3 Cardinal Rules of Using the فاعل in Levantine Arabic (with 8 Bonus Videos Included)

For those of you who have some background in Fus-ha, you’ve probably learnt that you use the فاعل form of the verb when you want to describe the state of someone or thing currently performing an action, like going, coming, sleeping and so on.

For example, هو نائم/huwa na2im means ‘he is sleeping’, هي لابسة / hiya labisa means ‘she is wearing’ and so on.

Of course, you could just as easily say هو ينام / huwa yanaam and هي تلبس / hiya talbas respectively and it would mean exactly the same thing.

It’s more of an artistic or linguistic difference rather than a difference that has to do with meaning.

 

Fusha vs Levantine Arabic

The difference between using فاعل in Fus-ha and Levantine Arabic is that you will probably hear the فاعل form more often in Levantine Arabic than Fus-ha.

Also, the فاعل form in Levantine is used for verbs that don’t exist in Fus-ha, and so a lot of them might come across as foreign at first. For example, verbs like يروح /yaruuH (to go) and يطلع / yiTla’ (to go out or go up)

I say at first because, as with everything, you will get used to hearing them over and over again with time.

Here’s what you need to know to start using فاعل for Levantine Arabic.

 

Your 3 Cardinal Rules

1. You need to first isolate the 3-letter جذر / jadhr or root and then fit into the فاعل template. This means to say, separate the 3 letters, and then insert the alif after the first letter.

Ta-da! You’ve got your فاعل sorted out.

However what you need to know is that not all 3-letter verbs will have a فاعل form.

Think of it as a size 2 dress- some women can fit into it, and others can’t. Some women can fit into it but don’t like it and therefore never use it. And some women just can’t fit into it at all.

Similarly, some 3-letter verbs can fit into the فاعل dress, other 3-letter verbs can fit but may not like the fit (and therefore never use it), and other 4,5 and 6-letter verbs just can’t fit into it at all and need to find another dress.

Here are the verbs that do fit into that dress. There are probably hundreds of them, but here are the ones that you will most commonly find being used in Levantine Arabic.

 

Levantine Verb Pronunciation Meaning فاعل Pronunciation
راح ra-Ha to go راي raa-y
طلع Tala’a to leave طالع Ta-li’
جاء jaa2a to come جاي jaa-y
شاف shaafa to see شايف shaa-yif
لبس labisa to wear لابس laa-bis
حاب Haaba to like حاب Haab
سمع sama’a to hear سامع saa-mi’
فات faa-ta to enter فايت faa-yyit
نجح najaHa to succeed ناجح naa-jiH
فشل fashila to fail فاشل faa-shil
قدر qadara to be able قادر 2adir/ghaadir
نزل nazala to descend نازل naazil

 

2. To change the فاعل from masculine to feminine, you need to add a ة / taa marbuta at the end, just like in Fus-ha.

3. The فاعل form is usually (but not always) used to refer to human objects. And therefore to change the فاعل to plural, you need to add يين- at the end of the word, because the plural -ون ending is hardly ever used in Levantine Arabic.

 

Seeing it in Action

I’ve gleaned some of these from the episode entitled رجائي قواس في الشتاء / raja2i Qawwas fi shiTaa2 (Rajae Qawwas in Winter)  from the N2O channel on Youtube, which is a Jordanian comedy series.

To give you some context the main comedian Rajae is talking about the lengths people go to just to keep warm in the freezing Jordanian winters, and some of the hijinks that occur as a result, from arguing over the Soba (or gas heater) and wearing your entire wardrobe just to get comfortable.

The rest of the clips I gleaned from other videos on Youtube for your learning pleasure!

Example #1: حاب / Hab (someone who is liking/loving)

المجتمع كله معي حاب يدفع / almojtama’ kolloh ma’i Hab yidfa’

All of the society that’s with me, love getting warm.

 

Example #2 and #3: طالع / Tali’ (someone/thing that is going out) and فايت / fayyit (someone who is entering)

Person #1: وين طالع؟ ألوفت متاخر / wein Tali’? alwa2t mitt-akhir!

Where are you going out? It’s late! (literally the hour is late)

Person #2:  لا طالع ولا اشي الله يسامحك يا بابا فايت انام

la Tali’ wella ishy allah yusamiHak ya baba, fayyit anaam!

I’m not going out or anything, God forgive you Dad, I’m going in to sleep.

 

يالله صباح الخير. اطفو الصوبة اه؟ / yallah SabaH alkheir. iTfu aSSoba ah?

Alright, good morning. All of you turn off the soba, yeah?

 

Example #4: لابس / la-bis (someone who is wearing)

حاجتك مس لابس تدافع حالك في الحياة / Haa-jatak mish labis, tudafi’ Halak fi alHayaa

Your need is not to wear the clothes (or literally not to be the wearer), (it is to) defend yourself in life.

 

Example #5: ناجح / na-jiH (someone who is succeeding)

بس تحمل البرد بشكل عام لا يعكس الرجولة / bas taHammol albard bishakl ‘aam la ya’kis arrujuuleh.

But bearing the cold generally does not reflect masculinity!

بالعبارة عن في كتير ناس بريدة بس مشاء الله عنهم ناجحين في حياتهم. و مدراء البنوك / bil ‘ibarah ‘an fe kteer nas bareedeh bas ma sha2 allah ‘anhom, najiHeen fi Hayaathom. wa mudara2 albunuuk

In the sense that there are a lot of people who are cold, but God has willed it, successful in their lives. And they are bank managers.

 

Example #6: فاشل / fa-shil (someone who is failing)

اذا عملت كل ما سبق و ما زلت فاشل. / iza ‘amalet kol ma sabaq wa ma zaalat faashil.

If you did everything previously, and you still fail.

يعني ما زالو ناس بيعتبروك فاشل / ya’ni ma zaalu nas bi’tabiruuk faashil

Meaning people still consider you a failure.

 

Example #7: قادر / ghadir or 2adir (someone who can)

Person #1: تعبان تعبان تعبان / ta’baan ta’baan ta’baan

Tired, tired, tired

Person #2: ايش في يا زلمة / esh fe ya zalameh

What is it man?

Person #1:لو تعرف شو بدي احكي لاكي شو بدي احكي لاحكي يا زلمة

Lau ta’rif, sho biddi aHki li aHki, sho biddi aHki li aHki ya zalameh

If you only know, what can I tell you, what can I tell you man?

 

شغل شغل كله! كل الشركة فوق ظهري فوق ظهري / shogl shogl kolloh! kol shogl alshirkeh fough thahri fough thahri

Work, work all of it! All the work of the company is on my back, on my back!

 

مش قادر مش فادر. بس لازم. لازم اضل متحمل /mish ghadir mish ghadir. bas lazim. lazim aDill mittHamal.

I’m not able, I’m not able. But I must. Must. I have to keep bearing it.

(Note here that the letter ق has been changed to a غ in pronunciation because he says it that way, as many people, specifically men, in the Levant tend to do.)

 

Example #8: shaayef (someone who is seeing)

Person #1: اثبت لي! / ithbit li!

Prove it to me!

Person #2: كيف اثبت لك؟ / Keif athbit lak?

How do I prove it to you?

Person #1: شايف؟ شايف؟ شايف؟ / shaayef? shaayef? shaayef?

See? See? See? (Literally, a person who is seeing).

 

What other verbs can you think of in Levantine Arabic that fit the فاعل dress? Did we miss any out? Try putting these verbs in a sentence in the comments below and we’ll tell you if it’s right or could be improved on!

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