Arabic Grammar – 21 (from old website)

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Nouns (continued)
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. Each noun in Arabic is either masculine or feminine —there is no neuter gender in Arabic. Nouns designating inanimate objects are assigned either to the masculine or feminine gender.

Thus, nouns are four categories:

  • 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 marking

The masculine gender is unmarked. The feminine gender is marked by the three suffixes ‒a·t ــة , ‒ȃʔ ــاء & ‒ȃ/‒a⋅y ــا/ــى . A relatively few count and mass nouns are feminine without having a feminine marker. However, all broken plurals are feminine without having a feminine marker.

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 marking

The number marker is a suffix positioned after the feminine gender marker if one exists.

stem(feminine marker)number marker

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

Case

Nouns have three grammatical cases:

  • Rafʕ الرَّفْعُ (nominative): case of nouns functioning as the subject of a sentence.

  • Naṣb النَّصْبُ (accusative, dative, vocative, adverbial): a case with many uses (about ten uses). It marks the object of a verb, whether direct or indirect. It marks the vocative. It also has various adverbial significations.

  • Ǵarr/Xafḍ الْجَرُّ/الْخَفْضُ (genitive, ablative): a case that indicates possession or being object of a preposition.

►Case marking

The case marker is the case-inflected part of the number marker. It is the first part of the number marker and the state marker is the second part.

For singular nouns, including the broken plurals, the rafʕ marker is ‒u, the naṣb marker is ‒a, and the ǵarr marker is ‒i.

For dual nouns, the rafʕ marker is ‒ȃ, and the naṣb and ǵarr cases are both marked identically with ‒ay.

For the sound masculine plural nouns, the rafʕ case is marked by ‒ȗ, and the naṣb and ǵarr cases are both marked with ‒ȋ.

For the sound feminine plural nouns, the rafʕ case is marked by ‒ȃtu, and the naṣb and ǵarr cases are both marked with ‒ȃti.

Thus, the dual and sound plural nouns are inflected for only two cases, because they have identical naṣb and ǵarr marking. The naṣb and ǵarr cases may be collectively called the oblique case for the dual and sound plural nouns.

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

 

Unlike the two genders and three grammatical numbers, case inflection is completely absent from the modern spoken vernaculars of 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 marking

Unlike the previous inflections, state marking involves a prefix in addition to a suffix.

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

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

The state suffix is the state-inflected part of the number marker. It is the second part of the number marker whereas the case marker is the first part. This suffix is ‒ṋ for singular (including broken plural) and sound feminine plural nouns, ‒ni for dual nouns, and ‒na for sound masculine plural nouns.

The state suffix is inflected by either keeping or removing it. 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 & nomina diptota

The nomina triptota (triptote nouns) & nomina diptota (diptote nouns) are two categories of singular nouns (including the broken plurals) with regard to case and state declension.

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

  • The diptota are singular nouns inflected for only two states, since 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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