(Over) Seven Ways to Say “Except” in Arabic–Plus the Grammar


root: ك-ث-ر / noun / definition: large quantity, abundance

On The Arabic Pages‘ Instagram this week, I asked everyone what type of post they wanted to see next: an addition to synonyms series or another grammar explanation. It was a 50/50 divide.

So, why not hit two birds with one stone and go through a handful of Arabic synonyms to express “except” as well as tackle some of the grammar associated with them?

(This post was much-needed for my own self too as, thus far, I’ve somehow avoided looking deeply into the grammar rules of the most common Arabic word for “except”, إلّا!)

Arabic has a multitude of words and phrases associated with exception—and the title of this post is deliberately ambiguous because although we’re dealing with seven core words this week, some of them can appear in more than one form.

Here’s the thing, though: not all of them are the same in terms of how they affect the grammar.

The expressions for “except” have different effects on the case of the following noun which is referred to as المستثنى (“the exception”) .

The good news is that I’ve simplified the grammar as much as possible, and the most complicated one happens to be the grammar of “إلّا”.

So let’s start with that one:


is a combination of إن + لا

there are 3 different sentence types in which إلّا can appear, and they all have different rules for the case of the following noun:

Scenario 1: An affirmative sentence (i.e. a sentence that is not negated)

in this case, the grammar is simple: the noun after إلّا (i.e. المستثنى) is always منصوب

أَكَلَ الرِجالُ إلّا خالِداً = the men ate except for Khalid

we also see this type of sentence when we’re telling the time in Arabic:

الساعةُ الرابِعةُ إلّا رُبْعاً = it is 3:45 (lit: the time is 4 o’clock except for a quarter)

Scenario 2: A complete, negated sentence

first, we need to know what “complete” means

the term المُسْتَثْنى مِنه refers to that from which an exception is made

for instance, in the first example we had, “the men” is المُستَثنى منه because that is what the exception (المُستَثنى) is being made from

when المستشنى منه is mentioned, the sentence is regarded as complete

in completed, negated sentences, the following noun is either منصوب OR it mirrors the case of المستثنى منه

so both of these sentences are correct and have the same meaning:

لَم يَدْرُس الطُلّابُ إلّا خالِداً

لَم يَدْرُس الطُلّابُ إلّا خالِدٌ

= the students did not study except for Khalid

in both examples, الطُلّاب/”the students” is المستثنى منه—as it is present in the sentence, the sentence is “complete” (if we omitted المستثنى منه and simply said لم يدرس إلا خالد would mean that the sentence is “incomplete”—and this would fall under scenario 3)

in the first sentence, the exception is منصوب (i.e. خالداً)

in the second sentence, the exception mirrors the case of المستثنى منه—we can see الطُلّابُ is مرفوع—so the exception takes on مرفوع case too (خالدٌ)

another example:

لا تَعْتَمِدُ على الرِجالِ إلّا خالِداً

لا تَعْتَمِدُ على الرِجالِ إلّا خالِدٍ

= she does not rely on men except for Khalid

in the first sentence, it is simply منصوب

in the second sentence, المستثنى منه is مجرور because it follows a preposition (على), so the exception (خالدٍ) mirrors its case and also becomes مجرور

again, both are correct

Scenario 3: An incomplete, negated sentence

a sentence is called “incomplete” when المستثنى منه is not present before إلّا

it is often translated into English using “only”, because it doesn’t make sense when we omit المستثنى منه in English

in this scenario, the exception takes the case according to its role in the sentence and إلّا has no effect on the grammar at all

لا يأكُلُ إلّا خالدٌ = only Khalid eats (lit: (?) does not eat except for Khalid)

لَم أَرَ إلّا خالداً = I only saw Khalid (lit: I did not see (?) except Khalid)

لا أَمُرُّ إلّا بِخالدٍ = I only pass by Khalid (lit: I do not pass (by ?) except by Khalid)

in all three of these examples, المستثنى منه is not mentioned—i.e. what/whom is “خالد” an exception from in all of these sentences?

therefore, the case of the exception is determined the rest of the sentence: in the first, خالد is مرفوع because it is the subject of the verb يأكل; in the second, it is منصوب because it is the object of the verb لم أر; and in the third, it is مجرور because it follows a preposition

Note: we’ve only dealt with cases where nouns immediately follow إلّا here. Other scenarios are much simpler grammatically. E.g. you can add a clause beginning with أَنَّ after إلّا to mean “except that…”. The noun/subject following أنّ will be منصوب due to the rules of the “sisters of إنّ”

(rest assured: all of the following words/phrases are much simpler grammatically…)

سِوى / سُوى

followed by a pronoun suffix or مجرور noun

ذَهَبَت كافّةُ البَناتِ إلى المَدرَسةِ سِواها = all of the girls went to school except her

لَم يَبْقَ سوى ساعَةٍ = there is only an hour left (lit: no (?) remains except an hour)

note: in this second example, we can see that المستثنى منه has been omitted—had it have been present, we may have seen something like لم يبقَ وَقْتٌ سوى ساعة (no time remains except an hour)


followed by a مجرور noun

أُحِبُّ كُلَّ الفواكِهِ غَيْرَ المَوْزِ = I like all fruit except for bananas


this word is made of two components: بـِ + اِستِثْناء which literally translates as “with the exception of”

it’s followed by a مجرور noun

قَرَأَ الرِّوايةَ كُلّها بِاِستثناءِ الصَّفْحَةِ الأخيرةِ = he read the whole novel except for the last page

عَدا / ما عَدا / فيما عَدا

when you use عَدا alone, it is followed by a مجرور noun

when you use it with ما (in ما عدا or فيما عدا), it is followed by a منصوب noun

ضَحَكَ الأطفالُ عَدا زَيْدٍ = the children laughed except for Zayd

حَضَرَ جَميعُ الوُزَراءِ المُؤْتَمَرَ ما عَدا وَزيراً واحِداً = all of the ministers attended the conference except for one minister

خَلا / ما خَلا

when you use خَلا alone, it is followed by a مجرور noun

when you use it with ما, it is followed by a منصوب noun

زُرْتُ بُيوتَ عائِلَتي خَلا بَيتِ جَدّي = I visited my family’s houses except for my grandfather’s house

يُحِبُّ مشاهَدةَ الأفلامِ ما خلا الأفلامَ العاطِفيةَ = he loves watching films except for romantic ones

حاشا / حاشى

followed by a مجرور noun

جاء الرُؤَساءُ حاشا رَئيسِ فَرَنْسا = the presidents came except for the president of France

And we have come to the end!

I certainly haven’t gone through the grammar extensively here, nor have I covered all of the possible ways to say “except” in Arabic—but I think you now have enough understanding to be able to use all of these synonyms correctly in your own writing.

I hope you found this useful!

!في أمان الله

P.s. Don’t miss out on last week’s post if you haven’t read it yet, where I went word-by-word through an Arabic news headline and the beginning of the article explaining the vocabulary and grammar!

P.p.s. The canvas you see in the photo at the top of this post was painted by yours truly, you can find out more about my artwork here.

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