Arabic Grammar
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Arabic Grammar
Visualization of Arabic grammar from the Quranic Arabic Corpus

Arabic grammar or Arabic language sciences (Arabic: an-na?w al-'arab? or Arabic: ul?m al-lughah al-'arab?yah) is the grammar of the Arabic language. Arabic is a Semitic language and its grammar has many similarities with the grammar of other Semitic languages.

The article focuses both on the grammar of Literary Arabic (i.e. Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic, which have largely the same grammar) and of the colloquial spoken varieties of Arabic. The grammar of the two types is largely similar in its particulars. Generally, the grammar of Classical Arabic is described first, followed by the areas in which the colloquial variants tend to differ (note that not all colloquial variants have the same grammar).

The largest differences between the classical/standard and the colloquial Arabic are the loss of morphological markings of grammatical case; changes in word order, an overall shift towards a more analytic morphosyntax, the loss of the previous system of grammatical mood, along with the evolution of a new system; the loss of the inflected passive voice, except in a few relic varieties; restriction in the use of the dual number and (for most varieties) the loss of the feminine plural. Many Arabic dialects, Maghrebi Arabic in particular also have significant vowel shifts and unusual consonant clusters. Unlike other dialects, in Maghrebi Arabic first person singular verbs begin with a n- (?).


The identity of the oldest Arabic grammarian is disputed; some sources state that it was Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, who established diacritical marks and vowels for Arabic in the mid-600s,[1] Others have said that the earliest grammarian would have been Ibn Abi Ishaq (died AD 735/6, AH 117).[2]

The schools of Basra and Kufa further developed grammatical rules in the late 8th century with the rapid rise of Islam.[3][4] From the school of Basra, generally regarded as being founded by Abu Amr ibn al-Ala,[5] two representatives laid important foundations for the field: Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi authored the first Arabic dictionary and book of Arabic prosody, and his student Sibawayh authored the first book on theories of Arabic grammar.[1] From the school of Kufa, Al-Ru'asi is universally acknowledged as the founder, though his own writings are considered lost,[6][7] with most of the school's development undertaken by later authors. The efforts of al-Farahidi and Sibawayh consolidated Basra's reputation as the analytic school of grammar, while the Kufan school was regarded as the guardian of Arabic poetry and Arab culture.[2] The differences were polarizing in some cases, with early Muslim scholar Muhammad ibn `Isa at-Tirmidhi favoring the Kufan school due to its concern with poetry as a primary source.[8]

Early Arabic grammars were more or less lists of rules, without the detailed explanations which would be added in later centuries. The earliest schools were different not only in some of their views on grammatical disputes, but also their emphasis. The school of Kufa excelled in Arabic poetry and exegesis of the Qur'an, in addition to Islamic law and Arab genealogy. The more rationalist school of Basra, on the other hand, focused more on the formal study of grammar.[9]


For classical Arabic grammarians, the grammatical sciences are divided into five branches:

  • al-lughah (language/lexicon) concerned with collecting and explaining vocabulary.
  • at-ta?r?f (morphology) determining the form of the individual words.
  • an-na?w (syntax) primarily concerned with inflection (i'r?b).
  • al-ishtiq?q (derivation) examining the origin of the words.
  • al-bal?ghah (rhetoric) which elucidates stylistic quality, or eloquence.

The grammar or grammars of contemporary varieties of Arabic are a different question. Said M. Badawi, an expert on Arabic grammar, divided Arabic grammar into five different types based on the speaker's level of literacy and the degree to which the speaker deviated from Classical Arabic. Badawi's five types of grammar from the most colloquial to the most formal are Illiterate Spoken Arabic (? '?mm?yat al-ummiyy?n), Semi-literate Spoken Arabic (? '?mm?yat al-mutanawwir?n), Educated Spoken Arabic (? '?mm?yat al-muthaqqaf?n), Modern Standard Arabic (? fuá l-'a?r), and Classical Arabic (? ? fuá t-tur?th).[10]


Classical Arabic has 28 consonantal phonemes, including two semi-vowels, which constitute the Arabic alphabet.

It also has six vowel phonemes (three short vowels and three long vowels). These appear as various allophones, depending on the preceding consonant. Short vowels are not usually represented in the written language, although they may be indicated with diacritics.

Word stress varies from one Arabic dialect to another. A rough rule for word-stress in Classical Arabic is that it falls on the penultimate syllable of a word if that syllable is closed, and otherwise on the antepenultimate.[11]

Hamzat al-wa?l (? ), elidable hamza, is a phonetic object prefixed to the beginning of a word for ease of pronunciation, since Literary Arabic doesn't allow consonant clusters at the beginning of a word. Elidable hamza drops out as a vowel, if a word is preceding it. This word will then produce an ending vowel, "helping vowel" to facilitate pronunciation. This short vowel may be, depending on the preceding vowel, a fat?ah (?‎:  ), pronounced as /a/; a kasrah (?‎:  ), pronounced as /i/; or a ?ammah (‎:  ), pronounced as /u/. If the preceding word ends in a suk?n (), meaning that it is not followed by a short vowel, the hamzat al-wa?l assumes a kasrah /i/. The symbol (shaddah) indicates gemination or consonant doubling. See more in Tashk?l.

