FAQs



If there's a moral to draw from this story, the answer to FAQ #1 is both yes and no.

Yes, Kuwaiti Arabic is a dialect of the Modern Standard Arabic found on the news and in al-quraan. But speak MSA to someone in Kuwait and you may sound like the Queen, Shakespeare or a disconcerting blend of both.

No, Kuwaiti Arabic is not a type of Arabic that you can use anywhere in the Arab world. The vocabulary, pronunciation and even the grammar of Kuwaiti Arabic would make little sense to any Arabic speaker outside of the Gulf region. Speak Kuwaiti to a Sudanese or Tunisian Arabic speaker and watch their expression go perfectly blank.

If however, you wish to speak with Kuwaitis, or members of any of the other GCC Countries (UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain) follow this blog, there's something here for you.




If by "funny" you mean "why do English transliterations of Arabic words sometimes include the numbers 2, 3, 7 and 9?" a first-timer has every right to be confused.

To cut a long story short, there are certain letters in Arabic that have no translation into English.

Take for example the Arabic letter ح. The closest translation of this letter might be a 'h' in English, but in reality, this letter sounds less like an 'h' and more like a deep-throated exhalation (think Cave of Wonders in Disney's Aladdin). In English, there is simply no letter that accurately represents that sound, and lousy metaphors drawn from animated movies just won't do.

So how do you write ح in English when there is no equivalent? A solution has been offered by Arab speakers wishing to write their language with the Western alphabet: replace ح with the number 7. 

So the word for "hot" (which is حار) is transliterated in English to 7aar.

And the word for "break" (which is إستريح) is transliterated in English to istirii7.

In the table below, you can learn the rest of the replacements for the seven Arabic letters that don't exist in English. Listen to the audio so you can become acquainted with how the numbers sound.


Arabic
English transliteration
Sounds a bit like
Audio

ح
7
h
ص
9
s
ض
'9
d
ط
6
t
ظ
'6
dh
ع
3
a gutteral sound
ء
2
a slight pause






In Kuwaiti Word A Day posts, you'll often see a series of mysterious symbols like (m) and (>f) which at first glance probably don't mean that much. So let me explain. 

Arabic has different ways of writing a word depending on whether it is masculine, feminine or plural.

For example, the Arabic word for "ready" can be written three ways:

jaahiz       if it is describing to a male or masculine object (m)
jaahzah    if it is describing a female or female object (f)
jaahziin    if it describing a plural such as people or objects (pl)

So whenever you see the symbols (m), (f) and (pl) they are simply a means of telling you whether a word is masculine, feminine or plural.

There are also different ways of writing a word in Arabic if that word is directed at a male, a female or a group of people.

For example, if you are asking someone "how are you?" there are three ways to express it:

shlawn-ik      when you are asking a man (abbreviated to >m)
shlawn-ich     when you are asking a woman (abbreviated to >f)
shlawn-kum  when you are asking a group of people (abbreviated to >pl) 

So whenever you see the symbols (>m), (>f) and (>pl) they are simply a means of telling you whether a word is being directed at a male, a female or a plural such as a group of people.




Most of us have learned joined-up handwriting at school, but when you write on a computer using a Western alphabet, the letters rarely link together unless you use a fancy font like Brush Script MT.

But the only way Arabic is written is by joining up all the letters. It doesn't matter whether you're writing Arabic using a pencil, a smart phone or a computer - Arabic is always cursive. And the letters do more than just link up. They change shape, and sometimes quite dramatically.

Every letter has four shapes, depending on where they fall in a word. Here's how the letter ح is written when it's on its own as a single letter, and when it falls at the beginning, middle and end of a word.

Initial shape
Medial shape
Final shape
Separate
حـ
ـحـ
ـح
ح

At first, this all may seem quite complicated, and for a while you may be reading Arabic words very slowly (from right to left of course) but since certain words keep cropping up, you'll get used to their different forms quite quickly.

Here's a link to the Arabic Alphabet and the four shapes of each letter, which you can use as a reference whenever you get stuck.





An important thing to note about Kuwaiti Word a Day is that the English transliterations are EXACTLY how the word is spelled in Arabic.

Take the word "yalla" as an example, meaning "hurry up!"

"yalla" is a common spelling based on how the Arabic word sounds in English, but you couldn't use "yalla" as a guide for how to spell the word accurately using the Arabic alphabet. The literal, letter-for-letter transliteration of يا الله is actually ya aall-ahSo that's how you'll see this word appear in Kuwaiti Word a Day.

Another example is the popular name "Fatima." Not only does it have a bunch of variations as to how it's spelled in English ("Fatma," "Fatemeh," "Fadimah", "Fatemah" etc.) but they are all inaccurate transliterations of the Arabic فاطمة.  When this name is literally translated from Arabic using a Western alphabet, it looks like this: faa6mah.

This method of translating words letter-for-letter from Arabic is designed to help you learn how to read and write in Arabic more quickly.

There's only one exception to this rule: one of the blog authors detests the literal translation of his Arabic name into English so much that we've agreed to keep the English misspelling. So Theyab (which when transliterated accurately from ذياب is spelt dhiyaab) will remain as Theyab.




There is only one word for "the" in written Arabic which is ال or al when transliterated into English.

However, in spoken Arabic, there are a few exceptions to this rule. When nouns begin with the following letters (known as "Sun Letters") the of the word al is replaced with that letter, too. 


Arabic
ت
ث
د
ذ
ر
ز
س
ش
ص
ض
ط
ظ
ل
ن
English transliteration
t
th
d
dh
r
z
s
sh
9
6
l
n

Check out the following posts for more examples:


an-naf6
ash-sha3aar
a9-9awt




This "squiggle" is called a shaddah or  شَدَّة. When it hovers directly over an Arabic consonant, it means that consonant should be doubled, both in spelling and when pronounced aloud.



 حمَّام 
7ammaam bathroom

 رُمَّان 
rummaan pomegranates

In these examples, you can also see other lines hovering over the letters. In the first example there's a short flat line above the shaddah and in the second example there's the same thing and what appears to be a bow between the first two letters.

These are the short vowels, called '9ammah, kasrah and fat7ah respectively.



small curl placed above a letter
9ammah
u

small diagonal line placed below a letter
kasrah
i

small diagonal line placed above a letter
fat7ah
a


Don't worry too much about these short vowels. They are rarely ever written down, not in Arabic newspapers, nor street signs, emails or any other written communication. What you're going to see most often are Arabic words written with consonants and long vowels, which will be explained below in FAQ #8.

Although short vowels won't be included in any words written in Arabic on Kuwaiti Word a Day, they will be included in all the English transliterations to help you pronounce the words properly.




In FAQ #7, we learned that the three Arabic short vowels are "u," "i" and "a" and are represented by small symbols above or below the main letters that are sometimes written down, and sometimes omitted altogether.

There are also three Arabic longer vowel sounds, "uu," "ii" and "aa" which are represented by the letters و (waaw), ي (yaa) and ا (alif). Check out this link to the Arabic Alphabet to see these and the other letters in context.

So what happened to the English vowels "e" and "o"?

Aside from cropping up in the phonetic transcriptions in the audio files, these letters packed their bags many centuries ago and moved closer to Anglo shores.