Verb tenses in Egyptian Arabic

* What I've labeled here as the present continuous tense is frequently used in the same way as the simple present tense in English; I've used the "simple present" and "present continuous" labels here merely for purposes of simplicity.

The past tense

For the appropriate verb conjugations, see the perfect (الماضي) conjugations here. Usage of the past tense in Egyptian Arabic is fairly simple; you use it much as you would in English.

السنة اللي فاتت رحنا اسكندرية وقعدنا هناك شهر (is-sana lli faatit roHna skenderiyya wa-'a3adna hnaak šahr)
Last year we went to Alexandria and stayed there for a month.

امبارح كلمت بابايا في التليفون (imbaariH kallemte babaaya fet-telefoon)
Yesterday I talked to my dad on the phone.

The past tense is negated by adding the prefix ما and the suffix ـش to the beginning and end of the verb. Here's an example, using the verb عمل - يعمل (3amal - yi3mel), "to do/make."

 Past tenseNegated past tense
أنا (ana) Iعملت (3amalt)ماعملتش (ma3amalteš)
انت (enta) you masc.عملت (3amalt)ماعملتش (ma3amalteš)
انتي (enti) you fem.عملتي (3amalti)ماعملتيش (ma3amaltiiš)
هو (howwa) heعمل (3amal)ماعملس (ma3amalš)
هي (heyya) sheعملت (3amlit)ماعملتش (ma3amlitš)
احنا (eHna) weعملنا (3amalna)ماعملناش (ma3amalnaaš)
انتو (entu) you pl.عملتوا (3amaltu)ماعملتوش (ma3amaltuuš)
هم (homma) theyعملوا (3amalu)ماعملوش (ma3amaluuš)

Note that with the first-person and second-person masculine conjugations, a "helping vowel" is added before the final ـش. A three-consonant cluster (like "ma3amaltš") is not allowed in Egyptian Arabic, so a vowel is added to make "ma3amalteš." Also note that with weak and geminate/doubled verbs with a long -ei sound in the first- and second-person conjugations, the long -ei is shortened to a short -i sound for the negation. See the following example for the verb نسي - ينسى (nisi - yinsa), "to forget."

 Past tenseNegated past tense
أنا (ana) Iنسيت (niseit)مانسيتش (mansitš)
انت (enta) you masc.نسيت (niseit)مانسيتش (mansitš)
انتي (enti) you fem.نسيتي (niseiti)مانسيتيش (mansitiiš)
هو (howwa) heنسي (nisi)مانساش (manasaaš)
هي (heyya) sheنسيت (nisyit)مانسيتش (manisyitš/manasatš)
احنا (eHna) weنسينا (niseina)مانسناش (mansinaaš)
انتو (entu) you pl.نسيتوا (niseitu)مانستوش (mansituuš)
هم (homma) theyنسيوا (nisyu)مانسيوش (manisyuuš)

Another example, with مشي - يمشي (miši - yimši), "to go/leave":
 Past tenseNegated past tense
أنا (ana) Iمشيت (mišeit)مامشيتش (mamšitš)
انت (enta) you masc.مشيت (mišeit)مامشيتش (mamšitš)
انتي (enti) you fem.مشيتي (mišeiti)مامشيتيش (mamšitiiš)
هو (howwa) heمشي (miši)مامشيش (mamšiš)
هي (heyya) sheمشيت (mišyit)مامشيتش (mamišyitš)
احنا (eHna) weمشينا (mišeina)مامشيناش (mamšinaaš)
انتو (entu) you pl.مشيتوا (mišeitu)مامشيتوش (mamšituuš)
هم (homma) theyمشيوا (mišyu)مامشيوش (mamišyuuš)

A simple example of negated past tense:

للأسف ماقدرتش آجي عشان كنت عيانة (lil-asaf ma'dirteš aagi 3ašaan kunte 3ayyaana)
Unfortunately, I couldn't come because I was sick.

You can also say عمري ما followed by the perfect (الماضي) conjugation of a verb to say that you've never done that in your life.