Nouns and adjectives

In Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), nouns and adjectives (‏ism) are declined, according to case (i'r?b), state (definiteness), gender and number. In colloquial or spoken Arabic, there are a number of simplifications such as the loss of certain final vowels and the loss of case. A number of derivational processes exist for forming new nouns and adjectives. Adverbs can be formed from adjectives.


Personal pronouns

In Arabic, personal pronouns have 12 forms. In singular and plural, the 2nd and 3rd persons have separate masculine and feminine forms, while the 1st person does not. In the dual, there is no 1st person, and only a single form for each 2nd and 3rd person. Traditionally, the pronouns are listed in the order 3rd, 2nd, 1st.

Person Singular Dual Plural

2nd masculine



3rd masculine ?

feminine ?


Informal Arabic tends to avoid the dual forms antum? and hum? . The feminine plural forms antunna and hunna are likewise avoided, except by speakers of conservative colloquial varieties that still possess separate feminine plural pronouns.

Enclitic pronouns

Enclitic forms of personal pronouns ( ? a?-?am?'ir al-mutta?ilah) are affixed to various parts of speech, with varying meanings:

  • To the construct state of nouns, where they have the meaning of possessive demonstratives, e.g. "my, your, his"
  • To verbs, where they have the meaning of direct object pronouns, e.g. "me, you, him"
  • To prepositions, where they have the meaning of objects of the prepositions, e.g. "to me, to you, to him"
  • To conjunctions and particles like anna "that ...", ? li-anna "because ...", )?)) (wa)l?kinna "but ...", inna (topicalizing particle), where they have the meaning of subject pronouns, e.g. "because I ...", "because you ...", "because he ...". (These particles are known in Arabic as akhaw?t inna (lit. "sisters of inna".)
  • If the personal pronoun -? is added to a word ending in a vowel (e.g. ra'ayta "you saw"), an extra -n- is added between the word and the enclitic form to avoid a hiatus between the two vowels ( ra'ayta-n? "you saw me").

Most of them are clearly related to the full personal pronouns.

Person Singular Dual Plural
1st ?, ,
2nd masculine



3rd masculine ,
feminine -h? ? ,
Variant forms

For all but the first person singular, the same forms are used regardless of the part of speech of the word attached to. In the third person masculine singular, -hu occurs after the vowels u or a (-a, -?, -u, -?, -aw), while -hi occurs after i or y (-i, -?, -ay). The same alternation occurs in the third person dual and plural.

In the first person singular, however, the situation is more complicated. Specifically, -n? "me" is attached to verbs, but -?/-ya "my" is attached to nouns. In the latter case, -ya is attached to nouns whose construct state ends in a long vowel or diphthong (e.g. in the sound masculine plural and the dual), while -? is attached to nouns whose construct state ends in a short vowel, in which case that vowel is elided (e.g. in the sound feminine plural, as well as the singular and broken plural of most nouns). Furthermore, -? of the masculine sound plural is assimilated to -? before -ya (presumably, -aw of masculine defective -an plurals is similarly assimilated to -ay). Examples:

  • From ‏kit?b "book", pl. kutub: kit?b-? "my book" (all cases), ? kutub-? "my books" (all cases), kit?b?-ya "my two books (nom.)", kit?bay-ya "my two books (acc./gen.)"
  • From ‏?kalimah "word", pl. kalim?t: kalimat-? "my word" (all cases), ? kalim?t-? "my words" (all cases)
  • From ‏?duny? "world", pl. ? dunyay?t: duny?-ya "my world" (all cases), dunyay?t-? "my worlds" (all cases)
  • From ‏qin "judge", pl. quh: qiy-ya "my judge" (all cases), qut-? "my judges" (all cases)
  • From ‏mu'allim "teacher", pl. mu'allim?n: ? mu'allim-? "my teacher" (all cases), mu'allim?-ya "my teachers" (all cases, see above)
  • From ‏ab "father": ? ab?-ya "my father" (nom.), ? ab?-ya "my father" (acc.), ? ab?-ya "my father" (gen.)

Prepositions use -?/-ya, even though in this case it has the meaning of "me" (rather than "my"). The "sisters of inna" can use either form (e.g. inna-n? or inn-?), but the longer form (e.g. inna-n?) is usually preferred.

The second-person masculine plural past tense verb ending -tum changes to the variant form -tum? before enclitic pronouns, e.g. ? katab-tum?-hu "you (masc. pl.) wrote it (masc.)".

