Hello, I’m joining Caitlyn and Chris representing Team Fatima Zahra, the little-known (but very cool) Moroccan cousin of Maha and Nisreen…okay, so obviously al-Kitaab never gave us a Moroccan version of our favourite crowd-phobic Egyptian. And that’s probably because students of Arabic are usually warned off Moroccan, even/especially by other Arabs.

The most common responses I got when telling people I was studying Arabic in Morocco were “You’re learning French,” “come back to Jordan when you want to learn real Arabic”, and “you’re learning African” (…okay).

And yes, Moroccan Arabic (darija) has some pretty crazy mangled French and Spanish words in its vocabulary. For example, the word for sneakers is sberdila, coming from the French éspadrille. The word for a baguette is komeera, coming from the Spanish comer (to eat). The grammar is also a bit different, and some words come from the Amazigh (Berber) languages of Morocco. It’s also true that most Arabs outside the maghreb don’t understand darija.

But don’t write it off. Morocco is the second-largest country in the Arab league, and you will be able to chat to Algerians and Tunisians too. You will feel like a cool spy when you leave your friends from Jordan bewildered. And its top exports are hash and Saad Lmajarred songs, two things I’m sure you will all agree make learning Arabic much more enjoyable. It’s also a relatively stable and fun country to visit to learn Arabic.

So, here are some first basic points about Moroccan Arabic.


In my first darija class they wrote in vowelled Arabic and it was just sukoons on sukoons. This is why darija can sound a bit weird at the beginning. There are some long letters but often there will just be a very short helping vowel. So “I went”, مْشيت, is pronounced mshit (I don’t bother to write the long vowels as ii or aa because there aren’t really short and long in darija, more like semi- and full vowels.)

The same goes for the article, which is usually just l- rather than al-, and prepositions. My favourite thing about living in Fes was that I got to say “ana sakina ffes” which was fun to say and looks ridiculous written down.


In Levantine present tense verbs are prefixed with ba-, bt- by-, but in Moroccan it’s ka:

Kankteb (note also the n- before first person present)                  كَنْكتَب

Katkteb, katketbi (male/female)                                              كَتكْتَب, كَتْكَتبي

Kaykteb                                                                                                   كَيكْتَب                              

Kanketebu (also here the first person plural ending)                      كنكَتبو      

Katketbu                                                                                                  كَتكَتبو 

Kayktebu                                                                                                 كيَكتَبو          


Past tense verbs aren’t that different to other dialects but one key thing to note here is the ending for “you” is –ti whether you’re speaking to a man or a woman: شفتي, shefti (you saw).

Ktebt                                                                                                    كتبت

Ktebti                                                                                                   كتبتي

Kteb                                                                                                       كتب

Ketebat                                                                                                 كتبت

Ktebna                                                                                                   كتبنا

Ktebtu                                                                                                    كتبتو

Ketebu                                                                                                     كتبو

There is/are

Not fii as in other dialects but كاين, كاينة, كاينين  kayn, kayna, kaynin – like the ism fa3el of كان.


In Morocco, forget whatever you know about non-human plurals or plurals up to 11 or whatever (clearly I have already!). If something is plural, it is plural, the verb is plural, everything is plural. Sometimes adjectives might be feminine singular, as in other dialects. So if you wanted to say “the chairs were in the garden”, you would say الكراسة كانو فالجاردة l-kerasa kanu fel-jarda (another helpful French word there).

Top four useful words

I don’t want to overwhelm anybody too much with this crash course in Moroccan, so finally here are some words which really distinguish Moroccan from other dialects:

Bzaf – means ktir, stretch out the a if you really want to emphasise what you’re saying. E.g. how much do I love Moroccan Arabic? Bzaaaaaaaaaf.

Safi – use instead of khallas. The title of a brilliantly terrible Moroccan pop song, and used all the time.

Za3ma – used sometimes instead of ya3ni

Mzyane – means good, just like kwais in Egyptian Arabic

If your brain is exploding but you’re keen to learn more Moroccan Arabic, there are actually quite a few useful resources online including the Armchair Arabist blog. I’ll be putting up shorter posts about specific words and phrases and almost certainly some translations of Saad Lmajarred. And everything will be mzyane bzaaaaaf!



As I was discussing Arabic grammar over some Stellas with friends the other day (before you think to yourself ‘wow this girl is a total nerd’: 99% of you have done this before. do not lie.), I said that during my year with CASA I discovered a love for words with 4 letter roots in Arabic, like يهمهم and يوشوش (both onomatopoeias for whispering) as well as يدغدغ (MSA for ‘to tickle.’ not entirely sure how this came up in a graduate level Arabic class, but. you know.). Then my friends informed me that in Egyptian, يدغدغ means ‘to smash’ as in ‘I’m going to smash your head in.’ Probably something you wouldn’t say in an actual fight, but definitely lies within the realm of siblings threatening to beat each other up.

