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Lesson 1b: Greetings and Names

This lesson assumes you are already familiar with or are learning the Arabic script. If not, check out our free Arabic Alphabet Textbook.

Lesson 1, Part A:
  • Intro
  • Dialogue
Lesson 1, Part B:
Daily Greetings
Call and response greetings
Call and Response Greetings

صَباح الخَير

صَباح النّور
Good morning

مَساء الخَير

مَساء النّور
Good afternoon

Arabic uses fixed greetings that often involve a call and response. In English, the response is usually the same as the initial greeting (eg. “Good morning, Tom.” “Good morning, Sue.”) However, in Arabic, the response often differs from the initial call. The chart above contains two examples of call and response greetings. So if someone says to you, صَباح الخَير “SabaH al-khayr”, the correct response is صَباح النّور “SabaH an-nour”, and not to repeat صَباح الخَير “SabaH al-khayr”. The same holds true for مَساء الخَير “masaa' al-khayr”. The correct response is مَساء النّور “masaa' an-nour”.
مَرحَباً "marHaban" is used just like "Hello" in English. It is said at any time of day and can be used as both call and response.

Informal Formal
مَرحَبا marHaba مَرحَباً marHaban
أهلاً ahlaan أهلاً وَسَهلاً ahlaan wa sahalaan

There are quite a few other Arabic greetings you might come across. They vary by region and also by level of formality. The chart above shows four different ways to say hello in Arabic. For example, أهلاً وَسَهلاً sounds more formal than أهلاً to most speakers. For a more informal way of saying hello, you can remove the 'n' sound on the end of مَرحَباً.


Greetings Quiz

Arabic Names
Many Arabic names come from the Bible and are shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews. The connection to the English version of the name is not always obvious. For example Musa is the Arabic version of Moses.

Muslim Names: One popular set of names for Muslims involves joining the word for slave (abd) عَبد and one of the 99 attributes of God. For example, one of the attributes of God is Gentleness (latiif) لَطيف so "Abd Al-latiif" means "slave of the gentle one".

Christian Names: Christians share many of the same names though they may be more likely to pick a name from the New Testament or, in certain Levantine countries, to use the Western version or a name (Examples: George or Charles).

Parents: Many mothers simply go by "Umm X" where X is the name of their first son or daughter. اُمّ (umm) means mother so they are simply going by the name "Mother of Sarah" if their first daughter is Sarah. The same is true for fathers who, for example, may chose to go by "Abu Ahmad" or "Abu Layla" if Ahmad or Layla is the name of their first son or daughter. You can probably guess that أب (abu) means father.

Examples: Here are some of the names we will be using in our example dialogues:
  • Miriam: مريم - Female (Sister of Moses and the mother of Jesus)
  • Layla: ليلى - Female (Means "night")
  • Yuusif: يوسف‎ - Male (Joseph)
  • Ahmad: أحمد - Male (Comes from the Trilateral Root H-m-d: To Praise)
  • Muhammad: مُحَمَّد‎ - Male (Also comes from the Trilateral Root H-m-d: To Praise)
  • Jamaal: جمال - Male (Comes from the Trilateral Root j-m-l: Beauty)
  • Nuur: نور‎ - Male or Female (Means "light")

Introducing Yourself
You (Masculine and Feminine)
Did you notice that Ahmed said أنتِ when he was talking to Mariam, but Mariam said أنتَ when she was talking to Ahmed? That’s because, similar to ‘He’ and ‘She’ in English, Arabic distinguishes between men and women when addressing a person directly. In other words, Arabic has a masculine and feminine form of the word YOU.

أنتِ أنتَ

My name, your name
One of the basic concepts in Arabic is "Possessive Endings". By adding endings to a noun, you can express possession. In English we would do this by using separate words like "my" or "your".

Let's go over some examples of possessive endings by asking someone what their name is. The Arabic word for name is اِسم (ism) and the possessive ending meaning my/mine is "ii"/ Therefore, "my name" is اِسمي (ismii).

As we just learned in the previous section, Arabic has a different word for 'you' depending on the gender of the person you are speaking to. Similarly, it has different possessive endings depending on whether you are speaking to a man or woman. The masculine possessive ending for "your" is "ka" so "your name" is اِسمُكَ (ismuka) when speaking to a man. The feminine possessive ending for "your" is "ki" so "your name" is اِسمُكِ (ismuki) when speaking to a woman.

This means that the question "What's your name?" changes depending on whether you are talking to a man or a woman. Below are two examples demonstrating this change. Note that while the question differs for a man or a woman, the answer is the same for both.

ما اِسمُكِ؟
ما اِسمُكَ؟
أنا اِسمي مَريم أنا اِسمي أحمَد

These Possessive Endings will be covered in detail in lesson 6 but they are a basic aspect of Arabic grammar. Here is a table with examples for the word kitaab (book) showing you the ending for My and Your (masculine and feminine).

Possessive Endings
mine my book
yours (masc.) your book
yours (fem.) your book


Introductions Quiz

Culture Note
الحَمدُ لِله is a commonly used expression in Arabic, especially when answering the question, “How are you?” Literally it means “thank God”, but it is often added to conversation when talking about something good that has happened or is happening.

Shaking hands and kissing
Shaking hands is a common way to greet a person in the Arab world. People often shake hands every time they see a person. It is also common to shake hands to say good-bye.

A kiss on the cheek is another way to greet someone. The number of kisses can vary from country to country and person to person. It is appropriate and in fact common for a man to greet another man this way. Some women prefer not to shake hands or kiss other men, even if they are friends. For men who are unsure what is appropriate, it may be best to wait until the woman initiates the handshake or kiss.