The uses of ما

This section is going to be a bit long, but it may be used as a helpful guide for those seeking to learn colloquial Arabic. For this section, I’ll just go over what I believe to be 3 common definitions for the word  ما (ma). The word is used frequently in both Modern Standard Arabic as well as Levantine Arabic and so it is important to familiarize oneself the various usages.

1st meaning: Negation of verbs

Probably the most common use of ما in spoken Arabic is to negate verbs. It may be placed before both past and present verbs as in the examples below.

ما راح/ما راحش (ma ra7/ma ra7sh) both have the same meaning, “he didn’t go”. Note the negation of the past tense.

ما بكتب/ما بكتبش (ma bakteb/ma baktebsh) would both mean “I do not write”, which is the negation of the present tense.

If you use ما with a present tense verb without the “ب”, then it can denote the negation of a command or an imperative. For instance:

ما تنسى/ما تنساش (ma tinsa/ma tinsaash) would be telling someone “don’t forget!”

ما تكتب/ما تكتبش (ma takteb/ma taktebsh) translates to “don’t write!”

2nd meaning: An expression of being surprised with something

This particular use of ما may be found in MSA as well and means “How [adjective] such-and-such is!”

ما أشطر بنته (ma ashTar bintu!) translates to “how smart his daughter is!” Note that the adjective used would be شاطر/شاطرة (shaaTir/shaaTira), meaning bright, smart, or clever.

3rd meaning: Word used to connect a conjunction and a verb

زي ما بدك (zay ma bidduk) is a phrase that many Jordanians use, translating to “whatever you want” or “whatever you like”. As a side note, when Jordanians speak English, you’ll also hear them say “as you like” as opposed to “whatever you like,” which native English speakers are more accustomed to hearing.

بعد ما رحت على المكتب (ba3d-ma ra7it 3la il-maktub) translates to “after I went to the office…”

You may also find the 3rd form of ما used with conjunctions like قبل ,بدون, and مثل.

As an aside, I’ll begin posting more updates now that I’ve returned from vacation. Hope this section helps you guys in your colloquial Arabic studies!


The difference between فراطة and باقي when dealing with money

I wanted to give a brief explanation about the difference between the words فراطة (fraaTa) and باقي (boggy) when dealing with everyday monetary transactions.

فراطة (fraaTa) refers to spare change or any small change that one might have while digging through their pocket/wallet. It can also have the secondary definition of being unimportant or worthless.

معك فراطة؟ (ma3ik fraaTa?) translates to “do you have any change on you?” Notice how the word “معك” is used as opposed to “عندك”. While “عندك فراطة” will still be universally understood in the Arab world, you’ll find that “معك فراطة” will be predominantly used.

ما معيش فراطة (ma m3eesh fraaTa) translates to “I don’t have any change on me”.

حكي فراطة (Haaky fraaTa) translates to “idle chit-chat” or “idle talk”.

ناس فراطة (naas fraaTa) translates to undesirable people or basically people who you’d want to avoid.

باقي (boggy) in the context of money refers to the change that one would receive after paying for something, however its primary definition would be the remainder or the rest of something.

الباقي إلك (il-boggy iluk/ilik) translates to “keep the change” after making a payment. Note how “إلك” is used as opposed to “معك”.

وين يحط الباقي؟ (wayn ya7uT ilboggy?) translates to “where should he put the rest [of the things]?”

أنت عملت إللي عليك و الباقي على الله (inta a3milit illy 3layk wa il-boggy 3la allah) translates to “you’ve done what you could and the rest is up to God”. The literal translation will be “you did what was on you and the rest is on God.” Remember that عليك or عليكي or عليكم/عليكو means that “you need to…”

باقي الناس أكلو بالمطعم (boggy in-naas akaloo bil-maT3am) translates to “the rest of the people ate at the restaurant.”

The noun ضو/أضوا

For those who want to use colloquial Arabic for more practical uses (perhaps around the house), it’s important to be familiar with the word ضو/أضوا, which is “light/lights”. In Modern Standard Arabic, you’ll find that there is a hamza following the singular and plural form of the noun, however you’ll rarely hear the hamza pronounced out on the streets.

اضوي الضو (iDwee id-Daww) translates to “turn on the light”, which should not be too difficult to remember since both words stem from the root “ض-و-ى”.

اطفي الضو (iTfee id-Daww) translates to “turn off the light”, and these two phrases are two of the most common phrases you’ll encounter around the house.

قطعت و الضو أحمر (gat3at wid-Daww a7mar) translates to “I ran the red light” while literally translating to “I crossed and the light [was] red”.

The noun قلب/قلوب

In this post, I wanted to go over the Arabic word قلب/قلوب (galb/guloob) and all the expressions that are attached with the noun. قلب, meaning “heart”, is very frequently used and you’ll notice that the Arabic expressions are much in line with expressions that we use in English as well.

قلبه طيب (galbu Tayyib) translates to “he’s got a good heart”; a common English phrase.

