Here we explain the components of nominal sentences in Arabic. In doing this, we also discuss issues such as when to switch the order of words, when to omit parts of a sentence, and more.
In Arabic, a sentence is a nominal sentence (جملة اسمية) when its subject (مبتدأ) is either a noun or a pronoun and the predicate (خبر) is not a normal verb but rather the verb “to be” (is, am, are, is not, etc.) which itself is not actually mentioned in Arabic but rather understood.
Table of Contents
What is this Tutorial About?
In the Introduction to Arabic Grammar tutorial, an outline of topics in grammar was given. It specified that, after studying the basics of words, phrases, and sentences, one may begin to study the core of the grammar which revolves around the topic of grammatical inflection.
In the Introduction to Grammatical Inflection tutorial, the four grammatical states – nominative, accusative, genitive, and jussive – were explained. After gaining a grasp of this introductory material, the first step is to understand which words experience these states and which do not. And the next step is to understand how these states are represented on the various types of words that experience them.
Once these two topics have been covered, the primary focus of the rest of grammar is on isolating and discussing those structures in the language that fall into the four grammatical states. In other words, here at Learn Arabic Online, we want to know what grammatical processes cause words/phrases/sentences to become nominative, what grammatical processes cause them to become accusative, and so forth. For example, we will learn that for a word or phrase to be the subject of a nominal sentence is a grammatical process and any word or phrase that experiences this will be in the nominative state. In doing this, we exhaust all concepts in grammar.
The grammatical processes – or call them grammatical positions – are broken down as follows.
· grammatical states experienced by nouns, phrases, and, in some cases, entire sentences
o 8 grammatical structures enter the nominative state
o 12 grammatical structures enter the accusative state
o 2 grammatical structures enter the genitive state
· grammatical states experienced by verbs
o 1 type of verb enters the indicative state
o 4 types of verbs enter the subjunctive state
o 5 types of verbs enter the jussive state
· grammatical state through extension occurs in 4 ways
This tutorial focuses on nominal sentences in Arabic from the perspective of grammatical states. In discussing this topic, we cover 6 of the eight nominative structures and 4 of the twelve accusative structures.
For Whom is this Tutorial?
The tutorial on Arabic Sentences served as an overview and provided some terminology for the study of sentence structure.
In this tutorial, we further explain the components of nominal sentences in Arabic. In doing this, we also discuss issues such as when to switch the order of words, when to omit parts of a sentence, and when to render the parts definite and indefinite. After having discussed these issues, we will discuss those parts of speech that are brought before nominal sentences in order to abrogate its structure. These parts of speech have their own rules and the resulting sentence has its own discussions.
Consequently, this tutorial is quite dense and is primarily designed for intermediate level students. Intermediate-level sections of this tutorial are marked with an asterisk (*) and they should be skipped by beginners. Advanced-level sections are marked with a double asterisk (**) and should be skipped by both beginners and intermediate students.
Types of Sentences in Arabic
A nominal sentence is one in which the subject is the topic, and a verbal sentence is one in which the subject is the subject of a verb. Consider the following.
لون هذه الزبرجدة زرقة
The colour of this corundum is blue
In this example, the subject is “the colour of this corundum” and it is not the subject of any verb. Hence the sentence is nominal. And the comment happens to be the word “blue”. Consider another example below.
الماس يلمع برْقا
The diamond sparkles like lightning
Here, too, “the diamond” is the subject and it is not the subject of any verb. Hence this sentence is also nominal. And the comment happens to be the embedded verbal sentence “sparkles like lightning”. One should not confuse the subject of this sentence as being the subject of the verb in the embedded sentence. The subject of that verb is the pronoun within it referring to “the diamond” – remember that the subject of a verb does not precede the verb.
Now consider an example of a verbal sentence, as in the one below.
The rubies are turning a deep red
Here the subject is the word “rubies” and it is the subject of the verb “turning red”. Hence the sentence is verbal. In fact, we can generalize this to say that any sentence that begins with a verb will definitely be verbal. And finally, consider another example of a verbal sentence.
I only like emeralds
Notice that the subject of this sentence is the word “I” and that it is the subject of the verb “like”. Hence this sentence is verbal. The fact that the word “emeralds” precedes the verb is irrelevant because it is not the subject of the sentence.
Exercise: determine whether each of the following sentences is nominal or verbal.
1. إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين
2. فاقْصُصْ القصصَ
3. عندهم قاصراتُ الطرْفِ
4. هو يحيي ويُميت
5. فالسابقَ انصِبْه بفعل أُضمر
Nominal Sentences in Arabic
topic (the subject of a nominal sentence)
comment (the predicate of a nominal sentence)
Both the topic and comment are nominative. The agent that renders the topic nominative is not explicit; rather, it is the very fact that it is the topic. And the agent that renders the comment nominative is the topic.
The topic of a sentence may be a single word, or it may be a phrase of undetermined length. But it cannot be a complete sentence. It is true, however, that when the topic of a sentence is a phrase, that phrase may itself contain embedded sentences. Consider the examples below.
The pearl is a type of gem
Polishing the diamond is mandatory
صقال الماس واجب
phrase with an embedded sentence
The sapphire which I lost yesterday is valuable
الصفير الذي فقدته أمس قيّم
Moreover, the topic of a sentence cannot be one of the following two things.
· a prepositional phrase
· an adverbial phrase
When these entities appear to be the topic of a sentence, they are in fact the comment and the order of the sentence has been inverted. Consider the following.
I have topaz
In the example above, the phrase “I have” must be considered the comment of the sentence even though it is lexically first. This is simply because it is an adverbial phrase.
The comment of a sentence may be a single word, a phrase, or an entire sentence. When it is an entire sentence, that sentence will have its own structure and all the rules currently under discussion will apply to it as well. The embedded sentence must be treated as a brand new sentence with its own internal rules, grammatical positions, and so forth. Consider the examples below.
Coral is red
Amethyst is the most dazzling precious metal
الجَمَشْت أبهر الجواهر
The necklace was studded with gold
العِقد رُصّع بالذهب
The necklace, its gems are precious
العقد جواهره تفيسة
There are two special cases.
· the comment is a prepositional phrase
· or it is an adverbial phrase
If one of these two things is ready to become the comment, we will need to assume a hidden verb to which these phrases will connect. That hidden verb, along with these phrases, would then become an entire (embedded) sentence and then the comment for the greater sentence. Consider the topaz example from the previous section:
I have topaz
The phrase عندي is an adverbial phrase. As such, it will need to connect to an appropriate verb before it can be considered the comment. The verb of choice is usually the generic “استقر”. The grammatical interpretation of the above sentence would then be as follows.
التوباز [يستقر] عندي
Topaz is [situated] with me
Notice that these types of phrases – prepositional and adverbial – can neither be the topic of a sentence, nor can they directly be the comment.
Exercise: determine the type of construction (whether word, phrase, or sentence) for the topic and comment in each of the following. If the sentence contains embedded nominal sentences, analyze those as well (you may ignore verbal sentences).
1. جَرَحاتُ اللسانِ لها التِيامُ ولا يلتام ما جرَح اللسانُ
2. ميلادُنا أقدمُ من ميلادِك
3. فيهن قاصراتُ الطرفِ لم يطمثهن إنسٌ قبلهم ولا جانٌ
4. أنت حلٌّ بهذا البلدِ
5. اولئك في جنّاتِ النعيمِ
6. وضعُ الشيءِ خارجَ مَظانّه بحيث لا يوجد بسهلةٍ ظلمٌ
*Gender and Plurality Correspondence
If the comment of a sentence is a description of the topic, it will have to correspond in gender and plurality. The comment describes the topic when it is, for example, an adjective or an embedded verbal sentence. Gender and plurality correspondence is a complicated issue which cannot be taken up here. But it is important to remember that the rules for these two grammar concepts will apply to the topic and comment relationship. Consider the following, paying attention to correspondence.
“Unique” and “special” are synonyms
فريدة ونفيسة مترادفتان
We are waiting/expecting
If, however, the comment is not describing the topic, it will match in plurality but not necessarily in gender. The comment does not describe the topic when, for example, it is a gerund or static noun. Consider the following examples.
The she-camel is an animal
Famine and drought are problems
المجاعة والجفاف مشاكل
The gobbling (of a turkey) is a funny sound
الجعجعة صوت مضحك
This religion is thee advice
Notice how the topics and comments in the above examples match in plurality, but not necessarily in gender. Where they do match in gender, it is simply out of coincidence.
