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An adjective is a word that modifies a noun. The corresponding concept in Arabic grammar is the ṣifa·t صِفَةٌ or naʕt نَعْتٌ . The adjective category is sometimes considered to include the determiners (like the articles and demonstratives), but these are treated separately in Arabic grammar.
Unlike the substantives, adjectives in Arabic grammar are always considered to be derived words, unless they are non-derived substantives used adjectivally, like the word ʔasaduṋأَسَدٌ “a lion” in the following sentence:
هذا رَجُلٌ أَسَدٌ
hā-ðȃ raǵuluṋ ʔasaduṋ
this [is] a man a lion
Translation: this is a lion-man.
A verbal adjective is an adjective formed automatically from a verb and has verb-like characteristics. The following two categories represent the most real verbal adjectives in Arabic:
- The agent nounاِسْمُ الْفاعِلِ (active participle)
- The patient nounاِسْمُ الْمَفْعُوْلِ (passive participle)
The following two categories also contain verbal adjectives:
- The intensive agent noun مُبالَغةُ اِسْمِ الْفاعِلِ
- The adjective made similar to the agent and patient noun الصِّفةُ المُشَبَّهةُ بِاِسْمِ الْفاعِلِ وَالْمَفْعُوْلِ
Many of the adjectives belonging to the last two categories are real verbal adjectives, but some of them seem rather to be derived from substantives, and some could be non-derived basic adjectives.
Basic adjective structures
The most simple adjectives are of the patterns faʕiluṋ, faʕuluṋ and their lengthened derivatives faʕȋluṋ and faʕȗluṋ. Examples are fariħuṋ/faruħuṋفَرِحٌ/فَرُحٌ “happy,” ħazinuṋ/ħazunuṋ/ħazȋnuṋحَزِنٌ/حَزُنٌ/حَزِيْنٌ “unhappy,” yaqið̣uṋ/yaquð̣uṋ يَقِظٌ/يَقُظٌ “awake,” qaðiruṋ/qaðuruṋقَذِرٌ/قَذُرٌ “dirty,” xašinuṋخَشِنٌ “rough,” kabȋruṋ كَبِيْرٌ “big,” ṣaɣȋruṋصَغِيْرٌ “small,” ṭawȋluṋطَوِيْلٌ “long, tall,” qaṣȋruṋقَصِيْرٌ “short,” ṭahiruṋ/ṭahȗruṋطَهِرٌ/طَهُوْرٌ “clean,” ʕaǵiluṋ/ʕaǵuluṋ/ʕaǵȋluṋ/ʕaǵȗluṋعَجِلٌ/عَجُلٌ/عَجِيْلٌ/عَجُوْلٌ “in haste.”
Some basic adjectives belong to the mostly substantival patterns fVʕluṋ,faʕaluṋ and faʕȃluṋ, e.g. ḍaxmuṋضَخْمٌ “huge,” ṣaʕbuṋ صَعْبٌ “difficult,” sahluṋ سَهْلٌ “easy,” ṣifruṋ صِفْرٌ “empty,” ṣulbuṋ صُلْبٌ “hard,” ħasanuṋ حَسَنٌ “handsome,” baṭaluṋ بَطَلٌ “brave,” ǵabȃnuṋ جَبانٌ “cowardly.” Such words sometimes have concrete substantival meanings besides the adjectival meanings, e.g. sahluṋ can mean “plane, level land,” and ṣulbuṋ can mean “spine.” Because their formation is more typical of substantives, we perhaps should assume that the substantival meanings are more original.
The rare adjectival patterns fuʕaluṋ and fuʕȃluṋ are not basic but probably old patient noun formations (passive participles). They occur commonly as diptotic proper names, especially names of supernatural beings. Examples are ʕUmaruعُمَرُ , Hubaluهُبَلُ , Zuħalu زُحَلُ , Quzaħu قُزَحُ , Suʕȃduسُعادُ , ʔ·Al-Burȃquالْبُراقُ . The only common example that is used as an adjective is šuǵȃʕuṋشُجاعٌ “brave,” but even this one is said to be the name of a mythical snake-like creature.
Two of the most important adjective patterns are the diptotic ʔafʕaluأَفْعَلُ and faʕlȃnuفَعْلانُ . These are derived patterns and not basic. Many adjectives of the ʔafʕalu pattern seem to be derived from older adjectives of simpler formation, e.g. ʔaħdabu أَحْدَبُ “hunchbacked” seems to be derived from ħadibuṋ حَدِبٌ “hunchbacked.” Also many ʔafʕalu adjectives seem to be derived directly from substantives, e.g. ʔabyaḍu أَبْيَضُ “white” seems to be derived directly from bayḍuṋ بَيْضُ “egg(s).” On the other hand, adjectives of the faʕlȃnu pattern are probably of verbal origin.
The ʔafʕalu pattern forms adjectives denoting colors, e.g. ʔaswadu أَسْوَدُ “black,” ʔaħmaruأَحْمَرُ “red,” ʔaṣfaruأَصْفَرُ “yellow,” ʔazraquأَزْرَقُ “blue,” ʔaxḍaruأَخْضَرُ “green.” It also forms adjectives denoting human physical or mental defects, e.g. *ʔaʕmayu > ʔaʕma⋅yأَعْمَى “blind,” ʔaxrasuأَخْرَسُ “mute,” ʔaṭrašu أَطْرَشُ “deaf,” ʔaħmaquأَحْمَقُ “fool.”
A productive and important use of the ʔafʕalu pattern is to form the elative adjectives, which correspond to the comparative and superlative adjectives in English, e.g. ʔakbaruأَكْبَرُ “bigger,” ʔaṣɣaruأَصْغَرُ “smaller,” ʔaṭwaluأَطْوَلُ “longer, taller,” ʔaqṣaruأَقْصَرُ “shorter.” When an elative adjective has the definite article, it can have either a comparative or superlative meaning, e.g. ʔ⋅al-ʔakbaruالْأَكْبَرُ can mean either “the bigger” or “the biggest.”
In Classical Arabic the pattern ʔafʕalu could have an augmentative/intensive meaning without the elative connotation, e.g. the famous Islamic phrase ʔ·Allāhu ʔakbaruاللّهُ أَكْبَرُ does not mean “God is greater” but it simply means “God is very great.” Likewise, personal names such as ʔAħmaduأَحْمَدُ , ʔAsʕaduأَسْعَدُ , etc. do not have an elative meaning.