عمري ماقريت حاجة زي كده (3omri ma'areit Haaga zayye kida)
I've never read anything like this.

عمره ماعمل ولا هيعمل حاجة مفيدة للناس (3omru ma3amal wala haya3mel Haaga mufiida lin-naas)
He never has done anything useful for people, and he never will.

عمري ماشفت أغبى من كده (3omri mašoft aġba min kida)
I've never seen anything stupider than this.

The simple present tense

For the appropriate verb conjugations, see the imperfect (المضارع) conjugations here. The simple present tense is rarely used in Egyptian Arabic outside a few set situations.

It is used to ask somebody if they would like to do something.

تشرب ايه؟ (tišrab eih?)
What would you like to drink?

It is used with modals and words like عشان and عايز.

ممكن تقول لي فين ميدان التحرير؟ (mumkin ti'olli fein midaan it-taHriir?)
Can you tell me where Tahrir Square is?

يمكن أشتري عربية بعد ما ابتدى شغلي الجديد (yemkin ašteri 3arabiyya ba3de ma abtidi šoġli g-gediid)
I might buy a car after I start my new job.

عايزة أتعلم عربي علشان أقدر أتكلم مع جدي (3ayza at3allem 3arabi 3alašaan a'dar atkallem ma3a giddi)
I want to learn Arabic so I can talk with my grandfather.

The present continuous tense

In Egyptian Arabic, when you talk about anything happening in the present, you usually need to add a b- prefex to the imperfect verb conjugations. Here's an example, again using عمل - يعمل.

 Imperfect verbPresent continuous tense
أنا (ana) Iأعمل (a3mel)بعمل (ba3mel)
انت (enta) you masc.تعمل (ti3mel)بتعمل (biti3mel)
انتي (enti) you fem.تعملي (ti3meli)بتعملي (biti3meli)
هو (howwa) heيعمل (yi3mel)بيعمل (biyi3mel)
هي (heyya) sheتعمل (ti3mel)بتعمل (biti3mel)
احنا (eHna) weنعمل (ni3mel)بنعمل (bini3mel)
انتو (entu) you pl.تعملوا (ti3melu)بتعملوا (biti3melu)
هم (homma) theyيعملوا (yi3melu)بيعملوا (biyi3melu)

If you want to express a habitual meaning (that you do something regularly), you have to use this tense. And if you want to express a present continuous meaning (that you "are doing" something right now), you often use this tense, although sometimes you must use the active participle instead.

بحب أسهر مع أصحابي (baHebb ashar ma3 aSHaabi)
I like staying up late with my friends.

This is a general statement referring to a permanent or constant condition (like a preference or favorite activity). The b- prefix is always used for this.

كل يوم باخد تاكسي للشغل (kulle yoom baaxod taksi liš-šoġl)
Every day I take a taxi to work.

This is a habit, something the person does regularly. The b- prefix is also always used for this.

بتعمل ايه؟ - بتفرج عالتليفزيون (biti3mel eih? - batfarrag 3at-televizyoon)
What are you doing? I'm watching TV.

Here a present continuous meaning is being expressed to describe something that is happening right now. However, for some verbs, the active participle must be used to express this meaning. More on this here.

Negation of this tense is exactly the same as negation of the past tense: add the prefix ما and the suffix ـش to the beginning and end of the verb. (It is also possible to simply use مش before the verb, as in مش بعمل, but it's pretty uncommon.)

 Present continuous tenseNegated present continuous tense
أنا (ana) Iبعمل (ba3mel)مابعملش (maba3melš)
انت (enta) you masc.بتعمل (biti3mel)مابتعملش (mabiti3melš)
انتي (enti) you fem.بتعملي (biti3meli)مابتعمليش (mabiti3meliiš)
هو (howwa) heبيعمل (biyi3mel)مابيعملش (mabiyi3melš)
هي (heyya) sheبتعمل (biti3mel)مابتعملش (mabiti3melš)
احنا (eHna) weبنعمل (bini3mel)مابنعملش (mabini3melš)
انتو (entu) you pl.بتعملوا (biti3melu)مابتعملوش (mabiti3meluuš)
هم (homma) theyبيعملوا (biyi3melu)مابيعملوش (mabiyi3meluuš)

A few examples of usage:

مابحبش أروح للدكتور (mabaHebbeš aruuH lid-doktoor)
I don't like going to the doctor.