There is one blip, however, in gender/plurality correspondence. Arabs have been known to bring a participle as the topic of a sentence, and a comment which mismatches that participle in plurality. An example is below.
Are the two pearls shinning?
The topic, لامعة, is an active participle and the comment, درتان, does not match it in plurality. In this rare situation, the topic of the sentence is considered both the topic as well as a participle which takes a subject. And the comment is considered both the comment as well as the subject of the participle. This is done in order to justify the mismatch in plurality; topic and comment must match in plurality, but participles and their subjects do not.
شبه فعلٍ سد مسد المبتدأ
a verb-like agent which stands in the place of the topic
فاعل سد مسد الخبر
the subject of such an agent which stands in the place of the comment
A single topic may have multiple comments. Consider the example below.
الجواهر معدودة مكتمل تعدادها لا يرجع إليها
The gems are enumerated, their enumeration complete, not to be revisited
The topic of a sentence is typically definite. This is because using indefinite words or phrases does not usually convey useful information. Consider the sentence “a man is standing.” The speaker has conveyed no benefit to the listener by saying this – so what if a man is standing? Hence the topic will usually be definite. Some examples of sentences with definite topics follow.
The orphan is in the orphanage
اليتيم في الميتم
This mule is hardworking
هذا البغل يعمل
The vegetables of Spring are ripe
خضراوات الربيع ينيع
It is the embellishment of the promise
هو تحسين اليمين
There are certain situations, however, in which it does make sense to render the topic indefinite. These situations do not need to be listed since one’s judgement will be sufficient to decide when the time comes. But some of the more popular situations have been mentioned below as a helpful guide.
Situation when the topic may be indefinite
the comment is a prepositional phrase or adverbial phrase appearing before the topic
في البيتِ برغوثٌ
(There’s a bug in the house)
the sentence is interrogative
وهل جُدْجُدٌ فيه؟
(And is there a grasshopper in it?)
the sentence is negative
ما صُرْصورٌ فيه
(There’s no cockroach in it)
the topic is indefinite, yet somewhat specific (either by adjectives, being possessive, or etc)
عنكبوتٌ كبيرٌ راعني
(A big spider scared me)
it is a supplication or prayer
(Peace be with you)
the indefiniteness is used for rhetorical benefit
شرٌ أهرّ ذا نابٍ
(A great evil made the K9 bark)
the topic has the واو الحال before it
دخلت البيتَ وحيةٌ فيه
(I entered the house while there was a serpent within it)
the لام of emphasis is attached to the topic
لتِمْساحٌ وُجِد في الحيّ
(A crocodile was discovered in the neighbourhood)
There is no restriction of definiteness or indefiniteness with respect to the comment of a sentence. However, comments are usually indefinite in practice. When they do become definite, a pronoun is optionally placed between the two parts of the sentence.
an unattached pronoun optionally placed between the subject and predicate of a sentence when both are definite
Consider the example below where both topic and comment are definite.
The foremost will be the foremost
In such cases, we have the option of leaving the sentence as is. However, we may opt to add a pronoun between the topic and comment to separate the two. The pronoun will be unattached and its gender and plurality will depend on the sentential topic. The benefit of using this pronoun is twofold: firstly, it helps separate the major components of the sentence thereby allowing for better understanding and less confusion. And secondly, it puts emphasis on the topic. Consider the examples below.
They are the truly fearful
اولئك هم المتقون
This is the very assured truth
هذا لهو حقّ اليقين
It was the boat itself that became the anchor
كانت السفينةُ هي المِرساةَ
**Ordering of the Topic and Comment
The natural ordering in a nominal sentence is for the topic to be first and the comment to be second. But this structure may be inverted to achieve rhetorical benefit. There are a few situations in which inverting the structure is prohibited, and there are others in which inverting the structure actually becomes mandatory.
Situations when the structure cannot be inverted
inverting the structure would cause confusion as to which is the topic and which is the comment
أبطأ السلاحف أثقل السلاحف
(The slowest tortoise is the heaviest one)
the topic is prefixed with the لام الابتداء
لمثوبة من عند الله خير
(The reward from God is better)
the topic requires the head of the sentence, as is the case with interrogative nouns
(Who is he?)
Situations when the structure must be inverted
the topic is purely indefinite and the comment is a prepositional or adverbial phrase
(I have friends with me)
the topic has a pronoun that refers to the comment (or part of it)
حولَ البِركة رقوقها
(Around the pond are its frogs)
the predicate requires the head of the sentence
(Where are the bats?)
