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Noun Phrases in Arabic – 5 grammar topics in 10 minutes

Noun phrases as subject and object in Arabic
Noun phrases as subject and object in Arabic

Learning noun phrases in Arabic (or in any language) is a crucial part of building a sentence. A noun is a word that refers to an object, person, or concept. Therefore, a noun phrase is a structure that is based on a noun. In this lesson, we will learn how to build and use noun phrases in Arabic, together with 5 grammar topics that we will go through in the next 10 minutes. You can listen to all examples marked with an audio icon on the interactive lesson.

Suppose that you have the noun “book”, there are different ways of using a noun phrase with it. For example, you can say “a book”, “the book”, or “this book”. Also, you can combine it with an adjective, such as “a new book” or “the old book”. In terms of possession, you can use a possessive pronoun such as “my book/his book”. In addition, it can be part of a genitive expression, such as “The teacher’s book”, “the law book”, or “the book of grammar”.

What is common among all these structures? They can all be used in similar contexts and in similar grammatical roles. For example, you can say “I saw a book” or “I saw this new book” as an object of the sentence. Also, you can use it as the subject of a sentence “The new book fell on the floor” or “the teacher’s book fell on the floor”.

The bottom line is that: noun phrases in Arabic are essential parts of the sentence. However, understanding and using them usually spans different grammar topics. Such topics include: definite and indefinite nouns, adjectives, demonstratives, possessives and genitive expressions. Luckily, we cover all of these topics in our course “Basic Arabic Grammar” on Udemy.

Learn and practice building Noun Phrases in Arabic

For now, let’s start practicing how to build simple noun phrases in Arabic. Here are the examples for the five types of structures, corresponding to different grammar topics.

Examples for noun phrases in Arabic – for the word kitaab = book

Notice that there are five types of noun phrases we are using here. The first is single noun, whether indefinite or definite (preceded by al- ال). Then we have noun phrases combining nouns and adjectives. In this case, it is important to also notice that if the noun is definite (i.e. has al- prefix), the adjective has to have al- prefix as well. Then, we have noun phrases with demonstratives (e.g. this), and in this case the noun has to be definite, and consequently the adjective, if any.

The next type is noun phrases with possessive pronouns (e.g. my/his), where the word itself has to be indefinite (without al- prefix), but grammatically it becomes definite by adding the possessive pronoun/suffix. The last type is for genitive expressions, indicating that something belongs to something or someone. In this case, the noun for the thing that belongs is indefinite, while the other noun is definite.

Study these examples well. Do you see the patterns? Also, open the link to the interactive lesson and listen to the audio for each example. Try to repeat what you hear. This way, you will start to develop your listening and speaking skills. To further enhance your grammar skills, you will need to practice. In the following image, you will see empty templates, where we removed the noun “book” and its equivalent from the examples. Now it is your turn to try new words. Use the words indicated above, as much as you can, to build new noun phrases.

Noun Phrase templates – use them to build simple phrases in Arabic

What about feminine words?

As you may know, nouns in Arabic have gender: either male or female. In the examples above, noun phrases were based on the noun “book”, and other nouns of male gender in the exercises. Does it make a difference if we use a word of feminine gender? Yes it does. First, for a feminine word, the adjective has to be also feminine. In many cases, we do this by adding taa2 marbootah (this letter: ة ـة , a letter that sounds as “h” at the end of the word).

Noun phrases for a feminine word “fikrah = idea”

Now you get the idea. The only prominent difference involves words ending with taa2 marbooTah. If such words have a possessive suffix, this taa2 marbooTah becomes a normal taa2, in both writing and pronunciation. However, in case of genitive, where the word for the thing that belongs is followed by a word for what it belongs to; and in this case, the taa2 marbooTah is still written, but its pronunciation becomes a regular taa2.

Now also do your practice by filling the templates with other feminine words.

Practice building noun phrases with feminine words

Going further

It is important to know that Arabic grammar is highly complex. There are different complexities when learning Modern Standard Arabic and when learning dialects, so it is important to learn the differences. There are so many topics which are interrelated and can be tackled on different levels of sophistication. That’s why the focus of our lessons is to go as simple as possible. You don’t need to study dozens of other topics just to learn the topic at hand. Just understand it well, practice it as much as you can, and then it will give you a useful piece of the puzzle, and a useful tool to help you navigate the complexity of the language. Good luck and keep learning! Please leave any questions you have in the comments or on our social media.

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Egyptian Songs in Marvel’s Moon Knight Series

A few days ago the last episode of Marvel’s Moon Knight series was released. The story and acting were quite good, but there was an aspect that many people liked. It is basically how Egypt, and its civilization and culture were portrayed. One significant aspect of Egyptian culture was the choice of the songs used in the intro and ending of each episode, as well as those that served as background music. As language learners, we may be curious about what these songs actually say, so in this post, we will cover a number of these songs, with their lyrics and explanation.

