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Proverb about differences... (Conditional Speech)

  • 1385

Hello everyone,
I was busy for some days with many things. Also, I was kind of reluctant with what should I post about. I have many proverbs before my hands but I need to be picky about what I post here. Anyway, I think I've found something "light" a bit today. Today (tonight), I have a very common saying but I'm not sure of its origin actually. I've did a little research about it but I couldn't find anything useful. Anyway, an explanation will follow below.

لَوْلا اخْتِلافُ الأَذْواقِ لَبارَت السِّلَع

Translation: If not (for) the difference of tastes, goods would have been stagnant.

Transliteration (phonetic): lawlá-xtiláful-aðwáqi la-bárati-ssila3.

Transliteration (by word): lawlá ixtiláfu al-aðwáqi la bárat as-sila3.

Audio: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AtZbIhL2YUECgW7JOa9IuIUJDhqN?e=4Eg1E7

Moral: It is a common saying said on various occasions related to accepting the differences, specially in the likes and dislikes of people in a community, as well as to work and do a specific thing to attract specific people instead of doing many things to attract satisfy as much people as possible, which is impossible.


لولا: If not (for).
اختلاف: Difference.
الأذواق: The (personal) tastes, likes.
لبارت: To become stagnant, unmarketable, unsaleable.
السلع: Goods, products.


In this saying, we have a Conditional Speech at play. Probably you've noticed already how long is the English translation compared to the actual line in Arabic, and this is mainly because the differences in such usage of conditional sentences. I will explain some of such aspects at the end of the text, hopefully. I've made here two transliteration sentences. One is supposedly phonetic, or how it should be read, and the other one is supposedly a word-by-word transliteration, dropping down the properties of some letters (like Hamzat-Wassl as we will see below).
In the Word-By-Word section, I've typed the words already without Harakat or diacritics, in hope that readers would get accustomed and used to reading without them. It's not easy for new comers I know but hopefully in time, a learner would be used to reading right away like that just like a native; without the need of vowel markers.
In case you played the audio already, I guess you have noticed that I did read the line twice. The first was without a pause in the middle and the second one was with a pause. This is just to show learners that the last vowel in the word can be dropped when this word at the end of a phrase or a sentence. Adding the vowel to the word's end is typically of phonetic importance to connect reading in line without a pause between individual words. In dialects, people don't care much about these last vowels (and hence many students, me included, complain and complained about Arabic classes and its grammar!).


This word, or article to be more precise, can be considered to be composed of 2 articles: لو (law), meaning If + لا (lá) meaning Not. These two articles are merged together in a single word or article (no spaces between لو and لا). If you have noticed already, I've placed for in parentheses in the English translation and also in the word-by-word section. This is simply to note that such article originally is not used in the Arabic sentence but only in the English translation to complete the meaning (because it would be weird to say if not the difference...etc for an English reader). Thus, we can say that the article for in Arabic in this case specifically is embedded inside لولا; In case we want to translate this article into English of course. This article belongs to a class of articles called collectively in Arabic as أحرف الشرط (aħrufu-ššarŧ: articles of conditioning). This class has various articles and each article does have its own way in acting and affecting the words coming after it, as well as whether to be used with a nominal sentence or a verbal sentence. Anyway, luckily our article here, لولا is a modest and a humble article. It does not change anything in the words coming after it, and it is introduced only to a nominal sentence (meaning, the word coming after it must be a noun).

Side Note: The conditional article in Arabic is called sometimes أداة الشرط (adátu-ššarŧ), meaning: the tool of conditioning.


This word simply translates to "difference" and the plural is اخْتِلافات. While اخْتِلاف is masculine, the plural اخْتِلافات (ixtiláfát) is a feminine plural (testified by the presence of ـات -át at its end). Such occurrences in Arabic are quite common as if the original gender of the noun has nothing to do with its plural. Each word is treated as it is. While the plural for this word here is regular, there is also another type of plurals for some words called in Arabic جمع تكسير (jam3 taksír), meaning breaking plural. Called so because the original structure of the singular noun is broken down or changed, and more vowels are added to it.

Examples of Breaking Plurals: رَجُلْ (rajul: man) becomes رِجال (rijál: men). صُنْدوق (cundúq: chest) becomes صَناديق (canádíq: chests).

I think the case here is also apparent in other languages, specifically English, German and Irish, where the plural of some words can be drastically different than the original singular form of the word.
The Alif in the beginning of this word is, again, Hamzat Wassl (همزة وصل), which despite its name it has actually NO hamza (ء) in it. If you listen to the audio carefully, you will notice how I connected the long vowel at the end of لولا to the خ in this word, as if this Alif is not there. This is while it is called Hamzat Wassl, meaning "connecting Hamza". If this word becomes defined with "AL" then the same thing would happened, almost, and this Alif would reduce to something close to the schwa sound. Don't worry if you cannot differentiate between the type of Alifs; Many Arabs don't realize the difference unfortunately (for lack of education I would say). Usually, what we do as Arabs to know if this Alif is a glottal stop (i.e. with Hamza, like أ) or is it hamzat wassl (like ا without any hamza), we would attach a prefix, any prefix, and say the word with it: If the prefix is "naturally" connected to the letter after Alif then the word has to be written with Hamzat Wassl, but it the word is to be said with a glottal stop instead (أ or the like) then it must have Hamza. Of course this method works only with native speakers probably because of the sense of the language and by testing the word in this way we would understand what we hear, whether it sounds strange or not and hence know how to write the Alif here; With hamza, or hamza-less!

