The article focuses both on the grammar of Literary Arabic
(i.e. Classical Arabic
and Modern Standard Arabic
, which have largely the same grammar) and of the colloquial spoken varieties of Arabic
. The grammar of the two types is largely similar in its particulars. Generally, the grammar of Classical Arabic is described first, followed by the areas in which the colloquial variants tend to differ (note that not all colloquial variants have the same grammar).
The schools of Basra
further developed grammatical rules in the late 8th century with the rapid rise of Islam.
From the school of Basra, generally regarded as being founded by Abu Amr ibn al-Ala
two representatives laid important foundations for the field: Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi
authored the first Arabic dictionary and book of Arabic prosody
, and his student Sibawayh
authored the first book on theories of Arabic grammar.
From the school of Kufa, Al-Ru'asi
is universally acknowledged as the founder, though his own writings are considered lost,
with most of the school's development undertaken by later authors. The efforts of al-Farahidi and Sibawayh
consolidated Basra's reputation as the analytic school of grammar, while the Kufan school was regarded as the guardian of Arabic poetry
and Arab culture
The differences were polarizing in some cases, with early Muslim scholar Muhammad ibn `Isa at-Tirmidhi
favoring the Kufan school due to its concern with poetry as a primary source.
Early Arabic grammars were more or less lists of rules, without the detailed explanations which would be added in later centuries. The earliest schools were different not only in some of their views on grammatical disputes, but also their emphasis. The school of Kufa excelled in Arabic poetry and exegesis
of the Qur'an
, in addition to Islamic law
and Arab genealogy. The more rationalist school of Basra, on the other hand, focused more on the formal study of grammar.
For classical Arabic grammarians, the grammatical sciences are divided into five branches:
- al-lughah اَللُّغَة (language/lexicon) concerned with collecting and explaining vocabulary.
- at-taṣrīf اَلتَّصْرِيف (morphology) determining the form of the individual words.
- an-naḥw اَلنَّحْو (syntax) primarily concerned with inflection (i‘rāb).
- al-ishtiqāq اَلاشْتِقَاق (derivation) examining the origin of the words.
- al-balāghah اَلْبَلَاغَة (rhetoric) which elucidates stylistic quality, or eloquence.
The grammar or grammars of contemporary varieties of Arabic
are a different question. Said M. Badawi
, an expert on Arabic grammar, divided Arabic grammar into five different types based on the speaker's level of literacy
and the degree to which the speaker deviated from Classical Arabic
. Badawi's five types of grammar from the most colloquial to the most formal are Illiterate Spoken Arabic (عَامِّيَّة اَلْأُمِّيِّين
), Semi-literate Spoken Arabic (عَامِّيَّة اَلْمُتَنَوِّرِين
), Educated Spoken Arabic (عَامِّيَّة اَلْمُثَقَّفِين
), Modern Standard Arabic
), and Classical Arabic
It also has six vowel
phonemes (three short vowels and three long vowels). These appear as various allophones
, depending on the preceding consonant. Short vowels are not usually represented in the written language, although they may be indicated with diacritics.
Word stress varies from one Arabic dialect to another. A rough rule for word-stress in Classical Arabic is that it falls on the penultimate syllable
of a word if that syllable is closed, and otherwise on the antepenultimate.
), elidable hamza
, is a phonetic object prefixed to the beginning of a word for ease of pronunciation, since Literary Arabic
doesn't allow consonant clusters at the beginning of a word. Elidable hamza
drops out as a vowel, if a word is preceding it. This word will then produce an ending vowel, "helping vowel" to facilitate pronunciation. This short vowel may be, depending on the preceding vowel, a fatḥah
), pronounced as /a/; a kasrah
), pronounced as /i/; or a ḍammah
), pronounced as /u/. If the preceding word ends in a sukūn
), meaning that it is not followed by a short vowel, the hamzat al-waṣl
assumes a kasrah
/i/. The symbol ـّ
) indicates gemination
or consonant doubling. See more in Tashkīl
Nouns and adjectives
In Arabic, personal pronouns
have 12 forms. In singular and plural, the 2nd and 3rd persons have separate masculine
forms, while the 1st person does not. In the dual, there is no 1st person, and only a single form for each 2nd and 3rd person. Traditionally, the pronouns are listed in the order 3rd, 2nd, 1st.
