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20 Common Arabic Idiomatic Expressions Posted by on Feb 15, 2018 in Language, Vocabulary

Like most world languages, Arabic has idiomatic expressions تَعْبِيْرَات اِصْطِلاحِيَّة that cannot be understood literally; therefore, they are a source of difficulty for both native- and non-native-speakers. Even if one knows the meaning of individual words in the expression, the meaning of the phrase can still be confusing. This post includes 20 common such expressions which are use in both Standard and most Colloquial dialects of Arabic.

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1)  فَار دَمَّي / دَمُّه ‘faar damm-ii / damm-uh’

Literally, it means: فَار ‘boiled’, دَمَّي ‘my blood’, دَمُّه ‘his blood’

Idiomatically, it means ‘I/he became extremely angry.’

Example:

سِمِعْتُه يَكْذِب فَـفَار دَمِّي ‘simi‘tu-h ya-kdhib fa-faar dammi’—I heard him lying, so I became so furious.

2)  لا حَوْلَ لَهُ ولا قُوَّة ‘laa Hawla lahu wala quuah’

Literally, it means: لا ‘no’, حَوْلَ ‘ability/skill’ لَهُ ‘for him’ وَلا ‘and no’ قُوَّة ‘strength’

Idiomatically, it means ‘he has no power / is powerless or incapable’

Example:

سَلِيْم لا حَوْلَ لَه ولا قُوَّة. اِطْلِب مِن مَحَمَّد! ‘saliim laa Hawla la-h wa laa quuah. iTlib min mHmad’—Salim is helpless ask Mohammed for help.

3)  عَلَى حسَابِي / حِسَابُه / حِسَابِه ‘ ‘alaa Hisaab-ii / Hisaab-uh (Hisaab-ih)’

Literally, it means: عَلَى ‘on’, حِسَابِي ‘my account’, حِسَابُه ‘his account’

Idiomatically, it means ‘on me/him or I/he will pay.’

Example:

وَاللهِ مَا تِدْفَع رِيَال، عَلَى حِسَابِي! ‘wallahi maa tidfa‘ riyal’—I swear you are not paying a penny, it’s on me!

4)  طَوِيْل لِسَان ‘Tawiil lisaan’

Literally, it means طَوِيْل ‘long’, لِسَان ‘tongue’

Idiomatically, it means ‘he’s vulgar/abusive.’

Example:

هَذِه البِنْت طَوِيْلَة لِسَان ‘hadhihi al-bint Tawiilat lisaan’—This young woman is vulgar.

5)  ضَرْبَة مِعَلَّم / مُعَلِّم ‘DHarbat mi‘allim (mu‘allim)’

Literally, it means ضَرْبَة ‘hit/strike’, مِعَلِّم ‘expert’

Idiomatically, it means ‘a well-done job’

Example:

مُمْتَاز يَا سَلِيم، ضَرْبَة مِعَلِّم! ‘mumtaaz yaa saliim, DHarbat mi‘alim!’—Excellent Salim! It is done perfectly.

6)  طَار عَقْلُه ‘Taar ‘aql-uh’

Literally, it means طَار ‘few’, عَقْلُه ‘his mind/brain’

Idiomatically, it means ‘he become mad / lost his mind’

Example:

بَسَبَب المَشَاكِل، طَار عَقْل سَلِيم  ‘bi-sabab al-mashaakil Taar ‘aql saliim’—Due to problems, Salim lost his mind.

7)  شِدّ (شُدّ) حِيْلَك ‘shidd Hiilak’

Literally, it means شِدّ ‘tighten’ حِيْل ‘strength / force’

Idiomatically, it means ‘be patient / don’t give up / work hard’

Example:

عِنْدِي اِمْتِحَانَات. شِدّ حِيْلك! ‘ ‘indii imtiHaanat. shidd Hiila-k’—I have exams. Work hard!

8)  رَأس عَلَى عَقِب ‘r’as ‘alaa ‘aqib’

Literally, it mean رأس ‘head’ عَلَى ‘on/over’ عَقِب ‘heel’

Idiomatically, it means ‘became completely the opposite’

Example:

بَعْد الزَّوَاج، اِنْقَلَب سَعِيْد رَأس عَلَى عَقِب ‘ba‘d aZ-zawaj inqilab sa‘iid r’as  ‘alaa ‘aqib’—After marriage, Saeed became completely the opposite.

9)  سَمْن عَلَى عَسَل ‘samn ‘alaa ‘asal’

Literally, it means سَمْن ‘butterfat/ghee’ عَلَى ‘on/over’ عَسَل ‘honey’

Idiomatically, it means ‘fully compatible/harmonious’

Example:

سَالِي وَسَالِم سَمْن عَلَى عَسَل ‘sally wa saalim samn ‘alaa ‘asl’—Sally and Salim are really compatible.

10)  خَفِيْف دَمّ ‘khafiif damm’

Literally, it means خَفِيف ‘light/no heavy’ دَمّ ‘blood’

Idiomatically, it means ‘funny/have sense of humor’

Example:

أَنْتَ خَفِيْف دَم زِيَادَة ‘anta khafiif damm ziiyadah’—You’re very funny.

