Arabic Headline Analysis


root: ح-ل-ل / verbal noun of form II / plural: تَحليلات or تَحاليل / definition: analysis

Sometimes you might see a news headline in which you understand all of the words, yet you can’t make enough sense of the grammar to get to the meaning. And sometimes you just don’t know the words.

So I thought that it might be a good idea to take a random Arabic headline from the week and pick apart each word and enough grammar to understand it. Shall we begin?

The headline below is from the BBC Arabic website:

ـ 14 يناير/ كانون الثاني 2020

بعد رفض طلب لجوئه.. ظل ينام في حافلات لندن لمدة 21 عاما

The breakdown:


بَعْدَ means “after”, it’s a preposition


رَفْضِ is the verbal noun (مصدر) of form I of the root ر-ف-ض and it means “rejection”/”refusal”–we’ll decide on the most fitting definition after looking at the rest of the phrase

It doesn’t have the definite marker الـ here because it’s the first term of the إضافة (genitive construction), and only the last word of the إضافة can have either الـ or tanween ( ً / ٍ / ٌ ) or a possessive pronoun suffix

Here, رفض would take a كَسرة ( ِ ) at the end because it comes after a preposition


طَلَبِ is also a noun, derived from form I of the root ط-ل-ب, it means “claim”/”request”/”application” (among other things)

As it’s the second term in the إضافة phrase, it would end in a كَسرة ( ِ )–it wouldn’t be tanween ( ٍ ) or have الـ because it isn’t the last word in the construction


This is the last word in the إضافة, and is technically a form of إضافة itself seeing as it’s made up of a noun (لُجوء) and a possessive pronoun suffix (ـه)

لُجُوء again is the مصدر of the form I verb, and the root this time is ل-ج-ء

The word means “refuge”/”political asylum”

Because it isn’t the first word in the إضافة, it also must end in the كسرة–this is relevant here because of two main things: (1) there’s an attached pronoun at the end of the word which means the vowel on the ء will be pronounced and (2) it affects what the ء “sits on”

So because the word لجوء has an attached suffix AND it ends with a كسرة, the ء sits on a ى and looks like this لجوئـ

The ـه suffix at the end of لجوئه is a possessive pronoun meaning “his”–because the word لجوء ends in the “i” sound, the ـه has a كسرة as well

So, the word is pronounced لُجوئِهِ

Okay so this is what we have so far:

بعد رفض طلب لجوئه

after (the) rejection/refusal of (the) claim/request/application of his refuge/political asylum

At this point, now that we know the immediate context of these words, we can narrow down the meanings and come up with a better-sounding translation, like:

after the rejection of his asylum application

Moving on to the next half:


ظَلَّ comes from the root ظ-ل-ل and it’s a form I verb

It’s in the past tense, third person, singular (“he”)

With a quick glance to the next word, we can see that ظلّ is followed by a present tense verb–and when it is, it means “to keep doing something”/”to do something constantly/consistently”


يَنام is the present tense, singular, masculine form of the form I verb (نامَ / يَنام) meaning “to sleep”, and it’s from the root ن-و-م

So combining ظلّ and ينام gives a meaning of “he kept/remained sleeping”


في is a preposition meaning “in”/”at”/”on”


حافلات comes from the root ح-ف-ل and is the plural of حافِلة, “bus”. So, حافِلات means “buses”

It’s the first term of the two-word إضافة


لَندَن = London

This is the second word in the إضافة construction so حافلات لندن means “(the) buses of London”–or, more idiomatically, “London buses”


لِمُدّة is combined of two elements: لِـ + مُدّة

لـ is a prefix with many meanings, including “for”

It becomes obvious that “for” is the correct translation here due to the word that it’s attached to:

مُدّة comes from the root م-د-د and means “period”/”duration”

So لمدة means “for the duration of” and therefore, because of that little “of”, it combines with the next term (which indicates a time duration) in an إضافة construct


I think you’ve worked this one out already


عام means “year” and is from the root ع-و-م

The extra alif (ا) at the end is added because the word is منصوب (in accusative case): عاماً

But, you may ask, why is عام in the singular when we are talking about “21 years“? And why is it in the accusative case?

In Arabic, for the numbers 11-99 (including compound numbers whose last two digits fall in this range), the counted noun (which, here, is عام) is in its singular form (so not أعوام, its plural) and in accusative case

So because a ً needs to be added, there has to be an alif here

Now let’s put it all together:

بعد رفض طلب لجوئه.. ظل ينام في حافلات لندن لمدة 21 عاما

After the rejection of his asylum application.. he slept* on London buses for** 21 years

Translation notes:

*I’ve translated ظل ينام simply as “slept” because the continuity is already implied with the whole “21 years” bit and it sounds more natural

** For لمدة, I translated it as “for” instead of “for the duration of” for a better flow

And that’s it! Hope that was useful and explained clearly enough (if not, feel free to ask any questions in the comments).

Would you want to see more of these news headline analyses? Let me know what you think!

!مع السلامة

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