Marvel’s Moon Knight Series

Nagat – ba7lam ma3aak

This song appeared in the first episode while the main character was waiting for his romantic date. The song itself is quite romantic, but its words portrays some interesting picture, which apparently have some significance in a later episode (No spoilers here 🙂 ). The singer of this song is Nagat (or Nagat al-Sagheerah, the little Nagat, apparently to distinguish her from another singer called Nagat).

Song by Nagat – I dream with you – ba7lam ma3aak – بحلم معاك

ba7lam ma3aak lyrics

These are the lyrics of the song.

I Dream with youba7lam ma3aakبحلم معاك
I dream with you .. of a shipba7lam ma3aak … be-safeenahباحلم معاك.. بسفينة
and a harbour .. to anchor uswe be-meenaa .. terasseenaaوبمينا….ترسينا
and sail againwe-neba77ar taaneeونبحّر تاني
the wind resists ..and i found youel-ree7 te3aaned … we-ala2eekالريح تعاند … وألاقيك
in your eyes .. and your handsfee 3enaik .. we-eedaikفي عينيك …..وإيديك
my shore and my safetyshhaTTee we amaaneeشطي وأماني
the whole worldel-3aalam kollohالعالم كله
with its secretsbe-asraarohبأسراره
living with me3aayesh wayyaayaaعايش ويايا
living inside me3aayesh gowwaayaaعايش جوايا
as long as you’re .. in the journey with meTool ma-enta … fee el-re7lah ma3aayaaطول ما انت ..في الرحلة معايا
my name and your name .. my darlingesmak we esmee … ya 7abeebeeاسمك واسمي…. يا حبيبي
my town .. and my storymadentee … we-7ekaayteeمدينتي…… وحكايتي
my home and my rovingsakanee we-ter7aaleeسكني وترحالي
the whole worldel-3aalam kollohالعالم كله
with its secrets16be-asraarohبأسراره
living with me3aayesh wayyaayaaعايش ويايا
living inside me3aayesh gowwaayaaعايش جوايا
as long as you’re .. in the journey with meTool ma-enta … fee el-re7lah ma3aayaaطول ما انت ..في الرحلة معايا

Lyrics are adapted from Lyrics translate website 

Ahmed Saad – el-molook (the kings)

This song appeared in the outro of the second episode. It belongs to a genre of music in Egypt called mahraganaat (literally means “carnivals”). This kind of music was at first mainly the music of more certain areas of cairo (manaatiq sha’beyyah = literally means popular areas but refer to more crowded and poorer areas). However, this music spread in popularity everywhere. It is similar to rap music in terms of some focus on “dissing” (or expressing disrespect) to other unnamed rivals. Of course there are also carnivals about romantic love and others about contemplating life and human nature. However, this song “el-melook” belongs to the first category, with a message of “we are better than you”.