11)  ثَقِيْل دَم ‘THaqeel damm’

Literally it means ثَقِيْل ‘heavy’, دَمّ ‘blood’

Idiomatically, it means ‘boring/have no sense of humor’

Example:

خَالِد ثَقِيْل دَم ‘khalid THaqiil damm’—Khalid is boring.

12)  إِلَى مَا شَاء الله ‘ilaa maa shaa allah’

Literally, it means إِلَى ‘to’ مَا ‘whatever’ شَاء ‘destined’ الله ‘Allah’

Idiomatically, it means ‘forever/everlastingly’

Example:

لَنْ تَسْتَمِر الحَرَب إِلَى مَا شَاء الله ‘an tastamir al-Harb ilaa maa shaa allah’—The war won’t last forever.

13)  تَحْت أَمْرَك ‘that amra-k’

Literally, it means تَحْتَ ‘under’ أَمْرَك ‘your command’

Idiomatically, it means ‘(I’m) at your service’, ‘I would be glad to give you a hand’

Example:

أَنَا تَحْت أَمْرَك يَا رَيَّس / رَئيْس ‘anaa taHt amra-k yaa rayyis’—I’m a your service Mr. President.

14)  لُقْمَة العَيْش ‘luqmat al-‘aysh’

Literally, it means لُقْمَة ‘a bite of food’ العَيْش ‘the life/living’

Idiomatically, it means ‘one’s livelihood’

Example:

اِعْمَلْ يَا صَح! كَي تَحْصُل عَلَى لُقْمَة العَيْش ‘i‘mal yaa SaaH! Kay taHSul ‘alaa luqmat al-‘aysh’—Work dude! So that you can earn your livelihood.

15)  آخِر صَيْحَة ‘aakhir SayHah’

Literally, it means آخِر ‘last’ صَيْحَة ‘cry/scream’

Idiomatically, it means ‘a la mode/very up-to-date’

Example:

هَذَا التَّلِفُون آخِر صَيْحَة ‘haadha at-tilifuun aakhir SayHah’—This phone is the latest.

16)  بنْتَ الحَلال ‘bint al-Halaal’

Literally, it means بِنْت ‘girl/young woman’ الحَلال ‘the legal/lawful’

Idiomatically, it means ‘the wife’

Example:

أَنَا أَبْحَث عَن بِنْت الحَلال هَذِهِ الأَيَام ‘anaa abHaTH ‘an bint al-Halaal hadhihi al-ayyam’—I am looking for a wife these days.

17)  مَا بِاليَد حِيْلَة ‘maa bi-al-yadd Hiilah’

Literally, it means مَا ‘no’ بِاليَد ‘in hand’ حِيْلَة ‘tick’

Idiomatically, it means ‘helpless/unable to help’

Example:

أُرِيْد مُسَاعَدَتَك، لَكِن مَا بِاليَد حِيْلَة ‘uriidu musaa‘adat-k, laakin maa bi-lyad Hiilah’—I want to give you a hand, but I am not in a position to do so.

18)  صَاحِب وَجْهَين ‘SaaHib wajhayn’

Literally, it means صَاحِب ‘owner of’ وَجْهَيْن ‘two faces’

Idiomatically, it means ‘hypocrite’

Example:

جُوْن صَاحِب وَجْهَيْن، لا تُصَدِّقه ‘john SaaHib wajhayn, laa tuSaddiq-h’—John is a hypocrite, don’t believe him.

19)  اِسْتَعْرَض عَضَلاتُه / عَضَلاتِه ‘ista‘raDH ‘aDHlaat-uh (‘aDHlaat-ih’

Literally, it means اِسْتَعْرَض ‘displayed’ عَضَلاتُه ‘his muscles’

Idiomatically, it means ‘showed his strength’

Example:

السِّعُودِيَّة تَسْتَعْرِض عَضَلاتَها فِي اليَمَن، لكن بِدُون فَائِدة ‘aS-s‘uudiiyah tasta‘riDH ‘aDHlaatah fii al-yemen, laakin bi-duun faa’idah’—Saudi display its sheer force in Yemen but in vain.

20)  بِشِق الأَنْفُس bi-shiq al-anfus’

Literally, it means بِشِق ‘with dissection/cracking’ الأَنْفُس ‘the souls’—with dissection of the souls

Idiomatically, it means ‘with great effort/difficulty’

Example:

رِيَال مَدْرِيد فَازَ بِشِق الأَنْفُس ‘riyal madriid faza bi-shiq al-anfus’—Real Madrid barely won.

The pronoun affixes in these expressions can be changed according to the persons we are talking to/about. For example, in (4) طَوِيْل لِسَان is for masculine singular and طَوِيْلَة لٍسَان (i.e. with the feminine marker ـة) is for feminine singular. Likewise, in (6) طَار عَقْلُه is for masculine singular, and to make it for feminine singular we replace ـه in عَقْلُه with هـا to become عَقْلَها for feminine singular or with ـي for first person singular عَقْلِي, hence طَار عَقْلِي ‘I lost my mind!’ and so forth.

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About the Author:Ibnulyemen اِبْنُ اليَمَن

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. To learn more, you can also visit my website Ibnulyemen Arabic or my facebook page.


Comments:

  1. Joseph cheeseborough:

    Please help me learn the Arabic language