2 Grammar

Chapter 1 Grammar

Sentence structure: SVO vs VSO

Arabic has two different types of sentence structures, verbal (جملة فعلية) and nominal (جملة اسمية).

Nominal sentences begin with a noun or a pronoun. While verbal sentences begin with a verb.

An example of this in English would be:

  • Nominal: the boy walked to school
  • Verbal: Walked the boy to school

Nominal sentences are often referred to as English sentences, as English sentences are often structured in the order of subject, verb, object. Nominal sentences contain two parts, the subject (مبتدأ) and the predicate (خبر). The subject can be a noun or a pronoun and the predicate can be anything from a noun to an adjective, preposition, or verb.

Examples

In the examples below, the subject is underlined and the rest is the predicate:

هذه الوجبة لذيذة جداً

This dish is delicious

أخي يصلح المرحاض

My brother fixed the toilet

المكنسة في المطبخ

The broom is in the kitchen

In the above examples, the subjects are definite, but the subject can also be indefinite. This can be seen in the examples below.

Examples

The following shows examples of undefined subjects:

عندي حمام في غرفتي.

I have a bathroom in my room

هناك عصير برتقال في الثلاجة

There is orange juice in the fridge

Verbal sentences on the other hand begin with a verb (فعل)  followed by a subject (قاعل). In a verbal sentence, the subject can be indicated through the conjugation of a verb or it can be written separately, for example:

 خبزتُ الخُزب

I baked the bread

   (past tense) خبزتُ = أنا + خبز

 

 خبز والدي الخبز هذا الصبح

My father baked bread this morning

خبز   + والدي

So, what is the point of having two different types of sentences? Well, verbal sentences are usually considered to be more formal. As such, they are used when writing an academic paper or speaking in a news broadcast. However, that doesn’t mean that nominal sentences are incorrect or that you can use them. Whether you choose nominal or verbal sentences depends more on what part of the sentences you want to emphasize, for example:

تطبخ جدّتي في المطبخ

جدّتي تطبخ في المطبخ

My grandma is cooking in the kitchen

While both sentences have the same meaning, the first sentence puts emphasis on the action of cooking, while the second sentence puts emphasis on the subject, my grandma.


Nonhuman plurals

In Arabic, there must always be an agreement between nouns and adjectives. For example, if a noun is plural, then the adjective must be plural or if a noun is feminine, then the adjective must be feminine, etc. For example:

الطلاب متعبون

The students are tired

The subject ‘students’ is plural so the adjective, tired, takes the plural form of ending with ون or ين ( when to use ون vs ين will be discussed in a later unit).

الكعكة لذيذة

The cake is delicious

The subject ‘cake’ is feminine (as exemplified by the ة) so the adjective “delicious” needs to be feminine as well (adding a ة).

 

However, there is an exception to this rule. When you have a plural, non-human object (such as apples, houses, cars, horses, etc) the adjective doesn’t always match the gender or number of the noun. The main rule in Arabic is that non-human plurals are always treated as if they were singular and feminine, so their adjectives are always singular and feminine. This is the case even if the word is masculine. The phrase I use to remember this rule is “non-human plurals are always singular feminine”. For example:

المشروبات باردة

The drinks are cold

In this example “drinks” is plural and masculine (the singular form is مشروب), so according to the normal rules of agreement، it should have a plural masculine adjective:

المشروبات باردون

However, “drinks” is a non-human plural, so the adjective is singular and feminine, as indicated by the ة in the first example.

 

أنا أغسل ملابسي المتسخة

I am cleaning my dirty clothes

In this example, the noun “clothes” is a non-human plural, masculine, and defined ( due to the possessive indicator “ي”), so the adjective “dirty” must be singular, feminine, and defined (indicated with ال).

 

الشقق في هذه المدينة غالية كثيرا

The apartments in this city are very expensive

In this example, the subject ‘apartments’ is feminine and a non-human plural, so the adjective, expensive, is singular feminine.


