The actual exact pronunciation of the vowels in Levantine is, as in English, one of the many indicators of regional dialect. The most important thing for an initial learner is trying to approximate the sounds and keep the various different vowels distinct. You can worry about getting them closer to native pronunciation later when you have people to imitate.


One of the most important things to worry about is length – you have to make your long vowels longer than your short vowels. The five long vowels are aa ii uu ee oo (ee and oo correspond to ay and aw in fuSHa and probably sound to you, if you are a native English speaker, like the vowels in ‘late’ and ‘wrote’ and should not be confused with our vowels in ‘beet’ and ‘boot’).

كاتب kaatab ‘he wrote to’ and كتب katab ‘he wrote’ are distinct from one another.

مين miin ‘who’ and من min ‘from’ are distinct from one another.

دوق duu2 ‘taste (it)!’ and دق du2(2) ‘hit (it)!’ are distinct from one another.

In fuSHa, there are almost no long final vowels that are not followed by a consonant. If you’re pronouncing fuSHa right, then شهداء shuhadaa2 should have a long vowel in its last syllable, but ذكرى dhikra, despite being written with one, has a final short vowel (unless you learnt Tajwiid or something, in which case good for you). The only exception is in words like مباراة mubaaraa(h) where there is a final taa marbuuTa that is not pronounced. This is mostly the same in Levantine, with one exception: when we attach the pronoun ـه ‘he’ to a final vowel, that vowel is lengthened and the -h is dropped.

درسي drési ‘study!’ is distinct from درسيه drésii ‘study it!’

مصاري maSaari ‘money’ is distinct from مصاريه maSaarii ‘his money’.

Finally, in Palestinian and Jordanian, long vowels which are not stressed are usually shortened: مفاتيح mafatii7 ‘keys’ (not mafaatii7 as in Syrian and as the spelling suggests).

Short vowel é

In Palestinian and Jordanian, short u/i are distinct at all times. In Syrian and Lebanese, however, short u/i/o/e do not commonly occur in stressed syllables, merging into a sound we write with é (بدرس bédros ‘I study’, كتبو ktébu ‘write!’, شغل shégh@l ‘work’). This sound also occurs in some unstressed syllables (قدام ‭2éddaam ‘in front of’).

This sound is pronounced in a variety of ways depending quite predictably on the sounds around it. The two most common realisations in Damascene are as what is called in linguistics a schwa (approximately the central-ish vowel sound in English ‘but’) and as a kind of short i (similar to in English ‘pit’). This means that كنت ‘I was’ sounds like kint, whilst حط ‘put (it)’ sounds sort of like English ‘hut’.

Note that this sound is being replaced in some words by its higher-register (fuSHa) equivalent. حب for example (‘love’) is pronounced both 7ébb and 7ubb.

Helping vowel @

Whilst initially Shami allows lots of consonant clusters, finally and across word boundaries it is less keen on them and usually breaks them up with a helping vowel @. This vowel cannot be stressed and the word takes stress as though it wasn’t there (تعلمت t3allam@t ‘I learnt’, مشمشه mésh@mshe ‘apricot’). Exactly which final consonant clusters are broken up depends on the speaker and the dialect, but here are some examples:

فيلم fil@m ‘film’

كنت kén@t ‘I was’

بحر ba7@r ‘sea’

In Syrian and Lebanese this vowel is pronounced exactly like é. In Palestinian and Jordanian, where there is no é vowel, it is pronounced differently depending on the real (non-epenthetic) vowel before it. In verbs it is always e, but in nouns it is typically e after a i e and o after o u:

فلم filem ‘film’

كنت kunet ‘I was’

عذر ‪3uzor ‘excuse’

The helping vowel is typically inserted into final consonant clusters when they appear before a pause or if the next word begins with a consonant which creates an unpleasant consonant cluster:

الفيلم يلي شفتو élfil@m yalli shéfto ‘the film I saw’

رحت لعندو ré7@t la3éndo ‘I went to his house’

اخدت دوى؟ اي اخدت akhad@t dawa? ee akhad@t ‘have you had some medicine? yeah I’ve had some’

It can also be inserted in between words. This typically happens if the next word begins with a consonant cluster itself:

انبسطت كتير mbasaTT @ktiir ‘I had a really good time’

كنت اشتريت ként @shtareet ‘I had bought’

Vowel dropping

Unstressed o e i u in a final syllable are usually dropped when a suffix beginning with a vowel is added:

كاتب كاتبه كانبين kaateb, kaatb-e, kaatb-iin ‘writer, writers’

شرب, شربت, شربو shéreb, shérb-et, shérb-u ‘he drank’, ‘she drank’, ‘they drank’

قالت, قالتلكن ‪2aalet, 2aalt-élkon ‘she said’, ‘she said to you’

Unstressed a is not normally dropped, except when the third person singular feminine suffix -et-at is added:

كتبت, كتبو katb-et/katb-at, katab-u ‘she wrote’, ‘they wrote’

Vowel dropping can also occur across word boundaries when words are pronounced as part of a tight unit

شافت الفيلم shaaf(e)t élfilm ‘she saw the film’

مدرسة محمد madras(e)t @m7ammad ‘Muhammad’s school’

Vowel shifting

Adding some suffixes results in a stress shift (according to the regular rules of stress). If this results in an unstressed e o i u becoming stressed, in Syr/Leb it changes into an é:

بيكتب بيكتبلك byéktob, byéktéblak ‘he writes’, ‘he writes for you’

بتمسك, بتمسكها btémsek, btémsékha ‘you grab, you grab it’

When the –l- suffixes are added to a hollow verb, its long vowel is shortened. If the long vowel is ii or uu, then in Syr/Leb it is shortened to é:

بقول, بقللك bi2uul, bi2éllak ‘he says’, ‘he says to you’

When suffixes are added to nouns and adjectives ending in -i, it never drops (as in fuSHa ماشي ماشون maashi maashuun for example). Where the suffix is a nisba adjective suffix, it becomes -iyy-:

حلبي, حلبيّة ‪7alabi, 7alabiyy-e ‘Aleppan’, ‘Aleppans’

In most other cases it becomes -y-:

ماشي ماشيين maashi, maashyiin ‘walking’

مستوي مستوية méstewi, méstéwye ‘cooked’

There are a few exceptions, however, like form I defective passive participles:

مطفي, مطفية méTfi, méTfiyye ‘switched off’

If you’ve already learnt the basics of fuSHa – as most Arabic learners who start studying dialect have – then you already have a decent basis from which to approach colloquial Levantine (Shami). In many respects Levantine is closer to fuSHa than other dialects – the stress system is very similar, the sound systems are close to one another and there often isn’t that much difference between a Levantine word and its fuSHa equivalent.

That said, the common method of teaching colloquial – as a set of transformational rules to turn a fuSHa word/sentence into its spoken equivalent – is pretty ham-fisted, and ignores the fact that spoken Arabic, despite what native speakers might tell you, has its own internally coherent structure and set of rules. Here I’m going to try and present a series of lessons with the absolute basics for moving from fuSHa to Levantine, explaining the difference in sounds, basic words, and grammatical structure. Today we’ll start with sounds.

This series will be based on Damascene Arabic and we won’t worry too much about dialectal variation, except where southern Levantine (Jordanian/Palestinian) or Lebanese (Beiruti) differ significantly.


Most of the Arabic consonants are pronounced basically the same in Shami as in newsreader-style MSA, but just to showcase the transliteration (based on the arabizi sometimes used on phones) we’ll list them all here:

ب b

ت t

خ kh

د d

ر r

ز z

س s

ش sh

‭ع 3

غ gh

ف f

ك k

م m

ن n

ه h

و w (when a consonant)

ي y (when a consonant)

You should be aware of the following sounds:

ث usually transliterated and pronounced as in more common words.

In higher-register words like ثقافه saqaafe ‘culture’ or ثورة sawra ‘revolution’ some speakers may have th (as in English thin) as in fuSHa. This seems to be more common in southern Levantine than in northern Levantine – many Syrians cannot pronounce ث consistently as th and even when reading fuSHa will pronounce it as s.

Note that a lot of common words which have ث in fuSHa have a ت t instead in colloquial: تلاته tlaate ‘three’, تنين tneen ‘two’, بعت ba3at ‘he sent’ – but this is not a rule you can generalise to just any word (حديث ‭7adiis ‘conversation’).


