Egyptian Arabic

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"Masri" redirects here. For other uses, see Masri (disambiguation).
Egyptian Arabic
Pronunciation [ello l.msejj l.mmejj]
Native to Egypt
Native speakers
55 million  (2006)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 arz
Glottolog egyp1253[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Egyptian Arabic is the language spoken by most contemporary Egyptians. It is more commonly known locally as the Egyptian colloquial language or Egyptian dialect. Look below for local namings.

Egyptian Arabic is a variety of the Arabic languages of the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. It originated in the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt around the capital Cairo. Descended from the spoken Arabic which was brought to Egypt during the seventh-century AD Muslim conquest, its development was influenced by the indigenous Coptic of pre-Islamic Egypt,[3][4][5] and later by other languages such as Turkish/Ottoman Turkish, Italian, French and English. The 80 million Egyptians speak a continuum of dialects, among which Cairene is the most prominent. It is also understood across most of the Arabic speaking countries due to the predominance of the Egyptian influence on the region as well as the Egyptian media, making it the most widely spoken and one of the most widely studied varieties of Arabic.[6]

While it is essentially a spoken language, it is encountered in written form in novels, plays, poems (vernacular literature), as well as in comics, advertising, some newspapers, and transcriptions of popular songs. In most other written media and in television news reporting, Literary Arabic is used. Literary Arabic is a standardized language based on the language of the Quran, i.e. Classical Arabic. The Egyptian vernacular is almost universally written in the Arabic alphabet for local consumption, although it is commonly transcribed into Latin letters or in the International Phonetic Alphabet in linguistics text and textbooks aimed at teaching non-native learners. Also, it is written in ASCII Latin alphabet mainly online and in SMSs.


Egyptians know the dialect as the Egyptian colloquial language ( [ello l.msejj l.mmejj][note B]) or Egyptian dialect ( [ellh l.msejj][note C]; abbreviated: [7] [msi] "Egyptian"). However, it is also named the Modern Egyptian Language ( ,[8] IPA: [ello l.msejj l.dis][note A])

The terms Egyptian Arabic and Masri are usually used synonymously with Cairene Arabic, the dialect of the Egyptian capital. The country's native name, Mar, is used locally to refer to the capital Cairo itself. Similar to the role played by Parisian French, Egyptian Arabic is by far the most dominant in all areas of national life.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Egyptian Arabic is spoken natively by more than 52 million Egyptians[9] and as a second language by most of the remaining 24 million Egyptians[10] in several regional dialects, as well as by immigrant Egyptian communities in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia and South East Asia. Among the spoken varieties of Arabic, standard Egyptian Arabic (based on the dialect of the Egyptian capital) is the only one to have become a lingua franca in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world for two main reasons:[11][12] the proliferation and popularity of Egyptian films and other media in the region since the early 20th century; and the great number of Egyptian teachers and professors who were instrumental in setting up the education systems of various countries in the Arabian Peninsula and who also taught there and in other countries such as Algeria and Libya. Also many Lebanese artists choose to sing in Egyptian as well as Lebanese.


The Egyptians slowly adopted the Arabic language as a written language following the Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century AD. Up until then, they were speaking either Greek or Egyptian in its Coptic form. For more than three centuries, there existed a period of Coptic-Arabic bilingualism in Lower Egypt. This trend would last for many more centuries in the south. Arabic may have been already familiar to Egyptians through pre-Islamic trade with Bedouin Arab tribes in the Sinai Peninsula, and the easternmost part of the Nile Delta. Egyptian Arabic seems to have begun taking shape in Fustat, the first Islamic capital of Egypt, and now part of modern-day Cairo.

One of the earliest linguistic sketches of Egyptian Arabic is a 16th-century document entitled Daf` al-'ir `an kalm 'ahl Mir ( , "The Removal of the Burden from the Language of the People of Egypt") by Ysuf al-Maribi ( ). It contains key information on early Egyptian Arabic and the language situation in medieval Egypt. The main purpose of the document was to show that while the Egyptians' vernacular contained many critical "errors" vis--vis Classical Arabic, according to Maribi, it was also related to Arabic in other respects. With the ongoing Islamization, and Arabization of the country, Egyptian Arabic slowly supplanted spoken Egyptian. Local chroniclers mention the continued use of Coptic Egyptian as a spoken language until the 17th century AD by peasant women in Upper Egypt. Coptic is still the liturgical language of the Egyptian Coptic Church.

Official status[edit]

Egyptian Arabic has no official status, and is not officially recognized as a language. Standard Arabic, a modernized form of Classical Arabic (Koranic Arabic), is the official language of Egypt (see diglossia). Interest in the local vernacular began in the 1800s, as the Egyptian national movement for self-determination was taking shape. Questions about the reform and modernization of Arabic came to the fore, and for many decades to follow they were hotly debated in Egyptian intellectual circles. Proposals ranged from developing neologisms to replace archaic terminology in Standard Arabic; to the simplification of syntactical and morphological rules and the introduction of colloquialisms; to complete "Egyptianization" (tamr) by abandoning the so-called Standard Arabic in favor of Masri or Egyptian Arabic.[13]

Proponents of language reform in Egypt included Qasim Amin, who also wrote the first Egyptian feminist treatise, former President of the Egyptian University, Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, and noted intellectual Salama Moussa. They adopted a modernist, secular approach and disagreed with the assumption that Arabic was an immutable language because of its association with the Quran. The first modern Egyptian novel in which the dialogue was written in the vernacular was Muhammad Husayn Haykal's Zaynab in 1913; it wasn't until 1966 that Mustafa Musharafa's Kantara Who Disbelieved was released - the first novel to be written entirely in Egyptian Arabic.[14] Other notable novelists such as Ihsan Abdel Quddous and Yusuf Idris, and poets such as Salah Jaheen, Abnudi and Fagoumi, helped solidify vernacular literature as a distinct literary genre.[13]

Amongst certain groups within Egypt's elite, Egyptian Arabic enjoyed a brief period of rich literary output. This dwindled with the rise of Egyptian Arab nationalism, which had gained wide popularity in Egypt by the final years of the Egyptian and Sudanese monarchy, as demonstrated vividly by Egypt's involvement in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 under King Farouk. The Egyptian Revolution of 1952, led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, further enhanced the significance of Arab nationalism, making it a central element of Egyptian state policy. The importance of Standard Arabic was re-emphasised in the public sphere by the revolutionary government, and efforts to accord any formal language status to the Egyptian vernacular were ignored. Egyptian Arabic was identified as a mere dialect, and one that was not even spoken universally in Egypt itself, with almost all of Upper Egypt speaking the Saidi dialect of Arabic. Though the revolutionary government heavily sponsored the use of the Egyptian vernacular in films, plays, television programmes, and music, the pre-revolution use of Standard Arabic in official publications was retained.

Linguistic commentators have noted the multi-faceted approach of the Egyptian revolutionaries towards the Arabic language. Whereas Egypt's first President Muhammad Naguib exhibited a preference for using Standard Arabic in his public speeches, his successor Gamal Abdel Nasser was renowned for using the vernacular, and punctuating his speeches with traditional Egyptian words, and expressions. Conversely, Standard Arabic was the norm for state news outlets, including newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. This was especially true of Egypt's national broadcasting company, the Arab Radio and Television Union, which was established with the intent of providing content for the entire Arab World, not merely Egypt, hence the need to broadcast in the standard rather than vernacular. The Voice of the Arabs radio station in particular had an audience from across the region, and the use of anything other than Standard Arabic was viewed as eminently incongruous.

As the status of Egyptian Arabic vis--vis Classical Arabic can have such political and religious implications in Egypt, the question of whether Egyptian Arabic should be considered a "dialect" or "language" can be a source of debate. In sociolinguistics, Egyptian Arabic can be seen as one of many distinct varieties which, despite arguably being languages on abstand grounds, are united by a common dachsprache in Literary Arabic (MSA).

