Arabic Prepositions: The Essential List (Beginner's Guide)

Ebtesam Mokhtar


Ebtesam Mokhtar

Arabic Prepositions: The Essential List (Beginner's Guide)

How many sentences can we form without prepositions?

See what happened here?

I had to use the preposition ‘without’ in my question, then here I am using ‘in’ for the previous sentence.

You can also notice the ‘for’ I just added to that previous one, and then that ‘to’. You get the point.

No matter what language you are using, prepositions are vital for making sense! Arabic prepositions are not an exception to that.

In this article, you will learn how to use the most common Arabic prepositions to link words, form phrasal verbs, give reasons, express possession and form meaningful structures. We will also explore some examples of how to use Arabic prepositions in sentences.

For spoken dialects, see these lessons too:

Now, let’s start with two interesting facts about prepositions in Modern Standard Arabic.

How to pronounce Modern Standard Arabic prepositions?

With the long list of Arabic prepositions below, you might think you will have to learn dozens of new words with several pronunciation variations.

The good news is that Arabic preposition particles are Mabni words كلمات مبنية, which means that wherever they come in a sentence, their pronunciations mostly stay the same.

An Arabic preposition can be equivalent to several English ones

You may think that each Arabic preposition has a single meaning or way to use it.

However, that’s not the case. One Arabic preposition, such as the letter ب (baa), can mean anything from ‘with’ to ‘by’ to even a whole other gerund like ‘using’. The meaning depends on the preposition’s position in the sentence and what comes before and/or after it.

That said, please treat all the English translations and examples mentioned in this article only as references to explain the meaning to you.

Be open to explore more than one synonym for each Arabic preposition.

With that out of the way, let’s start with the most used Arabic prepositions.

1. In - في

In feee فِي

This is what you use for the literal meaning of something/someone being ‘in’ somewhere.

However, you can also use ‘feee’ to say things like: ‘I was thinking about you’ كنت أفكر فيك, ‘Konto ofakkero feek’ or ‘The sun affects plants’ الشمس تؤثر في النباتات ‘Ashams toaathero fe alnabatat’.

Here are some examples to use ‘feee’ with the direct ‘in’ meaning.

I’m staying in that hotel. Ana oqeemo feee zaleka alfondoq. أنا أقيم في ذلك الفندق.
Taking photos is forbidden in the museum. Mamnooa’ attasweer feee almott-haf. ممنوع التصوير في المتحف.
I put my passport in the bag. Wada’ato jawaza safari feee alhaqeeba. وضعت جواز سفري في الحقيبة.

When added to verbs, ‘feee’ can make them have new meanings. Here are some examples.

The government is searching ‘in’ (investigating/looking into) the matter. Alhokommah tabhatho feee alamr. الحكومة تبحث في الأمر.
They disagreed ‘in’ (about) the matter. Ekhtalafo feee alamr. اختلفوا في الأمر.

The verb ‘تبحث’ (tabhatho) in the first example means to search, but when you add ‘feee’, it becomes more like ‘do a research on’ or ‘investigate’.

In the second example, the verb ‘اختلفوا’ (ekhtalafo) comes from ‘alekhtelaf’ or (الاختلاف) which is the noun for ‘difference’ or ‘disagreement’.

When you add ‘feee’ to that, it means they disagreed about a certain topic.

2. From - من

From/of Men مِن

This preposition is what you use to refer to a place, time, person, etc from which something comes or starts. Say you want to tell someone that your watch is made from gold.

You would say: ساعتي مصنوعة من الذهب, or ‘Sa’atey masnoa’a men alzahab’.

The table below has more examples of the contexts where you can use ‘men’.

When did you return from Iraq? Mata oa’dta men ale’raaq? متى عدت من العراق؟
This honey is from Yemen. Haza ala’asal men alyaman. هذا العسل من اليمن.
Do you accept this gift from me? Hal taqbala menney hazehee alhadeyyah? هل تقبل مني هذه الهدية؟

Notice that ‘men’ in the last example is attached to the ‘me’ pronoun ‘yaa’o almotakalem’ ياء المتكلم, which is the letter ي in مني.

So, ‘men’ + ‘ey’ equals menney, which means ‘from me’.

3. To - إلى

To Ela إلَى

While ‘men’ refers to a ‘source’, ‘ela’ is more about the ‘destination’.

