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Arabic Filler Words: Speak the Language Like a Native

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Imagine if people were like programmed robots.

No typos.

No slips of the tongue.

No blemishes.

Just plain perfection.

That would make everything pretty boring, wouldn’t it?

Filler words are one of those imperfections that make human interactions unique. 

Without further ado, let’s get right into the top Arabic filler words and how to use them.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. What are filler words and why do we use them?
  2. The Top Arabic Filler Words
  3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words
  4. Conclusion

1. What are filler words and why do we use them?

Woman and Question Marks

Filler words (or “fillers”) are the sounds we use to let others know that we have not yet finished talking, even if we’re pausing for a few seconds. They help remove awkward stops in our speech and connect sentences without them having to make sense grammatically. Fillers are mostly meaningless when used for that purpose, despite the words themselves having a real meaning in other contexts.

While filler words may sound unnecessary, they actually play an important role in speech. This is because it’s difficult for most people to continuously hold a smooth conversation without having to stop and think about what to say next—even if just for a second or two.

Filler words are mainly used in real-life interactions, but they can also be found occasionally in emails and text messages. Some of us like to type “uh,” “actually,” or “basically” in our texts, thinking it will add meaning to the sentence or give the reader a better understanding of our tone.

While people may not agree on the necessity of using filler words, it’s undeniable that they play a great role in our speech. Most of us start using them without even noticing it.

It’s interesting to note that filler words—while still existent—are not as frequently used in languages linked to cultures that are more direct or cold. Given the warmth of most Arabic-speaking cultures, filler words are prominent players in a variety of Arabic dialects.

With that in mind, because Arabic dialects are spoken informally, they rely more on filler words than MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) does. 

We’ve categorized the fillers below based on dialect to make sure you don’t confuse anyone by using a different dialect.

2. The Top Arabic Filler Words

Before we get started on dialects, let’s first look into MSA filler words.

A- MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) Filler Words

جَميل
ǧamīl
beautiful

This filler word is used to respond to statements you don’t really have an answer for. It’s the equivalent of “cool” in English. 

Example #1

جَميل. لِنَذهَب إلى المَقهى.

ǧamīl. linaḏhab ʾilā al-maqhā.

Beautiful, let’s go to the café.

Example #2

جَميل. فَلنَلتَقي غَداً.

ǧamīl. falnaltaqī ġadan.

Beautiful, let’s meet up tomorrow.

عَفواً

ʿafwan

sorry

This filler is used to ask for repetition or to respectfully interrupt someone.

Example #1

عَفوَاً، هَل يُمكِنُكَ إعادَةُ جُملَتِكَ الأَخيرَة؟

ʿafwan, hal yumkinuka ʾiʿādaẗu ǧumlatika al-ʾaḫīrah?

Sorry, but can you repeat your last sentence?

Example #2

عَفواً، وَلَكِنَّكَ غَيَّرتَ المَوْضوع.

ʿafwan, walakinnaka ġayyarta al-mawḍūʿ.

Sorry, but you changed the subject.

B- Moroccan Arabic Filler Words

زَعما

zaʿmā

like

This is probably the most popular Moroccan filler word. It’s the equivalent of “like” in English.

Example #1

زَعما بغيت ناكل.

zaʿmā bġīt nākl.

Like, I wanna eat.

Example #2

زَعما أَتبقا هاكا كاتِهدِر.

zaʿmā ʾatbqā hākā kātihdir.

Like, you’ll just keep talking like that.

إيوا

ʾiwa

so

This is used to confront a statement or to begin a sentence.

Example #1

إيوا خَلّيه يِكلِس بوَحدو.

ʾiwa ḫallīh yiklis bwaḥdū.

So let him sit down alone.

Example #2

إيوا سكِت.

ʾiwa skit.

So shut up.

C- Levantine Arabic Filler Words

يَعني

yaʿnī

meaning

This one is the equivalent of “like” in English.

Example #1

يَعني إنتَ رَح تِجي بُكرا؟

yaʿnī ʾinta raḥ tiǧī bukrā?

Like, you’ll come tomorrow?

Example #2

يَعني أَنا ما بَدي أُخرج. 

yaʿnī ʾanā mā badī ʾuḫrǧ.

Like, I don’t wanna go out.

والله

wallah 

by God

This filler word is used to start a sentence, and the English equivalents would be “you know” or “by God.”

Example #1

والله أَنا قاعِد إستَنّا فيه.

wallah ʾanā ʾāʿid ʾistannā fīh.

You know I’m actually sitting here waiting for him.

