Yes and no are among the most common words that we use in everyday life. There are various ways to say yes in Arabic. Which word is the best to use largely depends on the occasion (formal vs. casual) and the dialect.
Let me introduce you to the most common ways to say yes in Arabic across the Middle East.
How to say yes in Arabic? Na’am (نعم) is probably the translation that most students of the Arabic language will know.
While that’s correct, note that na’am is a very formal way to say yes in Arabic. It’s widely used in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), which is the written Arabic used across all Arabic countries. You’ll also hear in formal situations in many dialects (spoken Arabic), for example in Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt.
The word na’am contains the Arabic letter ain (ع), a guttural stop pronunced in the throat. While it’s challenging for foreigners to pronounce this letter correctly, you’ll be perfectly understood if you pronounce the letter ain just like a regular “a”. Make sure to make a little break, as if you were saying two words: na-am.
By the way, besides yes in affirmative way, na’am is also used to say yes in an interrogative way. For example, when someone is calling your name and you’d like to react to that (yes = what’s up?).
Aywa (أيوا) is a commonly used way to say yes in Arabic in most dialects. While it’s less formal than na’am, it’s the preferred way in the spoken language. You can use aywa regardless the occasion. It’s commonly used in casual as well as formal situations. Aywa used and understood across the Middle East, the Gulf States and North Africa, from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, UAE and many other Arabic countries.
For non-native speakers, aywa is pretty easy to pronounce. The word consists of four long vowels: a – i/y – w/u – a. Note that the u is often transliterated as w, as the pronunciation is closer to the English w than the English u. The ay is pronounced similar to the English word eye, followed by wa (“eye-wa”).
#3 Ah / Eh / Aaiy
Last but not least, there are various short forms to say yes in Arabic. Note that these aren’t proper Arabic words, but rather yes in Arabic slang.
The pronunciation heavily depends on the regional dialect. They all ressemble to the long form of saying yes in Arabic (aywa), which they derivate from. Don’t worry, these variations are quite similar to each other and it can generally be understood from the context that someone means to say “yes”.
- Ah (آه) is commonly used in Jordan. Often repeatedly: ah ah ah.
- Aaiy / Ay (إيه) is commonly used in Syria
- Eh (ايه) is commonly used in Lebanon
- Ey (اي) is commonly used in some Gulf countries
If you interact with (Muslim) Arabic people frequently, you might have noticed that not all questions will get answered with a yes or a no.
Especially when talking about the future, many people use inshallah (إن شاء الله) as a way of saying yes (or no). Inshallah is an Islamic expression meaning “god willing”. We’ll still do our best to make it a yes, but the outcome is in god’s hands. Are you moving to the US next month? Inshallah.
#5 Gestures to Say Yes
In addition to words, body language plays a huge role in communication among Arabs. In fact, gestures are quite common to express simple things such as a yes or a no.
Nod one’s head, as it’s widely done in the Western world, is also a common gesture among Arabs. The head nod means the same thing in both cultures: yes.
Another non-verbal way to say yes in Arabic is by tilting the head to either side with a warm smile.
Expressions at a Glance
Below is a summary of the expressions used in this article and their English equivalent. The Latin script can help you with the pronunciation if you can’t read Arabic. Learning the Arabic alphabet will greatly help you with the correct pronunciation of Arabic words.
|English Equivalent||Arabic (Latin Script)||Arabic (Arabic Script)|
|Yes (Modern Standard Arabic)||na’am||نعم|
|Yes (Spoken Arabic, e.g. Levantine and Egyptian dialects)||aywa||أيوا|
|Yes in Jordan (colloquial)||ah||آه|
|Yes in Syria (colloquial)||aaiy / ay||إيه|
|Yes in Lebanon (colloquial)||eh||ايه|
|Yes in the Gulf States (colloquial)||ey||اي|
|God willing||inshallah||إن شاء الله|
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