Spoken varieties in Egypt[edit]

Saidi Arabic (Upper Egyptian) is a separate variety in and ISO 639-3 as well as in other sources,[15] and the two varieties have limited mutual intelligibility. It carries little prestige nationally but continues to be widely spoken (19,000,000 speakers)[16] including in the north by rural migrants who have adapted partially to Egyptian Arabic. For example, the Saidi genitive exponent is usually replaced with Egyptian bit , but the realization of // as [] is retained.[citation needed] Second and third-generation migrants are monolingual in the Cairene variety, but maintain cultural and familial ties to the south.[citation needed]

The traditional division between Lower and Upper Egypt and their respective differences go back to ancient times. Egyptians today commonly refer to the people of the north as baarwa ([bw]) and to those of the south as aayda ([sjd]). The differences throughout Egypt, however, are more wide ranging and do not neatly correspond to this simple division. There is a linguistic shift from the eastern to the western parts of the delta, and the varieties spoken from Gizah to el Minya are further grouped into a Middle Egypt cluster. Despite these differences, there are features distinguishing all the Egyptian Arabic varieties of the Nile Valley from any other Arabic variety. Such features include reduction of long vowels in open and unstressed syllables, the postposition of demonstratives and interrogatives, the modal meaning of the imperfect, and the integration of the participle.[17]

The Western Egyptian Bedawi Arabic variety[18] of the western desert differs from all other Arabic varieties in Egypt in that it linguistically forms part of the Maghrebi group of varieties.[19] The same was formerly true of the Egyptian form of Judaeo-Arabic.[citation needed] Eastern Egyptian Bedawi Arabic is also distinct from Egyptian Arabic.[20]


The phonology of Egyptian Arabic (or Cairene) differs slightly from that of other varieties of the Arabic languages and has its own unique consonant and vowel inventories.



In contrast to CA and MSA, nouns are not inflected for case and lack nunation (with the exception of certain fixed phrases in the accusative case, such as [okn], "thank you"). As all nouns take their pausal forms, singular words and broken plurals simply lose their case endings. In sound plurals and dual forms, where, in MSA, difference in case is present even in pausal forms, the genitive/accusative form is the one preserved. Fixed expressions in the construct state beginning in abu, often geographic names, retain their -u in all cases.[21]


Most common broken plural patterns
Singular Plural Notes Examples
CVCCVC(a) CaCaaCiC any four-character root with short second vowel maktab, makaatib "desk, office"; markib, maraakib "boat"; mabax, maaabix "kitchen"; masala, masaail "matter"; maa, maaai "place"; masa, masaai "theater"; tazkaa, tazaakir "ticket"; iswira, asaawir "bracelet"; mukila, maaakil "problem"; muulid, mawaalid "(holy) birthday"
CVCCVVC(a) CaCaCiiC any four-character root with long second vowel fustaan, fasatiin "dress"; gunaal, gaaniil "newspaper"; muftaa, mafatii "key"; fingaan, fanagiin "cup"; sikkiina, sakakiin "knife"; tamriin, tamariin "exercise"; siggaada, sagagiid "carpet"; magmuu, magamii "total"; maruuf, maaiif "expense"; maskiin, masakiin "poor, pitiable"
CaC(i)C, CiCC, CeeC (< *CayC) CuCuuC very common for three-character roots dars, duruus "lesson"; daxl, duxuul "income"; dan, duuun "chin"; eef, uyuuf "guest"; ir, uruu "molar tooth"; fann, funuun "art"; far, furuu "difference"; fal, fuuul "class, chapter"; geeb, guyuub "pocket"; gee, guyuu "army"; gild, guluud "leather"; all, uluul "solution"; arb, uruub "war"; a, uuu "right"; malik, muluuk "king"
CaC(a)C, CiCC, CuCC, CooC (< *CawC) aCCaaC very common for three-character roots durg, adaag "drawer"; du, adaa "shower"; film, aflaam "film"; mi, amaa "comb"; mitr, amtaa "meter"; gism, agsaam; guz, agzaa "part"; muxx, amxaax "brain"; nah, anhaa "river"; door, adwaa "(one's) turn, floor (of building)"; noo, anwaa "kind, sort"; yoom, ayyaam "day"; nu, anaa "half"; qism, aqaam "division"; wat, awaat "time"; faa, afaa "joy, wedding"; gaas, agaas "bell"; maa, amaa "rain"; taman, atmaan "price"; walad, awlaad "boy"
CaaC, CuuC aCwaaC variant of previous aal, awaal "state, condition"; nuur, anwaa "light"
CaCCa, CooCa (< *CawCa) CiCaC, CuCaC CaCCa < Classical CaCCa (not CaaCiCa) gazma, gizam "shoe"; dawla, duwal "state, country"; alla, ilal "pot"; ooka, uwak "fork"; taxta, tuxat "blackboard"
CiCCa CiCaC ia, ia "allotment"; ia, ia "piece"; mina, mina "scholarship"; nimra, nimar "number"; qia, qia "story"
CuCCa CuCaC fuma, fuam "shape, form"; fua, fua "chance"; fusa, fusa "excursion"; fuua, fuwa "towel"; nukta, nukat "joke"; ua, ua "cat"; mudda, mudad "period (of time)"
CVCVVC(a) CaCaayiC three-character roots with long second vowel sigaaa, sagaayir "cigarette"; gariida, gaaayid "newspaper"; gimiil, gamaayil "favor"; abiib, abaayib "lover"; ariia, araayi "destructive fire"; aiia, aaayi "fact, truth"; natiiga, nataayig "result"; xaiia, xaaayi "map"; zibuun, zabaayin "customer"
CaaCiC, CaCCa CawaaCiC CaCCa < Classical CaaCiCa (not CaCCa) aamil, awaamil "pregnant"; haanim, hawaanim "lady"; gaami, gawaami "mosque"; maani, mawaani "obstacle"; fakha, fawaakih "fruit"; adsa, awaadis "accident"; fayda, fawaayid "benefit"; aari, awaari "street"; xaatim, xawaatim "ring"
CaaCiC CuCCaaC mostly occupational nouns kaatib, kuttaab "writer"; saakin, sukkaan "inhabitant"; saayi, suwwaa "tourist";
CaCiiC CuCaCa adjectives and occupational nouns faiir, fuaa "poor"; nabiih, nubaha "intelligent"; naii, nuaa "active"; raiis, ruasa "president"; safiir, sufaa "ambassador"; waziir, wuzaa "minister"; xabiir, xubaa "expert"; aalib, alaba "student"
CaCiiC/CiCiiC CuCaaC adjectives gamiil, gumaal "beautiful"; naii, nuaa "active"; niiif, nuaaf "clean"; tixiin, tuxaan "fat"
Secondary broken plural patterns
Singular Plural Notes Examples
CVCCVVC CaCaCCa occupational nouns tilmiiz, talamza "student"; ustaaz, asatza "teacher"; simsaa, samasa "broker"; duktoor, dakatra "doctor"
CaCVVC CawaaCiiC qamuus, qawamiis "dictionary"; maaad, mawaiid "appointment"; abuu, awabii "line, queue"; mewar, maaweer "Walk, Appointment"
CaCaC CiCaaC gamal, gimaal "camel"; gabal, gibaal "mountain, hill"
CaCC aCCuC ah, ahur "month"
CiCaaC, CaCiiC(a) CuCuC kitaab, kutub "book"; madiina, mudun "city"
CaCC(a) CaCaaCi mana, maaani "meaning"; makwa, makaawi "iron"; ahwa, ahaawi "coffee"; a, aaai "ground, land"
CaaCa, CaaCi, CaCya CawaaCi aaa, awaai "alley"; naadi, nawaadi "club"; naya, nawaai "side"
CaCaC, CiCaaC aCCiCa/iCCiCa izaam, azima "belt"; masal, amsila "example"; sabat, isbita "basket"
CiCiyya CaCaaya hidiyya, hadaaya "gift"
CaaC CiCaaC faa, firaan "mouse"; gaa, giraan "neighbor"; xaal, xilaan "maternal uncle"

Color/defect nouns[edit]

Examples of "color and defect" nouns
Meaning (template) green blue black white deaf blind one-eyed
Masculine aCCaC axa azra iswid abya aa ama awa
Feminine CaCCa xaa zara sooda beea aa amya ooa
Plural CuCC xur zur suud bii ur umy uur