Example #2

والله ما بَعرِف.

wallah mā baʿrif.

By God, I don’t know.

هَلّأ

hallaʾ

now

This is a popular filler in Arabic used to transition to a new sentence.

Example #1

هَلَّأ شو بَدَّك مِنّي؟

hallaʾ šū baddak minnī?

Now what do you want from me?

Example #2

هَلّأ بَدَّك تِحكي؟

hallaʾ baddak tiḥkī?

You want to talk now?

طَيِّب

ṭayyib

okay

This filler word is great for transitioning from one topic to another. 

Example #1

طَيِّب، شو رَح نسَوِّي؟

ṭayyib, šū raḥ nsawwī?

Okay, what are we going to do?

Example #2

طَيِّب، شو رَأيكُم في القانون الجديد؟

ṭayyib, šū raʾīkum fī l-qānūn l-ǧdīd?

Okay, what’s your opinion on the new law?

D- Egyptian Arabic Filler Words

حِلو

ḥelū

sweet

Example #1

حِلو، اِتَّفَقنا.

ḥelū, ettafaʾnā.

Sweet, we have a deal.

Example #2

حِلو، نروح لِلصَفحَة إللي بَعدَها.

ḥelū, nrūḥ lelṣafḥah ʾellī baʿdahā.

Sweet, we move to the next page.

أَصلاً

ʾaṣlan

anyway

Example #1

إنتَ أَصلاً عايِز تروح فين؟

ʾenta ʾaṣlan ʿāyez trūḥ fīn?

Where did you want to go, anyway?

Example #2

أَنا أَصلاً ماكُنتِش عايِز أَخرُج.

ʾanā ʾaṣlan mākonteš ʿāyez ʾaḫrog.

I didn’t want to go out anyway.

3. Pros and Cons of Filler Words

While filler words are largely meaningless, they do leave an impression of the speaker or writer on others. Using them sends messages to the subconscious mind of the listener or reader, which helps them form an opinion of you.

Below are the key pros and cons for using filler words in different day-to-day situations.

A- Pros 

You sound more natural.

Arab Men Hugging

Cutting fluff words completely (which feels impossible for most people) will make you sound very clear and straightforward. But you never want to sound like a robot. People will perceive you as out of touch or just too different if you never use fillers. 

A better approach is to minimize your usage of filler words and strike a fine balance. This will help you sound “normal” enough to other folks without sabotaging your credibility. 

You sound friendlier.

A Smiling Doctor

In our day-to-day lives, we want to be accessible to people and make them feel safe around us. 

The spontaneity that filler words add to your tone will make you sound more natural in the ears of other people, which will consequently draw them closer to you and increase your perceived level of familiarity with each other. 

B- Cons 

You’re considered hesitant.

Using fillers excessively can cause the listener to lose focus or interest, and give them the perception that you’re hesitant. This is especially true in formal environments or events like job interviews.

For example, you may have noticed a pattern in lectures where teachers lose their students’ attention as soon as they start to sound hesitant or use many filler words.

Filler words raise doubts about your statements and make them sound weaker, which ties into the next con. 

You’re perceived as having low self-confidence.

A Confident Woman

Few people are happy to hire, befriend, date, work with, or build any kind of relationship with someone who has low self-confidence. 

Using a lot of filler words can easily give the perception that you have low confidence in yourself, your ideas, and your conversation skills.

C- How to Substitute Filler Words

Steve Jobs

Here’s a cool story on the importance of substituting filler words.

In an interview, Andy Miller (who used to be one of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ co-workers) talked about how he had to take the so-called “Steve test” before he could sell his company to Apple and join the company board.

What’s interesting about this is that Steve Jobs would just stare at the interviewee for 60 seconds in total silence after the interview was supposed to start.

If that silence was broken with filler words within that one minute, Steve Jobs knew the interviewee wouldn’t be the right fit for the company and would therefore decide not to work with them. If they kept silent and only spoke when necessary, he would know that they were strong enough to work and negotiate for him.

The moral of the story is this: Filler words can simply be replaced with silence. If you don’t know what to say, just don’t say anything. Rather, use body language to keep your listener’s attention. 

4. Conclusion

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re now armed with a skill most Arabic learners don’t have: You know how to use and understand filler words. Which ones are your favorite? And what filler words do you use most in your own language?

It’s up to you now to decide if you’re for or against using filler words, and how much you would want to incorporate those in your Arabic speaking.

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اِستَمتِعوا بِالتَعَلُّم!

istamteʿū bittaʿallom!

Enjoy learning!

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