Song by Ahmed Saad Ft. 3enaba and double Zuksh – the kings- el-molook – الملوك

El-melook lyrics

Here are the lyrics of the song

The Kingsالملوك
[Singer: 3enaba][عنبة]
I can see non of youanaa mesh shaayef feekom 7addأنا مش شايف فيكم حد
y’all bunch of boys, wheedling for a livingentoo 3eyaal 3aayshah 3alaa el-7akkإنتوا عيال عايشين ع الحك
Everyone knows that y’all are minisculekoll el-naas 3arfaakoo 3al-2adكل الناس عارفاكوا ع القد
Everyone knows that i’m fiercekoll el-naas 3aarfah enne ghasheemكل الناس عارفة إني غشيم
Never needed backup3omree fee yoam maa e7tagt le-7addعمري في يوم ما أحتجت لحد
Not bragging, swear to god it’s true.mesh tafkheem wallaahee begaddمش تفخيم و الله بجد
Like a lion, standing in front of everyonewaa2ef west el-koll asadواقف وسط الكل أسد
Wasn’t meant1 to be meanmaa etrabbet-sh ennee ab2aa la2eemما أتربتيش إنى أبقى لئيم
When it’s serious, i got the missiles (name of a band)fee el-tanfeez 3andee el-Sawaareekhفي التنفيذ عندى الصواريخ
I am 3enab from mars, dudeanaa 3ennaab yasta el-marreekhأنا عناب ياسطى المريخ
In my wars i use RPGswest 7oroobee baDrab bawaazeekوسط حروبي بضرب بوازيك
In my county, i make historywest belaadee bakteblee tareekhوسط بلادي بكتبلي تاريخ
[Singer: Young Zuksh][يانج زوكش]
Here comes the gang7aDarnaa gainaa 3eSaabahحضرنا جينا عصابة
We live…3eshnaaعيشنا
You’ll make it, if determinedhatenga7 law feeh eraadahهتنجح لو فى إراده
Never needed support, i am on my own (Alone)ma7tagtesh 7add, anaa saaned nafsee aloneAlone ما احتاجتش حد أنا ساند نفسى
Ringing and buzzing daily, is my phone.arqaam betrenn be-tezenn 3ala el-telephoneأرقام بترن بتزن على التليفون
Now that i made it, they love me, took my side!7abboonee lammaa weSelt etlawwenoo 100 loanحبونى لما وصلت اتلونوا 100 لون
Your shot hits the post, mine scores a goalkortak teegee 3aarDah kortee teegee goanكورتك تيجى عارضه كورتى بتيجى جوون
[Singer: Ahmed Saad][أحمد سعد]
hush hush hush hush.sokoot sokoot sokoot sokootسكوت سكوت سكوت سكوت
The kings, kings, kings, kings are heregatt el-molok molook molookجت الملوك ملوك ملوك ملوك
There is no escape, escape escapemafeesh horoob horoob horoobمفيش هروب هروب هروب
from the lions, the lionsmen el-osood men el-osoodمن الأسود من الأسود
No sales talk!e7naa mesh be-nebee3 kalaamإحنا مش بنبيع كلام
We get to the point!e7naa naas doghree we-tamaamإحنا ناس دوغرى و تمام
(We) do not care who says whatmesh shaaghelnaa meen ellee 2aalمش شاغلنا مين اللى قال
The envious have no placeel-7aqood malhoosh makaanالحقود مالهوش مكان
[Singer: Young Zuksh][يانج زوكش]
Mess with me, you get a taste of lunacytenkosh-nee teshoof genaanتنكشنى تشوف جنان
People would gather2we-tetlam el-geraanوتتلم الجيران
God blessed me with a wise tonguerabbak eddaanee 7ekmah fee el-lesaanربك إدانى حكمة فى اللسان
(with which) I’d win battlesakol-kom bel-kalaamأكلكم بالكلام
Yang Zuksh is from El-Salamyough zoksh gaay men el-salaamيانج زوكش جاي من السلام
Do not trust meakhook malhoosh amaanأخوك مالهوش أمان
I’m decent, so don’t yell “man” at meanaa 3ala el-mazboot tamaam fa mat2olleesh yaa manأنا على المظبوط تمام فمتقوليش يا مان
hitting the gas, wining all trophies, bottled poison, quenched their thirst!anaa daayes we faayez kesebt kol el-gawaayez .. 7aTTait el-semm fee azaayez .. sherebt koll ellee 3aayezانا دايس و فايز كسبت كل الجوايز حطيط السم فى ازايز شربت كل اللى عايز
I want you to understand me, distinguish! (as i’m doing), and know what’s right!anaa 3aayez zayy maa-anaa 3aayez amayyez 3aayzak tefham-nee we-temayyez we-teshoof el-Sa77 we-dah kowayyesانا عايز زى مانا عايز أميز عايزك تفهمنى و تميز و تشوف الصح ده كويس
[Singer: Ahmed Saad][أحمد سعد]
Look, look, look where have we beenshoof shoof shoof konnaa fainشوف شوف شوف كنا فين
And where are we nowwe-ba2ainaa delwa2tee fainو بقينا دلوقتى فين
You, who forgot about me in your good few days, i will forget you for yearsyaa ellee neseetoo-nee fee yomain-kom anaa hansaa-kom seneenياللى نسيتونى فى يومينكم انا هنساكم سنين
Thanks for hardships, that opened my eyes,kattar khair el-Zoroof ellee tekhalleenee ashoofكتر خير الظروف اللى تخلينى أشوف
some i did truly love, others do not deserve considerationnaas 7abbait-haa be-amaanah we-naas taanyah maa-yetshaafoo-shناس حبيتها بأمانه وناس تانيه مايتشافوش
[Singer: 3enaba][عنبة]
Everyone was blown away when i’m presentlammaa gait el-koll Taarلما جيت الكل طار
Undeliberate, i’m an explosionghaSb 3annee anaa enfegaarغصب عنى انا انفجار
It’s hard to see you in spaceSa3b ashoofak fee el-faDaa2صعب اشوفك فى الفضاء
If you came to me, we’ll make a messlaw gait a3mel ma3aak 7ewaarلو جيت اعمل معاك حوار
Stay away, i vigorous, from Cairo, yet stronger than any foreignereb3ed 3annee 3ashaan anaa ghabee, qaaheraawee we-agmad men el-agnabeeابعد عنى علشان انا غبى قاهراوى و اجمد من الاجنبى
Dude, your planet is different from minekawkabkoo yasTaa ghair kawkabeeكوكبكوا ياسطى غير كوكبي
Alone, can drive an army of TatarsbeToolee wa7dee asoo2 tataarبطولى وحدي اسوق تاتار
[Singer: Young Zuksh][يانج زوكش]
I’m cool, i’m cool, i’m chicanaa gaamed anaa gaamed anaa sheekانا جامد انا جامد انا شيك
If you have money, a car gets anywherelaw ma3aak feloos 3arabeyyah be-temashsheekلو معاك فلوس عربيه بتمشيك
Bro, befriend no hobos, it’s a givenma3roof ya zemeelee ma-teSaa7eb-sh halaafeetمعروف يازميلى متصحبش هلافيت
(Are you) Cultured? Welcome aboardlaw betefham fee el-oSool ahlan beekلو بتفهم فى الاصول اهلا بيك
We’d want youneshtereekنشتريك
You’ll be on topteb2aa foa2تبقى فوق
Gray-haired?, meh, it’s just a colour.we-law yesheeb el-sha3r loanو لو يشيب الشعر لون
Till the end we’ll keep upmekammeleen le-aakher yoamمكملين لآخر يوم
Success is hard, requires no sleepaSl el-nagaa7 dah sa3b mesh me7taag el-noamأصل النجاح ده صعب مش محتاج النوم

