‘Al aan’: Arabic term for now has connections to the words where and when

Variations of the term are used across dialects

The Arabic word for now not only has connection to a sense of time, but also a sense of place
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There is no moment like the present, and there’s no better word to accurately describe this than now.

Expressing a sense of immediacy and urgency, the word, in any language, isn’t often used subtly.

This week’s Arabic word of the week, al aan, is no exception. It's a noun that means this very present moment and even has a plural variation, awina, which is used to describe a collection of present moments in the past.

Al aan is a word in classical Arabic but is understood across dialects. However, many dialects have their own versions of al aan which are more commonly used in day-to-day language, such as al heen in many Gulf dialects, hassa in the Iraqi dialect, hallaa in the Levantine dialect and del waati in the Egyptian dialect.

Al aan comes from the verb aana which is derived from the two Arabic letters, alif and noon. Aana means doing something in the present moment, or the time in which to do a particular task. It encapsulates in one word the English phrase “the time is now.”

Ann is another word derived from aana, which refers to a period of time in the past, present or future. Interestingly, aana is also the root word for ayna, which means where, used either as a statement or a question, and the word ayna, a noun which means when.

So the words now, where and when in Arabic all come from the same word, aana, a verb concerned with the direct use of time.

While mostly used in Arabic, al aan has also found its way into other languages such as Farsi and Khalaj, a language spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. In these languages, al aan also refers to the present moment.

The 2005 Arabic film, Al Jana Al Aan, which translates to Paradise Now, is a 2005 psychological drama directed by Palestinian-Dutch director Hany Abu-Assad. Paradise Now won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 and was nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.

Updated: October 27, 2023, 6:02 PM