Syrian Arabic grammatical summary

November 8, 2020
Tags: teaching-materials syrian-arabic
Length: long


Update 2023-08-27 — Changed transcription system to Library of Congress.

Update 2021-10-24 — Dual section added.

Update 2021-05-20 — Prepositions ʿa- and leʿand split into two list items.

Update 2021-02-06 — Images for place of articulation added.

Update 2021-01-18 — Phonology section expanded considerably.

Update 2021-01-03 — Presentation order standardized: translation, transcription, Arabic. Indefinite pronouns added. Various minor additions and edits.

Update 2020-12-29 — Hollow and doubled verbs added.

Update 2020-12-05 — mān- negation added. Minor readability improvements.

Update 2020-11-20 — Corrected spelling in Arabic script for numerals 11-19. Added subheading for auxiliary verbs.

A pdf of this post for pretty printing can be found here.

This grammar is under construction. The
following topics are planned to be added:

- syllable structure
- exclamations(?)
- imperative
- gender
- adverbs
- the possessive exponent 
- participles
- verbal noun


This is a short pedagogical summary of the variety of Arabic spoken in the Damascus area in Syria. It is intended to be used for quick reference and overview for beginner to intermediate language learners. It is partially based on A Reference Grammar of Syrian Arabic (Cowell 2005 [1964], Georgetown University Press1) and Arabisch-syrische grammatik (Grotzfeld 1965, Harrasowitz), to which the reader is referred for detailed and comprehensive grammatical descriptions.

This grammar uses a Library of Congress’ system of transcription (see Phonology). Words and examples are presented in transcription, translation, and, space permitting, also in Arabic script.2 The Arabic script represents written vernacular as used in text messaging, advertisement, etc. There is considerable variation in vernacular Arabic orthography, especially in the extent to which Standard Arabic spelling is followed, and forms that differ from those presented here are therefore common.

Comparisons with Standard Arabic are made where relevant.

For corrections or suggestions on improvements, please contact the author at


IPA symbols in square brackets are hyper-linked to sound samples from Wikipedia. Click on them to hear an example of the pronunciation.


Compared to Standard Arabic, several consonants are missing in Syrian Arabic, namely the dentals th ث, dh ذ, and  ظ; as well as q ق. Furthermore, j ج is in Syrian Arabic pronounced [ʒ], as opposed to the Standard Arabic affricate [ʤ].

Place and manner of articulation3






  — voiced     j gh ʿ  
  — voiceless f     kh h
  — voiced b d, ḍ        
  — voiceless   t, ṭ k     ʾ
Lateral   l        
Trill   r        
Nasal m n        
  — voiced   z        
  — voiceless   s, ṣ        
Semi-vowel w   y      

The following consonants are used only in a few words:

  • emphatic m (māmā ‘mum’)
  • emphatic b (bāba ‘dad’)
  • emphatic l (alla ‘God’)
  • g (ergīle ‘water pipe’)

The emphasis distinction in m, b, and l is not reflected in the transcription employed here.

Pointers on pronunciation

r ر [r] Rolled r, as in Spanish. Pronounced emphatically [rˤ] when adjacent to a or another emphatic consonant (mara ‘wife’, rṣās ‘led’).
j ج [ʒ] As in French journal.
ح [ħ] Hissing h formed by tensioning the throat.
kh خ [x]/[χ] As the German ach or (Castilian) Spanish jota.
gh غ [ɣ]/[ʁ] As the French or German throaty r.
ʿ ع [ʕ] Produced by using swolloing muscles to restrict the air flow. It is one of the most difficult sounds for language learners to produce. Learners often wrongly percieved as a vowel a.
ʾ ء [ʔ] A stop and quick release of the air pressure by the vocal-cords, as the t in colloquial British better.
ص [sˤ] Emphatic s.
ض [dˤ] Emphatic d.
ط [tˤ] Emphatic t.

