Levels of Intensity of Negative Imperatives

Josh_

Senior Member
U.S., English
I was thinking about the different levels of negative imperatives (NI), in colloquial Arabic anyway, and wondering where إياك fits in.

I suppose this is probably really only for Egyptian Arabic, but I am interested in knowing the different negative imperatives used, and there levels of intensity, in any and all dialects as well as MSA if anyone wants to explain it.

So here is my list of negative imperatives from weakest to strongest:

1. NI using the word "balaash" -- balaash titkallim (بلاش تتكلم )*
2. NI from the verb -- matitkallimsh (ما تتكلمش )*
3. NI using imperative of the verb wi3i (iw3a إوعى) + verb -- iw3a titkallim (اوعى تتكلم )
4. NI using iyyaak إياك -- iyyaak tikallimni (taani) ( إياك تكلمني (تاني) ) -- Do not/never speak to me (again)!

From my experience it seems to me that iyyaak is very strong -- something along the lines of "don't dare...!" and of further intensified (like all negative imperatives are) with adverbs such as "taani" and "abadan." Example:

"iyyaak ti3addi 3atabti taani!"
This particular statement I have heard before and I took it to mean something like, "Don't you dare cross my threshold again!"

*It seems to me that balaash + verb is lighter and weaker than the NI from the verb, but they also sometimes appear of equal strength depending on the context/situation.

So I would like to know if my assessment is correct and the thoughts of others as well as other negative imperatives forms and thoughts about them in all dialects.
 
  • cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Welcome back Josh, and Josh's questions ;)

    1. NI using the word "balaash" -- balaash titkallim (بلاش تتكلم )
    2. NI from the verb -- matitkallimsh (ما تتكلمش )
    I'm not sure about this order. ما تتكلمش is a plain negative order : "don't talk", while بلاش تتكلم is more of a request, like "please don't talk". It can even have the connotation of an advise "I'd rather you don't talk".
    So... not really an imperative imperative :)

    The MSA equivalent of ما تتكلمش is لا تتكلم .

    3. NI using imperative of the verb wi3i (iw3a إوعى) + verb -- iw3a titkallim (اوعى تتكلم )
    4. NI using iyyaak إياك -- iyyaak tikallimni (taani) ( إياك تكلمني (تاني) ) -- Do not/never speak to me (again)!
    This order is more accurate.
    إوعى is a form of تحذير (but I can't find an English equivalent for it)
    إياك is more of thread (not really a threat, but this is the closest I could get as a comparison) , it's like : "don't you dare".

    I can't think of an MSA equivalent of إوعى though I'm quite sure it exists. If I remember something I'll add it here.
    As for إياك it is MSA, even if not used exactly the same way as in Egyptian colloquial إياك والكلام , or إياك أن تتكلم .

    From my experience it seems to me that iyyaak is very strong -- something along the lines of "don't dare...!" and of further intensified (like all negative imperatives are) with adverbs such as "taani" and "abadan."
    Correct ! :)

    Well, I hope I've been of help :)
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    In Palestinian Arabic, we don't use إياك, except maybe if someone is trying to be humorous (it's common to use MSA for humorous effect :)).

    As for the other three, I pretty much agree with Cherine.

    بلاش تحكي (we usually say تحكي and not تتكلم) means something along the lines of "You'd better not speak," "It would be better if you didn't speak," "I wouldn't speak if I were you." In fact, I wouldn't really consider it an "imperative."
    ما تحكيش is neutral. It simply means "Do not speak" and can be strong or weak depending on the situation.
    إوعى تحكي basically means "Beware of speaking" (which I know is not used in colloquial English, but I'm translating it this way to elucidate the connotation of the Arabic phrase). It can be understood as a literal "beware"; i.e. as a word of advice cautioning someone against doing something that might harm him/her (إوعى تلعب بالنار، بعدين بتنحرق); while it is strong in such cases, it's not hostile; on the contrary, it demonstrates concern. But it can also be used figuratively in a threatening fashion, as in the example you gave, Josh. In your sentence the literal meaning would be "Beware of ever stepping on my doorstep, lest something terrible happen to you [i.e. lest I beat you up!]" but most people would simply understand it as "don't you dare..." without necessarily expecting grave consequences if they don't comply.
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    Yes, I put balaash + verb first as it is technically not an imperative, but rather a suggestion, with somewhat imperative like function, at least with verbs. It seems like the politest way of telling someone not to do something -- a suggestion. It can also be used with nouns:

    balaash shitiima -- no insulting
    balaash dawsha -- no noise

    Yes, I realize that "iyyaak" is more MSA, but it is occasionally used in colloquial, like as Elroy said for humorous effect, but also apparently when one is very angry and wants to strongly express the prohibition of something. I have had statements using this word directed at me in a very strong, angry tone. "iw3a + verb" has also been directed towards me quite sternly. That's why I am aware of the connotations of them.