**Omitting Parts of a Sentence
The topic and comment of a sentence may be omitted when the intended meaning is clear without them. Omitting parts of a sentence like this is considered quite eloquent. For example, when one asks “What is the sign of a good day?” an apt reply would be:
The (presence of) the sun’s rays [is a sign of a good day]
Here the comment was completely omitted. Similarly, in the following sentence, the topic is completely omitted. When one asks “What is this a picture of?” an apt reply may be:
صبّ لمعان الشمس بين شعب الأدواح بغابة خضراء
[This is] the sun’s sheen pouring through the branches of gigantic trees in a green forest
And finally, entire sentences may be omitted from speech. For example, when children are playing hide-and-seek on a boat, the seeker may eloquently say:
المتخفَّون بالجؤجؤ فانا واجدهم، والمتخفون بالكوثل
Those of you that hide near the bow, I will find you.
And those of you that hide near the stern, [I will find you.]
There are, in fact, instances where omitting either the topic or comment is mandatory. However, those situations are very advanced and their practical applications are highly limited. Hence they will not be discussed here.
Abrogation by كان and its Sisters
كان and its sisters, which together form one of the groups of sentential abrogators
the topic of a sentence abrogated by كان (or one of its sisters)
the comment of a sentence abrogated by كان (or one of its sisters)
The sentential structure, as we have discussed it, may be slightly modified by prefixing the sentence with one of the sentential abrogators (نواسخ الإبتداء). These are groups of words that do the following.
1. change the meaning or nature of the predication between topic and comment
2. change the grammatical state of the topic and/or the comment
3. change the terminology we use to refer to the topic and comment
كان and its sisters are a group of about a dozen verbs which enter on nominal sentences and alter them in the above three ways. This group is called the أفعال ناقصة (deficient verbs) and they are one of the groups of sentential abrogators. The exact alterations they afford are as follows.
1. each of the كان sisters changes the meaning or nature of the sentence; their meanings will be discussed soon
2. the كان sisters render the topic nominative (as it was before), and the comment accusative
3. what was previously called the مبتدأ is now called the “اسم of كان (or whichever of its sisters is being used)”, and what was previously called the خبر is now called the “خبر of كان (or whichever of its sisters is being used)”
Consider the following nominal sentence as an example.
كلُّ حاجز متّصلٌ بالعارضة
Every bulkhead is connected to the keel
We may use ليس – one of the كان sisters – to abrogate this sentence. Notice the differences caused by this verb in both the text and translation.
ليس كلُّ حاجز متّصلاً بالعارضة
Not every bulkhead is connected to the keel
The phrase كل حاجز is called the subject of ليس and متصلا بالعارضة its predicate.
Exercise: Translate the following into Arabic. The point of this exercise is to practice recognizing the grammatical changes brought about by these abrogators. Start by forming regular nominal sentences for each of the sentences below. Then introduce an abrogator to complete the meaning.
1. You have no alibi (حُجّة)
2. It is not the case that I like whatever I see
3. I didn’t used to cry
4. We haven’t spent the lading (شَحْنة) of our argosy (زَوْرَق الشَحْن)
*The Sisters of كان
The list of sentence abrogators in the أفعال ناقصة group is not consistent; different sources give slightly different lists. What is important to remember with respect to this group is their underpinning nature.
Recall the difference between nominal and verbal sentences. In a verbal sentence, the word which links the components of the sentence is the main verb. And in a nominal sentence, the word which links the components is the understood word “is”.
Now the underpinning commonality between the أفعال ناقصة verbs is that, although they are verbs and should therefore be the main link for the components of their sentence, their meaning does not serve as the copulative link. They do impose a certain change in meaning on the sentence, but that meaning does not become the copula. And this is why they have been termed ‘deficient verbs’.
Aside: The sentence to which these verbs are prefixed will be verbal by virtue of the fact that these abrogators are verbs. In fact, the fact that their اسم is nominative and their أخبار are accusative bears a striking resemblance to the verb-subject-object relationship. However, because these verbs do not actually become sentential copulas, some consider sentences abrogated by these verbs to be neither nominal nor verbal. Others would argue that, in spite of these abrogators being verbs, the sentence is nominal.