Sabah – Sa3aat Sa3aat (Sometimes … sometimes)

This song appeared at the end of episode 5. A very melancholic song by the amazing Lebanese singer and actress Sabah. The song portrays a complex psychological state, about a person oscillating between feelings of unexplained happiness and sadness. 

Song by Sabah – sometimes sometimes – saa3aat saa3aat – ساعات ساعات

saa3aat saa3aat lyrics

Here are the lyrics of the song.

Sometimes. ..Sometimessaa3aat saa3aatساعات…ساعات
Sometimes. sometimessaa3aat saa3aatساعات…ساعات
I love my life & adore the things ( issues) .a7ebb 3omree, we a3sha2 el-7agaatأحب عمري و أعشق الحاجات
I love all peoplea7ebb koll el-naasأحب كل الناس
and how much of feeling (I have)we-add eih e7saasو أد ايه احساس!
and I feel inside me hundred melodieswe-a7ess gowwaayaa be-meet naghamو احس جوايا بميت نغم
hudred melodies filling up the silencemeet nagham yemloo el-sokaatميت نغم يملوا السكات
Sometimes. ..Sometimessaa3aat saa3aatساعات .. ساعات
Sometimes. ..Sometimessaa3aat saa3aatساعات …ساعات
I feel how much I am lonely !a7ess add eih wa7eedahأحس أد ايه وحيدة
the words that are in my mouth are not new !,we-add eih el-kelmah fee lesaanee ma-hesh gedeedahو أد ايه الكلمة في لساني مهيش جديدة
and how much I am not happy! ,we-add eih maa-anee-sh sa3eedahو أد ايه منيش سعيدة
and that the stars are so far !,we-enn el-negoom be3eedahو ان النجوم بعيدة
And how heavy the time step is !we-te2eelah khaTwet el-zamanو ثقيلة خطوة الزمن
How heavy theticking of the clocks!te2eelah da22et el-sa3aatثقيلة دقة الساعات
Sometimes. Sometimessa3aat sa3aatساعات…ساعات
I laugh & play like a spring birdaD7ak we-al3ab zayy 3aSfooret rabee3أضحك و ألعب زي عصفورة ربيع
Like the breeze it comes.. then it suddenly vanisheszayy el-naseem maa ye3addee we-fee la7zah yeDee3زي النسيم ما يعدي و في لحظة يضيع
I get very happy ..and laugh so very muchafra7 awee … we-aD7ak awee aweeأفرح قوي ..و أضحك قوي قوي
and love my life and adore the passing day .we-a7ebb 3omree we a3sha2 el-yoam ellee faatو أحب عمري و اعشق اليوم اللي فات
Sometimes. Sometimessaa3aat saa3aatساعات …ساعات
it’s strange, it is strangeghareebah, we-ghareebahغريبة ..و غريبة
the same thing that makes me happy, doesn’t make me happynafs elle beyfarra7-nee maa yefarra7-neeنفس اللي بيفرحني ما يفرحني
and it’s strangewe-ghareebahو غريبة
the same thing that comforts me doesn’t comfort menafs elle yerayya7-nee maa yerayya7-neeنفس اللي يريحني ما يريحني
and I feel my lifetime is gone bywe-a7ess enn 3omree faatو احس ان عمري فات
without me loving me life and adoring thingsmen ghair ma-a7ebb 3omree we-a3sha2 el-7agaatمن غير ما احب عمري و اعشق الحاجات
like this sometimeskedah saa3aatكدة ساعات
and like that sometimeswe-kedah saa3aatو كدة ساعات
and it’s strange, the ticking of time passingwe-ghareebah, ghareebah da22et el-zamanو غريبة..غريبة دقة الزمن
and it’s strange, strange how the clock game iswe-ghareebah ghareebah … le3bet el-saa3aatو غريبة غريبة ..لعبة الساعات
Sometimes. Sometimessaa3aat saa3aatساعات…ساعات

And here is a list of all songs (Egyptian and non-Egyptian) used in the series.

