Prepositions

Many common words, such as from, to and on are prepositions. In this lesson, we will learn the Arabic prepositions and study phrases and sentences where they are used. We will also discuss the Arabic grammar of prepositions.

Examples of prepositions

We will start with some common prepositions.

min (from)

ﻣِﻦ
min
from, of

The preposition min can be translated to from. For example, the sentence I am from Sweden literally becomes I from Sweden in Arabic. 'anaa = I, min = from, as-suwiid = Sweden.

I am from Sweden.

The preposition min can also be translated to of. For example, lump of clay has the same word sequence in Arabic. kutla = lump, min = of, aT-Tiin = the clay.

lump of clay1

The preposition min is also used in comparison. Bigger than translates to 'akbar min in Arabic and smaller than translates to 'aSghar min.

The ant is smaller than the pigeon.

ilaa (to)

ﺇِﻟَﻰ
'ilaa
to

The preposition 'ilaa can be translated to to. For example, the sentence He went to work has the same structure in English and Arabic. dhahaba = he went, 'ilaa = to, al-3amal = the work.

He went to work.1

Let us combine the two prepositions we just learned and create the sentence I walked from the mountain to the sea.. This sentence also have the same words sequence in English and Arabic. dhahabtu = I walked, min = from, al-jabal = the mountain, 'ilaa = to, al-baHr = the sea.

I walked from the mountain to the sea.

The Arabic preposition 'ilaa is generally quite straight forward. But the common phrase 'ilaa l-liqaa' that means see you later or so long is quite funny. Literally it means to the encounter.

So long!

3alaa (on)

ﻋَﻠَﻰ
3alaa
on

The preposition 3alaa can be translated to on. A simple example is the sentence I am on the ladder. 'anaa = I, 3alaa = on, as-sullam = the ladder.

I'm on the ladder.

We can look at another example. The bird stands on the branch. yaqifu = he stands, aT-Taa'iru = the bird, 3alaa = on, al-ghuSn = the branch.
The sentence comes from this video lecture on Arabic prepositions.

The bird stands on the branch.8

Let us look at a last example of the preposition 3alaa. The common phrase assalaamu 3alaykum literally means the peace upon you. Note that 3alaa has became 3alay because of the suffix kum that means you.

peace be upon you

fii (in)

ﻓِﻲ
fii
in

The preposition fii is translated to in. If we replace the preposition in the first sentence to fii, we will get the sentence I am in Sweden. Literally it says I in Sweden in Arabic. 'anaa = I, fii = in, as-suwiid = Sweden.

I'm in Sweden.

Let us look at another example The sentence He worked in a factory has the same sequence in Arabic and English. 3amila = he worked, fii = in, maSna3 = a factory.

He worked in a factory.1

3an (of)

ﻋَﻦ
3an
of

The preposition 3an can be translated to of or about. As an example, we will look at another sentence with the same sequence in English and Arabic. He talked about the weather. taHaddatha = han he talked, 3an = about, aT-Taqs = the weather.

He talked about the weather.1

The preposition 3an can also be translated to from. As an example, we can look at the sentence The village is located far from the capital. taqa3a = it is located, al-qariya = the village, ba3iidan = far away, 3an = from, al-3aaSima = the capital.
We can also translate taqa3a to she is located. Since the Arabic word for village (qariya) is feminine, the verb is conjugated in feminine.

The village is located far from the capital.1

Hattaa - the complex word

ﺣَﺘَّﻰ
Hattaa
even

The Arabic word Hattaa sometimes functions as a preposition. When Hattaa is used as a preposition, it can be translated to even. A well known sentence, where Hattaa is used as a preposition, is this one: He ate the fish, even the head.

He ate the fish, even the head.

Hattaa is a funny word. I plan to write a lesson about it. It is described as a complex word, because it functions differently depending on the context. Compared to Arabic grammar in general, that is well-defined and consistent, I am sure Hattaa seems quite complicated.

Connected prepositions

We have now looked at almost all Arabic prepositions. There are only three left: ka, bi and li. These prepositions consists of a consonant and a vowel. They are also connected to the word that follows them.

ka (as)

ﻙَ
ka
as

The preposition ka can be translated to as orlike. It is often used in comparisons. If we want to compare the train with the lightning, we can say The train is like lightning. al-qiTaar = the train, ka = like, al-barq = the lightning. Note that you neither write nor say ka al-barq, the words are connected to kalbarq.

The train is like lightning.

We can make our comparison more obvious and say The train is fast like the lightning. al-qiTaar = the train, sarii3 = fast, ka = like, al-barq = the lightning.

The train is fast like the lightning.

bi (with)

ﺏِ
bi
by, with

The preposition bi can be translated towith. For example, coffee with milk becomes qahwa bilHaliib in Arabic. qahwa = coffee, bi = with, al-Haliib = the milk. Note that bi is connected to the word after. We do not say bi al-Haliib, we say bilHaliib.

coffee with milk

Let us see another example. I write with the pen. 'aktubu = I write, bi = with, al-qalami = the pen. And we know by now that we do not say bi al-qalam, we say: bilqalam.

