How are you?

How are you? = كَيف الحال؟ (kayf al-ḥāl), literally “How is the situation/condition?”

How are you? = كَيف حالُكُم/حالُكَ/حالُكِ؟ (kayf ḥālukum/ḥāluka/ḥāluki), “How is your (formal-plural/masculine/feminine) condition/situation?”

A note on the verb “to be”: Arabic has one (كانَ, kāna), but doesn’t use it in the present tense except in some very rare circumstances. Instead, it is implied or worked around; implied when a definite subject is followed by an indefinite predicate (which can be either nominal or adjectival), worked around when a definite subject is followed by a definite predicate by inserting the appropriate third-person pronoun between them:

هَذا الرَجُلُ مُعَلِّمٌ. (hadhā al-rajulu muʿallimun) = “That man is a teacher.”

هَذا الرَجُلُ هُوَ المُعَلِّمُ. (hadhā al-rajulu huwa al-muʿallimu) = “That man is the teacher.”

Colloquially there are many possibilities and I can only talk about a couple of them. One is the standard كيف حالك؟ but with the colloquial possessive, which is “-ak” or “-ik” (depending on gender), rather than “-ka” or “-ki,” so it sounds like “kayf-ha-lak” rather than “kayf-ha-lu-ka.” Another variant skips “hal” (condition) altogether and just asks “How are you?” or “keefak” (to a male) and “keefik” (to a female). “Kayf” in colloquial can be simplified as “keef.” Another, used primarily in the Khalījī (Gulf) dialect, is ايش لونك؟ (īsh lūnak/lūnik but pronounced “(i)shlo-nak” or “(i)shlo-nach” depending on gender—note the unusual use of a “ch” sound here for the feminine possessive), which literally means “what is your color?”

What’s up? = ما الأمرُ؟ (mā al-amr), literally “what’s the matter?”

What’s new? = ما هِيَ الأخْبارُ؟ (mā hiya al-akhbār), “what’s the news?” (substitute أخْبارُكُم/أخْبارُكَ/أخْبارَكِ akhbārukum/akhbāruka/akhbāruki WITHOUT THE DEFINITE ARTICLE for “what’s your news?”). “Akhbār” is the plural form of khabar, which means “report,” so it’s a bunch of reports, i.e., “the news.”

(A note on plurals: all non-human plural nouns are modified as though they were feminine singular nouns, meaning they take feminine singular form verbs and adjectives and are replaced by feminine singular pronouns.)

A colloquial variant, technically in the Levant (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories) but I heard it used frequently for the brief time I lived in the Gulf, is شو اخبارك؟ (shū akhbārak/akhbārik), meaning “what’s your news?” شو is a Levantine substitute for ما meaning “what.”


Who What Where When Why How

Today we’re going through the question words, as the title suggests.

Who = مَن (man); “Who is it?” = مَن هُوَ؟ (man huwa).

What = ما (mā); “What is it?” = ما هُوَ؟ (mā huwa). Note that this is Modern Standard Arabic. I can’t speak to colloquial Arabic except in my limited personal experience, so I can say that you’ll encounter شو (shū) instead of mā, heavily in Lebanon but also frequently in other places.

Where = أينَ (ayna); “Where is it?” = أينَ هُوَ؟ (ayna huwa).

When = مَتى (matá) or عِندَما (ʿindamā); “When are you going?” = مَتى تَذْهَب؟ (matá tadhhab).

Why = لِماذا (limādhā); “Why are you going?” = لِماذا تَذْهَب؟ (limādhā tadhhab).

How = كَيف (kayf); “How are you?” = كَيف حالُكُم (kayf hālukum).

Because it’s cold season

This enterprise is “word a day” in an aspirational sense only, but if you want to know what’s causing me grief just now…

عِندي رَشْح (ʿindī rashḥ) means “I have a cold”

Other variations:

لَدَيكَ رَشْح (ladayka rashḥ) “You (masculine) have a cold”

عِندَكِ بَرْد (ʿindaki bard) “You (feminine) have a cold”

لَدَيهُ بَرْد (ladayhu bard) “He has a cold”

عِندَها زُكام (ʿindahā zukām) “She has a cold”

لَدَينا زُكام (ladaynā zukām) “We have a cold”

عِندَكُم رَشْح (ʿindakum rashḥ) “You (plural, all male or mixed) have a cold”

لَدَيكُنَّ بَرْد (ladaykunna bard) “You (plural, all female) have a cold”

عِندَهُم زُكام (ʿindahum zukām) “They (all male or mixed) have a cold”

لَدَيهُنَّ رَشْح (ladayhunna rashḥ) “They (all female) have a cold”

عِندَكُما بَرْد (ʿindakumā bard) “You (dual) have a cold”

لَدَيهُما زُكام (ladayhumā zukām) “They (dual) have a cold”

Time for a lesson, unfortunately. Arabic essentially lacks a verb of possession. Constructs like “I have X” are created with a phrase that literally translates as “To me (or near me) is (belongs) X” (there’s also no verb for “is,” but we’ll get to that in a couple of days). There are several prepositions that can accomplish this: one, مَع (maʿ), really means “with” and doesn’t apply to something more abstract like “having” a cold, and another, لِ (li, which attaches to the word that comes after it), mainly is used for personal relationships, abstract concepts, and to express “belonging to” as intention rather than fact (something may “belong to me” yet I may not actually possess it). The two that I’ve used above are عِنْد (ʿind) and لَدى (ladá, becomes laday when attached to a pronoun), to which I’ve added each of the pronoun suffixes above (possessive/objective pronouns are suffixes in Arabic). These are somewhat synonymous but ladá is less common and means only something that is on or about one’s person, whereas ʿind signifies possession whether the thing is present or not.

As far as the options for “cold” are concerned, rashḥ comes from a verb that can mean “to leak, sweat, secrete,” so its connection to a cold should be clear if a little gross. Bard comes from the verb meaning “to be or become cold,” so it’s a full translation of the English but also retains the ambiguity of our word “cold.” Zukām comes from the passive verb (more on those at a future date) زُكِمَ (zukima), which means “to catch a cold,” so it’s the most literally accurate of the three possibilities but also the one you’re least likely to encounter.

Also, for those who didn’t get their shots this year, “flu” is إنْفْلُوِنْزا (influwinzā).

Also also, yes, Arabic has a special dual form. Let’s ignore it for now.