Predication أحوال الإسناد الخبري is the first of 8 chapters within ‘ilm al-Ma’aani (the main sub-science of Arabic Rhetoric). This tutorial covers the topic in its entirety.

Arabic Rhetoric

What is Arabic Rhetoric?

This tutorial deals with a topic in Arabic rhetoric. Arabic Rhetoric البلاغة is divided into three sub-sciences and the one on which this tutorial focuses is that which teaches us the states and occasions of speech through which it is brought in line with what the situation calls for. In other words, we learn to cater our speech to the audience.

Catering speech to the audience – what is known as being exigent – is a comprehensive claim that requires analysis from various perspectives, including omission of parts of a sentence, ordering of its components, and so forth. The efflorescence of analyzing these various aspects is that one will be able to output exigent speech, which is the first step in high eloquence before being able to move on to advanced rhetorical devices such as metaphor and simile.

The particular aspect of exigency on which this tutorial focuses is that of predication. Predication in Arabic Rhetoric, then, is the process of affirming or negating a predicate for a given subject – in other words, forming a sentence. This topic is accented and punctuated with many meaningful discussions such as literal predication versus figurative predication, and so forth.

Purpose of the Predication in Arabic Rhetoric

The primary cynosure in analyzing the exigency in the purpose of predication is informative sentences. Now the purpose of such sentences, vis-a-vis the speaker, can be two:



فائدة الخبر

predication established to give information to the audience

لازم فائدة الخبر

predication established to make the audience privy to the fact that the speaker knows the information

The first purpose for the speaker to deliver a sentence is to give information to the audience, prior to the delivery of which, they were possibly unaware. And the second purpose is to show the audience that the speaker possess the knowledge afforded by the sentence. For example, the speaker may say to the listener, “you’re late.” Since the listener clearly knows that he is indeed late, this predication does not express any new information; rather it lets the listener know that the speaker is also aware of the information and, in the case of the example, the consequences therewith.

This second purpose of delivering a sentence holds true even if the speaker is in doubt with respect to the predication. In other words, the speaker is not required to firmly believe the predication he is delivering in order for it to be deemed لازم فائدة الهير because, although he has no resolve, the predication is still existential in his mind.

Furthermore, it should be clear that the second purpose of delivering a sentence is consequently achieved by means of the first. That is to say, when information of a matter is conveyed through predication, it is also necessarily the case that the one delivering the information is privy to it, even if at a doubt level.

Now, if the listener is aware of both the information conveyed in the predication as well as the fact that the speaker is, too, aware of it – hence neither of the two mentioned purposes seemingly apply   then the speaker may still deliver the sentence. One of the purposes of this is to reduce the listener from the rank of knowledge to the rank of ignorance. For example:

﴿ولقد علموا لَمَن اشتراه ما له في الآخرة من خلاق

ولبئس ما شروا به أنفسهم لو كانوا يعلمون﴾

They knew full-well that he who has bought magic would have absolutely no share

in the Hereafter. And what a vile thing for which they bartered their souls. Had they

known, [they would never have done it.]

Here it is stated that those who traded their souls in for magic knew full-well what they were doing. Yet immediately following this statement is one in which their lack of knowledge is expressed through the words, “had they known….” Thus, those who knew were reduced to the level of those who did not know and the rationale of this was that their supposed knowledge was, in fact, of no worth.


﴿ما رميت إذ رميت﴾

You did not throw when you threw.

In this quintessential example, throwing has been established for the Prophet (PBUH) but it has immediately been negated from him. This example shows that the reduction in rank is not consistently that of reducing knowledge to ignorance; rather, the reduction here is in the existence of a thing to its non-existence. This type of reduction also has its purposes, and Arabic literature is replete with different types of reductions for various purposes.

Emphasis of the Predication in Arabic Rhetoric

When the speaker opts to deliver a sentence for the purpose of conveying information, the level of stress and emphasis employed therein must be sensitive to the audience and adept to the listeners in order for the speech to be considered exigent.