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Which Arabic to learn?

When learning Arabic, it is important to have a clear understanding of your goals. Otherwise, you may spend a lot of time, money and effort without a satisfactory outcome. The first thing to know is that there are two different types of Arabic. The first is Formal language (known as fuSHaa, meaning the most eloquent). FuSHaa includes both classical Arabic and the more popular Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)d. MSA is used mainly in written and formal materials. On the other hand, the informal/colloquial language is mainly spoken, with different dialects and varieties across different countries. In this post, you’ll see the different possible goals associated with each type. Then, you will know which type of Arabic to focus on, so that you can achieve your goals.

Two types of Arabic: Formal/fuSHaa/Modern Standard Arabic – and dialects

Suppose that you need to learn Arabic to read some official documents or read a book in Arabic. In this case, it makes sense only to learn MSA. Otherwise, if you want to:

  • watch Arabic speaking media
  • listen to songs or other cultural production

then in most cases you will need to study one dialect or another.

Which type of Arabic to learn?

An ideal learning strategy would be to combine both types. In fact, this is what most Arabic native speakers do. They just switch between the two types according to context.

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What is fuSHaa: classical Arabic + Modern Standard Arabic

In order to understand Arabic better, it i important to make a few distinctions, and to see some overlaps.

The first distinction is between Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. Although Arabic speakers call both of them al-fuSHaa (or the most eloquent), classical Arabic refers mainly to Arabic used in literary and religious texts many centuries ago, while Modern Standard Arabic is the Arabic that is used nowadays for most of formal contexts. Here are a few points from this figure:
1- There is a lot of overlap between MSA and classical Arabic. The grammar is basically identical

2- many words in ancient texts (classical Arabic) that are not used nowadays (MSA)

3- many modern words that were coined to reflect many areas of technology, economics, business and so on

4- Some words had a certain meaning in classical Arabic and a different meaning in MSA. For example the word “sayyaarah” was used in Quran to mean “a caravan”, but in modern use, it means “a car/au automobile”

FuSHaa is the combination of classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic

The relationship between fuSHaa and dialects

And there are a few important points about the distinction between fuSHaa and dialects:

1- There are different dialects for the different Arabic speaking countries

2- Some dialects can be grouped together, like Levantine, Maghreb, and Gulf groups since these dialects are similar to each other

3- Each dialect has an overlap with fuSHaa, many words and verbs either are the same as in MSA, or has an origin from classical Arabic

4- Each dialect has overlaps with other dialects, dialects with closer geographical proximity have greater overlap

5- Dialects are also influenced by other local languages, such as Egyptian Arabic being influenced by Coptic, and Maghreb dialects by Tamzight

6- Dialects are also influenced by foreign languages, such as French, English, Turkish … etc

Dialects can be grouped together, showing the overlap with fuSHaa and other local and foreign languages

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7 Essential Skills for reading Arabic – A Blueprint

Reading can be considered just one of the skills to learn a language. In fact, it is a very important skill if you are learning the language for any formal purpose: to read documents, read the news, or any content on the web. Learning to read in Arabic is no exception. However, there are some added challenges involved: mainly reading the script. This can be intimidating for some learners, as we can see in this picture.

Image of a bag with Arabic writing that reads that the writing has no purpose but to intimidate those who fear Arabic language

In reality though, learning the script can be accomplished in a very short time. However, is knowing the script enough to be able to “read” Arabic? Of course not: the writing of Albanian also uses almost the same script as English, but can the speakers of English “read” Albanian? 

This is where it is important to break down the “reading” into a number of elements, or “skills”. These skills would cover the whole process of “seeing” something written in the language, up to “understanding” what is written. In psychology, these processes are referred to as “cognitive processes”, which involve processing information from different senses and from memory in parallel. Let’s lay out these skills one by one:

1- Main Skill for reading Arabic: Knowing and recognizing letters

You may have seen charts like these, mainly used for teaching children a list of alphabet letters. 

Letters of Arabic Alphabet and their names

You may have found songs or rhymes for singing the names of Alphabet letters. 

Video of Arabic Alphabet Letters song

How useful are these? Of course, this is an important step that even native speakers go through in order to learn their native written language. However, this is not enough, at least in Arabic. This is because there is one particular feature in the Arabic alphabet: letters take different shapes depending on where they are in the sentence. Therefore, a more sound approach is to learn the shapes of each letter, so that you can recognize it when you see it. Knowing the names of letters, then, would be useful because you will be able to point any letter you recognize with any shape to the name of the letter.

2- Knowing and recognizing diacritics

One peculiar aspect of Arabic writing is that short vowels are not letters. They are actually “diacritics”. These diacritics can be referred to as “harakaat” or “tashkeel”. It is important to point out that diacritics also include elements other than short vowels, such as “shaddah”, which doubles the sound of a letter. These are relatively few, and wouldn’t take long to learn, but it’s important to know how they sound when combined with letters.