Emphatic consonants

Emphatic consonants (technically “pharyngalized”) are pronounced as their non-emphatic equivalents but with the back of the tongue raised, giving a darker, thicker sound. This affects the quality of surrounding vowels, most clearly heard in ā [æː] (as English bad) becoming a backed [ɑː] (as in English far).

Consonant length

All consonants have a short and a long variant. The long variant is transcribed as a doubled letter. Consonant length is a central part of Arabic phonology, often changing the meaning of a word (daras ‘he studied’ vs. darras ‘he taught’, ḥakat ‘she talked’ vs. ḥakkat ‘she scratched’).

For plosives (ʾ, b, d, ḍ, t, ṭ, k) the long variant is produced by briefly holding the air pressure before releasing it and producing the sound.

Consonant length is not indicated in the Arabic script. Only very rarely is it marked with the diacritic ـّ (shadda).


Short   Long    
i [i] ī [iː] ي
e [e]/[ə] ē [eː] ي
u [u] ū [uː] و
o [o] ō [oː] و
a [a]/[ɑ] ā [æː]/[ɑː] ا


  • The Arabic letters only represent long vowels. Short vowels are normally not indicated.

  • i and u occur primarily in word final position as part of inflections (bēt-i ‘my house’, byeʿmel-u ‘they do’).

  • The vowel here transcribes as e is pronounced

    • [ə] schwa (as in English the) before or at word stress
    • [e] (as in English when) after word stress
  • Short and long a is pronounced backed [ɑ] when adjacent to an emphatic consonant.

  • There are no diphthongs in Syrian Arabic. The Standard Arabic diphthongs ay and aw correspond in Syrian Arabic to the long vowels ē and ō respectively.

Word stress

Word stress in Syrian Arabic is largely predictable and corresponds with the rules of word stress in Standard Arabic. Word stress occurs on

  • the last
    • long vowel followed by consonant (darrasúu-na ‘they taught us’)
    • short vowel followed by two consonants or a long consonant (darásna ‘we studied’, byedárres ‘he studies’)
  • or else on the first vowel (dárasu ‘they studied’), excluding any prefix (u-dárasu ‘and they studied’).

Standard to Syrian Arabic phonological conversion rules

aw ō   yawm yōm   day يوم
        ṣawt   ṣōt   sound/voice صوت
ay ē   bayn bēn   between بين
        ṣabāḥ al-khayr   ṣbāḥ el-khēr   Good morning صباح الخير
q ʾ   daqīqa daʾīʾa   minute دقيقة
        qalb   ʾalb   heart قلب
        ṭāriq   ṭāreʾ   Tariq (name) طارق
  ẓuhr ḍuhr   noon ضهر
ʾ ø   masāʾ masa   eavening مسا
th t   thalātha tlāte   three تلاتة
    (s)   mathalan masalan   for example مثلا
dh d   dhahab dahab   gold دهب
    (z)   idha iza   if اذا

Loans from Standard Arabic, including foreign Arabic place names, often retain the Standard Arabic pronunciation. In such words, th and dh are pronounced s and z respectively. Some examples are:

Syrian Arabic Standard Arabic    
saqāfe thaqāfa culture ثقافة
ustāz ustādh teacher أستاذ
demuqrāṭiyye dimuqrāṭiyya democracy ديمقراطية
el-qurʾān al-qurʾān the Quran القرآن
el-qāhira al-qāhira Cairo القاهرة


Personal pronouns

  Independent Attached     متصل منفصل
I ana ‑i (‑ya)   ـي انا
you (m.s.) enta ‑ak (‑k)   ـك انت
you (f.s.) enti ‑ik (‑ki) (ـكي) ـك انتي
he huwwe ‑o (‑h) (ـه) ـو هو
she hiyye ‑a (‑ha)   ـها هي
we neḥna ‑na     ـنا نحنا
you (pl.) intu ‑kon     ـكن انتو
they honnen ‑on (‑hon) (ـهن) ـن هنن

Forms in parenthesis are used with words with final vowel: aʿṭā-ki ‘he gave you (f.)’.