Pronouns with prepositions

Some very common prepositions -- including the proclitic preposition li- "to" (also used for indirect objects) -- have irregular or unpredictable combining forms when the enclitic pronouns are added to them:

Meaning Independent form With "... me" With "... you" (masc. sg.) With "... him"
"to", indirect object

"in", "with", "by"








"with" ?



"from" ?



"on", "about" ?




In the above cases, when there are two combining forms, one is used with "... me" and the other with all other person/number/gender combinations. (More correctly, one occurs before vowel-initial pronouns and the other before consonant-initial pronouns, but in Classical Arabic, only -? is vowel-initial. This becomes clearer in the spoken varieties, where various vowel-initial enclitic pronouns exist.)

Note in particular:

  • ilá "to" and 'alá "on" have irregular combining forms ? ilay-, ? 'alay-; but other pronouns with the same base form are regular, e.g. ? ma'a "with".
  • li- "to" has an irregular combining form la-, but bi- "in, with, by" is regular.
  • ? min "from" and ? 'an "on" double the final n before -?.
Less formal pronominal forms

In a less formal Arabic, as in many spoken dialects, the endings -ka, -ki, and -hu and many others have their final short vowel dropped, for example, kit?buka would become ? kit?buk for ease of pronunciation. This doesn't make a difference to the spelling as the diacritics used to represent short vowels are not usually written.


There are two demonstratives ( asm?' al-ish?rah), near-deictic ('this') and far-deictic ('that'):

"This, these"
Gender Singular Dual Plural
Masculine nominative

Feminine nominative

"That, those"
Gender Singular Dual Plural
Masculine nominative ?
dh?lika, dh?ka

Feminine nominative

The dual forms are only used in very formal Arabic.

Some of the demonstratives (h?dh?, h?dhihi, h?dh?ni, h?dhayni, h?'ul?'i, dh?lika, and ul?'ika) should be pronounced with a long ?, although the unvocalised script is not written with alif (?). Instead of an alif, they have the diacritic (dagger alif: alif khanjar?yah), which doesn't exist on Arabic keyboards and is seldom written, even in vocalised Arabic.

Qur'anic Arabic has another demonstrative, normally followed by a noun in a genitive construct and meaning 'owner of':

"Owner of"
Gender Singular Dual Plural
Masculine nominative


dhaw?, ul?


dhaw?, ul?
Feminine nominative


dhaw?tu, ul?tu


dhaw?ti, ul?ti

Note that the demonstrative and relative pronouns were originally built on this word. h?dh?, for example, was originally composed from the prefix h?- 'this' and the masculine accusative singular dh?; similarly, dh?lika was composed from dh?, an infixed syllable -li-, and the clitic suffix -ka 'you'. These combinations had not yet become completely fixed in Qur'anic Arabic and other combinations sometimes occurred, e.g. dh?ka, dh?likum. Similarly, the relative pronoun alladh? was originally composed based on the genitive singular dh?, and the old Arabic grammarians noted the existence of a separate nominative plural form alladh?na in the speech of the Hudhayl tribe in Qur'anic times.

This word also shows up in Hebrew, e.g. masculine zeh (cf. dh?), feminine zot (cf. dh?t-), plural eleh (cf. ul?).

Relative pronoun

The relative pronoun is declined as follows:

Relative pronoun ("who, that, which")
Gender Singular Dual Plural
Masculine nominative

Feminine nominative


Note that the relative pronoun agrees in gender, number and case, with the noun it modifies--as opposed to the situation in other inflected languages such as Latin and German, where the gender and number agreement is with the modified noun, but the case marking follows the usage of the relative pronoun in the embedded clause (as in formal English "the man who saw me" vs. "the man whom I saw").

When the relative pronoun serves a function other than the subject of the embedded clause, a resumptive pronoun is required: ? al-rajul(u) (a)lladh? takallamtu ma'a-hu, literally "the man who I spoke with him".

The relative pronoun is normally omitted entirely when an indefinite noun is modified by a relative clause: rajul(un) takallamtu ma'a-h(u) "a man that I spoke with", literally "a man I spoke with him".

Colloquial varieties

The above system is mostly unchanged in the colloquial varieties, other than the loss of the dual forms and (for most varieties) of the feminine plural. Some of the more notable changes:

  • The third-person -hi, -him variants disappear. On the other hand, the first person -n?/-?/-ya variation is preserved exactly (including the different circumstances in which these variants are used), and new variants appear for many forms. For example, in Egyptian Arabic, the second person feminine singular appears either as -ik or -ki depending on various factors (e.g. the phonology of the preceding word); likewise, the third person masculine singular appears variously as -u, -hu, or - (no ending, but stress is moved onto the preceding vowel, which is lengthened).
  • In many varieties, the indirect object forms, which appear in Classical Arabic as separate words (e.g. l? "to me", lahu 'to him'), become fused onto the verb, following a direct object. These same varieties generally develop a circumfix /ma-...-?(i)/ for negation (from Classical m? ... shay' 'not ... a thing', composed of two separate words). This can lead to complicated agglutinative constructs, such as Egyptian Arabic /ma-katab-ha-'li:-?/ 'he didn't write it (fem.) to me'. (Egyptian Arabic in particular has many variant pronominal affixes used in different circumstances, and very intricate morphophonemic rules leading to a large number of complex alternations, depending on the particular affixes involved, the way they are put together, and whether the preceding verb ends in a vowel, a single consonant, or two consonants.)
  • Other varieties instead use a separate Classical pseudo-pronoun ?y?- for direct objects (but in Hijazi Arabic the resulting construct fuses with a preceding verb).
  • Affixation of dual and sound plural nouns has largely vanished. Instead, all varieties possess a separate preposition with the meaning of "of", which replaces certain uses of the construct genitive (to varying degrees, depending on the particular variety). In Moroccan Arabic, the word is dyal (also d- before a noun), e.g. l-kitab dyal-i "my book", since the construct-state genitive is mostly unproductive. Egyptian Arabic has bit?' , which agrees in gender and number with the preceding noun (feminine bit?'it/bita't, plural bit?' ). In Egyptian Arabic, the construct-state genitive is still productive, hence either kit?b-i or il-kit?b bit?'-i can be used for "my book" [the difference between them is simlar to the difference between 'my book' and 'the book is mine'], but only il-mu'allim?n bit?'-i "my teachers".
  • The declined relative pronoun has vanished. In its place is an indeclinable particle, usually illi or similar.
  • Various forms of the demonstrative pronouns occur, usually shorter than the Classical forms. For example, Moroccan Arabic uses ha l- "this", dak l-/dik l-/duk l- "that" (masculine/feminine/plural). Egyptian Arabic is unusual in that the demonstrative follows the noun, e.g. il-kit?b da "this book", il-binti di "this girl".
  • Some of the independent pronouns have slightly different forms compared with their Classical forms. For example, usually forms similar to inta, inti "you (masc./fem. sg.)" occur in place of anta, anti, and (n)i?na "we" occurs in place of na?nu.


Cardinal numerals

Numbers behave in a very complicated fashion. wid- "one" and ithn?n- "two" are adjectives, following the noun and agreeing with it. thal?that- "three" through 'asharat- "ten" require a following noun in the genitive plural, but disagree with the noun in gender, while taking the case required by the surrounding syntax. a?ada 'asharah "eleven" through tis'ata 'asharah "nineteen" require a following noun in the accusative singular, agree with the noun in gender, and are invariable for case, except for ithn? 'asharah/ithnay 'ashara "twelve".

The formal system of cardinal numerals, as used in Classical Arabic, is extremely complex. The system of rules is presented below. In reality, however, this system is never used: Large numbers are always written as numerals rather than spelled out, and are pronounced using a simplified system, even in formal contexts.


Formal: ? alf?ni wa-tis'u mi'atin wa-thnat? 'asharatan sanah "2,912 years"
Formal: ? ba'da alfayni wa-tis'i mi'atin wa-thnatay 'asharatan sanah "after 2,912 years"
Spoken: ?) ? ? ) (ba'da) alfayn wa-tis' m?ya wa-ithna'shar sana "(after) 2,912 years"

Cardinal numerals ( al-a'd?d al-a?l?yah) from 0-10. Zero is ?ifr, from which the words "cipher" and "zero" are ultimately derived.

  • 0 ? ?ifr(un) (‏‎)
  • 1 ? wid(un) (‏?‎)
  • 2 ? ithn?n(i) (‏‎)
  • 3 ? thal?tha(tun) (‏‎)
  • 4 ? arba'a(tun) (‏?‎)
  • 5 ? khamsa(tun) (‏‎)
  • 6 ? sitta(tun) (‏‎)
  • 7 ? sab'a(tun) (‏‎)
  • 8 ? tham?niya(tun) (‏‎)
  • 9 ? tis'a(tun) (‏‎)
  • 10 'ashara(tun) (‏‎) (feminine form 'ashr(un)‎)

The endings in brackets are dropped in less formal Arabic and in pausa. ? (t?' marbah) is pronounced as simple /a/ in these cases. If a noun ending in ? is the first member of an idafa, the ? is pronounced as /at/, while the rest of the ending is not pronounced.

ithn?n(i) is changed to ? ithnayn(i) in oblique cases. This form is also commonly used in a less formal Arabic in the nominative case.

The numerals 1 and 2 are adjectives. Thus they follow the noun and agree with gender.

Numerals 3-10 have a peculiar rule of agreement known as polarity: A feminine referrer agrees with a numeral in masculine gender and vice versa, e.g. thal?thu fatay?tin (? ) "three girls". The noun counted takes indefinite genitive plural (as the attribute in a genitive construct).

Numerals 11 and 13-19 are indeclinable for case, perpetually in the accusative. Numbers 11 and 12 show gender agreement in the ones, and 13-19 show polarity in the ones. Number 12 also shows case agreement, reminiscent of the dual. The gender of in numbers 11-19 agrees with the counted noun (unlike the standalone numeral 10 which shows polarity). The counted noun takes indefinite accusative singular.

