Hello! How are you? What’s new? (Marhaba! Kayf al-haal? Ma al-jadeed?) مرحبا! كيف الحال؟ ما الجديد؟
If you have read my previous post about introductions and listened to the podcast enclosed with it, you should know how to introduce yourself in Arabic by now. Also, if you’re as passionate about learning a new language as I am, I believe you can’t wait to learn more phrases to enhance your ability to converse with your Arab friends and acquaintances. If that’s the case, you’re in the right place, as this time I’m going to introduce you to more useful phrases that you are likely to ask someone after you have just met them.
The last phrase I discussed last time was asking about someone’s job. After you’ve inquired about your interlocutor’s job, you might want to know where they live, as work and home are two central aspects of every person’s life. As with most other phrases in Arabic, there are several ways to express this simple question in words, but we will continue to focus on the MSA version, which is widely understood by most Arabs. Thus, “Where do you live?” is أين تسكن؟ (Ayna taskun?) to a male and أين تسكنين؟ (Ayna taskuneen?) to a female. However, don’t be surprised if Arabs will ask you something like “Wen saakin?” to a male and “Wen saakina?” to a female, which are used in the ICL version of Arabic and are common conversational replacements of the formal versions that I mentioned above.
It is also useful to know that Arabs do not openly mind being asked about where they live, but they might not be too excited to share with you the name of their neighborhood. For example, if they say they live in the city where you are, but they don’t mention the name of their neighborhood, it means they don’t want to share that particular piece of information with you, so don’t insist! Arabs, especially those who are married and live with their families, are extremely private individuals who value the privacy of their homes and families above anything else, so their reluctance to share the name of their neighborhood is a way of expressing their wish for privacy.
However, if they inquire about your location and you’re a happy resident of your neighborhood, you need to know how to answer such a question. The answer is very simple, as all you need to say is … في (Fee …), which means “In …”. In conversation, this exchange between two people who live in Dubai could be:
أين تسكن؟ (Ayna taskun?) = Where do you live?
.في جميرة (Fee Jumeira) = In Jumeira.
Next, you might want to know if they like it there. Different people have different reasons for living in a particular place, so they will also have different views on their home away from home. “Do you like Dubai?” is a very common question among UAE expats and the locals ask it quite often too, so you need to learn at least two ways of asking this question. First, you might hear هل أعجبتك دبي؟ (Hal a’ajabatak/ik Dubai?), which means “Do you like Dubai?”. The version provided here, a’ajabatak/ik, is the informal one, as the formal version, a’ajabatka/ki, would sound strange in a friendly conversation and would not be of much use to you. Also, as you may have noticed from my previous posts, the ak/ik endings represent the masculine and feminine versions of the phrase in question. Finally, remember that you can skip the question particle “Hal” in informal conversations.
The answer to the question above is quite simple: نعم، أعجبتني (Na’am, a’ajabatni), which means “Yes, I like it”. Please note that the verb in both the question and the answer is in the Past Tense, but this is a common way of asking questions in Arabic about something that the speaker assumes that you have already experienced.
I must also bring to your attention that if you ask about a masculine noun, you must say أعجبك (a’ajabak/ik) instead of أعجبتك (a’ajabatak/ik). For example, “Do you like this place?” would be هل أعجبك هذا المكان؟ (Hal a’ajabak haadha al-makaan?), where مكان (makaan) is masculine. The positive answer is نعم، أعجبني (Na’am, a’ajabani), which means “Yes, I like it” and the negative answer is لا، لم يعجبني (La, lam you’ajibouni), which means “No, I don’t like it”.
In addition to asking about something that the speaker assumes that you have already experienced, there is another way of asking about likes or dislikes in general, which is هل تحب …؟ (Hal toohebb …?) to a male and هل تحبين …؟ (Hal toohebbeen …?) to a female. This question literally means “Do you love …?”, but it is widely used to mean “Do you like …?”. Just remember to skip “Hal” in informal conversations. The positive answer to this question is نعم، أحبه (Na’am, oohebbuhu) if you’re talking about a masculine noun (Yes, I like him/it) or نعم، أحبها (Na’am, oohebbuha) if you’re talking about a feminine noun (Yes, I like her/it). The negative answer is لا، لا أحبه (La, la oohebbuhu) for a masculine noun (No, I don’t like him/it) and لا، لا أحبها (La, la oohebbuha) for a feminine noun (No, I don’t like her/it).
I will now give you a feel for how the formal version of this question differs from the informal version, both in terms of grammar and pronunciation. Thus, the informal version replaces the second لا (la), which means “not”, with ما (ma). Also, “oohebbu”, which means “I like” or “I love”, becomes “ahebb” in the Gulf countries and “bahebb” in Egypt and the Levantine countries. Thus, “No, I don’t like it” becomes لا، ما أحبه/ها (La, ma ahebbah/ahebbha) in Gulf Arabic and (La, ma bahebbu/bahebba) in Levantine Arabic.
Moving away from brain-melting grammar (Phew!), a common topic of conversation in the Arab world is friendship. This topic is even more relevant in a multicultural place like Dubai, where people from literally every country in the world mix and mingle in various settings, including in the workplace, neighborhoods, shopping centers, parties, and all kinds of events. Dubai is a very happening place, so it is quite useful to have a lot of friends involved in different areas of activity.
Therefore, you can expect people to ask you about how many friends you have, where they are from, and how you met them. In formal situations, you will hear questions like: هل لديك أصدقاء هنا؟ (Hal ladaik asdiqa’ hoona?) to a male and (Hal ladaiki asdiqa’ hoona?) to a female, which means “Do you have friends here?”. Depending on your degree of sociability and circumstances, you can choose from two answers: نعم، لدي الكثير من الأصدقاء (Na’am, ladai al-katheer min al-asdiqa’), which means “Yes, I have a lot of friends” or لا، ليس لدي الكثير من الأصدقاء (La, laisa ladai al-katheer min al-asdiqa’), which means “No, I don’t have a lot of friends”.
Now, do you remember how to say “Where are you from?”? If you live in a multicultural place like Dubai, Doha, or Jeddah, people will undoubtedly ask you where your friends are from. That’s certainly one of the first few questions people in Dubai ask when you mention how many friends you have and it’s always exciting to hear about the mix of nationalities in everyone’s pack of friends!
So, if you remember how to say “Where are you from?” (ok, let me help: من أين انت؟ or Min ayna anta/anti?), it will be easy to say “Where is he/she/they from?”, as all you need to do is replace “you” with the corresponding pronoun. Thus, “Where is she from?” will be من أين هي؟ (Min ayna heeya?). Feel free to pick and choose the corresponding pronoun from the chart below (as you will notice, there is an extra number in Arabic, the dual number, in addition to the singular and the plural, and the second and third person plurals have both a masculine and a feminine version):
The phrases discussed in this series can help you to ease your way into a conversation with any Arabic speaker, so now you are ready to get on more personal terms with Arabs from the first time you meet them. Just make sure to practise these phrases by listening to the podcasts enclosed with the articles in this series, including the one below, and by using them with Arabic speakers in the real world. Good luck!
Amalia Costin is a language teacher specializing in English, French, and Arabic. She has a B.A. degree in English and Norwegian, and an M.A. degree in International Affairs from Georgetown University. She is fluent in several languages, but Arabic is her greatest linguistic achievement so far, as it was the hardest one to master. Amalia also has a passion for writing, which she considers to be the best way to share knowledge and debate ideas with people from all over the world.