I write with the pen.

You might have heard the preposition bi many times without thinking about it, in the phrase bismiallahi that means by the name of God. bi = with, ism = name, allah = God.

li (for)

ﻝِ
li
for, to

The preposition li can be translated to for or to. Since I have a rabbit that loves to nibble on apple trees, we will look at this sentence: I gave the twig to the rabbit. 'a3Taytu = I gave, al-ghuSn = the twig, li = to, al-'arnab = the rabbit. Not that it should not be li al-'arnab but rather lil'arnab.

I gave the twig to the rabbit.

We can change the sentence above and say I gave him the twig. 'a3Taytu = I gave, al-ghuSn = the twig, la = to, hu = him.

I gave him the twig.

Here we can see that li can change vowel and become la. This happens Before me, her, him etcetera. That is: personal pronouns in that functions as objects.

Genitive after prepositions

We have seen different Arabic prepositions and examples of phrases and sentences where they are used. If you look at the words that follow the prepositions, do they have something in common? If you do not see the connection, look again and focus on the final vowel of the words. Words that follow prepositions end in i or in.

Arabic prepositions causes the following word to be in genitive case. Words that have genitive case end in i in definite form and in in indefinite form.

I have written a lot about grammatical case in Arabic. But I will also sum it up here. There are three cases in Arabic: nominative, accusative and genitive. Words that function as a subject in a sentence have nominative case and end in u or un. Words that function as object in i a sentence have accusative case and end in a or an. Words that follow an Arabic preposition have genitive case. Also words that functions as the owner in an idafa construction have genitive case. Word in genitive case end in i or in.

Prepositions pulls

If you find Arabic grammar boring, you can skip directly to the conclusion. If you love Arabic grammar, keep reading and enjoy!

In Arabic, preposition is called Harfu l-jarri. The plural form is Huruufu l-jarri.

preposition

The phrase is an idafa construction. That is why the owner (the last words) ends in i. One could translate Harfu l-jarri to genitive particle or something similar. But the literal translation is letter of pulling. Genitive case is called majruur in Arabic, which also means pulled.

ﻣَﺠﺮُﻭﺭ
majruur
genitive, pulled

The relation between genitive and pulling is a thought that the vowel i (the genitive marker) pulls down the word. That is why the sign for the vowel i is located under the letter.

Detached and connected prepositions

The prepositions min (from), 'ilaa (to), 3alaa (on), fii (in), 3an (of) and Hattaa (even) are detached. They are not connected to the word that follows them. They stand by themselves. In Arabic, we say that these prepositions are munfaSil.

ﻣُﻨﻔَﺼِﻞ
munfaSil
detached, separate

The prepositions ka (as), bi (with) and li (for) are connected. They cling to the word that follows them. In Arabic, we say that these prepositions are muttaSil.

ﻣُﺘَّﺼِﻞ
muttaSil
connected

Of course all pronouns, as well as all other words, are always connected to suffixes. Personal pronouns that functions as objects are suffixes. We have already seen two of them in this lesson: the suffix kum that means you and the suffix hu that means him. In the phrase assalaamu 3alaykum that literally means the peace upon you, the preposition 3alaa (that has beomce 3alay) is connected to kum. The preposition 3alaa is still detached. The fact that the two words are connected is because of the suffix kum, not the detached preposition 3alaa.

Is comparison between English and Arabic useful?

When English-speaking people teach Arabic grammar, they often use concepts from English grammar. That can facilitate learning, but also cause confusion. Arabic grammar is not English grammar. Those are two different systems. Sometimes it helps to try to forget everything you know about English grammar, and learn Arabic grammar with an open mind.

So what about Arabic prepositions, are they the same as English prepositions? No, not really. First of all: they are not called prepositions in Arabic. They are called Huruufu l-jarr, that can be translated to genitive particles. The Arabic term refers to the case that the prepositions control.

Secondly: Not all English prepositions are included in the Arabic Huruufu l-jarr Words like before and during belong to the Arabic subpart Zarfu z-zamaan. Words like above and below belong to the Arabic subpart Zarfu l-makaan.

Now you might wonder how Zarfu z-zamaan and Zarfu l-makaan should be translated to English. They can be translated to adverbs of time and adverbs of place. But that is, just like preposition, a precarious translation. Arabic and English grammar are based on different theories, and their concepts will never be the same.

Summary - prepositions

There are five detached prepositions in Arabic:

There are three connected prepositions in Arabic. They stick to the word that follow them.

The Arabic word Hattaa sometimes functions as a preposition with the meaning even.

Words that follow a preposition have genitive case, which means that they end in i in definite form and in in indefinite form.