There are three Arabic cases. Thanks to them, Arabic has a free word order. The case endings show what function a word has in a sentence, so we do not need to rely on what position the word has in the sentence.
Case makes a free word order
My native language is Swedish. People that learn Swedish as a foreign language struggle with the word order, that is very complicated. Swedish words (except for pronouns) has no case endings. Word order is the only way to know what function a word has in a sentence.
The word order in Arabic is free and uncomplicated. I decide what word I want to place first in a sentence. The function of the word does not depend on its position in the sentence, it depends on the case of the word.
The only Swedish words with case are pronouns. I write I when I am the subject and me when I am the object. To indicate ownership, I write my. One can say that Swedish pronouns has three cases: subject case, object case and ownership case.
Arabic nouns, adjectives, names, and numerals have case. There is a subject case (nominative), an object case (accusative) and an ownership case (genitive). Case is most often indicated using the last vowel of the word. That vowel can be u (subject case i.e. nominative), a (object case i.e. accusative) or i (ownership case i.e. genitive).
Arabic has three cases. I find that to be an ideal number of cases. But the number is different in different languages. Swedish has no cases, except in pronouns that has three cases. Finnish has fifteen cases.
The three cases in Arabic
As mentioned, there are three cases in Arabic: nominative, accusative and genitive. You know the case of a word by looking at its ending.
Used for the subject. Default case.
Often ends in u or un.
Used for objects.
Often ends in a or an.
Used to indicate ownership. Used after prepositions.
Often ends in i or in.
Arabic nouns, adjectives, names, and numerals have case. They belong to the Arabic part of speech ism. These words always have a case. But in daily speech, the case endings are often not pronounced. The case is there, even if it is not noticeable.
Regarding Arabic pronouns, they do not have case endings. Pronouns in subject form (I) are words of their own while pronouns in object form (me) and ownership form (my) are suffixes.
Nominative is the default case. If there is nothing that affects a word to be in accusative or genitive, the word has nominative case.
One can say that nominative is the subject case. The subject in a sentence is the one that performs the action, the one that does what the word refers to. If you have a sentence with a verb, the subject has nominative case. Sentences with the verb is in English, are often nominal sentence in Arabic. The important words in those sentences have nominative case.
Nominative is characterized by the vowel u. Indefinite words in nominative case often end in un which is written as two loops above the final letter of the word:
Definite words with nominative case often end in u which is written as a loop above the final letter of the word:
For example, the Arabic word for the student in nominative case is pronounced aT-Taalibu. The vowel u in the end shows that the word has nominative case.
Learn more about nominative case
Accusative case can be used in many ways. But most important is that accusative is the object case. The object in a sentence has accusative case. The object is for example the one that is affected by the action.
Accusative is characterized by the vowel a. Indefinite words in accusative case often end in an which is written as two lines above the final letter of the word:
Definite words in accusative case often end in a which is written as a line above the final letter of the word:
For example, the Arabic word for the homework in accusative case is pronounced ad-darsa. The vowel a in the end of the word shows that the word is in accusative case.
Learn more about accusative case
Genitive is the ownership case. In Arabic ownership constructions, the last word has genitive case. Genitive is also used after prepositions.
Genitive is characterized by the vowel i. Indefinite words in genitive case often end in in which is written as two lines below the final letter of the word:
Definite words in genitive case often end in i which is written as a line below the final letter of the word:
For example, the Arabic word for the pen in genitive case is pronounced al-qalami. The vowel i in the end of the word shows that the word has genitive case.
Learn more about genitive case
Case in i a sentence
We can study an Arabic sentence to see how case is normally used.
The sentence The student writes the homework with the pen is pronounced yaktubu aTTaalibu addarsa bilqalami in Arabic.
The sentence is started with yaktubu that means he writes. That is a verb and therefore has no case.
The second word, aT-Taalibu, means the student. The word ends in u and has case nominative since the student is the subject in the sentence.
The third word, ad-darsa, means the homework. The word ends in a and has accusative cas since the homework is the object of the sentence.
Word number four, the preposition bi, means with. It is a particle and therefore has no case.
The fifth word, al-qalami, means the pen. The word ends with i and has genitive case since it follows a preposition.
If you want more information about each word of the sentence, click the eye symbol under the sentence.
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Common case signs
We have learned the most common case signs: the vowels u, a and i. The vowel u indicates nominative (subject case), the vowel a indicates accusative (object case) and the vowel i indicates genitive (ownership case). That is true for singular words and broken plural. We will look at some examples, the Arabic words for cheetah, cheetahs, mother and father.
The Arabic word for cheetah is pronounced fahd without case endings.
