What Do Roundabouts and Your Average Self-Help Guru Have In Common?


If you’ve ever been to Amman, you’ll realize quickly that the entire city is pretty much built around 7 roundabouts (or دوار /diwar), kinda like the legendary circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

I kid, I kid.

Amman is worse than Dante’s inferno.

Now before you get all riled up about how dare I have the gall to criticise Amman, rest assured that I do actually love it. In fact some days when I was there it warmed the cockles of my bitter, cynical heart to such a degree that I thought it would explode and I would have a heart attack.

Now in order to get from place to place, chances are you’re going to have to pass through at least one of these roundabouts. It’s the aorta of the city, pumping massive volumes of honking traffic to and from one end to the other, tirelessly from day to night.

And more often than not, since road names and addresses aren’t used in Amman, at least one of these circles is going to be a major landmark on your journey. The problem is that most of the major roundabouts don’t have actual names, and they just go by First Circle, Second Circle, Seventh Circle – you get the idea.

So you can imagine how important it was to know how to express which circle you wanted to get to, lest you said it wrong and the driver ended up dropping you off at الدوار السابع / addiwaar assabi’ (Seventh Circle) when you really meant Sixth.

In linguistic lingo, first, second, and third and so on are called ordinal numbers. That’s what you’re going to learn today. And what does it have to do with your typical motivational guru? You’ll find out below.


The فاعل of Numbers

I’ve posted about before on how to use the فاعل for verbs in Levantine and Fusha.

Interestingly, what I’ve found is that you can actually use the same strategy in order to create the ordinal numbers if you already know the numbers themselves.


Here what you need to know in order to arrive at the ordinal numbers:

1. Separate the roots of the word. For example, the root letters of ثلاثة are ث, ل, ث.

2. Place the root letters into the فاعل template, which means to insert an ا between the 1st and 2nd root letters. So continuing with the same example, the ordinal form of ثلاثة (three) would be ثالث (third).

3. Add a taa marbuuta if required if the noun that comes before the ordinal number is a feminine noun, (as in, ends with a taa marbuuta)

Then you have to similarly add a taa marbuuta to the end of the ordinal number in order to make it feminine as well. For example, the third car would be السيارة الثالثة / assayara athaalitha while the third book would be الكتاب الثالث / alkitab athaalith.

Think of it the ordinal number as the annoying but lovable little sibling– whatever the bigger sibling (ie the preceding noun) wants to become, the little one wants as well.

And voila, here is the ordinal table for the numbers from 1 – 10.

Number Arabic Ordinal Form mas/fem Meaning
1 واحد الاول\الاولى the first
2 اثنين الثاني\الثانية the second
3 ثلاثة الثالث\الثالثة the third
4 اربعة الرابع\الرابعة the fourth
5 خمسة الخامس\الخامسة the fifth
6 ستة السادس\السادسة the sixth
7 سبعة السابع\السابعة the seventh
8 ثمانبة الثامن\الثامنة the eighth
9 تسعة التاسع\التاسعة the ninth
10 عشرة العاشر\العاشرة the tenth

Now you might realise at this point that though most of the letters fit the فاعل template, not all of them necessarily do. Six, for example, doesn’t and neither does One. But those are pretty much the only two that you need to look out for.


The Difference between Fusha and Levantine

The great thing about ordinal numbers in Fus-ha and Levantine Arabic is that the words themselves are the same in both languages.

Where they  part ways, however, is in terms of pronunciation.

For example, as you will see from the table below,

1. the ث will be changed to a ت

2. and the taa marbuuta ة at the end for the feminine form will be pronounced -ey in Levantine Arabic and ah- in Fus-ha.