Verb conjugation

In Arabic there are two tenses:

  1. Perfect or past tense (الماضي), which involves adding a suffix to the root of the verb.
  2. Imperfect or present tense (المضارع),  which involves adding both prefixes and suffixes to the root of a verb:

Past Tense- (to eat) أكل (root ء-ك-ل)

English Arabic
I ate    أنا أكلتُ   تُ
You (masc.) ate  أنتَ

You (fem.) ate   إنتِ

أكلتَ    تَ

أكلتِ    تِ

He ate      هو

She ate    هي

َ        أكلَ

أكلَتْ    َتْ

You two ate   أنتما أكلتما   تما
We ate   نحن أكلنا     نا
Y’all (masc.) ate    انتم

Y’all (fem.) ate      انتن

أكلتمْ    تمْ

أكلتنّ   تنّ

They (masc.) ate    هم

They  (fem.) ate      هن

أكلوا    وا

أكلنَ     نَ

Notice how the root to eat ( ء-ك-ل) in the past tenses receives suffixes (in red). This is the basic model to follow when conjugating any word to the past tense. Additionally, when conjugating into the past tense, make sure to pay attention to short vowels. Without the short vowels, you ate (both masculine and feminine) and she ate looks the same. Writing short vowels will not only help you distinguish masculine from feminine, but it will also aid with the correct pronunciation.

Past tense- to prepare حضّر  root ( ح-ض-ر)

English Arabic
I prepared    أنا حضّرتُ
You (masc.) prepared أنتَ

You (fem.) prepared أنتِ

حضّرتَ

حضّرتِ

He prepared   هو

She prepared    هي

حضّرَ

حضرَّتْ

You two prepared  أنتما حضّرتما
We prepared    نحن حضّرنا
Y’all (masc.) prepared   أنتم

Y’all (fem.) prepared   انتن

حضّرتمْ

حضّرتنّ

They (masc.) prepared  هم

They  (fem.) prepared هن

حضّروا

حضّرنَ

Conjugations change depending on the wazin or the form of the verb. For example, you may have noticed in the above table that the root of “to prepare” only contains one ض, but the conjugated verbs contain two (as indicated by the w shape above the ض). This is called the wazin (الأوزان) or the verb form, which tells you what letters and short vowels to keep while conjugating. We will discuss this topic in detail in the next unit. For now, continue to conjugate past tense verbs based on the root given and the suffixes (in red) in the first chart.

Present tense- to eat  أكل (root ء-ك-ل)

English Arabic
I eat   أنا آكل      أ
You (masc.) eat  أنتَ

You (fem.) eat     أنتِ

تأكل    ت

تأكلينَ  ت+ ين

He eats    هو

She eats   هي

يأكل     ي

تأكل     ت

You two eat   أنتما تأكلان  ت + ان
We eat     نحن نأكل   ن
Y’all (masc.) eat  انتم

Y’all (fem.) eat    انتن

تأكلون   ت + ون

تأكلنَ     ت + ن

They (masc.) eat   هم

They  (fem.) eat    هن

يأكلون   ي + ون

يأكلن     ي+ ن

Moving on to present tense, take note of how present tense conjugations contain both suffixes and prefixes (in red). Additionally, it should be noted that the verb to eat is unique when it comes to conjugating for “I”. When conjugating a verb to present tense “I”, you would normally add a أ to the beginning of the word. However, because the root أكل already contains a “ء”, it becomes an alif madda, which is written with a squiggly line above the alif  (آ). This means that there are two alifs next to each other, thus it is pronounced with a long “aa” sound. It would look wrong to write “I eat” like أأكل so it’s written آكل. Otherwise, all present tense “I” conjugations (where the root doesn’t start with “ء”) start with “أ”. Refer to the table below.

Present tense- to prepare  حضّر (root ح-ض-ر)

English Arabic
I prepared    أنا أحضّر
You (masc.) prepared  أنتَ

You (fem.) prepared   أنتِ

تحضّر

تحضّرين

He prepared     هو

She prepared   هي

يحضّر

تحضّر

You two prepared   أنتما تحضّران
We prepared    نحن نحضّر
Y’all (masc.) prepared  انتم

Y’all (fem.) prepared    انتن

تحضّرون

تحضّرنَ

They (masc.) prepared  هم

They  (fem.) prepared    هن

يحضّرون

يحضّرنَ


Future Tense

Future tense doesn’t require a negation chart. All you do is take the present tense verb and add a “س” to the beginning of the word. For example:

اخي سيأكل الغذاء بعد المدرسة

My brother will eat lunch after school

سأنظف الحمام اليوم

I will clean the bathroom today

Additionally, future tense can be conveyed using the word سوف followed by a present tense verb. سوف translates to will or shall. For example:

سوف أستيقظ غداً في الساعة السادسة صباحاً

I will wake up tomorrow at six O’ clock in the morning


Negation

Now that we have learned how to conjugate a verb in the past, present, and future, it’s important to know how to negate those verbs. Each group, past, present, and future has a different form of negation and combines different verb tenses. While there are many different forms of negations, for this unit we will be focusing on the five main negation forms:

لا = La

لَم = Lam

ما = Ma

لن = Lan

لَيْس = Laisa (masc.) or ْلَيْسَت = Laisat (fem.)

