Egyptian Arabic Grammar


Verbs

A verb tells you what is happening- for example, reading, walking etc. In Egyptian, the general meaning of a word is defined by the consonants, and several related words may contain this set of letters. For example, the letters ktb are used to make the words write, type, book, writer, written, writing, office and desk. The exact meaning is affected by the vowels, prefixes and suffixes (extra bits at the beginning and the end). Here are some of the ways the exact meaning can change for verbs:

  • tense - when something happens (past, present, future)
  • case - who is doing it (I, you, he, etc)
  • mode - must, could etc
  • pronouns - who is doing it, who is having it done to them
  • negation - say something is NOT happening

Most of the examples in this chapter use the verb katabkatab كـَتـَب, which means write: about 30% of verbs follow this pattern.

The web site www.lisaanmasry.org and the apps that you can download from the web site all provide full details for the majority of verbs.

Pronouns

There are three main types of pronouns that can be used with verbs:

  • subject - I, we, you, he, she, it, they
  • object - me, us, you, him, her, it, them
  • indirect object - to me, to us, to you, to him, to her, to it, to them

In Egyptian, the subject pronoun is a separate word before the verb: the object and indirect object pronouns are attached to the end of the verb. Here are a some examples:

PronounEnglishEgyptian
SubjectI know Ahmed'ana Aaarif 'ahmadaacnaa Aaarif aacHmad
أنا َ عا َر ِف أحمـَد
Subject, objectI know him'ana Aarfuhaacnaa Aaarifuh
أنا َ عا َر ِف ُه
ObjectAhmed saw her yesterday'ahmad shafha 'imbaarihaacHmad shaaf-haa iicmbaariH
أحمـَد شا َفها َ إمبا َر ِح
ObjectSarah knows himsaara Aarfahsaarao Aaarifah
سا َر َة عا َر ِف َه
Object, Indirectgive it to me!iddeehooliiiddy-hw-ly
ا ِدّيهولي

Subject pronoun

The subject pronoun appears before the verb or participle.

English Egyptian
I 'anaaacnaa
أناَ
we 'ihnaiicHnaa
إحناَ
you(m) 'intaiicnta
إنتَ
you(f) 'intiiicnti
إنتِ
you(pl) 'intuiicntoo
إنتوا
he/it(m) huwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ
she/it(f) hiyahiya
هـِيَ
they hummahumma
هـُمَّ

Object pronoun

You can attach an object pronoun (for example me or him) to the end of an imperative, verb or participle. See pronouns for more information.

Ahmed envies me
'ahmad biyihsadniaacHmad biyiHsad-ny
أحمـَد بـِيـِحسـَدني

English Suffix
me -ni_ny
ـني
us -na_naa
ـناَ
you(m) -ak_ak
ــَك
you(f) -ik_ik
ــِك
you(pl) -kum_kum
ـكـُم
him/it(m) -uh_uh
ــُه
her/it(f) -ha_haa
ـهاَ
them -hum_hum
ـهـُم

If there is an -i-_i_ ــِ before the last consonant and the suffix starts with a vowel, the -i-_i_ ــِ is dropped. If the verb requires a preposition (to, from etc) the object goes on the preposition.

Here are some examples:

English Egyptian
show me! warreeniwarry-ny
و َرّيني
nobody helped us mahaddish saaAidnamaHaddish saaAid-naa
مـَحـَدّ ِش سا َعـِدنا َ
I saw you(m) 'ana shuftakaacnaa shuftak
أنا َ شـُفت َك
I love you(f) 'ana bahibbikaacnaa baHibbik
أنا َ بـَحـِبّ ِك
I know him 'ana Aarfuhaacnaa Aaarif-uh
أنا َ عا َر ِف ُه
I told them 'ana 'ultilhumaacnaa qultil-hum
أنا َ قـُلتـِلهـُم

Indirect object

Some verbs require two objects- for example:

give it(f) to me
iddeehaaliiiddy-haa-ly
ا ِدّيها َلي

It is the direct object and to me is the indirect object. The indirect object suffixes are as follows:

English Suffix
to me -li_ly
ـلي
to us -lina_linaa
ـلـِناَ
to you(m) -lak_lak
ـلـَك
to you(f) -lik_lik
ـلـِك
to you(pl)-luku_luku
ـلـُكُ
to him/it(m) -lu_lu
ـلُ
to her/it(f) -laha_lahaa
ـلـَهاَ
to them -luhum_luhum
ـلـُهـُم

Tenses

In both English and Egyptian, a verb has different tenses to indicate when something happens- in the past, now or in the future. The usage of each tense will be explained in more detail later. Here are some examples using katabkatab كـَتـَب:

