘as long as’

قد ما احكي عن ريال مدريد ما بوفي حقك 2add ma é7ki 3an reyaal madriid maa bwaffi 7aqqak – however much I talk about RM I won’t be doing you justice

شلون ما shloon ma كيف ما kiif ma ‘however’

Bonus post!

This is a list of the most common ‘basic’ prepositions (i.e. not the ones that are combinations of a preposition and a noun or an obvious derivation from a noun).

ب b- or bé-

b- perhaps most commonly expresses static location and lines up with English ‘in’, ‘at’ or fuSHa في.

بالبيت bi-lbeet – at home

بالسيارة bi-ssiyyaara – in the car

It is also used to express the instrument or means by which something is done:

عملتو بايدي ‭3mélto b-2iidi – I made it by hand [= with my hand]

بسرعة b-sér3a – quickly [= with speed]

It is also commonly used with the meaning ‘about’:

اليوم ما بقدر احكي فيه élyoom maa bé2der é7ki fii – I can’t talk about today

It is also idiomatically used in names of food, etc to mean ‘with’:

رز بعدس rézz b-3ad@s – rice and lentils (i.e. Jordanian-style mjaddara)

It is also used idiomatically replacing normal direct objects in a way that adds a nuance of long, continuous action (like the colloquial English use of ‘on’):

عم يضرب فيني ‭3am yéDrob fiini – he’s beating on me

As with other prepositions it is also used commonly with verbs in senses that seem relatively unconnected to its independent use:

اتطلع بـ TTalla3 b- ‘look at’

التقى بـ lta2a b- ‘meet with’

Most speakers do not have في as an independent preposition, but when pronoun suffixes are added to b- it becomes فيـ. In Syrian the pronoun forms are فيني فيك فيكي فيه فيا فينا فيكون فيون fiini fiik fiiki fii fiyya fiina fiikon fiyyon (occasionally fiiha, fiihon) – فيني is irregular. The regular form fiyyi is found in other dialects. In Pal/Jor fiyyo (for fii), fiikom and fiihom are used.

In Syrian and Lebanese, fii- is also very commonly used as a pseudoverb with subjunctive constructions, expressing ability:

ما فيني احكي هلق maa fiini é7ki halla2 – I can’t talk now [in Lebanese, maa fiyye/fiyyi…]

مع ma3

مع as a preposition almost always means ‘with’:

مع اختي ma3 ékhti – with my sister

There are occasions when it is idiomatically translated using another preposition in English, but its basic meaning is the same:

ما عم ينفتح معي maa 3am yénfate7 ma3i – I can’t get it to open [= it’s not opening with me]

شو صار معك shu Saar ma3ak – what happened to you [= what’s happened with you?]

كيفني معك؟ kiifni ma3ak? – what do you think of me? [= how am I with you?]

It is also used as a pseudoverb meaning ‘to have on you’, ‘to have with you’:

اي معي المصاري ee ma3i lmaSaari – I’ve got the money with me, yeah

In Jor/Pal, some speakers use the Egyptian-style form ma3aa- with suffix (معاي ma3aay) rather than the expected form ma3- (ma3i).

عند ‭3énd

3énd (or sometimes in Syr/Leb 3and) expresses location near something or in the vicinity of something:

عند المدخل ‭3énd élmadkhal – by the entrance

انا عند الكازية ana 3énd élkaaziyye – I’m by the petrol station

It is commonly used in ways which are tricky to translate into English directly but preserve this meaning intuitively (often it can be translated with French chez):

كنت عند خالد ként 3énd khaaled – I was at Khaled’s

المشكلة عندك élmésh@kle 3éndak – the problem’s at your end

وقف عندك wa22ef 3éndak – stop where you are

It is frequently used as a pseudoverb meaning ‘have’, as in fuSHa:

عندي تلت اخوات ‭3éndi tlett ékhwaat – I have three brothers

Its pronoun forms are regular, except the 1pl form: عنا ‭3énna ‘we have’/’by us’.

عن ‭3an

3an commonly expresses distance or movement away from something:

قديش بتبعد عن البيت؟ ‭2addeesh btéb3od 3an élbeet – how far away is it from the house?