Sister of كان
to become (in the morning)
to become (during midday)
to become (in the evening)
to spend the day (doing something)
to spend the night (doing something)
as long as
to continue (not deviate)
ما زال (لا يزال)
to remain (not leave)
to continue (not stop)
to continue (not cease)
to not be
The first seven of the listed verbs may have other meanings as well. They may be تامة, and they may be in synonymous with صار as well.
The type of ما that precedes the verb دام is the adverbial-gerundival version. And the ما that precedes the other four verbs is simply negative. Notice that the verbs themselves are negative and so their ما reverts their polarity to positive. This ما is often hidden when the sentence is spoken out of oath. For example:
تالله تفتؤ تذكر يوسف
By God, you will continue to remember Joseph
Notice that the verb تفتؤ is intrinsically negative and only by introducing the ما can we revert it to being positive. Yet in the above example it has been translated as a positive verb. This is because the sentence is spoken out of oath and thus the ما is assumed present.
And finally, the verb ليس is special in the sense that it conjugates only in the perfect tense; it has no other tense, no gerund, nor any derived participles.
Aside: When one of the following five conjugations of يكون is in the jussive state, its نون may be omitted. The conjugations are يكون, تكون (both second and third person), أكون, نكون. This is quite common; for example:
ولم أكُ بغيا
And I am not unchaste
This is only permissible when the there is no pronoun attached to the verb. And some grammarians disallow this when the following letter is unvowlled.
**The Types of كان
The verb كان in particular has a complicated story. At the outset, كان can either be extra or not. An example of its usage as an extra word is in the following couplet of poetry.
جِيادُ بني أبي بَكْرٍ تَسامى على كان المسّومَةِ العِرابِ
The stallions of B. Abi Bakr claim superiority
over the branded Arabian-horses
When it is not extra, it comes in two capacities. The first is as a regular, intransitive verb and the second is as a sentential abrogator as we have seen. In the first capacity, it simply takes a subject and affords the meaning “to exist”. Consider the example below.
كان دَوِيُّ مِدفعٍ
There was a noise of a canon (firing)
In the above example, دوي مدفع is simply the subject of the ordinary verb كان.
the كان which is extra
the كان which is a regular verb and means “to exist”; it takes a subject
the كان which is a sentence abrogator; it takes an اسم and a خبر
In its second capacity – as a sentential abrogator – كان can be interpreted in two ways. The first is for it to have the same meaning as صار. صار is, in fact, one of the sisters of كان whose meaning is “to become”. An example of كان being used in the meaning of صار is as follows.
كان الهيكلُ نُقضاً عند التحطّم
The hull became rubble during the shipwreck
And the second way in which كان can be interpreted is by far the most popular usage of this word. In this usage, it affords the meaning “was” as in the following example.
كانت العصافير ترقص على الألواح
The sparrows were dancing on the planks
The sense of “was” here is somewhat different than the English understanding. It is not necessarily the case that something was, but no longer is. It may very well be that كان is used to afford the meaning “was”, but the predication of the sentence still holds true and may continue to hold true. Consider the example below.
كان الله عليما حكيما
God is all-knowing, all-wise
(means “to be/exist”)
(abrogates nominal sentences)
Synonymous with صار
predicate is always true for the subject
(was and still is)
predicate was true for the subject
(was but no longer is)
**The Rules of كان and its Sisters
The rules mentioned in regards to the order of the topic and comment, the omission of portions of a sentence, and other such regulations all apply to nominal sentences abrogated by the افعال ناقصة. But because كان and its sisters are newly introduced components of the sentence, there are a few minor rules regarding order and omission that, although not vital, are nevertheless handy to know.
Firstly, the predicate of any of these verbs may precede the subject, as was the case with regular nominal sentences. But furthermore, the predicate may in fact precede the verb as well. And if the verb is negated by ما, the predicate may come between the ما and the verb, but not before both. The following is a list of examples that demonstrate the correct possibilities in terms of the order of words.
كان زيدٌ قائماً
كان قائماً زيدٌ
قائماً كان زيدٌ
ما قائماً كان زيدٌ
قائماً ما كان زيدٌ
قائماً لم يكن زيدٌ
لم قائماً يكن زيدٌ
Aside: Any structure governed by the predicate of one of these verbs must be close to it – either immediately after it or immediately before it – unless it is a prepositional or adverbial phrase.
