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Grammar Notes Arabic

A major challenge to beginners with Arabic is perhaps its script, written from right to left, with most letters connected to preceding and/or following ones, and no short vowels shown.

MSA has managed to simplify Arabic grammar to suit the requirements of modern-day communication. For example, instead of the 15 personal pronouns resulting from gender and number considerations, MSA uses only 8, that is, the same number as English.

Arabic does not use capital letters, but letters may change shape depending on their position within a word.

The huge diversity of the cultures which have interacted with classical Arabic over the centuries have resulted in numerous dialects and pronunciations. However, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), exists as an established, exemplary code that everyone goes by.

The following shows the Arabic letters and the corresponding English words they are pronounced like:


ب = be
د = did
ض = daughter
ذ = The
ج = Joy
ظ = Thus
ف = fire
ه = Hi
ح = hard
ي = Yes
ك = Keen
ل = Line
م = Man
ن = No
ث = Thing
ق = Scar
ر = Dark
س = See
ص = Massage
ش = She
ت = tea
ط = Star
و = We
خ = Loch ( scottish)
غ = French R
ز = zoo
ع = No equivalent
ء = above


َ = Pat
َا = Bad
ُ = Put
ُو = Boot
ِ = Sit
ِي = See

Arabic has no indefinite article comparable to the English (a) or (an). It does have a definite article the [al], which is always attached to the words it defines.


A house = [bayt] بيت
THE house = al+bayt = [albayt] البيت

When using two or more nouns in conjunction, the word (wa), consisting of the single letter (و) is used to link the items.

رجل و ولد
[ragul wa walad]
A man and a boy.

دراجة وسفينة وسيارة
[darraga wa safina wa sayyara]
A bike and a ship and a car

Arabic verbs change their form in accordance with their subjects. There are two important forms which indicates masculine and feminine which will be discussed together with verb tenses in Chapter 6.

Colors are adjectives and therefore have masculine and feminine forms, as do all Arabic words. For the difference between the masculine and feminine forms of color adjectives, it's quite simple. The initial (a) of the masculine moves to the ending in the feminine.

Masculine: asfar (yellow) = اصفر
Feminine: safra (yellow) = صفراء

الأتوبيس أحمر [alotobis ahmar] / The bus is red
السيارة حمراء [assayyara hamra] / The car is red.

Arabic also assigns gender to objects and concepts as well as people and animals. In this respect it is not very different from Spanish or French.

To distinguish the gender just remember that most feminine words in Arabic end in the sound (a), represented in writing with ة [ta marbuta], an arabic alphabet character whose sole role is to indicate feminine. So sayyara, safina and shahina are feminine and ragul, walad and kalb are masculine. Look at the Arabic transcription and see that all feminines have (ة) while none of the masculines do:

Feminine: سيارة ـ سفينة ـ شاحنة
Masculine: رجل ـ كلب ـ ولد

In Arabic, because the verb 'to be' is not used in present descriptive sentences, this role is played by the definite article ال [al]. Thus, قميص أبيض [qamis abyad] translates into 'a white shirt' while القميص أبيض [alqamis abyad] means 'the shirt is white'. The Arabic equivalent of the English phrase 'the white shirt' would use the article ال [al] both in the noun قميص [qamis] / shirt and the adjective أبيض [abyad] / white, as in القميص الأبيض (literally 'the shirt the white'). Now in order to add a description to 'the white shirt', such as saying also that it is old, we would add قديم [qadim] and say: لقميص الأبيض قديم [alqamis alabyad qadim], that is, 'the white shirt is old.'

Present Tense

In the sentence, The man is walking [arragul yamshi], the subject (man) is masculine. In this case, (ya) is attached to the verb (mshi) to make up the form (yamshi). In Arabic script, that is ي + مشي = يمشي. The full sentence is then: الرجل يمشي.

When the subject is feminine, as in The woman is sitting = almar-a taglis, (ta) is attached to (glis) to form (taglis). That is again ت + جلس = تجلس and in full: المرأة تجلس.

Verb forms starting with (ya) can express the plural masculine when put at the beginning of the sentence, as in يجري الولد والرجل [yagri alwalad wa arragul] / The boy and the man are running.

A verb form with (ta) at the beginning of the sentence can indicate the plural feminine, as in تمشي المرأة والبنت [tamshi almar-a wa albint] / The woman and the girl are walking.

