The Fus-ha Equivalent
If you’ve studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Fus-ha before, you would have probably come across the word الذي / alladhi or التي / allati in your classes.
In general, both of these words are used to convey ‘which’, but can also be used to convey ‘that’, ‘who’. When I say ‘which’ and ‘who’, however, I don’t mean the way in which you use them to ask a question. I mean when you use them in the middle of a sentence. For example, ‘She is the one who…’.
It might seems esoteric at this point, but it will be clearer, I promise! Just stick with me for a second.
In order for me to help you understand how to use this in Levantine Arabic, I think it would be useful for me to first explain to you how to use it in Fus-ha. Once you grasp how to use the rules in Fusha, the same rules will automatically apply across the board to Levantine dialect.
I’ve divided the post into 2 parts – the first one dealing with using it in Fusha and the second dealing with how to use it in dialect. If it seems intimidating or overwhelming at any point, don’t worry. It just comes across that way in the beginning but once you come across more and more examples, you’ll intuitively grasp how to use it.
‘I bought a dress yesterday’.
Now in English, you can communicate the idea above by saying the sentence word-for-word, or you could say:
‘This is the dress that I bought yesterday.’ Or another example:
‘She’s the one who works with me.’
‘I don’t like the tone of voice which she used.’
In all of these examples, ‘that’, ‘who’ and ‘which’ are exactly where you would slot in the word الذي.
Let’s take the first example of the dress. In Fus-ha it would be:
هذا هو الفستان الذي انا اشتريته امس / hadha huwa alfustan aladhi ana ishtaraituhu ams.
Both sentences communicate the same idea (that you bought a dress yesterday), but in two different ways. Now if we were to translate it literally into English, it would sound like:
‘This is the dress that I bought him yesterday.’ It may sound odd in English, but it’s perfectly sound in Arabic.
At this juncture, it is important to note that several conditions must be met in order to use الذي correctly, namely:
Rule #1. In Arabic, a verb usually follows الذي. This may not always be the case in English, but it is in Arabic. It is possible to follow الذي with a pronoun, but it’s usually regarded as redundant.
Rule #2. The verb that follows الذي must reference the direct object. So in this example, we use اشتريته (I bought him, referring to the dress) instead of just اشتريت (I bought) because it must refer back to the الفستان .
Rule #3. The object before الذي must be a definite object, as in it must have the ال prefix. In this case, it is الفستان or the dress.
What if the previous object is not definite?
If the previous object is not definite, then you cannot use الذي. This rule applies for both Fus-ha and Levantine dialect. For example, if you wanted to say:
‘I met a girl that was working in my office.’
Correct: انا قابلته بنت هي تعمل في مكتبي
Incorrect: انا قابلت بنت التي تعمل في مكتبي
Since ‘a girl’ is not definite, as in it does not carry the ال prefix, you cannot use the word التي after it. Instead you just have to say in Arabic:
‘I met a girl she works in my office.’
At this point, you might wonder, why do we use التي and not الذي ? Read on and we’ll explain why.
How to Conjugate الذي in Fusha
Now, as you’ve probably learnt in Fus-ha, الذي will change according to the thing that it refers to. In the first example above, if we replaced الفستان (the dress) with السيارة (the car) for example, then the sentence would have been changed to:
هذه هي السيارة التي اشتريتها امس / hadhihi hiye assayyara allati ishtaraituha ams.
Notice that because because السيارة is feminine (as indicated by the taa marbuta at the end), we changed الذي to التي to reflect that.
Similarly, we also replaced اشتريته / ishtaraituhu with اشتريتها / ishtaraituha to refer back to the feminine object, which is the car.
So literally here it means ‘this is the car which I bought her yesterday‘.
Here I’ve provided a table where you can see how الذي is conjugated according to the different objects it refers to. I’ve also included examples, because I think those are the clearest ways to see how it’s used.
|Direct Object||Example||Fusha|| Conjugation
|Single Object (Mas)||Book||الكتاب||الذي||alladhi|
|Single Object (Fem)||Tree||الشجرة||التي||allati|
|Plural Human (Mas)||Teachers||المدرسين||الذين||alladheena|
|Plural Human (Fem)||Mothers||الامهات||اللواتي||alluwati|
|Plural Non-Human||Books, trees, cars||الكتب, الاشجار, السيارات||التي||allati|
Please note that with all non-human plurals like books, trees, pencils, they are referred to as singular feminine pronouns (هي).
What if the verb that follows الذي has a conjunction after it?
As we mentioned in the rules above, a verb usually follows الذي.
And sometimes you might find that the verb after it comes with a conjunction of its own. Lots of verbs do, such as:
يقوم ب / yaquum bi
to undertake (by)
بجلس على / yajlis ‘ala
to sit (on)
يعيش في / ya’eesh fi
to live in
In these circumstances, you will still need to include the conjunctions after the verbs. For example, if the sentence was
This is the chair that she is sitting on.
هذا هو الكرسي الذي تجلس عليه / hadha huwa alkursi aladhi tajlis ‘aleihi.
So you will see that referring back to the object (the chair) does not happen at the verb itself, but at the conjunction عليه , where the ه at the end refers back to the chair.
This is the city that he is living in.
هذه هي المدينة التي يعيش فيها / hadhihi hiya almadeenah alati ya’eeshu fiha.
Again, the reference back to the object will be attached at the end of فيها instead of at يعيش .
We’ll stop here for this post, but stay tuned for the second part of the series, where we look closer at how to use الي in Levantine dialect. Tell us how we can improve this post to help you understand how to use الذي better! What other examples can you think of ? Let us know in the comments!