Aside: With respect to omission, the rules are quite similar to those of regular nominal sentences. However, the verb كان in particular, along with its subject, has been known to become omitted after certain conditional words such as لولا and إن. In these cases, the verb and its subject drop, but the predicate remains.
Abrogation by the Particles that Resemble ليس
الحروف المشبهة بـ”ليس”
the particles that resemble ليس, which form a group of sentential abrogators
the topic of a sentence abrogated by the ما or لا which resemble ليس
the comment of a sentence abrogated by the ما or لا which resemble ليس
Like the أفعال ناقصة, this is a group of sentential abrogators (نواسخ الإبتداء) known as the particles which resemble ليس (الحروف المشبهة بليس). However, whereas the كان sisters were verbs, these are particles. And whereas the كان sisters were about a dozen in number, these are numbered at only two; they are ما and لا. These particles enter on nominal sentences having the following effects.
1. in terms of meaning, they negate the sentence just as ليس did
2. in terms of grammatical state, they have the same effect as the كان sisters
3. what was previously known as the مبتدأ will now be called the “اسم of ما (or لا)”, and what was previously the خبر will now be the “خير of ما (or لا)”
Consider the following sentences.
ما هنّ أمّهاتِهم
They are not their mothers
تَعَزَّ فلا شيءٌ على الأرضِ باقِياً ولا وَزَرٌ مِما قضى اللهُ واقِياً
Forebear (hardships), for not a thing on the earth will remain
nor any asylum will protect from what God has decreed
**Rules of ما
In order for the ما to govern the topic and comment by rendering the former nominative and the latter accusative, it must not fall under one of the following situations. This means that the following situations may occur, but that the governance of ما in such cases will be lost.
1. the extra particle إنْ which is used to emphasize negation is brought after the ما
بني غُدانَةَ ما إن أنتم ذَهَبٌ ولا صَريفٌ ولكن أنتمُ خَزَفُ
O B. Ghudāna, you are surely not gold
nor are you silver. Nay, you are clay
2. the negation is reverted by the use of الاّ
ما أنا إلاّ نذيرٌ
I am not but a cautioner
3. the negation is inverted by repeating the ما
ما ما أنا قائلٌ هذا
I am not .. not saying this (I am surely saying this)
4. the topic and comment order is inverted
ما ذاهبٌ أنت
You’re not leaving!
Furthermore, ما gives information in the negative. For example, “I am not happy.” And so the predicate may conceivably be qualified by something that clarifies this negation with something non-negative. For example, “I am not happy; rather, sad.” Here the non-negative word “sad” has been used to clarify the lack of happiness. In such cases, the extra qualification will not match the qualified portion as we would expect; instead, it will be fixed nominative as in the following example.
ما أنا بقائلٍ هذا، بل سِكّيتٌ عنه
I am not saying this; rather, I’m being absolutely silent about it
The reason this happens is because the negation afforded by the ما is not applying to the qualification. In fact, the qualification is completely opposite in polarity. Consider the “I am not happy; rather, sad” example. The negation is applying to “happy” but it is certainly not applying to “sad”. And since the meaning of ما is not applying to this word, neither is its governance. Although, it is true that the qualification may optionally be made nominative even if it doesn’t differ in polarity.
**Rules of لا
In order for لا to maintain its governance, it must not fall into one of the situations below.
1. the اسم of لا, the خبر of لا, or both are definite
2. the negation has been reverted by the use of إلاّ
3. the order of the اسم and خبر has been inverted
Furthermore, this particle may be supplemented by appending the letter تَ to get لاتَ. When this is done, it is usually the case that only the خبر of لا is mentioned and not the اسم. Other times only the اسم is mentioned and not the خبر. And the meaning of the خير must be that of time. Consider the example below.
فلاتَ حينَ مناصٍ
There was no time for refuge
Abrogation by إنّ and its Sisters
الحروف المشبهة بالفعل
the particles that resemble verbs, which form a group of sentential abrogators
the topic of a sentence abrogated by إن (or one of its sisters)
the comment of a sentence abrogated by إن (or one of its sisters)
This is a group of sentential abrogators (نواسخ الإبتداء) known as the particles that resemble verbs (الحروف المشبهة بالفعل). They are six in number. The reason they are said to resemble verbs is because each of these particles shares its templatic pattern with the pattern of some verb, and they govern in a manner similar to verbs as well. The effects these abrogators have on a nominal sentence are as follows.
