Arabic Language Blog

Relative pronouns in Spoken Arabic, 2 Posted by on Mar 6, 2020 in Arabic Language, Grammar, Vocabulary

In the first part of this post, we started discussing s subtle aspect of Arabic grammar, and that is that of relative pronouns ضمائر الوصل. To recap, a relative pronoun is a pronoun that follows a noun in order to elaborate on it and add extra information about it. In the second part of the post, we’re going to learn more about the different ways the relative pronoun اللي Elli is used in spoken Arabic.


Image by Omar Elsharawy on

In the last blog, we learnt that the grammatical form of Elli اللي in spoken Arabic doesn’t, unlike its equivalents in Standard Arabic, change whether the nouns it’s adding information to is singular or plural, masculine or feminine.

Below are two other interesting aspects of Elli اللي:

3- Elli اللي is quite general and can be used to any type of nouns (animate or inanimate, things as well as people). Therefore, it is not confined to inanimate objects and things as is the case with “which” in English or to people as is the case with the pronoun “who” and “that”.

The following example illustrates this point further:

البنات اللي كانوا هون

(The girls who were here)

il-banaat  elli  kaan-u  ho:n


4- Again, Elli اللي can also be used to add extra information about places and times without any change in its form. However, there are specific English relative pronouns that can only refer to either a place (e.g. where) or a time (e.g. when).

In the next two examples, Elli is adding information about two different types of nouns; a place “البيت” (the house) and a time “السنه” (the year).

البيت اللي قعدنا فيه

(The house where we stayed)

il-be:t   elli   2aʕad-na   fee-h


السنه اللي سافرنا فيها

 (The year when we travelled)

Is-sineh  elli  saafar-naa  fee-ha


*Finally, learners need to be aware of the relative pronoun ‘that’ when it’s used as a conjunction as in this the example of: “I told him that you’re here” which is another important function of “that” in English. Now, the conjunction “that” is expressed differently in Arabic, using the conjunction Anna أنّ  (MSA) or inna إن / inno إنو in Levantine Arabic.

In the example below (Levantine Arabic),” that you are” becomes “Inn-ak” إنك:

قال إنك هون

(He said that you are here)

and “that they are” becomes “Inn-hum” إنهم:

قالوا إنهم رايحين

(They said that they are leaving)


Based on these examples, we can see that the conjunction إن  in spoken Arabic needs to be conjugated when the main subject of sentence is a attached pronoun – as is in the previous two examples. However, it doesn’t need to be conjugated is when the subject is a (proper) noun, as in this example:

قالوا إنو حمزة رايح

(They said that Hamza is leaving)


Or when the subject is a separate pronoun:

قال إنو إنتَ هون

(He said that you are here)

Thank you شكرًا


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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.