ذ usually transliterated and pronounced as in more common words.

In higher-register words like ذهب zahab ‘to go’ some speakers may have dh (as in English that) as in fuSHa. This seems to be more common in southern Levantine than in northern Levantine – many Syrians cannot pronounce ذ consistently as dh and even when reading fuSHa will pronounce it as z.

As with ث, a lot of common words which have ذ in fuSHa have a د d instead in colloquial: داق daa2 ‘he tasted’, داب daab ‘it melted’, بولاد buulaad ‘steel’. This is not a rule you can generalise to all words however (ذوق zoo2 ‘taste’, حبذ ‭7abbaz ‘he was in favour of’).


‭ح 7 – Generally pronounced as in fuSHa, but in Syrian is sometimes not pronounced word-finally in a few common words.


ج – generally pronounced as in English pleasure in northern Levantine and as in English jam in southern Levantine.


ض D – in Levantine this is the emphatic equivalent of د, pronounced velarised (with the back of your tongue raised). This is probably the pronunciation you were taught in fuSHa, but if your teacher was Iraqi you may have learnt to pronounce it as an emphatic version of ذ dh instead.

Note that there are a few words which have ض in fuSHa which have an emphatic Z (ظ) in colloquial, at least for some speakers: ظابط ZaabeT ‘officer’, بالظبط biZZab@T  ‘exactly’.

Especially in Lebanese but to some extent elsewhere, some words with ض may actually be pronounced د.


ص S  and ط T:  Pronounced as in fuSHa with the back of the tongue raised. As with D these sounds are a bit confused with س and ت and some words appear with both in different areas or by different people (سفّط سفّت saffaT/saffat ‘line up’, فقص فقس fa2aS/fa2as ‘hatch’). The most common word like this is صدّق sadda2 ‘believe’, which is usually spelt as in fuSHa but pronounced with a normal s.


Z – depending on who taught you, you may have learnt the Levantine pronunciation in fuSHa – that is, as an emphatic version of z. If, however, you learnt this sound as an emphatic version of ذ – a more prestigious fuSHa pronunciation – you should change it to Z in Levantine.

There are a number of words with ظ in fuSHa which instead have ض in Levantine: ضل Dall ‘he stayed’, الضهر éDDahr ‘noon’, ضفر Défr ‘fingernail’. But this is not a rule that can be generalised to all words: الظاهر éZZaaher ‘it seems’, ظريف Zariif ‘nice’.


ق q – Probably the most well-known ‘transformation’ from fuSHa to colloquial is the change of q to a glottal stop 2. Generally speaking, most more colloquial words undergo this change: بقي bé2i ‘it remained’, داق daa2 ‘he tasted’, قال ‭2aal ‘he said’.

However, many words – especially higher-register ones – retain their q sound: ثقافة saqaafe ‘culture’, مقالة maqaale ‘article’. There are some more common words that typically retain ق too: wéqe7 ‘rude’. (In Lebanese all q can become a glottal stop, however).

The glottal stop pronunciation is probably the most sensible for non-native speakers to adopt in any country. Although regional dialects exist which have q, g, or even k instead of a glottal stop, they are relatively marked. The one exception to this might be Jordan, where men studying Arabic might be expected to use g in at least some situations (here is an article discussing the sociolinguistic complexity of the situation in Jordan).


ل l – Generally pronounced as in fuSHa. In a few words, particularly الله and its derivations, l is pronounced emphatic/velarised (with the back of the tongue raised).


‭ء 2 – Pronounced as in fuSHa as a glottal stop. However, most fuSHa hamzas have no equivalent in colloquial, being dropped and replaced by vowel lengthening or just going missing entirely.

Where the hamza appears in conjugation patterns as a stand-in for vowels, they tend to be replaced by semivowels consistently, as in the active participle pattern faa2il (for hollow verbs), which in colloquial is replaced by faayil: دايق daaye2 ‘having tasted’, سايق saaye2 ‘driving’.


Initial consonant clusters

Shami allows lots of consonant clusters that fuSHa does not, especially word initially (where fuSHa has none):

كلاب klaab ‘dogs’

صحون SHuun ‘dishes’

صغار Sghaar ‘little kids’

ضروب Droob ‘hit (it)’

It is often the case in common words (and patterns) that where fusha has an a- prefix or an unstressed short i/u in the first syllable, this will be dropped if it results in a cluster of only two consonants (so أولاد becomes wlaad, حدود becomes 7duud etc). But this is again not a generalisable rule to all words and you should be careful not to over-Shamify higher register words!


Our previous post was on replacing diin with diib to produce a more family-friendly version of various swear words. This is not the only example of this phenomenon in Arabic (apparently called a ‘minced oath‘, if you like that sort of thing) – at least in Syrian Arabic.

One of the first swear words you learn in Arabic is of course خرا khara ‘shit’. This is not the most offensive word available in the broad canon of swear words, but it’s still not TV-friendly or acceptable in polite company. Just as diin (‘religion’) can be minced into diib (‘wolf’), khara can be minced into hawa (‘wind’). This happens most commonly in the various forms of أكل خرا (literally ‘to eat shit’), which has different meanings depending on context:

كول خرا kool khara ‘eat shit!’ The equivalent of ‘shut up’, ‘screw you’ etc.

اكل خرا akal khara ‘ate shit’. Used in its various conjugated forms to mean something like ‘be in the shit’ (in English), ‘be screwed’, ‘be in a difficult situation’ etc. This can be used about people or about things:

موبايلي آكل خرا – my phone’s screwed up

ولله ياخي اكلنا خرا – honestly, man, we’re screwed (we’re in a shitty situation)

It can also pleasantly be used in a sense similar to English ‘talking shit’ (in this example minced with hawa):

لحتى ما تقعد تغرب وتشرق على كيفك وتاكل هوا la7atta ma té23od tgharreb w@tsharre2 3ala keefak w-taakol… hawa – so you don’t sit there saying this and that (lit. westing and easting) and talking… air

Whilst here it obviously refers to talking, it generally just means ‘dicking about’ or ‘messing around’:

لك قوم يا زلمة بلا اكل خرا lak 2uum ya zalame bala ak@l khara – get up, man, stop talking shit/dicking about

هاد اسمو اكل خرا haad 2ismo ak@l khara – what you’re doing right now is talking shit/dicking about

It can also be used to describe an object that you don’t like:

شو هالموبايل يلا اكل خرا shu hal-mobayl yalli 2akal khara – this phone is terrible (literally ‘what’s this phone that has eaten shit’

And it can be stuck onto other verbs as an expletive to mean doing something you don’t want to do/something difficult:

لازم آكل خرا واكتب هالتقرير laazem 2aakol khara w éktob hat-taqriir – I’ve gotta write this shitty essay

All of these can be minced with conjugated forms of 2akal hawa. A related expression, shi bikharri (lit. ‘a thing that makes you shit’), also exists. This is used similarly to English ‘it’s messed up!’ (where shi is not literally translated into English) or means a stupid, annoying or terrible thing.

ولله يا زلمة شي بخري waLLa ya zalame shi bikharri – I swear to God, it’s messed up

ليش معصبة؟ شي بخري leesh m3aSSbe? shi bikharri – why are you upset? it’s really stupid

لما تعمل شي بخري و إمك تبلش تندب بحظها lamma ta3mel shi bikharri w 2immak tballesh tindob b7aZZha – when you do something really stupid and your mum starts to regret her bad luck (in having you)

You can also use it with mn iD-Da7@k ‘from laughing’, which makes it a more sweary version of بفرط or بموت ‘splits your sides’ or ‘kills you’:

شي بخري من الضحك shi bikharri mn iD-Da7@k ‘it’ll make you fucking die laughing’

You can also use it with من to insult a specific person:

شي بخري منك shi bikharri minnak – screw you

These can all be minced in a similar way using a derivation of hawa, بهوّي bihawwi. شي بهوّي literally means ‘a thing that airs out’ (e.g. a room), but carries (in a less sweary way) the same meaning as the various uses of shi bikharri above.

One of the most offensive kinds of swearing (at least to many people) in Arabic involves cursing religion. I wouldn’t recommend trying out the original, religion-bashing versions of these lines with the vast majority of people you’re likely to encounter, even as a joke.