Illustration of diacritics, showing how they sound when combined with the letter baa’ (sound “b”), an important skill for Arabic rading

3- Being able to “sound out” the words

Knowing letters and diacritics is important, and by using them you can go letter by letter in a word: identify the letter sound and the applied diacritics, and there you go: you can sound out a whole word in Arabic! Isn’t that great?

Illustration of how to “sound out” a word given the letters and diacritics, as an essential skill for reading Arabic

It is great; however, there is bad news here. In most Arabic writing, diacritics are almost non-existent. This can be challenging, even sometimes to native Arabic speakers. Here is where we start to apply what we have learned on actual words. When you are learning a new word, you need to pay special attention to how it is written. Try to associate the letters with the sound of the word. And by all means, when you’re learning a new word, make sure to have a resource that allows you to listen to how it is pronounced by an actual native speaker. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to know the correct pronunciation. When you learn many new words with their correct pronunciation, you will be able to formulate patterns for sounding out any word you read.

4- Learning “Function Words” for reading Arabic words

Moving to actual sentences, you will find that a large number of words (in any language) consist mainly of what is known as “function words”. What are function words? Just have a look at the first sentence in this paragraph and see the words in bold. These words can be articles, pronouns, prepositions, question words, and similar words. In linguistics, these words are referred to as “function words”, because they are mainly there for a grammatical function. In Arabic, there are many such words: such as articles, personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, relative pronouns, demonstratives … etc. Some of these are not actually words, but rather prefixes or suffixes. Knowing these words helps you in two ways. First, you are able to recognize many of the words within the sentence. Second, you are able to understand the structure of the sentence. 

5- Identifying “Parts of Speech”

All human languages have different word types: such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and more. It is absolutely important to know what is the word type of each word in the sentence you’re reading. One helpful aspect in this regard is knowing the function words. For example, if you know that the function word “in” is a preposition, it is unlikely that the word coming after is a verb.

Of course sentences can be very complex, but function words can give a broad structure of the sentence. Knowing the word types helps complement this structure. For example, saying “the girl is beautiful”, is different from “the beautiful girl”. So knowing which word is a noun, and which is an adjective can allow us to know both the content of the word and what it roughly means (even if we don’t know the exact noun or adjective), and also the structure of the sentence and understanding what is being written.

6- Learn “Content Words” for reading Arabic

In early childhood education in elementary schools, teachers sometimes teach children “sight word”. These are words that appear frequently and are useful in reading. These words can include function words that we talked about, and they can also include words related to a particular domain, such as the words used in story books. This is quite important here, because any language consists of tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of words. It is unreasonable to expect to know, especially for a non-native speaker, the majority of these words. What should we expect instead?

One thing to expect is to attain knowledge of words related to a particular subject, task or field: such as the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs used in the context of math, literature, art, news or so forth. Can we know all words for all the fields? Perhaps, but perhaps it is better to focus on the vocabulary of mainly the field you are interested in.

The other thing to expect is a very interesting statistical law. The name of this law is Zipf’s law, which indicates, in plain terms, that if you sort all the words in a language by their frequency, the first few words would take up a very large percentage of all the words in any given text. For example, the first word can occur 20% of the time in any text (think of the word “the” in English for example), then the one after will be perhaps 12%, and so forth.

How to make use of this frequency distribution?

This way, you will find that the first 100 words in the language can occur like 50% of the time in any given context. Of course, many of these words are function words. Still, if we move to content words, we will find that the higher frequency words account for a large portion of any text. For example, you will encounter the noun “question” or the verb “ask” much more frequently than you will encounter words such as “Accismus” or “aggrandize”. 

Zip’s law word frequency distribution in English

What’s the main take of this? Focus on a particular field, start with the most frequent words in it.

7- Learn Morphology skills: building words

Finally, one of the very important skills for reading Arabic is to understand its morphology (the science of word building). Arabic words form according to “templates”. Templates consist of two things:

  • Root: any word in Arabic has a root (usually consisting of 3 letters)
  • Wazn: (literally means “weight”): any word has a format of how to add other letters to the root.

For example, the word “maktab”, which means office, has the root of KTB (the sound of “k”, “t”, and “b”). The wazn would show how to add additional letters to the word. In this case, it would be maktab, with the addition of the letter “m”, and the vowels “a”.  This is an advanced topic, but it is important to learn it at some point. It will make many things make sense, including topics such as making plurals, and conjugations for certain verbs, and so forth.

roots appear in verb conjugation

How to build your skills for reading Arabic?

At Champolu, we provide many learning solutions to boost your skills for reading Arabic using Champolu Method. You can start to use the free app ALIF-laam to practice your alphabet, diacritics, and sounding out skills. 

