Arabic Grammar Made Easy – a series of concise Arabic grammar lessons that systematically cover the entire language in a step-by-step manner.

Arabic Grammar

About Arabic Grammar

The science of the Arabic language known as نحو – basically translated as Arabic grammar and Arabic syntax – is a topic through which we learn to correctly convey meaning in Arabic, form coherent sentences, and protect ourselves from verbal error. Where Lexicology and Arabic Morphology are concerned with being able to work with the internals of words, Arabic grammar is concerned with being able to work with the endings of words in order to read and comprehend in a sentential milieu.

Arabic grammar (نحو‎ /naḥw/) 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 Arabic language are covered just by concentrating on the issue of grammatical inflection. In studying the rules of Arabic grammar, we start with this topic, and it branches out to cover the entire language.

How we Study Arabic Grammar

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

1.       some basics

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

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

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

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

3.       inflection in Arabic words – 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 Arabic adverbs – this topic covers about 20% of the grammatical states

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

d.      the genitive 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 Arabic grammar rules

a.       definiteness

b.      gender in Arabic

c.       plurality in Arabic

d.      Arabic 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 grammar 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.

If you’d like a video intro on these Arabic grammar topics, click the image below and fill the short form for free instant access:

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) /lafz/. 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) /maudhoo3/. 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) /muhmal/.

Coined utterance is then either realized as single words (كلمة) /kalima/, or as multiple words (كلام) /kalam/. If these multiple words have a copula (a link between the subject and predicate) then the speech is termed a ‘sentence’ (جملة) /jumla/. Otherwise, the speech is known as a phrase (كلام غير مفيد)/kalam ghayr mufeed/. 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 in Arabic Grammar

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) /ism/ and it includes what we know in English as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. The second category is that of verbs (فعل) /fe’l/. And finally, the third category is that of particles (حرف) /harf/ 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 in Arabic Grammar

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 are covered below under the heading Arabic Phrases.

Sentences in Arabic Grammar

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.

Having now introduced the 3 parts of speech in Arabic by comparing them to the English parts of speech (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc.), we’ll now proceed to develop them further.

Defining and Categorizing the Parts of Speech in Arabic

As mentioned in the introduction above, words in Arabic are divided into three categories. The following is a more detailed treatment of this.

·         اسم pl. أسماء (noun): This category is defined as those words that impart a single meaning on their own  and do not afford a tense. Roughly speaking, this is equivalent to what we know in English as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

·         فعل pl. أفعال (verb): This category is defined as those words that impart a single meaning on their own  and afford a tense. This is exactly what we in English know as verbs.

·         حرف pl. حروف (particle): This category is defined as those words that do not impart a meaning on their own . Roughly speaking, this is equivalent to what we know in English as prepositions, conjunctions, articles, and other particles.

Particles don’t impart a meaning on their own. This means that they are only understood when other words are mentioned along with them. In fact, their very purpose is to expose certain attributes in the words around them. For example, the word “and” cannot be understood fully unless it has something to its right and left, as in “you and I”. The purpose of “and” in this example is to expose the attribute of conjunction in the words “you” and “I”. Another example is the word “from”. On its own, it doesn’t give a clear meaning and it needs to have something after it, as in “from Basra”. In the example, the word “from” exposes the attribute within Basra of being an origin. Without “from”, this attribute would not have otherwise been apparent.

Hence any word that does not impart a meaning of its own accord, rather it helps expose attributes of other words, is a particle. If this is not the case, then the word is either a noun or a verb.

Now, nouns do not afford a tense whereas verbs do. Consider the word “yesterday”. This is either a noun or a verb since it imparts a single meaning on its own. But which of the two is it? The word “yesterday”, although its meaning has something to do with time, does not afford a tense. Hence it is a noun. On the other hand, a word such as “go” does afford a tense (the future in this case). Hence it is a verb.

These three categories cover all of the words in the Arabic language and they are mutually exclusive. That is to say, any given word must fit into one, and only one, of the above.

Nouns

Nouns are categorized in many ways. Here is a short lesson on the types of noun in Arabic grammar. It gives you a list of all the useful ways in which a noun can be classified. This includes based on gender (masculine vs. feminine), based on plurality (singular, dual, and plural), based on grammatical reflection (those that reflect and show their grammatical case and those that do not), definiteness, gender and other considerations.