1. each particle has a different meaning that will be discussed soon
2. these particles render the topic accusative and the comment nominative
3. what was previously known as the مبتدأ will now be called the “اسم of إن (or whichever of its sisters is being used)”, and what was previously the خبر will now be the “خير of إن (or whichever of its sisters is being used)”
Notice that the grammatical effect afforded by this group of sentential abrogators is opposite that of the previous two groups. Consider the following (which is not authentic poetry).
إنّ هَمْلَجةَ الجيادِ المُحجَّلةِ وضَبْرَها خيرٌ من رَدَيانِ الأبلقِ
Indeed the ambling of white-hoofed stallions and their cantering
is better than the stomping of the piebald horse
Try to determine which portion of the above example is part of the subject, and which is the comment.
The Sisters of إنّ
Sister of إن
إنّ الأشهبَ والأبلقَ من جيادِ الخيل
Verily the grey and piebald horses are among the stallions
زعَمتُ أنّه سِكِّيْتٌ لكن أتى على الأخضر واليابس سابقا
I thought it was a last-place horse, but it wreaked havoc as a thoroughbred
كان الجَذَعُ أقبحَ ولكنّ مِرْساخَ عُصْفورِه أعجبني
The two-year foal was ugly, but its whiteness of blaze pleased me
سمعتُ صوتاً وكأنّه صَهيلُ المُهْرِ
I heard a voice, and it’s as if it was the neighing of a foal
like / as if
ليت الأفراسَ تطير
If only horses flew
wish / hope
لعل سُنْبُكَ الفَرَسِ غيرُ حسّاس
Would that the horse’s toe not be so sensitive
The sister أن deserves special mention. There are some grammatical positions in the language that cannot be occupied by entire sentences. We’ve seen an example of this in the topic of nominal sentences (whether abrogated or not); they cannot be an entire sentence. Yet the need often arises to use a complete idea – in other words, a full sentence – as the topic. In order to facilitate this, انّ is used. The job of this particle is to reduce the sentence that follows it to the rank of a single word. The sentence conveys its full meaning, but أنّ allows it to be grammatically interpreted as a single idea thereby allowing it to occupy such positions as the topic of a sentence. Consequently, أنّ is often translated as “the fact that….”
Aside: The word لعل has been related in a variety of dialects, including عَلّ and others.
Exercise: Place grammatical endings in the following sentences.
1. إنها لهو الخير
2. لعلّ البراغيث تترك سريري
3. كنّا نراقص عند كلّ فرصة ولكنّ المودّة بيننا بدأت تتقاصر
4. إنّ دويّ المِدفع لا يزال يُفيد وقت الإفطار في مصر
**Rules of إنّ and its Sisters
There is a type of ما which is appended to these particles. According to the majority of grammarians, it stops these particles from rendering their grammatical influence. This ما has been discussed in the Types of ما tutorial.
Aside from being appended with this ما, another possibility is for the first three particles mentioned to be shortened. إنّ may be shortened to إنْ, أنّ may be shortened to أنْ, and كأنّ may be shortened to كأن. When this happens, the subject of the particle will also be omitted, leaving only the shortened particle and its predicate. This is one of very few instances when parts of a sentence abrogated by these particles can be omitted.
المخفّفة من المثقّلة
one of the three mentioned particles when they are shortened
Furthermore, it is a condition of these particles that the order of the topic and comment not be inverted. Whereas this was a concession with other abrogators, these particles do not allow this save in the case of prepositional and adverbial phrases. When the comment is prepositional or adverbial, its rules will follow those of regular nominal sentences and other abrogators.
Aside: When one of these abrogators is shortened, there are rules regarding its predicate. However, such rules can easily be picked up through exposure and practice.
Aside: With respect to the first three mentioned particles – إن, أن, and لكن – a conjunction may be brought for their topic lexically after both the topic and comment. Consider the following example.
إنّ الصَهْصَلِقةَ لمِنَ الخيلِ وحَبَطِقْطِقْ
The sound of loud-whinnying comes from the horse,
as well as the sound of the hooves hitting the pavement
In this case, the noun after the conjunction may be either nominative or accusative.
