Meanings and Uses of غير

اِسْتِعْمال

root: ع-م-ل / verbal noun of form X / plural: اِسْتِعْمالات / definition: use, application


This week, it’s another grammar explanations post (yay!) which was requested through Instagram. And the question we’re going to answer is: what are the different meanings of the word غير and how can we use it?

Note: for the examples in this post, I’ll be referring to A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (one of my favourite grammar books!).


Let’s get an overview of the word غَير first:

  • it’s (usually!) a noun (we’ll come back to this later)
  • it’s derived from the root غ-ي-ر which is linked to change and differing
  • its meanings include “other than“, “except“, and “non-

There are a few ways in which we can use غير, and each one shapes its meaning differently. Here are some common contexts:

  1. غير followed by an adjective
  2. غير plus a pronoun suffix that refers back to a previous noun or pronoun
  3. غير followed by a noun
  4. غير following a negated verb

Time for the details now…


1. غير followed by an adjective

What type of word is غير here? A noun

What type of construction is this? An إضافة

What’s the case ending of غير? It depends on the role of the adjective it modifies in the sentence

What’s the case of the following word? مجرور

What’s the meaning in this context? non-, in-, un-, dis-, -less, not, etc.


So we’re first taught that only nouns can be linked in an إضافة phrase (possessive/genitive construction), but غَير (as a noun) can actually be the first term in an إضافة and be followed by an adjective.

Because this is an إضافة, the noun غير will take its case ending depending on the context, and the adjective—seeing as it’s the non-initial term in an إضافة—will always be مجرور (genitive).

Remember that, due to it being the first term of an إضافة phrase, غير can neither take الـ nor tanween. The adjective will take الـ only if the noun it modifies is definite.

Note that غير never changes according to the gender of the noun.

Take a look at these examples:


كانت هناك صُعوباتٌ غَيرُ مُتَوَقَّعَةٍ

there were unexpected difficulties


بِطُرُقٍ غَيرِ قانونيَّةٍ

by illegal means


الدُّوَلُ الإسلاميّةُ غَيرُ العَرَبيّةِ

the non-Arab Islamic countries


اِشْتَرَيتُ تِلكَ الكُتُبَ غَيرَ المُفيدِةِ

I bought those useless books


كانَ الاِتِّصالُ غَيرَ مُباشِرٍ

the communication was indirect


هي غَيرُ قابِلَةٍ لِلتَّزْويرِ

it was noncounterfeitable

(note: we looked at phrases with the active participle قابِل in the post One Way to Form -able/-ible Adjectives in Arabic)



2. غير plus a pronoun suffix that refers back to a previous noun or pronoun

What type of word is غير here? A noun

What type of construction is this? An إضافة

What’s the case ending of غير? It depends on the context

What’s the case of the following word? N/A

What’s the meaning in this context? other


When we have an إضافة formed of غَير and a pronoun suffix, the pronoun suffix refers back to a noun or pronoun mentioned previously (so it must agree with it in gender and number)—and it essentially means “other than”.

I think, for this one, the easiest way to understand is to look at examples:


تَختَلِفُ عَن غَيرِها

she differs from others

(lit: she differs from [those] other than her)


مِصرُ وَغَيرُها مِنَ البِلادِ العَرَبيّةِ

Egypt and other Arab countries

(lit: Egypt and other than it from [among] the Arab countries)


We often see this construction at the end of a list with وَ, to mean “and so on“:

مِثلَ نورٍ وَلَيلَى وَإبراهيمَ وَغَيرِهم…

… like Noor, Layla, Ibrahim, and so on

(lit: like Noor, Layla, Ibrahim, and other than them)



3. غير followed by a noun

What type of word is غير here? A noun

What type of construction is this? An إضافة

What’s the case ending of غير? It depends on the context

What’s the case of the following word? مجرور

What’s the meaning in this context? other than” or “except


This construction is similar to the previous one, except the phrase isn’t referring to any noun that preceded it. And it’s also easier to translate because it simply means “other than” or “except”.

Remember that, like we saw in the first construction, the second word in the إضافة phrase is مجرور.

For example:

لا يَأكُلُ غَيرَ اللَّحمِ والبَطاطا

he doesn’t eat anything other than/except meat and potatoes

(note: the word “anything” is simply implied—in the sentence above, the missing word is طَعاماً (“food”), but it’s so obvious that it’s omitted for the sake of eloquence and conciseness)


مِن قِبَلِ أَطرافٍ غَيرِ الحُكومةِ…

… by parties other than the government

(note: we talked about the phrase مِن قِبَلِ in detail in this post!



4. غير following a negated verb

What type of word is غير here? A noun

What type of construction is this? An إضافة

What’s the case ending of غير? It depends on the context

What’s the case of the following word? مجرور

What’s the meaning in this context? only” or “merely


This construction is the same as the one above; the only difference is that when it comes after a negated verb, the translation can differ. In both cases though, غير the same meanings as إلّا.

Take a look at this example first:

لَم يُقَدِّمْ غَيرَ القَليلِ مِن الأموالِ

it offered only a little money

Can you see that the literal translation would be “it didn’t offer [anything] except a little money”?

That’s why we can use the example from before, which also had a negated verb, and translate it using “only”:

لا يَأكُلُ غَيرَ اللَّحمِ والبَطاطا

he only eats meat and potatoes


So, as we can see, if we have this construction after a negated verb, we can translate it as “other than”, “except”, “only”, or “merely”. If there’s no negated verb, it’s limited to the first two.



Phew, okay, that’s the bulk of it covered. There’s just one thing left to clear up:

You may have noticed that—in the four constructions above—غير is a noun and the first term of an إضافة phrase. But at the start, I alluded to the fact that غير does not always fall into that grammatical category.

غير can also be a preposition (pronounced غَيرَ) meaning “except“.

In this case, the following word will still be مجرور because it follows a preposition.

One context where we’ll commonly always see غَيرَ as a preposition is actually in the phrase غَيرَ أَنَّ, which is a conjunction (i.e. it links two clauses together).

غَيرَ أَنَّ means “except that“, “however“, “yet“, etc. For instance:

غَيرَ أَنَّهُ سَيَستَمِرُّ

however, he will continue


That’s all for this post! As always, there’s more to say but I think our brains can only take in so much…

If you’re really interested in the grammar and other uses of غير, I recommend that you check out its entry in the Hans Wehr and read through pages 699-701 of Grammar for Nerds 2, respectively.

(The latter is particularly interesting if you want to know more about the case endings of غير and how you sometimes have a choice of which vowel mark to use!)

I hope this was useful! If you have any post requests, you can let me know in the comments or via The Arabic Pages‘ social media accounts.

See you next time, إلى اللقاء!



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