Baa, Baa, Black Sheep!

I could sure use a refresher on the grammatical purpose of the leading baa on a present-tense Egyptian verb. Looks to me like it is a major departure from MSA.



For example, one of my practice sentences is:



الساعة كم بتروح الجامعة؟



At what time [you are going to] the University?



Another is:



تروح السنما إنهارده؟



[Are you going] to the Cinema today?



Why am I using the leading baa in one sentence and not the other? Is there a semantic difference or is this just the kind of random variation we hear in speech? If I put a leading baa on the second sentence does it change the meaning? Does it still make sense?

The ب prefixed verbs as well as the ism fa3al verb form are both very flexible in this regard and full of exceptions.



Usually a verb with the ب prefix signifies habitual action (in your first example there it could be translated as What time do you regularly go to the university?) but as you’ve highlighted, it can also allude to present and future actions as well (e.g. انا باكل - I’m eating (right now)).



Same with the ism fa3al verbs - there are basically 3 categories of them, some of them allude to a past action, some present and some future depending on which word and which context.



You’re best off learning them in context and trying not to think too much about rules because there are too many exceptions.


Going off of the admin’s excellent reply, I thought I’d give a bit more information.



The prefix b- in Eastern dialects shows that a present verb is indicative (فعل مرفوع), while its absence shows that the verb is subjunctive (فعل منصوب) or jussive (فعل مجزوم). So wherever you’d expect a present indicative verb in Classical Arabic (usually indicated by the suffix -u or by keeping the final -na for certain forms), that’s where you’d expect to find a verb with the prefix b- in Eastern dialects. Likewise wherever you’d expect a present subjunctive or jussive verb in CA, that’s where you’d find a verb lacking b-.



I can’t say much about the specific rules for Egyptian, since it appears to me that there are more restrictions in Egyptian Arabic as to when a verb should be indicative than in other dialects, such as Levantine. But here’s what I know about verbs in Levantine.


  1. Indicative verbs (with b-) are used:



    a) for habitual action or action that is true for all time, e.g. بروح ع الجامعة كل يوم “I go to university every day.”



    b) for action that you are certain will happen in the near future, e.g. بروح ع الجامعة بكرا الساعة تسعة “I’m going to uni tomorrow at 9.”



    c) for stative action that is true, e.g. بعرف إنو عندك دوام بكرا “I know you have work tomorrow.”






  2. Subjunctive and jussive verbs (without b-) are used:



    a) for dependent verbs, e.g. بدي اروح ع المتكبة الأسبوع الجاي (often syncopated to بدي روح) “I want to go to the library next week.”



    b) for future action that you are not sure will or should happen, e.g. اروح لعند أحمد اليوم ولا شو رأيك؟ “Should I go to Ahmad’s house today, or what do you think?”



    c) for action that you think ought to happen, e.g. يروح لحالو ع البيت “Let him go home alone.”

Thank you! Both of these replies are helpful.



The context of “What time do you go to the university?” was a brief interview with a university student about his daily routine. So it falls under the category of action that is ongoing, in this case daily.



I see the wisdom of absorbing this pattern through repetition rather than through grammatical analysis, especially since this is such a common feature.