Side Note: The definite article AL الـ is always written with Hamzat-Wassl. No hamza on the Alif, whatsoever. Never type it as ألـ!


I was just talking about the breaking plurals above and here we arrive at one! Here we have the plural, which is a feminine word, while the singular form is ذَوْق (ðawq: taste) is a masculine word. Probably not much to be said about this word here but just to note that it is combined with the previous word, اختلاف, in a genitive relation (as you can see from the English translation of the saying above). Typically, the word here gets Kasrah (-i) to its end because of this combination of nouns under the umbrella of the genitive case. I've explained above why did I read this saying twice; Once with Kasrah applied to the end of this word, and then without this Kasrah, because of pausing.


At this stage, we have here a verb, in past tense, and I do need a bit of space to talk about it. What we have here is actually not a verb only; But an article and a verb! The article here being لَـ (la), and the verb being بارَت (bárat). The difficulty I've faced here when translating this saying, is that these two, the article and the verb, do not have a direct English translation, and that forced me to translate further by meaning (or by expanding the meaning if I can call it so).
First, with the article لَـ. This article actually does not impact the verb here (does not decline the verb or change anything it). However, it provides emphasis in the speech. A speaker may omit this article actually but it is mostly added to add strength to the speech (it is after all about the listener and how to receive the language and how it sounds). This article in Arabic grammar books is sometimes called جواب الشرط (jawábul-ššarŧ), meaning the condition reply or the condition answer. To be precise, the whole sentence that comes after this article is called the condition answer and this article specifically is like a marker for its beginning. Thus, you can imagine in your head that لولا and لَـ are both articles that come together (despite the possibility of omitting the latter). In English, typically there is no such article to respond to the article if when it is introduced to the sentence. Notice also, that with other articles of conditioning in Arabic, such articles that correspond to the condition answer cannot be omitted. But let's keep it simple here and focus on لولا and its companion, article لَـ alone.
Then we have the verb بارت (past tense) which also does not have a direct English translation except to express that in English using the passive or the verbal adjective (e.g. become stagnant, to be unsaleable). We can see here the difference in viewing the matter somehow, how English would propose the effect of stagnation to be applied on the product or something, while in Arabic a specific verb is used specifically for that purpose (and it is an intransitive verb) to describe the status of the product that became stagnant or unmarketable. The verb here is in 3rd-feminine-singular format. The masculine equivalent would be بارَ (bára). The ت at the verb's end here is the feminine marker and called in Arabic تاء التأنيث (Tá'u-tta'níþ), meaning Feminizing Tá'. This suffix is added to the past tense verb to make it for singular feminine 3rd person format.

Worth noting that the feminizing Tá' that comes in the past tense for feminine subjects typically bears Sukún ـْ and is not moved by any vowel. There are other types of ت that attach themselves to the verbs in various tenses to accomplish different jobs, but this is out of the scope here.

Why we used such tense here and why feminine? The answer here relies in the conditional speech we talked about earlier. While in English you would use would have been which is in a sense a paste tense in fact (more of a conditional mode), in Arabic though you wouldn't use all that combination of auxiliary verbs and tenses, but simply a paste tense verb. The feminine case is related to the subject of this verb which is the next word to go through.

Side Note: In Arabic, this verb is also used to note a woman that exceeded the age of marriage and having children. The expression بارَت المرأة (bárat al-mar'ah) means that the woman has grown old without getting married at all, usually if it is not her choice to be so.


Here we have another breaking plural, though it is to some minor point! The singular form of the word here سِلْعَة which is feminine. Luckily, the plural here is also feminine (and hence we used the feminizing Tá' in the previous verb, بارت). This word can be used for "products" but I think that "goods" is a better translation. Because "goods" are usually things that are typically sold and bought in the markets, while "products" can mean anything that is to be produced and not necessarily sold or bought. Just a preference.

Side Note: The translation for product would typically be مُنْتَج (muntaj), a verbal adjective and a noun derived from the verb أَنْتَجَ (antaja), meaning to produce. The word مَنْتوج (mantúj) is also used sometimes for product but personally I have my doubts about the correctness of such usage. So, in my translation work (when I need to) I usually prefer to use the former.


I hope my notes here has been beneficial for you. I guess I'm lucky to have you read this at the end of this post (providing that you don't have a headache still!). I wanted here to show the characteristics of such structure which is called in Arabic أُسْلوبُ الشّرْط (uslúbu-ššarŧ: Conditional style/speech). The articles in use here are one of the basics in this type of speech and typically it is comparable to if in English. However, you see here how different the two styles are: In English, one article is added (if) and the work is majorly in changing the tense to what to be called conditional mode; In Arabic, on the other hand, two articles are added, and the verb tenses are, typically, in past tense (for this particular article لولا). Also, in Arabic, there is typically an article to suggest the condition, and another one to answer that condition, as we have here لولا and لَـ. At this point, such conditional speech or style does not require any declination (or change in the endings) for the words that come after such articles. However, and unfortunately, this is not the case with other conditional articles :)

Time to post this and head to bed! Good Night تصبحون بخير.

August 16, 2019



Thanks a lot. I am not sure but I guess I can use this saying to express that it is good that everybody has a different taste. Am I right?

  • 1385

Yep, true.

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