Number Arabic mas/fem Fusha mas/fem Levantine mas/fem
First اول\اولى awwal/uula awwal/uula
Second ثاني\ثانية thaani/thaaniya taani/taaniyeh
Third ثالث\ثالثة thaalith/thaalitha taalit/taaliteh
Fourth رابع\رابعة raabi’/raabi’a raabi’3/raabi’a
Fifth خامس\خامسة khaamis/khaamisa khaamis/khaamseh
Sixth سادس\سادسة saadis/saadisa saadis/saadiseh
Seventh سابع\ سابعة saabi’/saabi3a saabi’/saabi’a
Eighth ثامن\ثامنة thaamin/thaaminah taamin/taamneh
Ninth تاسع\تاسعة taasi’/taasi’a taasi’/taasi’eh
Tenth عاشر\عاشرة ‘aashir/’aashira ‘aashir/’aashireh


As Promised – Ordinal Numbers and Your Typical Self-Help Guru

So I’ve taken this video from the Jordanian comedy series N2O Comedy on Youtube called نيكولاس خوري في دع الفشل / nikolas khoury fi da’ alfashl or Nikolas Khoury in Leaving Failure Behind.

To give you some context, the clip is set up as a satirical personal help video, where the comedian, Nikolas Khoury, is acting as a self-help guru dispensing advice on how to be a successful employee.

And so he proceeds to outline individual steps to achieve said success, which more often than not includes brown-nosing the boss, pretending to work late, scheduling email replies at 2 in the morning and all manner of other hijinks and shenanigans.

I personally thought this clip was great because, aside from its utter hilarity (let’s face it, we all know that one person in the office), you can hear exactly how the ordinal numbers are pronounced so that you can say them like a pro next time when you need to.


Step #1

الخطوة الاولى. صاحب المدير / alkhuTwa aluula. SaHib almudeer.

The first step. Friend of the boss.

اعمل البحث. اعرف مديرك ايش بيحب. اعرف هواياته / i’mal albaHth. i’raf mudeerak esh biHibb. i’raf hiwaayatoh.

Do the research. Know your boss, what he likes. Know his hobbies.


Step #2

الحطوة الثانية. كن الرجل المناسب في الوقت المناسب/ alkhotwah attaniyeh. kun alrajul almunasib fi alwaqt almunasib

The second step. Be the right guy at the right time.


Step #3

الخطوة الثالثة. الوقت و الجودة / alkhotwah altaliteh. alwaqt wa aljoodeh

The third step. The time and the quality.


Step #4

الخطوة الرابعة. كن ثعلبا / alkhotwah arrabi’a. kun tha’laban.

The fourth step. Be a fox.

مش بس لازم تخفي فشلك قدام مديرك / mish bas lazim takhfi fashalak gudam mudeerak

You don’t just need to hide your failure in front of your boss.

لازم تخفي فشلك قدام الموظفين / lazim takhfi fashalak gudam almuwaDhafeen

You must hide your failure in front of the employees.


Step #5

الخكوة الخامسة. عليك بالمظهر / alkhotwah alkhaamseh. ‘leik bilmaTh-har.

The fifth step. The appearance is on you.

دائما لازم بتكون لابس بذلة و حامل شنطة سمسونايت / da2man lazim bitkuun labis badleh wa Hamil shanTa samsonite.

Always you must be wearing a suit and carrying a Samsonite bag.


Step #6

الخطوة السادسة. الايميلات ثم الايميلات ثم الايميلات / alkhotwah assadiseh. alemeilaat thumma alemeilaat thumma alemeilaat.

The sixth step. The emails, then the emails, then the emails.


Step #7

تلجا على الخطوة السابعة / tilja2 ‘ala alkhotwa alsabi’a.

You resort to the seventh step.


Step #8

بما ان استقلت و صرت فاضي رح على الخطوة التامنة / bima inna istaqalet wa Surt faDi, roH ‘ala alkhotwa attamneh

SInce you have resigned and have become free, go to the eighth step.

Step #9 and #10 don’t exist for this video, but never fear, you can refer to the table above to find out how they should be pronounced and you’ll be in good hands.

(Hint: Step #9 would be alkhotwah attaasi’a and Step #10 would be alkhotwa al’aashira).

Now not only can you travel to any of the roundabouts in Amman without a problem, you can list and rank anything and everything to your heart’s content.


Which of the circles in Amman have you travelled to? Are there any topics in particular that you would like to request to see written here? If you found this post useful, share it with anyone whom you think would help them out!

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