That said, just as English speakers inventively butchered the originally taboo ‘oh my God’ (‘oh my gosh/goodness’) and ‘shit’ (‘sugar’ and ‘shoot’ among others), lots of Syrians substitute diib (wolf) for diin:

يحرق ديبك
yé7re2 diibak!
burn your wolf!

يلعن ديبك
yil3an diibak
curse your wolf!

In practice these are used similar to ‘darn it’ or ‘dang it’ or ‘damn you!’ (although using that one sort of misses the point of the garbling). Like lots of other prayers (دعاوي da3aawi) of this kind they’re usually tacked onto sentences, generally in an exasperated or faux-exasperated way:

يلعن ديبك ما اغلظك
yil3an diibak ma2aghlaZak!

Man, you’re so goddamn rude!

يحرق ديبو شو دمو خفيف
yé7ro2 diibo shu dammo khafiif!
Jesus Christ this guy is funny! (lit. burn his wolf, this guy’s blood is so light!)

As with everything else that even approaches swearing, bear in mind these might not go down so well with absolutely everyone or in all environments.


genie lampقال في تنين فقراء ماشيين بلطريق
2aal fii tneen fé2ara maashyiin bi-TTarii2
Once there were two poor guys walking along the street


2aal – 2aal on its own is used to mean ‘they say that’, or ‘once upon a time’ without any obvious subject.


fé2ara – plural of fa2iir ‘poor’. MSA would call for the dual here (faqiiraan), but in colloquial we can use tneen with a plural in the same meaning (fa2iireen could also be used here without any change in the meaning).


واحد منهون منحوس ولسانو وسخ بيضل بيسب
waa7ed ménnon man7uus w lisaano wésekh biDéll bisébb
One of them’s really unlucky and foul-mouthed and is always swearing


man7uus – unlucky


lisaano wésekh – literally ‘his tongue is dirty’, i.e. he’s foul-mouthed.


biDéll bisébb – ‘he keeps on swearing’. biDéll doesn’t trigger the subjunctive – we can just put another verb after it, fully conjugated and complete with b-.


لقوا فانوس سحري راحوا وفركوه
la2u faanuus sa7ri raa7u w farrakuu
They found a magic lamp and rubbed it
la2a ylaa2i – find. In the present it looks like a form 3 verb but in the past it conjugates like a form 1.faanuus sa7ri – a magical lamp. faanuus (or 2ém2om قمقم) is the normal term for the lamps that genies live in.
farrakuu – stress on the final long syllable but no –actually pronounced, meaning ‘they rubbed it’.


أم طلعلون مارد كبير قلون شبيك لبيك طلبوا وتمنوا
2aam Télé3-lon maared @kbiir 2él-lon shabbeek labbeek Tlébu w @tmannu
Out came a huge genie. He said to them ‘your wish is my command!’

2aam Télé3-lon – 2aam means literally ‘get up’, but here doesn’t have much of a meaning independently – it continues the narrative and is stuck on to the following verb.maared – a maared is a type of genie (jinni). Usually the genies in stories with magic lamps are maareds.

shabbeek labbeek – meaning ‘your wish is my command’. shabbeek as far as I know is a nonsense word not used elsewhere, but labbeek is sometimes used to mean ‘we obey you’ (or something along those lines) in set expressions like لبيك يا حسين.Tlébu – the plural imperative of Talab/yéTlob ‘ask for’, ‘request’. The singular masculine is Tloob.

tmannu – the plural imperative of tmanna ‘wish for’. Although complications of pattern make this less clear, this is from the same root as umniye ‘wish’ (m-n-w – umniye is on the same pattern as ughniya ‘song’).

أم هنن خافوا منو وتلبكوا أم هوة قلون لح أعطي كل واحد فيكون 3 بيضات وكل بيضة فية مارد صغير بيحقق أمنية
2aam hénnen khaafu ménno w @itlabbaku 2aam huwwe 2él-lon la7 a3Ti kéll waa7ed fiikon tlét beeDaat w kéll beeDa fiyya maared @Sghiir bi7a22e2 umniye
They were scared and didn’t know what to say, so he said to them I’ll give each one of you three small eggs. Each one has a small genie inside who’ll grant one wish.

2aam – again meaningless. Notice that it doesn’t agree with the plural here.tlabbaku – ‘they were confused’ or ‘they didn’t know what to say’.

la7-a3Ti – la7 is a regional (Damascus) variant of ra7, the future particle. a3Ti is quite irregular in Syrian – its present forms always have a in the prefix (a3Ti, ba3Ti, bta3Ti, ya3Ti etc), its past forms act like a normal verb (3aTa > 3aTeet), and its imperative has a weird shape (3aTi, 3aTiini).


kéll waa7ed fiikon – fii- ‘in’ is often used rather than mén in expressions like ‘each one of us’.  inte ashTar waa7ed fiina – you’re the cleverest of all of us.


kéll beeDa fiyya maared – every egg in it (is) a genie. This is basically the same as saying في كل بيضة مارد. fii is like 3énd and ma3 in that forms with pronoun suffixes often act a bit like conjugated verbs – ékhti 3énda ‘my sister has…’ il2ooDa fiyya kéll shi ‘the room has [in it] everything!’

اخد كل واحد 3 بيضات وفترقوا عن بعض
2akhad kéll waa7ed tlétt beeDaat w @ftér2u 3an ba3D
Each one took three eggs and they went their separate ways
tlétt beeDaat – tlét is the reduced form of tlaate used before nouns. beeDaat is the ‘plural of small numbers’ or ‘plural of paucity’ – its main function is to appear after numbers from 3-10. On its own it can imply a small number of eggs (3-10 specifically). beeD cannot appear here since it’s not a real plural but rather a collective and thus cannot be counted.


ftara2u 3an ba3D – went their separate ways, parted from one another. ba3D is used to mean ‘one another’, most commonly used on its own (rather than in an MSA structure like بعضهم البعض).


راح الشخص العادي كسر اول بيضة طلعلو المارد قلو بدي أموال ما بتخلص قلو حاضر وعطاه أموال كتير
raa7 éshshakhS él3aadi kasar 2awwal beeDa Télé3-lo lmaared 2él-lo béddi 2amwaal maa btékhloS 2éllo 7aaDer w 3aTaa 2amwaal @ktiir
The normal guy went and broke the first egg. The little genie appeared to him and he said I want endless money. He said ‘very well’, and gave him lots of money.7aaDer – an affirmative response to a command or request, i.e. ‘OK, sure, I’ll do it’.


ktiir – ktiir often stays in its default masculine singular form rather than agreeing with its noun.


كسر التانيه قلو بدي أكبر قصر بلعالم عطاه أكبر قصر
kasar éttaanye 2él-lo béddi 2akbar 2aS@r bi-l3aalam 3aTaa akbar 2aS@r
He broke the second one and said to him I want the biggest palace in the world, and he gave him a huge palace


éttaanye – ‘the second one’. Feminine to agree with beeDa ‘egg’.


akbar 2aS@r – often the superlative is used in a way which is most idiomatically translated in English with a normal adjective – 3aTaa akbar 2aS@r ‘he gave him a huge palace’ (= the biggest palace), a7la kaas la-3yuunak ‘here’s a lovely glass for you’ (= the nicest glass).


وكسر التالتة قلو بدي عز وجاه وسلطة وعطاه يلي بدو ياه
w kasar ittaalte 2éllo béddi 3ézz w jaah w SalTa w 3aTaa yalli béddo yaa
He broke the third one and said I want power and glory, and he gave him what he wanted


yalli béddo yaa – béddo yaa means literally ‘he wants it (masculine)’ – the -h manifests as lengthening on the final vowel of yaa. This yaa- (derived from classical Arabic إيّاه) is used to carry pronouns when they cannot attach to the main verb or verb-like expression. In the case of béddo, the main ‘verb’ is not a verb and already has a pronoun suffix to indicate the subject (-o ‘he’), so we need something else to carry the object. The object itself refers back to yalli – yalli béddo yaa ‘what he wants [it]’ – which is required in Arabic but not in English.Note that this is present, whereas in English we would have to put the verb ‘want’ into the past to match ‘give’ (‘gave him what he wanted‘). This reflects a much broader syntactic ~thing~ in Arabic where the main verb of a sentence (here 3aTaa) sets the tense for the sentence as a whole and other expressions are generally left in the present, taking their tense from the main verb.

