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Basic Levantine Arabic Phrases and Words to Sound Local

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If you’re learning Levantine Arabic, then a good starting point is to learn Levantine Arabic phrases to help you get started.

I spent years living in Haifa and spent a couple of months working in Tel Aviv and visiting neighbouring Jordan. While I mostly know Egyptian Arabic, I spent enough time in the Levantine Arabic-speaking region to get a good feel for it and learn all the basic phrases I needed to fit in and not seem like an Egyptian tourist (as cool as that was, as I’m not Egyptian).

So, here’s a basic list of Levantine Arabic phrases I learned to get by. I’ll add to this list as more occur to me, so check it again.

Streets of Beirut, where Levantine Arabic is spoken
Beirut, one of the homes of levantine Arabic

Quick word — what is Levantine Arabic?

Just to avoid you being on the wrong page — Levantine Arabic is also known as Eastern Arabic or Mashriqi Arabic. It’s generally spoken in

  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Jordan
  • Israel, including the Palestinian Territories

There are variations between the regions of course, as Arabic is spoken on a dialectic continuum throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

But by and large, Levantine Arabic everywhere uses the following phrases. None of them are too slangy to not be used or understood.

Levantine Arabic is also pretty well-understood across the Arabic-speaking world. It’s not as widely understood as Egyptian Arabic, but its influence is increasing thanks to pop music and TV dramas. Egypt still produces a lot of TV and music, but the Levantine Arabic-speaking countries have some top shows and singers too.

Amman, Jordan, where Levantine Arabic is spoken.
Jordan, where Levantine Arabic is spoken. Copyright Discover Discomfort 2019.

Levantine Arabic Phrases — Master list

Here’s the master list of Levantine Arabic phrases. Later, I’ll give an explanation of what these phrases mean and how to use them.

Click on the underlined words if you want to find out more.

Note on gender — many of these must be modified according to the gender of the person to whom you’re speaking (not your gender). In those situations I place the male example first and the female second.

An apology in advance — it’s really hard to write in Arabic on this website. It writes it backwards (and publishes it the correct direction). I’m double/triple checking the Arabic for errors, but if you find any, I’d appreciate being told in a comment or through the contact form.

EnglishArabicPronunciation
Hi (colloquial, between friends)!هايhaay!
Helloمرحباmarhaba
Hello (response)مرحبتينmarhabtein
Greetingsالسلام عليكمas-salaam 3aleikum
Greetings (response)وعليكم السلامwa-3aleikum as-salaam
Good morningصباح الخيرSubaaH al-kheir
Response to good morningصباح النورSubaaH an-nuur
Good eveningمساء الخيرmasaa al-kheir
Response to good eveningمسا النورmasaa an-nuur
Good nightتصبح على خيرtiSbaH 3ala kheir
Come in/welcome/please have a seatتفضّلtafaDDal
tafaDDali
How are you?
(notes on ak/ik)
كيف حالك؟
كيفك؟
kiif Haalak?
kiif Haalik?
kiifak?
kiifik?
What’s news?شو اكباركshu akhbaarak?
Everything good?كله تمام؟kullu tmaam?
I’m wellمنيح
كويس
الحمد لله
mniH (very Levantine)
kwayyis (colloquial Arabic)
al-Hamdu li-llah (formal)
Fineتمامtmaam
Long time no see
(notes on ak/ik)
يلي زمان ما شفتكyalli zmaan maa shiftak/ik
What’s your name?
(notes on ak/ik)
شو اسمكshu ismak/ismik?
Where are you from?من وين انت؟min wein inta/inti?
Where are you?وينك؟waynak?
waynik?
Pleased to meet youتشرفناtasharrafna
I don’t understand Arabicانا ما بعرف عربيmaa ba3rif 3arabi
I don’t speak Arabicما بحكي عربيma baHki 3arabi
Do you speak English?بتحكي انغليزي ؟btiHki ingileezi?
Excuse me (to get attention)عفواً
عن إذنك
بلاذن
3afwan
3an iznak
bil izn
Yes (casual)آهah (pronounced like “o” in North American “bottle”)
Yesنعمna3m
Noلاlaa
Thank you
Many thanks
شكراً
الف شكر
shukran
alf shukr
You’re welcomeعفواً
العفو
3afwan
al-3afu (alternative)
You’re welcome (slang)تكرمtikram
How much is this?قدّيش هذا؟addeish haadha?
This is very expensive!هذا غالي كتير!haadha ghaali ktiir!
Goodbyeمع السلامهma3 as-salaameh
See you later!بشوفك بعدين!bshufak ba3dein!
Congratulations!مبروك!mabruk!
Bless him/her! (when talking about a child)ماشاءاللهmashallah!
Bon appetit/Enjoy your mealصحتينSaHtein
I miss youاشتقتلكshta2tilak
shta2tilik
I love youبحبكbHibbak
bHibbik
Stop! Enough! (depends on tone)خلاصkhalaaS!
Maybeيمكنyimkin
May I…?ممكن؟mumkin?
No problem/cool/fine (lit. Simple)باسيطةbaseeTah
My good friend!حبيبيHabiibi!
Let’s goياللهyallah
Swear to godواللهwallah
For sure, definitelyاكيدakiid
walawولوIt’s OK, of course, don’t mention it
I want…بدي…biddi…
What do you want to do?شو بدك تسوي؟shu biddak tisawwi/itsawwi? (pronunciation is regional)
OKطيب، طبTayyib, Tab (shorter, more colloquial)
God willingان‌شاءاللهinshallah
Levantine Arabic phrases  —Master List