The scholars of Arabic Rhetoric have defined three levels with respect to the audience’s disposition. If the audience does not teeter towards believing a matter, nor do they vie to belie it, then the appropriate course of action is for the speaker to utilize no mechanism of stress and suffice with few words. If, however, the audience is in doubt of the truth of a matter and hesitant in accepting it, or the audience, in fact, vies to the matter’s contrary, then it is appropriate to utilize a single form of emphasis. And finally, if the audience denies the matter altogether, it is appropriate to utilize emphasis tantamount to the listeners’ level of denial.




the type of predication issued with no strong affirmation nor any significant denial of the matter


the type of predication issued with doubt of the matter and possibly some inclination towards its contrary


the type of predication issued with denial and rejection of the matter

An example of utilizing emphasis tantamount to the denial is seen in the following two verses, the first of which is as follows.

﴿إنا إليكم مرسلون﴾

Verily we are messengers sent to you.

The above verse contains two levels of emphasis; the use of إن as well as the use of a nominal sentence. This was done because the level of rejection faced by the messengers called for this degree of emphasis. In the verse below, however, the degree of emphasis was raised in tandem with the strength of opposition when the messengers were further rejected.

﴿ربنا يعلم إنا إليكم لمرسلون﴾

Our lord does know: verily we have truly been sent as messengers to you.

Here the degrees of emphasis are four: the use of إن, the nominal sentence, the لام of emphasis, and the oath expressed through the words “ربنا يعلم”. This statement was issued in response to the unmitigated rejection recorded in the verse below.

﴿قالوا ما أنتم إلا بشر مثلنا وما أنزل الرحمن من شيء

إن أنتم إلا تكذبون﴾

They said: You are nothing but men like us. And God

has not revealed anything at all. You do nothing but lie.

Now, just as was the case in the purpose of predication hereinabove, here, too, the audience can be reduced from one rank to another. For example, the listener may be reduced from one who is not actually asking a question to one who is. Or he may be reduced from one who is not verbally doubting or rejecting a claim to one who is. And consequently, the level of emphasis employed by the speaker in his predication will comply with the reduced rank.

For instance, the following verse sets the stage for a reduction.

﴿ولا تخاطبني في الذين ظلموا إنهم مغرقون﴾

Do not address Me regarding those who have done wrong.

Verily they will be drowned.

Here Allah is speaking to Noah (AS) and He advises him not to address Him regarding the fate of his nation. Although smite has not explicitly been mentioned, the very prohibition given in the verse subtly yet clearly alludes to some punishment. This then raises a question in Noah’s mind as to whether a punishment is eminent for his nation or not and, although he does not in fact ask the question, Allah delivers a statement expressing the eminence of a punishment using emphasis by means of إن. Thus the one who did not actually ask a question and was not explicitly in doubt was reduced to the level of interrogation and doubt and emphasis was consequently employed.

A similar exemplar occurs in the following couplet of poetry where a man named شقيق arrives at a people. The manner of his arrival was such that he was holding a javelin vertically, as opposed to targeting the people. Although he did not purport that the tribe at which he was arriving did not posses sufficient artillery, yet his lack of being at the ready was seen by the people as assertion of such and thus a poet rebutted his disposition with emphasis and explained that the people did indeed possess armaments.

جاء شقيق عارضا رمحه          إن بني عمك فيهم رماح

شقيق came holding vertical his javelin.

Verily among your cousins are spears.

Similarly, the existence of a thing may be reduced to non-existence. The following verse gives an example.

﴿لا ريب فيه﴾

There is no doubt in it.

Although the majority of Mankind holds doubt towards the truth of the Qur’an, this above verse has expressed that there is no doubt in it, but using only a limited form of emphasis. Thus the existence of the audience’s doubt has been reduced to the level of non-existence. This was done because there is apodictic evidence sufficient enough that the audience can themselves verify the truth of the statement.