It is important to note here that Arabic uses the same form for both types of the present, the simple and the continuous. Thus, we would use the same form to say 'the man speaks Arabic' and 'the man is speaking Arabic', that is الرجل يتكلم عربي [arragul yatakallam araby].

Future Tense

The easier tense to learn after the present is the future, since it simply adds the marker سوف [sawfa] / will before the verb.

Present: الرجل يشرب الكولا [arragul yashrab alcola] / The man is drinking Cola.
Future: الرجل سوف يشرب الكولا [arragul sawfa yashrab alcola] / The man will drink Cola.

The future marker سوف [sawfa] can be reduced to its short form س [sa] and attached to the verb.

الرجل سيشرب الكولا [arragul sayashrab alcola] / The man will drink Cola.

Past Tense

The past tense often changes the vowel pattern of the verb and any additional gender or number indicators are attached as suffixes (endings).


Present: هي تشرب [hiya tashrab] / She drinks / She is drinking
Past: هي شربت [hiya sharibat] / She drank

Notice how the vowel pattern in the verb has changed from 'shrab' to 'shariba', or from 'a' alone to 'a+i+a'. Also note that that there is a ت [t] at the ending.

Prepositions are words used to express location/position.

Prepositions in Arabic are:

فى [fi] / in
على [ala] / on
تحت [tahta] / under
إلى [ila] / to
أمام [amam] / in front of

البنت تذهب إلى غرفة المعيشة
[albint tadh-hab ila ghorfat alma-isha]
The girl is going to the living-room

الرجل في المطبخ
[arragul fi almatbakh]
The man is in the kitchen.

With the verbs 'look' ينظر [yandhor] and 'sit' يجلس [yaglis], 'ila' takes on the meaning of 'at', as in the sentences:

الولد ينظر إلى السيارة [alwalad yandhor ila assayara] / The boy is looking at the car.

السكرتيرة تجلس إلى الكمبيوتر [assecretira taglis ila alcomputer] / The secretary is sitting at the computer.

In Arabic to give a sentence Negative meaning, the word لا [la] is used. Here we have two cases:

1. Statements with verbs: In the statement الرجل يقف في الجراج [arragul yaqif fi algaraj] / The man is standing in the garage, we have a verb describing an action or state, namely يقف [yaqif] / to stand. To make this statement negative, we simply insert لا [la] before the verb يقف [yaqif]. The resulting combination is لا يقف [la yaqif] literally 'no stand' meaning 'is not standing'. The negative statement is:
الرجل لا يقف في الجراج [arragul la yaqif fi algaraj] / The man is not standing/does not stand in the garage.

2. Statements without Verbs: In the statements الهاتف أسود [al-hatif aswad] / The phone is black and السفينة بيضاء [assafina bayda] / The ship is white, we have to take into consideration masculine and feminine. Since the statement has no verb, ليس [laysa], masculine or ليست [laysat] feminine will be inserted before the adjective.

الهاتف ليس أسود [al-hatif laysa aswad] / The phone isn't black.

السفينة ليست بيضاء [assafina laysat bayda] / The ship isn't white.

ليس [laysa] and ليست [laysat] stand for isn't, and are two forms of an exclusively negative verb.

In Arabic, question formation is fairly straightforward, using quite simple formulae.


The question word 'what' ماذا [madha] and the verb 'do' فعل [f-al].

A typical question we would ask to find out about somebody's current activity is, for example 'What is the man doing?' Arabic uses the format 'what + doing + the man?' resulting in the question: ماذا يفعل الرجل؟ [madha yaf-al arragul]. The verb 'doing' will have to indicate masculine or feminine by having (ya) or (ta) accordingly attached to it. So in order to ask 'What is Carol doing?', we will use: ماذا تفعل كارول؟ [madha taf-al carol?] (feminine)

In order to ask 'What is Mark doing?', we will say: ماذا يفعل مارك؟ [madha yaf-al mark?] (masculine)


The question word 'where' is used to ask where people and things are.

Questions about location have the very simple form where + the + person or object.

أين الولد؟ [ayn alwalad?] / Where (is) the boy?

In the English translation, the word (is) has been put in brackets because it is not used in the Arabic equivalent. In fact, the verb to be is never used as a main verb in the present.


