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Introduction to Arabic Grammar

How we Study Grammar

Arabic grammar is centered around a single topic; grammatical inflection. Anything studied in the language is studied only because it relates to this issue. It is a feat of staggering genius on the part of medieval grammarians that almost all aspects of the language are covered just by concentrating on the issue of grammatical inflection. We start with this topic, and it branches out to cover the entire language.

 

The following is a breakdown of how we approach and study grammar. This approach allows us to cover all the core issues.

 

1.       some basics

a.       words – a look at the different types of words in the language and how they’re divided and categorized

b.      phrases – a close look at some of the more common phrasal structures, serving to introduce some key concepts and terminology

c.       sentences – a look at the different types of sentences as preparation for more advanced topics

2.       grammatical inflection – the study of what grammatical inflection is, how it works, and the different grammatical states

3.       inflection – a deep look at those words in the language that inflect and those that do not

4.       reflection and diptotes – the study of how grammatical states are represented on different types of words that do inflect

5.       the grammatical states – the study of each grammatical state and when it is used

a.       nominal sentences – this topic covers about 30% of the grammatical states

b.      verbal sentences and adverbs – this topic covers about 20% of the grammatical states

c.       other verbal associates (circumstantial adverb, exclusion, disambiguation) – this topic covers about 10% of the grammatical states

d.      the genitival states – this topic covers about 5% of the grammatical states

e.      grammatical states of verbs – this topic covers about 30% of the grammatical states

f.        grammatical extension – this topic concludes the discussion on grammatical states

6.       side topics and advanced topics

a.       definiteness

b.      gender

c.       plurality

d.      numbers

 

The rest of this tutorial gives some introductory data dealing with the different types of words, phrases, and sentences in the language. This paves the way for the study of further topics and helps put further tutorials into perspective. But one must realize that an essential part of learning the grammar of any language is practicing through reading. In order to learn Arabic grammar correctly, theory must be supplemented by reading texts with and without vowels in front of a teacher. This can only be achieved through Arabic courses such as the Shariah Program.

Map of the Language

لَفْظ

utterance

مُهْمَل

unpointed

مَوْضُوْع

coined

 

كَلاَم

group of words

كَلِمَة

word

 

غَيْر مُفِيْدَة

phrase

جُمْلَة

sentence

 

 

Any sound released from the mouth of a human is termed by the Arabs as ‘utterance’ (لفظ). Now utterance may be sensible or it may not be. Sensible utterance is that which makes sense to the Arabs, and it is termed ‘coined utterance’ (موضوع). Non-sensible utterance is that which does not carry any meaning for the Arabs. This includes things like foreign speech, awkward sounds, and so forth, and it is termed ‘unpointed utterance’ (مهمل).

 

Coined utterance is then either realized as single words (كلمة), or as multiple words (كلام). If these multiple words have a copula (a link between the subject and predicate) then the speech is termed a ‘sentence’ (جملة). Otherwise, the speech is known as a phrase (كلام غير مفيد). Examples of sentences are “he is back” and “I ate the apple”, where “is” is the copula in the first sentence and the copula in the second sentence is abstract. Examples of phrases include “the old woman across the street”. Within these words there is no copula, hence the speech is a phrase.

Words

كلمة

word

حَرْف

particles

فِعْل

verbs

اِسْم

nouns

 

Words are divided into three categories which are mutually exclusive and cover all words in the language. The first category is called ‘noun’ (اسم) and it includes what we know in English as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. The second category is that of verbs (فعل). And finally, the third category is that of particles (حرف) which include English prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and particles. Note that particle is a catch-all term that includes things like interjections and other words that are not well-categorized.

 

اسم

nouns

pronouns

adjectives

adverbs

فعل

verbs

حرف

prepositions

articles

conjunctions

particles (such as most interjections)

 

Practice: Under which of the three categories in Arabic would the following English words fits?

·         boy

·         cheap

·         within

·         an

·         lifted

·         brownies

·         silently

·         Oh no!

·         our

Phrases

There are many types of phrases in the language. Most of them are introduced at calculated points in time, but two are of very special interest due to their productiveness and pedagogical benefits. These can be studied in the tutorial entitled Arabic Phrases.

Sentences

جملة

sentence

فعليّة

verbal

اسميّة

nominal

 

There are two main types of sentences; nominal and verbal. The former is that sentence which effectively begins with a noun, and the latter is that which effectively begins with a verb. There are actually other ways in which we can categorize different types of sentences, but this method is by far the most productive and by far the most relevant. Other methods of categorization will be introduced in subsequent tutorials as needed.

 



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