Types of sentences

In Arabic, there are two types of sentence: Verbal sentences and nominal sentences. Nominal sentences have different versions.

In this lessons, we will look at these types of sentences and look at the rules that applies to them. We will start with verbal sentences and then look at the different types of nominal sentences. But first of all, we will learn the Arabic word for sentence: jumla.

ﺟُﻤﻠَﺔ
jumla
sentence

Arabic verbal sentences

The Arabic word for verb is fi3l.

ﻓِﻌﻞ
fi3l
doing, verb

An Arabic nominal sentence is called jumla fi3liyya.

verbal sentence

The definition of an Arabic verbal sentence is a sentence that starts with a verb.

An example of an Arabic verbal sentence is taktubu l-bintu that means the girl writes.

The girl writes.

Note that the verb (taktubu) comes first. In Modern Standard Arabic, the normal word sequence is VSB, ie verb, subject, object. The sentence above contains verb (taktubu) and subject (al-bintu). We can add an object if we want, for example ar-risaalata that means the letter.

The girl writes the letter.

We can also build a verbal sentence that only contains a verb. That is possible since Arabic verbs are conjugated after the doer.

She writes.

The three sentences above all start with a verb. Therefore, they follow the definition of an Arabic verbal sentence: a sentence that starts with a verb. However, Arabic verbal sentences can start with certain particles, and still be classified as verbal sentences.

The girl do not write.

The Arabic word laa can be translated to not and are used, among other things, to negate verbs in present tense. Other arabic words that can be used to negate verbs are maa, lam and lan. These words belong to the Arabic part of speech particles. They are placed before the verb and do not affect whether the sentence is classified as a verbal sentence or not.

The grammar of the verbal sentence

An Arabic verbal sentence always has a verb, and we know that verb is called fi3l in Arabic.

ﻓِﻌﻞ
fi3l
doing, verb

An Arabic verbal sentence also always contains a faa3il, which means doer in Arabic, but is translated to subject in English.

ﻓَﺎﻋِﻞ
faa3il
doer

In the sentence the girl writes (taktubu l-bint), the verb writes (taktubu) is fi3l and the girl (l-bintu) is faa3il. Note the vowel u in the end of (l-bintu). The subject (faa3il) in a verbal sentence has nominative case which is usualy marked with the vowel u.

The girl writes.

In our sentence she writes (taktubu), the fi3l is (taktubu). The sentence also has a subject (faa3il), even though it is not obvious. The subject is she, since the verb is conjucated in third person singular feminine.

She writes.

In verbal sentences where the subject is not a standalone word, but is read from the conjugation of the verb, we say that the subject is an implied pronoun.

implied pronoun

In our sentence she writes (taktubu), the subject is an implied pronoun that is assumed to be she. That can be expressed like this in Arabic:

The subject is an implicit pronoun, estimated to be she.

Some Arabic verbal sentence have an object, some have no object. In our sentence the girl writes the letter, the letter (r-risaalata) is the object.

The girl writes the letter.

In Arabic, there are five kinds of objects. Object have accusative case which is usually marked with the vowel a in the end. The object that corresponds to that we call object in English, ie the target of the action, is called maf3uul bi-hi which literally means affected with.

object

Conclusion - verbal sentences

An Arabic verbal sentence is a sentence that starts with a verb, or that starts with particle + verb. An Arabic verbal sentence always contains verb (fi3l) and subject (faa3il).

The subject can be a standalone word or it can be implied from the conjugation of the verb. Standalone subjects have nominative case, whish is normally marked with the vowel u in the end.

Some Arabic verbal sentences have an object (maf3uulun bi-hi). The object has accusative case, which usually is marked with the vowel a in the end.

Arabic verbal sentences have the word sequence VSO, ie verb, subject and object.

In this website, you can see more examples of verbal sentences. There is also a lesson with more information about verbs and verbal sentences.

Arabic nominal sentences

The Arabic word for noun is ism.

ﺍِﺳﻢ
ism
name

The Arabic part of speech ism includes nouns, adjectives, names (of people, cities etc) and pronouons. The word ism also means name, like in My name is Fatima.

An Arabic nominal sentence is called jumla ismiyya.

nominal sentence

The definition of an Arabic nominal sentence is a sentence that starts with a noun.

There are different kinds of Arabic nominal sentences. They have in common that they contain two parts. One part is being described and the other part describes.

Nominal sentence - the described part

The part of a nominal sentence that is being described is called mubtada'.

ﻣُﺒﺘَﺪَﺃ
mubtada'
beginning, subject

The word mubtada' is normally translated to subject. Another translation of mubtada' is beginning. It is very common that the mubtada' comes first in a nominal sentence.