Past (الماضي)

I did not brush my teeth this morning

لم + present tense verb لم أنظّف أسناني هذا الصباح.
ما + past tense verb ما نظّفتُ أسناني هذا الصباح

Present and Commands ( المضارع والأمر)

Present: Leila doesn’t eat bread

Command: Leila don’t eat bread

لا+ present tense  

لا تأكل ليلى خبز (verbal)

ليلى لا تأكل خبز(nominal)

 

لا+ present tense ليلى لا تأكل الخبز
  • When negating a command, لا cannot be used after the verb: ليلى تأكل لا الخبز

Future  (المستقبل)

I will not move to my new house until the spring

لن + present tense verb: لن أنتقل الى بيتي الجديد حتى الربيع

The last negation form (ليس) is special because it is only used in nominal sentences and is often associated with the English conjunction Isn’t :

ليس (masculine): المطعم ليس جديدًا

The restaurant isn’t new

ليستْ (feminine): البنت ليست جائعة

The girl isn’t hungry

ليس لدي/عندي  (Possessive):

 

لستُ لدى/عندي أي نعناع للشاي

I don’t have any mint for the tea

Conjugating ليس
  • ليس is conjugated like a past tense verb but it is present tense (see the chart below).

الغرفة ليست كبيرة

ليست الغرفة كبيرة

أنا لَستُ نحن لسنا
أنتَ لَستَ انتم لستم
أنتِ لستِ انتنّ لستنّ
هو ليسَ هم ليسوا
هي ليسَتْ هن لسنَ
انتما لستما

Time

In Arabic, there are two types of numbers, cardinal and ordinal. Cardinal numbers are used for counting while ordinal numbers are used for time. Both ordinal numbers and cardinal numbers have feminine and masculine forms, which one you use depends on the gender of the noun. In this case, when talking about the time, الساعة، the ordinal numbers will always be feminine as the word time or hour is feminine. Refer to the chart below for ordinal numbers 1-12 o’clock:

English العربي
One O’clock الساعة الواحدة
Two O’clock الساعة الثانية
Three O’clock الساعة الثالثة
Four O’clock الساعة الرابعة
Five O’clock الساعة الخامسة
Six O’clock الساعة السادسة
Seven O’clock الساعة السابعة
Eight O’clock الساعة الثامنة
Nine O’clock الساعة التاسعة
Ten O’clock الساعة العاشرة
Eleven O’clock الساعة الحادية عشرة
Twelve O’clock الساعة الثانية عشرة

If you want to tell the time, you must include the hour and minutes. In Arabic, we use ‘و‘ after the hour to indicate the time that has passed. So half-past four in Arabic would be ‘four o’clock and a half’: الساعة الرابعة والنصف. َ

English العربي
Five minutes past وخمس دقائق
Ten minutes past وعشر دقائق
Quarter past (15 minutes) والربع
Third past (20 minutes) والثلث
Half-past (30 minutes) والنصف

Additionally, to say a certain amount of time until the next hour, we use إلا. إلا is used for any time on the clock after 30 minutes, for example, if the time is 9:45 you would state in Arabic “a quarter (25 mintues) until ten” or  الساعة العاشرة إلا الربع. The next hour comes first followed by the current amount of time left until that hour

English العربي
Five to إلا خمس دقائق
Ten to إلا عشر دقائق
Quarter to إلا الربع
Twenty to إلا الثلث
Important time vocabulary

كم الساعة؟

What is the time?

الساعة….

The time is…

صباحاً

morningly

ظهراً

afternoonly

مساءً

Eveningly

 

Examples of Reading a Clock

الساعة الحادية و الربع الساعة التاسعة إلا الربع الساعة خامسة

 

 

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Study Materials for Arabic Students by an Arabic Student by Grace Hall via the Boise State Pathways Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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