Yemeni Arabic Dialect Crash Course

Update 9/23/2019: I have added a resource to Alefbaa below, an on-line Arabic school that I look forward to checking out.

I didn't realize that this little blog post would be read, but it seems that it has found some readers, and I am very grateful. Every few months, someone reaches out to me about this blog post and how it was one of the few resources they found.

I am saddened that 4 years after I wrote this, Yemen has seemingly disappeared from our minds and the news. There is very little information about its culture and many dialects on the internet (in English...though having Googled around a little in fus7a, it's fairly sparse in Arabic as well) and it does not show up as newsworthy in the West. A forgotten country.

I hope we can all take some time out of our busy days to reflect on the thousands of years of lost culture, traditions, arts, and stories whenever there is war and famine. Not to mention, the lives and futures cut prematurely.

Update 9/25/2019: Thank you to Ameen via Twitter for finding some typos here and there!

I know my blog focuses on technical things but when I was looking up the Yemeni dialects, there were so few sources on the internet that I wanted to have my notes available just in case there are others in my position in the future.

About this Post

This post is simply to just get you going with a Yemeni speaker and will be a mish-mash of commonly heard bits of the different Yemeni dialects ( لهجة ). I'll try to denote, when I can, the region that a word or grammar rule is used.

These are my notes and they assume the reader to have a working understanding of fus7a (modern standard Arabic). Also, I am not a linguist nor am I trying to be one. A lot of these notes are from phone call with a friend who had lived in Yemen for over a year. I have added to it with other sources found on the internet. I will repeat this--these are notes taken from a one-hour crash course given to me by a non-Yemeni friend as well as a lot of Googling on my part. It is very possible that I got some things wrong and this post is by no way comprehensive.

About Yemeni Arabic

Wikipedia gives a good overview on the regional dialects.

The good thing is that Yemeni Arabic is very similar to MSA--it is one of the more conservative dialect clusters. That said, there are still some very distinct words and characteristics not found elsewhere.

Because it is very similar to fus7a, conjugations for past and present are basically the same in Yemeni. Pronoun suffixes are also the same.

Pronunciation Notes

For the post--

ai: the 'ie' sound in 'lie'
ay: the 'ay' sound in 'clay'

Yemeni Arabic pronunciation--

The ق is pronounced with a hard 'G' (چ), similar to the Egyptian pronunciation of ج.
It seems to be mostly a northern habit (Sana'a).

Interrogative/Question Words

English Yemeni Arabic Pronunciation Notes/Usage
What أَيشْ
mah (same as fus7a)
أيش في؟ - what's the matter?
أيش من جديد؟ - what's up?/what's new?
Why لَيشْ lay-sh ليش هنا؟ - Why here?
When أيَّ حَين ai-ya-hayn The fus7a version متى will also be understood.
Where فَين fayn ex. فين مدينتك في اليمن؟ - Where is your city in Yemen?
How? كيف kay-fa Same as fus7a
How many? كم kam Same as fus7a
Yes-no questions هل hal Same as fus7a
"Do you understand?" شُوف sh-oo-f Very similar to the Saudi dialect, this is more used as an interjection word in conversations similar to the English "ya know?".


حق + pronoun
Regular fus7a possession will be understood, but in Yemeni, the pronouns will often be tagged onto an extra word - حق.
Yemeni example: هذا قلم حقي/حقك؟
Fus7a equivalent: هذا قلمي/قلمك؟

مع + pronoun
Shows possession.
English translation: You have a pen.
Yemeni example: معك قلم
Fus7a example: عندك قلم

Common Verbs

English Yemeni Arabic Pronunciation Notes/Usage
to give أَدَّى، يَدّي a-d-ah, ya-dee أديتُ" (pronunciation: ah-d-ai-tu) - "I gave"
to want إِشْتي، يِشْتي ish-tee, y-ish-tee Instead of using راد, people express want using إستي
تستي ماكُلات؟ - Do you (male) want to eat?
conjugation notes: انتِ - تشتين
to know دري، يدري di-ree, yid-ree مِدْري, with a shortened ما means "I don't know."
to go راح، يَرُحْ r-ah, ya-roo-h conjugation notes: انا - اروح
ex. فين تَروح؟ - "Where are you going?"

Future Tense Conjugation for Verbs

There are a few different ways to denote future tense.

The regular fus7a method is used: سوف + المضارع

  1. ش + المضارع (more common in Ta'izzi-Adeni)
  2. ب + المضارع
    Often times there'll be a ش or ب tacked onto a verb in the present tense form to denote future. Same way that we would start future tense verbs with س in MSA. Unsure about the prevalence of using ب but it seems the use of ش is common.


لا\ما + المضارع + ش
There seems to be regular usage of negation that we see in MSA (لا) but then there's this extra ش that gets tacked onto the end, same sound as what is used in the future tense.
Examples: لا عرفِش - I don't know. لا أفهمِش - I don't understand.

مِش... - not
Example: انا مش يمنية - I am not Yemeni
This is seen in a lot of other Arabic dialects.

Other Words and Phrases

English Yemeni Arabic
tomorrow بُكَرة
money زِلتْ
no/not mine (when answering a question) ما شي
This is a bit confusing because in MSA this means 'once' or 'time'. But in Yemeni, this can also mean the same as جد١
because/in order to علشان
there is (when used in the beginning of a sentence) ف + الجملة
we اِحْنا
the local Yemeni dialect لَحْجة
I don't like... لا أُحبِش...
I don't know (but pertaining to the future, usually when answering a question, as denoted by ب ) ما بعرش

Some More About This Post

I wanted to learn a little bit of Yemeni Arabic because I recently got matched with a Yemeni refugee through Refugee Transitions, an awesome little NGO that connects volunteers in SF to newly arrived refugees. Volunteers mostly serve as English tutors and also help refugees with everything from reading mail to finding jobs.

I was told that the refugee I was placed with speaks very little fus7a (the lingua-franca of the Arab world and what I learned in college), is illiterate in Arabic, and only knows the English alphabet so far.

...sounds like a challenge!

From what I know (I haven't met her yet), I think the best way to increase communication is to pick up the Yemeni dialect. So, I asked a dear friend of mine for a crash course and that's how you have this post!

Spot an error?

Did you spot an error? Did I miss something big? Do let me know!!