Below I’ll put some discussion of the most important of these Levantine Arabic phrases, linked from above.

Note on “slanginess” — this isn’t a list of Levantine Arabic slang. It’s colloquial Arabic, or spoken Arabic, but it’s not slang that’s inappropriate to say in any situation.

The Basic greeting — As-salaam 3alaykum

This most basic greeting always goes in two parts:

  • First person: as-salaam 3alaykum (peace be upon you)
  • Second person: wa 3alaykum as-salaam (and peace be upon you, too)

This traditional Arabic greeting is universal across the entire Arabic-speaking world. It’s slightly formal, but not stuffy.

If you’re over 30 and greeting anyone for the first time, you can use this. Maybe even 20. It would definitely be appropriate in business meetings, or when arriving as a guest at someone’s house. The only times I wouldn’t use it is in a super informal setting, like a party, a lunch with other students/friends of friends you’re meeting, or maybe at a bar/club in Beirut (tbh I don’t know, that’s not my scene).

Good morning/Good evening in Levantine Arabic, and responses

Arabic has a LOT of niceties. There are specific greetings for a wide variety of situations, like when someone has graduated, when someone is back from pilgrimage, or even when someone has just come back from the Hamaam.

One of my favourite parts of Arabic greetings is that saying something always has a standard answer, a “call and response”. This is just like how in English (and with equivalents in most languages) if someone says “Thank you”, you respond with “you’re welcome”.

In Arabic — actually in many varieties of Arabic — you respond to “good morning”, SubaaH al-kheir, with SubaaH an-nuur. The first phrase pretty much means “good morning”, and the second one means “a morning of light” or “luminous morning” (light as in illumination). It’s quite pretty!

Similarly, you respond to “good evening”, masaa’ al-kheir, with masaa an-nuur, meaning “an evening of light”.

Two donkeys on a hill in Jordan, one of the homes of Levantine Arabic

The Welcome Phrase — tafaDDal

The word tafaDDal (تفضل), pronounced tafaDDali to a woman or tafaDDalu to a group, is a general “welcoming” phrase.

There are loose equivalents to tafaDDal in other languages, with variations in their use. I wrote a whole page on the “invitation” word and I think it’s quite interesting. English doesn’t really have one, though.

To the English speaker, consider tafaDDal to mean:

  • Come in, come inside (welcoming someone)
  • Please have a seat
  • Please, take this (when giving change, or serving a meal)
  • Please, speak first
  • You go first (when taking turns through a door or something)

This word is very, very useful and will get you very far.

To respond, you can use “thank you”, shukran (شكرا).

How are You in Levantine Arabic

There are always many ways to say “how are you” in other languages.

In the Levantine region, these are the most common ones:

  • Kiif Haalak/Haalik (كيف حالك) — you can use this with anyone.
  • Kiifak/ik (كيفك) — this is quite colloquial. I wouldn’t use it for someone you’re meeting the first time unless it’s intimate terms (like friends of good friends).
  • kiif al-Haal? (كيف الحال؟) — How are you? Slightly more formal
  • shu al-akhbaar? (شو الأخبار؟) — What’s news?
  • shu akhbaarak/ik? (شو أخبارك؟) — What’s news? (literally what’s your news), a bit more informal
  • shu fii ma fii? (شو في ما في؟) — What’s up?
  • shu fii shii jdiid? (شو في شي جْديد؟) — What’s new?
  • kullu tamaam? (كله تمام؟) — Everything good?