Unitary numbers from 20 on (i.e. 20, 30, ... 90, 100, 1000, 1000000, etc.) behave entirely as nouns, showing the case required by the surrounding syntax, no gender agreement, and a following noun in a fixed case. 20 through 90 require their noun to be in the accusative singular; 100 and up require the genitive singular. The unitary numbers themselves decline in various fashions:

  • 'ishr?na "20" through tis'?na "90" decline as masculine plural nouns
  • mi'at- "100" (‏‎ or ‏‎) declines as a feminine singular noun
  • alf- "1,000" (‏‎) declines as a masculine singular noun

The numbers 20-99 are expressed with the units preceding the tens. There is agreement in gender with the numerals 1 and 2, and polarity for numerals 3-9. The whole construct is followed by the accusative singular indefinite.

  • 20 'ishr?na (‏‎) (plural of 10)
  • 21 widun wa-'ishr?na (? )
  • 22 ithn?ni wa-'ishr?na ( )
  • 23 thal?thatu wa-'ishr?na ( )
  • 30 thal?th?na (‏?‎)
  • 40 arba'?na (‏‎)

mi'at- "100" and alf- "1,000" can themselves be modified by numbers (to form numbers such as 200 or 5,000) and will be declined appropriately. For example, mi'at?ni "200" and alf?ni "2,000" with dual endings; thal?thatu ?l?fin "3,000" with alf in the plural genitive, but thal?thu mi'atin "300" since mi'at- appears to have no plural.

In compound numbers, the number formed with the last two digits dictates the declension of the associated noun, e.g. 212, 312, and 54,312 would all behave like 12.

Large compound numbers can have, e.g.:

  • ? alfun wa-tis'u mi'atin wa-tis'u sin?na "1,909 years"
  • ? ba'da alfin wa-tis'i mi'atin wa-tis'i sin?na "after 1,909 years"
  • ? ? ? ? arba'atun wa-tis'?na alfan wa-tham?n? mi'atin wa-thal?thun wa-sitt?na sanatan "94,863 years"
  • ? ? ? ? ba'da arba'atin wa-tis'?na alfan wa-tham?n? mi'atin wa-thal?thin wa-sitt?na sanatan "after 94,863 years"
  • ? ? i?n? 'a?ara alfan wa-mi'at?ni wa-thnat?ni wa-'ishr?na sanatan "12,222 years"
  • ? ? ? ? ba'da thnay 'ashara alfan wa-mi'atayni wa-thnatayni wa-'ishr?na sanatan "after 12,222 years"
  • ? ? ithn? 'ashara alfan wa-mi'at?ni wa-sanat?ni "12,202 years"
  • ? ? ba'da thnay 'ashara alfan wa-mi'atayni wa-sanatayni "after 12,202 years"

Note also the special construction when the final number is 1 or 2:

  • alfu laylatin wa-laylatun "1,001 nights"
  • mi'atu kit?bin wa-kit?b?ni "102 books"
    ? ?


Fractions of a whole smaller than "half" are expressed by the structure fi'l () in the singular, af'?l () in the plural.

  • half ni?fun (‏‎)
  • one-third thulthun (‏‎)
  • two-thirds thulth?ni (‏‎)
  • one-fourth rub'un (‏‎)
  • three-fourths thal?thatu arb?'in ( )
  • etc.

Ordinal numerals

Ordinal numerals (? al-a'd?d al-tart?b?yah) higher than "second" are formed using the structure f?'ilun, f?'ilatun, the same as active participles of Form I verbs:

  • m. ? awwalu, f. ?lá "first"
  • m. th?nin (definite form: al-th?n?), f. th?niyatun "second"
  • m. ? th?lithun, f. th?lithatun "third"
  • m. ? r?bi'un, f. r?bi'atun "fourth"
  • m. ? kh?misun, f. kh?misatun "fifth"
  • m. ? s?disun, f. s?disatun "sixth"
  • m. ? s?bi'un, f. s?bi'atun "seventh"
  • m. ? th?minun, f. th?minatun "eighth"
  • m. ? t?si'un, f. t?si'atun "ninth"
  • m. ? '?shirun, f. '?shiratun "tenth"

They are adjectives, hence there is agreement in gender with the noun, not polarity as with the cardinal numbers. Note that "sixth" uses a different, older root than the number six.


Arabic Verb Chart

Arabic verbs ( fi'l), like the verbs in other Semitic languages, are extremely complex. Verbs in Arabic are based on a root made up of three or four consonants (called a triliteral or quadriliteral root, respectively). The set of consonants communicates the basic meaning of a verb, e.g. k-t-b 'write', q-r-' 'read', '-k-l 'eat'. Changes to the vowels in between the consonants, along with prefixes or suffixes, specify grammatical functions such as tense, person and number, in addition to changes in the meaning of the verb that embody grammatical concepts such as mood (e.g. indicative, subjunctive, imperative), voice (active or passive), and functions such as causative, intensive, or reflexive.

