. 15
( 23)


1.3 Separated subject
The accusative subject noun does not have to be immediately adjacent to the par-
ticle “ it may be separated from the particle by an adverb or a prepositional
phrase. It may not, however, be separated from the subordinating particle by a

iôNCG m¤ÉfG’«M ‘ɦg qøµd ¢T’¤¦dG n¢†©H ‘ɦg qøµd
laakinna hunaaka Hayawaanaat-in √uxraa laakinna hunaaka ba¬D-a l-nuquush-i
but there are other animals but there are some inscriptions

.náq«ª°SôdG p¤Gó¦à°ùŸG ¬jód q¿CG ôcP
dhakar-a √anna laday-hi l-mustanadaat-i l-rasmiyyat-a.
He mentioned that he has the official documents.
(˜that to-him are the official documents™)

1.4 Reduplicated pronoun subject
If the subject of the subordinated clause is shown only by the inflection of a verb,
then a subject pronoun suffix duplicating the subject of the verb is affixed to

“The accusative case is not necessarily immediately subsequent to the particle; e.g., it may follow
the predicate in a nominal sentence. A verb, however, may never be placed between a particle and
the accusative it governs” Cantarino 1975, III:117.
424 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

the particle. The subject, whether a noun or a pronoun, must at all times come
before its verb in this type of subordinate clause.

.kÉcQÉ‘e kGó«Y ºµd ≈q¦ªàf ɦqfEG
√inna-naa na-tamannaa la-kum ¬iid-an mubaarak-an.
(Indeed), we wish you a blessed holiday.

.É¡ª°SG »°ùf ¬qfCG ‘QOCG
√adrak-a √anna-hu nasiy-a sm-a-haa.
He realized that he had forgotten her name.

1.5 Equational clause
If the clause after √inna or one of her sisters is an equational sentence, the subject
is a pronoun or a noun in the accusative case, but the predicate (xabar) is in the
nominative case.

!kGóL lπ«¤K ¬qfEG .lá„WÉN ¤Ée’∏©ŸG q¿EG
√inna l-ma¬luumaat-i xaaTi√at-un.
√inna-hu thaqiil-un jidd-an!
(Indeed,) it is very heavy! (Indeed,) the information is incorrect.

.lô£N l¿Éµe É¡qfC™ „“°ùdG ¤EG ´ô¡J ™
laa ta-hra¬ √ilaa l-salaalim-i li-√anna-haa makaan-un xaTir-un.
Don™t run to the stairs because they are a dangerous place.

1.6 With invariable pronoun or noun
Sometimes √inna or one of her sisters may be followed by an invariable noun or
pronoun, in which case there is no overt accusative marker.4

.á©°»H áÁôL √òg q¿EG .»˜µj ™ Gòg qøµd
√inna haadhihi jariimat-un bashi¬at-un. laakinna haadhaa laa ya-kfii.
(Indeed,) this is a repugnant crime. But this is not enough.

1.7 With buffer pronoun: Damiir al-sha√n ¿CÉ°»dG ’ª°V
Occasionally in MSA a subordinate clause may be preceded by a /-hu/ pronoun
after the subordinating particle (e.g., √anna-hu ¬qfCG) that does not seem to be neces-
sary or even to agree with the subject of the verb. This pronoun refers not to the
subject of the clause, but to the entire clause itself, and acts as a generic “buffer”
between the subordinating particle and the following clause. In Arabic this par-
ticular use of the suffix pronoun is called Damiir al-sha√n ˜the pronoun of the fact™
or “pronoun which anticipates a whole subsequent clause.”5

According to traditional Arabic grammatical theory, the accusative marking is there in a “virtual”
sense (muqaddar), even though it does not appear on the word.
Definition from Cachia 1973, 57. See also Cantarino 1975, II:430“31.
Subordinating conjunctions: The particle √inna and her sisters 425

ɦ¦«H ¤Éa“N óL’J ™ ¬qfCÉc
ka-√anna-hu laa tuujad-u xilaafaat-un bayn-a-naa
as though there were no differences between us

2 The particles

2.1 Sentence-initial √inna s¿EG: ˜indeed, truly, verily™
The particle √inna has a truth-intensifying function when used at the beginning of
a statement. It emphasizes that what follows is true. More frequently used in Clas-
sical Arabic than MSA, it nonetheless occurs occasionally in MSA, especially when
reporting an official speech.6

.„¦ÉghCG ¤EG âdq’“ n«ÉeB™G q¿EG . . . ¿GC óqchGC »¦qfEG
q D
√inna l-√aamaal-a taHawwal-at √ilaa √awhaam-in. √inna-nii √u√akkid-u √anna . . .
(Indeed,) hopes have turned into delusions. (Indeed,) I affirm that . . .

.„¦“°ùdG πLCG øe πª©f kÉ©«ªL ɦqfEG
√inna-naa jamii¬-an na-¬mal-u min √ajl-i l-salaam-i.
Indeed, we are working all together on behalf of peace.

2.2 Subordinating √inna ˜that™
The particle √inna is also used as a way of introducing reported speech. As a sub-
ordinating conjunction, it is used exclusively after the verb qaal-a ˜to say.™7

.´’°V’ŸG Gòg ¢»bÉf ¬qfEG «Ébh
wa-qaal-a √inna-hu naaqash-a haadha l-mawDuu¬-a.
He said that he had discussed this topic.
.m¢VGQ ¬qfEG ÜqQóŸG «Éb
qaal-a l-mudarrib-u √inna-hu raaD-in.
The coach said that he was satisfied.
.áq«¦jO ¤É«q∏£°üe ¿’eó®à°ùj Úq«°SÉ«°ùdG q¿EG «Éb
qaal-a √inna l-siyaasiyy-iina ya-staxdim-uuna muSTalaHaat-in diiniyyat-an.
He said that the politicians use religious terminology.

2.3 √anna s¿CG ˜that™
The particle √anna is used to report factual information in a subordinate clause.
It is used with the meaning of ˜that™ after perception verbs such as sami¬-a ˜hear,™
Dahlgren, in his study of Arabic word order, reports that √inna is “a particle for marking the
thematization of (mainly or exclusively) the subject by letting it precede the verb in the
sentence”(1998, 217).
Note that in English the word “that” may be omitted in reporting speech, but √inna may not be
omitted in Arabic.
426 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

i¬taqad-a, iftakar-a ˜think™ or ˜believe,™ and also with verbs of communicating such
as dhakar-a ˜mention,™ √akkad-a ˜assert, declare™, or √a¬lan-a ˜announce.™8 Belnap in
his study of complementation in MSA states that “√anna occurs with verbs that
assume or claim that the following clause™s assertion is statement of fact.”9
The verb in the main clause is referred to in some studies as the “matrix” verb
because it determines the nature of the complementizer or subordinating parti-
cle that follows it (whether it is √anna or √an).10 Note that if the matrix verb
requires a preposition, √anna follows the preposition.

.á„jOQ âfÉc ¤É«Mô°ùŸG ¿GC qøXCG ™
p q
laa √a-Zann-u √anna l-masraHiyaat-i kaan-at radii√at-an.
I do not think that the plays were bad.

.É¡ª°SG Ég’£YCG nÜô©dG q¿CG ôcP
dhakar-a √anna l-¬arab-a √a¬Taw-haa sm-a-haa.
He mentioned that the Arabs gave it its name.

. . . kGQ’¡°»e kÉq«°SÉ«°S ‘ɦg q¿CG ôcP
dhakar-a √anna hunaaka siyaasiyy-an mashuur-an . . .
he mentioned that there is a famous politician . . .

.á¤ãdG øe q’L ¬qfCÉH √’˜°Uh
waSaf-uu-hu bi-√anna-hu jaww-un min-a l-thiqat-i.
They described it as being (˜that it is™) an atmosphere of trust.

.¢ü®°T ∞dCG ¤EG π°üj ób n»¤«¤—G nOó©dG q¿CG ¤EG áqjOôc QOÉ°üe ’°»Jh
wa-tushiir-u maSaadir-u kurdiyyat-un √ilaa √anna l-¬adad-a l-Haqiiqiyy-a qad
ya-Sil-u √ilaa √alf-i shaxS-in.
Kurdish sources indicate that the true number may reach a thousand persons.

.óq«L ≥jôa ɦqfCG „«ª©∏d â‘ãf ¿CG ÉfOQCG ó¤d
la-qad √arad-naa √an nu-thbit-a li-l-jamii¬-i √anna-naa fariiq-un jayyid-un.
We (indeed) wanted to prove to everyone that we are a good team.