Informal Arabic tends to avoid the dual forms antumā أَنْتُمَا and humā هُمَا. The feminine plural forms antunna أَنْتُنَّ and hunna هُنَّ are likewise avoided, except by speakers of conservative colloquial varieties that still possess separate feminine plural pronouns.
forms of personal pronouns (اَلضَّمَائِر الْمُتَّصِلَة
) are affixed to various parts of speech, with varying meanings:
- To the construct state of nouns, where they have the meaning of possessive demonstratives, e.g. "my, your, his"
- To verbs, where they have the meaning of direct object pronouns, e.g. "me, you, him"
- To prepositions, where they have the meaning of objects of the prepositions, e.g. "to me, to you, to him"
- To conjunctions and particles like أَنَّ anna "that ...", لِأَنَّ li-anna "because ...", وَ)لٰكِنَّ)) (wa)lākinna "but ...", إِنَّ inna (topicalizing particle), where they have the meaning of subject pronouns, e.g. "because I ...", "because you ...", "because he ...". (These particles are known in Arabic as akhawāt inna أَخَوَات إِنَّ (lit. "sisters of inna".)
- If the personal pronoun -ī is added to a word ending in a vowel (e.g. رَأَيْتَ raʼayta "you saw"), an extra -n- is added between the word and the enclitic form to avoid a hiatus between the two vowels (رَأَيْتَنِي raʼayta-nī "you saw me").
Most of them are clearly related to the full personal pronouns.
For all but the first person singular, the same forms are used regardless of the part of speech of the word attached to. In the third person masculine singular, -hu occurs after the vowels u or a (-a, -ā, -u, -ū, -aw), while -hi occurs after i or y (-i, -ī, -ay). The same alternation occurs in the third person dual and plural.
In the first person singular, however, the situation is more complicated. Specifically, -nī "me" is attached to verbs, but -ī/-ya "my" is attached to nouns. In the latter case, -ya is attached to nouns whose construct state ends in a long vowel or diphthong (e.g. in the sound masculine plural and the dual), while -ī is attached to nouns whose construct state ends in a short vowel, in which case that vowel is elided (e.g. in the sound feminine plural, as well as the singular and broken plural of most nouns). Furthermore, -ū of the masculine sound plural is assimilated to -ī before -ya (presumably, -aw of masculine defective -an plurals is similarly assimilated to -ay). Examples:
- From كِتَاب kitāb "book", pl. كُتُب kutub:كتابي kitāb-ī "my book" (all cases), كتبي kutub-ī "my books" (all cases), كتاباي kitābā-ya "my two books (nom.)", كتابي kitābay-ya "my two books (acc./gen.)"
- From كَلِمَة kalimah "word", pl. كَلِمَات kalimāt: كَلِمَتِيkalimat-ī "my word" (all cases), كَلِمَاتِي kalimāt-ī "my words" (all cases)
- From دُنْيَا dunyā "world", pl. دُنْيَيَات dunyayāt: دُنْيَايَdunyā-ya "my world" (all cases), دُنْيَيَاتِيdunyayāt-ī "my worlds" (all cases)
- From قَاضٍ qāḍin "judge", pl. قُضَاة quḍāh: قَاضِيَّqāḍiy-ya "my judge" (all cases), قُضَاتِي quḍāt-ī "my judges" (all cases)
- From مُعَلِّم mu‘allim "teacher", pl. مُعَلِّمُونmu‘allimūn: مُعَلِّمِي mu‘allim-ī "my teacher" (all cases), مُعَلِّمِيَّ mu‘allimī-ya "my teachers" (all cases, see above)
- From أَب ab "father": أَبُويَ abū-ya "my father" (nom.), أَبَايَ abā-ya "my father" (acc.), أَبِيَّ abī-ya "my father" (gen.)
Prepositions use -ī/-ya, even though in this case it has the meaning of "me" (rather than "my"). The "sisters of inna" can use either form (e.g. إِنَّنِيinna-nī or إِنِي inn-ī), but the longer form (e.g. إِنَّنِيinna-nī) is usually preferred.
The second-person masculine plural past tense verb ending -tum changes to the variant form -tumū before enclitic pronouns, e.g. كَتَبْتُمُوهُ katab-tumū-hu "you (masc. pl.) wrote it (masc.)".
Pronouns with prepositions
Some very common prepositions — including the proclitic preposition li- "to" (also used for indirect objects) — have irregular or unpredictable combining forms when the enclitic pronouns are added to them:
In the above cases, when there are two combining forms, one is used with "... me" and the other with all other person/number/gender combinations. (More correctly, one occurs before vowel-initial pronouns and the other before consonant-initial pronouns, but in Classical Arabic, only -ī is vowel-initial. This becomes clearer in the spoken varieties, where various vowel-initial enclitic pronouns exist.)
Note in particular:
- إِلَى ilá "to" and عَلَى ‘alá "on" have irregular combining forms إِلَيْـ ilay-, عَلَيْـ ‘alay-; but other pronouns with the same base form are regular, e.g. مَعَ ma‘a "with".
