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What You Didn't Learn About Idaafa the First Time Around

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

Idaafa is a basic topic in Arabic language grammar and has been spoken about a lot online; however, there are still some missing pieces that could further add to the Arabic learner's knowledge. In this blog post, I will highlight some important points regarding Idaafa concept.

What is Idaafa? Idaafa construction is made up of 2 nouns, but never a verb or particle! It is composed of two elements: mudaaf + mudaaf ilayh.

المُضاف Al-mudaaf

/ Object possessed/ Possession/

The first noun; noun added to another causing it to become in a genitive state

اسم أُضيفَ إلى اسم آخر، والأوّل يجرُّ الثاني.


المُضافُ إِلَيْه Al-mudaafu Ilayh

/ The one who owns/ Possesser/

The addition; noun that we add to the first noun in order to provide meaning such as defining or specifying or so on/ the addition. الاسم المُضاف إلى اسم آخر ويُفيد التَّعريف أو التّخصيص

Idaafa is the masdar مصدر or verbal noun from the verb to add أضَافَ. It literally means adding to something, so the second noun in the equation is adding to the first noun; basically in meaning or providing some information; creating this idaafa noun to noun relationship. So, mudaaf, the first noun is the one we are going to add to (we will add to it another noun); this other noun added to the mudaaf is the mudaaf ilayh or the addition. Think of it like a bowl of soup, where the mudaaf is the bowl, and the salt is the mudaaf ilayh we're going to add to the soup. And this salt, will give it an extra flavor or meaning!

Let's look more closely at each element of the two:

The Mudaaf:

•Although has no “Al-” or looks indefinite, is still considered definite, since it is defined by possession or Idaafa; therefore cannot take “tanween” or double diacritic (because it is already definite-defined by Idaafa, so you cannot add an Al prefix).

•“Noun” letter is removed, if dual or sound masculine plural. مُعَلِّمو الصَّفِّ

•Grammatical case is according to its position in the sentence; so it could be in the nominative, accusative or genitive.

كِتَابُ كَريمٍ

The book of Karim

كِتابُ التِّلْميذِ

The book of the student

كِتابَا التِّلْميذِ

The 2 books of the students

مُعَلِّمو الصَّفِّ

The teachers (sound masculine plural) of the class.

تَحْتَ الطَّاوِلَةِ

(under the table)*

Idaafa construction is not only used to describe possession as commonly explained online, like in this case: under is a preposition, so we have a prepositional phrase describing location (In Arabic under is called ظرف مكان).

The Mudaaf Ilayh:

•Comes after an indefinite noun (the mudaaf, which becomes defined with Idaafa construction).

•Can be definite or indefinite; can also be an attached pronoun.

•Adds to mudaaf noun or gives more information about it; (defines or specifies it).

•In the genitive case/ kasra ending; or suffix ي for dual and sound masculine plural nouns.

•كِتَابُ كَريمٍ

The Mudaaf ILay can be a name: Kareeem's book.

•كِتابُ التِّلْميذِ

the book of the student

(we added one kasra only to tilmeez, because it has AL, however in the next example, we add a double kasra, because it has no AL and it is not diptote "tilmeezin)

•كِتابُ تِلْميذٍ

a book of a student

The Mudaaf ILayا can be an indefinite noun, without Al: a book of a student. In this case, we added the double kasra.

•كِتابُ التِّلْميذيْنِ

The book of the 2 students

•كِتابُ المُعَلِّمين

(The book of the teachers (sound masculine plural).

•كِتابُه His book

In this example, his ه is an attached possessive pronoun, which is the Mudaaf ILayh or addition to the noun book or كتاب.

Notice in English, you can say: the student's book, so the possessor can come first; however, in Arabic, the possessor comes after the possession; so mudaaf always before mudaaf ilayhe`w3sa. So, you cannot say: التلميذ كتاب, instead you will say كِتابُ التِّلْميذِ.

Another point is that when constructing a relationship of idaafa, the general precedes or comes before the specific, such as:

•شَهْرُ رَمَضان/ يومُ الجُمْعَة

(The general precedes the specific: month of Ramadan/ day of Jum’a)

*Any time a pronoun is attached to a noun ضمير + اسم , the pronoun is always mudaaf ilayh.

كِتابُه‘ كِتابُهما، كِتابُهم، كِتابها...

His book, their book both of them, their book, her book...

*After a preposition, the noun is considered mudaaf ilay, such as:

فوقَ الطَّوِلة، تحت الشَّجرَة...

On the table, under the tree.

Table and tree= mudaaf ilayh

*After numbers 3 to 9, the noun is always mudaaf ilayh, such as:

ثلاثةُ كُتُبٍ

three books

books is considered mudaaf ilayh.

*A diptote noun that is mudaaf ilayh will take fatha instead of kasra:

شَهْرُ رَمَضانَ

The month of Ramadaan

Ramadaan took fatha and not kasra, since it is a a diptote noun ممنوع من الصّرف.