·         gender: all nouns are either

o   masculine or

o   feminine

·         plurality: all nouns are either

o   singular,

o   dual, or

o   plural

·         derivation: all nouns are either

o   not derived and nothing is derived from them,

o   a source of derivation (also known as a gerund), or

o   derived from a gerund

·         definiteness: all nouns are either

o   indefinite or

o   definite

·         grammatical reflection

o   many sub-categories

Verbs

Arabic morphology has its own way of classifying and dealing with verbs. The main topic of grammar, however, is grammatical inflection. In light of this concept, grammar divides verbs into the following categories.

·         ماضي (perfect): the past tense verb

·         مضارع (imperfect): this includes the present, future, prohibition and all variations

·         أمر حاضر معروف (imperative): this includes only the active, second-person conjugations of the command verb

The Grammatical Inflection tutorial discusses which of the above types of verbs inflect for grammatical case, and the Grammatical Reflection tutorial discusses how that inflection is reflected on the verb.

Particles

There are less than 80 particles in the entire language. Due to the number being so small, it is possible to categorize them based on their meanings and their effects, explaining the meaning of each particle one by one.

Particles are divided into the following 15 categories.

1.       حروف الجر: genitival particles

2.       الحروف المشبهة بالفعل: the particles that resemble verbs

3.       الحروف العاطفة: conjunctions (e.g. “and”)

4.       حروف التنبيه: particles used for alerting (e.g. “Hey!”)

5.       حروف النداء: vocative particles (e.g. “O”)

6.       حروف الإيجاب: particles for affirmative answers (e.g. “yes”)

7.       حروف الردع: particles used for negative answers (e.g. “never”)

8.       الحروف الزائدة: extra

9.       حروف التفسير: particles that introduce an explanatory sentence (e.g. “i.e.”)

10.   حروف المصدر: gerundival particles

11.   حروف التحضيض: particles use for prodding

12.   حروف القرب: particles used to indicate nearness in time or certainty (e.g. “has/had”)

13.   حروف الإستفهام: interrogative particles

14.   حروف الشرط: conditional particles

15.   Miscellaneous

Since there are so many categories, they will not be discussed at this point.

Having now developed the 3 parts of speech to some extent, let’s now speak about the phrase in Arabic grammar. The rest of this tutorial will deal with the most common phrase structures in Arabic grammar.

Intro to Phrases in Arabic Grammar

When we talk about speech in Arabic grammar, we typically divide it into three categories:

·         words

·         phrases

·         sentences

There are many types of phrases in the language – over a dozen, in fact. Each of these are introduced slowly and gradually as a student studies sentences and grammatical structures. They are studied as needed and as encountered.

Two types of phrases, however, are of fundamental importance and they are very productive in the language. These are:

·         the adjectival phrase (a noun and an adjective describing it)

·         the possessive phrase (two nouns, one “belonging” to the other)

The Adjectival Phrase

What is the English Equivalent?

Examples of this type of phrase in English include “the ferocious lion”, “the slow children”, “an unfortunate accident”.

Notice that we have two words – the first is an adjective and the second is the noun that it describes or qualifies. And needless to say, the adjective will always stay the same while the noun that it describes can be of any gender, plurality, or definiteness. For example, we can say

·         Gender: “the ferocious lion” and “the ferocious lioness

·         Plurality: “the ferocious lion” and “the ferocious lions

·         Definiteness: “the ferocious lion” and “a ferocious lion”

How is this Done in Arabic?

So let’s take a look at how this adjectival phrase works in Arabic. In order to do this, consider the example below.

الأَسَدُ الضَارِيْ
the ferocious lion

The first thing to notice is that, in Arabic, the noun comes first and the adjective follows it (reading from right to left, of course). In the example, the word “الأسد” is the noun and it is called مَوْصُوْف (one being described) and “الضاري” is the adjective and it is termed صِفَة (description).

Definitions

 

مَوْصُوْف

the one being described; must come first

صِفَة

the description; must come second

A single noun may have many successive adjectives, as in the following example.

الأَطْفَالُ البِطَاءُ السِمَانُ

the slow, fat children

Arabic Grammar Rules

Unlike in English, where the adjective stays the same and the noun inflects for gender, plurality, and definiteness, both parts in Arabic must match. And the aspects in which they match are four:

1.       gender – masculine or feminine

2.       plurality – singular, dual, or plural

3.       definiteness – definite or indefinite

4.       grammatical case – nominative, accusative, or genitive

That is to say, if the noun being described is masculine, then the adjective(s) will also be masculine. If it is feminine, then the adjective(s) will also be feminine. And similarly, the adjective(s) will follow the noun in being singular, dual, plural, definite, indefinite, nominative, accusative, and genitive. The grammatical case of the noun will be based on the circumstances of the sentence. But the case of the adjective will have to match.

Grammar Rule

 

 

the form of all adjectives of a noun must be chosen to match the noun in gender, plurality, definiteness, and grammatical case

Below are a few examples. Confirm that the noun and its adjective(s) are matching in gender. There are 4 ways in which a noun could be feminine but, usually, words in Arabic are feminine if they end in the round ة, and they are masculine otherwise.

Arabic

English

صَبِيَّةٌ زَكِيَّةٌ

a pure (female) baby

طَاوِلَةً مَكْسُوْرَةً

a broken table

زَيْدٌ البَخِيْلُ

Zaid the miserly

البَحْرِ الأَبْيَضِ المُتَوَسِّطِ

the Mediterranean Sea

Below are a few more illustrations of the noun and adjective. Confirm that they match in plurality. If a noun is dual, it will end in either the ـانِ or the ـيْنِ suffix. Plurality is more complicated.

Arabic

English

صَيْدَلِيَّانِ عَالِمَانِ

two knowledgeable pharmacists

الوِجْهَةُ العَمَلِيَّةُ

the practical aspect

الأَطْفَالُ الصِغَارُ

the small children

Confirm that the words below match in definiteness. A word can be definite in 7 ways. Some of these include having the الـ prefix, being a proper noun, and being possessive.

Arabic

English

كِتَابُهُ المُطَوَّلُ

his long book

زَيْدٌ السَارِقُ

Zaid the thief

حَظٌّ سَعِيْدٌ

good luck

Finally, confirm that the words below match in grammatical case. Grammatical case can be reflected in 9 ways but, usually, a word is said to be nominative if it’s last letter has a ضمة, accusative if it has a فتحة, and genitive if it has a كسرة.

Arabic

English

رُعْبٌ شَدِيْدٌ

an extreme fear

بَرْنَامِجٍ مُمِلٍّ

a boring show

الوَاجِبَ الصَعْبَ

the difficult homework

But it is important to understand that all of gender, plurality, definiteness, and grammatical case are non-trivial issues. They have their rulings and their place in Arabic grammar. To get an idea of this, below is a  noun-adjective phrase which does not seemingly match in three of the four mentioned aspects. In reality, the words do match, but this will only become apparent after studying more grammar.

Arabic

English

شَوَارِعَ مُزْدَحِمَةٍ

congested streets

The Possessive Phrase

What is the English Equivalent?

The English equivalent of a possessive phrase is, for example, “the pelican’s bill” or one can say “the bill of the pelican”.

Notice that two nouns are used here. With the adjectival phrase, one noun and one adjective was used. Moreover, both nouns will inflect for gender, plurality, and definiteness and each worries about its own inflection. In the adjectival phrase, it was only the noun that inflected for these things and the adjective simply followed suit.

Consider the phrases below for tangible examples of gender, plurality, and definiteness. Read these examples, but do not spend too much effort analyzing them; they are here simply to illustrate a point and are not meant to be the topic of discussion.

·         Gender:

o   both masculine: a man’s son

o   1st masculine and 2nd feminine: a man’s daughter

o   1st feminine and 2nd masculine: a woman’s son

o   both feminine: a woman’s daughter

·         Plurality

o   both singular: the pelican’s bill

o   1st singular and 2nd plural: the pelican’s eyes

o   1st plural and 2nd singular: the pelicans’ home

o   both plural: the pelicans’ bills

·         Definiteness

o   definite: the pelican’s bill

o   indefinite: a pelican’s bill

How is this Done in Arabic?

Consider the example below.

مِنْقَار البَجَعَةِ

the pelican’s bill

Notice that in Arabic, we follow the “X of Y” structure, where the thing being possessed comes first and the one possessing it comes second. In the example, the first noun – the thing possessed – is “منقار” and it is termed the مُضَاف. The second noun – the possessor – is “البجعة” and it is termed the مُضَاف إلَيْه.

Definitions

 

مُضَاف

the thing possessed; must come first

مُضَاف إلَيْه

the possessor; must come second

A point worth noting here is that this phrase doesn’t always denote possession; it merely establishes a form of association between the two nouns that’s a lot like possession. Compare the translations in the examples below for an idea of what this really means. Sometimes the second noun genuinely doesn’t “possess” the first, and sometimes it’s the translation that distorts the “possession”.

Arabic

English

خَاتَم فِضَّةٍ

a ring (made) of silver

بَاب البَيْتِ

the house’s door
(the house doesn’t “own” the door)

صَلٰوة اللَيْلِ

night prayer (prayer of the night)

شَحْمَتَيِ الأُذُنَيْنِ

earlobes (lobes of the ears)

Arabic Grammar Rules

When speaking about the adjectival phrase, recall that we considered four aspects:

·         gender

·         plurality

·         definiteness

·         grammatical case

Gender & Plurality

Both the first and second noun in a possessive phrase worry about their own gender and plurality, just as in English. Consider the examples below.

Arabic

English

اِبْن رَجُلٍ

a man’s son

اِبْن مَرْءَةٍ

a woman’s son

بِنْت رَجُلٍ

a man’s daughter

بِنْت مَرْءَةٍ

a woman’s daughter

Arabic

English

مِنْقَار البَجَعَةِ

the pelican’s bill

عُيُوْن البَجَعَةِ

the pelican’s eyes

مَحَطّ البَجَعِ

the pelicans’ resting-place

مَنَاقِيْر البَجَعِ

the pelicans’ bills

And etc. for duals

Definiteness

As for definiteness, however, the first noun derives its definiteness from the second. If the second is definite, so too will the first be definite. And  if the second is indefinite, then the first will be indefinite also. This is the same in English. Consider the following.

Arabic

English

مِنْقَار البَجَعَةِ

the pelican’s bill

مِنْقَار بَجَعَةٍ

a pelican’s bill

Aside: A small point to note here is that even when the second noun is indefinite, the first noun may be indefinite, but it does have some specificity. For example, in the phrase “a pelican’s bill” the word “bill” may be indefinite, but it’s still slightly specific in the sense that we know it’s a pelican’s bill and not an eagle’s, or a sparrow’s, or any other bird’s.

As a result of this definiteness situation, the first noun in a possessive phrase will never have the definite article الـ, nor will it have nunation (تنوين). Moreover, the نون that is the suffix for duality and masculine sound plurality will also drop.

Grammar Rule

 

 

the first noun in a possessive phrase will never have الـ, تنوين, the نون of duality, nor the نون of masculine plurality

Consider the examples below. Notice that the first word does not have any of the four mentioned affixes.

Example

مِنْقَار بَجَعَةٍ

مِنْقَارَا بَجَعَةٍ

مِنْقَارَيْ بَجَعَةٍ

مُسْلِمُوْ مِصْرٍ

مُسْلِمِيْ مِصْرٍ

Grammatical Case

When we talked about the adjectival phrase, we said that the grammatical case of the noun – whatever it may be – will carry over to the adjective. Here however, the first noun – whatever it’s grammatical case may be – will always render the second noun genitive. And this is clear from all the examples above; the first noun will be reflected based on the circumstances of the sentence, and the second noun will be fixed genitive.

Grammar Rule

 

 

the grammatical case of the first noun in a possessive phrase will be determined by external factors; the grammatical case of the second noun will always be genitive

Summary

الأَسَدُ الضَارِيْ
the ferocious lion

Adjectival Phrase

·         the noun comes first and the adjective(s) follow

·         the adjectives must match the noun in

o   gender

o   plurality

o   definiteness

o   the grammatical case of the noun will be determined by external factors; the case of the adjectives will be determined by the noun (they will match it)

مِنْقَار البَجَعَةِ

the pelican’s bill

Possessive Phrase

·         the thing possessed (a noun) comes first and the owner (also a noun) comes second

·         the meaning of this structure is not always that of possession as it’s generally understood

·         the two nouns worry about their own gender and plurality

·         the definiteness of the first noun is determined by that of the second noun

·         the first noun will never have الـ, تنوين, nor the نون suffix of the dual or sound masculine plural

·         the grammatical case of the first noun will be determined by external factors; the case of the second noun will always be genitive

Exercises

Below is a list of very common phrases – both adjectival and possessive. Read each one carefully and try your best to verify that the associated Arabic grammar rules are being applied.

Notice that some of the adjectival phrases have multiple adjectives, some of the possessive phrases are compound, and some phrases are a combination of the two types. See if you can confirm that the rules you’ve learned apply in each of these complex cases.

Phrase

Translation (not necessarily indicative of the Arabic structure)

الأُمَمُ المُتَّحِدَةُ

the United Nations

الوِلاَيَاتُ المُتَّحِدَةُ الأَمْرِكِيَّةُ

the American Unites States
(i.e. the United States of America)

الصَلِيْبُ الأَحْمَرُ

the Red Cross

المَمْلَكَةُ العَرَبِيَّةُ السَعُوْدِيَّةُ

the Saudi Arabian kingdom

(i.e. the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

الحَرْبُ العَالَمِيَّةُ الأُوْلى

the first World War

البَحْرُ الأَبْيَضُ المُتَوَسِّطُ

the white, middle sea
(i.e. the Mediterranean Sea)

صَبَاحَ الخَيْرِ

morning of good
(i.e. good morning)

صَبَاحَ النُوْرِ

response to good morning

حَظٌّ سَعِيْدٌ

good luck

طُورُ سَيْنَاءَ

mountain of Sinai

(i.e. Mount Sinai)

دَارُ الأَمْنِ

place of safety

وَاسِعُ النِطَاقِ

wide of range
(i.e. wide-ranging)

قَدَرُ الإِمْكَانِ

as much as possible

صَانِعُ القَرَارِ

decision-maker (bourgeoisie)

صَاحِبُ الفَضْلِ الأَوَّلِ

deserver of first praise (i.e. most deserving, also first one to do something)

كُلِّيَةُ الطِبِّ

faculty of medicine

جَمْعُ المُذَكَّرِ السَالِمُ

sound plural of the masculine

(i.e. sound masculine plural)

شَبَكَةُ تَعَلُّمِ اللُغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ

the website for the learning of the Arabic language

Lesson Index

Below you will find a Lesson Index for just the Arabic Grammar related lessons we have on this website.

(Other areas of the Arabic language such as the Arabic Alphabet, Morphology, vocabulary lists, and Arabic Rhetoric should be accessed through the menu at the top of every page).

Core Arabic Grammar Topics

Arabic Grammar Subtopics

  • Proceed to the next lesson: Arabic Sentences
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  • Arabic Grammar FAQ

    Is Arabic an SVO language?

    VSO is the default for verbal sentences in Arabic. A verb and 2 nouns in Arabic can be arranged in 6 different ways though. Depending on what’s more important, a speaker can begin the sentence with the subject or object, resulting in SVO, OSV or any other possible arrangement. This is because the grammar is not determined by sequence, but rather through inflection.

    Is Arabic grammar hard?

    Arabic can be difficult if it’s taught as a series of disconnected Arabic grammar rules with too much emphasis on rote memorization. Especially early on this can lead to overwhelm and it’s the main reason students quit. However, if the core of how the language works is taught first by focusing on the single topic of grammatical inflection, learning Arabic can be made easy and actually becomes enjoyable and very manageable.

    Is Arabic gendered?

    Only nouns in Arabic have gender. There is masculine and feminine and no neutral. A noun does not need to have anything to be masculine. Femininity on the other hand requires a sign such as a round ta.

    How many pronouns are there in Arabic?

    60 in total. This considers pronouns which are used to represent nouns in all three cases, both attached versions and detached versions.