beginning, intermediate

Talking about eating and meals

couple at dinner table In this article we’ll be looking at how to talk about eating in Arabic, especially with respect to the verbs that are used and the names of the meals.

The basics

The most basic word meaning to talk about eating in Arabic is يأكل ya’kul ‘to eat’. Here are the singular forms of this verb in the present tense:

‘he eats’ ya’kul يَأْكُل
‘she eats’ ta’kul تَأْكُل
‘you (masc.) eat’ ta’kul تَأْكُل
‘you (fem.) eat’ ta’kuliin تَأْكُلِين
‘I eat’ ’aakul آكُل

Note that the أنا ’anaa ‘I’ form of this verb is slightly irregular. Instead of the expected أأخذ ’a’kul it is ’aakul. Actually, this happens whenever we would expect to see the the combination ’a’. We see this for example in the verb يأخذ ya’khudh ‘to take’, where the أنا ’anaa ‘I’ form is آخذ ’aakhudh, rather than the expected أأخذ ’a’khudh. We also see this in the word آخر ’aakhar ‘other (masc.)’, which we would expect to be أأخر ’a’khar if we were to blindly apply the root of this word (’-kh-r) to its pattern (’aCCaC, which thus adds another at the beginning).

We can use يأكل ya’kul ‘to eat’ very generally, as in this sentence:

آكُل تُفّاحة كُلّ يَوْم.
’aakul tuffaaḥa kull yawm.
more formal:’aakulu tuffaaḥatan kulla yawm.
‘I eat an apple every day.’

Note that for eating soup, one usually uses the word يشرب yashrab ‘to drink’ instead of يأكل ya’kul. You can read more about يشرب yashrab in this Dr. Bulbul article.

The past tense of يأكل ya’kul is أكل ’akala. Here’s an example sentence in the أنا ’anaa ‘I’ form:

أَكَلْتُ بُرْتُقالَة بَعْد الْدَّرْس.
’akaltu burtuqaala baʕd id-dars.
more formal: ’akaltu burtuqaalatan baʕda d-dars.
‘I ate an orange after class (lit. after the lesson).’

Perhaps you have already learned about the Arabic verbal noun (مَصْدَر maṣdar), which is somewhat like an infinitive. The verbal noun of this verb is أكل ’akl:

خَرَجْنا مِن البَيْت بَعْد الأَكْل.
kharajnaa min il-bayt baʕd il-’akl.
more formal: kharajnaa minq l-bayti baʕda l-’akl.
‘We left the house after eating.’

The word أكل ’akl is sometimes also used just to mean ‘food’, especially in spoken Arabic. However, the usual word for ‘food’ in Standard Arabic is طعام ṭaʕaam:


This word is formed using the same root as the word for ‘restaurant’:



If you have worked through the Bite-Size Arabic book, you already know the word وجبة wajba for ‘meal’. Now we will learn the words for the three main meals of the day. Here are the nouns for these meals:

عَشاء غَداء إِفْطار / فُطُور
ʕashaa’ ghadaa’ ’ifṭaar / fuṭuur
‘dinner’ ‘lunch’ ‘breakfast’

Here are some example sentences with these words:

هَل الإِفْطار جاهِز؟
hal il-’ifṭaa jaahiz?
more formal: hal il-’ifṭaaru jaahiz?
‘Is breakfast ready?’
رَجَعْتُ إِلى الْعَمَل بَعْد الْغَداء.
rajaʕtu ’ilaa l-ʕamal baʕd il-ghadaa’.
more formal: rajaʕtu ’ilaa l-ʕamali baʕda l-ghadaa’.
‘I went back to work after lunch.’
أَدْعوكَ إِلى الْعَشاء عِنْدِي في الْبَيْت.
’adʕuu-k ’ilaa l-ʕashaa’ ʕind-ii fii l-bayt.
more formal: ’adʕuu-ka ’ilaa l-ʕashaa’i ʕind-ii fii l-bayt.
‘I invite you to dinner at my home.’

Each of these nouns has a corresponding verb. Here are these verbs in the present and past tenses, in the هو huwa ‘he’ form:

تَعَشّى تَغَدّى أَفْطَرَ
taʕashshaa taghaddaa ’afṭara
‘he had dinner’ ‘he had lunch’ ‘he had breakfast’
يَتَعَشّى يَتَغَدّى يُفْطِر
yataʕashshaa yataghaddaa yufṭir
‘he has dinner’ ‘he has lunch’ ‘he has breakfast’

Two of these verbs end in a ى ’alif maqṣuura, which results in some sound changes when certain suffixes are added. So, here are the singular past tense forms of ‘to have lunch’ and ‘to have dinner’:

‘he had lunch’ taghaddaa تَغَدَّى
‘she had lunch’ taghaddat تَغَدَّتْ
‘you (masc.) had lunch’ taghaddayta تَغَدَّيْتَ
‘you (fem.) had lunch’ taghaddayti تَغَدَّيْتِ
‘I had lunch’ taghaddaytu تَغَدَّيْتُ
‘he had lunch’ taʕashshaa تَعَشّى
‘she had lunch’ taʕashshat تَعَشَّتْ
‘you (masc.) had lunch’ taʕashshayta تَعَشَّيْتَ
‘you (fem.) had lunch’ taʕashshayti تَعَشَّيْتِ
‘I had lunch’ taʕashshaytu تَعَشَّيْتُ

Here are a couple of example sentences with these verbs:

لَقَدْ أَفْطَرْتُ باكِرًا جِدًّا أَمْس.
laqad ’afṭartu baakiran jiddan ’ams.
‘I ate breakfast very early yesterday.’
أَنا جائْع جِدًّا. مَتى سَنَتَغَدّى؟
’anaa jaa’iʕ jiddan. mataa sa nataghaddaa?
‘I’m very hungry. When are we going to eat lunch?’
أَتَعَشّى في ذَلِكَ الْمَطْعَم أَحْيَانًا.
’ataʕashshaa fii dhaalika l-maṭʕam ’aḥyaanan.
more formal: ’ataʕashshaa fii dhaalika l-maṭʕami ’aḥyaanan.
‘I have dinner at that restaurant sometimes.’

The verb يتناول yatanaawal

In Standard Arabic sometimes the word يتناول yatanaawal is used, which can mean either ‘to eat’ or ‘to drink’, depending on the context. So, it is somewhat like the English word have, which means ‘drink’ in “I had a cup of tea,” but which means ‘eat’ in “I had lunch early today.” The past tense of this verb is تناول tanaawala. Here are a couple of examples:

ماذا تَناوَلْتَ في وَجْبة الإفْطار؟
maadhaa tanaawalta fii wajbat il-’ifṭaar?
‘What did you have for breakfast?’
تَناوَلْتُ كُوبًا مِن الْشاي مَعَ صَديقي رَمَضان.
tanaawaltu kuuban min ish-shaay maʕa ṣadiiq-ii ramaḍaan.
more formal: tanaawaltu kuuban mina sh-shaayi maʕa ṣadiiq-ii ramaḍaan.
‘I had a cup of tea with my friend Ramadan.’

Well, I have to go eat now. I hope you found this article useful!


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