Abrogation by the لا of Class Negation
لا التي لنفي الجنس
the لا that negates an entire genus; it is a sentential abrogator
the topic of a sentence abrogated by لا
the comment of a sentence abrogated by لا
The لا of class negation (لا التي لنفي الحنس) is a particle which is the only member of this group of sentential abrogators (نواسخ الإبتداء). It effects nominal sentences in the following ways.
1. it negates the entire genus represented by its subject
2. this particle renders the topic accusative and the comment nominative, just as the انّ sisters
3. what was previously known as the مبتدأ will now be called the “اسم of لا”, and what was previously the خبر will now be the “خير of لا”
Consider, for example, the following statement.
شوارعُ البُنْدُقِيّة ماءٌ
The streets of Venice are water
There are a plethora of methods which can be used to negate this statement. Some options include usage of the verb ليس, the particles ما or لا which resemble ليس, and so forth. If one of these methods of negation were to be used, the sentence would be translated simply as “the streets of Venice are not water.”
If we wish to add emphasis to the negation, there are a number of rhetorical devices that can be used to achieve this. One such device is the use of an extra باء pre-pended to the predicate. The translation would then be “the streets of Venice are surely not water.”
However, the above methods negate the application of the predicate to the subject. In other words, it’s the copula which is being negated. What if, on the other hand, we wish to negate the subject inasmuch as its being qualified by the predicate? In other words, we wish to negate the entire class/group represented by the subject and qualified by the predicate.
1. “the streets of Venice are not (or do not have) water” with
2. “there is no water on the streets of Venice.”
The two forms of negation above are fundamentally very different. In (1), the negation applies to the predication. The streets of Venice simply do not have water. In (2), however, the negation applies to the combination of the subject and predicate. There is no water; the entire category/class known as water has been negated.
But not all water in the world is being targeted for negation; it is the water which is qualified by being “on the streets of Venice”.
In order to achieve such a class negation, the لا of class negation is used. Consider its usage below.
لا ماءَ في شوارعِ البُنْدُقِيّة
There is no water on the streets of Venice
Exercise: In which of the following statements would it be appropriate to use the لا of class negation?
1. I don’t have change
2. I really don’t have change
3. I never have change
4. There is no change with me right now
5. There isn’t any change in my pocket
*Rules of لا
In order for this لا to govern, it must not fall into one of the following situations. If any of the following do occur, the sentence will be valid but the لا of class negation will lose its regency in tandem with some of its emphasis.
1. either its subject, its predicate, or both are definite
2. the order of the subject and predicate has been inverted (whether optionally or necessarily)
Furthermore, the predicate of لا is often omitted when it is understood. Consider the following sentence.
لا مهدَ النهضةِ إلاّ كفلورَنسا
There is no cradle of renaissance like Florence [that exists]
Finally, it is not always the case that the subject of لا is completely accusative. If the first word in the subject is governing, then it will be accusative. However, if it is not governing, it will be indeclinable and only its reflection will be that of the accusative case. Review the cases below.
Type of Governance
Grammatical State of the Subject
indeclinable, reflection of accusative case, no nunation
لا قائلَ هذا
لا قائلاً هذا
لا قائلاً لهذا
**More on the Grammatical Case of the Subject
It is possible for a sentence abrogated by لا to be followed by another by way of conjunction. Consider a situation where there are two sentences, both abrogated by لا, connected with a conjunction as in “لا حول ولا قوة إلاّ بالله”. The following chart outlines the permissible combinations of the grammatical case for the subjects of both sentences.
لا حولَ ولا قوةَ
لا حولَ ولا قوةً
لا حولَ ولا قوةٌ
لا حولاً ولا قوةَ
لا حولاً ولا قوةً
لا حولاً ولا قوةٌ
لا حولٌ ولا قوةَ
لا حولٌ ولا قوةً
لا حولٌ ولا قوةٌ
And if the لا is not repeated – rather the subject is directly extended by conjunction – then the following possibilities will apply.
لا حولَ وقوةَ
لا حولَ وقوةً
لا حولَ وقوةٌ
If the extension is not done by means of conjunction, instead it is through the use of an adjective, then the following cases are permissible.
لا حولَ عظيمَ
لا حولَ عظيماً
لا حولَ عظيمٌ
Notice that, in the first example in the above chart, non-declension is being extended. This is quite anomalous and only occurs when the noun and adjective are single words and there is no gap between them.
Summary of the Nominal Sentence in Arabic
This tutorial on the nominal sentence in Arabic has presented 10 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