اذا نفصل راسو عن جسمو نهائيا  iza nfaSal raaso 3an jismo nihaa2iyyan… – if his head was totally separated from his body…

It also commonly means ‘about’:

اللي قلتلك عنو élli 2éltéllak 3anno – the one I told you about

It means ‘for’ in the sense of ‘instead of’, as in these examples:

شيل عنك؟ shiil 3annak? – should I carry [it] for you [= instead of you]?

بدفع عنك bédfa3 3annak – I’ll pay for you

It also expresses, occasionally, duration (e.g. of a contract):

العقد عن سنة él3aq@d 3an séne – the contract is for a year

With pronouns it acquires an extra n: عنو 3anno ‘about him’, for example.

من mén

Mén (sometimes reduced to mn before vowels) is most commonly translatable as ‘from’, expressing movement away from something:

جاية من بيروت jaaye mén beeruut – I’m coming from Beirut

انا من برطانيا ana mén briTaanya – I’m from Britain

In this sense, it can be combined with other prepositions:

هات من عندك haat mén 3éndak – give me some of yours [= from by you]

من ع النيت mén 3a-nneet – off the internet

It also frequently means ‘by way of’ or ‘via’ or ‘through’:

من هون؟ mén hoon? – is it this way? (this is the root of the common arabophone English mistake ‘from here?’)

فات من الباب التاني faat mn élbaab éttaani – he came in through the other door

القطار بيمرق من هون élqiTaar byémro2 mén hoon – the train comes through here

من تحت الجسر mén ta7t éjjés@r – (go) underneath the bridge

It also very commonly expresses cause:

من غير شي متدايق mén gheer shi métdaaye2 – I’m annoyed because of something else

As a time expression, it means ‘since’ or ‘ago’ (equivalent to fuSHa mundhu):

من تلت سنين mén tlétt @sniin – three years ago

Like عن it gains an extra n when pronouns are attached: منو ménno ‘from him’.

لـ la-

la- generally lines up with fuSHa li-. It typically means ‘for’:

هدية لمرتي hdiyye la-marti – a present for my wife

It is also used, as in fuSHa, to express belonging outside the iDaafe construction:

لمين الشنطة؟ lamiin éshshanTa? – whose is the bag?

غنية لفيروز ghanniyye la-feeruuz – a song by Feyrouz, a song of Feyrouz’s (thus the common Arabophone mistake ‘a song for Feyrouz’, which means something else in English)

In some other limited contexts (mainly with function words) it expresses motion to or reason:

لوين؟ laween? – where to?

لعندك la3éndak – to your house

لهيك laheek – because of that, as a result

It also means ‘until’:

لهلق سهرانين؟ lahalla2 sahraaniin? – you’re still up? [= until now staying up?]

سهرانين للصبح sahraaniin la-SSéb@7 – we’re staying up until morning!

It is also commonly associated with verbs:

دقّ لـ da22 la- ‘ring up, phone’

حكى لـ ‭7aka la– ‘speak to’

It is also often combined with a normal object or possessive pronoun and a following noun for emphasis or, sometimes, for unclear reasons:

رفيقو لابوي rfii2o la-2abuuy – my father’s friend

سألو لإلو s2alo la-2élo – ask him [not me]

la- has two sets of pronominal forms, one independent and one which commonly attaches to verbs (and occasionally other parts of speech). We have discussed the attaching set already in the object pronoun section. The independent set are formed by attaching pronouns not to la- but to él-: الك الو élak élo etc. These sometimes come with an additional la- prefixed to them: لإلك la2élak:

الشنطة لإلك؟ ésh-shanTa la-2élak? – is the bag yours?

These independent forms are sometimes used as a pseudoverb expressing possession, as in fuSHa:

الك اخوات؟ élak ékhwaat? – do you have any brothers and sisters?