ومرت السنين وهاد الزلمة عايش ومروق بلنعم يلي عندو
w marret lésniin w haad ézzalame 3aayesh w @mrawwe2 bi-nné3am yalli 3éndo
The years passed by with the guy living a great life enjoying all of his blessings
w- this ‘and’, called waaw al-7aal, is very common in Arabic. It usually means something like ‘with’ or ‘while’, expressing that two things are going on at the same time.yalli 3éndo – ‘that he has’, or in nicely translated English ‘that he had’. Again the Arabic is in the present where English would require the past.
مرة ماشي بلطريق أم شاف واحد شكلو متل الشحاد عم يشتغل بتصليح البسكليتات
marra maashi biTTarii2 2aam shaaf waa7ed shéklo métl éshsha77aad 3am yéshtéghel bi-taSlii7 élbisikleetaat
One day he was walking along and he saw a guy who looked really poor working repairing bicycles


waa7ed – literally ‘one’, used a looooot in colloquial to mean e.g. ‘a guy’ (or the feminine waa7de for ‘a girl).


shéklo métl éshsha77aad – here the definite article is generic, so the whole expression means (literally) ‘[who] looks like a beggar’. According to my friend, bicycle repair is a stereotypically low-income profession.


تطلع فيه مرة تانية أم قال والله هاد رفيقي يلي كان معي وقت اخدنا البيضات
TTalla3 fiih marra taanye 2aal waLLah haad @rfii2i yalli kaan ma3i wa2@t 2akhadna lbeeDaat
He looked at him again and said ‘By God, that’s my friend who was with me when we got those eggs!’


TTalla3 bi- ‘look at’.


marra taanye – literally ‘another time’ or ‘a second time’.


wa2@t akhadna – in colloquial we can stick a sentence after wa2@t and it means ‘when’.


غريبة ليش هيك حالتو بدي روح شوفو راح لعندو قلو مو انتي يلي أخدت معي البيضات
ghariibe leesh heek 7aalto? béddi ruu7 shuufo. raa7 la-3éndo 2él-lo muu inte yalli akhad@t ma3i lbeeDaat?
Strange! Why is he so poor? I’ll go and see him.’ He went up to him and said ‘aren’t you the guy who got the eggs with me?’
ghariibe – the feminine of adjectives is often used when they refer to situations, as a default. This doesn’t seem to agree with anything, but see e.g. Sa3be ‘it’s difficult’ and sahle ‘it’s easy’.béddi ruu7 shuufo – shuufo has no b- because it’s attached to ruu7 (‘go see him’). ruu7 has no b- because it follows béddiBéddi itself obviously prototypically means ‘want to’, but has a whole range of additional uses, including indicating the future – béddi shuufo bukra ‘I’m going to see him tomorrow’.

raa7 la-3éndo – he went to him. 3éndo is generally ‘by him’ or ‘at his (house)’. La- can then be attached to indicate motion towards.


هداك قلو اي المهم عرفوا بعض وسلموا واعدو يحكوا قلو ليش هيك حالتك شو عملت بلامنيات
hadaak 2él-lo ee. élmohumm 3érfu ba3D w sallamu w 2a3adu yé7ku. 2él-lo leesh heek 7aaltak shu 3émel@t bi-l2umniyyaat?
The guy said ‘yes’. Anyway, they recognised one another and they said hi and they sat down to talk. He said to him why are you in such a bad state? What did you do with your wishes?hadaak – literally ‘that one’, used to mean ‘the other guy’.

mohumm – who knows why, but in Syrian mohimm is often pronounced mohummélmohumm ‘the important thing’ on its own often means ‘anyway’ or ‘in any case’ and is used to move the narrative along.

3érfu ba3D – 3éref in the past tense doesn’t mean ‘knew’ but rather ‘recognise’ or ‘come to know’. maa 3réftak means ‘I didn’t recognise you’.

sallamu – sallam originally means ‘to say as-salaamu 3alaykum‘, but now means (more broadly) ‘greet’.

2é3du yé7ku ‘they sat down to talk’. In colloquial you can follow a verb with another verb in the subjunctive (i.e. without b-) and this gives the meaning ‘did X in order to Y’. This is the same structure as ruu7 shuuf above or, for example, 2ana faayet naam ‘I’m going in [to the bedroom] to sleep’, i.e. ‘I’m going to bed’.


شوفني انا عل عز والجاه والمال تبعي ليش هيك انتة حكيلي
shuufni 2ana 3a-l3ézz w éljaah w élmaal taba3i leesh heek inte? @7kii-li.
I mean, I’m living in luxury with my power and wealth – why are you working here? Tell me.
3a- can mean about a thousand different things which deserve a detailed treatment. Here in particular it’s tricky to translate into English, but it’s similar to ‘with’, or ‘living according to/living on’.taba3i – possessive particle similar to Egyptian bitaa3 (and probably related to it). I don’t think there’s a particular difference in meaning here from having the pronouns attached directly to 3ézz, jaah and maal.

leesh heek inte? The closest English translation is probably ‘why are you thus?’ or ‘why are you like this?’ but this is not very idiomatic for the context. heek is ‘like this’ or ‘in this way’.

قلو والله يا ابو شريك حظي وبتعرفو رحت عل بيت اجيت بدي إكسر اول بيضة
2él-lo waLLa yaa 2abu shariik 7aZZi w bta3@rfo ra7@t 3a-lbeet éjiit béddi éksir 2awwal beeDa
He said man, you know how my luck is. I went home and was about to break the first egg.2abu shariik – literally ‘father of partner’, but generally a friendly term of address similar to ‘man’ in English.

7aZZi w-bta3@rfo
– literally ‘my luck, and you know [how] it [is]’.

éjiit béddi éksir… – literally ‘I came wanting to break…’ béddi éksir here indicates the future again, but the action is simultaneously in the past – i.e. the futureness here is relative to the time described in the story (I was going to). éjiit is an alternative form of jiit ‘I came’ and here helps move the story along.

أم وقعت مني وانا عصبت وقلتلها واييير أم طلعلي المارد وقلي لبيك وساواني كلي ايورا من فوق لتحت
2aam wé23et ménni w 2ana 3aSSab@t w 2élt-élla w-2eeeeeeeeeer! 2aam Téle3li lmaared w 2él-li labbeek w saawaani kélli 2yuura mén foo2 la ta7@t
It slipped out of my hand and I got really annoyed and said ‘diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiicks!’ The genie came out and said ‘your wish is my command’ and turned my whole body into dicks from top to bottom.wé23et ménni – we’ve seen this in the meaning ‘I dropped it’ before.

3aSSab@t – I got really angry, I got really annoyed. m3aSSeb (the active participle) means ‘annoyed’, ‘angry’.

w-2eeeer! – a swearword equivalent to shouting ‘shit!’ or ‘fuck!’ when you drop something in English. Under normal circumstances you wouldn’t translate this with ‘dicks’ but to keep the meaning of the joke we have to.
saawaani kélli 2yuura – literally ‘made me all of me dicks’. saawa (sawwa in some areas, including Palestine and Jordan) is largely a synonym of 3émel and means ‘do’ or ‘make’, including in the sense ‘make X into Y’. The object is obviously -ni ‘me’, which is then reinforced by kélli ‘all of me’. This structure is very common.2yuura – the plural of 2eer is 2yuura. This plural pattern – f3uule/f3uula – occurs with a few nouns Levantine, although it has no equivalent in MSA. Three other examples are bank/bnuuke (‘bank’), kart/kruute (‘card’), and fard/fruude (‘gun’). Although my friend has spelt it with an alif, this –turns into -t in iDaafa.

