Arabic Grammar – 220

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Nouns and verbs undergo inflection, which means that parts of them change in order to express changes in things such as number, case, tense, voice, person, and mood, e.g. sang and teachers are inflected forms of sing and teacher. Unlike derivation, inflection does not produce a new word but only a different grammatical form of the same word. The inflection of verbs is called conjugation, and the inflection of nouns is called declension.

Arabic conjugation marks aspect, voice, person, number, and mood on finite verbs. Declension marks number, case, and state on nouns.

In Arabic grammar mood and case inflection is called ʔiʕrȃbuṋ {إعْرابٌ} “Arabization” (because at the time the term was coined this inflection existed only in the speech of “Arabs,” i.e. Bedouins). The lack of mood or case inflection is called binȃʔuṋ {بِناءٌ} “construction.” State inflection in the endings of singular nouns (nunation) is called ṣarfuṋ {صَرْفٌ} “inflection,” and the lack thereof is called manʕuṋ mina ʔ·aṣ-ṣarfi {مَنْعٌ مِنَ الصَّرْفِ} “forbidding from inflection.”

Arabic declension marks the following:

There is marking for three grammatical numbers:

  • Singular {إفْرادٌ} : for nouns that refer to one person or thing.
  • Dual {تَثْنِيةٌ} : for nouns that refer to two persons or things.
  • Plural {جَمْعٌ} : for nouns that refer to more than two persons or things.

There is marking for three grammatical cases:

  • Rafʕ {رَفْعٌ} (nominative): a case that marks the subject of a sentence, as in John is here.
  • Naṣb {نَصْبٌ} : a case that marks the following:

    • Accusative {مَفْعُوْلٌ بِهِ} : the direct object of a verb, as in John ate an apple.
    • Dative {مَفْعُوْلٌ بِهِ ثانٍ} : the indirect object of a verb, as in John gave Mary an apple.
    • Vocative {مُنادًى} : somebody or something being addressed, as in John, come here!
    • State {حالٌ} : an adverb indicating a temporary state, as in Mary came smiling.
    • Specification {تَمْيِيْزٌ} : a noun complementing a verb, adjective, or number, as in He rose in status, She is better at cooking, and They read fifteen books.
    • Cognate accusative {مَفْعُوْلٌ مُطْلَقٌ} : a verbal substantive complementing a verb from the same root, for the sake of emphasis, as in He ran a long running.
    • Purpose {مَفْعُوْلٌ لِأَجْلِهِ} : a verbal substantive indicating an aim of an action, as in He did it for the sake of God.
    • Spatial location {مَفْعُوْلٌ فِيْهِ، ظَرْفُ مَكانٍ} : as in Mary stood at the door.
    • Temporal location {مَفْعُوْلٌ فِيْهِ، ظَرْفُ زَمانٍ} : as in John reads before going to sleep.
    • Accompaniment {مَفْعُوْلٌ مَعَهُ} : as in Mary went with John. Also something alongside which movement happens, as in John walked alongside the valley.
  • Ǵarr/Xafḍ {جَرٌّ/خَفْضٌ} : a case that marks the following:
    • Genitive {مُضافٌ إلَيْهِ} : the possessor in a genitive construction, as in John’s friend is here.
    • Prepositional complement {مَجْرُوْرٌ بِحَرْفٍ} : as in Mary came late from work.


There is marking for three grammatical states:

  • Absolute: a state that marks nothing in proper nouns, and indefiniteness in common nouns.
  • Determinate {مُعَرَّفٌ بِأَل} : a state that marks nothing in proper nouns, and definiteness in common nouns.
  • Construct {مُضافٌ} : a state that marks the possessed in a genitive construction, as in John’s friend is here.


A genitive construction is a grammatical construction of two nouns in which the head (modified) noun is possessed by the dependent (modifier) noun, like:

  • Mary’s apple
  • her apple
  • The apple of Marry

In all three examples the head is the apple and the dependent is Mary. In Arabic the head is in the construct state and the dependent is in the genitive case.


The Arabic declension markers are contained in a suffix that appears at the end of each declined word.


For example, in the word ʔ·imraʔa·tuṋ {اِمْرَأةٌ} “a woman” the stem is ʔ·imraʔa·t– and the declension suffix is –uṋ.

The declension suffix is composed as follows:


The first part of the suffix marks the case and the second part marks the state. Both parts also mark the number, since different numbers have different forms of both parts. For example, in the ending ‒uṋ the part u marks the number as singular and the case as nominative, and the part marks the number as singular and the state as absolute.

The determinate state marking involves also the prefix ʔ·al‒ الـ , the definite article.

Not all nouns are declined for case and state. For example, pronouns (which are considered part of the noun category) are mostly undeclined for case and state.


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