Differences Between Moroccan Arabic and Standard Arabic

Cruzando a Praça
Cruzando a Praça | © fabian.kron/Flickr
Sarah Williams

While Moroccan Arabic—known as Darija—shares many similarities with other forms of Arabic, there are also enough differences to leave speakers of other Arabic dialects rather flummoxed at times. Read on to find out some of the major differences between Darija and other forms of Arabic spoken.

moroccan kids

Basic Introduction to Moroccan Darija

Darija is a primary language in Morocco, and it is often used within Moroccan-Arab families, between friends, by shopkeepers, in offices, by cab drivers, on the television, and so on. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is typically only used for official business. The Berber population generally uses Amazigh at home, though most people also speak Darija, promoting cohesion between the Arab and Berber ethnic groups that inhabit Morocco.

Linguistic differences may be related to vocabulary, context, syntax, grammar, and pronunciation. Although many Moroccans can understand speakers from the Arabian Peninsula, the reverse cannot always be said. Moroccan Darija is, however, very similar to the language spoken in neighbouring Algeria and, to a lesser extent, the languages of Tunisia and Libya.

Azrou, Morocco

Differences Related to Vocabulary Between Darija and Standard Arabic

While a lot of Darija’s vocabulary comes from Arabic and Amazigh, there are many words that have entered the language thanks to French, Spanish, and other languages. Some words remain unaltered, while others have been changed to varying degrees. Additionally, some Arabic words used in Morocco are used in a different context than within MSA. Furthermore, some words from classical Arabic have withstood the test of time in Morocco, yet are no longer used in MSA. There are also words that are unique to Darija, with no traceable roots of sources outside Morocco.

Lady walking through the streets of a Moroccan medina

Examples of Amazigh Words Used in Darija

The Darija word for cat is مش, pronounced mersh. In MSA, a feline is قط, pronounced very similar as it is in English, sounding like cut.

Carrot is another difference. In Darija, خزو is used (pronounced like khi-zu). In MSA, it is written as جزرة and pronounced like juz-ra.


Spanish Influences on Vocabulary

Morocco received large numbers of Spanish-speaking Andalusian Muslims in times gone by. They brought with them many new traditions and customs and also introduced a number of new words to the local population. Spanish colonialism introduced more vocabulary.

The Moroccan words for kitchen, week, school, family, and wardrobe are just a few examples of words that entered the language from Spanish.

French Influences on Vocabulary

French colonialism played a large part in the development of Moroccan Arabic. The Darija words for fork, napkin, telephone, bag, bus, TV, radio, computer, camera, and hospital are all examples of words taken from French.

Other Influences on Vocabulary

English, German, and Portuguese words are sprinkled throughout the local lingo as well. Pop culture and tourism have played a role in the spread of words from the English language. Past colonialism in particular areas is the main reason for German and Portuguese words having entered the Moroccan lexicon.

Seeking shade in Marrakech medina

Arabic Words That Are Used Differently in Morocco

In MSA, the word for the number two is اثنان, pronounced ith-nan. The word زوج (pronounced juge) means couple or pair—mainly in the context of marriage. The latter is, however, used for the number two in Morocco.

Arabic words are used in Morocco to pose the everyday question of “What do you want?” A speaker of other Arabic dialects would likely interpret the question a little differently, however, with a stronger and deeper meaning that is more akin to “What do you desire?”

The Arabic word for donkey is حمار. Most Arabs would only associate this word with the animal. In Morocco, however, it is also used as a light insult rather similar to how the word ass can be used in English to refer to an animal or a foolish person.

There are plenty of idiomatic sayings and slang words that are not easily understood outside of Morocco as well.

A donkey working hard in Morocco

Words and Phrases That are Unique to Morocco or The Maghreb

Using the Modern Standard Arabic phrase to ask “how many …” (كم / kam) might not be so straightforward in Morocco. Moroccans use a different phrase altogether: شحال (sha-al).

People in Morocco use واخا (wak-ha) to express that all is okay. Moroccans also have their own phrase to tell someone they love them.

There are, of course, many other examples of unique-Moroccan vocabulary.

Marrakech – Marocco

Pronunciation Differences Between Moroccan Arabic and Standard Arabic

While Darija uses many Arabic words, pronunciation differences can make words difficult to understand. Numerous words in Moroccan Arabic have seen significant vowel changes, especially the shortening of vowel sounds that are longer in MSA and the omission of some short-vowel sounds altogether. The omission of short vowels in Darija is especially noticeable when they appear at the start of a word in standard Arabic.

Missing-vowel sounds can cause clusters of consonants, which can be tricky to pronounce and understand. Different word stresses can also create confusion when listening to Moroccan Arabic.

Street Scene – Medina (Old City) – Casablanca, Morocco – 01

Differences Related to Grammar Rules Between Different Types of Arabic

Most grammar rules are the same for Darija as they are for MSA. There, are, however, a few verb conjugations that are a little different, such as the first person in the present tense.

For making negative statements, Moroccan Arabic follows a similar pattern to the French language that sets it a little farther apart from MSA. This is the same, however, as in Algeria and some countries in the Levant Region.

Passive phrases aren’t common in any forms of Arabic, but are arguably less common in Moroccan Darija.

Royal Moroccan Guard

To further add to the fun in communicating with people when travelling in Morocco or trying to learn Darija, there are, as in many countries around the world, regional linguistic differences around the nation too.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.


Keen to explore the world?

Our passionately curated premium small-group trips are an invitation to connect with like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.