Modern Standard Arabic

"Standard Arabic" and "Literary Arabic" redirect here. For the classical language, see Classical Arabic. For the general article, see Arabic language.
Modern Standard Arabic
العربية الفصحى, عربي فصيح
al-ʻArabīyah al-fuṣḥá, ʻArabī faṣīḥ[note 1]

al-ʻArabīyah in written Arabic (Naskh script)
Pronunciation /al ʕaraˈbijja lˈfusˤħaː/, see variations[note 2]
Region Primarily in the Arab League, in the Middle East and North Africa; and in the Horn of Africa;
liturgical language of Islam
Native speakers
(second language only)
Early forms
Old Arabic
Arabic alphabet
Official status
Official language in

Official language of 27 states, the third most after English and French[2]

Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-3 arb
Linguist list
Glottolog stan1318[3]

Distribution of Modern Standard Arabic as an official language in the Arab World.
The only official language (green); one of the official languages (blue).

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA; Arabic: اللغة العربية الفصحى al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-fuṣḥá 'the most eloquent Arabic language'), Standard Arabic, or Literary Arabic is the standardized and literary variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech. It is considered a pluricentric language.

Most Western scholars distinguish two standard (al-)fuṣḥá (الفصحى) varieties of Arabic: the Classical Arabic (CA) (اللغة العربية التراثية al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-turāthīyah) of the Quran and early Islamic (7th to 9th centuries) literature, and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) (اللغة العربية المعيارية الحديثة al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-miʻyārīyah al-ḥadīthah), the standard language in use today. MSA is based on classical Arabic, and differences between the two varieties of the language are directly related to modernizing and simplification, both in speaking and writing styles. Most Arabic speakers consider the two varieties to be two registers of one language, although the two registers can be referred to in Arabic as فصحى العصر fuṣḥá al-ʻaṣr (MSA) and فصحى التراث fuṣḥá al-turāth (CA).[4]

Classical Arabic

Main article: Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic, also known as Quranic Arabic (although the term is not entirely accurate[5]), is the language used in the Quran as well as in numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). Many Muslims study Classical Arabic in order to read the Quran in its original language. It is important to note that written Classical Arabic underwent fundamental changes during the early Islamic era, adding dots to distinguish similarly written letters, and adding the Tashkeel (diacritical markings that guide pronunciation) by Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, and other scholars.

Modern Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the literary standard across the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Most printed matter in the Arab Leagueincluding most books, newspapers, magazines, official documents, and reading primers for small childrenis written in MSA. "Colloquial" Arabic refers to the many regional dialects derived from Arabic spoken daily across the region and learned as a first language, and as second language if people speak other languages native to particular country. They are not typically written, although a certain amount of literature (particularly plays and poetry) exists in many of them. Literary Arabic is the official language of all Arab League countries and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools at all stages. Additionally, some Christian Arabic speakers recite prayers in it, as it is considered the literary language. MSA is also used in modernized version of literary form of the Quran, and some Muslim Arabic speakers recite prayers in it; revised editions of numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times are written also in MSA.

The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in modern times provides a prime example of the linguistic phenomenon of diglossia  the use of two distinct varieties of the same language, usually in different social contexts.[6] This diglossic situation facilitates code-switching in which a speaker switches back and forth between the two dialects of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence. People speak MSA as third language if people speak other languages native to particular country as first language and colloquial Arabic dialects as second languages. Modern Standard Arabic is also spoken by people of Arab descent outside Arab world when people of Arab descent speaking different dialects communicate each other. As there is a prestige or standard dialect of vernacular Arabic, speakers of standard colloquial dialects code-switch between these particular dialects and MSA.

Classical Arabic is considered normative; a few contemporary authors attempt (with varying degrees of success) to follow the syntactic and grammatical norms laid down by classical grammarians (such as Sibawayh) and to use the vocabulary defined in classical dictionaries (such as the Lisan al-Arab).

However, the exigencies of modernity have led to the adoption of numerous terms which would have been mysterious to a classical author, whether taken from other languages (e. g. فيلم film) or coined from existing lexical resources (e. g. هاتف hātif  "caller" > "telephone"). Structural influence from foreign languages or from the vernaculars has also affected Modern Standard Arabic: for example, MSA texts sometimes use the format "A, B, C, and D" when listing things, whereas Classical Arabic prefers "A and B and C and D", and subject-initial sentences may be more common in MSA than in Classical Arabic.[7] For these reasons, Modern Standard Arabic is generally treated separately in non-Arab sources.[8] Arabic sources generally tend to regard MSA and Classical Arabic as different registers of one and the same language. Speakers of Modern Standard Arabic do not always observe the intricate rules of Classical Arabic grammar. Modern Standard Arabic principally differs from Classical Arabic in three areas: lexicon, stylistics, and certain innovations on the periphery that are not strictly regulated by the classical authorities. On the whole, Modern Standard Arabic is not homogeneous; there are authors who write in a style very close to the classical models and others who try to create new stylistic patterns.[9] Add to this regional differences in vocabulary depending upon the influence of the local Arabic varieties and the influences of foreign languages, such as French in Africa and Lebanon or English in Egypt, Jordan, and other countries.[10] As MSA is a revised and simplified form of Classical Arabic, MSA in terms of lexicon omitted the obsolete words used in Classical Arabic. As diglossia is involved, various Arabic dialects freely borrow words from MSA, this situation is similar to Romance languages, wherein scores of words were borrowed directly from formal Latin.

