Egyptian Arabic Grammar


The essentials

In many cases, Egyptian uses the same structure as English: let's first look at some simple examples where the structure is similar, then move on to the differences.

Nouns and verbs

Here is a simple sentence in both english and Egyptian:

Ahmed loves sarah
'ahmad biyihibb saaraaacHmad biyiHibb saarao
أحمـَد بـِيـِحـِبّ سا َر َة
Element EnglishEgyptian
subject nounAhmed'ahmadaacHmad
أحمـَد
verb lovesbiyihibbbiyiHibb
بـِيـِحـِبّ
object nounSarahsaarasaarao
سا َر َة

In both the English and Egyptian examples, there are three words: two words are nouns (people, things or ideas) and the middle word is a verb, which explains what is happening. In both cases, the noun before the verb (Ahmed) is the subject (the person or thing that is doing something) and the noun after the verb (Sarah) is the object- is the person or thing that is having something done to it.

We can change the meaning by turning the words around, like this:

Sarah loves Ahmed
saara bithibb 'ahmadsaarao bitHibb aacHmad
سا َر َة بـِتحـِبّ أحمـَد
Element EnglishEgyptian
subject nounSarahsaarasaarao
سا َر َة
verb lovesbitihibbbi[ti]Hibb
بـِتـِحـِبّ
object nounAhmed'ahmadaacHmad
أحمـَد

The nouns do not change, they have just moved: we know from the order of the words that Sarah is now the subject- the one who is loving, and Ahmed is now the object, the one who is loved. In english, the verb does not change at all, but in Egyptian it changes a little because the subject is now female, not male. We will look in more detail at how exactly verbs change to match the subject later, in the section on verbs.

Subject and Object

The subject and object can be a name, for example Sarah and Ahmed, but there are some other possiblities as well. Here are some examples:

Element EnglishEgyptian
nameSarahsaarasaarao
سا َر َة
noun (specific) the manilraagiliil-raagil
ا ِلرا َجـِل
the womanilsittiil-sitt
ا ِلسـِتّ
the catil'uTTaiil-quTTao
ا ِلقـُطّـَة
the ideailfikraiil-fikrao
ا ِلفـِكر َة
noun(general)a manraagilraagil
را َجـِل
a womansittsitt
سـِتّ
a cat'uTTaquTTao
قـُطّـَة
an ideafikrafikrao
فـِكر َة
noun(quantity)some menshwyit rigalaatshwyio rigaalaao
شويـِة ر ِجا َلا َة
five menKamas rigaalaKamas rigaalaa
خـَمـَس ر ِجا َلاَ
any man'ai raagilaacy raagil
أي را َجـِل
pronoun(subject)hehuwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ
shehiyahiya
هـِيَ
pronoun(object)himuh_uh
ــُه
herha_haa
ـهاَ

The word iliil_ ا ِلـ is corresponds to 'the' in english, but there is no equivalent to 'a'. The noun just appears on its own.

Note that adding iliil_ ا ِلـ to a word affects the pronunciation if it begins with a sun letter.

Pronouns

Pronouns are the short words like I and they that often replace nouns in spoken English and Egyptian, to make our speech clearer and more concise. Here is a simple example:

I love her
'ana bahibbahaaacnaa baHibbahaa
أنا َ بـَحـِبّـَهاَ
Element EnglishEgyptian
subject pronounI'anaaacnaa
أناَ
verb lovebahibbbaHibb
بـَحـِبّ
object pronounheraha_ahaa
ــَهاَ

We can see that the subject is still at the start of the sentence and the object is still at the end of the sentence, but in Egyptian the object pronoun is attached to the end of the verb. Let's turn that round and see what happens:

she loves me
hiya bitihibbnihiya bitiHibb-ny
هـِي َ بـِتـِحـِبّني
Element EnglishEgyptian
subject pronounshehiyahiya
هـِيَ
verb lovesbitihibbbitiHibb
بـِتـِحـِبّ
object pronounmeni_ny
ـني

Woa, what happened there? Everything changed, in both English and Egyptian! The reason is that, in both languages, there are different forms of the pronoun for subject and object. There is a third form of the pronoun that indicates ownership (my/his/your/their/its) but we will save that until we cover pronouns in more detail. For now, let's just look at the subject and object pronouns. Remember that object pronouns are attached to the end of the verb.

