Arabic Class

is Learning Arabic by teaching it

Noun Sentences

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Note: I am “learning by teaching” here, so the following is very likely to contain mistakes. I would love it if you pointed these out to me.

There is no equivalent of the verb “to be” in the present tense in Arabic. A simple form of sentence can be made by using only nouns and adjectives, but no verbs. These come in a couple of variations. Let’s start by looking at sentences with only two words.

Firstly, when both words are indefinite: بيت كبير (bait kabiir) meaning “a big house”. The fact that both words are indefinite here can be understood from the lack of the definite article ال (Al, “the”). There is no actual word in Arabic word the indefinite article “a” – it shows up in translation in this particular form of sentence.

Secondly, when the first word is definite and the second is indefinite: البيت كبير (al-bait kabiir) means “the house is big”. That the first word (البيت) is definite can be understood from the definite article ال.

Thirdly, when both words are definite:البيت الطبير (al-bait al-kabiir, “the big house”). Notice that the definite article ال shows up before both words here.

Mathematicians will now wonder about the meaning of a indefinite word, followed by a definitive one. This is (as far as I understand now) not a noun sentence but a genitive construction, and will be dealt with later.

The examples above are based on a noun (in the above, بيت) and an adjective (in the above, كبير). The workings for two-word-sentences with two nouns are similar*:

محمد مدرس (muHammed mudarris) means “muHammed is a teacher”. Note that muHammed is definite, though it’s lacking the definite article. However, we’re not talking about “a muHammed” but about a particular one.

هو طالب (huwa Taalib) means “he’s a student”. “He” is definite too, because we know about which “he” we’re talking.

Open question: can you say “the big muHammad” like this: معمد الكبير ?

Open question: how do you say “muHammed is the teacher”? Answer

*in fact, I can only think of examples where the first word is either a proper noun (e.g. John), or a personal pronoun (e.g. you)


Written by klaasvanschelven

January 16, 2008 at 6:47 am

One Response

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  1. Your question:
    “Open question: can you say “the big muHammad” like this: معمد الكبير ?”

    My answer:
    yes. But when you use the word kabeer it generally is taken as “the great mohammad” or “the older mohammad”


    January 22, 2008 at 6:58 pm

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