A common set of nouns referring to colors, as well as a number of nouns referring to physical defects of various sorts (ala "bald"; aa "deaf"; axas "dumb"), take a special inflectional pattern, as shown in the table. Note that only a small number of common colors inflect this way: ama "red"; azra "blue"; axa "green"; afa "yellow"; abya "white"; iswid "black"; asma "brown-skinned, brunette"; aa "blond(e)". The remaining colors are invariable, and mostly so-called nisba adjectives derived from colored objects: bunni "brown" (< bunn "coffee powder"); amaadi "gray" (< amaad "ashes"); banafsigi "purple" (< banafsig "violet"); burtuaani "orange" (< burtuaan "oranges"); zibiibi "maroon" (< zibiib "raisins"); etc., or of foreign origin: bee "beige" from the French; bamba "pink" from Turkish pembe.[22]


Forms of the independent and clitic pronouns
Meaning Subject Direct object/Possessive Indirect object
After vowel After 1 cons. After 2 cons. After vowel After 1 cons. After 2 cons.
Normal + + l- Normal + + l- Normal + + l- Normal + Normal + Normal +
"my" (nominal) - ya -i
"I/me" (verbal) na - ni -ni - li -li
"you(r) (masc.)" nta - k -ak - lak -lak
"you(r) (fem.)" nti - ki -ik -ki -ik -iki - lik -lk -lik -lik -lik -ilk
"he/him/his" huwwa - -hu -u -hu -u -uhu - lu -lu
"she/her" hiyya - ha -ha - lha -lha -lha
"we/us/our" na - na -na - lna -lna -lna
"you(r) (pl.)" ntu - ku -ku - lku -lku -lku
"they/them/their" humma - hum -hum - lhum -lhum -lhum
Examples of possessive constructs
Base Word bet
Construct Base bet- biyut- bnk- sikkin(i)t- miat- abu- ide-
"my ..." bet-i biyut-i bnk-i sikknt-i miat-i abu-ya idy-ya
"your (masc.) ..." bet-ak biyut-ak bnk-ak sikknt-ak miat-ak abu-k ide-k
"your (fem.) ..." bet-ik biyut-ik bnk-ik sikknt-ik miat-ik abu-ki ide-ki
"his ..." bet-u biyut-u bnk-u sikknt-u miat-u abu-(h) ide-(h)
"her ..." bt-ha biyt-ha bank-ha sikkint-ha mit-ha abu-ha ide-ha
"our ..." bt-na biyt-na bank-na sikkint-na mit-na abu-na ide-na
"your (pl.) ..." bt-ku biyt-ku bank-ku sikkint-ku mit-ku abu-ku ide-ku
"their ..." bt-hum biyt-hum bank-hum sikkint-hum mit-hum abu-hum ide-hum
Suffixed prepositions
Base Word fi
"by, in, with"
"in the
possession of,
to have"
"... me" fy-ya by-ya ly-ya wayya-ya aly-ya nd-i mnn-i
"... you (masc.)" fi-k bi-k li-k, l-ak wayya-k ale-k nd-ak mnn-ak
"... you (fem.)" fi-ki bi-ki li-ki, li-ki wayya-ki ale-ki nd-ik mnn-ik
"... him" fi-(h) bi-(h) li-(h), l-u(h) wayya-(h) ale-(h) nd-u mnn-u
"... her" fi-ha bi-ha li-ha, la-ha wayya-ha ale-ha and-ha minn-ha, mn-ha
"... us" fi-na bi-na li-na, li-na wayya-na ale-na and-na minn-na
"... you (pl.)" fi-ku bi-ku li-ku, li-ku wayya-ku ale-ku and-ku minn-ku, mn-ku
"... them" fi-hum bi-hum li-hum, li-hum wayya-hum ale-hum and-hum minn-hum, mn-hum

Egyptian Arabic object pronouns are clitics, in that they attach to the end of a noun, verb or preposition, with the result forming a single phonological word rather than separate words. Clitics can be attached to the following types of words:

  • A clitic pronoun attached to a noun indicates possession: bet "house", bet-i "my house"; sikkina "knife", sikknt-i "my knife"; ma "wife", maa-ya "my wife"; bb "father", abu-ya "my father". Note that the form of a pronoun may vary depending on the phonological form of the word being attached to (ending with a vowel or with one or two consonants), and the noun being attached to may also have a separate "construct" form before possessive clitic suffixes.
  • A clitic pronoun attached to a preposition indicates the object of the preposition: fill in examples
  • A clitic pronoun attached to a verb indicates the object of the verb: ft "I saw", ft-u "I saw him", uft-ha "I saw her".

With verbs, indirect object clitic pronouns can be formed using the preposition li- plus a clitic. Both direct and indirect object clitic pronouns can be attached to a single verb: agib "I bring", agb-hu "I bring it", agib-hu-lik "I bring it to you", m-agib-hu-lki- "I do not bring it to you".


Verbs in Arabic are based on a stem made up of three or four consonants. The set of consonants communicates the basic meaning of a verb. Changes to the vowels in between the consonants, along with prefixes and/or suffixes, specify grammatical functions such as tense, person and number, in addition to changes in the meaning of the verb that embody grammatical concepts such as causative, intensive, passive or reflexive.

Each particular lexical verb is specified by two stems, one used for the past tense and one used for non-past tenses along with as subjunctive and imperative moods. To the former stem, suffixes are added to mark the verb for person, number and gender, while to the latter stem, a combination of prefixes and suffixes are added. (Very approximately, the prefixes specify the person and the suffixes indicate number and gender.) The third person masculine singular past tense form serves as the "dictionary form" used to identify a verb, similar to the infinitive in English. (Arabic has no infinitive.) For example, the verb meaning "write" is often specified as ktab, which actually means "he wrote". In the paradigms below, a verb will be specified as ktab/yktib (where ktab means "he wrote" and yktib means "he writes"), indicating the past stem (katab-) and non-past stem (-ktib-, obtained by removing the prefix yi-).

The verb classes in Arabic are formed along two axes. One axis (described as "form I", "form II", etc.) is used to specify grammatical concepts such as causative, intensive, passive or reflexive, and involves varying the stem form. For example, from the root K-T-B "write" is derived form I ktab/yktib "write", form II kttib/yikttib "cause to write", form III k:tib/yik:tib "correspond", etc. The other axis is determined by the particular consonants making up the root. For example, defective verbs have a W or Y as the last root consonant, which is often reflected in paradigms with an extra final vowel in the stem (e.g. rma/yrmi "throw" from R-M-Y); meanwhile, hollow verbs have a W or Y as the middle root consonant, and the stems of such verbs appear to have only two consonants (e.g. g:b/yig:b "bring" from G-Y-B).

Strong verbs[edit]

Strong verbs are those that have no "weakness" (e.g. W or Y) in the root consonants. Each verb has a given vowel pattern for Past (a or i) and Present (a or i or u). Combinations of each exist.

Regular verbs, form I[edit]

Form I verbs have a given vowel pattern for past (a or i) and present (a, i or u). Combinations of each exist:

Vowel patterns Example
Past Present
a a rab - yrab to beat
a i ktab - yktib to write
a u lab - ylub~ylub to order, to demand
i a fhim - yfham to understand
i i misik - ymsik to hold, to touch
i u sikit - yskut~yskut to be silent, to shut up
Regular verb, form I, fal/yfil[edit]

Example: ktab/yktib "write"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st katb-t katb-na -ktib n-ktib b-ktib bi-n-ktib -ktib -n-ktib
2nd masculine katb-t katb-tu t-ktib ti-ktb-u bi-t-ktib bi-ti-ktb-u a-t-ktib a-ti-ktb-u -ktib i-ktb-u
feminine katb-ti ti-ktb-i bi-ti-ktb-i a-ti-ktb-i i-ktb-i
3rd masculine ktab ktab-u y-ktib yi-ktb-u bi-y-ktib bi-yi-ktb-u a-y-ktib a-yi-ktb-u
feminine ktab-it t-ktib bi-t-ktib a-t-ktib

Note that, in general, the present indicative is formed from the subjunctive by the addition of bi- (bi-a- is elided to ba-). Similarly, the future is formed from the subjunctive by the addition of a- (a-a- is elided to a-). The i in bi- or in the following prefix will be deleted according to the regular rules of vowel syncope:

  • hyya b-tktib "she writes" (hyya + bi- + tktib)
  • hyya bi-t-:f "she sees" (hyya + bi- + ti:f)
  • an-ktib "I write (subjunctive)" (na + ktib)

Example: ktab/yktib "write": non-finite forms

Number/Gender Active Participle Passive Participle Verbal Noun
Masc. Sg. k:tib makt:b kit:ba
Fem. Sg. ktb-a makt:b-a
Pl. katb-:n maktub-:n
Regular verb, form I, fil/yfal[edit]

Example: fhim/yfham "understand"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st fihm-t fihm-na -fham n-fham b-fham bi-n-fham -fham -n-fham
2nd masculine fihm-t fihm-tu t-fham ti-fhm-u bi-t-fham bi-ti-fhm-u a-t-fham a-ti-fhm-u -fham i-fhm-u
feminine fihm-ti ti-fhm-i bi-ti-fhm-i a-ti-fhm-i i-fhm-i
3rd masculine fhim fhm-u y-fham yi-fhm-u bi-y-fham bi-yi-fhm-u a-y-fham a-yi-fhm-u
feminine fhm-it t-fham bi-t-fham a-t-fham

Boldfaced forms fhm-it and fhm-u differ from the corresponding forms of katab (ktab-it and ktab-u due to vowel syncope). Note also the syncope in na fhm-t "I understood".