- لِـ li- "to" has an irregular combining form la-, but بِـ bi- "in, with, by" is regular.
- مِنْ min "from" and عَنْ ‘an "on" double the final n before -ī.
Less formal pronominal forms
In a less formal Arabic, as in many spoken dialects, the endings -ka, -ki, and -hu and many others have their final short vowel dropped, for example, كِتابُكَ kitābuka would become كِتابُك kitābuk for ease of pronunciation. This doesn't make a difference to the spelling as the diacritics used to represent short vowels are not usually written.
There are two demonstratives
('this') and far-deictic ('that'):
The dual forms are only used in very formal Arabic.
Some of the demonstratives (hādhā, hādhihi, hādhāni, hādhayni, hā’ulā’i, dhālika
, and ulā’ika
) should be pronounced with a long ā
, although the unvocalised script is not written with alif (ا
). Instead of an alif, they have the diacritic ـٰ
: أَلِف خَنْجَرِيَّة
), which doesn't exist on Arabic keyboards and is seldom written, even in vocalised Arabic.
Qur'anic Arabic has another demonstrative, normally followed by a noun in a genitive construct and meaning 'owner of':
Note that the demonstrative and relative pronouns were originally built on this word. hādhā
, for example, was originally composed from the prefix hā-
'this' and the masculine accusative singular dhā
; similarly, dhālika
was composed from dhā
, an infixed syllable -li-
, and the clitic
'you'. These combinations had not yet become completely fixed in Qur'anic Arabic and other combinations sometimes occurred, e.g. dhāka
. Similarly, the relative pronoun alladhī
was originally composed based on the genitive singular dhī
, and the old Arabic grammarians noted the existence of a separate nominative plural form alladhūna
in the speech of the Hudhayl
tribe in Qur'anic times.
This word also shows up in Hebrew
, e.g. masculine זה
), feminine זאת
), plural אלה
Relative pronoun ("who, that, which")
Note that the relative pronoun agrees in gender, number and case, with the noun it modifies—as opposed to the situation in other inflected languages such as Latin
, where the gender and number agreement
is with the modified noun, but the case marking follows the usage of the relative pronoun in the embedded clause (as in formal English "the man who
saw me" vs. "the man whom
When the relative pronoun serves a function other than the subject of the embedded clause, a resumptive pronoun
is required: اَلَّرَجُلُ ٱلَّذِي تَكَلَّمْتُ مَعَهُ
al-rajul(u) (a)lladhī takallamtu ma‘a-hu
, literally "the man who I spoke with him".
The relative pronoun is normally omitted entirely when an indefinite noun is modified by a relative clause: رَجُلٌ تَكَلَّمْتُ مَعَهُ rajul(un) takallamtu ma‘a-h(u) "a man that I spoke with", literally "a man I spoke with him".
The above system is mostly unchanged in the colloquial varieties, other than the loss of the dual forms and (for most varieties) of the feminine plural. Some of the more notable changes:
- The third-person -hi, -him variants disappear. On the other hand, the first person -nī/-ī/-ya variation is preserved exactly (including the different circumstances in which these variants are used), and new variants appear for many forms. For example, in Egyptian Arabic, the second person feminine singular appears either as -ik or -ki depending on various factors (e.g. the phonology of the preceding word); likewise, the third person masculine singular appears variously as -u, -hu, or - (no ending, but stress is moved onto the preceding vowel, which is lengthened).
- In many varieties, the indirect object forms, which appear in Classical Arabic as separate words (e.g. lī "to me", lahu 'to him'), become fused onto the verb, following a direct object. These same varieties generally develop a circumfix /ma-...-ʃ(i)/ for negation (from Classical mā ... shay’ 'not ... a thing', composed of two separate words). This can lead to complicated agglutinative constructs, such as Egyptian Arabic /ma-katab-ha-ˈliː-ʃ/ 'he didn't write it (fem.) to me'. (Egyptian Arabic in particular has many variant pronominal affixes used in different circumstances, and very intricate morphophonemic rules leading to a large number of complex alternations, depending on the particular affixes involved, the way they are put together, and whether the preceding verb ends in a vowel, a single consonant, or two consonants.)
- Other varieties instead use a separate Classical pseudo-pronoun īyā- for direct objects (but in Hijazi Arabic the resulting construct fuses with a preceding verb).
