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Using Arabic

Using Arabic: A Guide to Contemporary Usage by Mahdi Alosh

Primary Use:Pushing Arabic ability to a higher level
Format:Divided into three sections:
  1. Varieties of Arabic
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Grammar
Key:back of the book
Meant For:advanced beginner to advanced


Unlike many other books that teach Arabic from a standpoint of responding to and reading Arabic, this book focuses on teaching the reader how to use and write Arabic. It is a good book to use for those who are looking to push their Arabic to the next level of comprehension.

The first section of the book appears as an academic treatise on the linguistic system of Modern Standard Arabic vs. the Classical Arabic system vs. colloquial usage. It discusses pronunciation of Arabic using linguistic terminology and explains the various levels and registers of the usage of Arabic in a clear and concise way. It uses an interesting mix of textual sources to explain the various kinds of Arabic one can find, including a list of ‘baby talk’ vocabulary heard in Greater Syria.

The vocabulary section offers ways to build one’s vocabulary in Arabic and illustrates several possible learning strategies. It also discusses the issue of one word in English as having multiple definitions in Arabic as well as one word in Arabic having multiple definitions in English, and how to treat these kinds of vocabulary words.

Additionally, this book deals with vocabulary in linguistic terms and gives examples of words that are homophones (words that sound similar but have different meanings and spellings) and homographs (words that look identical but differ in meaning). The book is kind enough to give definitions of these words as they are discussed, as well as common examples in Arabic.

This section also includes lists of words under topics such as ‘geographical names,’ ‘animals and their sounds (i.e. cat and meow),’ kinds of clothing, months in different countries, common Arab names in different parts of the Arab world, and so forth. These are lists that are not collected all in one place in any other book.

The vocabulary section is the only section to include exercises, and these are sparse, there being only twelve exercises in the entire 338 page book. The exercises are meant as examples of how to employ various methods of learning vocabulary. The key to the exercises is found in Appendix 2.

The grammar section is meant as a reference for students who already have a basic understanding of how Arabic grammar works. It makes use of flowcharts and tables to explain some of the grammatical components of the language, and includes verb charts as an appendix in the back of the book.

The grammar section is written in clear English and does not assume the reader has a wide knowledge of English grammar. It also includes the Arabic grammatical terms for nearly every grammatical example, which can be an invaluable resource for the student looking to discover what a particular grammatical term is in Arabic. However, a basic knowledge of English grammar and linguistic terminology is helpful in understanding this chapter.

The chapter includes copious examples as well as some nice lists of terms such as a fairly long list of feminine nouns without the ta’maarbuta ة. It also includes examples of common errors and the corresponding corrected sentences.

The grammar in this book is laid out in such a way as to be particularly helpful for those students looking for help in writing Arabic and constructing sentences on their own.

The book is divided into the following chapters:

  1. Varieties of Arabic
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Grammar

How to Use It

In order to use this book to the fullest extent, one must already know the following:

  1. Arabic script
  2. basic Arabic vocabulary
  3. basic Arabic grammar

If one has the time, this book can be easily read from cover to cover. The first chapter in particular is worth reading for those students who would like a background on the different registers of the Arabic language. However, this book is easily used as a reference.

Although this book only has three chapters as such, it is laid out in such a way as to have an infinite number of subchapters. For instance, in the table of contents, you have 3: Grammar, 3.12: Negation, 3.12.1: Negating verbs in the past, and so on. In this way, someone looking up the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs could look under the ‘grammar’ chapter (3), look under the ‘verb’ section (3.3.13), and eventually come to the ‘transitive and intransitive verbs section (3.3.17) located at page 235.

The chapters also have some Arabic terms included in the table of contents.

Additionally, there are two indexes, one in Arabic and one in English, under which one can look up a particular term if it is not easily found in the table of contents. These indexes are most helpful for looking up grammatical terminology and less so for the other two chapters.


Alosh, Mahdi. Using Arabic: A Guide to Contemporary Usage. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.