Via arabicproblems.tumblr.com

    Via arabicproblems.tumblr.com

So what is the takeaway here? LEARN. DIALECT. Imagine yourself telling a small child that you’re going to tickle them and watching them burst into tears BECAUSE THEY THINK YOU’RE GOING TO SMASH THEM. Obviously you won’t get it right all the time, and learning a dialect is process, but don’t be the guy that says ‘I’m only interested in learning MSA because I just don’t have the time to learn amiyya.’ Because what you’re really saying is: ‘I can’t be bothered to learn how to interact with actual human beings. I would rather bury my head in books and listen to speeches and watch the news. Oh, and I also suck.’

If you’re interested in learning the basics of any dialect of Arabic, you’d be wise to start here or here.

Today’s guest post includes a very exciting announcement made by our new friend Chris.

Nisreen frustrated about the perennially high degree of humidity in her native New York

Nisreen frustrated about the perennially high degree of humidity in her native New York

This is Nisreen. Nisreen is a chronically lonely Syrian-American living in New York, with a Syrian father and a Palestinian mother. She is, in fact, Maha’s doppelganger – and Maha’s falling in love with her cousin out of sheer loneliness, and Nisreen’s parallel love story with her own paternal cousin, might well have been avoided if they’d only managed to meet one another instead of spending all their time looking woefully into a camera and monologuing about their respective misery.

In case you hadn’t guessed or seen her before, Nisreen is Maha’s Syrian double from the super rare Levantine edition of the عامية videos from al-Kitaab, the Arabic resource everybody loves to hate and hates to study from. Nisreen – poor, neglected, Nisreen – has been forgotten for too long. I am not Team Maha. I am, proudly, Team Nisreen! In this spirit, I’ll be contributing some Levantine posts to this blog, trying to give Levantine colloquial expressions some of the same great exposure Caitlyn has been giving to Egyptian.

Of course, Levantine is spoken in Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, and encompasses a huge number of local accents and varieties. A lot of words – especially slang, but also very normal terminology – have several different local variations. And some words, as you might expect, will not even be understood in other parts of the same country (try calling a curtain a jlaale to a Latakian and see how far it gets you). The dialects I’m most familiar with are those of urban Syria and Lebanon – which are more similar to one another than they are to urban Jordan and Palestine, generally speaking – but I’m going to try and include stuff from as many major dialects as possible, and point out specific regionalisms and features of particular dialects. As a rough guide and for people who are familiar with only one Levantine dialect or not at all, here is a list of the major differences:

  • Kint vs kunt: most Lebanese and Syrian urban dialects (there are exceptions, like Homsi) do not have distinct i and u sounds in stressed syllables. Words like كنت are pronounced kint, قدام as eddaam, شفت as shift. Exactly what the vowel here sounds like depends on the consonants around it and the dialect of the speaker – some Lebanese people, like the lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, pronounce kint more like Most Jordanians and Palestinians, meanwhile, have distinct vowels and say kunt, shuft etc (an exception to this is Galilee Arabic).
  • -a vs -e vs -i: With the exception of people from the southernmost areas of the Levantine area, most urban Levantine speakers pronounce final ـة not as –a, but as some kind of –e sound. Some speakers, particularly of Lebanese dialects – see Marcel Khalife or Feyrouz, for example – pronounce it –i. This also applies to some –a sounds which are not, in MSA, ـة – شتى is shite or shiti (have you heard the song حبيتك بالصيف by Feyrouz?), for example, and some people say soode or soodi for سودا. Some speakers who pronounce the –i say something closer to –e for ـي to keep the sounds separate! Also, many Syrians and Lebanese use inte for their masculine ‘you’, and some Lebanese say ane for ‘me.’
  • Aa vs ee: Aleppan and many Lebanese dialects have very ee-ish long aa sounds similar to a long version of the e in English pet – Egyptian has a similar sound – and these are sometimes so similar to ee that they can be rhymed with long e, as in the Mashrou’ Leila rhyme:

واذا كنتو اتنين يا اهلين شي فلتان w-iza kentu tneen ya ahleen shi falteen ‘and if there’s two of you, oh wow! What a scandal!’