 رحت دغري كسرت التانية وقلتلو دخيلك شيل هل ايورا من عليي قلي لبيك وشالون وشال تبعي الأصلي كمان
ra7@t déghri kasart éttaanye w 2élt-éllo dakhiilak shiil hal-@2yuura mén 3aliyyi! 2él-li labbeek w shaalon w shaal taba3i l2aSli kamaan
Straight away I broke the second one and said I beg you, take all these dicks off me! He said ‘your wish is my command’ and took all of them, including the original.


déghri – straight away, literally ‘directly’ or ‘straight on’. Also used in directions. This is a Turkish borrowing.dakhiilak – ‘I beg you’, or sometimes just ‘please’. A polite and (depending on context) pleading way of beginning a request.shiil hal-@2yuura mén 3aliyyi – shaal/yshiil means ‘remove’, ‘take off/out’, ‘lift up’. mén 3aliyyi means literally ‘from on me’ and serves as a nice example of how we can combine prepositions in colloquial (in a way we can’t in MSA).

taba3i l2aSli – again like Egyptian bitaa3taba3 can be used as a euphemism for dicks (‘my thingy’, I guess?). This video suggests that it is also used by (some) women. In this case, anyway, it means ‘my original dick’.

kamaan – probably derived from kama 2anna (‘in the same way’ or ‘and as well’) in CA, means ‘as well’ or ‘also’. You’ve probably encountered it before. Amusingly a homophone of kamaan ‘violin’.

أم كسرت التالتة وقلتلو رجعلي ايري وتيتي تيتي متل ما رحتي متل ما اجيتي
2aam kasart éttaalte w 2élt-éllo rajjé3-li 2eeri w tiiti tiiti mét@l ma ra7ti mét@l ma 2éjiiti
So I broke the third one and said ‘give me my dick back’ and there I was – right back where I started.rajja3/yrajje3 – ‘return’ (transitive), ‘put back’, ‘bring back’ etc. The causative of réje3.

tiiti tiiti mét@l ma ra7ti mét@l ma éjiiti– this is a set phrase which means something like ‘right back where I started’ – tiiti tiiti, you went like you came. The repetition of mét@l here would be impossible in English (‘like you came like you went’), but in Arabic it’s similar to the structure métli métlak ‘like me like you’ which means ‘I am like you’. The -ma here (pronounced short, unlike negative ma) turns the preposition into a conjunction which can be followed by a sentence rather than just a noun. Mét@l ma in this sense is the equivalent of kama in MSA (which if you think about it is just ka- ‘like’ plus -ma).

The Syrian revolution is now in its sixth painful year with no sign of a resolution any time soon. Five years ago exactly, the regime’s tanks occupied the city centre of Hama after a month-long siege which claimed the lives of more than 200 civilians. Today’s transcription is the famous revolutionary song Get Out Bashar, sung by thousands in mass protests at the heart of Hama weeks before the tanks rolled in and still popular today.

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

Ir7al is not a normal word in Syria, as is reflected by its MSA imperative form (ir7al instead of r7aal). I think ir7al is a common word in political protests, though, and is probably used in imitation of the Arab Spring protests in Egypt (where protesters called out ir7al yaa 7osni).

يا بشار مالك
yaa bashhaar maalak ménna

Bashar, you’re not one of us

Literally ‘you’re not of us’. Maa-lak, maa-li etc are regional versions of maanak, maani etc meaning ‘you’re not’, ‘I’m not’, etc. The same forms – maal- + suffixes – are used everywhere for ‘you don’t have’ (i.e. the negative of élak).

منا خود ماهر وارحل عننا
khood maaher w-ir7al 3anna

Take Maher and get away from us

Khood is the irregular imperative of 2akhad ‘take’. Some speakers have kho and khi.

Maher al-Asad is Bashar’s brother, a high-ranking military commander in Syria’s armed forces. Maher was closely involved in the suppression of protests during the early period of the Syrian uprising, which is probably why he is specifically mentioned in the song.

هي شرعيتك سقطت عننا
hayy shar3iitak saqTet 3anna

Here’s your legitimacy fallen from us

hayy – ‘here is’

shar3iitak – words in -iyye reduce it to -iit- before suffixes starting with a vowel. So shar3iit-ak, shar3iiti, etc. shar3iyye means ‘legitimacy’.

saqaT 3an is quite a difficult one to come up with an idiomatic translation for, even though the meaning it expresses is pretty clear. It often means something like ‘no longer applies to’ (for example in legal contexts), or ‘no longer has a right to’.

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

يا بشار يا كذاب
yaa bashhaar w yaa kazzaab

Bashar, you liar

مين كاتبلك هالخطاب؟
miin kaatéb-lak hal-khiTaab

Who was it who wrote this speech for you?

kaateb – ‘has written’, the participle of katab. Plus -lak meaning ‘for you’.

The speech in question is probably the speech discussed here, although Asad made a number of infamous speeches around this time (particularly in March 2011 when he first signalled the entrenchment of the regime against protests rather than announcing expected reforms).

الحرية صارت ع الباب
él-7érriyye Saaret 3a-lbaab

Freedom’s at the door!

3a is the normal translation for a certain sense of English ‘at’ that I’m struggling to define but appears in e.g. 3a-shshébbaak ‘at the window’, 3a-l2ishaara ‘at the traffic light’, 3a-lbaab ‘at the door’, 3alma7aTTa ‘at the station’.

SaaretSaar is a very common verb I’ve been planning to write a separate post about for a while. It means ‘become’, but is very, very often used in sentences like this expressing a change of state – freedom’s at the door [now!].

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

يا بشار العيب فيك
yaa bashhaar il3eeb fiik

Bashar, it’s you who should be ashamed

3eeb means ‘shame’ – il3eeb bi- means ‘it’s the fault of’ or ‘the shame is X’s’. 3eeb 3aleek is a stronger version of 7araam 3aleek. In some versions of this song the singer says Tézz fiik, which is approximately ‘screw you’ (Tézz was also mentioned here and here) and is a mild swear word.

وعيب بكل من بحييك
w-3eeb bi kéll mén bi7ayyiik

And everyone who salutes you

Kéll ménmén is a reduced form of miin that sometimes appears with pronouns (méno? Who is he?) or in structures like this, which is the same as the fuSHaa kullu man ‘everyone’.

7ayya y7ayyi is from 7ayaat ‘life’ and probably originally meant ‘wish long life on’. 7ayyaak aLLaah (‘God give you long life’) is a greeting I used to hear a lot from Jordanian taxi drivers.

وع الكرسي ما حنخليك
w 3a-lkérsi maa 7a-nkhalliik

We’re not going to leave you on the throne

kérsi – chair, of course. But here it’s symbolic – the throne.

7a-nkhalliik7a- is more commonly associated with Egyptian than with Levantine, but both exist and are used for the future. Khalla is a very useful word with a number of meanings, including ‘leave’ and ‘allow’.

ويلا ارحل يا بشار
w-yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

يا بشار حاجه تدور
yaa basshaar 7aaje tduur

Bashar, stop trying to get out of it

7aaje – ‘stop’, ‘enough’, followed either by a subjunctive verb or a maSdar, English style (7aaje shér@b! stop drinking!). Also appears as 7aaj or 7aajt- with pronoun suffixes.

tduur – literally turning. Another version of this line goes 7aaje tliff w-7aaje tduurliff also means ‘turn’, and the two verbs often occur together with a meaning of ‘spinning back and forth’ or ‘turning back and forth’ (or ‘going round and round’).

دمك الفاسد مهدور
dammak él-faased mahduur

Your corrupted blood can be shed freely

Blood which is mahduur is, historically, blood which can be shed with impunity (i.e. without incurring either revenge from the victim’s relatives or having to pay compensation to them). This is one of a few cases where in fuSHa the passive participle is used to mean -able (maqruu2 ‘legible’ is another one).

خطأك مانو مغفور
khaTa2ak maano maghfuur

Your mistake is not forgiven!

Maano is the more common equivalent of maalo.

ويلا ارحل يا بشار
w yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

يا ماهر يا جبان
yaa maaher yaa jabaan

Maher, you coward

يا عميل الأميركان
yaa 3amiil él-ameerkaan

You agent of the Americans

The usual form for ‘America’ in Syria is not amriika but ameerka. Ameerkaan is of course the plural of the people, whilst its singular is either ameerki or ameerkaani. 3amiil is an agent or often a collaborator.

الشعب السوري ما بينهان
ésh-sha3b és-suuri maa byénhaan

The Syrian people cannot not be disdained!

The passive in Arabic is often used in a way which it is not in English expressing what can or can’t be done: maa byin2akel ‘it’s not edible’, maa binnaam fii ‘it’s not sleep-able in’, maa byinmasha ma3o ‘you can’t get along with him’, maa byin2ara ‘it’s illegible’.