It might be helpful if you want to take the Udemy course “Basic Arabic Reading” to give you a clear explanation of these topics.

In addition, you may want to start with learning the basics of Arabic grammar and function words. As you have seen in the article, function words can be very important for understanding what is written. You can take the course “Basic Arabic Grammar” to start learning.

Also make sure to subscribe to Champolu social media, where you will constantly find new materials to learn more vocabulary and grammar.

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Animal Alphabet Printable Guide

This animal alphabet printable guide is a free resource for learning Arabic. In this guide, you will learn the following:

  • Arabic Vocabulary words for 73 animal names.
  • The alphabet letters of these words
  • Colorful illustration of the pronunciation

In addition, this guide has printable Arabic sheets with tracing. It helps learners trace the words to practice writing.

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Learn to read and write the names of animals in Arabic

More Arabic alphabet printable PDF guides are coming soon!

There are many resources for learning to read in Arabic by Champolu. In addition, you can also enroll in our Basic Arabic reading course, which explains the alphabet and diacritics guide in more detail.

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Why is Arabic so hard to read?

Learning to read in Arabic can be challenging. In this article, we will talk about the challenges. In addition, check our simple guides for learning how to read in Arabic.

Why is Arabic so hard to learn?

If you type in Google “Why is Arabic …”, the autocomplete will suggest these searches which people do.

Why is Arabic …

Indeed Arabic is important and beautiful but it can also be hard to learn. Let’s explore this further.

One of the reasons for the difficulty of Arabic is that the writing is “backwards”; i.e. its direction is from right to left. Therefore, if you want to learn Arabic, you will need to be able to read from right to left.

There are other challenges surrounding reading Arabic script, which are explained in the video here.

Why is reading Arabic Challenging?

In a nutshell, the challenges for reading Arabic are:

  • Direction of Writing (right-to-left)
  • Letters are attached together
  • Letters take different shapes depending on their position in a word (beginning, middle, end, or separate)
  • Diacritics which guide the pronunciation of Arabic letters

How to Read Arabic in English Letters?

An important consideration when learning Arabic is that not all Arabic letters have an equivalent English sound. That’s why there can be different ways to for writing Arabic in English/Latin letters, which is sometimes referred to as romanization. Apart from the more Academic ways of writing Arabic, a popular way is known as Franco-Arab, which is how the Arabic speaking internet generation started to write Arabic on computers and the internet in the early days before support to Arabic language was available. In this way of writing, the letters of Arabic with no English equivalent as written as numbers that resemble the shape of the Arabic letter. In Arabic, there are three letters mainly that are written as numbers:

  • Sixth letter of Arabic the alphabet (the letter ح) is written as 7
  • Eighteenth letter of the Arabic Alphabet (the letter ع) is written as 3
  • The letter hamzah ء (which isn’t usually a separate letter in the Aphabet) is written as 2

There are other letters, but these are the most popular ones. You will notice that we have combined challenges here, to know the letters, and to be able to recognize and produce their sound.

Therefore, in this lesson we are providing an intuitive way to learn the alphabet letters, with their names, shapes, sounds, along with examples of each.

More Arabic Reading Resources

There are many resources for learning Arabic reading by Champolu. You can also enroll in our Udemy Basic Arabic reading course, which explains the guide in more detail.

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Arabic Alphabet and Diacritics Guide (Free)

In this guide for Arabic alphabet and diacritics reading, you will learn about the following:

  • The Arabic Alphabet letters. In addition, you will learn some letters that are not normally included in the alphabet
  • The shape of each letter in different parts of the word
  • The Arabic diacritics/harakaat/tashkeel. These are mainly short vowels in Arabic.
  • How to sound out Arabic words using letters and diacritics
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Sample of the guide, showing different shapes of Arabic letters

There are many resources for learning Arabic reading by Champolu. In addition, you can also enroll in our Udemy Basic Arabic reading course, which explains the alphabet and diacritics guide in more detail.

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Lesson 10 – Question Words in Arabic

Let’s learn about question words in Arabic. In this lesson, we will discuss interrogative sentences in Arabic. Mainly, we will introduce the main question words and the corresponding structure.

Arabic Question Words Example

In this video, let’s learn about question words in Arabic.

Question Words Lesson on Youtube

Question Words أدَوات الاسْتِفْهَام

How many?
…? Yes/No

Yes/No Questions

The word “hal” is a word we use for forming Yes/No questions in MSA.
In classical Arabic, sometimes the letter alif is used before the verb in a similar way:
Did you want to eat?
a-tureed an ta’akol?
أتريد أن تأكل؟

For asking Yes/No Questions
هَل نِمْتَ جَيِّداً؟
hal nimta jayyidan?
Did you sleep well?
هَل أنْت مِصْرِيّ؟
hal anta misreyy?
Are you Egyptian?
هَل تُرِيد أَنْ تَأكُل؟
hal tureed an ta’kol?
Do you want to eat?
هَل وَصَلَ الضُّيُوف؟
hal wasala ad-duyoof?
Did the guests arrive?