Since Arabic lacks an auxiliary verb "to have", constructions using li-, 'inda, and ma'a with the pronominal suffixes are used to describe possession. For example: ? (?indahu bayt) - literally: At him (is) a house. -> He has a house.

For the negation of Arabic verbs, see Negation in Arabic.


Common prepositions
Arabic English
bi- with, in, at
ta- only used in the expression tall?hi 'I swear to God'
la- certainly (also used before verbs)
li- to, for
ka- like, as
fa- [and] then
'ilá to, towards
?attá until, up to
'alá on, over; against
'an from, about
f? in, at
?ma'a[a] with, along with
min from; than
mundhu since
?mudh since
Semi-prepositions 'am?ma in front of
bayna between, among
ta?ta under, below
?awla around
kh?rija outside
khil?la during
d?khila inside
d?na without
?idda against
'inda on the part of; at; at the house of; in the possession of
fawqa above
?ma'a with
mithla like
war?'a behind

There are two types of prepositions, based on whether they arise from the triconsonantal roots system or not. The 'true prepositions' ( ?ur?f al-jarr) do not stem from the triconsonantal roots. These true prepositions cannot have prepositions preceding them, in contrast to the derived triliteral prepositions. True prepositions can also be used with certain verbs to convey a particular meaning. For example, ba?atha means "to discuss" as a transitive verb, but can mean "to search for" when followed by the preposition ? 'an, and "to do research about" when followed by f?.

The prepositions arising from the triliteral root system are called "adverbs of place and time" in the native tradition ( ?ur?f mak?n wa-?ur?f zam?n) and work very much in the same way as the 'true' prepositions.[14]

A noun following a preposition takes the genitive case.[15] However, prepositions can take whole clauses as their object too if succeeded by the conjunctions ? 'an or 'anna, in which case the subject of the clause is in the nominative or the accusative respectively.


Genitive construction (ifah)

A noun may be defined more precisely by adding another noun immediately afterwards. In Arabic grammar, this is called ifah ("annexation, addition") and in English is known as the "genitive construct", "construct phrase", or "annexation structure". The first noun must be in the construct form while, when cases are used, the subsequent noun must be in the genitive case. The construction is typically equivalent to the English construction "(noun) of (noun)". This is a very widespread way of forming possessive constructions in Arabic,[16] and is typical of a Semitic language.[17]

Simple examples include:

  • bintu ?asan "the daughter of Hasan/Hasan's daughter".
  • ? d?ru?s-sal?m "the house of peace".
  • k?l? mawz "a kilo of bananas".
  • baytu?rajul "the house of a man/a man's house".
  • baytu?r-rajul "the house of the man/the man's house".

The range of relationships between the first and second elements of the idafah construction is very varied, though it usually consists of some relationship of possession or belonging.[18] In the case of words for containers, the id?fah may express what is contained: finj?nu qahwatin "a cup of coffee". The id?fah may indicate the material something is made of: ? kh?tamu khashabin "a wooden ring, ring made of wood". In many cases the two members become a fixed coined phrase, the idafah being used as the equivalent of a compound noun used in some Indo-European languages such as English. Thus baytu al-?alabati can mean "house of the (certain, known) students", but is also the normal term for "the student hostel".

Word order

Classical Arabic tends to prefer the word order VSO (verb before subject before object) rather than SVO (subject before verb). Verb initial word orders like in Classical Arabic are relatively rare across the world's languages, occurring only in a few language families including Celtic, Austronesian, and Mayan. The alternation between VSO and SVO word orders in Arabic results in an agreement asymmetry: the verb shows person, number, and gender agreement with the subject in SVO constructions but only gender (and possibly person) agreement in VSO, to the exclusion of number.[19]

Full agreement: SVO order[20]
? ?







al-mu'allim?na qara'u l-kit?b

the-teachers-M.PL.NOM read.PAST-3.M.PL the-book-ACC

'The (male) teachers read the book.'

? ?







al-mu'allim?tu qara'na l-kit?b

the-teachers-F.PL-NOM read.PAST-3.F.PL the-book-ACC

'The (female) teachers read the book.'

Partial agreement: VSO order







qara'a l-mu'allim?na l-kit?b

read.PAST-3M.SG the-teacher-M.PL.NOM the-book-ACC

'The (male) teachers read the book.'








qara'at al-mu'allim?tu l-kit?b

read.PAST-3.F.SG the-teacher-F.PL-NOM the-book-ACC

'The (female) teachers read the book.'

Despite the fact that the subject in the latter two above examples is plural, the verb lacks plural marking and instead surfaces as if it was in the singular form.