    I don't know if beware is the best word. "Beware of speaking" does not indicate that the speaker is telling the "spoken to" not to speak, let alone strongly. To me it indicates that one is advising someone to speak carefully, to choose his/her words carefully. I like "take care not to.." or be careful not to ..." as literal translations in this sense of iw3a. Beware means to be aware of" or "be cautious of" but does not indicate that one should not do something. Of course, iw3a has other meanings as well that have nothing to do with being a strong negative imperative, and one of those in beware in the sense of "to be aware of" or "be cautious of," such as "iw3a il-kitaab" (watch out for the book) or iw3a raasak" (watch your head).
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    "Beware of speaking" does not indicate that the speaker is telling the "spoken to" not to speak, let alone strongly. To me it indicates that one is advising someone to speak carefully, to choose his/her words carefully.
    I have to disagree. To me, "beware of speaking" is a clear recommendation against speaking. While it may not have the same connotation as "Don't you dare speak!" it does mean something like, "You should avoid speaking, because if you do, something negative might happen." If you do a Google search for "beware of ---ing" (verb of your choice) you'll find hundreds of results with the connotation I have described. Look at this, for example. Certainly you would agree that it does not mean "Commit treason carefully." :)

    That said, I did point out that "beware" was more of a literal meaning whereas "don't you dare" was more of a "figurative" meaning. So while "beware of speaking" does not exactly mean "do not speak!" neither does إوعى تحكي, taken literally.
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    "Beware" is an admonition; a piece of cautionary advice, if you will. It is not a strong negative imperative directly and explicitly telling someone not to do something. It's like a “inta Hurr” situation – you can do it, but do it at your own risk and bear the consequences.

    "Beware of dog" is a deterrent against trespassing, but not an explicit negative command against it.

    “Beware of committing treason” is an admonition not to commit treason, not an imperative meaning “DO NOT commit treason.”

    “Beware playing with fire” implies that you can play with fire, but be wary, lest it hurt you – do so at your own risk. It is different that saying “do not play with fire.”

    When used with a verb “iw3a” usually has the connotation of a negative imperative (take care not to …), while with a noun it has the connotation of “being aware.” I probably would translate "beware" into Arabic as إحذر in most cases.

    To sum up, “beware” is, as you said apropos, a recommendation, or, as I said, an admonition, but is not a strong proscriptive statement.
     

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Hi Guys

    In Classical Arabic Grammar there is a section called الإغراء والتحذير (Encouraging / Urging and Warning against) in which the expression إياك is explained.

    When you want to encourage someone to do a particular action you merely repeat that action by saying for example: الاجتهادَ الاجتهادَ in the accusative.

    On the otherhand if you want to warn someone and request him to desist from performing a particular action or stay away from something you say for example:

    إياك والنار
    إياك إياك النار (doubly emphatic)
    إياك والظنّ
    إياك والسبع الموبقات
    إياك والكسل

    You also have the following options:

    إياك النارَ
    إياك من النار
    instead of إياك والنارَ

    This expression is common in Prophetic admonisions and prohibitions.

    This method of reproach is normally dealt with after the section dealing with the المفعول به because it is in the accusative due to it being the المفعول به of an elided verb. I think Wright's Grammar deals with this particular language use for those seeking more clarification on the issue.

    Another negative imperative is حَذَارِ (Beware, be warned) which is similar in impact, I think, to إياك , and it is often used with the infinitive particle (أنْ) as in: حذارِ أن تقاطعني وأنا أتكلم .
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Josh, that's exactly what I was saying (about the meaning of "beware").

    The thing is, literally speaking, إوعى is not a strong proscriptive statement either. It does in fact mean "beware" or احذر.

    إوعى تحكي = Beware of speaking = احذز من التكلم (literally)

    As I stated above, it can be and is frequently used to give friendly advice and to show concern - in which case it is anything but a strong proscriptive statement.