Subject Object
EnglishEgyptianEnglishEgyptian
I 'anaaacnaa
أناَ
meni_ny
ـني
we 'ihnaiicHnaa
إحناَ
usna_naa
ـناَ
you(m) 'intaiicnta
إنتَ
you(m)ak_ak
ــَك
you(f) 'intiiicnti
إنتِ
you(f)ik_ik
ــِك
you(pl)'intuiicntoo
إنتوا
you(pl)ukw_ukw
ــُكو
he/it(m) huwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ
him/it(m)uh_uh
ــُه
she/it(f) hiyahiya
هـِيَ
her/it(f)ha_haa
ـهاَ
they hummahumma
هـُمَّ
themuhum_uhum
ــُهـُم

Here are a few more examples:

EnglishEgyptian
I know him'ana Aaarifuhaacnaa Aaarif-uh
أنا َ عا َر ِف ُه
Ahmed knows him'ahmad AaarifuhaacHmad Aaarif-uh
أحمـَد عا َر ِف ُه
Sarah knows himsaara Aaarifahsaarao Aaarifa-h
سا َر َة عا َر ِفـَه
I smoke cigarettes'ana bashrab sagaayaraacnaa baashrab sagaayar
أنا َ با َشر َب سـَجا َيـَر
I write books'ana baktib kutoobaacnaa baaktib kutwb
أنا َ با َكتـِب كـُتوب
Ahmed writes books'ahmad biyiktib kutoobaacHmad biyiktib kutwb
أحمـَد بـِيـِكتـِب كـُتوب
he writes bookshuwwa biyiktib kutoobhuwwa biyiktib kutwb
هـُوّ َ بـِيـِكتـِب كـُتوب

Note that the subject pronoun can be omitted if the meaning is still clear

There is no 'is'

The word is/am/are is one of the most commonly use verbs in english.... but, if you are talking about something now (not the past or future), there is no word in Egyptian for 'is'. That's quite a big difference, but it's not too difficult. Let's take a look at some examples:

EnglishEgyptian
I am tired'ana taAbaanaacnaa taAbaan
أنا َ تـَعبا َن
Ahmed is Egyptian'ahmad maSriaacHmad maSry
أحمـَد مـَصري
the cats are in the gardenil'uTaT fi ilgineenaiil-quTaT fy iil-ginynao
ا ِلقـُطـَط في ا ِلجـِنينـَة
Sarah is availablesaara mawgoodasaarao mawgwdao
سا َر َة مـَوجود َة
today is fridayilnahaarda ilgumAaiil-nahaar-dao iil-gumAao
ا ِلنـَها َرد َة ا ِلجـُمعـَة
this is my wifedi miraatidy miraat-y
دي مـِرا َتي
my husband is at homegoozi fi ilbiytgwz-y fy iil-biyt
جوزي في ا ِلبـِيت

When you are talking about a past or future situation, then the Egyptian words kaankaan كا َن - was and haykoonhaykwn هـَيكون - will be are used. This will be covered in more detail later under verbs. Here are some simple examples:

EnglishEgyptian
I am tired'ana taAbaanaacnaa taAbaan
أنا َ تـَعبا َن
Ahmed is tired'ahmad taAbaanaacHmad taAbaan
أحمـَد تـَعبا َن
I was tired'ana kunt taAbaanaacnaa kunt taAbaan
أنا َ كـُنت تـَعبا َن
Ahmed was tired'ahmad kaan taAbaanaacHmad kaan taAbaan
أحمـَد كا َن تـَعبا َن
I will be tired'ana hakoon taAbaanaacnaa hakwn taAbaan
أنا َ هـَكون تـَعبا َن
Ahmed will be tired'ahmad hayikoon taAbaanaacHmad hayikwn taAbaan
أحمـَد هـَيـِكون تـَعبا َن

There is no 'have'

The verb have is widely used in English, but there is no equivalent verb in Egyptian. Have is used in many ways in English, and in Egyptian a different word is used for each meaning.