ويلا ارحل يا بشار
w yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

يا بشار وعد مني
yaa bashhaar wa3@d ménni

Bashar, I swear to you

Whilst ‘a promise from me’ is not a particularly idiomatic in English, wa3@d ménni is quite a common way of saying ‘I promise’.

ما رح تقدر تخلص مني
maa ra7 té2der tékhloS ménni

You won’t be able to get rid of me

khalaS min or khallaS min means ‘finish’, ‘get shot of’, ‘get rid of’ etc. It is often used in the same way as the verb without min, but using min gives it a negative connotation – béddi khalleS diraase means ‘I want to finish studying’, whilst béddi khalleS mn éddiraase means ‘I want to finish [this exhausting, irritating] studying’.

من بعدي ملايين بتغني
mén ba3di malaayiin bétghanni

There are millions singing after me

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

انا قاشوش, وعد مني
2ana 2aashuush, wa3d ménni

I’m Qashoush, this is a promise from me

ما  لح تقدر تخلص مني
maa la7 té2der tékhloS ménni

You won’t be able to get rid of me

la7 is a regional, very Syrian variant of ra7.

من بعدي ملايين بتغني
mén ba3di malaayiin bétghanni

After me millions are singing

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

لا حوار ولا نقاش
laa 7iwaar w laa niqaash

No discussion, no debate

This is a fuSHaa structure (the ~laa of categorical negation~, look it up kids) with two fuSHaa words (which are basically synonyms). It’s a common feature of protest chants.

مع هالشلة  الأوباش
ma3 ha-sh-shéllet él-2awbaash

With this gang of swine

shélle means something like ‘gang’ or ‘band’ – it’s an informal word for a collection of people, and is often used to refer to your friends (jiib ésh-shélle kélla ‘bring the whole gang’, ween ésh-shélle ‘where’s the gang?’). 2awbaash is ‘trashy people’ (the plural of wabash). They form an iDaafa structure.

The ha-sh- at the beginning is exactly what it looks like – ha- ‘this’ plus definite article. This is weird, of course, because normally (and certainly in MSA) an al- cannot come at the beginning of an iDaafa – in fact only the last term of iDaafa can take definiteness marking. This is also the case in Syrian in general, except when we want to attach a ‘this’. Since ha- cannot attach to nouns unless a definite article is also there, a definite article has to appear here too. It’s quite possible that the whole thing has been reanalysed as a separate prefix hal- which just happens to assimilate like the definite article – it’s often written separately as هال.

ويا بشار ويا غشاش
w yaa basshaar w yaa ghasshaash
Bashar, you cheat

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Bashar, get out!

هادا صوتي عم بينادي
haada Sooti 3am binaadi

This is my voice calling out

يلا روح تريك بلادي
yaLLa ruu7 @treek @blaadi

Come on, go, leave my country alone

treek – the imperative of tarak yétrek ‘to leave’. The long vowel (as opposed to itrik, or whatever) is a feature of Syrian and Lebanese; Palestinian and Jordanian have a more MSA-shaped imperative.

يلا كذبك صاير عادي
yaLLa kézbak Saayer 3aadi

Come on, we’re used to your lies

Literally ‘your lying has become usual’. Saayer here is the participle of Saar ‘has become’.

يلا ارحل يا بشار
yaLLa ir7al yaa bashhaar

Get out, Bashar!

بدنا نشيلو لبشار بهمتنا القوية
béddna nshiilo la-bashhaar bi-hémmétna l2awiyye

With our strong resolve we’ll get rid of Bashar!

Béddna here doesn’t mean ‘we want to’ but rather ‘we’re going to’, ‘we will’. Shaal yshiil means ‘pick up’ or ‘take up’. It’s also used, for example, for removing a battery from a phone or film from a camera – probably the intended meaning here. The -o la- here seems unnecessary (why not just say nshiil bashhaar), but is a pretty common structure we’ve seen elsewhere and here helps to keep the meter.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

طالبنا بالحرية, سمونا ارهابية
Taalabna bi-l7érriyye, sammuuna érhaabiyye

We demanded freedom, they called us terrorists

Taalab b- is obviously related to Talab and means ‘demand’.

érhaabiyye – the plural you’re probably used to is irhaabiyyiin, but in Levantine dialects lots of nouns – especially ones with a nisba ending – are pluralised with -a/-e.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

حيو شباب الرستن والشباب الحموية
7ayyo shabaab ér-rastan w-ésh-shabaab él-7amwiyye

Up with the youth of Rastan and the Hamawi youth

7ayyo – maybe etymologically from the verb 7ayya (‘salute!’) or from the CA verb حي ‘live’, as in ‘long live’, but now it always takes the same ending. It’s an expression of support, encouragement or celebration – perhaps ‘up with’ or ‘hurray’ in English depending on context.

7amwiyye – the plural of 7amwi, a person from Hama. This has the –e plural too, as you can see.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

مكتوب على علمنا بشار خاين وطننا
maktuub 3ala 3alamna bashhaar khaayen waTanna

It’s written on our flag – Bashar’s betrayed our motherland

maktuub – obviously the passive participle of katab ‘write’. Unlike English we usually don’t need a pronoun with participles or adjectives – an adjective can stand on its own without a subject as long as it’s provided by context. Maktuub ‘it is written’ is a full sentence.

khaayen – the active participle of khaan ykhuun ‘betray’, meaning ‘has betrayed’ or ‘traitor’.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

مكتوب على علمنا مخلوف سارق وطننا
maktuub 3ala 3alamna, makhluuf saare2 waTanna

It’s written on our flag – Makhlouf’s robbed our motherland

saare2 – has stolen, has robbed. sara2 yisro2 can mean both ‘steal [an object]’ and ‘rob [a person]’, so either interpretation – stolen our waTan or stolen from our waTan – is possible. The Makhlouf in question here is Rami Makhlouf , a close relative of the Asads. He’s famous for profiting hugely off corruption in Syria.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

نحنا شباب التغيير متطالبنا شرعية
né7na shabaab ét-taghyiir, maTaalébna shar3iyye

We’re the youth of change, our demands are legitimate

maTaaleb here is ‘demands’ (plural of maTlab). Shar3iyye here is the feminine of shar3i ‘legitimate’, not the noun ‘legitimacy’.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

حاجه تطلع قوانيين قوانينك كذابية
7aaje tTalle3 qawaaniin, qawaaniinak kazzaabiyye

Stop putting out laws, your laws are false

7aaje again. Talla3 here means ‘put out’ (i.e. make new laws). The qawaaniin in question are probably the various long-term legal changes Asad alludes to without promising anything concrete in his 2011 speeches.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

وحاجه تطلع قوانيين شرعيتك منتهية
7aaje tTalle3 qawaaniin, shar3iitak méntehiye

Stop putting out laws, your legitimacy’s run out

This time shar3iyye is ‘legitimacy’ again. Méntehiye is the colloquial pronunciation of the MSA muntahiya, from انتهى intaha.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

لو طيرتو هالقاشوش في متلو الف ومية
law Tayyartu hal-2aashuush fii métlo 2alf w miyye

Even if you get rid of this Qashoush, there’s 1,100 more of him

Tayyar here is equivalent to 2alla3 or Talla3 – get rid of, send him flying. Métlo is obviously ‘like him’.

This line is particularly poignant because Ibrahim Qashoush – the composer of this song – was apparently murdered by the Syrian security forces shortly after the demonstrations.

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

لو طيرتو هالقاشوش في متلو الف ومية
law Tayyartu hal-2aashuush fii métlo 2alf w miyye

Even if you get rid of this Qashoush, there’s another 1,100 like him

سوريا بدها حرية سوريا بدها حرية
suuriyya bédda 7érriyye, suuriyya bédda 7érriyye

Syria wants freedom! Syria wants freedom!

 من تحت راسكamir
mén ta7@t raasak

Not a comment on the location of your neck, but instead a dramatic way of saying ‘it’s all because of you!’ or ‘it’s all your fault!’ Initial estimates suggest this expression is used in at least 105% of Syrian dramas.

كل اللي صار من تحت راسك!
Everything that’s happened is because of you!

Or ‘ass’, for our American readers.