Cheetah is a singular word. Therefore, the common case endings are used. In the tables below you can see the word with all three case endings. The first table shows indefinite form (a cheetah) and the second table shows definite form (the cheetah).
|fahdun||a cheetah (nominative)|
|fahdan||a cheetah (accusative)|
|fahdin||a cheetah (genitive)|
|alfahdu||the cheetah (nominative)|
|alfahda||the cheetah (accusative)|
|alfahdi||the cheetah (genitive)|
Plural of cheetah, i.e. cheetahs, is pronounced fuhuud in Arabic.
Cheetahs is broken plural in Arabic and therefore the normal case endings are used. You can see them in the tables below.
Father and mother
To make sure we remember the common case endings, we will look at two more words. We start with the Arabic word for father that is pronounced waalid.
Since father is a singular word, we will use the normal case endings.
|waalidun||a father (nominative)|
|waalidan||a father (accusative)|
|waalidin||a father (genitive)|
|alwaalidu||the father (nominative)|
|alwaalida||the father (accusative)|
|alwaalidi||the father (genitive)|
The Arabic word for mother is pronounced waalida. It is the same word as the Arabic word for father, but with a in the end. The letter at the end is called ta marbuta. Words that end with ta marbuta are feminine.
Since mother is a singular word, we will use the normal case endings. Note that the letter ta marbuta is pronounced at before the case endings.
|waalidatun||a mother (nominative)|
|waalidatan||a mother (accusative)|
|waalidatin||a mother (genitive)|
|alwaalidatu||the mother (nominative)|
|alwaalidata||the mother (accusative)|
|alwaalidati||the mother (genitive)|
Other case signs
Now we have learned the most common case indicators. The vowel u for nominative (subject case), the vowel a for accusative (object case) and the vowel i for genitive (ownership case). These vowels are used for singular and for broken plural. For example the words for mother, father, cheeatah and cheetahs, that we just looked at.
There are also other case indicators. They are used for regular plural and for dual. They have in common that they are endings that are added to the end of words, and that accusative and genitive has the same endings.
Arabic has two kinds of regular plural. One of them is regular plural masculine that is used when we talk about many persons and at least one of them is a man. The other is regular plural feminine that is very useful. It is used when we talk about many people that are all women. It is also a plural ending for many other words that does not represent people.
Regular plural feminine
You will recognize regular plural feminine by its ending aat. As an example, we can look at our word for mother. We know that is waalida in singular. In plural, it is waalidaat.
Regular plural feminine has the common case endings in nominative and genitive. But in accusative, the endings are the same as for genitive.
|alwaalidaatu||the mothers (nominative)|
|alwaalidaati||the mothers (accusative)|
|alwaalidaati||the mothers (genitive)|
Regular plural masculine
You will recognize regular plural masculine by its ending uuna that is used in nominative. For example, the Arabic word for father is waalid in singular and waaliduuna in plural.
As mentioned, regular plural masculine has the ending uuna in nominative. In accusative and genitive, the ending is iina.
|alwaaliduuna||the fathers (nominative)|
|alwaalidiina||the fathers (accusative)|
|alwaalidiina||the fathers (genitive)|
Arabic does not only have singular and plural, it also has dual. Dual is used when there are two of something. If you find dual complicated, you can use plural instead.
Masculine dual ends in aani in nominative. While waalid is a father, waalidaani is two fathers.
As mentioned, masculine dual has the ending aani in nominative case. In accusative and genitive, the ending is ayni.
|waalidaani||two fathers (nominative)|
|waalidayni||two fathers (accusative)|
|waalidayni||two fathers (genitive)|
|alwaalidaani||the two fathers (nominative)|
|alwaalidayni||the two fathers (accusative)|
|alwaalidayni||the two fathers (genitive)|
Feminine dual ends in ataani in nominative. While waalida is a mother, waalidataani is two mothers.
As mentioned, feminine dual has the ending ataani in nominative case. In accusative and genitive, the ending is atayni.
|waalidataani||two mothers (nominative)|
|waalidatayni||two mothers (accusative)|
|waalidatayni||two mothers (genitive)|
|alwaalidataani||the two mothers (nominative)|
|alwaalidatayni||the two mothers (accusative)|
|alwaalidatayni||the two mothers (genitive)|
Case is used to show what function a word has in a sentence. There are three cases in Arabic: Nominative, accusative and genitive.
Nominative is the default case and is used for subjects. Nominative is indicated by the vowel u in singular and broken plural, uuna and aatun in regular plural and aani and ataani in dual.
Accusative is the object case. Accusative is indicated by the vowel a in singular and broken plural, iina and aatin in regular plural and ayni and atayni in dual.
Genitive is the ownership case. Genitive is also used after preposition. Genitive is indicated by the vowel i in singular and broken plural, iina and aatin in regular plural and ayni and atayni in dual.