Regular verb, form II, fil/yifil[edit]

Example: drris/yidrris "teach"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st darrs-t darrs-na a-drris ni-drris ba-drris bi-n-drris a-drris a-n-drris
2nd masculine darrs-t darrs-tu ti-drris ti-darrs-u bi-t-drris bi-t-darrs-u a-t-drris a-t-darrs-u drris darrs-u
feminine darrs-ti ti-darrs-i bi-t-darrs-i a-t-darrs-i darrs-i
3rd masculine drris darrs-u yi-drris yi-darrs-u bi-y-drris bi-y-darrs-u a-y-drris a-y-darrs-u
feminine darrs-it ti-drris bi-t-drris a-t-drris

Boldfaced forms indicate the primary differences from the corresponding forms of katab:

  • The prefixes ti-, yi-, ni- have elision of i following bi- or a- (all verbs whose stem begins with a single consonant behave this way).
  • The imperative prefix i- is missing (again, all verbs whose stem begins with a single consonant behave this way).
  • Due to the regular operation of the stress rules, the stress in the past tense forms darrs-it and darrs-u differs from ktab-it and ktab-u.
Regular verb, form III, f:il/yif:il[edit]

Example: s:fir/yis:fir "travel"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st safr-t safr-na a-s:fir ni-s:fir ba-s:fir bi-n-s:fir a-s:fir a-n-s:fir
2nd masculine safr-t safr-tu ti-s:fir ti-sfr-u bi-t-s:fir bi-t-sfr-u a-t-s:fir a-t-sfr-u s:fir sfr-u
feminine safr-ti ti-sfr-i bi-t-sfr-i a-t-sfr-i sfr-i
3rd masculine s:fir sfr-u yi-s:fir yi-sfr-u bi-y-s:fir bi-y-sfr-u a-y-s:fir a-y-sfr-u
feminine sfr-it ti-s:fir bi-t-s:fir a-t-s:fir

The primary differences from the corresponding forms of darris (shown in boldface) are:

  • The long vowel a: becomes a when unstressed.
  • The i in the stem sa:fir is elided when a suffix beginning with a vowel follows.

Defective verbs[edit]

Defective verbs have a W or Y as the last root consonant.

Defective verb, form I, fa/yfi[edit]

Example: rma/yrmi "throw away" (i.e. trash, etc.)

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st ram:-t ram:-na -rmi n-rmi b-rmi bi-n-rmi -rmi a-n-rmi
2nd masculine ram:-t ram:-tu t-rmi t-rm-u bi-t-rmi bi-t-rm-u a-t-rmi a-t-rm-u -rmi -rm-u
feminine ram:-ti t-rm-i bi-t-rm-i a-t-rm-i -rm-i
3rd masculine rma rm-u y-rmi y-rm-u bi-y-rmi bi-y-rm-u a-y-rmi a-y-rm-u
feminine rm-it t-rmi bi-t-rmi a-t-rmi

The primary differences from the corresponding forms of katab (shown in boldface) are:

  • In the past, there are three stems: rma with no suffix, ram:- with a consonant-initial suffix, rm- with a vowel initial suffix.
  • In the non-past, the stem rmi becomes rm- before a (vowel initial) suffix, and the stress remains on the prefix, since the stem vowel has been elided.
  • Note also the accidental homonymy between masculine t-rmi, -rmi and feminine t-rm-i, -rm-i.
Defective verb, form I, fi/yfa[edit]

Example: nsi/ynsa "forget"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st nis:-t nis:-na -nsa n-nsa b-nsa bi-n-nsa -nsa a-n-nsa
2nd masculine nis:-t nis:-tu t-nsa t-ns-u bi-t-nsa bi-t-ns-u a-t-nsa a-t-ns-u -nsa -ns-u
feminine nis:-ti t-ns-i bi-t-ns-i a-t-ns-i -ns-i
3rd masculine nsi nsy-u y-nsa y-ns-u bi-y-nsa bi-y-ns-u a-y-nsa a-y-ns-u
feminine nsy-it t-nsa bi-t-nsa a-t-nsa

This verb type is quite similar to the defective verb type rma/yrmi. The primary differences are:

  • The occurrence of i and a in the stems are reversed: i in the past, a in the non-past.
  • In the past, instead of the stems ram:- and rm-, the verb has nis:- (with a consonant-initial suffix) and nsy- (with a vowel initial suffix). Note in particular the |y| in nsyit and nsyu as opposed to rmit and rmu.
  • Elision of i in nis:- can occur, e.g. na ns:t "I forgot".
  • In the non-past, because the stem has a instead of i, there is no homonymy between masculine t-nsa, -nsa and feminine t-ns-i, -ns-i.

Note that some other verbs have different stem variations, e.g. mi/ymi "walk" (with i in both stems) and ba/yba "become, remain" (with a in both stems). The verb la/yil:i "find" is unusual in having a mixture of a form I past and form III present (note also the variations li/yla and la/yla).

Verbs other than form I have consistent stem vowels. All such verbs have a in the past (hence form stems with -:-, not -:-). Forms V, VI, X and IIq have a in the present (indicated by boldface below); others have i; forms VII, VIIt, and VIII have i in both vowels of the stem (indicated by italics below); form IX verbs, including "defective" verbs, behave as regular doubled verbs:

  • Form II: wdda/yiwddi "take away"; wwa/yiwwi "strengthen"
  • Form III: n:da/yin:di "call"; d:wa/yid:wi "treat, cure"
  • Form IV (rare, classicized): ra/yri "please, satisfy"
  • Form V: itwwa/yitwwa "become strong"
  • Form VI: itd:wa/yitd:wa "be treated, be cured"
  • Form VII (rare in the Cairene dialect): inka/yinki "be told"
  • Form VIIt: itnsa/yitnsi "be forgotten"
  • Form VIII: itra/yitri "buy"
  • Form IX (very rare): ilww/yilww "be/become sweet"
  • Form X: istkfa/yistkfa "have enough"
  • Form Iq: need example
  • Form IIq: need example

Hollow verbs[edit]

Hollow have a W or Y as the middle root consonant. Note that for some forms (e.g. form II and form III), hollow verbs are conjugated as strong verbs (e.g. form II yyin/yiyyin "appoint" from -Y-N, form III g:wib/yig:wib "answer" from G-W-B).

Hollow verb, form I, f:l/yif:l[edit]

Example: g:b/yig:b "bring"

Tense/mood Past Present subjunctive Present indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st gb-t gb-na a-g:b ni-g:b ba-g:b bi-n-g:b a-g:b a-n-g:b
2nd masculine gb-t gb-tu ti-g:b ti-g:b-u bi-t-g:b bi-t-g:b-u a-t-g:b a-t-g:b-u g:b g:b-u
feminine gb-ti ti-g:b-i bi-t-g:b-i a-t-g:b-i g:b-i
3rd masculine g:b g:b-u yi-g:b yi-g:b-u bi-y-g:b bi-y-g:b-u a-y-g:b a-y-g:b-u
feminine g:b-it ti-g:b bi-t-g:b a-t-g:b

This verb works much like drris/yidrris "teach". Like all verbs whose stem begins with a single consonant, the prefixes differ in the following way from those of regular and defective form I verbs:

  • The prefixes ti-, yi-, ni- have elision of i following bi- or a-.
  • The imperative prefix i- is missing.