- Affixation of dual and sound plural nouns has largely vanished. Instead, all varieties possess a separate preposition with the meaning of "of", which replaces certain uses of the construct genitive (to varying degrees, depending on the particular variety). In Moroccan Arabic, the word is dyal (also d- before a noun), e.g. l-kitab dyal-i "my book", since the construct-state genitive is mostly unproductive. Egyptian Arabic has bitā‘ , which agrees in gender and number with the preceding noun (feminine bitā‘it/bita‘t, plural bitū‘ ). In Egyptian Arabic, the construct-state genitive is still productive, hence either kitāb-i or il-kitāb bitā‘-i can be used for "my book" [the difference between them is simlar to the difference between 'my book' and 'the book is mine'], but only il-mu‘allimūn bitū‘-i "my teachers".
- The declined relative pronoun has vanished. In its place is an indeclinable particle, usually illi or similar.
- Various forms of the demonstrative pronouns occur, usually shorter than the Classical forms. For example, Moroccan Arabic uses ha l- "this", dak l-/dik l-/duk l- "that" (masculine/feminine/plural). Egyptian Arabic is unusual in that the demonstrative follows the noun, e.g. il-kitāb da "this book", il-binti di "this girl".
- Some of the independent pronouns have slightly different forms compared with their Classical forms. For example, usually forms similar to inta, inti "you (masc./fem. sg.)" occur in place of anta, anti, and (n)iḥna "we" occurs in place of naḥnu.
Numbers behave in a very complicated fashion. wāḥid- "one" and ithnān- "two" are adjectives, following the noun and agreeing with it. thalāthat- "three" through ‘asharat- "ten" require a following noun in the genitive plural, but disagree with the noun in gender, while taking the case required by the surrounding syntax. aḥada ‘asharah "eleven" through tis‘ata ‘asharah "nineteen" require a following noun in the accusative singular, agree with the noun in gender, and are invariable for case, except for ithnā ‘asharah/ithnay ‘ashara "twelve".
The formal system of cardinal numerals
, as used in Classical Arabic, is extremely complex. The system of rules is presented below. In reality, however, this system is never used: Large numbers are always written as numerals rather than spelled out, and are pronounced using a simplified system, even in formal contexts.
Formal: أَلْفَانِ وَتِسْعُمِئَةٍ وَٱثْنَتَا عَشْرَةَ سَنَةً alfāni wa-tis‘u mi’atin wa-thnatā ‘asharatan sanah "2,912 years"
Formal: بَعْدَ أَلْفَيْنِ وَتِسْعِمِئَةٍ وَٱثْنَتَيْ عَشْرَةَ سَنَةً ba‘da alfayni wa-tis‘i mi’atin wa-thnatay ‘asharatan sanah "after 2,912 years"
Spoken: بعدَ) ألفين وتسعمئة واثنتا عشرة سنة) (ba‘da) alfayn wa-tis‘ mīya wa-ithna‘shar sana "(after) 2,912 years"
Cardinal numerals (اَلْأَعْدَاد اَلْأَصْلِيَّة
) from 0-10. Zero is ṣifr
, from which the words "cipher
" and "zero
" are ultimately derived.
The endings in brackets are dropped in less formal Arabic and in pausa. ة
) is pronounced as simple /a/ in these cases. If a noun ending in ة
is the first member of an idafa
, the ة
is pronounced as /at/, while the rest of the ending is not pronounced.
اِثْنَانِ ithnān(i) is changed to اِثْنَيْنِ ithnayn(i) in oblique cases. This form is also commonly used in a less formal Arabic in the nominative case.
The numerals 1 and 2 are adjectives. Thus they follow the noun and agree with gender.
Numerals 3–10 have a peculiar rule of agreement known as polarity: A feminine referrer agrees with a numeral in masculine gender and vice versa, e.g. thalāthu fatayātin (ثَلَاثُ فَتَيَاتٍ) "three girls". The noun counted takes indefinite genitive plural (as the attribute in a genitive construct).
Numerals 11 and 13–19 are indeclinable for case, perpetually in the accusative. Numbers 11 and 12 show gender agreement in the ones, and 13-19 show polarity in the ones. Number 12 also shows case agreement, reminiscent of the dual. The gender of عَشَر in numbers 11-19 agrees with the counted noun (unlike the standalone numeral 10 which shows polarity). The counted noun takes indefinite accusative singular.
Unitary numbers from 20 on (i.e. 20, 30, ... 90, 100, 1000, 1000000, etc.) behave entirely as nouns, showing the case required by the surrounding syntax, no gender agreement, and a following noun in a fixed case. 20 through 90 require their noun to be in the accusative singular; 100 and up require the genitive singular. The unitary numbers themselves decline in various fashions:
- ‘ishrūna "20" through tis‘ūna "90" decline as masculine plural nouns
- mi’at- "100" (مِئَة or مِائَة) declines as a feminine singular noun
- alf- "1,000" (أَلْف) declines as a masculine singular noun
The numbers 20-99 are expressed with the units preceding the tens. There is agreement in gender with the numerals 1 and 2, and polarity for numerals 3–9. The whole construct is followed by the accusative singular indefinite.
