Arabic Grammar – 190

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Suffix & prefix conjugation

The conjugation for person, number, gender and mood is done by changing a suffix and a prefix attached to the verb stem without changing the stem itself, except for irregularly conjugated verbs. Irregularly conjugated verbs can belong to any stem type, but some stem types are always irregularly conjugated. Of the common stem types, stems endings with a double consonant (Ⅸ & QⅣ) are always irregularly conjugated.

In the table below, Sᵖ represents the perfective stem and Sⁱ represents the imperfective stem.

Person, number, gender and mood conjugation
. Perfective Imperfective
Realis Irrealis
Indicative Energetic Subjunctive Jussive Imperative Energetic imperative
1ˢᵗ Sing. ∅-Sᵖ-tu ʔ-Sⁱ-u ʔ-Sⁱ-an(na) ʔ-Sⁱ-a ʔ-Sⁱ-∅
Plur. ∅-Sᵖ-nȃ n-Sⁱ-u n-Sⁱ-an(na) n-Sⁱ-a n-Sⁱ-∅
2ⁿᵈ Sing. Masc. ∅-Sᵖ-ta t-Sⁱ-u t-Sⁱ-an(na) t-Sⁱ-a t-Sⁱ-∅ ∅-Sⁱ-∅ ∅-Sⁱ-an(na)
Fem. ∅-Sᵖ-ti t-Sⁱ-ȋna t-Sⁱ-in(na) t-Sⁱ ∅-Sⁱ ∅-Sⁱ-in(na)
Dual ∅-Sᵖ-tumȃ t-Sⁱ-ȃni t-Sⁱ-ȃnni t-Sⁱ ∅-Sⁱ ∅-Sⁱ-ȃnni
Plur. Masc. ∅-Sᵖ-tum(u) t-Sⁱ-ȗna t-Sⁱ-un(na) t-Sⁱ ∅-Sⁱ ∅-Sⁱ-un(na)
Fem. ∅-Sᵖ-tunna t-Sⁱ-na t-Sⁱ-nȃnni t-Sⁱ-na ∅-Sⁱ-na ∅-Sⁱ-nȃnni
3ʳᵈ Sing. Masc. ∅-Sᵖ-a y-Sⁱ-u y-Sⁱ-an(na) y-Sⁱ-a y-Sⁱ-∅
Fem. ∅-Sᵖ-at t-Sⁱ-u t-Sⁱ-an(na) t-Sⁱ-a t-Sⁱ-∅
Dual Masc. ∅-Sᵖ y-Sⁱ-ȃni y-Sⁱ-ȃnni y-Sⁱ
Fem. ∅-Sᵖ-atȃ t-Sⁱ-ȃni t-Sⁱ-ȃnni t-Sⁱ
Plur. Masc. ∅-Sᵖ y-Sⁱ-ȗna y-Sⁱ-un(na) y-Sⁱ
Fem. ∅-Sᵖ-na y-Sⁱ-na y-Sⁱ-nȃnni y-Sⁱ-na

 

Perfective verbs

Each perfective verb has a conjugational suffix that determines its person, number and gender. Perfective verbs are not conjugated for mood, which makes the conjugation of these verbs much simpler than the imperfective.

As an example, following is the full perfective paradigm of the verb faʕala فَعَلَ “he did.”

. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person فَعَلْتُ
faʕaltu
“I did”
فَعَلْنا
faʕal
“we did”
2ⁿᵈ person فَعَلْتَ
faʕalta
“you male did”
فَعَلْتِ
faʕalti
“you female did”
فَعَلْتُما
faʕaltumȃ
“you two did”
فَعَلْتُمْ
faʕaltum
“you all males did”
فَعَلْتُنَّ
faʕaltunna
“you all females did”
3ʳᵈ person فَعَلَ
faʕala
“he did”
فَعَلَتْ
faʕalat
“she did”
فَعَلا
faʕalȃ
“they two males did”
فَعَلَتا
faʕalatȃ
“they two females did”
فَعَلُوْا
faʕalȗ
“they all males did”
فَعَلْنَ
faʕalna
“they all females did”

 

Another example, the full perfective paradigm of the verb ʔ·istaʕmala اِسْتَعْمَلَ “he employed, used.”

. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person اِسْتَعْمَلْتُ
ʔ·istaʕmaltu
“I used”
اِسْتَعْمَلْنا
ʔ·istaʕmal
“we used”
2ⁿᵈ person اِسْتَعْمَلْتَ
ʔ·istaʕmalta
“you male used”
اِسْتَعْمَلْتِ
ʔ·istaʕmalti
“you female used”
اِسْتَعْمَلْتُما
ʔ·istaʕmaltumȃ
“you two used”
اِسْتَعْمَلْتُمْ
ʔ·istaʕmaltum
“you all males used”
اِسْتَعْمَلْتُنَّ
ʔ·istaʕmaltunna
“you all females used”
3ʳᵈ person اِسْتَعْمَلَ
ʔ·istaʕmala
“he used”
اِسْتَعْمَلَتْ
ʔ·istaʕmalat
“she used”
اِسْتَعْمَلا
ʔ·istaʕmalȃ
“they two males used”
اِسْتَعْمَلَتا
ʔ·istaʕmalatȃ
“they two females used”
اِسْتَعْمَلُوْا
ʔ·istaʕmalȗ
“they all males used”
اِسْتَعْمَلْنَ
ʔ·istaʕmalna
“they all females used”

 

Imperfective verbs

Imperfective verbs differ from perfective verbs in having a conjugational prefix besides the suffix, and in being conjugated for mood.

The moods can be classified into realis and irrealis moods. The realis moods indicate that the speaker talks about real events, i.e. events that happened, happen, or will happen. The irrealis moods indicate that the speaker talks about events that are unreal at the moment.

Realis moods

The Arabic realis moods are the indicative الْمَرْفُوْعُ and the energetic الْمُوَكَّدُ بِالنُّوْنِ .

Following is the full indicative paradigm of the verb yafʕalu يَفْعَلُ “he does.”

Indicative
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person أَفْعَلُ
ʔafʕalu
“I do”
نَفْعَلُ
nafʕalu
“we do”
2ⁿᵈ person تَفْعَلُ
tafʕalu
“you male do”
تَفْعَلِيْنَ
tafʕalȋna
“you female do”
تَفْعَلانِ
tafʕalȃni
“you two do”
تَفْعَلُوْنَ
tafʕalȗna
“you all males do”
تَفْعَلْنَ
tafʕalna
“you all females do”
3ʳᵈ person يَفْعَلُ
yafʕalu
“he does”
تَفْعَلُ
tafʕalu
“she does”
يَفْعَلانِ
yafʕalȃni
“they two males do”
تَفْعَلانِ
tafʕalȃni
“they two females do”
يَفْعَلُوْنَ
yafʕalȗna
“they all males do”
يَفْعَلْنَ
yafʕalna
“they all females do”

 

The energetic mood indicates that the speaker emphasizes what they say. It is commonly (but not always) used in conjunction with the emphatic particle la–, e.g. la-ʔaalanna لَأَفْعَلَنَّ “I surely will do.” The use of the energetic is common in Classical Arabic but not so in modern Arabic. The energetic ending (whose consonantal part is called the nȗn of emphasis نُوْنُ التَّوْكِيْدِ ) has two varieties in all but the dual and feminine plural conjugations, a short variety called light الْخَفِيْفةُ and a long variety called heavy الثَّقِيْلةُ .

Energetic, light
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person أَفْعَلَنْ
ʔafʕalan
“I surely do”
نَفْعَلَنْ
nafʕalan
“we surely do”
2ⁿᵈ person تَفْعَلَنْ
tafʕalan
“you male surely do”
تَفْعَلِنْ
tafʕalin
“you female surely do”
تَفْعَلانِّ
tafʕalȃnni
“you two surely do”
تَفْعَلُنْ
tafʕalun
“you all males surely do”
تَفْعَلْنانِّ
tafʕalnȃnni
“you all females surely do”
3ʳᵈ person يَفْعَلَنْ
yafʕalan
“he surely does”
تَفْعَلَنْ
tafʕalan
“she surely does”
يَفْعَلانِّ
yafʕalȃnni
“they two males surely do”
تَفْعَلانِّ
tafʕalȃnni
“they two females surely do”
يَفْعَلُنْ
yafʕalun
“they all males surely do”
يَفْعَلْنانِّ
yafʕalnȃnni
“they all females surely do”
Energetic, heavy
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person أَفْعَلَنَّ
ʔafʕalanna
“I surely do”
نَفْعَلَنَّ
nafʕalanna
“we surely do”
2ⁿᵈ person تَفْعَلَنَّ
tafʕalanna
“you male surely do”
تَفْعَلِنَّ
tafʕalinna
“you female surely do”
تَفْعَلانِّ
tafʕalȃnni
“you two surely do”
تَفْعَلُنَّ
tafʕalunna
“you all males surely do”
تَفْعَلْنانِّ
tafʕalnȃnni
“you all females surely do”
3ʳᵈ person يَفْعَلَنَّ
yafʕalanna
“he surely does”
تَفْعَلَنَّ
tafʕalanna
“she surely does”
يَفْعَلانِّ
yafʕalȃnni
“they two males surely do”
تَفْعَلانِّ
tafʕalȃnni
“they two females surely do”
يَفْعَلُنَّ
yafʕalunna
“they all males surely do”
يَفْعَلْنانِّ
yafʕalnȃnni
“they all females surely do”