In the course of your studies, especially if you study Levantine, you may have encountered the charming Palestinian expression بكرا بالمشمش bukra bilmishmish, ‘tomorrow with the apricots’, or in short بالمشمش ‘with the apricots’. This is a pleasantly folksy and agricultural way of saying, essentially, ‘it’ll never happen’. According to the supervisor who taught us the expression way back when, this is because apricots have a very brief and unpredictable ripening time (? I’m not a farmer). It probably also depends a bit for its effect on the fact that mishmish literally means ‘notnot’.

Anyway, as appealing as this innocent expression is, it’s not very common in Syrian. Instead we say:

بكرا من طيزي
bukra mén Tiizi
‘tomorrow from my arse!’

Or just

من طيزي
mén Tiizi!

from my arse!

NB: this is a p vulgar expression so don’t go around just using it with anyone or I will not be held responsible for the consequences


Good evening.

استاذ ما بتعرف انه الدخان موت بطيء؟
ومين قللك اني مستعجل؟
éstaaz maa bta3ref inno éddékhhaan moot baTii2?
w miin 2allek 2énni mista3jel?

Good evening.
Sir, don’t you know that smoking is a slow [and painful] death?
(breathes out luxurious cloud of smoke)
And who told you I was in a hurry?

bonsoir – historically Lebanese people, especially the wealthy and educated, regularly spoke French and switched between French and Arabic. Even though French is probably being transplanted by English amongst young people, a lot of French words are still used even by people who don’t speak French at all.

éstaaz – this is the polite, formal way to refer to a man you don’t know. For a woman the equivalent is probably 2aanse for an unmarried woman and maybe maadaam for a married woman. In Syrian and Lebanese it is pronounced not ustaadh but éstaaz.

maa bta3ref énno – I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere that in Syrian and Lebanese, the verb 3éref ‘know’ always has an a instead of an é in its present tense prefixes. énno is presumably from MSA إنّه, but is also the form in front of nouns (where you would just have 2inna in MSA).

dékhhaan – literally ‘smoke’, but used as a colloquial term for cigarettes (baakeet dekhaan ‘packet of smokes’).

2allek – shortened 2aal-lek ‘said to you’. In that video about the camel (seriously, from the amount I reference it I’m starting to wonder if it literally contains all of Arabic grammar) we saw two other Lebanese speakers who have the irregular form 2él-lek here, but many speakers (including, I think, all Palestinians and Jordanians) have the regular form with 2al-.

mista3jel – the participle of sta3jal yista3jel ‘be in a hurry, do X too fast’. Forms with mi-/m- and mu- alternate for participles; mu- is often more formal and appears all the time in certain words (muhandis for example).

Hope I don’t have to explain the joke guys.

As a student of Arabic it is only a matter of time before you encounter Lebanese pop star and feminist icon Nancy Ajram. Nancy (as she is generally known) is probably the most omnipresent icon of the Arab Pop scene, outselling even the equally Lebanese Najwa Karam, Elissa Khoury and Haifa Wehbe (that last one is… well, you could write a whole dissertation on that song).Thanks to Lebanon’s thriving trade in plastic surgery (عمليات تجميل) it can be sort of difficult to tell them all apart, but Nancy’s face is instantly recognised – and adored – worldwide. Wherever there is a grimy shisha café playing Rotana Clip on a wall-mounted TV, there Nancy will be in the midst of them.

Since around her second album, the allure of Egyptian maSaari (in case you wondered, yes – the root is the same) has meant she mainly sings in Egyptian, she also has a few hits sung in her native Lebanese, including this one, Maashi 7addi (walking alongside me). The story is a classic one of an inattentive vapid idiot of a boyfriend inducing swoons in passing women even as his ultimately very successful girlfriend is walking alongside him. I like to think of it as a Lebanese equivalent of Avril Lavigne’s 2010 classic Sk8er Boi.

ماشي حدي وبعينيك
maashi 7addi w b3ayneek
You’re walking alongside me, and with your eyes

ماشي – the active participle of méshi yémshi, means ‘walking’. The ‘you’ is implied.

حدي – literally ‘my border’ or ‘my edge’, but obviously ‘next to me’. Used a lot in Lebanese and Egyptian, less I think in Syrian.

عينيك – the observant among you will notice that this seems to be a dual, and not only a dual but a dual losing its final nuun before a pronoun suffix, just like MSA! But in fact, although this looks like a dual, it isn’t really, at least of the normal kind – the proper dual suffix in colloquial never loses its -n. Some body parts which come in twos, like 3een (or 3ayn as Nancy pronounces it) have plurals descended from the dual form which lose their final -n before suffixes.

 مدوب الكل حواليك
@mdawweb ilkéll @7waaleek
You’ve melted everyone around you

مدوّب – the ism faa3il or active participle of dawwab ‘to melt’ (transitive, so it only ever means ‘cause to melt’ – the intransitive ‘melt’ is daab yduub). Nancy’s occasionally somewhat limited lyrical range makes a lot of use of the imagery of making women melt – she also uses it in another famous song and the first I ever encountered by her, Sheekh esh-Shabaab. Mdawweb probably doesn’t have a continuous meaning here but approximately means ‘in the state of having melted’.

الكل – ‘the all’. Other un-Englishy colloquial ways of saying ‘everyone’ include كلّه kéllo ‘all of him/it’ (?????? more evidence for secret universal pantheism – did il-maasooniyye do it ?????).

حواليك – a number of prepositions have strange forms in colloquial when pronoun suffixes are attached. 7(a)waaleek does not, as you might assume from MSA 7awaali, have the meaning ‘approximately’ but means the same as MSA حولَك ‘around you’. Damascenes pronounce this 7awaaleek, but people from some areas, including Aleppo and parts of Lebanon, drop the first unstressed a in words like this.

نظرة هيك وغمزة هيك
naZra heek w ghamzi heek
A glance like this, a wink like that

Heek is approximately equivalent toهكذا  in MSA and means ‘like this’, ‘in this way’ (Egyptian keda). naZra is obviously the ism marra (noun of a single instance of the action described by the verb) of naZar and means ‘glance’ or ‘look’.

غمزة ghamzi – this is the ism marra from ghamaz yéghmoz ‘to wink’. Nancy has a sort of traditional Lebanese accent – possibly put on, I’ve never listened to her speaking – similar to Marcel Khalife or Feyrouz which turns final -e into -i. In Damascus this would be pronounced ghamze.

ولا حلوة بتفلت منك
wala 7élwi btéflot ménnak
No pretty girl escapes from you!

ولا حلوة wala 7elwi – again the accent. Wala (not to be confused with wélla ‘or’) means ‘no’ or ‘not a single’ and is often combined with negative verbs: ما شفت ولا شي maa shéf@t wala shi ‘I didn’t see nothin’.

بتفلت – falat yéflot mén we’ve already encountered in that song about the camel that you could literally build a textbook around. It means ‘slip out of’ or ‘slip away from’ or in this case ‘escape from’.

وناسي اني بغار, بجن
w naasi énni bghaar, bjénn
You’ve forgotten that I get jealous, I go crazy

ناسي – the active participle of ‘forget’, so ‘having forgotten’. The ‘you’ is implied.

بغار – ghaar yghaar, which conjugates like naam ynaam, is ‘to get jealous’. You bitghaar min someone (‘get jealous, be jealous of someone’) and generally على somebody or something, in the sense of being jealous or jealously protective of them. بغار ع اللغة ‘he is jealously protective of language’ is one way of saying someone’s a bit of a grammar Nazi.

بجن – jann yjénn ‘go mad’, i.e. become a majnuun. Presumably related to jinni ‘genie’ as well. The causative jannan is used both to mean ‘drive someone mad’ بدك تجنني يا كلب ‘you’re going to make me go mad, you bastard’ or, counterintuitively, as a positive thing:  الصورة بتجنن وللهeSSuura bétjannen waLLah ‘the picture’s so beautiful!’
خصوصي لو ضحكولك هن
@khSuuSi law DéHkuu-lak hén
Especially if they laugh for you

ضحكولك – could be ‘laugh for you’, could be ‘laugh at you[r jokes]’. ضحك على  has a negative connotation, meaning ‘laugh at’ (someone for being stupid) – a blow that the fragile masculinity of Nancy’s neglectful boyfriend probably wouldn’t be able to sustain without crumbling.

