Arabic Language Blog

Colloquial phrases: Arabic vs. English (2) Posted by on Aug 23, 2021 in Arabic Language, Culture, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

Last week, we started looking at popular English colloquial phrases عبارات عامية and the Arabic equivalent to them, both Standard and spoken Arabic (a rage of dialects). Last week, we looked at the first eight. We’re going to learn the other 8 in today’s post.

Image by aditya_wicak / 3 imageson


*To refresh your memory, you can visit last week’s post to check what colloquial phrases are.


Below, you will find a list of English colloquial phrases and their equivalent in Standard Arabic and Spoken Arabic (Levantine/Syrian Arabic is mostly used), alongside the literal meaning المعنى الحرفي of the Arabic one (if it is translatable and if it’s different from the English one).

*For some phrases, there is one common phrase that is used in most Arabic dialects. Thus, here, I will add أغلب اللهجات  “most dialects” – before the Arabic phrase.


Let’s start with the rest of the colloquial phrases.

*Don’t forget to listen to the audio to learn how each is pronounced.

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Learnt it by heart


الفصحى: حفظته عن ظهر قلب

 I memorised it from the back of a heart :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: حفظته بصم

*The literal meaning here is not translatable but the word “BASim” بصم   if derived from “BASmA” بصمة,  i.e. a “fingerprint”. Therefore, the intended meaning seems to be that the person memorised it something as if it was copied from the source. 

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No way!


الفصحى: مستحيل

 Impossible :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: مو معقول

 not logical :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: عم تمزحي

You’re joking :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: ما عم صدّق

I can’t believe it :المعنى الحرفي

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He missed the boat


الفصحى: ضيَّع الفرصة

 He missed the opportunity :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: ضيّعها/ روّحها على حاله

He missed it on himself :المعنى الحرفي

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Once in a blue moon


الفصحى: نادرة الحدوث

 Rare occurrence :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة المصرية: كل فين وفين

 Every now and then/ from time to time :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: مرة بالعمر

 Once in a lifetime :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة الليبيّة: مرّه في القدّاش

 Once in a how much (while) :المعنى الحرفي

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Add insult to injury


الفصحى: زاد الطين بلّه

To make the clay more wet :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: إجى بدو يكحلها عماها

He wanted to put Kohl* on it, he made it blind :المعنى الحرفي


*Kohl is the traditional Arabic version of “eyeliner”. 

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الفصحى: وقحة

 Rude & direct :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: عينها جقرة

Her eye is Ji2rah :المعنى الحرفي


*I don’t have a literal translation for the word “ji2ra” but the intended meaning is that she’s rude and will look at you in the face without being embarrassed (at what she did, e.g.).


اللهجة السورية: ما بتستحي

She doesn’t get embarrassed :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة الليبيّة: وجهها صحيح

 Her face is intact :المعنى الحرفي

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Being stubborn


الفصحى: يُعَانِدْ

 To get stubborn :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: يركب راسو

To ride his head :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة السورية: يكبّر راسو

To enlarge his head :المعنى الحرفي


اللهجة الليبية: يسكّر راسه

To close his head :المعنى الحرفي

= = = = = = = = = = = 

It slipped my mind


الفصحى: نسيتها تمامًا

I totally forgot it :المعنى الحرفي


اٌغلب اللهجات: راحت عن بالي 

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About the Author: Hanan Ben Nafa

Hi, this is Hanan :) I'm an Arabic linguist. I completed my PhD in Linguistics - 2018. My PhD thesis was entitled Code-switching as an evaluative strategy: identity construction among Arabic-English bilinguals. I'm also a qualified public service translator & interpreter.


  1. Mawien Bol:

    Very nice