Note that √anna ( noun in the accusative) and √an ( verb in the subjunctive) are related particles
which differ in their distribution. According to LeComte (1968, 120), “la subordination compl©tive
s™exprime avec √an ou √anna (que) qui ne sont que deux formes de la même particule. Elles se
distinguent toutefois par leur emploi syntaxique: √an entra®ne normalement un verbe à l™inacc.
subj. (subjunctive) . . . √anna ne peut être suivie que d™un nom au cas direct ou d™un pronom
affixe.” See also Chapter 34, section 2.3.
In a personal communication to the author, summarizing his findings in Belnap 1986. Note that
matrix verbs indicating attitudes such as intention, feeling, possibility, need, or desire are
followed by the subordinating particle √an plus a subjunctive verb, not by √anna. See Anghelescu
1999, 138 on √anna, especially as compared with √an; and Cantarino 1975, II: 234“35 and
See Persson 1999 for a study of matrix verbs and complement clauses in Arabic.
Subordinating conjunctions: The particle √inna and her sisters 427

2.3.1 ka-√anna s¿CÉnc ˜as though™
The preposition ka- may be prefixed to the subordinating conjunction √anna ˜that™
in order to form the expression “as though.” This expression is still a sister of √inna
and has the same effect on the following clause.
A»°T qπc ≈∏Y „bG’dG ˜ ¿’¤˜qàe ɦqfCÉch
wa ka-√anna-naa muttafiq-uuna fii l-waaqi¬-i ¬alaa kull-i shay√-in
as though we actually agreed on everything

qÊÉehQ êqQóe ¬fCÉc
ka-√anna-hu mudarraj-un ruumaaniyy-un
as though it were a Roman amphitheater

2.4 laakinna ˜but™
This particle introduces a clause that contrasts with the previous clause.

.¿É¦‘d ˜ ¤ó©°S É¡¦qµdh ,áq«fɦ‘d â°ù«d
lays-at lubnaaniyyat-an, wa-laakinna-haa sa¬id-at fii lubnaan-a.
She is not Lebanese, but she was happy in Lebanon.
áq∏ଠnóLÉ°ùŸG √òg øµd »¦¤∏¤J náHô©àdG qøµdh
laakinna haadhihi l-masaajid-a muHtallat-un wa-laakinna l-tajribat-a tu-qliq-u-nii
but these mosques are occupied but the experiment disturbs me
ôJ’«‘ªµdG ˜ ≈¤‘j nèeÉfÈdG qøµd
laakinna l-barnaamaj-a ya-bqaa fii l-kumbyuutir
but the program remains in the computer

2.4.1 laakin øpµd / wa-laakin øpµdh ˜but™
This variant of laakinna, written without the shadda or fatHa on the nuun, is not a
sister of √inna and can therefore be followed directly by a verb. It is not as frequent
in written Arabic as laakinna. In written text, it is almost impossible to tell the dif-
ference between these two particles, except that laakin may be followed by a verb.
á‘bGôeh §HG’°V „°Vh –©j øµdh
wa-laakin ya-jib-u waD¬-u DawaabiT-a wa-muraaqabat-in
but it is necessary to put [into effect] regulations and surveillance

2.5 li√anna s¿nC™ ˜because™
This subordinating particle is followed by a clause that gives a rationale or reason.
q»WGôb’ÁO ¥É¤«à°SG É¡qfC™ »e’ªg øY §qó«àJ É¡qfC™
li-√anna-haa stiHqaaq-un li-√anna-haa ta-taHaddath-u ¬an
diimuuqraaTiyy-un humuum-ii
because it is a democratic right because she speaks about my concerns
428 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

¤G’¦°ùdG π°†aCG øe ÉàfÉc ÚJ’NC™G ÚরùdG q¿C™
li-√anna l-sanat-ayni l-√axiirat-ayni kaan-ataa min √afDal-i l-sanawaat-i
because the last two years were among the best years

2.6 la¬alla sπn©nd / wa-la¬alla sπn©ndnh ˜perhaps, maybe™
This particle is similar in meaning to rubba-maa ˜perhaps,™ but is a sister of √inna.
Like √inna, it may start a sentence as well as a clause. If it is followed by a verbal
sentence, the subject of the verb must reduplicate itself in the form of a pronoun
prefix attached to la¬alla. Abboud and McCarus state that la¬alla “often has the
implication of hopeful expectation” (1983, Part 1:519).

.áq£¬‚ ô°UɦY «qhCG k“©a ɦjCGQ ɦq∏©dh
wa-la¬alla-naa ra√ay-naa fi¬l-an √awwal-a ¬anaaSir-i muxaTTat-in.
Perhaps we have really seen the first elements of a plan.

.‚dP π‘b ¤Ée ¬q∏©dh
wa-la¬alla-hu maat-a qabl-a dhaalika.
Perhaps he died before that.

.–fÉLCG º¡‘∏ZCG q¿CG ¤EG O’©j ‚dP qπ©dh
wa-la¬alla dhaalika ya-¬uud-u √ilaa √anna √aghlab-a-hum √ajaanib-u.
Perhaps that is because (˜goes back to that™) the majority of them are foreigners.
Verb classes

Arabic verbs fall into two major groups, those with three-consonant roots
(triliteral) and those with four-consonant roots (quadriliteral). Around each lexi-
cal root is structured a set of possible stem classes or verb forms (normally ten for
triliteral roots and four for quadriliteral).1 Moreover, each Arabic verb has a corre-
sponding verbal noun (maSdar Qó°üe), an active participle (ism faa¬il πYÉa º°SG), and
often, a passive participle (ism maf ¬uul «’©˜e º°SG). Thus verbs and their derivatives
form the foundation for substantial amounts of Arabic vocabulary and can be
considered in some ways as the core of the Arabic lexicon.2

1 Verb roots
Every Arabic verb has a lexical root, that is, a set of consonants or phonemes in a
specific order that embody a broad lexical meaning, such as k-t-b ˜write™; h-n-d-s
˜engineer™; d-r-s ˜study™; ¬-l-m ˜know™. These roots may consist of three or four con-
sonants, with three being the most common. Within these two different root
types, there are phonological variations according to the nature of the consonant
phonemes occurring in the root.
This is mainly to do with the fact that the semivowels /w / (waaw ) and /y / ( yaa√)
are not full-fledged consonants; they are weak in the sense that there are restric-
tions on how they combine with and interact with vowels. Sometimes when these
semi-consonants are root phonemes, they behave as regular consonants, some-
times, however, they shift into long vowels, or they may become short vowels, or
they turn into hamza, or in some cases, they disappear altogether. This can be con-
fusing when learners need to identify the consonantal root of a word in order to
look it up in a dictionary, so it is important for learners to have a basic under-
standing of how root types interact with rules for word formation.

These stem classes are sometimes referred to in current literature on morphological theory as
binyanim (singular binyan), using the Hebrew term. See Aronoff 1994, especially Chapter 5: 123“164.
Note also that there are in fact fifteen (rather then ten) potential verb forms for triliteral verb
roots. But Forms XI“XV are rare in MSA. For more on Forms XI“XV see Chapter 32.
Kouloughli (1994, 215) gives the following description of the “deverbal” derivatives: “Tout verbe a
dans son sillage des formes d©verbales qui lui sont associ©es et avec lesquelles il entretient des
relations morphologiques, syntaxiques et s©mantiques stables.”

430 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

There are phonotactic rules ” rules of sound distribution ” for Arabic words,
many of which were deduced by Arabic grammarians as long ago as the eighth cen-
tury (AD), and which remain valid today for MSA.3 Whenever possible here, these
rules are described and applied in order to explain variations in word structure.
Arabic verb roots are classified into two major classes: SaHiiH ˜sound™ and
mu¬tall ˜weak.™ Sound roots are ones that do not contain either waaw or yaa√;
“weak” roots contain waaw or yaa√ as one or more of the root phonemes. It is
essential to know these classes because verb inflection affects the phonological
structure of the verb root in all cases except the regular or sound triliteral root.
Within the two major classes of verbal roots, further classification occurs in
several subcategories. Each of the subcategories manifests particular variation in
the root. This variation is rule-governed, but complex.4

1.1 Regular (sound) triliteral root (al-¬¬l al-SaHiiH al-saalim „É°ùdG í««°üdG π©˜dG)
Sound or regular verbal roots consist of three consonants, all of which are differ-
ent and none of which are waaw, yaa√, or hamza. For example:

General meaning Root consonants

´ - „¦ - ¢S
hear s-m-¬
± - ¢T - ‘
reveal k-sh-f
«-„¦- ´
work ¬-m-l

1.2 Geminate verb root (al-¬¬l al-muDa¬¬af ∞q©°†ŸG π©˜dG)
Geminate or doubled verbal roots are ones where the second and third consonant of the
root are the same. They show an alternation between repetition of the geminate
consonant, with a vowel between, and doubling of the consonant, under specific
phonological conditions.5

O - O -Q
respond, reply r-d-d

Ü - Ü - ¢S
cause s-b-b

solve H-l-l

Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad (d. ca. 791) pioneered Arabic phonological theory and developed the theory of
root phonotactics in his introduction to the first Arabic dictionary, the Kitaab al-¬ayn. For more on
this, see Sara 1991.
See Killean 1978 for mnemonic aids to weak verb inflection and Timothy Mitchell 1981 for
description of phonological rules in hollow and defective verbs. Extensive and useful descriptions
of the morphophonemic rules for geminate, assimilated, hollow, and defective verbs are found in
Abboud and McCarus 1983, Part 2: 1-173.
For an analysis of the nature of geminate root morphology, see Moore 1990.
Verb classes 431

1.3 Hamzated verb root (al-¬¬l al-mahmuuz R’ª¡ŸG π©˜dG)
A hamzated verb root is one where hamza (the glottal stop) occurs as the first, sec-
ond, or third consonant. These verbs are considered a separate category because
of morphophonemic rules that govern the occurrence and distribution of hamza,
and also because of hamza spelling rules.

take √-x-dh
eat √-k-l
« - CG - ¢S
ask s-√-l
CG - O - Ü
begin b-d-√
A - Q -¥
read q-r-√

1.4 Roots with semi-consonants

1.4.1 Assimilated verb root (al-fi¬l al-mithaal «ÉãŸG π©˜dG)
“Assimilated” verb roots begin with a semi-consonant (waaw or yaa√), most often
waaw. They are termed “assimilated” because this waaw, even though it is part of
the root, often disappears in the present tense and in certain other situations.

