Eloquence in Arabic Speech

When using the Arabic language, three basic degrees of eloquence have been identified. The first is the study of linguistic rules. This merely helps a person to read, write, speak, and comprehend the Arabic language while having very little to do with eloquence. Consequently, this degree has been labelled Degree 0. The next degree is that of فصاحة, or eloquence. And the third degree is that of بلاغة, or rhetoric.

What is this Tutorial About?

The following list is a more detailed explanation of the three degrees and it is from the perspective of the speaker, not the science of study.

0.       مِدْرَه and مِصْقَع – one who has the ability to avoid mistakes related to lexicology, morphology, grammar, and other essentials of the language, and can speak like the Arabs without stuttering

1.       فَصيح – one who is able to avoid strange or ugly words, beautifully construct sentences, and avoid confusing the listener

a.       مِسْلاق – one who is at a high level of فصاحة

b.      حُذاقي – one who is even more eloquent than a مسلاق and whose speech is never ugly nor convoluted in the least

2.       بَليغ – one who is able to use eloquent speech and beautiful rhetorical devices (such as metaphors) that are in line with what circumstances advocate

a.       ذَليق – one who is glib in speech

b.      لَسِن – one who is even more proficient than a ذليق

c.       ذَرِب اللسان and فَتيق اللسان – one who is even more proficient than a لسن

d.      other levels, including those that cannot be achieved by humans and are only realized by the Almighty

It goes without saying that one must achieve proficiency in a certain degree before moving to the next. Learn Arabic Online is mostly dedicated to Degree 0 (linguistic rules). In this tutorial, however, we will attempt to cover Degree 1 (eloquence) in its entirety.


In order for speech to be considered eloquent, it must meet certain criteria both at the level of isolated words as well as compound structures that result from putting those words together. In other words, for a sentence to be considered eloquent, all of the words must individually be eloquent, and the sentence as a whole must also be eloquent. Below is a list of these criteria at both levels.

·         eloquence in isolated words

o   the word must not defy morphophonemic norms

o   the word must not contain clashing letters

o   the word must not be unfamiliar

·         eloquence in compound structures

o   (each isolated word in the structure must individually be eloquent)

o   the structure must not defy grammatical norms

o   the structure must not contain clashing words

o   the structure must not be convoluted in meaning

Once speech meets all of the mentioned criteria, it is considered eloquent. The rest of this tutorial is dedicated to explaining the causes of the items listed above and to giving examples.

The Eloquence of Isolated Words (الفصاحة في الكلمة)

Defiance of Morphophonemic Norms (مخالفة القياس اللغوي)

It has already been mentioned that in order for speech to be of Degree 1 (eloquent), it must first be of Degree 0 (compliant to linguistic rules). This is being further clarified here.

The following is a snippet from a prosodic couplet in which a morphological rule has been broken.

الحمد لله العليِّ الأجْلَل

All praise is for God, the high, the majestic

The word اجلل is a superlative in which the final two radicals are the same. One would expect that in such circumstances the two letters would geminate. However, this has not been done and the reader has been left confused. As a result, the eloquence of the sentence has been mitigated.

Clashing Letters (تنافر الحروف)

The clashing of letters is for the letters of a word to be such that they cause difficulty in articulation and stress to the tongue. There are no rules for judging whether letters in a given word clash or not; it is something that one judges using disposition and visceral means.

For example, the following couplet by the infamous امرئ القيس contains a word whose letters clash.

غَدائِرُه مُسْتَشْزِراتٌ إلى العُلى          تَضِلُّ العِقاصُ في مُثَـنًّى ومُرْسَلِ

Her tresses are elevated to heights.

The ponytails are lost among the braids and the curls

The word مستشزرات is difficult to pronounce without considerable concentration and effort. It therefore detracts from the effectiveness of the couplet and the eloquence of the speech.

Unfamiliar Words (الغرابة)

Unfamiliarity in a word may arise due to two main reasons.

1.       The first is that the word is genuinely rare to the extent that even the Bedouin Arabs have not heard it, or it is a newly coined word but not yet in circulation

2.       And the second is that the word is derived using established mechanisms, but that the derivation is farfetched (تخريج على وجه بعيد)



تخريج على وجه بعيد

derivation which uses established mechanisms but is farfetched

An example of both of these types of peculiarity can be found in the following couplet of poetry written by العجاج.

ومُقْلةً وحاجِباً مُزَجَّجا          وفاحِماً ومَرْسِناً مُسَرَّجا

And an eyeball and an eyebrow thin and long

and jet-black, and a nose which is Musarraj

Some commentators consider the word مسرج to be derived from the name of a blacksmith who would render very sharp and straight swords. If this is the case, then the word مسرج is unfamiliar due to being unpopular and unrecognized by most people. Other commentators conjecture that the word has been derived from the phrase سرج الله وجهه (may God make nice his face). If such is the case, then the word مسرج is unfamiliar because it has been derived in a farfetched manner to which the reader may not be privy. These interpretations give us an example of each of the two types of unfamiliarity.

Another example of unfamiliarity is found within the following couplet by ابي طيّب.