Predication: Literal versus Figurative in Arabic Rhetoric

The words used in a predication may either be literal or figurative. For example, the word ‘branches’ may be used in its literal sense to refer to the divisions in the axis of plants, or it may be used figuratively to refer to divisions in other, abstract entities such as one’s lineage. If all the words of a sentence are used literally, the predication between them that forms the cohesion of the sentence may still be figurative. For example, “the emir built the city.” Here the words ‘the emir’, ‘built’, and ‘the city’ are all used in a literal sense, yet the sentence itself is figurative because building a city has been predicated to the emir as opposed to the actual builders – meaning the masons and carpenters and so forth.







In regards to the literalness of a predication, both informative as well as non-informative sentences are of interest. And this is made clear through an example where the utterance of the statement, “would that the emir build us a city,” is still of interest despite its non-in formativeness. However, it should be noted that the discussion of literalness is limited to those types of structures in which there is a verb or a شبه الفعل. But now this includes phrases as well as predicated sentences, as in “the emir’s building the city….” So now we employ the term ‘relationship’ between words as opposed to ‘predication’.


Literalness is formally defined as the relationship of a verb (or شبه الفعل) to that thing for which it, the verb, exists. In other words, establishing a grammatical subject for a verb means predicating the verb to that subject. If that subject is indeed the doer of the verb, then the relationship is literal. Similarly, establishing a grammatical نائب قاعل for a verb means predicating it to that نائب قاعل. If the نائب قاعل is the one upon whom the verb was enacted, then the relationship is, again, literal.

But if the verb is predicated to a subject which is not directly the doer, or to a نائب قاعل which is not directly the one upon whom it was enacted, then the relationship is figurative. In the example “the emir built the city,” the subject of ‘built’ is ‘the emir’, yet it was not the emir who did the building but the masons and construction workers; the emir is the cause of the verb and hence the relationship is figurative.

Literal relationship can occur if four ways.

·         The statement is affirmed by the speaker and it complies with reality

·         The statement is affirmed by the speaker but it does not comply with reality

·         The statement is not affirmed by the speaker yet it complies with reality

·         The statement is not affirmed by the speaker nor does it comply with reality

An example of a statement that is both true in reality and affirmed by the speaker is a believer’s saying “Allah grew the herbs.” This is true both in reality and according to the speaker since he is a believer. An example of a statement that is not true in reality is a non-believer’s saying “spring yielded the herbs.” This is true according to the speaker, but only because he is a non-believer and it does not actually comply with reality. An example of a statement that is true but not affirmed by the speaker is a hypocrite’s saying “Allah grew the herbs.” Although this is true, it is not the conviction of the speaker. And finally, an example of a statement that neither complies with reality nor is affirmed by the speaker is a believer’s saying “spring yielded the herbs.” Neither is that fact true, nor does a believer maintain it.

Statement is actually false

Statement is actually true


disbeliever says

“spring yielded the herbs”

believer says

“Allah grew the herbs”

Speaker believes statement

believer says

“spring yielded the herbs”

hypocrite says

“Allah grew the herbs”

Speaker doesn’t believe statement

Notice even in literal relationships that the subject of a verb may not in fact be the doer. In the statement “spring yielded the herbs,” spring is not actually the doer of the verb. Yet this is not figurative; it is merely false. Differentiation between figurative predication and literal predication that is false is a nebulous matter which is clarified only by the speaker’s intentions and subtle indications in the speech – even a believer may say “spring yielded the herbs” in a figurative sense. More on this in the next section.


Figurative relationship occurs when a verb (or شبه الفعل) is related to a subject which is not directly the doer, or to a نائب قاعل which is not directly the one upon whom it was enacted. For instance, “the river is flowing.” It is not in fact the river that flows; rather the water in it. Here the locative detail of the verb has been put in place of the subject and the verb has subsequently been predicated towards it. This is known as a figurative relationship.

The details to which a verb may be predicated (or a شبه الفعل may be related) in order to achieve figurativeness are as follows.

·         the subject

·         the direct object

·         the cognate adverb (المفعول المطلق)

·         the time the action took place

·         the location in which the action took place

·         the cause or instigator of the action

What is meant by figurative relationship of the verb to the subject is when the verb is passive yet still predicated to the doer, as in the following.