« - ¢U - h
arrive w-S-l
be abundant w-f-r
find w-j-d
¢S - Ü - ¦
be dry y-b-s

1.4.2 Hollow verb root (al-¬¬l al-√ajwaf ±’LC™G π©˜dG)
“Hollow” verbs are ones in which the second or middle root consonant is either
waaw or yaa√. These two consonants undergo various mutations, turning into √alif,
a short vowel, a hamza, or a long vowel depending on the word structure. In the past
tense citation form, for example, the waaw or yaa√ is not present and is replaced by
√alif. However, to look up one of these words or its derivation in a dictionary, one
must know what the middle root consonant is. The root consonant often recurs in
the present tense verb stem (as a vowel) and elsewhere, as will be shown. There are
essentially three variations on the hollow verb, determined by which long vowel is
present in the present-tense or imperfective stem: waaw, yaa√ or √alif.

say q-w-l
¿ - h -‘
be k-w-n
sell b-y-¬
¢T - ¦ - ´
live ¬ -y-sh
432 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

1.4.3 Defective verb root (al-¬¬l al-naaqiS ¢übɦdG π©˜dG)
“Defective” verb roots are ones where the final consonant is either waaw or yaa√.
These semi-consonants may assume various forms and even seem to disappear in
certain circumstances.

be sufficient k-f-y

¦ - ¢S - ¿
forget n-s-y

h - ‘ - ¢T
complain sh-k-w
appear b-d-w

build b-n-y

1.4.4 Doubly weak or “mixed” verb roots
Doubly weak verb roots have semi-consonants and/or hamza in two places, some-
times as the first and third consonants, and sometimes as the second and third.
They are not many in number, but some of them are frequently used:

come j-y-√
come √-t-y
¦ - CG - Q
see r-√-y

follow w-l-y
intend n-w-y

1.5 Quadriliteral verb root (al-¬¬l al-rubaa¬iyy q»YÉHôdGπ©˜dG)
Quadriliteral verb roots contain four consonants. Sometimes the four consonants
are all different and sometimes they are reduplicated, that is, the first two conso-
nants are repeated. Reduplicated quadriliteral roots are often considered to be
onomatopoeic, that is, derived from particular sounds or repeated motions.

crystalize b-l-w-r

Q - • - ¦ - ¢S
dominate s-y-T-r
obstruct ¬-r-q-l

flutter r-f-r-f

¢S - h - ¢S - h
whisper w-s-w-s
hum h-m-h-m
shake, quake z-l-z-l
Verb classes 433

1.6 Denominal verb roots
Normally, the verb is considered the most basic or elemental form of a lexical
entry, but in a few instances, the verb is ultimately derived from a noun, and
sometimes the concept is borrowed from another language. These denominals
tend to exist chiefly in Forms II and V and rarely in other forms. They can be trilit-
eral or quadriliteral. Some examples of denominal verbs include:

Form II:
to unite waHHada w-H-d
to appoint ¬ -y-n

Form V:
to adopt tabannaa b-n
Form II quadriliteral:
to center tamarkaza µcô“

2 Verb derivation patterns: √awzaan al-¬¬l π©˜dG ¿GRhCG

2.1 Comparison with English
In English, it is possible to modify verb meanings or even create verbs from
other parts of speech through several morphological procedures, for example,
prefixing the morpheme /un-/ as in undo, unfasten, unlock, unpack, indicating the
reversal of an action. Nouns and adjectives can be converted into verbs by
adding the suffix /-en/, as in strengthen or widen indicating an increase of that
quality. Or one can, for example, create verbs by using the suffix /-ize/ as in stan-
dardize, mechanize, minimize, maximize, formalize, or trivialize, to indicate the act of
adding that quality to something. And there are many more such procedures.
Other parts of speech, such as prepositions, adverbs, and nouns are converted to
verbs just by inflecting them as verbs: “to down a glass of water,” “to up the
price,” “to impact a situation.”
Arabic verb derivation is much more restricted; Arabic verbs fall into a limited
number of stem classes. It is much rarer for new verbs to be created in Modern
Standard Arabic than in English because each Arabic verb belongs to a particular
derivational and inflectional class. That is, it has a particular internal shape, or

In this instance, the word markaz, ˜center,™ a noun of place from the triliteral root r-k-z, has taken
on such a lexical identity of its own that a denominal verb form has emerged based on the four
consonants, m-r-k-z.
434 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

2.2 The ten-form template: √af¬aal mujarrada wa-√af¬aal maziida
Iójµe «É©aCGh IOqô› «É©aCG
Arabic has a verb grid, or template of ten derived “forms” into which any trilit-
eral verb root may theoretically fit.7 That is, the lexical root of three consonants
can theoretically interlock with ten different patterns to produce ten lexical
variants on the same root. These variants all have a central, related lexical
meaning, but each verb form has a different semantic slant on that meaning.
For example, different forms of the lexical root ¬-l-m produce verbs having to do
with knowledge: Form I ¬alim-a means ˜to know, to be informed™ Form II ¬allam-a
means ˜to teach™ (cause someone to know), Form IV √a¬lama means ˜to inform™
(cause someone to be informed), Form V ta¬allama means ˜to learn, to study™
(cause one™s self to know). The triconsonantal sequence ¬-l-m is common to all
these lexical items.
The base form, or Form I is referred to in Arabic as fi¬l mujarrad Oqô› π©a, liter-
ally the ˜stripped™ form; meaning the morphologically simplest form. All other
forms (II“X) are referred to as √af¬aal maziida Iójµe «É©aCG, literally, ˜increased™ or
˜augmented™ forms, i.e., more morphologically complex.
In practice, not every lexical root occurs in all ten forms of the verb; some occur
in very few forms, while others occur in four, five, or six forms. Dictionaries nor-
mally list all the forms in which a lexical root regularly appears.
The interlocking of the lexical root with the various verb form templates cre-
ates actual verbs whose meanings can often be analyzed or deduced through the
use of compositional semantics. That is, the lexical meaning of the consonantal
root plus the grammatical meaning of the particular template combine to yield
an actual word. This two-part formula sometimes yields a very clear meaning
derivable from the component parts, but other times, the meaning is not as clear
because of its evolution over time.8
Quadriliteral verbs have a more restricted grid of four possible templates or
forms into which they fall.

As mentioned in note 1, there are a possible five more forms, XI“XV, but they are much rarer.
As a concise summary of the interrelationships of the Arabic verb forms, Lecomte (1968, 34) writes:
“Si l™on met à part la forme d©riv©e IX, qui est nettement en marge du système, et la forme VII,
commune à tout le domaine s©mitique et de constitution claire, on peut expliquer comme suit
la formation des autres formes d©riv©es: les formes I, II, III et IV sont les quatre formes de base,
auxquelles correspondent respectivement les formes VIII, V, VI et X, obtenues en principe par
pr©fixation d™un t- , qui leur confère une valeur r©fl©chie-passive. Le principe est appliqu© sans
alt©ration dans les formes d©riv©es V et VI. Dans la forme d©riv©e VIII, on observe une m©tathèse
imm©diatement perceptible. La forme d©riv©e X est issue non de la forme d©riv©e IV à pr©fixe
hamza, mais d™une forme d©riv©e IV à pr©fixe s- qui a exist© dans d™autres langues s©mitiques
(ex. assyrien tardif).”
Verb classes 435