  • Byiktob vs biktob – most Palestinian and Jordanian dialects, and some Syrian dialects (e.g. Homsi) use aktob/baktob and yiktob/biktob for ‘I write’ and ‘he writes’. Most Syrian and Lebanese dialects, meanwhile, use iktob/biktob and yiktob/byiktob. This can be very confusing at first when meeting speakers of other dialects. Most Syrian and Lebanese dialects also drop the ‘I’ prefix before single consonants: biddi ruu7 ‘I want to go’.
  • I6la3 vs 6laa3 – most Syrian and Lebanese dialects have an imperative of form one verbs which works by lengthening the internal vowel – طلع becomes طلاع, كتب becomes كتوب ktoob and نزل becomes نزيل nzeel! Jordanian and Palestinian dialects, however, form the imperative in the same manner as MSA.
  • The qaaf: most urban speakers pronounce the ق as a glottal stop, but many Ammanis, particularly men, pronounce it with a g sound, as do many speakers of non-urban dialects. Some Palestinians instead pronounce a k, whilst Druzes and Alawites often pronounce it as a q! Almost all speakers preserve a qaaf in some words, like ثقافة or موسيقى, although even here there are exceptions (especially for Lebanese people for some reason).
  • -aan words: All of us who have studied al-Kitaab or Egyptian 3aammiyyah are familiar with words like تعبان for ‘tired’, even if they’re not strictly speaking proper MSA. Levantine dialects have a lot more of these than any other dialect, particularly in the Syrian/Lebanese area, and within that, most specifically within parts of Syria itself, where many, many verbs form their active participle this way. Some specifically Syrian examples are وصلان for واصل, عرفان for عارف and my personal favourite, فطران fa6raan for فاطر – i.e. ‘having had breakfast.’
Upset because she’s not fatraane

Upset because she’s not fa6raane

That’s all from Team Nisreen for now – but stay tuned for more guest posts (ان شاء الله) that will finally give Nisreen the platform she’s been forced to concede for so long to her sinister Egyptian doppelganger.

Following up on our earlier explanation of a bunch of MSA words that sound ridiculous when used in real life, here are a few more:

1. بدون

Albeit a nice sounding word, no one says this in real life. In some dialects of Shami you might order your coffee من دون سكر (without sugar) but in Egypt من غير is most common.

2. أحيانا

The Egyptian word used to express ‘sometimes’ is actually ساعات (sa3at) which literally means ‘hours.’ Which sort of makes sense.

3. ادرس

If you’re trying to say that you want to study a bit, this would fly in Jordan if I’m not mistaken, but in Egypt, it sounds off. Instead, you would say: عايزة اذاكر شوية (ayza azaker shwaya). However, the root of this word appears in questions like, دراستك ايه؟ which means ‘What do you study/What is your field of study?’ The word اذاكر refers more to the actual act of sitting in the library and studying for a test rather that the more general concept of going to college and taking classes, if that makes sense.

4. كيف حالك \ انا بخير

Unless you are the real-life incarnation of Maha or Khaled or committed some horrible crime and were sentenced to a life of expressing yourself only in Al-Kitaab sentences, please spare us. Pro tip: Before you visit whatever Arab country you’re headed to, TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN THE GODDAMN GREETINGS. It will literally take twenty minutes, and you won’t sound like a dick. (Ala fekra, ya gam3a, stay tuned for a post on ‘How Not To Be An Asshole In Egypt,’ which will cover similar topics.)


Many of you have been asking a very profound question regarding the name of this blog:

“I don’t get it. Who’s Maha?”

And this is something that I’ll admit I should have addressed from the get-go.

To answer this question, I could list for you all the conventionally important biographical facts about Maha, like how she is a character in the book (it is literally called ‘the book:’ Al-Kitab) used for Arabic language education in America. I could tell you that Maha is a Palestinian-Egyptian woman living in the United States, that her father works as a translator with the UN, and that her grandfather was an army officer. I could also tell you that Maha admits on camera that she often feels lonely, that she is jealous of her friend Leila’s pool, and even hints that she is wistfully in love with her first cousin.


Maha, Arabic textbook character and fashion icon, gives the camera a taste of her signature stare.

Or, I could tell you what Maha means.

Maha is our rallying cry: our point of unity and mutual understanding as Arabic students, engaged together in a struggle against the brutality of FusHa grammar and endless vocabulary lists. When your classmates became sluggish and discouraged mid-semester, simply dropping that Maha-ism seared in the minds of all—“ana ash3or bilwa7da”– would set off a round of giggles that immediately softened the pain of verb conjugation tables. Every time the word ضابط – ‘officer’ – was spoken and heard, one person in the room was inevitably unable to restrain themselves from blurting out Maha-ism No. 2–“dhabet KBEEEEEEEER fil jaysh,”–much to the delight of their peers.

Indeed, we are all blessed with fond memories of Maha’s uncanny ability to lighten the mood, despite her consistently melancholy disposition in the videos we watched weekly about her life.

I don’t think that her creators expected that a cult of personality would emerge from Maha’s piercing gaze and blatant social desperation, but we owe them our thanks. We owe them our thanks for creating a character that both quietly reflected how our social lives’ suffered as we plunged further into the abyss that is Arabic study while simultaneously uniting us around a common experience of sweet, sweet suffering.

We salute you, Maha, for all that you do.