Attached pronouns are used for:

possession ktāb‑o his book كتابو
prepositional complements maʿ‑o with‑him معو
direct objects katabt‑o I wrote it كتبتو
indirect objects katabt‑l‑o I wrote for him كتبتلو

The connective -l- ‘for’ for indirect objects may take the form -el- to prevent consonant clusters: katabt‑el‑kon ‘I wrote for you (pl.)’. A direct object may then be added with the word yā-: katabt-l-ak yā-ha ‘I wrote it (fem.) for you’.

Demonstrative pronouns

  Close Distant بعيد قريب
m.s. hāda hadāk(e) هداك هادا
f.s hāy hadīk(e) هديك هاي
pl. hadōl(e) hādōlīk هدوليك هدول


  • Several forms have a stylistic variant with final e.

  • hāda has a shortened form, hād, used only at the end of phrases: shū hād? ‘What is this?’.

  • The distant plural has several variants not listed above, including hadōk, hadenk, and hadenken.

Indefinite pronouns

ḥada someone/anyone حدا
shi something/anything شي


Nouns are inflected for number and definiteness, and most animate nouns (referring to humans or animals) are also inflected for gender.


There are four ways to form plural: irregular, regular masculine, regular feminine, and general human:

    Singular Plural   جمع مفرد
Irrergula   bēt buyūt house بيوت بيت
Regular masculine ‑īn muslem muslemīn muslim مسلمين مسلم
Regular feminine ‑āt sheghle sheghlāt thing شغلات شغلة
General human ‑(iyy)e ʿerāqi ʿerāqiyye Iraqi عراقية عراقي


The noun has three forms of number inflection: singular, plural, and dual. (The adjective, verb, and pronoun have no dual forms.) The dual form is used to indicate specifically two of something. It is formed by adding the ending -ēn to the singular (-tēn for feminine formed with -e/-a).

    Singular Dual   المثنى مفرد
Masculine ‑ēn walad waladēn boy ولدين ولد
Feminine ‑tēn sāʿa sāʿatēn hour ساعتين ساعة

The dual is used only in contexts where the precise number is important:

ʿinna sāʿatēn bas We only have two hours.
ash-shaʿʿa fī-ha ghurfatēn u-maṭbakh The apartment has two rooms and a kitchen.

Otherwise the plural is used:

rāḥu aḥmad u-rafīʿu ʿa-buyūt-un Ahmad and his friend went home [to their houses (pl.)]
mā ʿinna wlād, bas banāt, rīm w-raniya we don’t have any boys, only girls (pl.), Rim and Rania

The dual is avoided on nouns with attached pronouns, except for pairwise occurring body parts. The plural follow by an explicit itnēn ‘two’ is used instead:

akhwāt-i l-itnēn my two sisters اخواتي الاتنين
sayārāt-u l-itnēn his two cars سياراتو الاتنين
ghassili īdē-ki wash your hands غسل ايديكي


  • When used with an attached pronoun, the n in the dual ending is dropped.

    īd ‘hand’ → īdēn ‘two hands’ → īdēk ‘your two hands’.


ʿa-/ʿalē- to (place) ع/عليـ
ʿala/ʿalē‑ on على/عليـ
ʿand with, at عند
barrāt outside برات
bēn between بين
bēn/bēnāt‑ among بين/بيناتـ
bi‑/fī‑ in, at بـ/فيـ
fōʾ above فوق
ḥadd next to حد
juwwāt inside جوات
la‑/el‑ for (ownership) لـ/الـ
leʿand to (person) لعند
maʿ with مع
men/menn- from من/منـ
taḥt below تحت
ʾuddām in front of قدام
wara behind ورا


