Arabic Language Blog

Time-related Vocabulary in Colloquial Arabic (Part 1) Posted by on Jun 28, 2017 in Arabic Language, Vocabulary


Prayer times clock

In today’s post, we’re going to learn about an important, everyday subject, that is time. Asking for the time and being able to tell the time is obviously useful for many reasons and it’s one of the basic skills for any language learner.

In order to learn this, I’ve attached a short video below where a group of kids are asking an old man ‘What the time is?’. The video is in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic or what is called المَصْرِيَّه العَامِيَّه Al-masriyy-ah Al-aamiyy-ah and the kids (as you can probably tell) are teasing the man and just joking with him.

As is usually the case, the concept of telling the time is closely related and based on numbers. Therefore, you need to have had learnt numbers before you can actually learn how to tell the time.

How to ask for the time:

In Arabic, it’s not ‘What’s the time’, but actually and literally ‘How much is the time’. So, this can tell you about how differently time is thought of, from an Arabic point of view. Time is thought of in terms of numbers/quantity.  As a result, the answer will be purely made up of numbers. The question word that expresses this notion is:






Kam (Standard Arabic)


Kam is the alternative of the English word ‘how’ combined with the adverb ‘much’= ‘How much?’

So, in order to ask ‘what time is?’, you say:

الساعه كام

Is-saa a  kaam?

What’s the time?



كم الساعه

kam  as-saa a?

What’s the time?


While the first example is used in Egyptian Arabic, the second one is how it is used in Standard Arabic. The difference is in the sentence order – you start with the question word in Standard Arabic – and also the pronunciation kaam # kam & is-saa a # as-saa a .

And finally, here are some time-related phrases are listed here based on the order they appear in, in the video:


الساعة في إيدك كام؟

Is-saa a  f eed-ak  kaam?

What’s the time, according to your watch?


يا عمو

Ya ammu


الساعه كام

Is-saa a  kaam?

What’s the time?


ما تقوله الساعه كام

Ma-t’ull-uh is-ssa a  kaam?

Would you just tell him what time is?!




a bit


تعالى بعد شويه

taaal-a shwayy-ah

Come back after a little while (later)


In the next week post, we’ll learn how to tell the time, both in Standard and colloquial Arabic, see you later in few week for the second part!

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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.