2.2.1 Conventions FORMS AND MEASURES (√awzaan ¿GRhCG ): The derivations or verb templates
are identified by the morphological pattern that characterizes them and are often
referred to in western grammars of Arabic as “forms” or “measures” of the verb.
They are usually identified in English by a roman numeral, i.e., Form II or Form VI.
In this convention, when the word “form” refers to a specific verb template, it is
capitalized, e.g., Form II. Since this is a widespread convention in the United
States and Europe, and because it is the way that verbs are identified in the most
widely used Arabic-English dictionary, Hans Wehr™s Dictionary of Modern Written
Arabic, it is used in this reference grammar.
Arabic grammars term the verb forms √awzaan ˜weights™ or ˜measures™ (sg. wazn
¿ R h), and refer to them via the medium of a model root (traditionally f-¬-l π©a)
keyed into particular morphological patterns. The base form is mujarrad ˜stripped,
bare™ and the derived forms are maziid ˜augmented™ on the model of a particular
pattern, for example,

π©àaG ¿ R h ≈∏Y z–®àfG{
“intaxab” ¬alaa wazn-i fta¬al;
i.e., intaxab ˜he elected™ is on the model of ifta¬al;

πq©˜J ¿ Rh ≈∏Y z–q¦’{
“tajannab” ¬alaa wazn-i tafa¬¬al;
tajannab ˜he avoided™ is on the model of tafa¬¬al. The conventional way of citing Arabic verbal
roots is to refer to them using the shortest verb inflection, the third person
masculine singular, past tense. This is considered equivalent to using the English
citation form, the infinitive (there is no infinitive verb form in Arabic9). It is
helpful to cite the verb in its past and present forms together, and that is how they
are presented in this book. For example:

to discuss baHath-a/ya-bHath-u oån«r‘nj / nån«nH
to reveal kashaf-a/ya-kshif-u o∞p°»rµnj / ∞n°»nc

The verbal noun, or maSdar, is considered equivalent to the infinitive for several reasons: first, it is
an abstraction of the action of a verb, and second√ it does not possess a time reference (i.e., tense
marking) and is therefore non-finite. Moreover, in certain syntactic constructions it functions as
an infinitive does in English. However, it is not used as a citation form for the verb.
436 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

2.3 The model root: f-¬ -l (faa√ -¬ayn - laam « - ´ - ±)
In order to exemplify patterns or prosodic templates in Arabic, a model root f- ¬ -l
is used so that any pattern can be referred to or expressed by fitting into it.10 This
procedure was established centuries ago when Arabic grammarians first started
extracting and analyzing the rules and structures of the language, and it is still
the practice today. Any initial root consonant is represented by faa√, any medial
consonant by ¬ayn, and any final root consonant by laam.11 The Form IV verb
√arsala (˜to send™) would be said to be on the pattern of √af¬ala (¬alaa wazn √af¬al-a
nπn©ranCG ¿ R h ≈∏Y); the verb katab-a (˜to write™) is on the pattern of fa¬al-a (¬alaa wazn
fa¬al-a nπn©na ¿ R h ≈∏Y), and so forth.
If a root or stem has four consonants instead of three, then another laam is
added to illustrate the pattern. Thus the verb tarjam-a (˜to translate™) would be said
to be on the pattern of fa¬lal-a (¬alaa wazn fa¬lal-a nπn∏r©na ¿ R h ≈∏Y).
The use of the root f- ¬ -l as the prime exemplar for all Arabic words is a power-
ful symbolic formalization that provides a model of any morphological template
or word pattern. This procedure is used not only to refer to verb forms but also to
refer to any lexical item based on the root and pattern system. It is an efficient
way of illustrating paradigmatic contrasts, and in keeping with this practice, this
reference grammar uses the root f-¬ -l for points of reference and examples.

2.4 Morphological shifts
When a non-sound root interlocks with a particular pattern, a situation arises
where rules of phonology intersect and may clash with rules of morphology, so a
modification of the word-structure occurs. When this happens, the rules of
phonology are primary. These instances result, therefore, in what are called mor-
phophonemic processes, i.e., rule-governed changes in word structure. These
rules generate particular inflectional classes (e.g., Form VIII hollow verbs) which
are illustrated in paradigms.
Although it may seem that there are many exceptions to rules in Arabic, the
fact is that Arabic phonological structure and rules of phonotactics are primary,
and they determine the sequences of morphological alternations that occur. The
phonological rules of Arabic and how they interact with the morphology result in
morphological structures of Arabic being coherent and rule-governed.

The lexical root f-¬-l has the base meaning of ˜doing™ or ˜making.™
The letters/phonemes of the model root are referred to in Arabic as Huruuf al-miizaan al-Sarfiyy ˜the
letters of the morphological measure.™ As described by Abd al-Latif et al., “bi-Hayth-u ta-kuun-a haad-
hihi l-Huruuf-u l-thalaathat-u mushakkalat-an bi-Harakaat-i √aHruf-i l-kalimat-i l-muraad-i wazn-u-haa wazn-
an Sarfiyy-an” (1997, 141). “In order that these three letters be vowelized with the vowels of the
word whose pattern is desired.”
Verb classes 437

This reference grammar defines and describes some basic MSA morphophone-
mic processes in order to make clear the systematization in the language. How-
ever, learners who would prefer to focus on forms rather than rules can consult
the paradigms without examining the morphophonemic processes.

2.5 The verb forms: patterns, meanings, deverbal substantives
Verb patterns are traditionally given in their citation forms, the third person mas-
culine singular active past tense, as well as the third person masculine singular
present tense. This is a standard procedure for citing Arabic verbs, since there is a
stem change between past and present tense.
It is traditional to refer to the short vowel which follows the second root
consonant of a verb as the “stem” vowel. Therefore in a present tense verb such
as ya-rfuD-u ˜he refuses,™ the stem vowel is Damma. In a derived verb form such as
Form VIII ya-HtafiZ-u ˜he maintains,™ the stem vowel is kasra.
Verb citations are provided in Arabic script and in transcription; for discussion
of consonant“vowel patterning, consonant-vowel structures are also sometimes
given, using the convention:

C Consonant; V short vowel
C1 represents the first root consonant, VV long vowel
C2 represents the second and
C3 represents the third.
C4 represents the fourth consonant (if any)

In the following chapters, each verb form is described, with its particular
patterns and meanings. Inflectional characteristics are noted, and examples are
As mentioned at the start of this section, each verb form has in its wake a set of
three deverbal substantives: a verbal noun (the name of the action, e.g., ˜defense,™ or
˜defending™), an active participle (describing the doer of the action: ˜defender™ or
˜[person] defending™) and a passive participle (describing the item which undergoes
the action, e.g., ˜defended™). Whereas the verbal noun is used strictly as a noun, the
participles, being descriptors, may function either as nouns or as adjectives. Differ-
ent sections of this book describe the form and function of verbal nouns and par-
ticiples, but because they form such an integral part of the lexical repository of
each verb, they are also listed in the context of their deverbal derivations.
Verb inflection: a summary

1 Verb in¬‚ection
Arabic verbs inflect for six morphological categories: gender, number, person,
tense, mood, and voice. These inflections are marked by means of prefixes, suf-
fixes, changes in vowel pattern, and stem changes. The first three categories,
gender, number, and person, are determined by the subject of the verb. That is,
the verb agrees with the subject in all those respects.

1.1 Agreement markers: gender, number, and person
Agreement markers ensure that the verb inflects in accordance with the nature
of its subject. Arabic verbs inflect by means of affixes attached to a verb stem. In
the past tense, the inflectional marker is a suffix that carries all the agreement
markers: gender, number, and person. For example: the suffix /-at/ on a past tense
stem such as katab- (katab-at rân‘nànc) carries the information: third person, feminine,
singular: i.e., “she wrote.”
In the present tense, the verb stem has a prefix as well as a suffix. For exam-
ple, prefix ya- on a present tense stem such as -ktub- carries partial information:
third person. The suffix on the present tense stem carries more information:
therefore the suffix -uuna (as in ya-ktub-uuna n¿ ’‘oàrµnj ˜they write™) gives informa-
tion on number (plural) and gender (masculine), as well as mood (indicative).
This combination of information is uniquely marked on each member in a verb

1.1.1 Gender: masculine or feminine
Arabic verbs are marked for masculine or feminine gender in the second and
third persons. The first person (I, we) is gender-neutral.

In technical linguistic terms, Arabic is a “pro-drop” (i.e., “pronoun-drop”) language. That is,
every inflection in a verb paradigm is specified uniquely and does not need to use independent
pronouns to differentiate the person, number, and gender of the verb. For Modern Standard
Arabic that means that there are thirteen different inflections in every verb paradigm. Consult
Haegeman 1994, 19“25 and 454“57 for more on pro-drop languages and the pro-drop parameter
in general.

Verb inflection: a summary 439

1.1.2 Number: singular, dual, plural
Arabic verbs are inflected for three number categories: singular, dual, or plural.
The dual in Arabic verbs is used in the second person (“you two”) and in the third
person (“they two”), but not the first person.

