Now in PDF form, with added sections: Team Nisreen’s Fusha to Shami
Author: Chris Hitchcock
Apart from the iDaafe the main way of expressing possession is the particle تبع taba3 (or تع ta3), the equivalent of Egyptian bita3. This appears between the noun and its possessor. As with the iDaafe it can express various different types of relationship.
حط الستاتوس تبع الواتس بكومنت
7étt lé-status taba3 élwat@s bkooment
Put [your] Whatsapp status in a comment
اللون تبع جراباتك اللي انت لابسو حاليا هو لون قلبك
élloon taba3 jraabaatak élli inte laabso 7aaliyyan huwwe loon 2albak
The colour of the socks you’re wearing now is the colour of your heart
بيقولك راح ناس تبع جمعيات خيرية يشوفو اللاجئين
bi2éllak raa7 naas taba3 jam3iyyaat kheeriyye yshuufu llaaji2iin…
They say that people from charity organisations went to see the refugees…
What triggers use of تبع as opposed to the iDaafe is not always clear. It’s common with compounds and with loanwords (like the first example here). But it is also often used in contexts where the iDaafe would also be fine.
For some speakers تبع agrees with the possessed noun. In Syrian this is optional, but in Palestinian for example it is compulsory. The feminine is تبعت taba3et. The plural has various different forms, including تبعون tab3uun and تبعوت tab3uut.
Taba3 differs from the iDaafe in that it can be used independently, providing the only easy way to translate expressions like ‘Ahmad’s’ or ‘mine’ where the possessed noun is dropped. As with its normal use, taba3 here can express all sorts of relationships:
I broke his [one]
بدكن لايف متل تبع امبارح
béddkon laayv mét@l taba3 @mbaare7?
You want a Live (video) like yesterday’s?
بس تبع اللون الاخضر وبنات العمارة شغلة
bass taba3 élloon él2akhDar, wbanaat él3emaara shéghle
Only the green one, [because] the architecture girls are something else [in response to a question about which university canteen students prefer]
طلع تبع الضابط
Téle3 taba3 éDDaabeT
It turned out to belong to the officer/be the officer’s!
وينهم تبعون الإنجلش؟
weenhom tab3uun élinglish?
Where are the English crew?
You have to be careful with this usage, however, because تبع is also a euphemism for genitalia.
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.
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)
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).
You might be able to detect something of a consistency of format in these. This one’s from Welcome to Syria, a Facebook meme page.
A: مبارح حلمت اني كنت بالجنة
mbaare7 7alam@t énni ként béjjanne
Yesterday I dreamed that I was in heaven
حلمت اني كنت – this would also work OK as حلمت اني (with no past), because of the usual absence of tense-shifting. It appears here though.
B: وانا كنت معك؟
w2ana ként ma3ak?
Was I with you?
C: اي, ما انا اول ما شفتك تأكدت انو حلم
ee, ma 2ana 2awwal ma shéftak @t2akkad@t énno 7él@m
Yeah – I mean, it was when I saw you that I was sure it was a dream
ما انا – this is the ma mentioned in the conjunctions post which basically implies a connection between this sentence and the question asked by B. Here it translates as something like ‘after all’, or ‘well, I mean’.
اول ما – ‘as soon as’, ‘the moment that’, etc.
تأكدت انو – you might know this verb from fuSHa. It means literally something like ‘to become sure’ or ‘make sure of’ (the former meaning is meant here). ‘I became sure that…’ Notice that here there’s no past-shifting (no حلمت اني كنت).
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!
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:
The participle has resultative meaning:
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:
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
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:
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
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:
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?
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:
both [sentences, ideas] work
One point we didn’t cover in any of the previous posts is the very basic issue of how to express doing something to yourself (reflexives) and doing something to one another (reciprocals). Both of these are quite important and differ (to some extent) from fuSHa, so let’s cover them here!
The reflexive pronoun
In English we have the reflexive pronouns formed with possessives and ‘self’, and in fuSHa we have basically the same system with نفس ‘spirit’. Whilst there are contexts in which you might hear نفس with reflexive meaning in colloquial, far and away the most common reflexive pronoun in Shami is not formed with نفس but with حالـ plus possessive pronouns:
احكي عن حالك é7ki 3an 7aalak – speak for yourself!
ليش عم تجاكر حالك؟ leesh 3am @tjaaker 7aalak? – why are you spiting yourself?
مفكر حالو شي خرية كبيرة mfakker 7aalo shi kharye kbiire – he thinks he’s the shit [some big shit]
With plural pronouns 7aal remains the same and does not pluralise like English ‘self’:
شايفين حالون shaayfiin 7aalon – they’re arrogant [they’ve seen themselves]
Reflexives without 7aal
In some limited situations normal pronouns are used with a reflexive meaning:
غصبن عنك ghaSbin 3annak – in spite of yourself
There are some verbs which in and of themselves are often best translated as reflexive despite the absence of a reflexive pronoun:
احترقت 7tara2@t – I burnt myself
انتحر nta7ar – he killed himself (نحر ‘to slaughter)
These are expressions like ‘they hit one another’ where the action is being carried out by two parties on one another at the same time.