Form Example Meaning No of
cases
perfect katabkatab
كـَتـَب he wrote 8 (i/we/you, etc)
simple imperfect yiktibyiktib
يـِكتـِب used with modals - eg he must write
and kaankaan كا َن - he used to write
8 (i/we/you, etc)
bi-imperfect biyiktibbiyiktib
بـِيـِكتـِب he is writing
he writes
he knows how to write used with kaankaan كا َن
conditionals: if I had a pen, I would write
8 (i/we/you, etc)
ha-imperfect hayiktibhayiktib
هـَيـِكتـِب he will write
used with kaankaan كا َن
8 (i/we/you, etc)
active participle kaatabkaatab
كا َتـَب (he is) writing 3 (m/f/pl)
passive participle maktoobmaktwb
مـَكتوب (it is) written 3 (m/f/pl)
imperative iktibiiktib
ا ِكتـِب write! 3 (m/f/pl)
polite request miktibmiktib
مـِكتـِب will you please write
verbal noun kitaabakitaabao
كـِتا َبـَة (the box is covered with) writing2 (s/pl)
place maktabmaktab
مـَكتـَب writing place (desk or office)2 (s/pl)

Case

The two main tenses of a verb are the perfect and the simple imperfect: the bi-and ha- imperfect just have prefixes added to the simple imperfect. The usage of these tenses will be explained in more detail in the section on time. Here is the he case of each tense:

TenseEnglish Egyptian
perfecthe wrote huwwa katabhuwwa katab
هـُوّ َ كـَتـَب
simple imperfecthe must write huwwa laazim yiktibhuwwa laazim yiktib
هـُوّ َ لا َز ِم يـِكتـِب
bi-imperfecthe writes huwwa biyiktibhuwwa biyiktib
هـُوّ َ بـِيـِكتـِب
ha-imperfecthe will write huwwa hayiktibhuwwa hayiktib
هـُوّ َ هـَيـِكتـِب

There are eight possible cases for each tense, corresponding to the eight pronoun forms (I/we/you/he, etc). Remember that the three imperfect forms are very similar.

Perfect

Here is an example of the perfect, which is used for things that occurred in the past.

Perfect
English Pronoun Verb
I wrote 'anaaacnaa
أناَ katabtkatabt
كـَتـَبت
we wrote 'ihnaiicHnaa
إحناَ katabnakatabnaa
كـَتـَبنا َ
you(m) wrote 'intaiicnta
إنتَ katabtkatabt
كـَتـَبت
you(f) wrote 'intiiicnti
إنتِ katabtikatabty
كـَتـَبتي
you(pl) wrote 'intuiicntoo
إنتوا katabtukatabtoo
كـَتـَبتو ا
he/it(m) wrote huwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ katabkatab
كـَتـَب
she/it(f) wrote hiyahiya
هـِيَ katabitkatabit
كـَتـَب ِت
they wrote hummahummaa
هـُمّاَ katabukataboo
كـَتـَبو ا

Simple imperfect

The imperfect has no meaning on its own, but is used with other verbal forms in five ways:

  • with kaankaan كا َن for things that happened in the past
  • with 'iza kaaniicdhaa kaan إذا َ كا َن for conditionals
  • with modals- must, could, should etc and modal verbs- like, going to.
  • with bi-prefix for things happening now
  • with ha-prefix for things that will happen

Here is an example with laazimlaazim لا َز ِم, which means must.

Simple Imperfect
English Pronoun modal Verb
I must write 'anaaacnaa
أناَ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم 'aktibaacktib
أكتـِب
we must write 'ihnaiicHnaa
إحناَ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم niktibniktib
نـِكتـِب
you(m) must write 'intaiicnta
إنتَ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم tiktibtiktib
تـِكتـِب
you(f) must write 'intiiicnti
إنتِ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم tiktibitiktiby
تـِكتـِبي
you(pl) must write 'intuiicntoo
إنتوا laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم tiktibutiktiboo
تـِكتـِبو ا
he/it(m) must write huwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم yiktibyiktib
يـِكتـِب
she/it(f) must write hiyahiya
هـِيَ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم tiktibtiktib
تـِكتـِب
they must write hummahummaa
هـُمّاَ laazimlaazim
لا َز ِم yiktibuyiktiboo
يـِكتـِبو ا

The English words must and might and the equivalent Egyptian words laazimlaazim لا َز ِم and yimkinyimkin يـِمكـِن are proper modals: they are the same for all cases. Later on, you will see how to use participles and verbs in the same way as modals, and you will see that they do change to match the case.

bi-imperfect

For the majority of verbs, the bi-imperfect is used to describe things happening now, and for habitual actions. See active participles for the exceptions

It is the same as the simple imperfect, with a bi-bi_ بـِ in front. Note that the vowels in the the beginning of the imperfect may change in some verbs when the prefix is added.

bi-imperfect
English Pronoun Verb
I write 'anaaacnaa
أناَ baktibbaktib
بـَكتـِب
we write 'ihnaiicHnaa
إحناَ biniktibbiniktib
بـِنـِكتـِب
you(m) write 'intaiicnta
إنتَ bitiktibbitiktib
بـِتـِكتـِب
you(f) write 'intiiicnti
إنتِ bitiktibibitiktiby
بـِتـِكتـِبي
you(pl) write 'intuiicntoo
إنتوا bitiktibubitiktiboo
بـِتـِكتـِبو ا
he/it(m) writes huwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ biyiktibbiyiktib
بـِيـِكتـِب
she/it(f) writes hiyahiya
هـِيَ bitiktibbitiktib
بـِتـِكتـِب
they write hummahummaa
هـُمّاَ biyiktibubiyiktiboo
بـِيـِكتـِبو ا

ha-imperfect

The ha-imperfect is used for things that will happen at some time in the future.