الأيام دي مابنامش كويس (il-ayyaam di mabanaamše kwayyis)
These days I don't sleep well.

The future tense

To form the future tense, you add the prefix ha- to the imperfect verb conjugation. Here's an example of this conjugation, again using عمل - يعمل.

 Imperfect verbFuture tense
أنا (ana) Iأعمل (a3mel)هعمل (ha3mel)
انت (enta) you masc.تعمل (ti3mel)هتعمل (hati3mel)
انتي (enti) you fem.تعملي (ti3meli)هتعملي (hati3meli)
هو (howwa) heيعمل (yi3mel)هيعمل (hayi3mel)
هي (heyya) sheتعمل (ti3mel)هتعمل (hati3mel)
احنا (eHna) weنعمل (ni3mel)هنعمل (hani3mel)
انتو (entu) you pl.تعملوا (ti3melu)هتعملوا (hati3melu)
هم (homma) theyيعملوا (yi3melu)هيعملوا (hayi3melu)

The usage of this tense is fairly straightforward; as you might suppose, you use it to talk about something that will happen in the future.

هتيجي معانا للسينما؟ (hatiigi ma3aana lis-senema?)
Are you going to come with us to the movie theater?

You could also use the active participle here (gayy instead of hatiigi) if you were about to go to the theater. This would translate as "Are you coming with us to the theater?"

السنة اللي جاية هرجع مصر ان شاء الله (is-sana lli gaaya harga3 maSr in shaa' allaah)
Next year I'll return to Egypt, God willing.

To negate this tense, you simply put مش before the verb:

 Future tenseNegated future tense
أنا (ana) Iهعمل (ha3mel)مش هعمل (miš ha3mel)
انت (enta) you masc.هتعمل (miš hati3mel)مش هتعمل (miš hati3mel)
انتي (enti) you fem.هتعملي (hati3meli)مش هتعملي (miš hati3meli)
هو (howwa) heهيعمل (hayi3mel)مش هيعمل (miš hayi3mel)
هي (heyya) sheهتعمل (hati3mel)مش هتعمل (miš hati3mel)
احنا (eHna) weهنعمل (hani3mel)مش هنعمل (miš hani3mel)
انتو (entu) you pl.هتعملوا (hati3melu)مش هتعملوا (miš hati3melu)
هم (homma) theyهيعملوا (hayi3melu)مش هيعملوا (miš hayi3melu)

A quick example of usage:

مش هكلم الحمار ده تاني أبدا (miš hakallem il-Homaar da taani abadan)
I'm never going to speak to that idiot (lit. donkey) again.

Note: If you use a past-tense conjugation of كان, followed by a future-tense verb, it means that the subject almost did ___, or was going to do ___ (but didn't). It can also express a "would" meaning.

كنت هموت من الضحك لما شفته (kunte hamuut min iD-DiHk lamma šoftu)
I almost died of laughter when I saw him.

كنت همشى بس افتكرت انى لسه مسألتش الأسئلة اللي عايزة أسئلها (kunt hamši bass iftakart inni lissa masa'alteš il-as'ila illi 3ayza as'alha)
I was going to leave, but I remembered that I still hadn't asked the questions I wanted to ask.

لو كنت مكانك كنت هروح اكلمها واللي يحصل يحصل (law kunte makaanak, kunt haruuH akallimha, willi yiHsal yiHSal)
If I were in your place, I'd go talk to her, and let whatever happens happen.

And you can also say عمري ما followed by a future-tense verb to say that you'll never do that.

ياما ضحّى عشاني ياما استحملني وعمري ما هلاقي زيه (yaama DaHHa 3ašaani yaama staHmalni wa-3omri ma halaa'i zayyu)
He's sacrified so much for me and put up with so much from me, I'll never find anyone else like him.

Main grammar page Modals