Arabic Grammar – 20 (from old website)

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Nouns

Arabic words are three types:

  • Nouns

  • Verbs

  • Particles

We are going to begin by talking about the first branch, the nouns. A noun (or a substantive) (Arabic: اِسْمٌ = “a name”) is a name or an attribute of a person (Ali), place (Mecca), thing (house), or quality (honor). The word “noun” comes from the Latin nomen = “name.” The noun or substantive category in Arabic includes in addition to simple nouns the pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbids (participles and verbal nouns).

Nouns that designate material things (Ali, Mecca, house) are called concrete nouns. Nouns that designate immaterial things (honor) are called abstract nouns.

Permanent names of persons or places are called proper nouns أَسْمَاْءُ عَلَمٍ , other nouns are called common nouns أَسْمَاْءُ جِنْسٍ . Proper nouns refer to unique or particular objects (cannot be preceded by words such as “some” or “any”); common nouns refer to non-unique or non-particular objects (can be preceded by words such as “some” or “any”).

Common nouns are several types in Arabic:

Count nouns are nouns that refer to single units when they are grammatically singular, and to plural units when they grammatically plural.

Examples:

Plural count nouns

Singular count nouns

riǵȃl رِجَاْل raǵul رَجُل
men man
buyȗt بُيُوْت bayt بَيْت
houses house
kutub كُتُب kitȃb كِتَاْب
books book

Mass nouns are nouns that refer to single as well as plural units when they are grammatically singular, and to plural units when they are grammatically plural. These usually refer to plants or animals.

Examples:

Plural mass nouns

Singular mass nouns

θimȃr ثِمَاْر θamar ثَمَر
fruits fruit/fruits
ʔašǵȃr أَشْجَاْر šaǵar شَجَر
trees tree/trees
uyȗr طُيُوْر ayr طَيْر
birds bird/birds

When mass nouns refer to uncountable objects (such as water, sugar. etc.), the grammatically singular noun will refer to small or large amounts of the object, and the grammatically plural noun will refer to large amounts of the object.

Examples:

Plural mass nouns

Singular mass nouns

miyȃh مِيْاَه ma مَاْء
large amount of water small/large amount of water
dimȃʔ دِمَاْء dam دَم
large amount of blood small/large amount of blood
riyȃħ رِيَاْح ri رِيْح
large amount of wind small/large amount of wind

Some nouns, like the names of materials, can indicate either a unit (a piece, a type) or a substance, so those can be both countable and uncountable. However, when plural, they usually refer only to multiple units (countable only).

Examples:

Plural count nouns

Singular mass nouns

ʔawrȃq أَوْرَاْق waraq وَرَق
papers

paper/papers

or

small/large amount of paper

ʔaȃb

أَخْشَاْب

xašab

خَشَب

pieces of wood

types of wood

piece/pieces of wood

type/types of wood

or

small/large amount of wood

zuyȗt

زُيُوْت

zayt

زَيْت

types of oil

type/types of oil

or

small/large amount of oil

Collective nouns or irregular (broken) plural nouns are grammatically singular nouns that refer to plural units or to large amounts of uncountable objects. All the “plural”nouns listed in the above examples belong to this category; I am calling them “plural”to avoid causing confusion and because this is how they are usually called.

Oddly enough, although these nouns are called irregular plurals they are in fact singulare tantum, which means that they do not have grammatically plural forms.

It is possible for irregular plural nouns that refer to humans to be treated grammatically as plural nouns; this is typical of Modern Standard Arabic.

Declension

Nouns and verbs undergo inflection تَصَرُّفٌ , which means that parts of them change in order to express changes in gender,number, case, tense, voice, person, or mood. The inflection of nouns is called declension, and the inflection of verbs is called conjugation.

The declension of Arabic nouns expresses changes in:

  • Gender—Arabic nouns have two grammatical genders.

  • Number—Arabic nouns have three grammatical numbers.

  • Case—Arabic nouns have three grammatical cases.

  • State—Arabic nouns have three grammatical states.

Gender

The two genders in Arabic are the masculine and feminine. Every Noun in Arabic is either masculine or feminine there is no neuter gender in Arabic. Each object and animal is either masculine or feminine.

Thus, nouns are four categories in Arabic:

  • True masculine: nouns that refer to male humans or animals.

  • Figurative masculine: masculine nouns that refer to objects.

  • True feminine: nouns that refer to female humans or animals.

  • Figurative feminine: feminine nouns that refer to objects.

►Gender Markers

The are feminine markers for nouns but no masculine markers. The feminine markers are three affixes (a·t, ȃʔ and ȃ). Relatively few count and mass nouns are feminine without having feminine markers. However, all collective nouns (irregular (broken) plurals) are feminine without having feminine markers.

Number

The grammatical numbers in Arabic are:

  • Singular: nouns that refer to one person or thing.

  • Dual: nouns that refer to two persons or things.

  • Plural: nouns that refer to more than two persons or things.

►Number Markers

The number markers are suffixes positioned following the feminine gender marker (if one existed).

stem(feminine marker)number marker

The number markers are composed of two parts,a first part that is inflected for case, and a second part that is inflected for state.

number marker = case marker‒state marker

The basic nominative-absolute marker for singular nouns, including collective nouns (irregular (broken) plurals), is ‒uṋ. This marker is inflected for three cases (has three forms for three cases) and two states (has two forms for two states) thus yielding a total of six possible combinations, all of which are singular markers (‒uṋ, ‒aṋ, ‒iṋ, ‒u, ‒a, ‒i).