It can also refer to the receiver of something. It is mostly used with places but it can also be used with persons and more.

See the examples below.

I will travel to Lebanon. Sa-osafero ela lobnan. سأسافر إلى لبنان.
Will we go to the restaurant? Hal sanazhabo ela almata’am? هل سنذهب إلى المطعم؟
Are you really going to get back to him? Ahaqqann sata-o’oda elayh? أحقًا ستعود إليه؟

In the first two examples, ‘ela’ is referring to places (Lebanon - the restaurant).

In the last example, though, ‘elayh’ is composed of ‘ela’ and the letter ‘هـ’ which is a pronoun that refers to an absent person (third person: him).

So, ‘elayh’ means ‘to him’.

4. On - على

On A’ala عَلَى

This one can mean ‘on’ literally, but it can also be used to form phrases, phrasal verbs and idioms.

I will pass ‘on’ (actually means ‘by’) you in the evening. Sa-amorro a’alaika masaann. سأمر عليك مساءً.
Have you tried riding ‘on’ the back of a camel? Hal Jarrabta arrokooba a’ala zahree jamal? هل جربت الركوب على ظهر جمل؟
I will guide you ‘on’ the way (I’ll show you the way) Sa-aadelloka a’ala altareeq سأدلك على الطريق.
Thank you ‘on’ any case. (على أي حال actually means ‘anyway’.) Shukran laka a’ala aeye haal. شكرًا لك على أي حال.

Notice that the first example adds “a’ala” to the second person pronoun to form the phrase ‘on you’ in the sentence ‘I will pass on you’, which actually means ‘I will pass by you’.

The second example uses ‘on’ with a place (the back of a camel) to refer to the literal meaning of someone being ‘on top of’ something. The third example uses “a’ala” with a verb, while the last example shows you how ‘a’ala’ can come as part of a phrase or idiom.

The phrase “A’ala aeyye haal” (على أي حال) means ‘in any case’, or ‘anyway’.

5. About - عن

About/on a’an عَن

“A’an” usually means ‘about’, as in ‘talk about’ or what you use when referring to the topic of a discussion.

See the examples below.

Here is a book about learning Arabic language. Elaika ketabon a’an ta’alume alloghate ala’arabeya. إليك كتاب عن تعلُّم اللغة العربية.
They are talking about you. Ennahom yatahadathoon a’ank. إنهم يتحدثون عنك.
What are you talking about? A’an ayee mawdoo’en tatahaddatheen. عن أي موضوع تتحدثين؟

When “a’an” is added to verbs, it can have different meanings. Here is how.

I will answer (you on) the question. Sa-ojeboka a’an assoa’al. سأجيبك عن السؤال.
I love him regardless of his flaws. Ohebboho beghadde annazzare a’an oyoobeh. أحبه بغض النظر عن عيوبه.

“A’an” can also mean ‘from’ depending on where it comes in a sentence.

Say you are reading an air purifier manual and it says: ضع الجهاز بعيدًا عن الحائط “Da’a aljehaz ba’aeedan a’an alhaaet”. This means ‘put the device away ‘from’ the wall.

Read to the end for a song that has this preposition with the same meaning, but in a sweeter way!

6. With - ب

With/by/using be بِـ

The letter ب is usually used to refer to the tool or the thing with which something is done.

For example, it’s common in the Islamic religion to say استعِن بالله, a phrase formed by combining the verb يستعين (get help) with the letter ب (with) and God’s name الله (Allah).

The phrase literally means ‘use Allah’ or ‘get help from Allah’.

In the table below, you can find further sentences that use the Arabic preposition ب as in ‘by’ or ‘with’.

The last example will show you how it can also be used to express possession as in ‘for’.

I travelled ‘by’ plane. Safarto beltaaerah. سافرت بالطائرة.
I bought the house ‘with’ (including) its furniture. Eshtarayto albayta be-athathehee. اشتريت البيت بأثاثه.
This is the room ‘for’ you. Hazehey heya alghorfato alkhasato bek. هذه هي الغرفة الخاصة بك.

7. For - ل

For/to/in order to Lee لـِ

This is what you use for expressing possession or giving reasons.

Here are some examples on how to use the letter ل as one of the Arabic prepositions.

I travelled to Dubai ‘for’ work. Safarto ela dubai lela’amal. سافرت إلى دبي للعمل.
Thanks ‘to’ God (Thank God) Alhamdu lellah. الحمد لله.
I gave it ‘to’ you. Laqad a’ataitoho lakk. لقد أعطيته لك.