It’s quite common to fire off a series of these, and to answer them yourself. Shu akhbaarak? Kullu tmaam?

Notes on suffixes — ak/ik

You’ll notice that many expressions in this list of Levantine Arabic phrases end in ak or ik.

These suffixes mean “you”. ak addresses a male, and ik addresses a female.

There are other suffixes, but you’ll learn that from a more focused book on Levantine Arabic (see our resources page). As a beginner reading this list it’s unlikely you’ll be addressing groups of people!

Let’s go — Yallah

Yallah literally means “Oh, God!”, kind of imploring.

!يالله

It’s so common in the entire Arabic-speaking world that it becomes one of the first words that foreigners learn. Persians say it in Iran, sometimes. Israelis who primarily speak Hebrew say it, too — it’s one of the most common imported loan-words into colloquial Hebrew.

Yallah can be used to mean

  • Hurry up (to other people)
  • Let’s get going (as a group)
  • “OK then…” before saying goodbye. Sometimes people say “Yallah, bye”.

Mashallah

This is a big topic, but whenever you mention someone’s belongings or child in a complimentary way in the Arab world, it’s good practice to say mashallah (ماشاءالله).

Pronounced fully, it should be maa shaa’ allah, but people often shorten it for expediency.

The reason for this is it respects an Islamic culture of the “evil eye”. In the culture/tradition of people of the Arab world, when you compliment something, it can indicate a degree of envy or jealousy. This attracts some kind of curse where that thing can be hurt.

Literally, mashallah means “what God has willed”, and is kind of saying “that thing is nice; Allah willed it on you/for you to have it”.

It all sounds ridiculous to me as I’m not a superstitious person at all. But just like I say “bless you” to people who have sneezed even though I definitely do not believe that they’re expunging dark spirits or some part of their soul (here’s an interesting fact-check article from Snopes about the contrasting apocryphal theories surrounding this phrase), I say mashallah to people when talking about their kids. It kind of has taken on a colloquial meaning to me, like “wow, they’ve grown so big!”

Petra, Jordan, where Levantine Arabic is spoken. Photo copyright Discover Discomfort 2019
Petra, Jordan. Photo copyright Discover Discomfort 2019

Wallah!

Wallah (والله) is another of those really useful general expressions in Arabic (in most dialects, including Levantine Arabic).

It translates to a few phrases in English, captured in this dialogue.

  • fii 3andi maSaari ktiir. I have a lot of money.
  • Wallah? (Really? Swear?)
  • Wallah! (I swear! I promise!)

Generally, it’s a bit like “I swear to God”. It’s never inappropriate or blasphemous.

Note — this phrase is totally unrelated to the Indian concept of a wallah.

Note on word including allah (yallah, wallah, mashallah) and “religious”-ness

Several words in this list include the muslim word for a supreme deity, “allah” (والله).

You might object to using this if you’re not muslim, not religious, or have some other objection.

But the words in this list are so common that they’re basically devoid of all religious meaning. They’re a bit like saying “OMG” even if you don’t believe in God/god.

In Egypt and in Lebanon, there are significant populations of Christians. They’re not officially counted in a census for vague reasons but they exceed 10%. In these communities, people still use many muslim-origin expressions or words/phrases using allah.

Khalaas

Khalaas is another of these Levantine Arabic phrases you’re likely to hear colloquially pretty soon after arriving in the Middle East.

In Arabic it is written خلاص. It literally means “finish”. But you can use it to replace these phrases in English:

  • Khalaas, I’ve had enough of your bragging!”
  • “OK, khalaas, let’s change the subject.”
  • Khalaas, yallah!” (yelling at kids to stop making so much noise)
  • “Khalaas! (smiling). That can’t be what he said!”

Basically it means “Stop!” in all the ways that’s used in modern English.

Walaw

Walaw (ولو) is a very Levantine Arabic phrase.

Technically it means “even if…” and can be part of a sentence.

But Arabic speakers use walaw to say “it’s fine; don’t mention it”. It can also be a response to “thank you” (shukran).

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