    However, it can be interpreted as having that connotation - and that's what I think led to the confusion, as indicated by this statement of yours:
    When used with a verb “iw3a” usually has the connotation of a negative imperative
    "Usually" is an overstatement. إوعى is just as likely to mean "beware" as "don't you dare." It all depends on the context.

    Here's another example: If a child is walking on a slippery road, a parent might say إوعى توقع. This just means "Watch out, lest you fall" ("beware of falling") and is not at all a strong negative imperative.

    So, in conclusion: "beware" is the literal meaning; "don't you dare" is a figurative one that is sometimes, but not always, appropriate.
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    Well, it sounded like you were equating it with a strong negative imperative. Anyway, I am aware of the other connotations of "iw3a," and I have used them frequently, but in this thread I was concerned with classifying the intensity of negative imperatives, and not so concerned with the other meanings of the words. Also, I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it a figure of speech, but just a different meaning/connotation of the word.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Here's what I said, Josh:
    But it can also be used figuratively in a threatening fashion, as in the example you gave, Josh. In your sentence the literal meaning would be "Beware of ever stepping on my doorstep, lest something terrible happen to you [i.e. lest I beat you up!]" but most people would simply understand it as "don't you dare..." without necessarily expecting grave consequences if they don't comply.
    I don't see how that suggests I was equating it with a strong negative imperative. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me as though you were equating it with a strong negative imperative (at least when followed by a verb) when I was trying to explain that that wasn't always the case.

    I used the word "figurative" for lack of a better word; what I meant was that the second meaning/connotation was not literal.

    At any rate, I'm glad we've cleared up all misunderstandings. :)
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    Here's what I said, Josh:
    I don't see how that suggests I was equating it with a strong negative imperative. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me as though you were equating it with a strong negative imperative (at least when followed by a verb) when I was trying to explain that that wasn't always the case.

    I used the word "figurative" for lack of a better word; what I meant was that the second meaning/connotation was not literal.

    At any rate, I'm glad we've cleared up all misunderstandings. :)
    Obviously we have not cleared up the misunderstandings. I said that it sounded like you were equating the English word "beware" with a negative imperative (but as you also said there was confusion) and you are saying that, in fact, I was equating it (which at first reading sounds like you are referring to "beware", since that is what was previously referenced, when in actuality you were referring to the Arabic word "iw3a." And yes, you are right, I was equating it (the Arabic word "iw3a" with a strong negative imperative, since, as we have established, it has that function, as well as other functions (such as being aware). Of course a lot depends on context, but the following verbs and adverbs can also play a part. For example take the following sentences:

    iw3a tzuur abu l-hool.
    iw3a timshi min hina
    iw3a truuH 3and asHaabak

    To me it seems that the intended meaning is clear just like it clear in:

    iw3a raasak
    iw3a tu2a3 fil-khurm

    I'm still not even convinced that beware is even the best literal translation for this verb since, as we have noted, it has the connotation of an admonition, as though danger were near. To me, wi3i just means to pay attention, take heed, be cognizant, be aware, etc -- all synonyms of beware, but without the connotation of admonition. For example I would translate this sentences:

    "iw3a l-kalaam ish-sheekh 3ashaan huwwa Hakiim"

    "Take heed of what the shiek says because he is wise."

    3ando sarwa kibiira li-inno wi3i lil-filuuso
    He has a big fortune because he took care of his money.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Obviously we have not cleared up the misunderstandings. I said that it sounded like you were equating the English word "beware" with a negative imperative (but as you also said there was confusion)...
    Ok, you're right; I had misunderstood - but I don't see where I equated "beware" with a negative imperative. I clearly distinguised between the two connotations of إوعى - one being "beware" and the other being the negative imperative. If I thought they were one and the same I would not have felt the need to mention them separately.
    "iw3a l-kalaam ish-sheekh 3ashaan huwwa Hakiim"

    "Take heed of what the shiek says because he is wise."

    3ando sarwa kibiira li-inno wi3i lil-filuuso
    He has a big fortune because he took care of his money.
    These are other meanings/connotations of the word that have little to do with what we were talking about. In the contexts we've been dealing with - i.e. in sentences such as إوعى تلعب بالنار - the meaning is indeed "beware."

    I hope that helps clear up all misunderstandings.
     
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