Arabic—Tunisian Dialect

The passive voice in Tunisian colloquial Arabic

Differences between the passive voice of MSA and that of TCA

Forming the passive voice in Tunisian colloquial Arabic is totally different from forming the passive voice in Modern Standard Arabic. Recall that, in MSA, verbs are made passive through patterned changes to vocalization (e.g., فَعَلَ “he did” shifts to فُعِل “it was done”). In TCA, rather than changing the vocalization of the verb stem, the verb is made passive through a set of prefixes/infixes. This feature came to TCA through the Amazigh languages, which use a very similar system to form the passive.

Unlike Qur’anic Arabic (and for that matter, unlike English), TCA never expresses the agent of passive verb.

In Qur’anic Arabic it is possible to say:

(13.7) …وَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْلَا أُنْزِلَ عَلَيْهِ آيَةٌ مِنْ رَبهِ

“And those who disbelieve say: why has not a sign been sent down to him from his lord?”

And in journalistic MSA, we may encounter phrases like:

[1]شدد أن المكان مؤمن ومراقب من طرف الديوانة

“He stressed that the place was monitored and secured by customs.”

In TCA, the agent is always left unmentioned when using the passive voice. In instances where the agent must be mentioned, the active voice is used.

The Past Passive

The process of of forming the past passive involves adding the prefix ت to the active form of the verb.


In the active voice we might say:

.شرب العصير  “He drank the juice.”

In the passive voice this becomes:

.العصير تشرب “The juice was drunk”


Or consider the active sentence:

.عملت تصويرا بحذا النافورة “I took a photo next to the fountain”

We could make this passive by saying:

.التصويرا هذي تعملت بحذا النافورةThis photo was taken next to the fountain”

The Present Passive

Forming the present passive is similar. In the most simple cases, we infix ت between the root and the tense/gender marker.



.تاكل إدلاع فصيف “She eats watermelon in the summer.”


.الفقوس يتاكل ني “cucumbers are eaten raw.”

Sometimes this results in two ت’s:


.الماكلة تتطيب

“The food is being cooked.”

In order to avoid certain consonant clusters, the infixed ت becomes a ن in certain cases.


.الجواب هاذي يِنكتب (not يتكتب)

“This letter is being written.”

.الكورة تنرمى (not تترمى)

“The ball is being kicked.”

The Future Passive

Fortunately, forming the future passive is quite simple. We simply place the future indicator باش before the present passive form.


.الماكلة باش تتاكل

“The food will be eaten.”

Pseudo-passive/ergative verbs

The same form as the passive can be used to generate ergative verbs (also called “psuedo-passive”) in TCA.


.البلج متاع الباب تكسر

“The lock on the door broke.”


  1. Adapted from "صحيفة تونسية: مصدر متفجرات مرفأ بيروت مجمّع كيمياوي تونسي" published February 2021.انفجار-بيروت-صحيفة-تونسية-مصدر-متفجرات-مرفأ-بيروت-مجمّع-كيمياوي-تونسي


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