In addition, the past tense has two stems: gb- before consonant-initial suffixes (first and second person) and g:b- elsewhere (third person).

Hollow verb, form I, f:l/yif:l[edit]

Example: :f/yi:f "see"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st f-t f-na a-:f ni-:f ba-:f bi-n-:f a-:f a-n-:f
2nd masculine f-t f-tu ti-:f ti-:f-u bi-t-:f bi-t-:f-u a-t-:f a-t-:f-u :f :f-u
feminine f-ti ti-:f-i bi-t-:f-i a-t-:f-i :f-i
3rd masculine :f :f-u yi-:f yi-:f-u bi-y-:f bi-y-:f-u a-y-:f a-y-:f-u
feminine :f-it ti-:f bi-t-:f a-t-:f

This verb class is identical to verbs such as g:b/yig:b except in having stem vowel u in place of i.

Doubled verbs[edit]

Doubled verbs have the same consonant as middle and last root consonant, e.g. bb/yibb "love" from -B-B.

Doubled verb, form I, f/yif[edit]

Example: bb/yibb "love"

Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st abb:-t abb:-na a-bb ni-bb ba-bb bi-n-bb a-bb a-n-bb
2nd masculine abb:-t abb:-tu ti-bb ti-bb-u bi-t-bb bi-t-bb-u a-t-bb a-t-bb-u bb bb-u
feminine abb:-ti ti-bb-i bi-t-bb-i a-t-bb-i bb-i
3rd masculine bb bb-u yi-bb yi-bb-u bi-y-bb bi-y-bb-u a-y-bb a-y-bb-u
feminine bb-it ti-bb bi-t-bb a-t-bb

This verb works much like g:b/yig:b "bring". Like that class, it has two stems in the past, which are abb:- before consonant-initial suffixes (first and second person) and bb- elsewhere (third person). Note that :- was borrowed from the defective verbs; the Classical Arabic equivalent form would be *abb-, e.g. *abb-t.

Other verbs have u or a in the present stem: ba/yib "to look", a/yi "be right, be proper".

As for the other forms:

  • Form II, V doubled verbs are strong: ddid/yiddid "limit, fix (appointment)"
  • Form III, IV, VI, VIII doubled verbs seem non-existent
  • Form VII and VIIt doubled verbs (same stem vowel a in both stems): inbll/yinbll "be wetted", itdd/yitdd
  • Form VIII doubled verbs (same stem vowel a in both stems): ihtmm/yihtmm "be interested (in)"
  • Form IX verbs (automatically behave as "doubled" verbs, same stem vowel a in both stems): imrr/yimrr "be red, blush", ilww/yilww "be sweet"
  • Form X verbs (stem vowel either a or i in non-past): ista/yista "deserve" vs. istadd/yistadd "be ready", istamrr/yistamrr "continue".

Assimilated verbs[edit]

Assimilated verbs have W or Y as the first root consonant. Most of these verbs have been regularized in Egyptian Arabic, e.g. wzan/ywzin "to weigh" or wl/ywal "to arrive". Only a couple of irregular verbs remain, e.g. wif/yaf "stop" and wi/ya "fall" (see below).

Doubly weak verbs[edit]

"Doubly weak" verbs have more than one "weakness", typically a W or Y as both the second and third consonants. This term is in fact a misnomer, as such verbs actually behave as normal defective verbs (e.g. kwa/ykwi "iron (clothes)" from K-W-Y, wwa/yiwwi "strengthen" from -W-Y, d:wa/yid:wi "treat, cure" from D-W-Y).

Irregular verbs[edit]

The irregular verbs are as follows:

  • dda/yddi "give" (endings like a normal defective verb)
  • wif/yaf "stop" and wi/ya "fall" (af, baf, af "I (will) stop"; af "stop!")
  • kal/y:kul "eat" and xad/y:xud "take" (kalt, kal, klit, klu "I/he/she/they ate", also regular kal, etc. "he/etc. ate"; :kul, b:kul, :kul "I (will) eat", yklu "they eat"; kl, kli, klu "eat!"; w:kil "eating"; mitt:kil "eaten")
  • g/y:gi "come". This verb is extremely irregular (with particularly unusual forms in boldface):
Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Imperative
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st g:-t or g:-t g:-na or g:-na :-gi n:-gi
2nd masculine g:-t or g:-t g:-tu or g:-tu t:-gi t:-g-u ta:l ta:l-u
feminine g:-ti or g:-ti t:-g-i ta:l-i
3rd masculine g or g (also ga)
   g:-ni (or -li)
"he came to me"
but not *g:-ni
   but g:-ni (or -li)
"they came to me" and mag:- "they didn't come"
y:-gi y:-g-u
feminine gat (also gat) t:-gi

Example: g/y:gi "come": non-finite forms

Number/Gender Active Participle Verbal Noun
Masc. Sg. gayy migyy
Fem. Sg. gyy-a
Pl. gayy-:n

Table of verb forms[edit]

In this section all verb classes and their corresponding stems are listed, excluding the small number of irregular verbs described above. Verb roots are indicated schematically using capital letters to stand for consonants in the root:

  • F = first consonant of root
  • M = middle consonant of three-consonant root
  • S = second consonant of four-consonant root
  • T = third consonant of four-consonant root
  • L = last consonant of root

Hence, the root F-M-L stands for all three-consonant roots, and F-S-T-L stands for all four-consonant roots. (Traditional Arabic grammar uses F--L and F--L-L, respectively, but the system used here appears in a number of grammars of spoken Arabic dialects and is probably less confusing for English speakers, since the forms are easier to pronounce than those involving .)

The following table lists the prefixes and suffixes to be added to mark tense, person, number and gender, and the stem form to which they are added. The forms involving a vowel-initial suffix, and corresponding stem PAv or NPv, are highlighted in silver. The forms involving a consonant-initial suffix, and corresponding stem PAc, are highlighted in gold. The forms involving a no suffix, and corresponding stem PA0 or NP0, are unhighlighted.

Tense/Mood Past Non-Past
Person Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st PAc-t PAc-na a-NP0 ni-NP0
2nd masculine PAc-t PAc-tu ti-NP0 ti-NPv-u
feminine PAc-ti ti-NPv-i
3rd masculine PA0 PAv-u yi-NP0 yi-NPv-u
feminine PAv-it ti-NP0

The following table lists the verb classes along with the form of the past and non-past stems, active and passive participles, and verbal noun, in addition to an example verb for each class.


