Sometimes when I need to do something else for a little while, I watch Egyptian television, Egyptian discussions, movies, or even TV series (مُسَلْسَلات).

However, instead of getting some creative distraction, my brain usually gets overloaded because I encounter dozens of expressions that I unwillingly pay attention to resulting in getting lost in translation.

For this reason I started to collect expressions in Egyptian Arabic.

What are filler expressions?

These little words don’t really change the meaning of the sentence if you simply disregard them – which is what I would recommend for beginners. Linguists call these words and expressions an expletivefillers. For German speakers: “Füllwörter”.

There is no point in translating these expressions literally, especially if your background is Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. In most cases a filler has a syntactic role only but contributes nothing to meaning. They can also simply “fill” space or time, e.g. in English: so, also, then, hmm, ähm, okay, …

Let’s look at an example in English:

Arabic is, I mean, like, totally easy to learn, you know?

Now delete I mean + like + totally + you know from the example above and you will get a sentence that still makes perfectly sense: Arabic is easy to learn.

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Please note that although they don’t really transport an important information, they do have a function for native speakers. But it takes a long time to get a feeling for these words, to know how and in which situations you could use them.

Three words that are often parts of expressions in Egyptian Arabic

  1. ya3ni/ya’ni (يَعْنِي), literally: he/it means
  2. bass (بَسّ), literally:  just, only, but
  3. ba2a/baqa (بَقْى), literally: to become; or as an adverb: already. It can also convey the meaning of: “…why don’t you…”

Let’s dig deeper…

If you hear the following expressions, try to disregard them. The literal translation won’t help you. Usually they don’t convey any additional information. For this reason I do not give a translation. If you progress you will get a feeling when and how to use them.

Fillers with “ya3ni” (يَعْنِي)

ya3ni Tab3anيَعْنِي طَبْعًا
ya3ni barDoيَعْنِي بَرْضُه
wallaahi, kamaan da ya3niوَاللّهِكَمان دَه يَعْنِي
wakamaan da ba2a ya3niوَكَمان ده بَقْى يَعْني
wana ya3ni-l7a2ii2aوَأَنا يَعْني الحَقِيقة

Fillers with “bass” (بَسّ)

bassi kamaanبَسِّ كَمان
la2! bassi biy2ullakلا! بَسِّ بِيْقُول لَك
bassi Tab3anبَسِّ طَبْعًا

But watch out: The word بَسّ  is not always just a filler.

bass! (it can mean: enough!)بَسّ!
bass! (it can also mean: don’t! in the meaning of: stop that!)بَسّ!
wabass! (meaning: just)وَبَسّ!
2ultilak bass… (meaning: I was just saying…)قُلْت لَك بَسّ

Fillers with “ba2a” (بَقْى)

waba3deen ba2aوَبَعْدِين بَقى
la da yib2a kamaanلا ده يِبْقَى كَمان

Watch out:

bassi ba2a! (meaning: enough! stop!)بَسِّ بّقى!
ghour ba2a! (meaning: go to hell!)غُور بَقى

Other filler expressions

da, ma huwwaدَهما هُو
mainta 3aarif Tab3anما انِنْتَ عارِف طَبْعًا
wa dah, 3ala fikra…وَدَهعَلَى فِكْرة
Sa7i7 el-kalaam daصَحِيح الكَلام دَه
Tabb ma dilwa2tiطَبّ ما دِلْوَقْتِي
dilwa2ti Tab3anدِلْوَقْتِي طَبْعًا
wallaahi! kamaan da ya3niوَللَّهِ! كَمان ده يَعْنِي

NOTE If you know more (also from other Arabic dialects), please feel free to let me know – and I will add them.

photo credit: Image by Soupy Squirrel from Pixabay

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3 comments
  1. My favorite filler: كدا

    Can even be combined with other fillers to fill out awkard moments of silence. You mak a statement … nothing happens, like no reaction, because your listeners are unsure how to react, so you say كدا يعني. Your listeners repond with nodding and exclamations of صحّ كدا and the situation is resolved. Akward moment of silence situation resolved!

    Egyptian Arabic is a very melodious language (or dialect, not going into that). Fillers also serve a role in maintaining the melody of a replication.

  2. egyptian arabic is NOT I repeat NOT arabic – it’s an absolutely rubbish ugly language whereas Arabic is butiful. Remember the Quran is written in the language of the people. Those people did not speak as egyptians do – logically therefore it’s impossible to call egyptian language arabic. you might as well say maltese is maltese arabic.

    1. That’s why it’s called ammiyah. Also it’s taken from Arabic but over time the words get changed to make it easier to say them. In my limited experience Arabs do not speak Fus’ha Arabic

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