مُبارَكُ الإسمِ أَغَرُّ اللَقَبِ          كَريمُ الجَرَشّى شَريفُ النَسَبِ

blessed in name and prominent by epithet

noble of self and honourable of lineage

The word جرشى is quite peculiar; in fact, its usage is reprehensible due to visceral dislike of it. Therefore, it detracts from the eloquence of the couplet. In fact, any word which is peculiar and disliked will fall under this category.

The Eloquence of Compound Structures (الفصاحة في الكلام)

Defiance of Grammatical Norms (ضعف التأليف)

As mentioned, in order for speech to be of Degree 1 (eloquent), it must first be of Degree 0 (comply with grammatical regulations). This is being further detailed here just as it was further detailed for isolated words.

An example of defiance in grammatical rules is found in the following popular example.

ضرب غلامُه زيداً

His (i.e. Zaid’s) servant hit Zaid

In the example, a pronoun has been mentioned whose antecedent follows it. This is never permitted in grammar under any circumstance. Hence the example sentence is not eloquent.

Clashing Words (تنافر الكلمات)

Even if all the words in a given construct are individually free of letter-clashing, there may still be clashing caused by their assembly. An example of this is found in the following couplet of poetry which was recited by a jinn after having killed حرب بن امية.

وقَبْرُ حَرْبٍ بمكانٍ قَفْرٍ          وليس قُرْبَ قَبْرِ حَرْبٍ قَبْرٌ

The grave of Harb is in a desolate place.

And there is no grave near the grave of Harb.

The words قرب, قبر, and حرب are each free of letter-clashing within themselves. But when combined in succession as in the above couplet, they cause a clashing which hinders articulation, for humans at least.

Just like letter-clashing, word-clashing is also judged subjectively using one’s own intuition. Another example is found in the following couplet by ابو تمّام.

كَريمٌ متى أمدَحُه أمدَحُه والوَرى          معيْ وإذا ما لُمْـتُه لُمْـتُه وَحْدي

A noble person, when I praise him I praise him and mankind

is with me. And when I blame him I blame him alone.

Here, too, the assembly of امدحه and another امدحه causes some clashing which detracts from the eloquence of the verse. This is the case although the word امدحه alone is eloquent.

Just like the category of Unfamiliarity in isolated words included anything deemed reprehensible by visceral means, so too does the category of Clashing in compound structures include anything that the tongue deems ugly.

Convoluted Lexically or in Meaning (التعقيد اللفظي & التعقيد المعنوي)

The meaning of speech may be convoluted due to many reasons. Among them are the following.

·         Too many grammatical concessions are used such that, although each one is in itself permissible, using them simultaneously causes the meaning to become undecipherable. This is complexity at the lexical level.

·         Incorrect or farfetched analogies and metaphors are used. This is complexity at the meaning level.

An example of lexical complexity can be seen from the following couplet by الفرزدق.

وما مِثْـلُه في النّاسِ إلاّ مُمَلَّكا          أبو أمِّه، حَيٌّ، أبوه، يُقارِبُه

                There is no one like him alive among mankind that comes close to him, except the one given kingdom and wealth whose mother’s father is his father.

In the couplet above, the word حي has come between the subject (ابو امه) and predicate (ابوه) of an unrelated sentence. Similarly, the word ابوه has come between a noun (حي) and its adjective (يقاربه) in an unrelated sentence. Moreover, an exception (مملكا) has been brought before the thing being excepted from (حي). And finally, there is a significant gap between the appositional nouns حي and مثله. Now, although all of these concessions are accepted, their combined use is reprehensible and severely detracts from the eloquence of the speech.

An example of complexity in meaning is found in the following prosodic couplet by عباس بن احنف.

سأطلُبُ بُعْدَ الدارِ عنكم لتَقْرُبوا          وتَسكُبُ عينايَ الدُموعَ لتَجْمُدا

Soon will I seek distance of abode from you so that you may draw near.

And my eyes will shed tears so that they (my eyes) may become frozen.

He has used the concept of freezing eyes as a metaphor for glee caused by reuniting with a loved one from whom he had distanced himself for some time. This, however, is incorrect since the freezing of eyes is a well known metaphor used, not for happiness, but for grief and rue.


In the interest of consolidating the criteria for eloquent speech, we have reworded the introduction of this tutorial here in a concise manner better suited for retention.

In order for one’s speech to be eloquent, one must first comply with Degree 0 (linguistic rules). Then one’s speech must meet all of the following criteria.

·         the assembly of words must not result in clashing; this is something judged viscerally and includes anything deemed ugly by the tongue

·         the meaning should not be confusing

·         each isolated word in the assembly must be eloquent

o   the word must not contain clashing letters; this is something judged viscerally

o   the word must not be peculiar; this includes anything deemed ugly by the tongue

Inspiring Videos on the Science of Eloquence

Visit Mohtanick Jamil’s Youtube channel to watch hundreds of short Arabic learning videos covering advanced topics in Rhetoric. Most of these videos are just 4-5 minutes long. They reveal the genius of the language and I’m sure, you’ll be inspired as well as educated when you watch them.

  • Proceed to the next lesson: Predication
  • Go to the home page: Learn Arabic Online