  • For the prepositions with two alternate forms, the first is used with nouns and the second with pronouns:

    bi‑l‑bēt in the house بالبيت
    fī‑h in it فيه



  Non-past Past المضارع الماضي
I e‑ktob katab‑t اكتب كتبت
you (ms.) t(e)‑ktob katab‑t تكتب كتبت
you (fs.) t(e)‑ktob‑i katab‑ti تكتبي كتبتي
he ye‑ktob katab يكتب كتب
she t(e)‑ktob katab‑et تكتب كتبت
we n(e)‑ktob katab‑na نكتب كتبنا
you (pl.) t(e)‑ktob‑u katab‑tu تكتبو كتبتو
they ye‑ktob‑u katab‑u يكتبو كتبو

The pronoun is often omitted. The e in parenthesis is omitted on stems beginning with a single consonant t-shūf-i ‘you (fs.) see’.

The non-past verb form is preceded by one of the following:

b‑ habitual, generalities بـ
ʿam ongoing (progressive) عم
ḥa‑/raḥ future حـ/رح
lāzim ‘have to’ لازم
auxiliary verb    


  • For 1s, the initial letter alif ا is normally omitted when preceded by : bektob بكتب.

  • For 1pl. the b- prefix is partially assimilated and pronounced as m: mnektob. This is often reflected in orthography: منكتب.

  • Some speakers combine b- and ʿam: ʿam b-yektob.

Hollow verbs

Hollow verbs have a long vowel in the middle of the stem. They are of three types, each with different middle vowel in non-past tense: 1) ū, 2) ī, and 3) ā. The inflection of the three types does not differ in past tense, where the middle long vowel is invariably ā, reduced to e in past tense in forms with consonantal suffixes (1s, 2ms, 2mf,1pl, and 2pl).

  1. Middle ū (rāḥ ‘went’):

      Non-Past Past المضارع الماضي
    I e‑rūḥ reḥ‑t اروح رحت
    you (ms.) t‑rūḥ reḥ‑t تروح رحت
    you (fs.) t‑rūḥ‑i reḥ‑ti تروحي رحتي
    he ye‑rūḥ rāḥ يروح راح
    she t‑rūḥ rāḥ‑et تروح راحت
    we n‑rūḥ reḥ‑na نروح رحنا
    you (pl.) t‑rūḥ‑u reḥ‑tu تروحو رحتو
    they ye‑rūḥ‑u rāḥ‑u يروحو راحو

    Some other frequent verbs of this type are kān ‘was’, ʾāl ‘said’, rāḥ ‘went’, shāf ‘saw’/’met’, ʾām ‘stood up’, and māt ‘died’.

  2. Middle ī (ṣār ‘became’):

      Non-Past Past المضارع الماضي
    I e‑ṣīr ṣert اصير صرت
    you (ms.) t‑ṣīr ṣert تصير صرت
    you (fs.) t‑ṣīr‑i ṣert‑i تصيري صرتي
    he ye‑ṣīr ṣār يصير صار
    she t‑ṣīr ṣār‑et تصير صارت
    we n‑ṣīr ṣer‑na نصير صرنا
    you (pl.) t‑ṣīr‑u ṣer‑tu تصيرو صرتو
    they ye‑ṣīr‑u ṣār‑u يصيرو صارو

    Some other frequent verbs of this type are ʿāsh ‘lived’, jāb ‘fetched’, bāʿ ‘sold’. and dār ‘turned’.

  3. Middle ā (nām ‘slept’):

      Non-Past Past المضارع الماضي
    I e‑nām nem‑t انام نمت
    you (ms.) t‑nām nem‑t تنام نمت
    you (fs.) t‑nām‑i nemt‑i تنامي نمتي
    he ye‑nām nām ينام نام
    she t‑nām nām‑et تنام نامت
    we n‑nām nem‑na ننام نمنا
    you (pl.) t‑nām‑u nem‑tu تنامو نمتو
    they ye‑nām‑u nām‑u ينامو نامو

    Some other frequent verbs of this type are khāf ‘was frightened’ and ghār ‘was jealous’.

Doubled verbs

Doubled verbs have a stem ending in a lengthened (doubled) consonant. In past tense forms with consonantal suffixes, ē is added.

