Hey all! Apologies for the hiatus, but now I’m back with a new post. Up till now I’ve focused on phonology and pronunciation, but now I’m going to switch gears and talk about some grammar in Levantine Arabic.

If you’ve had any exposure to Levantine or Egyptian Arabic you may have noticed that verbs often tend to have the letter stuck on the front. It can be a little confusing since Classical Arabic doesn’t do this. But once you know the rules of when to use it, it’s not so bad.

First of all, the b is only stuck on present tense verbs. Past tense verbs can’t receive this b. Second, only indicative verbs take the b, while subjunctive verbs lack it. Modern English no longer has an indicative/subjunctive contrast for verbs, but perhaps it’s more easily understood as “independent” and “dependent” verbs. For example:

بشرب كاسة حليب كل صبح biʃrab kāsit ħalīb kil ṣubᵊħ

“I drink a glass of milk every morning.”

بدي اشرب كاسة حليب biddī ʔiʃrab kāsit ħalīb

“I want to drink a glass of milk.”

In the first sentence, the verb “to drink” is the main verb of the sentence, so it’s independent / indicative and takes a b. But in the second sentence it’s subordinate to “I want” and so it’s dependent / subjunctive and doesn’t take a b.

There are some situations where a main verb won’t take a b. For example:

اعطيك الورقة هلق ولا بعدين؟ ʔaʕṭīk il-waraʔa hallaʔ walā baʕdēn?

“Should I give you the paper now or later?”

In this sentence, the verb “I give” is not really a declaration of fact, but more like an idea or a suggestion. So even though it’s a main verb, it’s considered subjunctive and it doesn’t have a at the start.

Let’s look at some present tense verb conjugations.

Regular Form I verbs:

 

انا بشرب \ اشرب ana biʃrab / iʃrab

 

نحنا منشرب \ نشرب niħnā mniʃrab / niʃrab

 

انت بتشرب \ تشرب inte btiʃrab / tiʃrab

 

انتو بتشربو \ تشربو intu btiʃrabū / tiʃrabū

 

انتي بتشربي \ تشربي inti btiʃrabī / tiʃrabī

 

هو بيشرب \ يشرب huwwe byiʃrab / yiʃrab 

 

هن بيشربو \ يشربو hinne byiʃrabū / yiʃrabū

 

هي بتشرب \ تشربي hiyye btiʃrab / tiʃrab

Notice that the changes to in the 1st person plural “we,” e.g. منشرب mniʃrab This is because the neighboring nasalizes the sound. This feature only exists in Syrian, Lebanese, and some northern Palestinian dialects. Other dialects don’t do this, hence Palestinian بنشرب bniʃrab.

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