Where = ayna = أينَ

أيْنَ الحَقِيبَة؟
ayna al-haqeebah?
Where is the bag?
أيْنَ المُدِير؟
ayna al-mudeer?
Where is the manager?
أيْنَ تَسْكُن؟
ayna taskun?
Where do you live?
أيْنَ أَنْت؟
ayna ant?
Where are you?

Who = man = مَن

مَن هُوَ؟
man huwa?
Who is he?
مَن قَالَ لَكَ هَذَا؟
man qaala laka haadhaa?
Who told you so?
مَن هُوَ مُؤَلِّف الكِتَاب؟
man huwa mu’allif al-kitaab?
Who is the author of the book?
مَن هُوَ مُخْتَرِع الهَاتِف؟
man huwa mukhtare’ al-haatif?
Who is the inventor of the phone?

When = mataa = متى

مَتَى وَصَلْتُم؟
mataa wasaltum?
When did you (pl-m) arrive?
مَتَى حَدَث هَذَا؟
mataa hadatha haadhaa?
When did this happen?
مَتَى سَافَرُوا؟
mataa saafaroo?
When did they travel?
مَتَى وُلِدْت؟
mataa wulidt?
When were you born?

What = maa = ما

مَا مَعْنَى هَذِهِ الكَلِمَة؟
maa ma’naa haadhihi al-kalimah?
What is the meaning of this word?
مَا هِيَ عَاصِمَة فَرَنْسَا؟
maa hiya ‘aasimat faransaa?
What is the capital of France?
مَا هِيَ المُشْكِلَة؟
maa hiya al-mushkilah?
What is the problem?
مَا هَذَا؟
maa haadhaa?
What is this?

How = kayfa = كَيفَ

كَيْفَ عَرَفْت؟
kayfa ‘araft?
How did you know?
كَيْفَ نُصْلِح الهَاتِف؟
kayfa nuslih al-haatif?
How do we fix the phone?
كَيْفَ يُمْكِن أَنْ أُسَاعِدَك؟
kayfa yumkin an usaa’idak?
How can I help you?
كَيْفَ حَالُك؟
kayfa haaluk?
How are you?
(Literally: How is your condition)

How much/many = kam = كَم

كَم عُمْرُك؟
kam ‘umruk?
How old are you?
(Literally: how much is your age)
كَم شَخْصَاً قَابَلْت؟
kam shakhsan qaabalt?
How many people did you meet?
كَم تُرِيد؟
kam tureed?
How much do you want?
كَم تَكَلَّفَت الرِّحْلَة؟
kam takallafat ar-rihlah?
How much did the trip cost?

What = maadhaa = ماذا

مَاذَا حَدَث؟
maadhaa hadath?
What happened?
مَاذَا قُلْت؟
maadhaa qult?
What did you say?
مَاذَا تُرِيد؟
maadhaa tureed?
What do you want?
مَاذَا فَعَلُوا؟
maadhaa fa’aloo?
What did they do?

Why = limaadhaa = لِمَاذا

لِمَاذا تَبْكِي؟
limaadhaa tabkee?
Why are you crying?
لِمَاذا وَقَعَت الحَادِثَة؟
limaadhaa waqa’at al-haadithah?
Why did the accident happen?
لِمَاذا فَعَلْتَ ذَلِك؟
limaadhaa fa’alta dhaalik?
Why did you do so?
لِمَاذا تَأَخَّرْوا؟
limaadhaa ta’akhkharoo?
Why are they late?

Other Question Words in Arabic

There are other question words that will be covered in later lessons.

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Arabic Videos with Subtitles

Using Arabic Videos with Subtitles can help in learning the spoken language. It is important to show in the subtitles what the speakers are actually saying. In addition, it is also important to show the English translation. For learners who can’t read in Arabic, it can be useful to provide the transliteration of the Arabic text in Latin letters.

This triple subtitle format is part of the Champolu method. In fact, it provides complete transparency about what the spoken language. Therefore, learners can know the actual words in the speech, the meaning of each word, and how these words map to the meaning in the translation. In order to do this mapping, we do color-matching between the phrases and words in the original script, the transliteration, and the translation.

In the Arabic materials, we include clips from the show “Alice in Wonderland”. This is a popular children show with a version in Modern Standard Arabic. In this show, you can learn the basic Arabic phrases and expressions in a fun context.

Alice in Wonderland video clip with triple subtitle format

Here is a list of all multimedia material in Arabic. In this material, there are Arabic Videos with Subtitles with the triple subtitle format.

You can also check the Youtube playlist:

Check our course on Udemy:

Basic Arabic Reading

Download Arabic Reading Guide

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