- 20 ‘ishrūna (عِشْرُونَ) (plural of 10)
- 21 wāḥidun wa-‘ishrūna (وَاحِدٌ وَعِشْرُونَ)
- 22 ithnāni wa-‘ishrūna (اثْنَانِ وَعِشْرُونَ)
- 23 thalāthatu wa-‘ishrūna (ثَلَاثَةُ وَعِشْرُونَ)
- 30 thalāthūna (ثَلَاتُونَ)
- 40 arba‘ūna (أَرْبَعُونَ)
mi’at- "100" and alf- "1,000" can themselves be modified by numbers (to form numbers such as 200 or 5,000) and will be declined appropriately. For example, mi’atāni "200" and alfāni "2,000" with dual endings; thalāthatu ālāfin "3,000" with alf in the plural genitive, but thalāthu mi’atin "300" since mi’at- appears to have no plural.
In compound numbers, the number formed with the last two digits dictates the declension of the associated noun, e.g. 212, 312, and 54,312 would all behave like 12.
Large compound numbers can have, e.g.:
- أَلْفٌ وَتِسْعُ مِئَةٍ وَتِسْعُ سِنِينَ alfun wa-tis‘u mi’atin wa-tis‘u sinīna "1,909 years"
- بَعْدَ أَلْفٍ وَتِسْعِ مِئَةٍ وَتِسْعِ سِنِينَ ba‘da alfin wa-tis‘i mi’atin wa-tis‘i sinīna "after 1,909 years"
- أَرْبَعَةٌ وَتِسْعُونَ أَلْفًا وَثَمَانِي مِئَةٍ وَثَلَاثٌ وَسِتُّونَ سَنَةً arba‘atun wa-tis‘ūna alfan wa-thamānī mi’atin wa-thalāthun wa-sittūna sanatan "94,863 years"
- بَعْدَ أَرْبَعَةٍ وَتِسْعِينَ أَلْفًا وَثَمَانِي مِئَةٍ وَثَلَاثٍ وَسِتِّينَ سَنَةً ba‘da arba‘atin wa-tis‘īna alfan wa-thamānī mi’atin wa-thalāthin wa-sittīna sanatan "after 94,863 years"
- اِثْنَا عَشَرَ أَلْفًا وَمِئَتَانِ وَٱثْنَتَانِ وَعِشْرُونَ سَنَةً iṯnā ‘ašara alfan wa-mi’atāni wa-thnatāni wa-‘ishrūna sanatan "12,222 years"
- بَعْدَ ٱثْنَيْ عَشَرَ أَلْفًا وَمِئَتَيْنِ وَٱثْنَتَيْنِ وَعِشْرينَ سَنَةً ba‘da thnay ‘ashara alfan wa-mi’atayni wa-thnatayni wa-‘ishrīna sanatan "after 12,222 years"
- اِثْنَا عَشَرَ أَلْفًا وَمِئَتَانِ وَسَنَتَانِ ithnā ‘ashara alfan wa-mi’atāni wa-sanatāni "12,202 years"
- بَعْدَ ٱثْنَيْ عَشَرَ أَلْفًا وَمِئَتَيْنِ وَسَنَتَيْنِ ba‘da thnay ‘ashara alfan wa-mi’atayni wa-sanatayni "after 12,202 years"
Note also the special construction when the final number is 1 or 2:
- alfu laylatin wa-laylatun "1,001 nights"
أَلْفُ لَيْلَةٍ وَلَيْلَةٌٌ
- mi’atu kitābin wa-kitābāni "102 books"
مِائَةُ كِتَابٍ وَكِتَابَانِ
Fractions of a whole smaller than "half" are expressed by the structure fi‘l (فِعْل) in the singular, af‘āl (أَفْعَال) in the plural.