Reading out loud in MSA for various reasons is becoming increasingly simpler, using less strict rules compared to CA, notably the inflection is omitted, making it closer to spoken varieties of Arabic. It depends on the speaker's knowledge and attitude to the grammar of the Classical Arabic, as well as the region and the intended audience.

Pronunciation of foreign names in MSA is loose, names can be pronounced or even spelled differently in different regions and by different speakers. Pronunciation also depends on the person's education, linguistic knowledge and abilities. There may be sounds used, which are missing in the Classical Arabic but may exist in colloquial varieties - consonants - /v/, /p/, /t͡ʃ/ (often realized as [t]+[ʃ]), these consonants may or may not be written with special letters; and vowels - [o], [e] (both short and long), there are no special letters in Arabic to distinguish between [e~i] and [o~u] pairs but the sounds o and e (short and long) exist in the colloquial varieties of Arabic and some foreign words in MSA. The differentiation of the pronunciation of informal dialects is the influence from native languages previously spoken and some presently spoken in the regions, such as Coptic in Egypt, Berber, Punic or Phoenician in North Africa, and Aramaic in the Levant. Modern languages have sometimes also influenced pronunciation or word order. Examples are Turkish and English in Egypt, French in North Africa, Lebanon and Syria, English and Hebrew in Israel, and Spanish in Morocco and Western Sahara.



Modern Standard Arabic Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal m م n ن
Stop voiceless t ت ط k ك q ق ʔ ء
voiced b ب d د ض d͡ʒ ج
Fricative voiceless f ف θ ث s س ص ʃ ش x ~ χ خ ħ ح h هـ
voiced ð ذ z ز ðˤ ظ ɣ ~ ʁ غ ʕ ع
Trill r ر
Approximant l ل (k) j ي w و



Modern Standard Arabic, like Classical Arabic before it, has three pairs of long and short vowels: /a/, /i/, and /u/:

Modern Standard Arabic Vowel phonemes
Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Close i u
Open a

NOTE: Across North Africa and West Asia, /i/ may be realized as [ɪ ~ e ~ ɨ] before emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ]. /u/ can also have different realizations, i.e. [ʊ ~ o ~ ʉ]. They are distinct phonemes in loan words. Sometimes with one value for each vowel in both short and long lengths or two different values for each short and long lengths. In Egypt, close vowels have different values; short initial or medial: [e], [o] ← instead of /i, u/. /i~ɪ/ and /u~ʊ/ completely become /e/ and /o/ respectively in some other particular dialects. Unstressed final long /aː, iː, uː/ are most often shortened or reduced: /aː/  [æ ~ ɑ], /iː/  /i/, /uː/  [o~u].

Differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic[12]

Differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic span the three categories of linguistics, which are syntax, terminology and pronunciation (especially in terms of tashkeel). Differences are also apparent in the use of punctuation and writing styles.

Differences in syntax

MSA tends to use simplified structures and drop more complicated ones commonly used in Classical Arabic. Some examples include reliance on verb sentences instead of noun phrases and semi-sentences, as well as avoiding phrasal adjectives and accommodating feminine forms of ranks and job titles.[13]

Differences in terminology

Terminology is the main domain where MSA and CA differ substantially. This stems from the need of MSA to adapt with modern-day terminology in the technical, literary, and scientific domains. The vast majority of these terms refer to items or concepts that did not exist in the time of CA. MSA tends to be more accepting to non-Arabic terminology. Despite the efforts of Arabic Language Academies in the second half of the 20th century to Arabize modern terminology using classical Arabization practices, the fast pace of modern development made transliteration the method of choice for Arabizing modern day terminology.[14]

Modern Standard Arabic relies on transliteration to adopt modern day terminology.[15]

Differences in pronunciation

MSA differs from CA in the use of sounds not available in the Arabic script, and Tashkeel. Unlike Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic accepts the use of sounds that are not supported in the Arabic script, such as the /g/, /p/, and /v/ sounds. On the other hand, CA considers Tashkeel (diacritical phonetic symbols that dictate pronunciation) an integral part of the word, while Modern Standard Arabic only uses Tashkeel markers when necessary for proper pronunciation. MSA also tends to encourage dropping Tashkeel at the end of each sentence, and even within a sentence.[14]

Differences in punctuation

Modern Standard Arabic has adopted several punctuation marks from other languages, and dropped some classical Arabic ones. Modern technology, especially in printing press and the use of the Internet, has contributed largely to this trend.[14]

Differences in style

Modern Standard Arabic adopts modern writing forms, such as essays, opinion articles, and technical reports, instead of classical ones. Moreover, some new writing forms are directly imported from foreign languages, such as guides, blog posts, and other forms of writing. Moreover, some classical writing forms disappeared completely, such as Maqam.