  • Italicized forms are those that follow automatically from the regular rules of vowel shortening and deletion.
  • Multisyllabic forms without a stress mark have variable stress, depending on the nature of the suffix added, following the regular rules of stress assignment.
  • Many participles and verbal nouns have acquired an extended sense. In fact, participles and verbal nouns are the major sources for lexical items based on verbs, especially derived (i.e. non-Form-I) verbs.
  • Some verb classes do not have a regular verbal noun form; rather, the verbal noun varies from verb to verb. Even in verb classes that do have a regular verbal noun form, there are exceptions. In addition, some verbs share a verbal noun with a related verb from another class (in particular, many passive verbs use the corresponding active verb's verbal noun, which can be interpreted in either an active or passive sense). Some verbs appear to lack a verbal noun entirely. (In such a case, a paraphrase would be used involving a clause beginning with inn.)
  • Outside of Form I, passive participles as such are usually non-existent; instead, the active participle of the corresponding passive verb class (e.g. Forms V, VI, VIIt/VIIn for Forms II, III, I respectively) is used. The exception is certain verbs in Forms VIII and X that contain a "classicized" passive participle that is formed in imitation of the corresponding participle in Classical Arabic, e.g. mistmil "using", mustmal "used".
  • Not all forms have a separate verb class for hollow or doubled roots. When no such class is listed below, roots of that shape appear as strong verbs in the corresponding form, e.g. Form II strong verb yya/yiyya "waste, lose" related to Form I hollow verb :/yi: "be lost", both from root -Y-.
Form Root Type Stem Participle Verbal Noun Example
Past Non-Past Active Passive
Person of Suffix 1st/2nd 3rd
Suffix Type Cons-Initial None Vowel-Initial None Vowel-Initial
Suffix Name PAc PA0 PAv NP0 NPv
I Strong FaMaL FMaL F:MiL maFM:L (varies, e.g.
fta/yfta "open"
FMiL ktab/yktib "write"
FMuL dxal/ydxul "enter"
FiMiL FiML FMaL fhim/yfham "understand"
FMiL msik/ymsik "hold, catch"
FMuL skin/yskun "reside"
I Defective FaM: FMa FaM FMa FM F:Mi mFMi (varies, e.g.
FaMy, mFMa)
ba/yba "remain"
FMi FM rma/yrmi "throw"
FiM: FMi FMy FMa FM nsi/ynsa "forget"
FMi FM mi/ymi "walk"
I Hollow FL F:L F:L F:yiL (mitF:L, properly
Form VIIt)
(varies, e.g.
Fe:L, Fo:L)
ga:b/yig:b "bring"
FL F:L a:f/yi:f "see"
FL F:L na:m/yin:m "sleep"
FL xa:f/yix:f "fear"
I Doubled FaMM: FMM FMM F:MiM maFM:M (varies, e.g.
abb/yibb "love"
FMM a/yi "put"
II Strong FaMMaL miFMMaL taFM:L yya/yiyya "change"
FaMMiL miFMMiL drris/yidrris "teach"
II Defective FaMM: FMMa FMM FMMi FMM miFMMi taFMya wrra/yiwrri "show"
III Strong FaML F:MiL FML F:MiL FML miF:MiL miFMLa z:kir/yiz:kir "study"
III Defective FaM: F:Ma F:M F:Mi F:M miF:Mi miFMya n:da/yin:di "call"
IV Strong FMaL FMiL mFMiL iFM:L ab/yrib "go on strike"
IV Defective aFM: FMa FM FMi FM mFMi (uncommon) a/yi "please"
IV Hollow aFL aF:L F:L miF:L iF:La af:d/yif:d "inform"
IV Doubled aFaMM: aFMM FMM miFMM iFM:M  ???
V Strong itFaMMaL tFaMMaL mitFMMaL taFMMuL (or Form II) itman/yitman "practice"
itFaMMiL tFaMMiL mitFMMiL itkllim/yitkllim "speak"
V Defective itFaMM: itFMMa itFMM tFMMa tFMM mitFMMi (use Form II) itwwa/yitwwa "become strong"
VI Strong itFaML itF:MiL itFML tF:MiL tFML mitF:MiL taF:MuL (or Form III) it:win/yit:win "cooperate"
VI Defective itFaM: itF:Ma itF:M tF:Ma tF:M mitF:Mi (use Form III) idd:wa/yidd:wa "be treated, be cured"
VIIn Strong inFMaL nFMiL nFML minFMiL inFiM:L (or Form I) inba/yinbi "enjoy oneself"
VIIn Defective inFaM: inFMa inFM nFMi nFM minFMi (use Form I) inka/yinki "be told"
VIIn Hollow inFL inF:L nF:L minF:L inFiy:L (or Form I) inb:/yinb: "be sold"
VIIn Doubled inFaMM: inFMM nFMM minFMM inFiM:M (or Form I) inbll/yinbll "be wetted"
VIIt Strong itFMaL tFMiL tFML mitFMiL itFiM:L (or Form I) itwgad/yitwgid "be found"
VIIt Defective itFaM: itFMa itFM tFMi tFM mitFMi (use Form I) itnsa/yitnsi "be forgotten"
VIIt Hollow itFL itF:L tF:L mitF:L itFiy:L (or Form I) itb:/yitb: "be sold"
VIIt Doubled itFaMM: itFMM tFMM mitFMM itFiM:M (or Form I) itdd/yitdd "be counted"
VIII Strong iFtMaL FtMiL FtML miFtMiL, muFtMiL (classicized) muFtMaL (classicized) iFtiM:L (or Form I) istlam/yistlim "receive"
VIII Defective iFtaM: iFtMa iFtM FtMi FtM miFtMi, muFtMi (classicized) (use Form I) itra/yitri "buy"
VIII Hollow iFtL iFt:L Ft:L miFt:L, muFt:L (classicized) iFtiy:L (or Form I) ixt:/yixt: "choose"
VIII Doubled iFtaMM: iFtMM FtMM miFtMM, muFtMM (classicized) iFtiM:M (or Form I) ihtmm/yihtmm "be interested (in)"
IX Strong iFMaLL: iFMLL FMLL miFMLL iFMiL:L im/yim "be red, blush"
X Strong istFMaL stFMaL mistFMaL, mustFMaL (classicized) istiFM:L istab/yistab "be surprised"
istFMiL stFMiL mistFMiL, mustFMiL (classicized) mustFMaL (classicized) istmil/yistmil "use"
X Defective istaFM: istFMa istFM stFMa stFM mistFMi, mustFMi (classicized) (uncommon) istkfa/yistkfa "be enough"
X Hollow istaFL istaF:L staF:L mistaF:L, mistaF:L (classicized) istiF:L a ista:l/yista:l "resign"
X Doubled istaFaMM: istaFMM staFMM mistaFMM, mustaFMM (classicized) istiFM:M ista/yista "deserve"
staFMM mistaFMM, mustaFMM (classicized) istam/yistamrr "continue"
Iq Strong FaSTaL miFSTaL FaSTLa lxba/yilxba "confuse"
FaSTiL miFSTiL xrbi/yixrbi "scratch"
Iq Defective FaST: FSTa FST FSTi FST miFSTi (uncommon)  ???
IIq Strong itFaSTaL tFaSTaL mitFSTaL itFaSTLa itlxba/yitlxba "be confused"
itFaSTiL tFaSTiL mitFSTiL itlil/yitlil "flare up"
IIq Defective itFaST: itFSTa itFST tFSTa tFST mitFSTi (uncommon)  ???


One characteristic of Egyptian syntax which it shares with other North African varieties as well as some southern Levantine dialect areas is in the two-part negative verbal circumfix /ma-...-(i)/

  • Past: /katab/ "he wrote" /ma-katab-(i)/ "he didn't write"
  • Present: /jik-tib/ "he writes" /ma-bjik-tib-(i)/ "he doesn't write"

/ma-/ comes from the Classical Arabic negator /ma/. /-(i)/ is a development of Classical /aj/ "thing". This negating circumfix is similar in function to the French circumfix ne ... pas.

The structure can end in a consonant // or in a vowel /i/, varying according to the individual or region. The fuller ending /i/ is considered rural, and nowadays Cairene speakers usually use the shorter //. However, /i/ was more common in the past, as attested in old films.

The negative circumfix often surrounds the entire verbal composite including direct and indirect object pronouns:

  • /ma-katab-hum-li-/ "he didn't write them to me"

However, verbs in the future tense typically instead use the prefix /mi/:

  • /mi-a-jiktib/ (or /ma-a-jiktib/ "he won't write"

Interrogative sentences can be formed by adding the negation clitic "(mi)" before the verb:

  • Past: /katab/ "he wrote"; /mi-katab/ "didn't he write?"
  • Present: /jiktib/ "he writes"; /mi-bi-jiktib/ "doesn't he write?"
  • Future: /a-jiktib/ "he will write"; /mi-a-jiktib/ "won't he write?"

Addition of the circumfix can cause complex changes to the verbal cluster, due to the application of the rules of vowel syncope, shortening, lengthening, insertion and elision described above:

  • The addition of /ma-/ may trigger elision or syncope:
    • A vowel following /ma-/ is elided: (ixtr) "he chose" (maxtr).
    • A short vowel /i/ or /u/ in the first syllable may be deleted by syncope: (kbir) "he grew" (makbr).
  • The addition of /-/ may result in vowel shortening or epenthesis:
    • A final long vowel preceding a single consonant shortens: (ixtr) "he chose" (maxtr).
    • An unstressed epenthetic /i/ is inserted when the verbal complex ends in two consonants: /kunt/ "I was" (maknti).
  • In addition, the addition of /-/ triggers a stress shift, which may in turn result in vowel shortening or lengthening:
    • The stress shifts to the syllable preceding //: (ktab) "he wrote" (makatb).
    • A long vowel in the previously stressed syllable shortens: (fit) "she saw" (maaft); (:fu) "they saw" or "he saw it" (maaf:).
    • A final short vowel directly preceding // lengthens: (fu) "they saw" or "he saw it" (maaf:).