Ḥass ‘felt’:

  Non-Past Past المضارع الماضي
I e‑ḥess ḥassē‑t احس حسيت
you (ms.) t‑ḥess ḥassē‑t تحسي حسيت
you (fs.) t‑ḥess‑i ḥassē‑ti تحس حسيتي
he y‑ḥess ḥass يحس حس
she t‑ḥess ḥass‑et تحس حست
we n‑ḥess ḥassē‑na نحس حسينا
you (pl.) t‑ḥess‑u ḥassē‑tu تحسو حسيتو
they ye‑ḥess‑u ḥass‑u يحسو حسو

Some other frequent verbs of this type are radd ‘answered’ and ḍall ‘remained’.

Auxiliary verbs

The main verb may be preceded by an auxiliary verb. Both the auxiliary and the main verb are inflected for person:

beddo yektob ‘he wants to write’ بدو يكتب
byeḥebb yektob ‘he likes to write’ بيحب يكتب
kān yektob ‘he was writing’ كان يكتب
ṣār yektob ‘he began to write’ صار يكتب

kān ‘was’

The verb kān ‘was’ is used

  1. to make a verb-less clause past or future tense:

    aḥmad kān ṭāleb Ahmad was a student
    aḥmad ḥa‑yekūn ṭāleb Ahmad will be a student
  2. to express a past ongoing (progressive) event:

    aḥmad kān (ʿam) yedros Ahmed was studying

It is a hollow verb with middle ū in non-past tense:

  Non-past Past المضارع الماضي
I e‑kūn ken‑t اكون كنت
you (ms.) t‑kūn ken‑t تكون كنت
you (fs.) t‑kūn‑i kent‑i تكوني كنتي
he ye‑kūn kān يكون كان
she t‑kūn kān‑et تكون كانت
we n‑kūn ken‑na نكون كنا
you (pl.) t‑kūn‑u ken‑tu تكونو كنتو
they ye‑kūn‑u kān‑u يكونو كانو


bedd‑ want بد
ʿand‑ has عند
there is في

The pseudo-verbs are negated as verbs with (see Negation) but do not follow verbal person and tense inflection. bedd‑ and ʿand- are inflected for person with attached pronouns, like nouns, while is not inflected:

bedd-a ktāb she wants a book [her wish is a book] بدها كتاب
ʿand-a ktāb she has a book [with her is a book] عندها كتاب
fī ktāb there is a book في كتاب

Pseudo-verbs are inflected for tense with an auxiliary kān:

kān ʿand-a ktāb She had a book. كان عندها كتاب
ḥa-yekūn ʿand-a ktāb She will have a book. حيكون عندها كتاب

Question words

shū what شو
mīn who مين
ēmta when ايمتى
kīf/shlōn how كيف/شلون
wēn where وين
minnen from where منين
lawēn whereto لوين
lēsh why ليش
addēsh how much قديش
kam how many كم
ayyi/anu which اي/انو

Question words are normally clause-inital, and may be preceded by a preposition:

maʿ mīn ʿam teḥki? ‘Who are you talking to?’ مع مين عم تحكي؟

Wēn and kīf may take attached pronouns:

wēn-ak? Where are you? وينك؟
kīf-ak? How are you? كيفك؟

Yes/no-question are formed with rising intonation. The Standard Arabic particle hal is in Syrian only used for rhetoric questions.


Syrian Arabic has three main forms of negation:

ما verbs
مو non-verbal clauses
لا imperative

For declarative clauses, in effect, is only used to negate a verbless clauses in present tense, otherwise the is used:

  Verbal clause Verbless (“is”) clause
  Ahmed is studying. Ahmed is a student.
Past aḥmad daras aḥmad kān ṭāleb
  أحمد ما درس أحمد ما كان طالب
Present aḥmad byedrus aḥmad ṭāleb
  أحمد ما بيدرس أحمد مو طالب
Future aḥmad ḥa‑/raḥ yedrus aḥmad ḥa‑/raḥ yekūn ṭāleb
  أحمد ما حـ/رح يدرس أحمد ما حـ/رح يكين طالب


mā‑ followed by a connecting ‑n‑ and an attached pronoun (mān‑i, mān‑ak, mān‑ik, etc.) may be used to reply in the negative to a statement, question, or implication. For example,

mā‑n‑i juʿān I am not hungry ماني جوعان

can be used to answer someone saying that you are hungry, asking whether you are hungry, or urging you to eat.