Mudaaf and Mudaaf Ilayh

We said that Idaafa in Arabic is not simply used to describe possession only. So, let's look at the two basic kinds or usages of Idaafa:

“Idaafatun Ma’nawiyya” إضافةٌ معنويَّة provides the mudaaf (static noun or non-derived/ Ism jaamid اسم جامد) with additional information (معنى means meaning), for example:

•To denote possession (whose): the book of the student (The book belonging to the student) كِتابُ التَّلْميذِ •Meaning from or of (what kind?): a ring of gold (a ring made of gold) خاتَمُ ذَهَبٍ

•Meaning at or on a certain time (when?): morning prayer (prayer at morning time) صَلاةُ الصُّبْحِ

•As a prepositional phrase (where?): under the table تَحْتَ الطَّاوِلَةِ

•To define or specify or give additional information:

month of Ramadan/ Day of Friday

شَهْرُ رَمَضان/ يومُ الجُمْعَة

•To denote number (how many?): I have four books لَدَيَّ أَرْبَعَةُ كُتُبٍ.

•To describe absolute preference (best of all): He is the best of all students. هو أفْضَلُ الطُّلّابِ

“Idaafatun Lafziyya” (إضافةٌ لفظيّة) is made of these derived nouns (لفظ means term or pronunciation; so the benefit from Idaafa is for pronunciation or speech brevity اختصار الكلام and adding a description or wasf وصف or tashbeeh تشبيه, as I will explain):

active participle, passive participle, or “stative-adjectival participle”(with the purpose of giving a descriptions- notice they are all derived, versus static nouns of mudaaf used in Idaafa ma'nawaiyya مشتق vs اسم جامد):

(اسم مُشْتَق) اسم الفاعل، اسم المفعول، الصِّفة المُشَبَهَة

إِنَّهُ راجِحُ العَقْلِ؛ إِنَّهُ مَرْموقُ المَكانَةِ؛ إِنَّهُ حَسَنُ الوَجْهِ.

Mudaaf is an active participle:

He is of a sound mind.

.إِنَّهُ راجِحُ العَقْلِ.

Mudaaf is a passive participle:

He has a respected status.

.إِنَّهُ مَرْموقُ المَكانَةِ.

Mudaaf is a “stative-adjectival participle”:

He has a pretty face (i.e. he is handsome).

.إِنَّهُ حَسَنُ الوَجْهِ.

Further analysis:

Mudaaf is an active participle: He is of a sound mind.إِنَّهُ راجِحُ العَقْلِ

The original wording or terms would be: إِنَّهُ راجِحٌ عقلُهُ The Idaafa or addition of راجح to العقل was used for the purpose of "diluting pronounciation" التَّخفيف اللَّفظي و or brevity and omitting the tanween (the double damma), so instead of راجحٌ it became ُراجح, a single damma.

*Note, only in Idaafa lafziyya you can add Al- to mudaaf; never in idaafa ma'nawiyya

Example: He is the man with the sound mind إنّهُ الرَّجُلُ الرَّاجِحُ العَقْلِ; the mudaaf has to agree and take an Al also, because صفة and موصوف (adjective and noun being described) must agree in definiteness or indefiniteness. Consider this versus: إِنَّهُ رجلٌ راجِحُ العَقْلِ. Here rajulun has tanween already, which complies with the original wording إِنَّهُ رجلٌ راجِحٌ عقلُهُ (both have tanween, as an adjective and noun described should. Remember the tanween was omitted for purposes of pronunciation dilution, ending up with one damma!). This is only in Idaafa Lafziyya, since in Idaafa Ma'nawiyya, mudaaf is already defined by idaafa through meaning or ma'na, so cannot take Al; example, you cannot say الكتابُ التَّلميذ. And one distinct rule, is that the noun mudaaf is Ism jaamid or a staitc or non-derived noun; not a partciple of description or وصف.

Looks complicated, but when you understand the logic behind it, you will make sense of it. In short, remember this if the rest sounds complicated: if you used AL- for the mudaaf in idaafa lafziyya, you have to use AL- for the mudaaf ilayh. Howver, in idaafa ma'nawiyye, mudaaf never takes Alif. The simple rule to know what kind of idaafa it is, is that in idaafa ma'nawiyya, mudaaf is a static or non-derived noun; versus idaafa lafziyya where it is derived as a participle.

There's more to Idaafa than just possession!

Complex, compound or nested Idaafa (whatever you may wish to call it), is composed of more than one idaafa construction. For example:

كِتابُ مُعَلِّم الصَّفِّ.

The book of the teacher of the class.

The book or "kitabu" is the first mudaaf, and teacher or "m'allimi" is the miudaaf ilayh;

at the same time teacher or "m'allimi" is mudaaf, and "the class" or "as-saffi" is mudaaf ilayh.

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