In addition, certain other morphological changes occur:

  • (af) "they saw him" (maafuh) (to avoid a clash with (maaf) "they didn't see/he didn't see him").
  • (fik) "He saw you (fem. sg.)" (maafk).
  • (ftik) "I saw you (fem. sg.)" (mauftik).


In contrast with Classical Arabic, but much like the other varieties of Arabic, Egyptian Arabic prefers subjectverbobject (SVO) word order; CA and to a lesser extent MSA prefer verbsubjectobject (VSO). For example, in MSA "Adel read the book" would be Qaraa dil ul-kitb IPA: [q del ol ketb] whereas EA would say dil ara l-kitb IPA: [del lketb].

Also in common with other Arabic varieties is the loss of unique agreement in the dual form: while the dual remains productive to some degree in nouns, dual nouns are analyzed as plural for the purpose of agreement with verbs, demonstratives, and adjectives. Thus "These two Syrian professors are walking to the university" in MSA (in an SVO sentence for ease of comparison) would be " " Han al-ustn as-Sriyyn yamiyn il l-miah IPA: [hzn l ostzn as surejjn jmejn el lme], which becomes in EA " " il-ustazn il-Suriyyn dl biyimu lil-gama, IPA: [el ostzen el soejjin dol bejemo lelm].

Unlike most other forms of Arabic, however, Egyptian prefers final placement of question words in interrogative sentences. This is a feature characteristic of the Coptic substratum of Egyptian Arabic.

Coptic substratum[edit]

Egyptian Arabic appears to have retained a significant Coptic substratum in its lexicon, phonology, and syntax. Coptic was the latest stage of the indigenous Egyptian language spoken until the mid-17th century when it was finally completely supplanted by Egyptian Arabic. Some features that Egyptian Arabic shares with the original ancient Egyptian language include certain prefix and suffix verbal conjugations, certain emphatic and glottalized consonants, as well as a large number of biliteral and triliteral lexical correspondences.

Two syntactic features that are particular[citation needed][dubious ] to Egyptian Arabic inherited from Coptic[23] are:

  • postposed demonstratives "this" and "that" are placed after the noun.
Examples: /ir-rail da/ "this man" (lit. "the man this"; in Literary Arabic /haa r-raul/) and /il-bitt di/ "this girl" (lit. "the girl this"; in Literary Arabic /haihi l-bint/).
  • Wh words (i.e. "who", "when", "why" remain in their "logical" positions in a sentence rather than being preposed, or moved to the front of the sentence, as in Literary Arabic or English).
    • /ra masrI imta/ ( ) "When (/imta/) did he go to Egypt/Cairo?" (lit. "He went to Egypt/Cairo when?")
    • /ra masrI leh/ ( ) "Why (/leh/) did he go to Egypt/Cairo? (lit. "He went to Egypt/Cairo why?")
    • /min ra masr/ or /min illi ra masr/ ( [] ) "Who (/min/) went to Egypt/Cairo? (literally - same order)
The same sentences in Literary Arabic (with all the question words (wh-words) in the beginning of the sentence) would be:
    •  /mata ahaba ila misr/
    •  /lima ahaba ila misr/
    •  /man ahaba ila misr/

Also since Coptic, like other North African languages, lacked interdental consonants it could possibly have influenced the manifestation of their occurrences in Classical Arabic // // // as their dental counterparts /t/ /d/ and the emphatic dental /d/ respectively. (see consonants)

Sociolinguistic features[edit]

Egyptian Arabic is used in most social situations, with Modern Standard and Classical Arabic generally only being used in writing and in highly religious and/or formal situations. However, within Egyptian Arabic, there is a wide range of variation. El-Said Badawi identifies three distinct levels of Egyptian Arabic based chiefly on the quantity of non-Arabic lexical items in the vocabulary: `mmiyyat al-Musaqqafn (Cultured Colloquial or Formal Spoken Arabic), `mmiyyat al-Mutanawwirn (Enlightened or Literate Colloquial), and `mmiyyat al-'Ummiyn (Illiterate Colloquial). Cultured Colloquial/Formal Spoken Arabic is characteristic of the educated classes and is the language of discussion of high-level subjects, but it is nevertheless Egyptian Arabic; it is characterized by use of technical terms imported from foreign languages and MSA, as well as closer attention to the pronunciation of certain letters (particularly qf). It is relatively standardized and, being closer to the standard, is understood fairly well across the Arab world. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Illiterate Colloquial, common to rural areas and to working-class neighborhoods in the cities, has an almost exclusively Arabic vocabulary; loanwords are generally either very old borrowings (e.g. gambari, [mbi] "shrimp," from Italian gambari, "shrimp" (pl.)) or refer to technological items that find no or poor equivalents in Arabic (e.g. til(i)vizyn/til(i)fezyn [tel(e)vezjon, tel(e)fezjon], television). Enlightened Colloquial (`mmiyyat al-Mutanawwirn) is the language of those who have had some schooling and are relatively affluent; loanwords tend to refer to pop-cultural items, consumer products, and fashions. It is also understood widely in the Arab world, as it is the lingua franca of Egyptian film and television.

In contrast to MSA and most other varieties of Arabic, Egyptian Arabic has a form of the T-V distinction. In the singular, inta/inti is acceptable in most situations, but when addressing clear social superiors (e.g. persons older than oneself, superiors at work, certain government officials), the form aritak/aritik, meaning "Your Grace" is preferred (c.f. Spanish usted).

This use of aritak/aritik is linked to the system of honorifics in daily Egyptian speech. The honorific taken by a given person is determined by their relationship to the speaker and their occupation.

Examples of Egyptian honorifics
Honorific IPA Origin/meaning Usage and notes
siyadtak [sejttk,
Standard Arabic siydatuka, "Your Lordship" Persons with a far higher social standing than the speaker, particularly at work. Also applied to high government officials, including the President. Equivalent in practical terms to "Your Excellency" or "The Most Honourable."
sa`adtak [sttk,
Standard Arabic sa`datuka, "Your Happiness" Government officials and others with significantly higher social standing. Equivalent in governmental contexts "Your Excellency," or "Your Honor" when addressing a judge.
ma`alk [mlik] Standard Arabic ma`lka, "Your Highness" Government ministers. Equivalent in practical terms to "Your Excellency" or "The Right Honourable."
agg/agga [()]/[] Standard Arabic Traditionally, any Muslim who has made the Hajj, or any Christian who has made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Currently also used as a general term of respect for all elderly.
bsha [b] Ottoman Turkish pasha Informal address to a male of equal or lesser social status. Roughly equivalent to "man" or "dude" in informal English speech.
bh [be] Ottoman Turkish bey Informal address to a male of equal or lesser social status. Essentially equivalent to but less current than bsha.
afandi [fndi] Ottoman Turkish efendi (Archaic); address to a male of a less social standard than bh and bsha.
hnim [hnem] Ottoman Turkish hanm/khanum, "Lady" Address to a woman of high social standing, or esteemed as such by the speaker. Somewhat archaic.
sitt [set(t)] Standard Arabic sayyida(t) "mistress" and/or Ancient Egyptian set "woman" The usual word for "woman." When used as a term of address, it conveys a modicum of respect.
madm [mdm] French madame Respectful term of address for an older or married woman.
nisa [nes] Standard Arabic nisah, "young lady" Semi-formal address to an unmarried young woman.
ustz [ostz] Standard Arabic ustdh, "professor", "gentleman" Besides actual university professors and schoolteachers, used for experts in certain fields. May also be used as a generic informal reference, as bh or bsha.
usa/asa [ost]/[st] Turkish usta, "master" Drivers and also skilled laborers.
rayyis [jjes] Standard Arabic ra`s, "chief" Skilled laborers. The term predates the use of the same word to mean "president", and traditionally referred to the chief of a village.
bash muhandis [bmohndes] Ottoman Turkish ba mhendis, "chief engineer" Certain types of highly skilled laborers (e.g. electricians).
mi`allim [mellem] Standard Arabic mu`allim, "teacher" Most working class men, particularly semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.
`amm [m(m)] Standard Arabic `amm, "paternal uncle" Older male servants or social subordinates with whom the speaker has a close relationship. It can also be used as a familiar term of address, much like basha. The use of the word in its original meaning is also current, for third-person reference. The second-person term of address to a paternal uncle is `ammo [mmo]; onkel [onkel], from French oncle, may also be used, particularly for uncles unrelated by blood.
dda [dd] From Coptic language Older female servants or social subordinates with whom the speaker has a close relationship.
ab [be] Ottoman Turkish abi/aabey, "elder brother" Male relatives older than the speaker by about 1015 years. Upper-class, and somewhat archaic.
abla [bl] Ottoman Turkish abla, "elder sister" Female relatives older than the speaker by about 1015 years.