8. Like - ك

Like/as Ka كَـ

The ك is a simple one.

It mostly implies resemblance.

Usually, it equals ‘as’ or ‘like’ as in ‘you are like your sister’ or أنتِ كأختك ‘Antey kaokhtokey’.

You are as beautiful ‘as’ the moon. Ennaky jameelaton kalqamar. إنكِ جميلة كالقمر.
Do you know a place ‘like’ this? Hal ta’arefa makanann kahaza? هل تعرف مكانًا كهذا؟
Love is as strong ‘as’ death. Almahabato qawaeyaton kalmawt. المحبة قوية كالموت.

9. Till - حتى

Till/until/to Hatta حَتَّى

‘Hatta’ refers to the purpose or the end of it.

In the first example below, it means I ate ‘until’ I felt full, and this is what we mean by the end of purpose. In the two other examples, however, ‘hatta’ refers to the purpose/reason itself.

I came ‘to’ see you, or go prepare your bag ‘in order to’ get ready.

I ate until I felt full. Akalto hatta shabea’to. أكلتُ حتى شبعت.
I came to see you. Jea’to hatta arak. جئتُ حتى أراك.
Prepare your bag to get ready for travelling. Aa’edda haqeebatoka hatta nasta’edda lelsafar. أعِد حقيبتك حتى نستعد للسفر.

10. Since - منذ/ مذ

Since Monzo/Mozz مُنْذ/مُذ

‘Monzo’ and ‘Mozz’ have the same meaning: since.

They can also mean ‘for’ as in ‘for years’, depending on their position in the sentence.

Here is how you can use them to refer to time.

I have been waiting for you since 7:00 o’clock. Antazeroka monzo assa’a assabea’a. أنتظرك منذ الساعة السابعة.
I have not travelled since (for) a long time. Lam osafer monzo fatraten taweelah. لم أسافر منذ فترة طويلة.
I have known him since we were young. A’arefho mozz konna segharan. أعرفه مذ كنا صغارًا.

11. Except - عدا

Except/except for A’ada عَدَا

This is your ‘except’ or ‘except for’.

Other variations that are also Arabic prepositions with the same meaning are: ‘hasha’ حاشا and ‘khala’ خلا, but they are less common.

The table below gives you examples on how to say ‘except’ in Arabic and use it in a sentence.

I like all vegetables except zucchini. Ohebbp kola alkhodrawate a’ada alkoosah. أحب كل الخضروات عدا الكوسة.
I visited all European countries except England. Zorto kola addowalee alorobbeyate a’ada enjeltra. زرت كل الدول الأوروبية عدا إنجلترا.
I trust no one except you. La atheqo be-ahadenn a’adak. لا أثق بأحد عداك.

Notice how you can use pronouns, instead of nouns, after the preposition ‘except’. The last example has ‘a’ada’ attached to a second person pronoun.

“A’adak” is formed from “a’ada” and the letter ‘ك’ (the ‘you’ pronoun), which refers to the one you’re speaking to.

So, “a’adak” means ‘except you’.

A Modern Standard Arabic song to help you learn Arabic prepositions

Now let’s get some fun (and art) in! Here is a lyrics video for a song that is actually a poem by one of the most popular Arab poets called Nizar Qabbani.

It is all in Modern Standard Arabic, performed by yet a pan-Arab famous singer who comes from Iraq: Kazem Assahir.

Let’s see how many Arabic prepositions you can get from the verses.

Notice how the same preposition can have different meanings according to its position in the sentence.

Love me with no complexes.. and get lost in my palm lines ب (with) في (in)أحبيني بلا عقد.. وضيعي في خطوط يدي
Love me for a week, for days, for hours.. I’m not the one who cares about eternity ل (for) - ب (about)أحبيني لأسبوعٍ، لأيامٍ، لساعاتٍ.. فلست أنا الذي يهتم بالأبد
Come and fall like rain.. On my thirst and desert على (on)تعالي واسقطي مطرًا.. على عطشي وصحرائي
And melt in my mouth like honey.. And become one with my body parts في (in) - ك (like) - ب (with)وذوبي في فمي كالشمع.. وانعجني بأجزائي

Listen closely and see how many more Arabic prepositions you can spot.

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