The reciprocal pronoun
Lining up with English ‘one another’ or ‘each other’, fuSHa has various expressions formed with بعض, probably originally in the sense of ‘some’ (like the long fuSHa structure, ضرب بعضُهم البعضَ, which probably originally meant ‘some of them hit some [others]’ or ‘one of them hit the [other]’). In Syrian the most common way of phrasing it is just to use بعض ba3@D on its own as a catchall ‘one another’ or ‘each other’:
ضربو بعض Darabu ba3@D – they hit one another
متل بعض mét@l ba3@D – like one another, similar
نفس بعض naf@s ba3@D – the same thing, the same as one another
طلعو ببعض TTalla3u bba3@D – they looked at one another
As in fuSHa, some verbs are inherently reciprocal, typically form V or form VI:
تصالحو tSaala7u – they made up (with one another – compare صالحو Saala7o ‘he made up with him’)
تحاكو t7aaku – they spoke (with one another compare حاكاه ‘he spoke to him’)
When they are really reciprocal the subject is usually plural. However, there are lots of cases where these reciprocals actually may appear with a singular subject and an object expressed with مع. Here, of course, ‘one another’ is not an appropriate translation.
تصالحت معو tSaala7@t ma3o – I made up with him (functionally a synonym of صالحتو)
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?’
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).
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’.
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’.
Yeah, good luck.
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’.
عفوا بس… سارا مو؟
3afwan bass saara muu?
Sorry, but… it’s Sara, right?
عفوا – pardon, excuse me, sorry.
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
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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’.
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
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.
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.
Whilst making no claims to be either a proper dictionary, complete, comprehensive or particularly well-formatted, today we’d like to present a 62-page set of wordlists compiled under the title Team Nisreen Syrian Vocab! The wordlist was adapted from one initially prepared by Rob Goulden and Simon Daraman.
This should probably have come much earlier, but better late than never!
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 khél2o – you 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)
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
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 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!]
‘Impossible’, ‘it’s impossible’. Used with a subjunctive verb:
مستحيل انساكي musta7iil énsaaki – it would be impossible for me to forget you
The passive is often used to express general possibility/ability:
الزلمة ما بينمشى معو ézzalame maa byénmasha ma3o – you can’t get along with the guy [= he is not walked with]
ما بينهرب من هالسجن maa byénhareb mén has-séj@n – you can’t escape from this prison
اكيد akiid, ع الاكيد 3al2akiid
Certainly, definitely, surely.
انتي اكيد مالك مقتنعة بيلي عم تقوليه inti akiid maalek méqtan3a byalli 3am t2uulii – you definitely/surely don’t believe what you’re saying
بيجي ع الاكيد خلال اسبوع byiji 3al2akiid khilaal ésbuu3 – it’ll definitely come within a week
ع الاغلب 3al2aghlab
Probably, most likely.
ع الاغلب ما في دوام لاول الشهر 3al2aghlab maa fii dawaam la-2awwal éshshah@r – most likely there’ll be no work ’til the beginning of next month
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
Literally ‘compulsory’, but used to mean ‘certainly’, ‘definitely’.
قدر / بيقدر 2éder/byé2der
This is the normal equivalent to ‘can’, but typically expresses ability of a person rather than possibility. It uses subjunctive:
بتقدر تقول مثلا بطلت من الشغل bté2der @t2uul masalan baTTal@t mn éshshégh@l – you can say for example ‘I stopped working…’
It can be used in the past to mean ‘couldn’t’, if it refers to one specific time:
بس ولله ما قدرت اعمل شي bass waLLa maa 2dér@t a3mel shi – but I swear, I couldn’t do anything
It can also be used in participle form (2édraan) referring to a specific time-delimited period:
متل اللي تعبان ومو قدران يمشي mét@l élli ta3baan w-muu 2édraan yémshi – like someone who’s worn out and can’t walk (normally)
With the preposition على it can also be used with nouns and pronouns:
اللي بتقدر عليه élli bté2der 3alee – what you can do, what you’re capable of
احسن بيحسن a7san byé7sen
Sometimes 7asan instead of a7san. In fuSHa this means ‘to do well’ or ‘do properly’ but in Syrian it’s used for simple ‘be able to’ or ‘can’ as a slightly less common synonym of 2éder:
ما احسنت نام maa a7san@t naam – I couldn’t sleep
Its participle is حسنان 7asnaan:
مو حسنان نام muu 7asnaan naam – I can’t sleep
عرف / بيعرف 3éref bya3ref
Literally ‘to know’. Used with a subjunctive verb to indicate ‘know how to’:
انا بعرف سوق ana ba3ref suu2 – I know how to drive
Its semantics however often cover things we use ‘can’ for in English:
ما عم اعرف افتح الباب maa 3am a3ref éfta7 élbaab – I can’t work out how to open the door
لو سمحت وطي صوتك شوي! خليني اعرف كمل شغلي law sama7@t waTTi Sootak shweyy, khalliini a3ref kammel shéghli – please lower your voice and let me do my job [= know how to finish my work]
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
‘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]
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