Updated: Aug 23, 2019
In this blog post, we will briefly discuss another beginners' topic in Arabic grammar, which is nominal and verbal type sentences. Arabic grammar can be quite complicated for new beginners learning the language. And so the aim of this post is not to add to what has been extensively posted online, concerning Arabic grammar, rather to summarize, and break down things for better understanding of Arabic, using brain friendly images and brief descriptions.
One thing to remember is that Arabic grammar is a very deep subject, and although there are general rules, there will always most likely be some exceptions, so don't be surprised if you come across some in the future. The general advise is to start with basics and then expand and branch out, if you wish.
Let's get started! First, you need to know that there are are two types of sentences:
-a meaningful (or useful sentence) (جملة مفيدة Jomla Mofeeda),
-and a prepositional phrase (شبه جملة Shibh Jomla) (composed of a preposition and a noun which changes from a nominative to a genitive case, example: "home"=بيتٌ="bayton"/ nominative/ marked by "tanween" of "damma" or double "damma"/ the sound "un"
---->when a preposition is added: "at home"= ِفي البيت="fee l-bayti/ genitive/ marked with "kasra" at the end/ the sound "e").
A meaningful sentence (جملة مفيدة Jomla Mofeeda) is made up of two words or more, and is "meaningful" or complete in meaning, and divided into categories:
-a nominal sentence (جملة اسميّة Jomla Ismiyya)
-and a verbal sentence (جملة فعليّة Jumla Fi'liyya).
Now, let's try and understand what a nominal sentence is:
-Also called a noun or "equational" sentence.
-Typically starts with a noun or pronoun (could also start with a "masdar mo'awwal" مصدر مؤول , which will be explained in a bit.)
-It's composed of two main elements: a subject + a predicate.
-The subject is the main topic of the sentence (as opposed to a verbal sentence, where the subject is that of a verb/ the verb "فعل' "Fi'l" starts the sentence and is follower by the subject or doer "فاعل' "Faa'il", and then an object "مفعول به" "Maf'oul bihi" could also follow ).
Sarah is a student.
سارة تدرس الطّب.
Sara tadriso at-tib"
Sarah is studying medicine.
In both examples, Sarah is the subject and the topic of the sentence. Notice the structure of the first sentence; there is no verb to be in Arabic, "Sarah + Taaliba", as opposed to English, where you would say "Sarah is a student".
In the second example, we get that Sarah "is studying medicine". Despite, "is studying/ tadriso/ تدرس ) being a verb, the sentence is still nominal, since the subject "Sarah" is the topic of the sentence, and it is not the subject of the verb). To further clarify, the subject of a verb in Arabic does not come before the verb.
However, if we start the sentence with a verb, like below, it will be considered a verbal sentence (the verb is the main word linking the different parts of the sentence):
تدرس سارة الطّب.
"Tadriso Sara at-tib".
Sarah studies medicine
In this example, the sentence started with the verb "tadriso" تدرس and the subject "Sarah" سارة is also a subject of the verb "studies" "tadriso" تدرس . The object is "at-tib" الطب or "medicine".
We mentioned earlier that the nominal sentence is composed of two main elements: the subject and the predicate (Mobtada' + Khabar مبتدأ + خبر).
-The subject: starts the sentence and defines the topic or what we are talking about.
It is usually a definite noun (like a name of a place or person/ "proper noun", or a noun with the addition of "Al" similar to "the" in English; examples: Sarah= definite noun= proper noun; al-kitaab= الكتاب = the book= definitive noun, as opposed to "a book"= كتاب. + other conditions for a definite noun, which we won't mention now).
The subject could also be a detached pronoun (like you= "anta" أنت. we= "nahno" نحن, he= "howa" هو, she, this= "haza" هذا, that "zalika" ذلك...). Some examples below, with the subject highlighted in bold:
The house is big.
سارة في البيت.
Sara fee l-bayt.
Sarah is in the house.
نحن في البيت. نحن ندرس.
Nahno fee l-bayt. Nahno Nadros.
We are in the house. We are studying.
هذه سارة. هي صديقتي.
Hazihi Sara. Hiya sadeeqati.
This is Sarah. She is my friend.
While in the above cases, the subject is clear and we cane easily spot it. However, in the case of "masdar mo'waal" (to+infinitive), it is not straight forward. A "masdar mo'awwal" is composed of a masdar particle, like "An" أن and a verb in the present perfect tense. It is similar to infinitive in English language. Masdar literally means: "source" in Arabic (or a verbal noun); so the source or verbal noun of "to+fast" أن تصوموا "An+ tasoomoo" is "fasting" or صوم "sawm":
أن تصوموا خيرٌ لكم.
(أن + تصوموا= صومكم)
An tsoomoo khayron lakom.
(An + tasoomoo= Sawmokom)
To fast is better (or good) for you.
(To + fast = Fasting)
-The predicate: completes the meaning and provides the needed information about the subject or topic spoken about. It typically has to agree or correspond with the subject in terms of gender and plurality (with exceptions). It is mainly nominative unless it is used after "Kaana and her sisters" كان وأخواتها. Although, it usually comes after the subject, in some cases, it is acceptable for the predicate to precede the subject.
There are four main types of a predicate in Arabic, "Mufrad" مفرد or a singular word (regardless if the word is in singular/dual or plural form), nominal sentence (or noun sentence), verbal sentence (which starts with a verb), and a prepositional phrase (made up of a preposition+noun in the genitive case).
Examples of a singular predicate (highlighted in bold):
The two houses are big.
This is Sarah.
Example of a predicate as a nominal sentence:
سارة زوجها طبيب.
Sara zawjohaa tabeeb.
Sarah’s husband (her husband) is a doctor.