Though early accounts of Arabic word order variation argued for a flat, non-configurational grammatical structure,[21][22] more recent work[20] has shown that there is evidence for a VP constituent in Arabic, that is, a closer relationship between verb and object than verb and subject. This suggests a hierarchical grammatical structure, not a flat one. An analysis such as this one can also explain the agreement asymmetries between subjects and verbs in SVO versus VSO sentences, and can provide insight into the syntactic position of pre- and post-verbal subjects, as well as the surface syntactic position of the verb.

In the present tense, there is no overt copula in Arabic. In such clauses, the subject tends to precede the predicate, unless there is a clear demarcating pause between the two, suggesting a marked information structure.[20] It is a matter of debate in Arabic literature whether there is a null present tense copula which syntactically precedes the subject in verbless sentences, or whether there is simply no verb, only a subject and predicate.[23][24][25][26][27][28]

Subject pronouns are normally omitted except for emphasis or when using a participle as a verb (participles are not marked for person). Because the verb agrees with the subject in person, number, and gender, no information is lost when pronouns are omitted. Auxiliary verbs precede main verbs, prepositions precede their objects, and nouns precede their relative clauses.

Adjectives follow the noun they are modifying, and agree with the noun in case, gender, number, and state: For example, ? fat?tun jam?latun 'a beautiful girl' but al-fat?tu al-jam?latu 'the beautiful girl'. (Compare al-fat?tu jam?latun 'the girl is beautiful'.) Elative adjectives, however, usually don't agree with the noun they modify, and sometimes even precede their noun while requiring it to be in the genitive case.


The subject of a sentence can be topicalized and emphasized by moving it to the beginning of the sentence and preceding it with the word inna 'indeed' (or 'verily' in older translations). An example would be ? inna s-sam?'a zarq?'(u) 'The sky is blue indeed'.

'Inna, along with its related terms (or ‏'akhaw?t "sister" terms in the native tradition) ‏anna 'that' (as in "I think that ..."), inna 'that' (after ‏q?la 'say'), ‏(wa-)l?kin(na) 'but' and ‏?ka-anna 'as if' introduce subjects while requiring that they be immediately followed by a noun in the accusative case, or an attached pronominal suffix.

Arabic English

'inna wa 'akhaw?tuha

'inna indeed
'anna that (followed by noun clause)
?ka'anna as, as though
lakinna but
layta to express a wish or desire
?la'alla perhaps
l? there is no, there is not

Definite article

As a particle, al- does not inflect for gender, number, person, or grammatical case. The sound of the final -l consonant, however, can vary; when followed by a sun letter such as t, d, r, s, n and a few others, it is replaced by the sound of the initial consonant of the following noun, thus doubling it. For example: for "the Nile", one does not say al-N?l, but an-N?l. When followed by a moon letter, like m-, no replacement occurs, as in al-masjid ("the mosque"). This affects only the pronunciation and not the spelling of the article.

Absolute object (al-maf'?l al-mu?laq)

The absolute object (? al-maf'?l al-mu?laq) is an emphatic cognate object construction in which a verbal noun derived from the main verb appears in the accusative ( manb) case.[29]

Arabic transliteration English
? dahaka l-waladu dahikan The boy laughed much.
? ? taduru l-'ardu hawla sh-shamsi fi s-sanati dawratan wahida The earth revolves around the sun once a year.
? uhibbuki hubban jamman I love you so much.

Object of purpose (al-maf'?l li-'ajlihi)

The object of purpose [ar] (? al-maf'?l li-'ajlihi) is an adverbial structure used to indicate purpose, motive, or reason for an action.[30] It consists of a verbal noun derived from the main verb that appears in the accusative ( manb) case.[30] It is followed immediately by a prepositional phrase.

Arabic transliteration English
? ? taraka baladahu bahthan an ar-rizq He left his country in search of sustenance.
? ? ? dhahabat ila l-j?mi'ati talban lil-'ilm She went to the university seeking knowledge.
? ? kataba li-habibatih risalatan 'ishqan laha He wrote his beloved a letter out of love for her.

Dynasty or family

Some people, especially in the region of Arabia, when they are descended from a famous ancestor, start their last name with , a noun meaning "family" or "clan", like the dynasty Al Saud (family of Saud) or Al ash-Sheikh (family of the Sheikh). is distinct from the definite article .

Arabic meaning transcription example
the al- Maytham al-Tammar
family/clan of Al, Aal Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
tribe/people of Ahl Ahl al-Bayt


Object pronouns are clitics and are attached to the verb; e.g., ar?-h? 'I see her'. Possessive pronouns are likewise attached to the noun they modify; e.g., kit?bu-hu 'his book'. The definite article ? al- is a clitic, as are the prepositions li- 'to' and bi- 'in, with' and the conjunctions ka- 'as' and fa- 'then, so'.