- half niṣfun (نِصْفٌ)
- one-third thulthun (ثُلْثٌ)
- two-thirds thulthāni (ثُلْثَانِ)
- one-fourth rub‘un (رُبْعٌ)
- three-fourths thalāthatu arbā‘in (ثَلَاثَةُ أَرْبَاعٍ)
) higher than "second" are formed using the structure fā‘ilun
, the same as active participles of Form I verbs:
- m. أَوَّلُ awwalu, f. أُولَى ūlá "first"
- m. ثَانٍ thānin (definite form: اَلثَّانِيُ al-thānī), f. ثَانِيَةٌthāniyatun "second"
- m. ثَالِثٌ thālithun, f. ثَالِثَةٌ thālithatun "third"
- m. رَابِعٌ rābi‘un, f. رَابِعَةٌ rābi‘atun "fourth"
- m. خَامِسٌ khāmisun, f. خَامِسَةٌ khāmisatun "fifth"
- m. سَادِسٌ sādisun, f. سَادِسَةٌ sādisatun "sixth"
- m. سَابِعٌ sābi‘un, f. سَابِعَةٌ sābi‘atun "seventh"
- m. ثَامِنٌ thāminun, f. ثَامِنَةٌ thāminatun "eighth"
- m. تَاسِعٌ tāsi‘un, f. تَاسِعَةٌ tāsi‘atun "ninth"
- m. عَاشِرٌ ‘āshirun, f. عَاشِرَةٌ ‘āshiratun "tenth"
They are adjectives, hence there is agreement in gender with the noun, not polarity as with the cardinal numbers. Note that "sixth" uses a different, older root than the number six.
Arabic Verb Chart
Arabic verbs (فعل
), like the verbs in other Semitic languages, are extremely complex. Verbs in Arabic are based on a root made up of three or four consonants (called a triliteral or quadriliteral root, respectively). The set of consonants communicates the basic meaning of a verb, e.g. k-t-b
'write', q-r-’ 'read', ’-k-l 'eat'. Changes to the vowels in between the consonants, along with prefixes or suffixes, specify grammatical functions such as tense, person and number, in addition to changes in the meaning of the verb that embody grammatical concepts such as mood (e.g. indicative, subjunctive, imperative), voice (active or passive), and functions
such as causative, intensive, or reflexive.
Since Arabic lacks an auxiliary verb "to have", constructions using li-, ‘inda, and ma‘a with the pronominal suffixes are used to describe possession. For example: عنده بيت (ʿindahu bayt) - literally: At him (is) a house. → He has a house.
There are two types of prepositions, based on whether they arise from the triconsonantal roots system
or not. The 'true prepositions' (حُرُوف اَلْجَرّ
) do not stem from the triconsonantal roots. These true prepositions cannot have prepositions preceding them, in contrast to the derived triliteral prepositions. True prepositions can also be used with certain verbs to convey a particular meaning. For example, بَحَثَ
means "to discuss" as a transitive verb, but can mean "to search for" when followed by the preposition عَنْ
, and "to do research about" when followed by فِي
The prepositions arising from the triliteral root system are called "adverbs of place and time" in the native tradition (ظُرُوف مَكَان وَظُرُوف زَمَان
ẓurūf makān wa-ẓurūf zamān
) and work very much in the same way as the 'true' prepositions.
A noun following a preposition takes the genitive case
However, prepositions can take whole clauses as their object too if succeeded by the conjunctions أَنْ
, in which case the subject of the clause is in the nominative or the accusative respectively.
Genitive construction (iḍāfah
A noun may be defined more precisely by adding another noun immediately afterwards. In Arabic grammar, this is called إِضَافَة
("annexation, addition") and in English is known as the "genitive construct", "construct phrase", or "annexation structure". The first noun must be in the construct form
while, when cases are used, the subsequent noun must be in the genitive case. The construction is typically equivalent to the English construction "(noun) of (noun)". This is a very widespread way of forming possessive constructions in Arabic,
and is typical of a Semitic language.
Simple examples include:
- بِنْتُ حَسَنٍ bintu Ḥasan "the daughter of Hasan/Hasan's daughter".
- دَارُ السَّلاَمِ dāru‿s-salām "the house of peace".
- كِيلُو مَوْزٍ kīlū mawz "a kilo of bananas".
- بَيْتُ رَجُلٍ baytu‿rajul "the house of a man/a man's house".
- بَيْتُ ٱلرَّجُلِ baytu‿r-rajul "the house of the man/the man's house".
The range of relationships between the first and second elements of the idafah
construction is very varied, though it usually consists of some relationship of possession or belonging.
In the case of words for containers, the idāfah
may express what is contained: فِنْجَانُ قَهْوَةٍ
"a cup of coffee". The idāfah
may indicate the material something is made of: خَاتَمُ خَشَبٍ
"a wooden ring, ring made of wood". In many cases the two members become a fixed coined phrase, the idafah
being used as the equivalent of a compound
noun used in some Indo-European languages such as English. Thus بَيْتُ ٱلطَّلَبَةِ
can mean "house of the (certain, known) students", but is also the normal term for "the student hostel".
Classical Arabic tends to prefer the word order VSO
(verb before subject before object) rather than SVO
(subject before verb). Verb initial word orders
like in Classical Arabic are relatively rare across the world's languages, occurring only in a few language families including Celtic
, and Mayan
. The alternation between VSO and SVO word orders in Arabic results in an agreement asymmetry: the verb shows person, number, and gender agreement with the subject in SVO constructions but only gender (and possibly person) agreement in VSO, to the exclusion of number.