1.1.3 Person: ¬rst, second, third
The concept of “person” refers to the individual/s involved in the speech act: the
one/s speaking (first person), the one/s spoken to (second person), and one/s spo-
ken about (third person). Arabic verbs inflect for: first person (I, we), second per-
son (you), and third person (she, he, they).

1.2 Tense
The two basic Arabic verb tenses differ in terms of stems as well as inflectional

1.2.1 Verb stems
Each Arabic verb has two stems, one used for the perfect/past tense and one for
the imperfect/present. The past tense stem takes suffixes in order to inflect, and the
present tense stem takes both prefixes and suffixes. Because of the salience of
the prefix in the present tense and of the suffix in the past tense, certain scholars
refer to these tenses as “the prefix set” and “the suffix set,” respectively.2
In Form I verbs, the present tense inflectional stem is not usually predictable
from the past tense stem, but in the derived forms and quadriliteral verbs, the
present stem is predictable. In this text, stems are usually written with a hyphen
where they would connect with inflectional formatives,3 e.g.

Past tense stem Present tense stem
write katab- -ktub-
`‘àc `‘àµ`
complete -kmil-
`∏ªcCG `∏ªµ`
meet ijtama¬- -jtami¬-
`©ªàLG `©ªà©`
use istaxdam- -staxdim-
`eó®à°SG `eó®à°ù`

1.2.2 Tense/Aspect
Arabic verbs show a range of tenses, but two of them are basic: past and present.
These tenses are also often referred to as perfect and imperfect, or perfective and

For example, see Holes 1995, 86“90 and Beeston 1970, 71“86.
Where the prefix or suffix merges with the verb stem (as in the past tense of defective verbs or the
present tense of passive assimilated verbs) the morpheme boundary is blurred and therefore not
440 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

imperfective, but those latter terms are more accurately labels of aspect rather
than tense.
Tense and aspect can be described as two different ways of looking at time. Tense
usually deals with linear points in time that stretch from the far past into the
future, in relation to the speaker. Aspect, on the other hand deals with the degree
of completeness of an action or state: is the action completed, partial, ongoing, or
yet to occur? So the perspectives of tense and aspect are different: tense focuses on
the point on the timeline at which the action occurs, whereas aspect is focused on
the action itself “ whether it is complete or not.4
The difference between tense and aspect can be subtle, and the two categories
may overlap to a significant extent. It is theorized that Classical Arabic was more
aspect-specific than tense-specific, but in dealing with the modern written lan-
guage, some linguists and teachers find it more pragmatic to describe Arabic
verbs in terms of tense.5
In this work, I often use the term “past tense” to refer to what is also called the
perfect, or the perfective aspect; and I use the term “present tense” to refer to
what is also called the imperfect tense or the imperfective aspect. In general, I prefer
to stick with timeline terms (“past” and “present”) when using the term “tense”
because I have found this to be less confusing to learners.6

“Tense involves the basic location in time of an event or state of affairs, in relation to the time of
speaking (or writing), while aspect relates more to the internal nature of events and states of
affairs, such as whether they are (or were) finished, long-lasting, instantaneous, repetitive, the
beginning of something, the end of something, and so on” (Hurford 1994, 240). Abboud and
McCarus use the terms “perfect tense” and “imperfect tense” (1983, part 1:263): “The perfect tense
denotes completed actions; the imperfect tense denotes actions which have not taken place or
have not been completed.”
Likewise, Haywood and Nahmad state (1962, 95“96): “Arabic, in common with other Semitic
languages, is deficient in tenses, and this does not make for ease in learning. Moreover the tenses
do not have accurate time-significances as in Indo-European languages. There are two main tenses,
the Perfect »°VÉŸG al-maaDii, denoting actions completed at the time to which reference is being
made; and the Imperfect ´QÉ°†ŸG al-muDaari¬, for incompleted actions.”
For a thorough and lucid discussion of Arabic verb aspect and tense see Blachère and Gaudefroy-
Demombynes 1975, 245“56. More concisely, Wright states the following: “A Semitic Perfect or
Imperfect has, in and of itself, no reference to the temporal relations of the speaker (thinker or
writer) and of other actions which are brought into juxtaposition with it. It is precisely these
relations which determine in what sphere of time (past, present, or future) a Semitic Perfect or
Imperfect lies, and by which of our tenses it is to be expressed “ whether by our Past, Perfect,
Pluperfect, or Future-perfect; by our Present, Imperfect, or Future. The Arabian Grammarians
themselves have not, however, succeeded in keeping this important point distinctly in view, but
have given an undue importance to the idea of time” (1967, I:51).
The terms “perfect” and “imperfect” are sometimes misleading for English-speaking learners of
Arabic because they often compare the terms to European languages they have studied, such as
French, for example, where “imparfait” refers to a continuing state or action in the past. Note the
definition of “imperfect” in Webster™s Third (unabridged: 1986, q.v.): “of or relating to or being a
verb tense used to designate a continuing state or action esp. in the past” (my italics).
Verb inflection: a summary 441

1.2.3 The present tense (the imperfect): al-muDaari¬ ´QÉ°†ŸG FORM: The present tense is formed from the present tense stem of a verb,
to which both a prefix and a suffix are added. The stem by itself is not an
independent word; it needs the prefixes and suffixes to convey a complete
meaning. The prefixes are subject markers of person while the suffixes show
mood and number.7 In MSA, thirteen present tense inflectional forms are used.

Present tense stem -ktub- ˜write™
Present tense indicative conjugation

Singular Dual Plural

o–àcCG o–àµf
First person
a-ktub-u na-ktub-u

o–àµJ p¿É‘àµJ n¿’‘àµJ
Second person
m. ta-ktub-u ta-ktub-aani ta-ktub-uuna

nÚ‘àµJ p¿É‘àµJ nør‘àµJ
ta-ktub-iina ta-ktub-aani ta-ktub-na

o–àµj p¿É‘àµj n¿ ’‘àµj
Third person
m. ya-ktub-u ya-ktub-aani ya-ktub-uuna

o–àµJ p¿É‘àµJ nør‘àµj
ta-ktub-u ta-ktub-aani ya-ktub-na

The prefix and suffix together give the full meaning of the verb. They are some-
times referred to together as a “circumfix” because they surround the stem on
both sides.8

The term muDaari¬ literally means ˜resembling.™ This term was adopted because of the fact that the
present tense mood markers on the verb (the suffixed Damma of the indicative and the fatHa of the
subjunctive) resemble the case markers on nouns (especially the nominative and accusative). In other
words, whereas the past tense verb has only one mood (the indicative) the present tense verb shifts its
mood depending on the syntactic context, just as a noun shifts its case depending on its role in the
sentence. The present tense therefore “resembles” a noun in this ability to shift its desinence.
The term “circumfix” refers to a combination of prefix and suffix used with a stem to create a
lexical item, such as the English word “enlighten.” As Anderson states, they “involve simultaneous
prefixation and suffixation that correspond to a single unit of morphological form” (1992, 53).
The discontinuous inflectional affixes on Arabic present tense verbs may be considered circum-
fixes, but the concept of circumfix as a separate morphological category is disputed. See Golston
1996, 731, esp. note 8, as well as Anderson 1992, 53, 59, and 389.
442 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic The present tense, or imperfect, refers in a general way to
incomplete, ongoing actions or ongoing states. It corresponds to both the English
present and present continuous tenses. There is no distinction between these in

I write; I am writing o–àcCG

we study; we are studying na-drus-u ¢SQóf
they (m.) translate, are translating yu-tarjim-uuna n¿ ’ªLÎj
they (f.) meet; they are meeting ya-jtami¬-na nør©ªà©j

.IGQÉ‘e ¿’‘©∏j .IQGOE™G ˜ πª©j
ya-l¬ab-uuna mubaaraat-an. ya-¬mal-u fii l-√idaarat-i.
They are playing a match. He works in the administration.

.󩤟G ≈∏Y ¢ù∏©j .Ég’Z øY ∞∏à®J
ya-jlis-u ¬alaa l-maq¬ad-i. ta-xtalif-u ¬an ghayr-i-haa.
He is sitting on the seat. She differs from others.

1.2.4 Future tense: al-mustaqbal π‘¤à°ùŸG The future tense is formed by prefixing either the morpheme sa-
or the particle sawfa to a present tense indicative verb. The verb may be active or
passive. The particle sa- is identified by some grammarians as an abbreviation of
sawfa. MEANING: This procedure conveys an explicitly future action.
.’‘c qóM ¤EG oóYÉ°ù«°S .‚dP ˜ oôqµaCÉ°S
sa-yu-saa¬id-u √ilaa Hadd-in kabiir-in. sa-√u-fakkir-u fii dhaalika.
It will help to a great extent. I™ll think about that.

.oò®qào«°S QGô¤dG .ºgO“H n¿’∏qãÁ ±’°S
al-qaraar-u sa-yu-ttaxadh-u. sawfa yu-maththil-uuna bilaad-a-hum.
The decision will be taken. They will represent their country.