It is the same as the simple imperfect, with ha-ha_ هـَ in front. Egyptian spelling is somewhat whimsical: some people use ha-Ha_ حـَ instead. Note that the vowels in the the beginning of the imperfect may change in some verbs when the prefix is added.

ha-imperfect
English Pronoun Verb
I will write 'anaaacnaa
أناَ haktibhaktib
هـَكتـِب
we will write 'ihnaiicHnaa
إحناَ haniktibhaniktib
هـَنـِكتـِب
you(m) will write 'intaiicnta
إنتَ hatiktibhatiktib
هـَتـِكتـِب
you(f) will write 'intiiicnti
إنتِ hatiktibihatiktiby
هـَتـِكتـِبي
you(pl) will write 'intuiicntoo
إنتوا hatiktibuhatiktiboo
هـَتـِكتـِبو ا
he/it(m) will write huwwahuwwa
هـُوَّ hayiktibhayiktib
هـَيـِكتـِب
she/it(f) will write hiyahiya
هـِيَ hatiktibhatiktib
هـَتـِكتـِب
they will write hummahummaa
هـُمّاَ hayiktibuhayiktiboo
هـَيـِكتـِبو ا

is/was/will be

As mentioned earlier, there is no word for is in Egyptian. There are, however, words for was - kaankaan كا َن and will be - haykoonhaykwn هـَيكون.

kaan

kaankaan كا َن can be used on its own to talk about some situation in the past, or it can be used with the imperfect and bi-imperfect to move the meaning of the verb into the past and also for conditionals, and with the ha-imperfect to indicate something that almost or nearly happened.

kaan
EnglishPronounVerb
I was aanaaanaa
ا َناَ kuntkunt
كـُنت
we were ihnaiiHnaa
ا ِحناَ kunnakunnaa
كـُنّاَ
you(m) were 'intaiicnta
إنتَ kuntkunt
كـُنت
you(f) were 'intiiicnti
إنتِ kuntikunty
كـُنتي
you(pl) were 'intuiicntoo
إنتواkuntukuntoo
كـُنتوا
he/it(m) was huwahuwa
هـُوَ kaankaan
كا َن
she/it(f) was hiyahiya
هـِيَ kaanitkaanit
كا َنـِت
they were hummahummaa
هـُمّاَ kanukaanoo
كا َنوا

Here are some examples:

English Egyptian
he was here kaan hinakaan hinaa
كا َن هـِناَ
I was too tired kunt taAbaan 'awikunt taAbaan qawy
كـُنت تـَعبا َن قـَوي
the party was good ilhafla kaanit kuwayisaiil-Haflao kaanit kuwayisao
ا ِلحـَفلـَة كا َنـِت كـُو َيـِسـَة
prepositionthere was water, but it's finished kaan fi mayaah wa KilSitkaan fy mayaah wa KilSit
كا َن في مـَيا َه و َ خـِلصـِت
prepositionwe had a house kaan Aandina biytkaan Aandinaa biyt
كا َن عـَند ِنا َ بـِيت
bi-imperfecthe was smoking a cigarette kaan biyishrab seegaarakaan biyishrab sygaarao
كا َن بـِيـِشر َب سيجا َر َة
bi-imperfecthe used to smoke cigarettes kaan biyishrab sigaayarkaan biyishrab sigaayar
كا َن بـِيـِشر َب سـِجا َيـَر
ha-imperfectI almost ran him over kunt hadoosuhkunt hadws-uh
كـُنت هـَدوسـُه

Note that, for prepositional sentences, kaankaan كا َن does not change with the subject of the sentence - it is always kaankaan كا َن - it was.

haykwn

haykoonhaykwn هـَيكون simply means will be. Here are some examples:

haykwn
EnglishPronounverb
I will be aanaaanaa
ا َناَ hakoonhakwn
هـَكون
we will be ihnaiiHnaa
ا ِحناَ hankoonhankwn
هـَنكون
you(m) will be 'intaiicnta
إنتَ hatkoonhatkwn
هـَتكون
you(f) will be 'intiiicnti
إنتِ hatkoonihatkwny
هـَتكوني
you(pl) will be 'intuiicntoo
إنتوا hatkoonuhatkwnoo
هـَتكونوا
he/it(m) will be huwahuwa
هـُوَ haykoonhaykwn
هـَيكون
she/it will be(f) hiyahiya
هـِيَ hatkoonhatkwn
هـَتكون
they will be hummahummaa
هـُمّاَ haykoonuhaykwnoo
هـَيكونوا

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