Full agreement: SVO order 
اَلْمُعَلِّمُونَ قَرَؤُوا ٱلْكِتَابَ
the-teachers-M.PL.NOM read.PAST-3.M.PL the-book-ACC
'The (male) teachers read the book.'
اَلْمُعَلِّمَاتُ قَرَأْنَ ٱلْكِتَابَ
the-teachers-F.PL-NOM read.PAST-3.F.PL the-book-ACC
'The (female) teachers read the book.'
Partial agreement: VSO order
قَرَأَ ٱلْمُعَلِّمُونَ ٱلْكِتَابَ
read.PAST-3M.SG the-teacher-M.PL.NOM the-book-ACC
'The (male) teachers read the book.'
قَرَأَتْ ٱلْمُعَلِّمَاتُ ٱلْكِتَابَ
read.PAST-3.F.SG the-teacher-F.PL-NOM the-book-ACC
'The (female) teachers read the book.'
Despite the fact that the subject in the latter two above examples is plural, the verb lacks plural marking and instead surfaces as if it was in the singular form.
Though early accounts of Arabic word order variation argued for a flat, non-configurational
more recent work
has shown that there is evidence for a VP constituent in Arabic, that is, a closer relationship between verb and object than verb and subject. This suggests a hierarchical grammatical structure, not a flat one. An analysis such as this one can also explain the agreement asymmetries between subjects and verbs in SVO versus VSO sentences, and can provide insight into the syntactic position of pre- and post-verbal subjects, as well as the surface syntactic position of the verb.
In the present tense, there is no overt copula
in Arabic. In such clauses, the subject tends to precede the predicate, unless there is a clear demarcating pause between the two, suggesting a marked information structure.
It is a matter of debate in Arabic literature whether there is a null present tense copula which syntactically precedes the subject in verbless sentences
, or whether there is simply no verb, only a subject and predicate.
Subject pronouns are normally omitted except for emphasis or when using a participle as a verb (participles are not marked for person). Because the verb agrees with the subject in person, number, and gender, no information is lost when pronouns are omitted. Auxiliary verbs precede main verbs, prepositions precede their objects, and nouns precede their relative clauses.
Adjectives follow the noun they are modifying, and agree with the noun in case, gender, number, and state: For example, فَتَاةٌ جَمِيلَةٌ
'a beautiful girl' but اَلْفَتَاةُ ٱلْجَمِيلَةُ
'the beautiful girl'. (Compare اَلْفَتَاةُ جَمِيلَةٌ
'the girl is beautiful'.) Elative
adjectives, however, usually don't agree with the noun they modify, and sometimes even precede their noun while requiring it to be in the genitive case.
The subject of a sentence can be topicalized and emphasized by moving it to the beginning of the sentence and preceding it with the word إِنَّ inna 'indeed' (or 'verily' in older translations). An example would be إِنَّ ٱلسَّمَاءَ زَرْقَاءُ inna s-samā’a zarqā’(u) 'The sky is blue indeed'.
, along with its related terms (or أَخَوَات’akhawāt
"sister" terms in the native tradition) أَنَّanna
'that' (as in "I think that ..."), inna
'that' (after قَالَ
'but' and كَأَنَّ
'as if' introduce subjects while requiring that they be immediately followed by a noun in the accusative case, or an attached pronominal suffix.
As a particle
does not inflect for gender
, or grammatical case
. The sound of the final -l consonant, however, can vary; when followed by a sun letter
such as t, d, r, s, n and a few others, it is replaced by the sound of the initial consonant of the following noun, thus doubling it. For example: for "the Nile", one does not say al-Nīl
, but an-Nīl
. When followed by a moon letter
, like m-, no replacement occurs, as in al-masjid
("the mosque"). This affects only the pronunciation and not the spelling of the article.
Dynasty or family
Some people, especially in the region of Arabia
, when they are descended from a famous ancestor, start their last name with آل
, a noun
meaning "family" or "clan", like the dynasty Al Saud
(family of Saud) or Al ash-Sheikh
(family of the Sheikh). آل
is distinct from the definite article ال
Object pronouns are clitics
and are attached to the verb; e.g., أَرَاهَا
'I see her'. Possessive pronouns are likewise attached to the noun they modify; e.g., كِتَابُهُ
'his book'. The definite article اَلـ
is a clitic, as are the prepositions لِـ
'to' and بِـ
'in, with' and the conjunctions كَـ
'as' and فَـ
Reform of the Arabic tradition
An overhaul of the native systematic categorization of Arabic grammar was first suggested by the medieval philosopher al-Jāḥiẓ
, though it was not until two hundred years later when Ibn Maḍāʾ
wrote his Refutation of the Grammarians
that concrete suggestions regarding word order and linguistic governance
In the modern era, Egyptian litterateur Shawqi Daif
renewed the call for a reform of the commonly used description of Arabic grammar, suggesting to follow trends in Western linguistics instead.