MeaningEnglishEgyptian
have with meI have matchesmaAaya kabreetmaAa-yaa kabryt
مـَعـَيا َ كـَبريت
ownI have a houseAandi biytAand-y biyt
عـَندي بـِيت
mustI have to golaazim 'aruwhlaazim aacruwH
لا َز ِم أر ُوح
eat, etcI will have dinner
(I will dine)
hatAashshahatAashshaa
هـَتعـَشّا َ
takeI will have a nap
(I will take a nap)
haaKuz taAseelahaaKudh taAsylao
ها َخـُذ تـَعسيلـَة

Masculine, feminine, plural

Like many european languages, all Egyptian nouns are either masculine or feminine. Here are some examples:

GenderEnglishArabic
masculinebookkitaabkitaab
كـِتا َب
masculinedogkalbkalb
كـَلب
masculinemanraagilraagil
را َجـِل
masculinebiytbiytbiyt
بـِيت
masculinemilklabanlaban
لـَبـَن
masculinepeacesalaamsalaam
سـَلا َم
masculineteachermudarrismudarris
مـُد َرّ ِس
feminineteachermudarrisamudarrisao
مـُد َرّ ِسـَة
feminineideafikrafikrao
فـِكر َة
femininetabletarabeezataraabyzao
تـَرا َبيز َة
feminineworkshopwarshawarshao
و َرشـَة
femininewomansittsitt
سـِتّ
femininedaughter
girl
bintbint
بـِنت
femininefirenaarnaar
نا َر
feminineheadraasraas
را َس

As you can see, the majority of feminine nouns end in a_ao ــَة. There are a few exceptions though: some are obvious, like woman and daughter, but others, you just need to learn them. We will cover this in more detail in the section on nouns.

In both english and Egyptian, there are two forms of a noun: singular and plural. Here are some examples of plurals:

English Arabic
Singular Plural SingularPlural
book books kitaabkitaab
كـِتا َب
kutubkutub
كـُتـُب
dog dogs kalbkalb
كـَلب
kilaabkilaab
كـِلا َب
man men raagilraagil
را َجـِل
riggaalariggaalaa
ر ِجّا َلاَ
child children TiflTifl
طـِفل
'aTfaalaacTfaal
أطفا َل
house houses biytbiyt
بـِيت
buyootbuywt
بـُيوت
milk labanlaban
لـَبـَن
peace salaamsalaam
سـَلا َم
teacher(m) teachers mudarrismudarris
مـُد َرّ ِس
mudarriseenmudarrisyn
مـُد َرّ ِسين
teacher(f) teachers mudarrisamudarrisao
مـُد َرّ ِسـَة
mudarrisaatmudarrisaat
مـُد َرّ ِسا َت
idea ideas fikrafikrao
فـِكر َة
'afkaaraacfkaar
أفكا َر
table tables tarabeezataraabyzao
تـَرا َبيز َة
tarabeezaattaraabyzaat
تـَرا َبيزا َت
workshop workshops warshawarshao
و َرشـَة
wirashwirash
و ِر َش
woman women sittsitt
سـِتّ
sattaatsattaat
سـَتّا َت
daughter
girl
daughters
girls
bintbint
بـِنت
banaatbanaat
بـَنا َت
fire fires naarnaar
نا َر
neeraannyraan
نيرا َن
head heads raasraas
را َس
ruw'oosruwcws
ر ُٶوس

In english, the majority of plural nouns are the same as the singular, with a suffix of -s for example book/books, but there are a small number of words with unusual plurals, for example man/men and child/children. In Egyptian, feminine nouns that end in a_ao ــَة usually have a very straightforward plural- aat_aat ـا َت. Plurals of masculine nouns vary quite a lot- the vowels move about a bit but the consonants remain the same. You will need to learn them.

Note that, both in english and Egyptian, some words do not have a plural- for example milk and peace.

Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe something- for example, good or small. In english, adjectives do not change, but in Egyptian there are different forms of an adjective for masculine, feminine and plural. Here are some examples:

EnglishEgyptian
he is tiredhuwwa taAbaanhuwwa taAbaan
هـُوّ َ تـَعبا َن
she is tiredhiya taAbaanahiya taAbaanao
هـِي َ تـَعبا َن َة
they are tiredhumma taAbaneenhumma taAbaanyn
هـُمّ َ تـَعبا َنين
he is goodhuwwa kuwayishuwwa kuwayis
هـُوّ َ كـُو َيـِس
she is goodhiya kuwayisahiya kuwayisao
هـِي َ كـُو َيـِس َة
they are goodhumma kuwayiseenhumma kuwayisyn
هـُمّ َ كـُو َيـِسين

The good news is that the majority of adjectives require just a different ending for feminine- a_ao ــَة and plural yn_yn ـين forms. We will cover this in more detail in the section on adjectives

Adverbs

Just as adjectives describe a noun, adverbs say something about a verb - where, when, how often, how much etc. They can also be used to describe the extent of an adjective (very good) or even another adverb (very slowly). Many English adverbs end with -ly. Usage of adverbs is very similar in English and Egyptian: here are some examples

describingEnglishEgyptian
verbI will come back soon'ana hargaA baAd shuwayaaacnaa hargaA baAd shuwayao
أنا َ هـَرجـَع بـَعد شـُو َيـَة
verbAhmed walks quickly'ahmad biyimshi bisuraAaaacHmad biyimshy bi-suraAao
أحمـَد بـِيـِمشي بـِسـُر َعـَة
adjectiveAhmed is extremely clever'ahmad shaaTir giddanaacHmad shaaTir giddaaN
أحمـَد شا َطـِر جـِدّاً
adverbAhmed drives reasonably fast'ahmad biyisoo' bisuraAa maA'oolaaacHmad biyiswq bi-suraAao maAqwlao
أحمـَد بـِيـِسوق بـِسـُر َعـَة مـَعقولـَة

Prepositions

In English, prepositions link to a noun. This is possible in Egyptian, but prepositions are also commonly used in place of verbs.

In Egyptian, prepositions are widely used in place of verbs, for example have is usually expressed using the prepositions AandAand عـَند (own) and maAamaAa مـَعَ (have with you): see ownership for more information. Here are some examples of prepositions:

EnglishEgyptianEnglishEgyptian
afterbaAdbaAd
بـَعد
she came after dinnerhiya gaat baAd ilAasha'hiya gaat baAd iil-AashaaC
هـِي َ جا َت بـَعد ا ِلعـَشا َء
behindwarawaraa
و َراَ
the garden is behind the houseilgineena wara ilbiytiil-ginynao waraa iil-biyt
ا ِلجـِنينـَة و َرا َ ا ِلبـِيت
haveAandAand
عـَند
I have a house in CairoAandi biyt fi il'aahiraAandy biyt fy iil-qaahirao
عـَندي بـِيت في ا ِلقا َهـِر َة
there isfify
في
there is waterfi mayaatfy mayaao
في مـَيا َة

Conjunctions

A conjunction joins two clauses to make a much more complex sentence. Here is an example:

I want to make bread but I don't have enough flour
Aaayiz 'aAamil Aiysh lakin maAandeesh di'ee' kifaayaAaayiz aacAamil Aiysh lakin maAandysh diqyq kifaayao
عا َيـِز أعـَمـِل عـِيش لـَكـِن مـَعـَنديش د ِقيق كـِفا َيـَة
Part English Egyptian
Main clause I want to make bread Aaayiz 'aAamil AiyshAaayiz aacAamil Aiysh
عا َيـِز أعـَمـِل عـِيش
Conjunction but lakinlakin
لـَكـِن
Second clause I don't have enough flour maAandeesh di'ee' kifaayamaAandysh diqyq kifaayao
مـَعـَنديش د ِقيق كـِفا َيـَة

In English, the same word is often used for a preposition and a conjunction, but in Egyptian it may be different. Sometimes it is only necessary to add the word mamaa ماَ to convert a preposition to a conjunction.

ElementEnglishEgyptian
preposition
(dinner is a noun)
wash your hands before dinner 'iGsil ieedyk 'abl ilAasha'iicGsil iiydy-k qabl iil-AashaaC
إغسـِل ا ِيديك قـَبل ا ِلعـَشا َء
conjunction
(you eat is a clause-
it contains a verb)
wash your hands before you eat 'iGsil ieedyk 'abl ma taakuliicGsil iiydy-k qabl maa taakul
إغسـِل ا ِيديك قـَبل ما َ تا َكـُل

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