كـ ka-

Ka- is comparatively rarely used in colloquial. It is usually used in the sense of ‘as’ you see in the following sentence:

ما بقدر انكر اصلي كعربي maa béd2der énkor 2aSli ka-3arabi – I can’t deny my origins as an Arab (or ‘as an Arab, I can’t…’ depending on pause)

In a related usage you may occasionally hear it in a difficult-to-translate sense meaning something like English -wise:

هلق انا كوضعي المالي تمامhalla2 2ana ka-waD3i lmaali tamaam – now I’m, money-wise, fine

على ‭3ala 

This is by far the most complicated and multi-meaning preposition in both colloquial and probably fuSHa as well. It has two forms: على and simple عـ ‭3a-. The contracted form is always used before the definite article (3a-lbeet) and optionally used elsewhere too (3a raasi ‘on my head’).

It often means ‘on’ or ‘onto’, as in fuSHa:

علقو ع الحيط ‭3all2o 3al7eeT – hang it on the wall

ع التخت ‭3a-ttakh@t – on the bed

It also often translates English ‘at’ in the sense of alongside, by:

ع الشباك ‭3a-shshébbaak – at the window

ع الشارة ‭3a-shshaara – at the (traffic) lights

It has a similar meaning with a few other verbs:

قوص عليي ‭2awwaS 3aleyyi – he shot at me

تطلع على TTalla3 3ala – look at (or تطلع بـ)

In colloquial it is also the most common way of expressing movement towards or into something, replacing إلى in fuSHa (which does not exist):

رايحين ع الجامعة raay7iin 3a-jjaam3a – we’re going to university

فات ع الغرفة faat 3a-lghérfe – he came into the room

It is translated by ‘for/to’ in expressions like the following:

عزيز عليي ‭3aziiz 3aleyyi – dear to me

صغير عليك ‭zghiir 3aleek – it’s (too) small for you

It often means something along the lines of ‘according to’:

ع الدور 3a-ddoor – take it in turns/you have to wait your turn [= (it works) according to (a system of) turns]

ماشي ع النظام ‭maashi 3a-nniZaam – operating according to a system, in an orderly fashion

It can express a meaning of being in a particular state, as in the following expressions:

قديش صارلو على هالحالة؟ ‭2addeesh Sallo 3ala hal7aale? – how long’s he been in this state?

It is used in a large number of adverbial and adjectival expressions in a related sense:

على انفراد  ‭3ala infiraad – in private

ع القديم ‭3a-l2adiim – old-fashioned

It also often expresses that its object is negatively affected by a verb, as in the following expressions:

تجوز عليي  tjawwaz 3aleyyi – he married [a second wife, to my detriment] (this expression literally means ‘he married a second wife whilst I was still married to him’ and is difficult to translate pithily into English for obvious reasons)

طلّع عليي إشاعات Talla3 3aleyyi 2ishaa3aat – he started rumours about me

عم اطفي الشوفاج ع الاولاد بالليل ‭3am éTfi shshoofaaj 3a-l@wlaad billeel – I’ve been turning the heating off on the kids at night [i.e. to the kids’ detriment]

راح عليك الباص raa7 3aleek élbaaS – you missed the bus [the bus went, to your detriment]

As in the second example, it can mean ‘about’, often in a negative context: حكى على and حكى عن are supposedly distinct, with the first meaning ‘talk negatively about’ and the second a more neutral ‘talk about’. In reality it seems that على is increasingly becoming a neutral ‘about’ in some expressions:

اللي قلتلك عليه élli 2éltéllak 3alee – what I told you about

It can express ‘in spite of’:

انت معك حق على حيونتك – inte ma3ak 7a22 3ala 7eewantak – even though you’re a moron, you’re right

انت ولد ازعر وصرصري بس بحبك على عيبك inte walad az3ar w SarSari bass @b7ébbak 3ala 3eebak – you’re a petty thug, but I like you in spite of your flaws

Finally, it can express (like English ‘on’) that someone will pay for something or is responsible for something:

العرس عليي ‭él3ar@s 3aleyyi – the (cost of) the wedding’s on me!

على حساب مين؟ ‭3ala 7saab miin? – who’s paying? [= on whose account?]

خلي الباقي عليي khalli lbaa2i 3aleyyi – leave the rest to me [= on me]

In a related sense, it can be used as a pseudoverb with a subjunctive verb following it in the meaning ‘must’ (also found in fuSHa):

عليكون تدفعو ‭3aleekon tédfa3u – you must pay

The pronominal forms are attached to the root 3alee-: عليي ‭3aleyyi etc.