Irrealis moods

The subjunctive الْمَنْصُوْبُ has several syntactic uses that we will cover later, but in general it indicates that the speaker talks about the event as an intention or expectation.

Subjunctive
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person أَفْعَلَ
ʔafʕala
“I do”
نَفْعَلَ
nafʕala
“we do”
2ⁿᵈ person تَفْعَلَ
tafʕala
“you male do”
تَفْعَلِيْ
tafʕalȋ
“you female do”
تَفْعَلا
tafʕalȃ
“you two do”
تَفْعَلُوْا
tafʕalȗ
“you all males do”
تَفْعَلْنَ
tafʕalna
“you all females do”
3ʳᵈ person يَفْعَلَ
yafʕala
“he does”
تَفْعَلَ
tafʕala
“she does”
يَفْعَلا
yafʕalȃ
“they two males do”
تَفْعَلا
tafʕalȃ
“they two females do”
يَفْعَلُوْا
yafʕalȗ
“they all males do”
يَفْعَلْنَ
yafʕalna
“they all females do”

The jussive الْمَجْزُوْمُ has several syntactic uses that we will cover later. One of its uses is the marking of commands, like the imperative.

Jussive
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person أَفْعَلْ
ʔafʕal
“I do”
نَفْعَلْ
nafʕal
“we do”
2ⁿᵈ person تَفْعَلْ
tafʕal
“you male do”
تَفْعَلِيْ
tafʕalȋ
“you female do”
تَفْعَلا
tafʕalȃ
“you two do”
تَفْعَلُوْا
tafʕalȗ
“you all males do”
تَفْعَلْنَ
tafʕalna
“you all females do”
3ʳᵈ person يَفْعَلْ
yafʕal
“he does”
تَفْعَلْ
tafʕal
“she does”
يَفْعَلا
yafʕalȃ
“they two males do”
تَفْعَلا
tafʕalȃ
“they two females do”
يَفْعَلُوْا
yafʕalȗ
“they all males do”
يَفْعَلْنَ
yafʕalna
“they all females do”

 

The imperative الْأَمْرُ and the energetic imperative الْأَمْرُ الْمُوَكَّدُ بِالنُّوْنِ have only one use, which is to mark a second person command. Verbs in the imperative moods cannot be conjugated for the passive voice.

Imperative
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person
2ⁿᵈ person اِفْعَلْ
ʔ·ifʕal
“you male do!”
اِفْعَلِيْ
ʔ·ifʕalȋ
“you female do!”
اِفْعَلا
ʔ·ifʕalȃ
“you two do!”
اِفْعَلُوْا
ʔ·ifʕalȗ
“you all males do!”
اِفْعَلْنَ
ʔ·ifʕalna
“you all females do!”
3ʳᵈ person
Energetic imperative, light
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person
2ⁿᵈ person اِفْعَلَنْ
ʔ·ifʕalan
“you male do!”
اِفْعَلِنْ
ʔ·ifʕalin
“you female do!”
اِفْعَلانِّ
ʔ·ifʕalȃnni
“you two do!”
اِفْعَلُنْ
ʔ·ifʕalun
“you all males do!”
اِفْعَلْنانِّ
ʔ·ifʕalnȃnni
“you all females do!”
3ʳᵈ person
Energetic imperative, heavy
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person
2ⁿᵈ person اِفْعَلَنَّ
ʔ·ifʕalanna
“you male do!”
اِفْعَلِنَّ
ʔ·ifʕalinna
“you female do!”
اِفْعَلانِّ
ʔ·ifʕalȃnni
“you two do!”
اِفْعَلُنَّ
ʔ·ifʕalunna
“you all males do!”
اِفْعَلْنانِّ
ʔ·ifʕalnȃnni
“you all females do!”
3ʳᵈ person

An issue with the imperative conjugation is that it requires the dropping of the conjugational prefix. When this prefix is dropped, the prefix vowel of the stem is also dropped (because this vowel is really part of the prefix). This dropping is an issue because it can cause some stems to begin with consonant clusters, which is not allowed in Arabic phonology. Whenever a conjugational prefix is dropped and an initial consonant cluster arises, a prosthetic (phonetic) syllable ʔ·V– must be added at the beginning of the stem. The vowel of this prosthetic syllable will be u if the vowel following it in the stem is u, and will be i otherwise.