1.2.5 Past tense: al-maaDii »°VÉŸG FORM: The past tense in Arabic is formed by suffixing person-markers to
the past tense verb stem. The person markers in the past tense also denote
Verb inflection: a summary 443

number (singular, dual, plural) and gender. In MSA, thirteen person markers are
used in the past tense paradigm:

Past tense stem katab- ˜wrote™

Singular Dual Plural

oâr‘àc ɦr‘àc
First person
katab-tu katab-naa

nâr‘àc ɪoàr‘àc ºoàr‘àc
Second person
m. katab-ta katab-tumaa katab-tum

pâr‘àc ɪoàr‘àc søoàr‘àc
katab-ti katab-tumaa katab-tunna

n–àc É‘àc G’‘àc
Third person
m. katab-a katab-aa katab-uu

rân‘àc Éàn‘àc nør‘àc
katab-at katab-ataa katab-na SPELLING: The third person masculine plural suffix, /-uu/ is spelled with a
final √alif, which is not pronounced, sometimes called “otiose” √alif.9 It is simply a
traditional spelling convention. It is deleted if the verb has a pronoun object
suffix, e.g.,

G’‘àc .Ég’‘àc G’eó®à°SG .√’eó®à°SG
katab-uu katab-uu-haa. istaxdam-uu istaxdam-uu-hu.
they wrote They wrote it. they used They used it.

They described it. MEANING
(1) Action in the past: The Arabic past tense refers to a completed action and
thus equates in most respects with English past tense and past perfect.10

See Chapter 2, section, subsection (3.3).
See Wright 1967, II:1“4 for further analysis of the past tense.
444 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

.πLQ IÉ«M PɤfG «hÉM .kÉfÉ«H G’ªq∏°S
Haawal-a √inqaadh-a Hayaat-i rajul-in sallam-uu bayaan-an.
He tried to save a man™s life. They (m.) delivered a statement.

.IRÉLEG øe ¤OÉY .√’ªà∏©a Ée qπµd kGôµ°T
shukr-an li-kull-i maa fa¬al-tum-uu-hu.11
¬aad-at min √ijaazat-in.
She returned from a vacation. Thank you for everything you (m.pl.)
have done.

(2) Non-past action: Depending on the context, the Arabic past tense may also
be used to convey other meanings.12 For example:

.kÉ‘jô¤J ɦ∏°Uh .‚«a ¬∏dG ‘QÉH
waSal-naa taqriib-an. baarak-a llaah-u fii-ka.
We are almost there (lit. ˜we God bless you (lit. ˜God has
have almost arrived™). blessed you™).

1.3 Moods of the verb
Mood or “mode” refers to the Arabic verb properties indicative, subjunctive, jus-
sive, and imperative. These categories, or morphosyntactic properties, reflect
contextual modalities that condition the action of the verb. For example, the
indicative mood is characteristic of straightforward, factual statements or ques-
tions, while the subjunctive mood reflects an attitude toward the action such as
doubt, desire, intent, wishing, or necessity, and the jussive mood, when used for
the imperative, indicates an attitude of command, request, or need-for-action on
the part of the speaker.
In Arabic, mood marking is done only on the present tense or imperfective stem;
there are no mood variants for the past tense. The Arabic moods are therefore non-
finite; that is, they do not refer to specific points in time and are not differentiated
by tense. Tense is inferred from context and other parts of the clause.13 For more
extensive description of the moods and their uses, see Chapters 34 and 35.

The second person plural masculine suffix -tum requires a long vowel -uu as a helping vowel before
a suffixed personal pronoun.
For example, the past tense is used in conditional sentences, as well as in optative (wishing)
expressions. For more on this function of the past tense, see Chapter 39.
The question of mood marking (on verbs) is a central one in Arabic grammar, along with case
marking (on nouns and adjectives). Moods fall under the topic of morphology because they are
reflected in Arabic word structure, that is, they are usually indicated by suffixes or modifications
of suffixes attached to the present tense verb stem, and the phonological nature of the verb stem
determines what form the suffix will take. Moods also, however, fall under the topic of syntax
because their use is determined either by particles which govern their occurrence, or by the narrative
context in general, including attitude of the speaker and intended meaning. They are therefore
referred to in some reference works and theoretical discussions as “morphosyntactic” categories.
Verb inflection: a summary 445

1.3.1 Indicative mood
.ɦ¦FÉHµH –qMôf .„¦’«dG IôgɤdG QOɨj
nu-raHHib-u bi-zabaa√in-i-naa. yu-ghaadir-u l-qaahirat-a l-yawm-a.
We welcome our customers. He leaves Cairo today.

1.3.2 Subjunctive mood
.IQÉj µH „¦’¤f ¿CG –©j
ya-jib-u ¬an na-quum-a bi-ziyaarat-in.
It is necessary that we undertake a visit.

1.3.3 Jussive mood
The jussive mood in MSA is used most often with the negative particle lam to
negate the past tense, and as a basis for forming the imperative.

.p¤CÉf „ ÚeÉY ò¦e rπªàµJ „ ¤ÉM“°UEG
lam na-√ti. √iSlaaH-aat-un lam ta-ktamil mundh-u ¬aam-ayni
We did not come. renovations that haven™t been completed for two years

1.3.4 Imperative
!º°ùª°S Éj ríàaG .‹ íª°SG ! n¢ù¦J ™
iftaH yaa simsim-u! ismaH lii. laa ta-nsa!
Open, Sesame! Permit me. Don™t forget!

1.4 Voice: active or passive
Whereas the tense of a verb conveys temporal or time-related information, the
“voice” of a verb conveys information on the topical focus of a sentence. The active
voice is used when the doer of the action is the subject of the verb (“I ate
the cake”), and the passive voice is used when the object of the verbal action is the
subject (“The cake was eaten.”).
Generally speaking, the passive voice is used in Arabic only if the agent or doer
of the action is unknown or not to be mentioned for some reason. This contrasts
with English where one may mention the agent in a passive construction through
use of the preposition “by” (“The cake was eaten by me.”) Rarely is the agent men-
tioned when the passive is used in Arabic.
The Arabic passive may be internal, through a change in the nature of the inter-
nal vowels (e.g., ¬uqid-a ˜it was held™) or derivational (e.g., in¬aqad-a ˜it was held™).
For example, the following sentence is in the active voice:

.n´ÉªàL™G ‚∏ŸG ó¤Y
o nnn
¬aqad-a l-malik-u l-ijitmaa¬-a.
The king held the meeting.
446 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

where al-malik-u ˜the king™ is the subject of the verb as well as the agent or doer of
the action, ¬aqad-a, and the object of the verb is al- ijtimaa¬-a ˜the meeting.™
If the sentence were re-phrased as a passive construction, the object of the verb
becomes the subject of the sentence, and the verb is marked for passive. The inter-
nal morphological change that signals the Arabic passive is a change in the vowel
pattern of the verb:

.o´ÉªàL™G nóp¤oY
¬uqid-a l-ijtimaa¬-u.
The meeting was held.

where al-ijtimaa¬-u is now the subject, and the verb is inflected for passive voice
through the vowel sequence /-u-i-/ instead of /-a-a-/.
Another way of expressing the passive is to use another form of the verb which
is passive or reflexive in meaning, usually the Form VII verb, if it exists, or Form V:

.o´ÉªàL™G ó¤©fGp
nnn r
in¬aqad-a l-ijtimaa¬-u.
The meeting was held.

where the Form VII verb is active in form, but passive in meaning, and the subject
of the Form VII verb is al-ijtimaa¬-u. Passive and passive-like structures are
described at greater length in Chapter 38.

2 Complex predicates: compound verbs, qad, and verb strings
Arabic verbal expressions may consist of more than the main verb. Auxiliary verbs
may be used in conjunction with a main verb to express variations of tense and
aspect, and the verbal particle qad is also used to convey information about aspect.

2.1 Compound verbs
Compound verbs are tenses that consist of the verb kaan-a plus a main verb. They
are as follows:

2.1.1 The past progressive
To convey the idea of continued or habitual action in the past, the verb kaan-a is
used in the past tense in conjunction with the present tense of the main verb.
Both parts of this compound verb are inflected for person, gender, and number.
The main verb always comes after kaan-a; if there is a specific subject mentioned,
it comes between the two parts of the verb.
This tense of the verb is used for expressing what in English would be “used to,”
or “was _____ ing.” Sometimes, with certain verbs in certain contexts it is used to
Verb inflection: a summary 447

express a concept of an action that took place in the past, but extended or
endured over a period of time, rather than taking place at a discrete moment in
time. This is especially true of experiential verbs that denote states of mind, such
as knowing, feeling, liking. In those cases, the English equivalent is often just a
simple past tense.