ماليش قلب أذبح الحيوان (maleesh galb adhba7 il7ayawaan) translates to “I don’t have to heart to kill the animal.

قلبي انحرق (galby in7araq) translates to “my heart bled”. Note that the word انحرق literally means “to be burned”.

قلبها مليان عليه (galb-ha malyaan 3laayh) translates to “she’s upset with him” although the literal translation would be “her heart is full on him”.

اليوم القلوب تغيرت (ilyom il-quloob taghayyarat) translates to “people feel differently these days” while the literal translation is “today the hearts have changed”.

The verb هم/يهم

If you plan on learning Arabic, especially colloquial, then it’s important to know the verb هم/يهم (hemm/ihemm) as you’ll be hearing it pretty frequently. Among its many definitions are to worry, to concern, to matter, to interest. In terms of the verb conjugations, you can note the present and past tenses below

أنا أهم/هميت (ahemm/hemeyt)

أنت تهم/هميت (inta tehemm/hemeyt)

إنتي تهمي/ هميتي (inti tehemmi/hemeyti)

هو يهم/هم (huwa ihemm/hemm)

هي تهم/همت (heya tehemm/hemmat)

إحنا نهم/همينا (i7na nehemm/hemeynaa)

إنتو تهمو/ هميتو (intu tehemmu/hemmeytu)

هم يهمو/همو (hum yehemmu/hemmu)

One phrase that you’ll certainly here in any Arabic speaking country will be:

ولا يهمك (wala ihemmuk), meaning “don’t worry”. It is the colloquial equivalent of MSA’s “لا تقلق”. Also note that you would say the word as if the “ي” was silent (ihemmuk rather than yihemmuk).

هادا إللي بهمنا (haada illy behemmnaa) translates to “that’s what worries us”. The sentence is pretty straight forward; don’t forget that إللي is the colloquial equivalent to الذي or التي.

المبارات ما بتهمني (il-mubaaraat ma bet-hemmni) translates to “the sports games don’t really interest me”. Again, pretty straight forward. Alternatively, you could also say “المبارات ما بتهمنيش”, which would have the same meaning, only adding a “ش” at the end.

بهمش (bihemmish) translates to simply “it’s not important” or “it doesn’t matter”. You can use it with a sentence such as بهمش أتدخل؟ (bihemmish atadakhul) which is asking “may I get a word in?” Note that the literal translation is “it doesn’t matter [if] I interfere?”

Now you’ll rarely see the verb used in the past tense, which pretty much negates the “past” conjugations above (but it’s still nice to know!). When you’re speaking about the past, then you should preface the verb with whatever derivative of “كان” that’s grammatically correct.

كان يهمني (kaan ihemmny) translates to “it used to interest me” or “it used to worry me”.

كان الوضع يهمها (kaan ilwaD3a yehemmha) translates to “the situation used to worry her”.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

The verb إكتفى/يكتفي

The verb إكتفى/يكتفي (iktafa/yiktafi) means to be content with or to find sufficient and it’s a word that you’ll find in both Modern Standard Arabic as well as colloquial Arabic. You will find it used with the preposition “ب”, which indicates the noun that one is content with. For example:

“أنا اكتفيت بوعده” (ana iktfeyt bi-wa3do) means that “I was content with his promise”. Remember that you must conjugate each past tense of the verb to correspond with the pronoun, so thus:

اكتفيت (iktfeyt) is used for I and you (masculine)

اكتفيتي (iktfeyty) is used for you (feminine)

إكتفى (iktafa) is used for he

اكتفت (iktafat) is used for she

اكتفينا (iktafeyna) is used for we

اكتفيتو (iktafeytu) is used for you (plural)

اكتفو (iktafu) is used for they

بكتفي باللي عندي (biktafi bi-illy 3andi) translates to “I’m content with what I have.” Note that the colloquial word اللي is the equivalent of the MSA الذي or التي.

هو قنوع، بيكتفي بالقليل (huwa ganoo3a byiktifi bil-galeel) translates to “he’s content with what he has and gets by with little”. The word قنوع can have many meanings, among them “frugal”, “modest”, or “satisfied”.

The word قد ايش

A distinct characteristic of the Levantine dialect is the use of the phrase قد ايش (gaddeysh) when asking for the time or inquiring about the price of an item. In some areas of the Levant, you might hear the word being pronounced as “gaddeysh” and in other parts, you’ll hear it as “a’ddeysh,” with the letter ق being replaced by a أ. Regardless of how one pronounces the word, it’s something that you’ll hear very frequently. For instance, in the market, you’ll come across the phrase:

قد ايش هاي؟ (gaddeysh haay?), with the word هاي referring to “this [item]. Therefore, the meaning of the phrase is “how much is this?”

قد ايش الساعة؟ (gaddeysh is-saa3a?) would be asking for the time (literal translation: how much is the hour?)

قد ايش عمرك؟ (gaddeysh 3omruk/3omrik?) would be asking an individual for his or her age. (literal translation: how much is your age?)