Other honorifics also exist.

In usage, honorifics are used in the second and third person.

Regional variation[edit]

Egyptian Arabic varies regionally across its sprachraum, with certain characteristics being noted as typical of the speech of certain regions.


Alexandria's dialect is noted for certain shibboleths separating its speech from that of Cairo. The ones most frequently commented on in popular discourse are the use of the word falafel as opposed to a`meyya for the fava-bean fritters common across the country, and the pronunciation of the word for the Egyptian pound as [eni], rather than the Cairene [ene] (closer to the pronunciation of the origin of the term, the British guinea). The speech of the older Alexandrian families is also noted for use of the plural in the first person even when speaking in the singular.

Port Said[edit]

Port Said's dialect is noted for a "heavier," more guttural sound than other regions of the country.

Studying Egyptian Arabic[edit]

Egyptian Arabic has been a subject of study by scholars and laypersons in the past and the present for many reasons, including personal interest, egyptomania, business, news reporting, and diplomatic and political interactions. Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) is now a field of study in both graduate and undergraduate levels in many higher education institutions and universities in the world. When added to academic instruction, Arabic language schools and university programs provide Egyptian Arabic courses in a classroom fashion, while others facilitate classes for online study.

Text example[edit]

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Egyptian/Masri (Arabic script; spelling isn't unified):

. , .

Franco/Arabic Chat Alphabet (has no strict standard):

el e3lan el 3alami le 72u2 el ensan, el band el awalani
el bani2admin kollohom mawlodin 7orrin we metsawyin fel karama wel 7o2u2. Etwahablohom el 3a2l wel damir, wel mafrud ye3amlo ba3dihom be ro7 el akhaweya.

IPA Phonemic transcription (for comparison with Literary Arabic):

/il ilan il alami li u il insan   il band il awwalani/
/il bani admin kulluhum mawludin urrin wi mitsawjin fil karama wil uu   itwahabluhum ilale wi ddamir wil mafrud jiamlu badihum biro il axawijja/

IPA Phonemic transcription (for a general demonstration of Egyptian phonology):

/el elan el alami le u el ensan   el band el awwalani/
/el bani admin kollohom mawlodin orrin we metsawjin fel karama wel ou   etwahablohom elale we ddamir wel mafrud jeamlu badihom bero el axawejja/

IPA Phonetic transcription morphologically (in fast speech, long vowels are half-long or without distinctive length):

[el eln el lmi le u el ensn   el bnd el wwlni]
[el bnidmin kollohom mwldin rrin we metswjin fel km wel u   etwhblohom elle we ddmi wel mfud jemlu bdihom beo el xwejj]


Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.

Characteristic words and sentences in Egyptian Arabic[edit]

  • [ezzjjk] ("How are you [m.]")
  • [ezzjjek] ("How are you [f.]")
  • [ezzjjoko] ("How are you [pl.]")
  • [e d] ("What's all this?", "What's the point", "What's this?" - expression of annoyance)
    • Ex.: , [ent betollohom ljj ked le e d] ("Why are you telling them such things about me, what's all this?")
  • [xls]: several meanings, though its main meaning is "enough", often adverbial
    • "Stop it!" Ex.: , [zehete xls] ("I'm annoyed, stop it!")
    • "It's over!", "finally, eventually" , Ex.: [mmti knet ajjn wmtet xls]| ("My mother was ill and died finally." [or "...and it's over now"])
    • "Ok, then!" Ex.: , [xls ufk bok] ("I'll see you tomorrow then")
  • [xles] ("at all")
    • [mnden nolh xles] ("We have nothing at all to say")
  • [kefj] ("It's enough!" or "That's enough")
  • [jni] ("that's to say" or "meaning" or "y'know")
    • As answer to [ent mel ()e] ("How do you do [m.]?") (as an answer: [me dde ked] "I am so so" or [nosse nos] "half half" = [me tmm] "not perfect")
    • [jni e] ("What does that mean?")
    • [emt htxlls jni] ("When are you finishing exactly, then?)
  • [b] (particle of enforcement "just" in imperative clauses and "well,...then?" in questions)
    • [hto b] ("Just give it to me!)" [ml ()e b] or  [ml ()e b] ("Well, what did he do then?")

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Egyptian Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarstrm, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Egyptian Arabic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Nishio, Tetsuo. "Word order and word order change of wh-questions in Egyptian Arabic: The Coptic substratum reconsidered". Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of L'Association Internationale pour la Dialectologie Arabe. Cambridge: University of Cambridge. 1996, pp. 171-179
  4. ^ Bishai, Wilson B. "Coptic grammatical influence on Egyptian Arabic". Journal of the American Oriental Society. No.82, pp. 285-289.
  5. ^ Youssef (2003), below.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Islam online on Mahmoud Timor[dead link]
  8. ^ Present Culture in Egypt (Arabic) and (Egyptian Spoken Arabic) (PDF) by Bayoumi Andil.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Haeri (2003)
  12. ^ Jenkins, Siona. Egyptian Arabic Phrasebook. Lonely Planet Publications, 2001. p. 205
  13. ^ a b Gershoni, I., J. Jankowski. (1987). Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ David Dalby, 1999/2000, The Linguasphere Register, The Linguasphere Observatory
    William Bright, 1992, The International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Oxford.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Versteegh, p. 162
  18. ^
  19. ^ David Dalby, 1999/2000, The Linguasphere Register, The Linguasphere Observatory
  20. ^
  21. ^ See e.g. Behnstedt & Woidich (2005)
  22. ^ Hinds, Martin (1986). A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic. Beirut: Librairie du Liban. p. 104. 
  23. ^ Nishio, 1996


  • Abdel-Massih, Ernest T.; A. Fathy Bahig (1978). Comprehensive Study of Egyptian Arabic: Conversation Texts, Folk Literature, Cultural Ethnological and Socio Linguistic Notes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. ISBN 0-932098-11-8. 
  • Peter, Behnstedt; Manfred Woidich (1985). Die gyptisch-arabischen Dialekte, vols. I, II. Wiesbaden: L. Reichert. 
  • Gary, Judith Olmsted, & Saad Gamal-Eldin. 1982. Cairene Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Lingua Descriptive Studies 6. Amsterdam: North Holland.
  • Haeri, Niloofar (2003). Sacred Language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-23897-5. 
  • Harrell, Richard S. 1957. The Phonology of Colloquial Egyptian Arabic. American Council of Learned Societies Program in Oriental Languages Publications Series B, Aids, Number 9. New York: American Council of Learned Societies.
  • Hinds, Martin; El-Said Badawi (1987). A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic. French & European Pubns. ISBN 0-8288-0434-6. 
  • Mitchell, T.F. 1956. An Introduction to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mitchell, T.F. 1962. Colloquial Arabic: the Living Language of Egypt. London: The English universities Press.
  • Presse, Karl G.; Katrine Blanford; Elisabeth A. Moestrup; Iman El-Shoubary (2000). 5 Egyptian-Arabic One Act Plays: A First Reader (Bilingual ed.). Museum Tusculanum. ISBN 87-7289-612-4. 
  • Youssef, Ahmad Abdel-Hamid (2003). From Pharaoh's Lips: Ancient Egyptian Language in the Arabic of Today. American University in Cairo Press. ISBN 977-424-708-6. 
  • Tomiche, Nada. 1964. Le parler arabe du Caire. Paris: Mouton.
  • Versteegh, Kees (2001). The Arabic Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1436-2. 
  • Watson, Janet (2002), The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic, New York: Oxford University Press 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]