.¥ Q RCG kÉ°ü«ªb ¦óJôJ âfÉc .ï‘£ŸG ˜ πª©j ¿Éc
kaan-at ta-rtadii qamiiS-an √azraq-a. kaan-a ya-¬mal-u fii l-maTbax-i.
She was wearing a blue shirt. He used to work in the kitchen.

πeAÉf Éq¦c
.á°SOÉ°ùdG áYÉ°ùdG ˜ kÉq«e’j n¿’¶¤«à°ùj G’fÉc
kaan-uu ya-stayqiZ-uuna yawmiyy-an fii kun-naa na-√mal-u
al-saa¬at-i al-saadisat-i. we were hoping
They used to wake up daily at 6:00. PAST PROGRESSIVE WITH EXPERIENTIAL VERBS: A state of knowing, feeling,
or understanding is one that is considered to extend over a period of time in the
past, and therefore such verbs are often expressed with the past continuous tense
rather than the simple past in Arabic. English does not usually express these
concepts with the past progressive tense, but with the simple past.

.áqj ’‘jE™G Ü’©°»dG ¿’aô©j G’fÉc
kaan-uu ya-¬rif-uuna l-shu¬uub-a l-√iibiiriyyat-a.
They knew [over a period of time] the Iberian peoples.

.IQɨdÉH ¿Éª∏©j ÉfÉc
kaan-aa ya-¬lam-aani bi-l-ghaarat-i
They (two) knew about / had knowledge about the raid. PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE MEANING WITH PRESENT TENSE AND mundhu:
When a state or action begins in the past and continues into the present, with
specific reference to the length of time that the state or action continued, the
present tense is used in Arabic although the past perfect progressive is used in
English. In equational sentences the present tense is expressed without a verb.
This meaning occurs most frequently with the particle mundh-u ˜since; for; ago.™
(See also Chapter 16, section 2.3.4.)

(1) Verbal sentences:

.¤G’¦°S ¢ùªN ò¦e ɦg ¢»«YCG
√a-¬iish-u hunaa mundhu xams-i sanawaat-in
I have been living here for five years.
448 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

.øj ô¡°T ò¦e áqjó∏‘dG IGôFGO ˜ πª©j
ya-¬mal-u fii daa√irat-i l-baladiyyat-i mundhu shahr-ayni.
He has been working in the county administration for two months.

(2) Equational sentences: In these two sentences, an active participle is used
instead of a verb with past perfect progressive meaning.

.πj’W øeR ò¦e OG’à°S™Gh ôjó°üàdG ≈∏Y áªFÉb É¡JQÉ’
tijaarat-u-haa qaa√imat-un ¬alaa l-taSdiir-i wa-l-istiiraad-i mundh-u zaman-in
Its trade has been based on export and import for a long time.

.Ú¦°ùdG Új“e ò¦e ôªà°ùe ∞MµdG Gòg
haadhaa l-zaHf-u mustamirr-un mundh-u malaayiin-i l-saniina.
This reptile has been [in] continuous [existence] for millions of years.

2.2 Pluperfect or past perfect: anteriority
To express an anterior action, i.e., an action in the past that is over with and
which serves as a background action for the present, the past tense of kaan-a is
used with a past tense of the main verb14. The particle qad may be optionally
inserted just before the main verb. Note that the subject of the verb, if mentioned
as a separate noun, goes between the auxiliary verb and the main verb. If the sub-
ject noun is human and plural, the main verb inflects for plural, although the
auxiliary verb remains singular because it precedes the subject.

2.2.1 With subject noun
.ᩪ·G AÉ°ùe π°Uh ób ’˜°ùdG ¿Éc
kaan-a l-safiir-u (qad) waSal-a masaa√-a l-jum¬at-i.
The ambassador had arrived Friday evening.

.OGó¨H á¦jóe ¤EG GhóaG’J Aɪ∏©dG ¿Éch
wa-kaan-a l-¬ulamaa√-u tawaafad-uu √ ilaa madiinat-i baghdaad-a.
The scholars had flocked to the city of Baghdad.

.G’cQÉ°T ¿’q«µjôeCG ¿’eɬ ¿Éc
kaan-a muHaam-uuna √amriikiyy-uuna shaarak-uu.
American lawyers had participated.

An alternative but less frequently used way of expressing the pluperfect in MSA is to use the
expression sabaq-a √an ˜it preceded that™ before the main verb:

.OGôcC™G IOÉb kGQGôe ≈¤àdG ¿CG ≥‘°S
sabaq-a √an-i ltaqaa maraar-an qaadat-a l-√akraad-i.
He had [already] met with the leaders of the Kurds many times.
Verb inflection: a summary 449

.kÉfôb ô°»Y áK“K π‘b »¦oH ób ó©°ùŸG ¿Éch
wa-kaan-a l-masjid-u qad buniy-a qabl-a thalaathat-a ¬ashar-a qarn-an.
The mosque had been built thirteen centuries ago.

2.2.2 Without subject noun
.¿ÉqªY „e G’∏ªY G’fÉc .¬H ¢Tqô«àdÉH º¡ª¡qJG ¿Éc
kaan-uu ¬amil-uu ma¬-a ¬ammaan-a. kaan-a ttaham-a-hum bi-l-taHarrush-i bi-hi.
They had been working with Amman. He had accused them of provoking him.

.ájɪM â‘∏W øµJ „
lam ta-kun Talab-at Himaayat-an.
She had not requested protection.

2.3 Future perfect
To indicate a state or action expected to be completed in the future, the present
or future tense of kaan-a is used with a past tense main verb:

. . . ÉgQhO ˜ â∏°»a ¿’µà°ùa ,™EG h
wa-√illaa, fa-sa-ta-kuun-u fashil-at fii dawr-i-haa . . .
and if not, it will have failed in its role . . .

2.4 Unreal condition
To describe an action that would or could have taken place, but actually did not,
the past tense of kaan-a is used with the future tense of the main verb. This is
called an unreal condition or a contrary-to-fact condition.

.áHÉàµdGh IAGô¤dG ±ô©à°S âfÉc Ée
maa kaan-at sa-ta-¬rif-u l-qiraa√at-a wa-l-kitaabat-a.
She would not have known [how] to read and write (˜reading and writing™).

.ôNBG kÉ„«°T „¦ó®à°SCÉ°S â¦c
kun-tu sa-√a-staxdim-u shay√-an √aaxar-a.
I was going to use something else.

.≥HÉ°ùàdÉH º¡d ⫪°S ób ᦩ∏dG âfÉc GPEG ¤É¤HÉ°ùŸÉH R’˜«°S ≥jô˜dG ¿Éc
kaan-a l-fariiq-u sa-ya-fuuz-u bi-l-musaabaqaat-i √idhaa kaan-at-i l-lajnat-u qad
samaH-at la-hum bi-l-tasaabuq-i.
The team would have won in the competitions if the committee had permitted
them to participate.
450 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

2.5 The particle qad
The particle qad is used with verbs. It has no exact lexical equivalent in English and
various theories have been put forth as to its function.15 One theory is that it is
used to emphasize or confirm aspect; that is, whether or not an action has been
completed, and to what degree. Used with the past (or “perfect”) tense, qad empha-
sizes and asserts that the action has indeed happened. In this context it may be
translated as ˜indeed,™ ˜already,™ or ˜really™ but sometimes it is not translatable.16
With the imperfect or present tense, it emphasizes the possibility of the action
or its potentiality rather than its actual achievement. In this case it is usually
translated as ˜may,™ ˜might,™ or ˜perhaps.™
Used in conjunction with the compound pluperfect tense verb (kaana qad ób ¿Éc),
it is part of the compound verb structure, coming after the auxiliary verb kaan-a and
before the past tense main verb.17 Rarely is qad used when the verb is negative.
As with other words that end in sukuun, qad needs a helping vowel kasra if it
occurs before a consonant cluster.

2.5.1 qad with past (perfect) tense
Used with the past tense, qad may occur on its own, but it may also be prefixed
with the particles wa- -h, fa- `na or la- n`d. These particles do not change the meaning
of qad although they may imply a temporal sequence such as “and then.” Depend-
ing on context, the past tense verb with qad may be equivalent either to the sim-
ple past or to the past perfect. The use of qad here serves to confirm the meaning
of the past tense by emphasizing that the action did indeed happen. Sometimes
the insertion of the word “indeed” in English is appropriate.

.kG’NCG ⤤“ ób .¥hó¦°üdG ˜ ¬JóLh ó¤dh
qad taHaqqaq-at √axiir-an. wa-la-qad wajad-tu-hu fii l-Sanduuq-i.
It was finally / has finally been realized. And (then) I found it in the box.

.kGOô˜¦e áÁô·G √òg –µJQG ób
qad-i rtakab-a haadhihi l-jariimat-a munfarid-an.
(Indeed) He committed / has committed this crime on his own.

.¤ÉW’£±G ≈∏Y G’¶aÉM ó¤a ‚dòdh
wa-li-dhaalika fa-qad HaafaZ-uu ¬alaa l-maxTuuTaat-i.
And therefore they (indeed) kept the manuscripts.