The following table illustrates this issue by showing how the imperative conjugation is formed for some stems.

Stem Indicative Imperative
Ⅰ (a-u) تَكْتُبُ
taktubu
“you write”
اُكْتُبْ
**ktub > ʔ·uktub
“you write!”
Ⅰ (a-i) تَكْسِرُ
taksiru
“you break”
اِكْسِرْ
**ksir > ʔ·iksir
“you break!”
Ⅰ (a-a) تَذْهَبُ
taðhabu
“you go”
اِذْهَبْ
**ðhab > ʔ·iðhab
“you go!”
تَنْكَسِرُ
tankasiru
“you break (intr.)”
اِنْكَسِرْ
**nkasir > ʔ·inkasir
“you break (intr.)!”
تَكْتَشِفُ
taktašifu
“you discover”
اِكْتَشِفْ
**ktašif > ʔ·iktašif
“you discover!”
تَسْتَكْشِفُ
tastakšifu
“you explore”
اِسْتَكْْشِفْ
**stakšif > ʔ·istakšif
“you explore!”

 

Note that the imperative of Stem Ⅳ has a prefix ʔa– that does not appear in the other moods of the imperfective. As an illustration, following is the imperative paradigm of the Stem Ⅳ verb ʔarsala, yursilu أَرْسَلَ، يُرْسِلُ “send.”

Imperative
. Singular Dual Plural
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine
1ˢᵗ person
2ⁿᵈ person أَرْسِلْ
ʔarsil
“you male send!”
أَرْسِلِيْ
ʔarsilȋ
“you female send!”
أَرْسِلا
ʔarsilȃ
“you two send!”
أَرْسِلُوْا
ʔarsilȗ
“you all males send!”
أَرْسِلْنَ
ʔarsilna
“you all females send!”
3ʳᵈ person

 

Note about the number conjugation

The dual inflection is used to refer to two persons or things. In the modern vernacular dialects, there is dual inflection in nouns but the dual inflection in verbs has been lost. Thus, modern speakers of Arabic tend to use plural conjugations when referring to two persons or things, but this is incorrect in Standard Arabic.

Notes about the gender conjugation

The masculine gender is not only masculine but also a default or neutral gender. If you don’t know the gender of the person or thing you are talking about or talking to, you use a masculine conjugation. If you are talking about/to a pair or group of mixed gender, you use a masculine conjugation.

Many of the modern vernacular dialects have lost the distinction between the masculine and feminine genders in the plural conjugations. Speakers of such dialects tend to use masculine plural conjugations when referring to groups of females, which is incorrect in Standard Arabic.

Notes about the modal conjugation

The subjunctive differs from the indicative as follows:

  • The suffix –u of the indicative becomes –a.
  • The suffix –nV after a long vowel is dropped.

The jussive differs from the indicative as follows:

  • The suffix –u of the indicative is dropped.
  • The suffix –nV after a long vowel is dropped.

The imperative differs from the jussive only in lacking the prefix.

The energetic differs from the subjunctive as follows:

  • In all but the dual and feminine plural, a suffix –n(na) is added to the terminal vowel, and if this vowel is long, it is shortened.
  • In the dual, a suffix –nni is added to the terminal vowel without shortening it.
  • In the feminine plural, a suffix –nni is added with lengthening of the terminal vowel.

 

Note

Many of the modern vernaculars retain the Classical imperative conjugation but not any other modal conjugation. Thus, in Baghdad there is only:

  • ktəb “you write” (indicative, subjunctive, jussive)
  • (ʔə)ktəb “you write” (imperative)

In some dialects the indicative verb is marked by a prefix bi–, e.g. in Aleppo there is:

  • *bituktub > (ʔə)btəktob (indicative)
  • *tuktub > ktob (subjunctive, jussive)
  • *(ʔu)ktub > (ʔə)ktōb (imperative)

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