The nominative-absolute marker for dual nouns is ‒ȃni. This marker is inflected for two cases (has two forms for two cases) and two states (has two forms for two states) thus yielding a total of four possible combinations, all of which are dual markers (‒ȃni, ‒ayni, ‒ȃ, ‒ay).

The nominative-absolute marker for masculine plural nouns is ‒ȗna and for feminine plural nouns is ‒ȃtuṋ. These two markers are inflected for two cases and two states like the dual marker, and each have four possible forms (‒ȗna, ‒ȋna, ‒ȗ, ‒ȋ) (‒ȃtuṋ, ‒ȃtiṋ, ‒ȃtu, ‒ȃti). When adding the feminine plural marker to nouns with a feminine gender marker a·t, the ‒a·t is removed.

Case

Nouns in formal Arabic have three grammatical cases:

  • Rafʕuṋ (Nominative): case of nouns functioning as the subject of a sentence.

  • Naṣbuṋ (Accusative/Dative/Vocative): a case with a myriad of uses (about ten uses); most importantly, it is the case of nouns functioning as objects of verbs.

  • Ǵarruṋ/Xafḍuṋ (Genitive/Ablative): a case that indicates possession or being object of a preposition.

►Case Markers

The case markers are the case-inflected parts of the number markers. They are the first parts of the number markers and the state markers are the second parts.

stem(-feminine marker)-case marker

For singular nouns, including collective nouns (the irregular (broken) plurals), the rafʕ marker is ‒u, which changes to the naṣb marker ‒a in the naṣb case, and to the ǵarr marker ‒i in the ǵarr case.

For dual nouns, the rafʕ marker is ‒ȃ, which changes to ‒ay in both the naṣb and ǵarr cases. Thus, dual nouns are inflected for only two cases (has only two case-inflected forms). The naṣb and ǵarr cases may be collectively called the ‘oblique case’ for dual nouns.

The rafʕ masculine plural ending is ‒ȗ, which becomes ‒ȋ in the naṣb and ǵarr cases; and the rafʕ feminine plural ending is ‒ȃtu, which becomes ‒ȃti in the naṣb and ǵarr cases. Thus, plural nouns, like dual nouns, are inflected for only two cases, the nominative and the oblique.

Singular Dual Masculine plural Feminine plural
Rafʕ markers ‒u ‒ȃ ‒ȗ ‒ȃtu
Naṣb markers ‒a ‒ay ‒ȋ ‒ȃti
Ǵarr markers ‒i

 

Grammatical case markers for singular nouns have been ignored so far on this site in order to make things less complicated. However, it is important to understand that case markers are not optional in Standard Arabic (includes both Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.)

Unlike the two genders and three grammatical numbers, case inflection is not preserved in modern spoken Arabic.

State

An inflectional “state” of nouns is something characteristic of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Arabic nouns have three grammatical states:

  • Absolute: state of indefinite nouns.

  • Determinate: state of definite nouns.

  • Construct: state of definite nouns governing other nouns in genitive constructions.

 

►State Markers

Unlike the previous inflections, grammatical state markers involve a prefix as well as suffixes.

(state marker‒)stem(‒feminine marker)‒case marker(‒state marker)

The state prefix is ʔ·al‒, the definite article. It appears in the determinate (definite) state.

The state suffixes are the state-inflected parts of the number markers. They are the second parts of the number markers whereas the case markers are the first parts. These suffixes are ‒ṋ for singular (including irregular plural) and feminine plural nouns, ‒ni for dual nouns, and ‒na for masculine plural nouns.

The inflection of the state suffixes is by either keeping or removing them. The singular and feminine plural state suffix ‒ṋ appears only in the absolute (indefinite) state. The dual and masculine plural state suffixes ‒ni & ‒na appear in the absolute and the determinate states.

Singular &

feminine plural

Dual Masculine plural
Absolute stem‒ṋ stem‒ni stem‒na
Determinate ʔ·al‒stem ʔ·al‒stem‒ni ʔ·al‒stem‒na
Construct stem stem stem

The appearance of a state suffix (‒ṋ/ ‒ni/ ‒na) at the end of a noun is termed nunation.

Nomina Triptota and Nomina Diptota

These are two categories of singular nouns (including the irregular plurals) with regard to case and state declension.

  • Nomina triptota are the regular singular nouns whose declension was described above. They are inflected for three cases and three states.

  • Nomina diptota are singular nouns that are inflected for only two states as they have identical absolute and construct state marking (no suffix -ṋ in any state). Also, in the absolute state, these nouns are inflected for only two cases as the ǵarr marking becomes identical to the naṣb one in that state. However, in the determinate and construct states, these nouns are inflected for all the three cases.

Declension

تَصْرِيْفُ الأَسْمَاْءِ

Gender

Number

Case

State

Masculine

مُذَكَّرٌ

Singular

مُفْرَدٌ

Rafʕ

مَرْفُوْعٌ

Absolute

نَكِرَةٌ

Feminine

مُؤَنَّثٌ

Dual

مُثَنًّىْ

Naṣb

مَنْصُوْبٌ

Determinate

مَعْرِفَةٌ

Plural

جَمْعٌ

Ǵarr

مَجْرُوْرٌ

Construct

مُضَاْفٌ

After this brief introduction, we are now going to talk in detail about all that has been mentioned.

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