Reform of the Arabic tradition

An overhaul of the native systematic categorization of Arabic grammar was first suggested by the medieval philosopher al-Ji?, though it was not until two hundred years later when Ibn Ma wrote his Refutation of the Grammarians that concrete suggestions regarding word order and linguistic governance were made.[31] In the modern era, Egyptian litterateur Shawqi Daif renewed the call for a reform of the commonly used description of Arabic grammar, suggesting to follow trends in Western linguistics instead.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Some grammarians classify the word ? as a noun, not a preposition.[12][13]


  1. ^ a b Kojiro Nakamura, "Ibn Mada's Criticism of Arab Grammarians." Orient, v. 10, pgs. 89-113. 1974
  2. ^ a b Monique Bernards, "Pioneers of Arabic Linguistic Studies." Taken from In the Shadow of Arabic: The Centrality of Language to Arabic Culture, pg. 213. Ed. Bilal Orfali. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2011. ISBN 9789004215375
  3. ^ Goodchild, Philip. Difference in Philosophy of Religion, 2003. Page 153.
  4. ^ Archibald Sayce, Introduction to the Science of Language. Pg. 28, 1880.
  5. ^ al-A?ma at the Encyclopædia Britannica Online. ©2013 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. Accessed 10 June 2013.
  6. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 5, pg. 174, fascicules 81-82. Eds. Clifford Edmund Bosworth, E. van Donzel, Bernard Lewis and Charles Pellat. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1980. ISBN 9789004060562
  7. ^ Arik Sadan, The Subjunctive Mood in Arabic Grammatical Thought, pg. 339. Volume 66 of Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012. ISBN 9789004232952
  8. ^ "Sibawayh, His Kitab, and the Schools of Basra and Kufa." Taken from Changing Traditions: Al-Mubarrad's Refutation of S?bawayh and the Subsequent Reception of the Kit?b, pg. 12. Volume 23 of Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics. Ed. Monique Bernards. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997. ISBN 9789004105959
  9. ^ Sir Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, pg. 350. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1954. New edition 1980.
  10. ^ Alaa Elgibali and El-Said M. Badawi. Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said M. Badawi, 1996. Page 105.
  11. ^ Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), p. 90.
  12. ^ Wright, William. A Grammar of the Arabic Language. 2 (3rd ed.). Librarie Du Liban. p. 165. is, as the Arab grammarians remark, properly the accusative of a noun, signifying association, connexion.
  13. ^ Drissner, Gerald (2015). Arabic for Nerds. Berlin, Germany: createspace. p. 65. ISBN 978-1517538385.
  14. ^ Ryding, Karin C. (2005). A reference grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (6th printing ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University press. p. 366. ISBN 978-0521777711.
  15. ^ Fischer, Wolfdietrich (2002). A Grammar of Classical Arabic. Translated by Rodger, Jonathan (3rd ed.). Yale University Press. p. 153.
  16. ^ Karin C. Ryding, A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 205-24 [§8.1].
  17. ^ Adam Pospí?il, 'The Idafa construction in Arabic and its morphosyntactic behaviour' (unpublished BA thesis, Univerzita Karlova v Praze, 2015), §7.1.
  18. ^ Karin C. Ryding, A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 206-11 [§8.1.1].
  19. ^ Benmamoun, Elabbas 1992. "Structural conditions on agreement." Proceedings of NELS (North-Eastern Linguistic Society) 22: 17-32.
  20. ^ a b c Benmamoun, Elabbas. 2015. Verb-initial orders, with a special emphasis on Arabic. Syncom, 2 edition
  21. ^ Bakir, Murtadha. 1980. Aspects of clause structure in Arabic. Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University, Bloomington.
  22. ^ Fassi Fehri, Abdelkader. 1982. Linguistique Arabe: Forme et Interprétation. Rabat, Morocco, Publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines.
  23. ^ Jelinek, Eloise. 1981. On Defining Categories: Aux and Predicate in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Doctoral dissertation. University of Arizona, Tucson.
  24. ^ Fassi Fehri, Abdelkader. 1993. Issues in the Structure of Arabic Clauses and Words. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  25. ^ Shlonsky, Ur 1997. Clause Structure and Word order in Hebrew and Arabic: An Essay in Comparative Semitic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  26. ^ Heggie, Lorie. 1988. The Syntax of Copular Structures. Doctoral dissertation. USC, Los Angeles.
  27. ^ Benmamoun, Elabbas. 2000. The Feature Structure of Functional Categories: A Comparative Study of Arabic Dialects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  28. ^ Aoun, Joseph, Elabbas Benmamoun, and Lina Choueiri. 2010. The Syntax of Arabic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  29. ^ "Quranic Grammar - Cognate Accusatives". Retrieved .
  30. ^ a b "Quranic Grammar - The Accusative of Purpose". Retrieved .
  31. ^ Shawqi Daif, Introduction to Ibn Mada's Refutation of the Grammarians (Cairo, 1947), p. 48.
  32. ^ "The Emergency of Modern Standard Arabic," by Kees Versteegh. Taken from The Arabic Language by permission of the Edinburgh University Press. 1997.

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