Regional variants

MSA is loosely uniform across the Middle East. Regional variations exist due to influence from the spoken vernaculars. TV hosts who read prepared MSA scripts, for example in Al Jazeera, are ordered to give up their national or ethnic origins by changing their pronunciation of certain phonemes (e.g. the realization of the Classical jīm ج as [ɡ] by Egyptians), though other traits may show the speaker's region, such as the stress and the exact value of vowels and the pronunciation of other consonants. People who speak MSA also mix vernacular and Classical in pronunciation, words, and grammatical forms. Classical/vernacular mixing in formal writing can also be found (e.g., in some Egyptian newspaper editorials).


People who are literate in Modern Standard Arabic are primarily found in most countries of the Arab League. It may be assumed that the number of speakers of the language to be the number of literate people in this region, because it is compulsory in schools of most of the Arab League to learn Modern Standard Arabic. People who are literate in the language are usually more so passively, as they mostly use the language in reading and writing, not in speaking.

The countries with the largest populations that mandate MSA be taught in all schools are, with rounded-up numbers:


Main article: Arabic grammar

Common phrases

Translation Phrase IPA Romanization (ALA-LC)
Arabic العربية /alʕaraˈbijːah/ al-ʻArabīyah
hello/welcome مرحباً/أهلاً وسهلاً /marħabaːn/; /ˈahlan wa ˈsahlanː/ marḥaban; ahlan wa-sahlā
peace [be] with you (lit. upon you) السلام عليكم /assaˈlaːmu ʕaˈlajkum/ as-salāmu ʻalaykum
how are you? كيف حالك؟/ˈkajfa ˈħaːluk/ kayfa ḥāluk
see you إلى اللقاء /ʔila alːiqaːʔ/ ilá al-liqāʼ
goodbye مع السلامة /maʕa sːaˈlaːmah/ maʻa as-salāmah
please من فضلك /min ˈfadˤlik/ min faḍlik
thanks شكراً /ˈʃukraːn/ shukran
that (one) ذلك /ˈðaːlik/ dhālik
How much/How many? كم؟ /kam/ kam?
English الإنجليزية/الإنكليزية/الإنقليزية/الإنڨليزية (varies) /alʔing(i)li(ː)ˈzijːah/ (may vary) al-inglīzīyah
What is your name? ما اسمك؟ /masmuk/ (may vary)masmuka / -ki?
I don't know لا أعرف /laː ˈʔaʕrif/ lā aʻrif

See also


  1. Spelling for the final letter yāʼ differs in Egypt, Sudan and sometimes other regions as Yemen. It is always undotted ى, hence عربى فصيح.
  2. Pronunciation varies regionally. The following are examples:
    • The Levant: [al ʕaraˈbɪjja lˈfʊsˤħa], colloquially: [(e)l-]
    • Hejaz: [al ʕaraˈbijjalˈfusˤħa]
    • East central Arabia: [æl ʢɑrɑˈbɪjjɐ lˈfʊsˤʜɐ], colloquially: [el-]
    • Egypt: [æl ʕɑɾɑˈbejjɑ lˈfosˤħɑ], colloquially: [el-]
    • Libya: [æl ʕɑrˤɑˈbijjæ lˈfusˤħæ], colloquially: [əl-]
    • Tunisia: [æl ʕɑrˤɑˈbeːjæ lˈfʊsˤħæ], colloquially: [el-]
    • Algeria, Morocco: [æl ʕɑrˤɑbijjæ lfusˤħæ], colloquially: [l-]
  1. Modern Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Wright, 2001, p. 492.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Standard Arabic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Alaa Elgibali and El-Said M. Badawi. Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said M. Badawi, 1996. Page 105.
  5. "العربية المعيارية الحديثة". Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  6. Farghaly, A., Shaalan, K. Arabic Natural Language Processing: Challenges and Solutions, ACM Transactions on Asian Language Information Processing (TALIP), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 8(4)1-22, December 2009.
  7. Alan S. Kaye (1991). "The Hamzat al-Waṣl in Contemporary Modern Standard Arabic". Journal of the American Oriental Society. American Oriental Society. 111 (3): 572–574. doi:10.2307/604273. JSTOR 604273.
  8. London Arabic Tuition
  9. Arabic Language Dialects
  10. Wolfdietrich Fischer. 1997. "Classical Arabic," The Semitic Languages. London: Routledge. Pg 189.
  11. Watson (2002:16)
  12. "العربية المعيارية الحديثة". Retrieved 2016-08-22.
  13. الأرابيك, مؤسسة. "الدراسة". Retrieved 2016-08-22.
  14. 1 2 3 Arabic, AL. "White Paper". Retrieved 2016-08-22.
  15. محمد, د. علي. "ورقة عمل حول التعريب اللفظي في اللغة العربية". Retrieved 2016-08-22.
  16. Official Egyptian Population clock
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 The World Factbook. Retrieved on 2014-04-28.
  18. 1 2 3 4 "World Population Prospects, Table A.1" (PDF). 2008 revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009: 17. Retrieved 22 September 2010.
  19. 2008 Sudanese census


Look up Classical Arabic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up Modern Standard Arabic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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