Which language do you want to learn?

Which language do you want to learn?

Idiomatic expressions and their meanings in Arabic

Two students discuss language tasks in the library.

Language, in all its essence, goes beyond literal meanings—the cultural richness imbibes itself in forms such as idioms and phrases unique to each language. Arabic, with its poetic legacy, has numerous idiomatic expressions that offer a glimpse into its rich cultural tapestry. Understanding these idioms can provide non-native speakers with insights into the nuances of Arabic culture and language. Here are several Arabic idioms and phrases that can add flavor to your linguistic skills.

كَسَّر الفَسَّاد (Kassar al-fassad)
Literally meaning “to break the jar,” this expression is used when someone reveals a secret or spills the beans.
بالغلط كَسَّرَت الفَسَّاد وعرف الجميع بالخبر. (By mistake, she spilled the beans and everyone knew about the news.)

عَصْفور في اليَد خَيرٌ مِن عَشَرَة عَلى الشَّجَرَة (‘Asfour fi al-yad khayrun min ‘asharate ‘ala ash-shajarah)
This idiom translates to “a bird in the hand is worth ten on the tree,” which is similar to the English idiom “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” meaning it’s better to have a small but certain advantage than the possibility of a greater one that might come to nothing.
قررت أن أقبل بالعرض الوظيفي لأن عَصْفور في اليَد خَيرٌ مِن عَشَرَة عَلى الشَّجَرَة. (I decided to accept the job offer because a bird in the hand is worth ten on the tree.)

الصَّبْر مِفْتاح الفَرَج (As-Sabr miftah al-faraj)
Meaning “patience is the key to relief,” this expression emphasizes the importance of patience leading to better outcomes or solutions.
واصلت الدراسة رغم الصعوبات لأن الصَّبْر مِفْتاح الفَرَج. (I continued studying despite the difficulties because patience is the key to relief.)

يلعب على الحبلين (Yal’ab ‘ala al-hablayn)
It means “to play on both ropes” and is akin to the English saying “to play both sides of the fence.” This idiom refers to a person who tries to maintain favor with two conflicting sides.
هو دائمًا يلعب على الحبلين حتى لا يخسر أي فرصة. (He always plays both sides to not lose any opportunity.)

إِذا كَان الكَلام مِن فَضَّة فَالسُّكوت مِن ذَهَب (Idha kan al-kalam min fiddah fassukoot min dahab)
“If speech is silver, then silence is golden.” This Arabic counterpart to an English proverb suggests that it’s sometimes wisest to remain silent.
علمتني أمي أنه إِذا كَان الكَلام مِن فَضَّة فَالسُّكوت مِن ذَهَب. (My mother taught me that if speech is silver, then silence is golden.)

التَّوبَة شِبَاك الُمتَرَدِّي (At-tawbah shibak al-mutarriddi)
This translates to “Repentance is the rope of the escapee,” suggesting that repenting can be a way to escape from the consequences of misconduct.
أدرك أنه ارتكب خطأ كبير وأن التَّوبَة شِبَاك الُمتَرَدِّي. (He realized he had made a big mistake and that repentance is the rope of the escapee.)

يد واحدة ما تصفق (Yad wahida ma tasfiq)
Literally meaning “one hand doesn’t clap,” this idiom highlights the need for cooperation and teamwork—in other words, it takes two to tango.
وجدت الحل مع فريق العمل لأن يد واحدة ما تصفق. (I found the solution with the team because one hand doesn’t clap.)

These idiomatic expressions are a small sampling of the vibrant and expressive nature of the Arabic language. By incorporating them into your conversations, you can convey not just literal meaning, but also cultural sentiments and contextual subtleties. However, it’s important to remember that the use of idioms can vary greatly across different Arabic dialects, so the meanings might have slight variations or may be used in specific contexts. As you continue to learn Arabic, pay attention to how native speakers use these phrases and you’ll soon find them an invaluable part of your linguistic repertoire.

Talkpal is AI-powered language tutor. Learn 57+ languages 5x faster with revolutionary technology.