Please and thank you (and sorry), part V: please

We wrap up this series on everyday pleasantries (until I think of one I forgot) with the word “please.” There are two roots you should know here.

The first root is فضل (F-Ḍ-L, faḍala), which means “to excel” or “to be in excess” or “to be excellent,” but also has the sense of preferring one thing over another (the form II verb, فضّل or faḍala, means “to prefer”). When you take the verbal noun, فَضل (faḍl), which means “surplus,” “abundance,” or “favor,” you can construct the prepositional phrase مِن فَضلِكَ (min faḍlika), which uses the preposition مِن (“from,” but also some meanings of “by”) and the possessive pronoun كَ (for the masculine singular; use كِ for the feminine singular and كُم for the plural/formal), and which means “please” or, if you want to be precise, something like “by your grace.” Use this when you’re making a polite request. Spoken colloquial Arabic has a slightly different way to mark gender, so you’ll say “min fadlak” to a man and “min fadlik” to a woman.

From فضل or, specifically, its form V derivation تَفَضَّلَ (tafaḍḍala), which means “to be so kind” or “to deign,” we also use the imperative form of the verb, تَفَضَّل (tafaḍḍal, masculine singular; use تَفَضَّلي tafaḍḍalī for feminine singular and تَفَضَّلوا tafaḍḍalū for plural/formal) to mean “please” in the sense of “help yourself.” Use this when you’re offering something to someone, or when you’re trying to be polite in situations such as holding a door open for someone or letting someone go ahead of you; it basically means “be so kind as to accept my offer.”

The second root you should know is لطف (L-Ṭ-F, laṭafa), which means “to be kind.” The verbal noun لُطف (luṭf, “kindness”) can be made into an adverb using a grammatical structure we’ve seen before. The result is لُطفاً (luṭfan), which means “kindly” and can be used in simple requests where you could use “please” and “kindly” interchangeably, for example لُطفاَ أفتَح النافِذة (luṭfan aftaḥ al-nāfidhah) means “please (kindly) open the window.”

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention one other possibility, though it’s less likely you’ll use or encounter it than these other two options. The verb رجو or رجا (rajā), which we’ve seen in a Turkish incarnation (rica), means “to hope,” “to ask (for something),” or even “to plead,” and its verbal noun رجاء (rajāʾ) can be made into an adverb, رجاءً (rajāʾan), that means something like “pleadingly” and can be used in contexts where “please” might be used in English.


Please and thank you (and sorry), part IV: forgive me

Sometimes a simple apology isn’t enough, let alone a simple “pardon me.” At those times you’ll need to talk the language of forgiveness.

The Arabic root that means “forgive” is غفر (GH-F-R, ghafara). There are a couple of other roots that could be used here but we’re sticking with this one because it’s by far the most common and because it gives us a chance to talk about a couple of grammatical items. The first is the imperative form of the verb, for when you say “forgive me” you’re making a grammatical command. Arabic forms the imperative by taking the second person imperfect, which in this case would be تَغفَرُ (taghfaru), dropping the initial consonant, and dropping that last short vowel. If what remains begins with a consonant followed by a short vowel, then that’s the imperative form. If, however, you’re left with a consonant followed directly by another consonant (as we have here), then a short vowel is added at the beginning of the word. Which short vowel depends on the vowels the verb uses in its normal imperfect form, but let’s not go down that road and just say that, for غفر, the imperative form is اِغفَر (ighfar). غفر takes an indirect object with the preposition ل, so “forgive me” translates to اِغفَر لي (ighfar lī). “I forgive you” would be أغفَرُ لَكُم (aghfaru lakum, or laka or laki if you want to use the singular/informal, gender-specific).

“Forgiveness” has a couple of forms, perhaps غَفر (ghafr), مَغفِرة (maghfirah), or غُفران (ghufrān). The one who does the forgiving is the active participle, غافِر (ghāfir), while the one being forgiven is the passive participle, or مَغفور (maghfūr; “to be forgiven” is the passive voice, غُفِرَ ghufira). Forgiveness being frequently tied to religion, there are several religious uses for غفر. For example, one of the 99 Names of God venerated in Islam is الغُفّار (Al-Ghuffār), The All-Forgiving. You might frequently hear the phrase غَفَرَ الله لَنا وَ لَكُم (ghafara Allāh lanā wa lakum), which means “God forgive us and you!” This sentence uses the optative mood, a grammatical mood used in situations where you wish or hope that something might happen (another example would be حَفَظَ الله المَلِك, ḥafaẓa Allāh al-malik, “God save the King!”). Arabic’s optative is simply the perfect (past) tense. The final item of note here is the Istighfār or Astaghfirullāh, the Islamic prayer of forgiveness, which consists of the Form X of غفر, which is استَغفَرَ, in the first-person imperfect, أستَغفِر (astaghfir). The full phrase أستَغفِر الله (astaghfir Allāh), means “I beg forgiveness of God,” and is uttered over and over in this prayer.


Does anybody out there have a favorite hiccup remedy? No particular reason…

“Hiccup” in Arabic, a word I did not know until I thought of it just now, again for no particular reason and certainly not because I am currently convulsing with them, is فَواق (fawāq) or possibly حازوقة (ḥāzūqah) but I think that فَواق is more common. The verb, “to hiccup” or “to have the hiccups” requires the use of a verb we haven’t seen yet, أصابَ (aṣāba), which is a Form IV verb meaning, among other things “to have.” The root of the verb, صوب (ṣawaba), is not commonly used, but means something like “to hit the mark.” In this case we have to use the passive form of أصابَ, which is أُصيبَ (uṣība), which means “to be afflicted”. The full phrase “I have the hiccups” is أُصيبُ بالفَواق (uṣību bil-fawāq), which literally means “I am afflicted with (by) the hiccups.”

Please and thank you (and sorry), part III: excuse me, pardon me

For situations where a milder form of apology is needed, we might say something like “excuse me” or “pardon me.” In Arabic the usual exclamation for a situation like this is something we’ve already encountered: عَفواً (ʿafwan), which is used as a response to شُكراً (shukran), “thank you,” the way we English speakers might say “you’re welcome” or “don’t mention it.” عَفواً is actually more properly used here, to mean “excuse me” or “pardon me,” given that it comes from a root, عَفا (ʿafā), that means “to excuse” or “to pardon.”

There is, however, a second root that can be employed here: عذر (ʿadhara), which means “to excuse” or “to absolve from guilt.” Instead of عَفواً, you could say مَعذَرةً (maʿadharatan) or اعذَرَني (aʿdharanī); the latter uses the first person objective pronoun ending ني. Someone who is excused would be called مَعذور (maʿdhūr).