The question word من [man] / who in Arabic has two kinds:

1. Without a verb, the question aims to identify who a particular person is:

من هو الميكانيكى؟ [man huwa al mikaniki] / Who is the mechanic?
من هو؟ [man huwa?] / Who is he?
من هي؟ [man hiya?] / Who is she?
من أنت؟ [man anta / anti?] / Who are you

2. With a verb, the question aims to identify who did, is doing, or will do something:

من شرب الكولا؟ [man shariba alcola?] / Who drank the cola?
من يتكلم عربي؟ [man yatakallam arabi] / Who is speaking Arabic?
من سياكل الكيك؟ [man sayaakul alcake?] / Who will eat the cake?

When Arabic adjectives are put in comparative form, they change their vowel pattern.

كبير > أكبر [kabir becomes akbar] (big > bigger)

Notice how (a) has been added at the beginning and just before the last letter, while the original vowels (a) and (i) have been removed. This is indeed the most frequent format. Here are three other examples with exactly the same modifications:

طويل > أطول [tawil] > [atwal] (tall > taller)
قصير > أقصر [qasir] > [aqsar] (short > shorter)
بدين > أبدن [badin] > [abdan] (fat > fatter)

Within a comparative sentence, the preposition من [min], meaning 'from' takes the place of the English 'than', as in:

كارول أجمل من كاثي [Carol agmal min Kathy] / Carol is prettier than Kathy.

البنت أقصر من الولد [albint aqsar min alwalad] / The girl is shorter than the boy.

Superlative Comparison

أكبر من / أصغر من [akbar min / asghar min] / bigger than / smaller than.

The same form of the adjective can be used in superlatives, with no need for the preposition من [min].

النمر هو أكبر حيوان فى الصورة
[annimr huwa akbar hayawan fi assora]
The tiger is the biggest animal in the picture.

الدجاجة هى أصغر حيوان فى الصورة
[Addagaga hiya asghar hayawan fi assora]
the chicken is the smallest animal in the picture.

In Arabic, the numerals themselves are easy to remember. The problem is encountered with plurals, which are highly irregular and variable in Arabic. In addition, Arabic not only takes into consideration singular and plural as we know them, but also recognizes duals or pairs. Thus:

One book would be considered singular and referred to as: كتاب واحد [kitab wahed]

Two books would be a dual or a pair, referred to as: كتابان or كتابين [kitaban or kitabein] interchangeably.

Notice the absence of the actual numeral اثنين [ethnein] / two. The reason for that is since the dual was formed by adding either ان [an] or ين [ein] to the noun, the number is already indicated. Even so, the numeral 'two' can still be used, as in: كتابين إثنين [kitabein ethnein] / two books

As for the actual Arabic plural, which is considered from the numeral 3 and above, it is important to learn the forms as you go, since there are a lot of inconsistencies. Thus:

The plural of كتاب [kitab] / book is كتب [kutub] / books
The plural of ولد [walad] / boy is اولاد [awlad] / boys
The plural of بنت [bint] / girl is بنات [banat] / girls
The plural of مدرس [mudarris] / teacher is مدرسون [mudarrisuun] / teachers

One can very well see that in these four simple words, we are already using four different plural forms. Whereas English most often adds (s) to the endings, Arabic adds a variety of suffixes and even changes vowel patterns within the words. The best approach is therefore to learn plurals gradually and confidently. A pattern will eventually emerge, since Arabic plurals are not random or arbitrary, and student at advanced level can acquire plural-forming skills.

Numbers in Arabic:

1 = واحد [wahed]
2 = اثنين [ethnein]
3 = ثلاثة [thalatha]
4 = أربعة [arba-a]
5 = خمسة[khamsa]
6 = ستة [sitta]
7 = سبعة [sab-a]
8 = ثمانية [thamanya]
9 = تسعة [tis-a]
10 = عشرة [ashara]
11 = احد عشر [ehda ashar]
12 = اثنا عشر[ethna ashar]
13 = ثلاثة عشر[thalatha ashar]
14 = أربعة عشر[arba-a ashar]
15 = خمسة عشر[khamsa ashar]
16 = ستة عشر[sitta ashar]
20 = عشرين[ishrin]
30 = ثلاثين [thalathin]