Some grammarians classify the word مَعَ as a noun, not a preposition.
- ^ a b Kojiro Nakamura, "Ibn Mada's Criticism of Arab Grammarians." Orient, v. 10, pgs. 89-113. 1974
- ^ a b Monique Bernards, "Pioneers of Arabic Linguistic Studies." Taken from In the Shadow of Arabic: The Centrality of Language to Arabic Culture, pg. 213. Ed. Bilal Orfali. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9789004215375
- ^ Goodchild, Philip. Difference in Philosophy of Religion, 2003. Page 153.
- ^ Archibald Sayce, Introduction to the Science of Language. Pg. 28, 1880.
- ^ al-Aṣmaʿī at the Encyclopædia Britannica Online. ©2013 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. Accessed 10 June 2013.
- ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 5, pg. 174, fascicules 81-82. Eds. Clifford Edmund Bosworth, E. van Donzel, Bernard Lewis and Charles Pellat. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1980. ISBN 9789004060562
- ^ Arik Sadan, The Subjunctive Mood in Arabic Grammatical Thought, pg. 339. Volume 66 of Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012. ISBN 9789004232952
- ^ "Sibawayh, His Kitab, and the Schools of Basra and Kufa." Taken from Changing Traditions: Al-Mubarrad's Refutation of Sībawayh and the Subsequent Reception of the Kitāb, pg. 12. Volume 23 of Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics. Ed. Monique Bernards. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997. ISBN 9789004105959
- ^ Sir Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg. 350. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1954. New edition 1980.
- ^ Alaa Elgibali and El-Said M. Badawi. Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said M. Badawi, 1996. Page 105.
- ^ Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), p. 90.
- ^ Wright, William. A Grammar of the Arabic Language. 2 (3rd ed.). Librarie Du Liban. p. 165. مع is, as the Arab grammarians remark, properly the accusative of a noun, signifying association, connexion.
- ^ Drissner, Gerald (2015). Arabic for Nerds. Berlin, Germany: createspace. p. 65. ISBN 978-1517538385.
- ^ Ryding, Karin C. (2005). A reference grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (6th printing ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University press. p. 366. ISBN 978-0521777711.
- ^ Fischer, Wolfdietrich (2002). A Grammar of Classical Arabic. Translated by Rodger, Jonathan (3rd ed.). Yale University Press. p. 153.
- ^ Karin C. Ryding, A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 205-24 [§8.1].
- ^ Adam Pospíšil, 'The Idafa construction in Arabic and its morphosyntactic behaviour' (unpublished BA thesis, Univerzita Karlova v Praze, 2015), §7.1.
- ^ Karin C. Ryding, A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 206-11 [§8.1.1].
- ^ Benmamoun, Elabbas 1992. “Structural conditions on agreement.” Proceedings of NELS (North-Eastern Linguistic Society) 22: 17-32.
- ^ a b c Benmamoun, Elabbas. 2015. Verb-initial orders, with a special emphasis on Arabic. Syncom, 2 edition
- ^ Bakir, Murtadha. 1980. Aspects of clause structure in Arabic. Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington.
- ^ Fassi Fehri, Abdelkader. 1982. Linguistique Arabe: Forme et Interprétation. Rabat, Morocco, Publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines.
- ^ Jelinek, Eloise. 1981. On Defining Categories: Aux and Predicate in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Doctoral dissertation. University of Arizona, Tucson.
- ^ Fassi Fehri, Abdelkader. 1993. Issues in the Structure of Arabic Clauses and Words. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
- ^ Shlonsky, Ur 1997. Clause Structure and Word order in Hebrew and Arabic: An Essay in Comparative Semitic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- ^ Heggie, Lorie. 1988. The Syntax of Copular Structures. Doctoral dissertation. USC, Los Angeles.
- ^ Benmamoun, Elabbas. 2000. The Feature Structure of Functional Categories: A Comparative Study of Arabic Dialects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- ^ Aoun, Joseph, Elabbas Benmamoun, and Lina Choueiri. 2010. The Syntax of Arabic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- ^ Shawqi Daif, Introduction to Ibn Mada's Refutation of the Grammarians (Cairo, 1947), p. 48.
- ^ "The Emergency of Modern Standard Arabic," by Kees Versteegh. Taken from The Arabic Language by permission of the Edinburgh University Press. 1997.
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