Numerals 1–100

The independent form of the numeral in the table below is used when the numeral stands by itself and is not followed by a noun, and the counting-form is used when the numeral is followed by counted a noun: tlāte ‘three’, but tlatt ewlād ‘three boys.’

  Independent Counting مضاف غير مضاف
1 wāḥed (m.)/waḥde (f.)     واحد/وحدة
2 etnēn (m.)/tentēn (f.)     اتنين/تنتين
3 tlāte tlatt تلات تلاتة
4 arbaʿa arbaʿ أربع أربعة
5 khamse khams خمس خمسة
6 sette sett ست ستة
7 sabʿa sabʿ سبع سبعة
8 tmāne tman تمان تمانة
9 tesʿa tesʿ تسع تسعة
10 ʿashara ʿashar عشر عشرة
11 eddaʿsh eddaʿshar ادعشر ادعش
12 eṭnaʿsh eṭnaʿshar اطنعشر اطنعش
13 tlaṭaʿsh tlaṭaʿshar تلاطعشر تلاطعش
14 arbaʿṭaʿsh arbaʿṭaʿshar اربعطعشر اربعطعش
15 khamasṭaʿsh khamsṭaʿshar خمسطعشر خمسطعش
16 seṭṭaʿsh seṭṭaʿshar سطعشر سطعش
17 sabʿaṭaʿsh sabʿaṭaʿshar سبعطعشر سبعطعش
18 tmanṭaʿsh tmanṭaʿshar تمانطعشر تمانطعش
19 tesʿaṭaʿsh tesʿaṭaʿshar تسعطعشر تسعطعش
20 ʿeshrīn     عشرين
30 tlātīn     تلاتين
40 arbaʿīn     اربعين
50 khamsīn     خمسين
60 settīn     ستين
70 sabʿīn     سبعين
80 tmānīn     تمانين
90 tesʿīn     تسعين
100 miyye mīt   مية


  • Except for 1 and 2, numerals are not inflected for gender, as opposed to Standard Arabic.

  • 1–2 are used only for emphasis or contrast, or when ordering in restaurants and the like (etnēn shāy ‘two tea’, see also Dual). Otherwise, the lone noun in singular or dual is used (ktāb ‘[a/one] book’; ktabēn ‘two books’). 1 and 2 are the only numerals that inflect for gender.

  • 3–10 have a special form with a final -t when used with one of three following nouns:

    eyyām days (khamst eyyam five days)
    eshhur months (khamst eshhur ‘five months’)
    ālāf thousands (ʿashart ālāf ‘ten thousand’)
  • For 3–10, the counted noun is in the plural: tlatt kutub ‘three books’, and for numerals above 10, it is in the singular: iddaʿashar ktāb ‘eleven book[s]’.

  • 11—19 are constructed from the counting form of the unit number and the ending ‑ṭaʿsh, with irregularities in 11, 12, and 15.

  • Decades (20, 30, etc.) are constructed from the counting form of the unit number and the ending ‑īn, with only 20 having an irregular form. In complex numbers, the unit in independent form appears before the decades with the two parts connected with u‑ ‘and’: sabʿa u‑tlātīn, ‘thirty‑six’.

  • For numbers above one hundred there is no counting form for 100: miyye u‑tlāte kelime ‘103 words’.

  1. Available as pdf on

  2. For an overview of the Arabic script, see The Arabic Writing System (available for download at 

  3. Images (modified) created by User:ish shwar (original .png deleted), .svg by Rohieb, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons