Arabic Sentences – a crash course on the essentials of the sentence in Arabic grammar in preparation for more advanced topics.
What is this tutorial about?
Arabic words have already been discussed in the Arabic Words tutorial. Words can come together in meaningful ways to form phrases. And phrases have also been discussed in the Arabic Phrases tutorial. Separate words as well as phrases can come together to form a sentence. This tutorial discusses the different types of sentences in Arabic in preparation for more advanced topics related to grammatical inflection. Watch this short 10 minute video for a crash course on Arabic Sentences.
In Arabic, a sentence is two or more words connected together in a manner that conveys a complete benefit. Informative Arabic sentences (جملة خبرية) are those which make a claim, while non-informative sentences (جملة إنشائية) include questions, commands and requests.
Stated otherwise, a sentence is a group of words divided into two piles. One of the piles of words is the thing about which something is being claimed. And the other pile is the claim itself. For example, “my youngest son is sleeping quietly” is a sentence. The first pile of words is “my youngest son” and the second is “sleeping quietly”, because “my youngest son” is the thing about which something is being claimed and “sleeping quietly” is the actual claim.
Informative & Non-Informative Sentences
This type of sentence is called جملة خبرية (informative sentence).
There is one other type of sentence. It also has two piles of words, but the second is not really a claim about the first. For example, “can I play, too?” is a sentence and the two piles of words are “can I” and “play, too”. However, nothing is being claimed. This is called جملة إنشائية (non-informative sentence).
A non-informative sentence is actually just an informative one with one of the following things done to it.
· it is turned into a question; compare “I also play” and “can I also play?”
· it is turned into a command; compare “you will play with us” and “play with us”
· it is turned into a request; compare “it won’t rain” and “I hope it doesn’t rain”
· about half a dozen others
There’s a simple rule of thumb that can differentiate between the two types. Given a sentence, we call the speaker a liar. If this makes sense, then the sentence was an informative one, and if it doesn’t, then it was non-informative. For example, when someone says “I went for a walk today”, we can say “you‘re lying” and this makes perfect sense. On the other hand, when someone says “can I play?”, we cannot say “you’re lying.”
Exercise: determine which of the two types of sentences each of the following is.
1. what time is it?
2. the time is a quarter past eight
3. I can’t believe that
4. oh my goodness
5. take this to the car
6. don’t eat that
7. I think that Arabic is the most superior language
8. would you please dispose of this
9. I’m not sure
10. I could be wrong
11. that’s not the way we do things
12. I was going to do that
Nominal & Verbal Sentences
Another way in which we can categorize sentences is with respect to the first word. If the first word is a noun, the sentences is termed جملة اسمية (nominal sentence). And if it is a verb, it is termed جملة فعلية (verbal sentence). If the first word is neither of these two, in other words it’s a particle, then we simply ignore it and consider the first non-particle word.
This concept is not actually as simple as meets the eye and one should not brush off this concept prima facia. A sentence may in fact be verbal where the initial verb is hidden. Consider the following examples.
Both of the above Arabic sentences are verbal even though the first non-particle word in each is a noun. This is because the sentence begins with a hidden verb in each case. This is not a wide spread phenomenon at all; students will become aware of the few cases when verbs are hidden through exposure and through studying Arabic grammar.
Exercise: determine whether the following Arabic sentences are nominal or verbal and informative or non-informative.
1. قرأتُ وِردي
2. أنا أكثرُ منك مالاً وولداً
3. إذا زُلزِلت الأرضُ زلزالها …
4. أنا كسَرت الأصنامَ
5. ولا تحسَبنّ اللهَ غافلاً
6. نِعْمَ رجلا زيد
7. هذه الحالة الإسلامية لن يتّفق عليها ما لم يكن هناك فضّ الإشتباك عن التطاعن والتوتر
8. ما لك؟
Parts of an Arabic Sentence
As mentioned earlier, the words in a sentence can be separated into two piles. That is to say, all sentences have two parts; the subject and the predicate.
subject of a sentence
The term مسند إليه refers to the subject and the term مسند refers to the predicate, whether the sentence is nominal or verbal. But figuring out where the subject of a sentence ends and where the predicate starts is going to become vital and a mistake in this could mean the difference between heaven and earth. Since this topic is going to be treated so rigorously, we need more specific terminology.
Consequently, if the sentence is nominal then the مسند إليه is termed مبتدأ and the مسند is termed خبر.
subject of a nominal sentence (called the “topic”)
predicate of a nominal sentence (called the “comment”)
Similarly, if the sentence is verbal then the مسند إليه is termed فاعل and the مسند is termed فعل.
subject of a verbal sentence (i.e. the subject of the verb)
predicate of a verbal sentence (i.e. the verb)
Nominal sentence are thus made up of a مبتدأ and a خبر and it is between these two parts that we place the word “is”/”was”/etc when translating. Verbal sentences are made up of a verb, the subject of that verb, and there may also be some auxiliary material such as objects, adverbs, and other such entities.
(verb + auxiliary entities)
FAQ on Sentences in Arabic
What does inna mean in Arabic?
In Arabic grammar, the word inna is part of a group of sentential abrogators which known as the particles that resemble verbs (الحروف المشبهة بالفعل). These particles come in the beginning of the nominal sentences and change the labels and grammatical states of the subject and predicate. The subject or mubtada which was in the nominative case becomes the ism of inna in the accusative case. The predicate or khabar becomes the khabar of inna and remains in the nominative case.
What is a nominal sentence in Arabic?
A nominal sentence in Arabic begins with an ism which is a broad category of noun in Arabic. The subject of the nominal sentence is the topic of the sentence (مبتدا). This is contrasted to a verbal sentence which begins with a verb and whose subject is the subject of the verb (فاعل).
What is a verbal sentence in Arabic?
A verbal sentence in Arabic begins with a verb and is usually followed by the subject of that verb (فاعل). If the subject of the verb is not explicitly mentioned in the sentence, then it is implied within the verb. Verbal sentences may also have objects (مفعول به), prepositional phrases and adverbial structures.
What is Mubtada and khabar?
Mubtada and Khabar are terms used for the subject and predicate of a nominal sentence. The mubtada is the topic of the sentence and the khabar is the comment. Distinguishing between the mubtada and khabar is essential to knowing where to place the copula is (or its versions) in the translation. In Zaid is a tall boy, the word Zaid is mubtada and the phrase a tall boy is the khabar. The copula is is dropped between the two.