Arabic Class

is Learning Arabic by teaching it

Noun sentences in إعراب (i’raab)

with 3 comments

Having dealt with noun sentences earlier this week, let’s see how these are given their suffixes in i’raab. The general rule here is: noun sentences have everything in the nominative, which means “un” or “u” at the end of each word. To get it right we’ll have to be a bit more precise, though.

In noun sentences, all the words show up in مرفوع (marfuu’, nominative). First of all we will see how the مرفوع changes the word endings. In general, the diacritics ضمة (Damma) or the تنوين ضمة (tanwiin Damma) are used. Remember: these are written above the letter and resemble the letter و (waw). Examples: بُ and بٌ . Their sounds are respectively “u” and “un”.


محمدٌ مدرسٌ (muHammadun mudarrisun, “muHammad is a teacher”)

بيتٌ كبيرٌ (baiitun kabiirun, “a big house”)

The تنوين ضمة (tanwiin Damma) is only used for words not marked with the definite article ال (al-, “the”). If the definite article is present, the correct marker is the regular ضمة (Damma). Example:

البيتُ الكبيرُ (al-baitu al-kabiiru)

Now for some more precise terminology. Consider the following sentence in English: “John is a teacher.”In this sentence, “John” is the subject, and “a teacher” is the nominal predicate. Similarly, in “The school is small “, “The school” is the subject and “small” is the nominal predicate. However, in the phrase “a small school”, all of the phrase is the subject.

As seen in the previous post on noun sentences, there is no equivalent of “is” in Arabic, but subject and nominal predicate should be easily recognisable nonetheless. In أحمد صغير (‘aHmed Saghiir, “aHmed is small”) أحمد is the subject and صغير is the nominal predicate.

In إعراب (i’raab), both the subject and the nominal predicate are in the مَرفوع (marfuu’, nominative). Adjectives take the case of the noun they describe. These two rules together make for the above generalisation that words in noun sentences are simply in the nominative.

I have a couple of open questions left:

  • There is a number of words “not worthy of the Damma”. I’ll have to find out which and report on that.
  • If there is a adjective following a noun marked with “al” – does this mean the adjective gets “u” too? So: “al-baitu kabiiru” or “al-baitu kabiirun”?
  • I’ve read at some places that the تنوين ضمة (tanwiin Damma) is a marker of the indefinite article. Others describe this as a mistake, and simply state that it is an indication of the lack of the definite marker. Which is true? The following quote from Wikipedia goes with this:

Since Arabic has no indefinite article, nouns in a syntactic context unmarked for definiteness are generally indefinite; this has led to the extremely common but inaccurate belief that nunation is a marker for indefiniteness and is analogous to an indefinite article. The lack of a marker for definiteness does not necessarily make a word indefinite; in fact, many definite nouns (proper names) take nunation, as for example in the expression أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله (‘ashhadu ‘anna Muḥammadan rasūlullāh – “I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”), in which the name Muhammad, a definite noun, is nunated.

Wikipedia: Nunation


Written by klaasvanschelven

January 21, 2008 at 9:11 am

3 Responses

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  1. Ah…. so you want to get into the nitty gritty of arabic grammer.=)
    Since i have an exam in about 4 hours i only have time to answer the last question.

    “I’ve read at some places that the تنوين ضمة (tanwiin Damma) is a marker of the indefinite article. Others describe this as a mistake, and simply state that it is an indication of the lack of the definite marker. Which is true?”

    I remember when i was learning arabic i had issues with this same question. Luckily the answer became clear to me when we studied the chapter of “tanwiin” (تنوين) here at the university. See the major problem is that this section of arabic grammar usually isn’t explained properly by most teachers. Thats because most teachers will just say “oh the tanwiin is on the end of the word becasue there is no “Al” (ال) attached to the word. And since “Al” makes things definite and there is no “Al” (ال) at the beginning of the word , that means the word is indefinite.” Now that answer is correct in some cases but in a lot of cases its not.

    So here’s your answer:
    In arabic tanwiin generally is not a sign of an indefinite article. But rather the absence of a “muarraf” (معرف) {something that makes things known} is what makes articles indefinite. “Al” is just one type of “muarraf” (I’ll discuss “muarraf” in further detail later) In arabic there are almost 13 different types of “tanwiin” (تنوين). Now when i say 13 different types i don’t mean damma, fatha, kasra. I mean 13 different usages for the tanwiins, and each of them carries a different meaning behind it. Now most beginning arabic students will only come across 4 of these 13. (pray you dont see the rest because they’re just going to give you a headache).
    So here’s two of them and i got to get back to studying for my exam.

    1.”Tanwiin Al tamkeen” (تنوين التمكين)- try to look at this tanwiin as a mark or a stamp that the word carrying this tanwiin is a noun. This is why the word Muhammadun has a tanwiin at the end. The tanwiin here isnt a sign that distinguishes between definite and indefinite articles, because of course muhammad is a proper name. Rather the tanwiin here is like a sign or a stamp that the word is a noun and not some other article of speech.
    This type of “tanwiin” (تنوين) is the most commonly used tanwiin that most readers will come across.

    2. “Tanwiin Al tankeer” (تنوين التنكير)- Now this is the tanwiin that everyone refers to when they mean that the tanwiin is a sign of an indefinite article. Take the name John (جون) for example. In arabic you cant put a tanwiin on this name because it isnt originally arabic. Pretty much the only time you can put a tanwiin on this name is when there is a bunch of people named John and you want to talk about “a John” and not one in particular. In this case you can put a tanwiin on John.

    I hope this was useful and i’ll get back to the other questions after my exams.


    January 22, 2008 at 5:53 am

  2. Thanks a lot for a very extensive reply! Hope your exams went well and I’m looking forward to the rest.

    Bye the way: I’m sorry your previous comment appeared only on this blog a day ago: it was eaten by my spam filter (of which I had no idea).


    January 22, 2008 at 7:35 am

  3. by the way i hope you dont mind me posting my answers to your questions on my blog.


    January 22, 2008 at 6:51 pm

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