سَيل مُفعَم

a replete flood

And what is meant by figurative relationship of the verb to the direct object is when the verb is active yet still predicated to the direct object, as in the following.

عيشة راضية

a pleasing life

In the first example, it is the flood which fills something up, yet we’re claiming that the flood has itself been filled up. The participle مفعل is related to the هو inside it, which is the doer of the repletion. Yet it has structurally been made the نائب فاعل, in other words the object of the repletion. Thus the participle is figuratively related to the doer. Similarly in the second example, it is the life which pleases its host, yet we are claiming that the life itself is happy. The participle راضية is related to the هي inside it, which is the object of the pleasure. Yet structurally it has been made the subject. Thus the participle is figuratively related to the direct object.

The examples of subjects and direct objects, as above, are slightly confusing. The reason for this is that active verbs are predicated to subjects and passive verbs are predicated to objects in both literal and figurative speech. Determining whether the speech is literal or figurative for active structures means determining whether the subject is really the doer or not. And determining whether the speech is literal or figurative for passive structures means determining whether the نائب فاعل is really the object or not.

The rest of the details towards which the verb may be predicated, however, are more easily understood because a verb is never literally predicated to them. Below are a few examples.

جَدَّ جِدّه

his seriousness became serious (his resoluteness intensified)

actually: he became seriously serious

نهاره صائم

his day is fasting

actually: he is fasting during the day

نهر جار

a streaming river

actually: water which is streaming in a river

بنى الأمير المدينة

the emir built the city

actually: the masons built the city because of the emir (i.e. his orders)

Now figurative relationship has two conditions, without the presence of which, the statement is merely considered false literal. The first is that the speaker intend the figurativeness, and the second is that he leave some indication towards the fact that the statement delivered is indeed figurative. Without such an indication, the listener will not know to apply interpretation and may misconceive the delivered statement to be literal.

In the following couplet composed by سلطان العبدي قُثَم بن خبية, there is no indication that the speech is figurative.

أشابَ الصغيرَ وأفنى الكبيرَ          كرُّ الغداةِ ومرُّ العَشِيِّ

Antiquated the young and did away with the old

the (assiduous) coming of the morning and passing of the evening

Rather the passage of time seems literally to be the cause of aging. The next couplets, however, treat the very same topic yet here it is quite clear that figurativeness is being employed. أبو النجم الفضل بنقدامة states:

أفناه قِيلُ اللهِ للشمسِ أطلعي          حتى إذا واراك أفقٌ فارجعي

Allah’s command to the sun has destroyed him, that “Rise

until when a portion of sky conceals you; then return again.”


مَيّز عنه قُنْزُعا عن قنزع          جذْبُ الليالي أبطئي أو أسرعي

Made partitions on his scalp, lock by lock

the passing of the nights; slow down or hasten quick

Because Allah’s command to the sun has first been mentioned as the cause of aging, the passage of nights later is treated as a figure of speech.

Such indications may come in many forms. Among them are the following.

·         explicit indication through words, as in أبو نجم’s poem

·         it is rationally impossible for the relationship to be literal, as in “your love brought me to you” since love is not a tangible entity capable of physically moving people

·         the literalness of the relationship, although rationally possible, is typically accepted as impossible, as in “the emir razed the army” since it is typically not the case that a single person razes an entire army

·         etc

In closing, figurativeness of the kind discussed in this tutorial, is said to be of four types depending on the literalness and figurativeness of the subject and predicate. In a figurative predication, the subject and predicate may both be literal, they may differ, and they may both be figurative. The following chart summarizes these with examples.

The predicate is figurative

The predicate is literal


spring revived the earth

(‘spring’ is literal and ‘revival of the earth’ refers to rejuvenation of elements and minerals)

spring yielded the herbs

(‘spring’ and ‘yielded’ are both literal)

The subject is literal

the youth of the era revived the earth

(‘era’s youth’ refers to rejuvenation periods and ‘revival of the earth’ refers to rejuvenation of elements and minerals)

the youth of the era yielded the herbs

(‘era’s youth’ refers to rejuvenation periods and ‘yielded’ is literal)

The subject is figurative

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