هن – a ‘reduced form’ of hénne or hénen, the two more normal forms of the pronoun ‘they’, often used at the end of sentences. Used in particular in songs as a device to maintain rhythm.

انت تقبرني بتحن
inte, té2bérni bét7énn
You, my dear, long [for them]

تقبرني – this literally means ‘may you bury me’ and apparently implies ‘I love you so much I hope you die before I do so I don’t have to cope with losing you.’ A common term of endearment used with girlfriends, boyfriends, small children…

وبيوقع قلبك منك
w byuu2a3 2albak ménnak
And you forget you have a heart!

This literally means ‘your heart falls from you’ or ‘you drop your heart’. The meaning is something like ‘your heart hardens’, i.e. he forgets about Nancy. wé2e3 yuu2a3 means ‘to fall’ – we saw a similar sentence in – and I don’t believe I’m referencing it AGAIN – that song about the bloody camel.

وأنا أجمل شب بيتمنى بمشوار يشاركني
w 2ana 2ajmal shabb @byétmanna bi méshwaar yshaarékni
The hottest guys wish they could go for a walk with me

‘And [as for] me, the most handsome guy wishes he [could] come with me on an errand’ (the literal translations are always the sexiest). This use of 2ana is not that weird in Arabic although it seems strange translated literally into English. English also prefers plurals in generic statements like ‘guys’ or ‘Syrians’ or ‘French people’, but Arabic often uses a definite singular:الإنسان ماله قيمة بهالبلد  ilinsaan maalo qiime bhalbalad ‘people have no value in this country’.

بيتمنى – tmanna yétmanna is ‘to wish’, of course, but its syntax is different in Arabic – often yitmanna plus a verb without b- lines up with a sentence like ‘I wish that X… were…’ or ‘I wish that X… [verb]ed…’ For example, you might say: بتمنى الكل يكون متلك ‘I wish everyone was like you’.

يشاركني – shaarak yshaarek b- means ‘participate in’, ‘be part of’, ‘accompany someone in’.

مش متلك انت مضيعني بحركاتك وملبكني
mesh métlak inta mDayyé3ni b7arakaatak w@mlabbekni
Not like you, you’ve lost me and confused me with all your actions

مضيّعني mDayyé3ni – although this could mean ‘have lost my affections’, here I think it means ‘made me get lost’, i.e. really confused me. It’s the active participle of Dayya3 yDayye3, the form II derivation of Daa3 ضاع ‘get lost’.

حركاتك – literally ‘your movements’, obviously, but 7arakaat often means something like ‘sorts of actions’. ما بحب هيك حركات means ‘I don’t like that sort of thing/those sorts of actions’. ما عندي هيك حركات means ‘I don’t do that sort of thing’.

وأنا أجمل شب بيتمنى بمشوار يشاركني
w 2ana 2ajmal shabb @byétmanna bi méshwaar yshaarékni
The hottest guys wish they could go for a walk with me

مش متلك انت مضيعني بحركاتك وملبكني
mesh métlak inta mDayye3ni b7arakaatak w@mlabbekni
Not like you, you’ve lost me and confused me with all your actions

وإذا حلوة بإيدها بتوميلك
w 2iza 7élwi b2iida btuumiilak
And if a pretty girl waves at you

بتوميلك – this is not a particularly common colloquial verb I don’t think. It’s present in MSA, أَوْمي يُومي , and this is the model it’s conjugated on. It means ‘make a gesture to’ or something along those lines. بإيدها is obviously ‘with her hand’.

بتلحقها وبتتركني
btél7a2a w btétrékni
You go after her and leave me behind

بتلحقها – this (lé7e2/yil7a2) is a very useful verb to learn. It not only means ‘follow’ or ‘go behind’, it also means ‘make it to’ (as in ‘be on time for’): ما رح تلحق ‘you won’t make it’.

ماشي حدي وبعينيك
maashi 7addi w b3ayneek
Walking alongside me, and with your eyes

 مدوب الكل حواليك
@mdawweb ilkéll @7waaleek
You’ve melted everyone around you

نظرة هيك وغمزة هيك
naZra heek w ghamzi heek
A glance like this, a wink like that

ولا حلوة بتفلت منك
wala 7élwi btéflot ménnak
No pretty girl escapes from you!

وناسي اني بغار, بجن
w naasi énni bghaar, bjénn
You’ve forgotten that I get jealous, I go crazy

وصدفة لو على هالطريق
w Sédfi law 3ala haTTarii2
And if only, by chance, on this road

صدفة – this is similar to  فجأة faj2a in, yeah, that song about the camel in that it’s a noun appearing in an adverbial usage that in MSA would require an –an. You could equally say Sudfatan, but this would be more formal. صدفة literally means ‘chance’ or ‘coincidence’.

لو law here means ‘if only’. You can tell because it’s paired with a verb without b- in the next line. You can also hear this law in this great song ‘oh, if only you knew’.

هالطريق – this is a weird narrative use of ha- that doesn’t really line up with anything in English. You can hear it here in the line irkhii-ha bi ha-ssaloon ‘put my feet up in the front room’ (ignore the rest of the steadily-declining sketch show and pay attention to the introductory song). It generally lines up with ‘the’, but sets the scene for a narrative.

يسلم علي شي رفيق
ysallem 3aleyyi shi rfii2
Some friend of mine would say hi to me

يسلم علي – sallam 3ala probably originally meant ‘say assalaamu 3alaykum to’ or ‘wish peace on’ but now it means ‘say hi to’. Sallémli 3ala baaba means ‘say hi to dad for me’. Here I think ysallem has no b- because it’s being used with ‘law’.

دغري رح تمعل تحقيق
déghri ra7 ta3mel ta72ii2
Straight away you’d interrogate me

There’s no conditional construction here explicitly, but it’s required by the English. A lot of Arabic hypotheticals only have a conditional construction in the ‘if’ clause or its equivalent and are then followed by clauses which standing alone would look declarative.

تعمل – note that in Syrian and Lebanese, 3émel and 3éref both have a in all their prefixes in the present tense (ta3mel, ta3ref) rather than, as would be more regular, é. This is not the case in Palestinian or Jordanian, where the first person singular has a as in all verbs (ba3mel, ba3raf) but the other forms have i (ti3mel, ti3raf).

دغري déghri – this is a Turkish loanword, I think. It means ‘straight on’, ‘directly’, or ‘straight away’ and is basically a synonym of 3ala Tool. It can also be used in directions.

تحقيق – literally ‘interrogation’.

تسألني وتحاسبني
tés2alni w @t7aasébni
Asking me and holding me to account

Neither verb has a b- because they’re coordinated with ta3mel, i.e. it’s as if she was saying wra7 tés2alni w ra7 @t7aasébni.

تحاسبني – 7aasab y7aaseb is a useful word that means ‘hold to account’, ‘settle accounts with’ and thus ‘pay the bill’ or ‘pay someone back’. You will probably have someone tell you at some point بكرا بحاسبك ‘I’ll pay you back tomorrow’, and you might say before you leave a café ثواني, بدي حاسب ‘give me a sec, I need to pay the bill’.

مين ووين وكيف وليش
miin w ween w kiif w leesh
Who, and where, and how and why

رفيقي هو ومن قديش
rfii2i huwwe w mén 2addeesh?
Whether he’s my friend, and for how long

Literally ‘is he my friend, and since how long?’

دوب وتعذب معليش

duub w @it3azzab, ma3leesh
Get annoyed, oh well!

دوب – literally ‘melt’.

تعذّب – the passive of عذب. This literally means ‘torture’ and is used in that meaning too, but is also very common in the meaning ‘annoy’ or ‘bother’ or ‘cause trouble’. بدي سيارة ما تعذب  ‘I want a car that won’t annoy me’.
صرلك عمري معذبني
Sarlak 3omri m3azzébni!
You’ve been annoying me my whole life!

صارلك – this literally means ‘has become for you’, but it is frequently used in the sense of ‘you have been’. Only the final pronoun changes in its conjugation: Sarlak, Sarli, Sarlo, Sarlon etc.

معذب – the active participle of ‘torture’ or, in this sense, ‘bother’ or ‘annoy’.

[after this it carries on repeating itself]