See Bahloul 1996 for an in-depth analysis of the nature and uses of qad.
¬Abd al-Latif et al. (1997, 233) state that qad “is a particle of affirmation if it comes before a past
tense verb, and a particle of diminution if it comes before a present tense verb.” qad Harf-u taHqiiq-
in √idhaa daxal-at ¬alaa l-maaDii, wa-Harf-u taqliil-in √idhaa daxal-at ¬alaa l-muDaari¬.
“The modal particle qad tends quite often to occur inside the verbal complex, that is, between the
auxiliary verb and the thematic verb” (Bahloul 1996, 37).
Verb inflection: a summary 451

z.Úq«∏«FGô°SE™G „e ɦ¤˜qJG ó¤d{ «Éb
qaal-a “ la-qad-i ttafaq-naa ma¬-a l-√israa√iiliyy-iina.”
He said “(Indeed) we have agreed with the Israelis.”

.óq«L ≥jôa ɦqfCG „«ª©∏d â‘ãf ¿CG ÉfOQCG ó¤d
la-qad √arad-naa √an nu-thbit-a li-l-jamii¬-i √anna-naa fariiq-un jayyid-un.
We (indeed) wanted to prove to everyone that we are a good team. fa-qad + PAST TENSE: This conjunction introduces a clause in the past
tense that acts as circumstance or background to the previous clause, stating an
action or state that precedes the action in the previous clause chronologically or
logically.18 As Abboud and McCarus state (1983, part 1:537), “this construction
indicates a completed action whose results are still in effect” with regard to the
previous clause. This is considered a type of Haal or circumstantial structure.

.≥«ªY „¦’f ˜ ¥ôZ ó¤a .kÉ„«°T –©j „
lam ya-jib shay√-an. fa-qad ghariq-a fii nawm-in ¬amiiq-in.
He did not answer anything, having fallen into a deep sleep.
(Kouloughli 1994, 274)

2.5.2 qad with present (imperfect) tense possibility
Used with the indicative present tense, qad implies possibility.

.è∏K ‘ɦg ¿ ’µj ób πH .‚¦gP ¤EG QOÉ‘àj ób
bal qad ya-kuun-u hunaaka thalj-un. qad ya-tabaadar-u √ilaa dhihn-i-ka.
There might even be snow. It might cross your mind.

.á˜∏ଂ k™Éµ°TCG ò®qàJ ób .᫪gCG ÌcCG ¿’µJ ób
qad ta-ttaxidh-u √ashkaal-an muxtalifat-an. qad ta-kuun-u √akthar-a √ahamiyyat-an.
They may adopt different shapes. It might be of greater importance.

2.6 Verb strings or serial verb constructions
Certain verbs can directly precede others, thereby modifying the meaning of the
main verb and acting as auxiliary verbs. Whenever the verb phrase consists of two
or more verbs, the subject, if mentioned, is usually put between them. These verbs
fall into several classes.

Haywood and Nahmad state: “The particle qad is sometimes used before the Perfect verb. It is a
confirmatory particle, which may make the verb definitely Past perfect . . . However, this particle
may also make the verb Pluperfect . . . according to context” (1962, 100).
452 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

2.6.1 Verbs of appropinquation
These verbs indicate proximity or nearness to an action, but not quite the achieve-
ment of it, referred to by Wright as verbs of “appropinquation” (1967, II:106).19 These
include verbs such as kaad-a/ya-kaad-u ˜to almost [do something]; be on the point of
[doing something]™ and √awshak-a yuushik-u ˜to be on the verge™ of doing something.

.á«Hô©dG IôcGòdG øe ≈«ªoj ´’°V’ŸG OÉch
wa-kaad-a l-mawDuu¬-u yu-mHaa min-a l-dhaakirat-i l-¬arabiyyat-i.
The subject was almost erased from Arab memory.

.¥ô°»J ¢ùª°»dG ¤OÉc .¬d kG’¶f ó‚ ™ Oɵf
kaad-at-i l-shams-u tu-shriq-u. na-kaad-u laa na-jid-u naZiir-an la-hu.
The sun had almost risen. We can almost not find a counterpart
to it.

.¦ójC™ÉH ‘É‘à°TG ¤EG «q’«àJ ¤OÉc
kaad-at ta-taHawwal-u √ilaa shtibaak-in bi-l-√aydii.
It almost changed into hand-to-hand combat.

Sometimes, kaad-a or √awshak-a are followed by the subjunctivizing particle √an,
in which case the following verb is in the subjunctive:

.kÉeÉ“ ∞qb’àJ ¿CG áqj ’·G áM“ŸG ¤OÉc
kaad-at-i l-milaaHat-u l-jawwiyyat-u √an ta-tawaqqaf-a tamaam-an.
Air traffic almost stopped totally.

.É¡ª°SG øY «CÉ°ùj ¿CG ‚°ThCG
.§¤°ùf ¿CG ɦµ°ThCG
√awshak-naa √an na-squt-a. √awshak-a √an ya-s√al-a ¬an-i sm-i-haa.
We almost fell (were on the verge of He almost asked about her name.

Sometimes, with √awshak-a, a verbal noun may be used instead of a following verb:

.IôeGD’e O’L’H OɤàY™G ‚°ThCG
√awshak-a l-i¬tiqaad-u bi-wujuud-i mu√aamarat-in.
They almost believed in the existence of a conspiracy (˜belief verged™).

Used in the negative, the implication of kaad-a is that an action has just barely
taken place, usually translatable as ˜hardly,™ or ˜scarcely.™

.QÉà°ùdG «ó°ùj óµj „
lam ya-kad yu-sdal-u l-sitaar-u.
The curtain had hardly been dropped.

Blachère and Goudefroy Demombynes refer to them as “verbes d™imminence” (1975, 268).
Verb inflection: a summary 453

2.6.2 Inceptive verbs
Another set of helping verbs is inceptive or inchoative. They convey the idea of
starting or setting about an action and are usually used in the past with a present
tense main verb. In MSA these verbs include:

to set about ja¬al-a (literally ˜to make™) π©L
to start √axadh-a (literally, ˜to take™) òNCG
to start bada√-a (literally, ˜to begin™) GC óH
to set about Saar-a (literally, ˜to become™) QÉ°U

.ô¶¦dG â˜∏j CGóH .ÈcCG kGQ hO òNCÉJ ¤QÉ°U ¤É¦«qà°ùdG ò¦e
bada√-a yu-lfit-u l-naZar-a. mundhu l-sittiinaat-i Saar-at ta-√xudh-u
It started to attract attention. dawr-an √akbar-a.
Since the sixties it has started to
assume a larger role.

2.6.3 Verbs of continuation
These verbs, when used as auxiliaries, convey the concept of continuing an action
or a state:

baat-a ¤ÉH

.„¦’«dG ¬H ±ô©oJ O“‘dG âJÉH
baat-at-i l-bilaad-u tu-¬raf-u bi-hi l-yawm-a.
The country is still known by it today.

Zall-a πX
.IQÉ‘©dG OqOôj qπX .¬aóg AGQh ≈©°ùj qπX
Zall-a yu-raddid-u l-¬ibaarat-a. Zall-a ya-s¬aa waraa√-a hadaf-i-hi
He kept repeating the expression. He continued to pursue (˜after™) his goal.

maa zaal-a «GRÉe
.ó¡·G øe ’ãc ¤EG êÉà“ «GµJ ™ Q’eC™G
al-√umuur-u laa ta-zaal-u ta-Htaaj-u √ilaa kathiir-in min-a l-jahd-i.
Matters still require much effort.

maDaa ≈°†e

.QÉ°†ÿG ¦Î°»j ≈°†e’
wa-maDaa ya-shtirii l-xuDaar-a.
He went on to buy vegetables.
454 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

baqiya »¤H

.CGó¡Jh ºbɘàJ á«°†¤dG ⫤H
baqiy-at-i l-qaDiyyat-u ta-tafaaqam-u wa-ta-hda√-u.
The problem kept getting dangerous and [then] subsiding.

2.6.4 Simultaneous verbal action (al-Haal «É—G)
Certain concepts are conveyed by verbs describing simultaneous states or actions.
The subject may remain the same for both verbs, or it may be different. This struc-
ture is a form of Haal, or adverbial expression that describes what someone was
doing at the time of the action of the main verb.20
With same subject:

. . . «’¤j ≈°†eh
wa-maDaa ya-quul-u . . .
He continued, saying . . .

With different subject:

.A“W q¢TôJ ÉgógÉ°T .ô¶à¦J ‚cÎJ ™
shaahad-a-haa ta-rushsh-u Tilaa√-an. laa ta-truk-u-ka ta-ntaZir-u.
He saw her spattering paint. It doesn™t leave you waiting.

On the Haal «ÉM construction, see Chapter 11, section 2.3.1, and also Chapter 7,


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