Here we discuss the two grammatical processes in the Arabic language that cause words, phrases, and sometimes even sentences to enter the genitive case (حالة الجر).
What is the Genitive Case in Arabic?
The genitive case (حالة الجر) is one of the four grammatical cases (or states) in the Arabic language and one of the three which nouns experience. Reflection of this case on nouns and phrases happens according to the rules of grammatical reflection, and on sentences is always an assumed reflection.
The two processes of the genitive case (حالة الجر) are 1) being a non-final noun in a possessive structure, and 2) being the object of a preposition. Possessive structures have already been discussed in an introductory manner, and here that introduction will be supplemented. Prepositional phrases, on the other hand, have not yet been discussed and will be dealt with in this tutorial.
The grammatical rules for possessive phrases – inasmuch as gender, plurality, grammatical state, as well as other issues – have been thoroughly analyzed in Arabic Phrases. That tutorial, however, implied that the genitival structure is always used to express possession or meanings very closely associated to possession (ergo the term “possessive phrase”). The reality of the matter is that there are two purposes for the genitival phrase.
The first type is that which affords the sense of possession as is commonly understood. But even this possession is not always clear. Consider the examples in the table below.
son of Adam
It is not always a matter of ownership, as is clear from some of the above examples. “Son of Adam” is an example of possession. “Cherry tree”, however, is not so clear; the underlying assumption would have to be “tree of cherries”. But “non-twinned” is even less clear than “cherry tree”. There seems to be no connotation of possession in that example. Consequently, the grammarians have explained that one of three particles is assumed to be between the مضاف and the مضاف إليه depending on the type of possession-related meaning being afforded.
the son for (i.e., belonging to) Adam
necklace (made) from diamond
the sun in (i.e., during) today
If a genitival phrase gives the impression of one of these meanings – or something closely related – then it is termed إضافة معنوية.
that genitival structure which affords a meaning similar to possession as explained above
The other type of meaning afforded by genitival phrases, on the other hand, has nothing to do with possession. It occurs when a gerund or participle is made مضاف to either its subject or its direct object, and this is termed إضافة لفظية.
that genitival structure wherein a gerund or participle is مضاف towards a word it governs (its subject or direct object)
When it comes to subjects, objects, adverbs, prepositional links, and other such components of a sentence, it is typically a verb to which these things are associated. We normally think of verbs as having objects and adverbs, etc. However, there is a significant rhetorical difference between verbal sentences and non-verbal structures. Non-verbal structures, such as nominal sentences, hold more emphasis. This is because verbs are tied to a tense – either past, present, or future. Non-verbal structures are not tied to tense and so it is as if what is being claimed in a non-verbal structure permeates time and applies uninhibited and unrestricted.
In order to achieve this emphasis, gerunds and participles are often elicited in place of verbs. And these gerunds and participles retain the same subjects, objects, adverbs, etc over which the replaced verbs previously had jurisdiction. Consider this example.
مُراعِيَ اليَمَّ بعيون المرجان
… overlooking the sea with eyes like coral
Here the word مراعي is an active participle and the hidden pronoun within it is its subject. The word اليم is then its direct object, and the rest of the example is a prepositional phrase linking to the participle. This resembles very closely what a verbal sentence would look like. But unlike a verbal clause, this is not a full sentence. By virtue of being like a verbal sentence yet not actually a full sentence, these types of clauses are termed شبه الجملة.
a sentence-like clause – where a gerund or participle is in place of a verb
Now, optionally, these gerunds/participles may become مضاف to either their subject or to their direct object, provided one exists. The example given above can be used to demonstrate this.
مُراعِيَ اليَمِّ بعيون المرجان
… overlooking the sea with eyes like coral
Notice the slight change easily overlooked. The participle in the phrase is now مضاف to its object, and the pronoun hidden within it is still its subject. Opting to use this concession is called إضافة لفطية. And notice that there is no connotation of possession whatsoever.
Recall that a verb will be replaced with a gerund/participle in order to achieve greater emphasis by stripping out the tense. Leaving the phrase like this gives benefit of this extra emphasis and it simultaneously gives a benefit similar to what an entire sentence would give – even though it is not an entire sentence – because the phrase is sentence-like. Now, further converting this sentence-like phrase to an إضافة phrase also has benefits. Although the emphasis gained by stripping the tense is somewhat lost, and reducing it from a sentence-like structure to a phrase mitigates its fullness and grandeur, the إضافة does add other benefits.
Firstly, it has the potential to shorten the structure by one syllable. This is important for poetry and often helps sentences sound more succinct. Secondly, and more importantly, it brings the governing word and the subject or object closer together. The proximity achieved by إضافة is a powerful rhetorical tool that gives the impression that the “overlooking”, for example, is very closely related to “the sea”. The two concepts are tied together to the extent that it is as if the person doing the overlooking is in fact the habitual gazer of the sea, or that he is the only gazer, or that gazing at the sea is his custom, and so forth.
Because of this shift in meaning, the إضافة لفظية does not abide by all the grammar rules of the إضافة معنوية. In particular, the مضاف may, under certain circumstances, have the definite article Al. See below.
الذاتُ الواجبُ الوجودِ
that being that necessarily exists
Prepositional phrases are a sequence of a preposition followed by a word or phrase. What follows the preposition will, of course, be in the genitive state.
There are 17 genitival particles in the Arabic language with meanings such as “from”, “to”, “for”, “with”, and others. Prepositional phrases are very simple, but what is difficult is understanding the myriad of meanings that can stem from each one.
To understand these meanings properly, one needs exposure to texts. This can only be achieved through learning Arabic in an environment where these things are well organized, well delivered, and well calculated.
This tutorial has presented 2 grammatical positions out of a possible 22 that relate to nouns, phrases, and sentences. The chart below summarizes these positions and puts them into perspective.
3. اسم أفعال الناقصة
4. اسم ما ولا المشبهتين بـ”ليس”
5. خبر الحروف المشبهة بالفعل
6. خبر لا التي لنفي الجنس
8. النائب عن الفاعل
1. خبر أفعال الناقصة
2. خبر ما ولا المشبهتين بـ”ليس”
3. اسم الحروف المشبهة بالفعل
4. اسم لا التي لنفي الجنس
5. المفعول به
6. المفعول فيه
7. المفعول المطلق
8. المفعول معه
9. المفعول له
1. المضاف إليه
2. المجرور بالحرف