كل قد أيش فيه باص؟ (kul gaddeysh fi baaS?) would be inquiring how often a bus would come around? (literal translation: every how much there’s a bus?)

قد أيش اليوم في الشهر؟ (gaddeysh ilyom fi is-shahr?) would be asking someone what day of the year it is. (literal translation: how much is the day in the month?)

As you might notice, قد ايش can be used in a plethora of sentences. In addition to the context of “how much”, you can also utilize it to indicate “what a lot of…”.

قد أيش هو مبسوط (gaddeysh huwa mabsooT) translates to “he’s very happy” or “how very happy he is!”

!قد أيش صرفت المصاري عليها (gaddeysh Sarafit il-muSaary 3layha) translates to “I spent a lot of money on it!”. Note that rather than the word فلوس, Levantine Arabic instead uses the word مصاري. Furthermore, the عليها can also be altered to عليه, depending on the gender of the item that was purchased.

The noun جدية/جد

You’ll  hear the word “جد” spoken in Levantine Arabic pretty frequently, most notably in the phrase “عن جد” (a3n jadd), meaning “seriously!” or “really!” Alternatively, it can be used in the form of a question. For example, if your friend just informed you of something that seemed improbable, you could respond with, “عن جد؟” or “بتحكي جد؟” (bti7ki jadd?), both of which mean “are you serious?”

The term جدية (jiddiye or jaddiye), like جد, means “seriousness”. You may use the word with “ب” to denote that a particular task needs to be done with a sense of seriousness. For example:

“لازم تدرس بجدية” (laazim tudros bi-jiddiye) translates to “you need to really study!” or “you need to seriously study!”

“أخذت الفكرة بجدية” (akhadt il-fikra bi-jiddiye) translates to “I took the idea seriously”.

If you want to say that something needs to be taken seriously, you can use the verb “بد”, which means to want. For example:

“هدا ألسؤال بده جدية” (haada as-suwaal biddoo jiddiye), meaning “this question needs to be taken seriously”. Note that while in Modern Standard Arabic, “this” would be the word هذا, in Levantine Arabic you will find people pronouncing it as هدا. Please note that the word هدا is just one of the ways that someone might say “this” in colloquial. The Levant is a rather large area comprising of a handful of countries and so there are different variations of the same word.

The noun خلاف/خلافات

The word خلاف/خلافات (khilaaf/khilaafaat) refer to a dispute, disagreement, or a difference of opinions. It can also be used to mean a “conflict” of sorts, however it’s not as intense as the “صراع” meaning of the word, which usually alludes to a conflict in the context of war or violent struggle.

To note that there is a dispute, one could say “بصير فيه خلاف” (biSeer fi khilaaf). If you would like to state that there had been a dispute previously, then you would just simply use “صار”. For example, “صار فيه خلافات بينهم” (Saar fi khilaafaat bayn-hum) would mean that they used to have some disagreements.

A verb that’s commonly used to “end” disputes is أنهى/ينهي (anha/yinhi). When paired with خلاف/خلافات, you might find sentences such as: “لازم ينهو الخلاف” (laazim yinhoo il-khilaaf), in English, “they need to end the conflict.” In the past, you could say “أنهو الخلاف” (anhoo il-khilaaf) or “فضو الخلاف” (faDDoo il-khilaaf) for “they ended the dispute”. As a side note, the verb “فضى/يفضي” (faDDa/yifaDDi) means to empty something, and therefore to end a dispute could also literally be translated as to “empty” a dispute.

The verb استغنى/يستغني

استغنى/يستغني (istaghna/yistaghni) is a verb that is utilized in both Modern Standard Arabic as well as various dialects. The meaning of the word is to be rich (enough without), to do without, to have no need for, to manage without, etc. You get the drift. It is often used with the preposition “عن”.

For Levantine Arabic, you may find examples below for the word’s usage:

“بتقدر تستغني عنه؟” (btigdar tistaghni 3ano) – Whether you are referring to an individual or an item, the definition of the sentence essentially translates to “Can you manage without him/it?”

Another example of its usage:

“‘اليوم فيه ناس كتير استغنوا عن الكلمات الأجنبية، مثلا بيقولو ‘حاسوب’ مش ‘كمبيوتر” (il-yom fi naas ikteer bistaghnu 3an il-kalimaat il-ajnabiyye, mithilaan bigoolu “7aasoob” mish “kambyuter”) – This sentence translates to “There’s a lot of people today who can manage without using foreign words — for example they say “[the classical Arabic word for computer]” and not “computer”.

Keep in mind that with Levantine Arabic (as well as other dialects), the “ال” is pronounced as “il” rather than “al”. In addition, the letter “ق” [qaaf] is pronounced as either as a “g” [as in the English word golf] or as a glottal stop [as in the ‘uh’ in the phrase ‘uh oh’]. Typically you will find that many men use the former pronunciation while females use the latter… Apparently pronouncing the “qaaf” as a “g” is regarded as manlier than the alternate glottal stop.