If you click the eye symbol under the word mubtada', you will see that it is related to other words that mean beginning.

Hence, the described part in a nominal sentence is called mubtada' in Arabic and subject in English. For simplicity, I will from now on use the term subject.

The subject (ie mubtada') is an noun, and it should be definite. If you have read the lesson about definite form, you know that you get definite form by placing the particle al in front of a noun or adjective. There are also other kinds of words that are considered to be definite even though they don't have the particle al in front of them, for example pronouns and names.

Here are three examples of words that are considered definite in Arabic, and therefore can be used as subject in a nominal sentence.

البِنتُ
bint
the girl
ﻫِﻲَ
hiya
she
فَاطِمةُ
faaTimatu
Fatima

The subject in i nominal sentence, just like the subject in a verbal sentence, has nominative case, which is usually marked with the vowel u in the end. Regarding pronouns like hiya (she), their final vowels are not affected by case declensions.

Nominal sentence - the describing part

The part of a nominal sentence that is describing the subject is called khabar.

ﺧَﺒَﺮ
khabar
news, predicate

When talking about grammar, khabar is usually translated to predicate. In Arabic, khabar literally means news. The predicate describes the subject. It thus gives us information about the subject. The information is often new to the recipient (otherwise there would be no point in presenting it), and can therefore be seen as news.

The predicate (ie khabar) in a nominal sentence can be a word, a sentence or a semi-sentence. What category the predicate belongs to, defines how the nominal sentence is classified.

Types of nominal sentences

Arabic nominal sentences are classified into different types, depending on what the predicate consists of. The predicate can be any of the following:

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a single word

The simplest type of nominal sentences are sentences where the predicate is a single word.

The girl is a writer.
The girl is skilled.
The girl is Egyptian.

In the sentences above, al-bintu (the girl) is the subject. The predicate is kaatibatun (writer) in the first sentence, maahiratun (skilled) in the second sentence and miSriyyatun (Egyptian) in the third sentence.

The predicate has nominative case, just like the subject. The subject is definite, while the predicate is undefinite. That is why the subject ends in u, while the predicate ends in un.

In the English translations, there is the verb "is", while the Arabic sentences have no verb. There is not need for any verb in this type of nominal sentence.

Let's focus for a while on the predicate kaatibatun (writer) and look at different subjects.

The girl is a writer.
Fatima is a writer.
She is a writer.

All subjects are definite. The word al-bintu (the girl) is definite becuase of the paraticle al before it. The word faaTimatu is definite becuase it is a name and hiya (she) is defintie becuase it is a pronoun.

The predicate follows the subject in gender and number. In all the nominal sentences we have seen so far, the subject is singular feminine, ie a girl or a woman. If we change the gender or number of the subject, the predicate will change as well.

The girl is skilled.
The boy is skilled.
The girls are skilled.

Before we continue, we will modify the subject in one of the nominal sentences above. This sentence will be useful for us later.

The girl is skilled.
His daughter is skilled.

In the first nominal sentence, the subject is al-bintu. In the other nominal sentence, the subject is bintu. The word bintu forms an ownership construction with hu that means his. The word is definite becuase the first part of an ownership constuction is always considered definite.

The Arabic word bint can be translated to both girl and daughter, depending on the context..

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a single word is called this in Arabic:

a nominal phrase whose predicate is a single word

On this website, you can se plenty of nominal sentences where the predicate is a single word.

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a sentence

The predicate can also be a sentence. And we know that there are two types of Arabic sentences: verbal sentences and nominal sentences.

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a verbal sentence

We will look again at our verbal sentence the girl writes.

The girl writes.

If we change the word sequence, we will get a nominal sentence where the predicate is a verbal sentence.

The girl writes.

In the sentence, al-bintu (the girl) is subject and the verbal sentence taktubu (writes), that consists of only one verb, is the predicate.

The two sentences have the same English translation. But they are not quite the same. The verbal sentence taktubu l-bintu is focusing on the action. The nominal sentence al-bintu taktubu is focusing on the girl.

We can add an object if we want.

The girl writes the letter.

In the sentence, al-bintu (the girl) is the subject and the verbal sentence taktubu r-risaalata (writes the letter) is predicate.

We can look at what happens if we change the subject.

The girl writes.
The boy writes.
The girls write.

In a nominal sentence where the perdicate is a verbal sentence, the predicate always have to refer to the subject. In the sentences above, the reference is made by conjugating the verb of the predicate according to the subject.

The reference can also be done through the object of the predicate.

The letter, the girl writes it.

In the sentence above, ar-risaalatu (the letter) is the subject and the verbal sentence taktubu-haa l-bintu (the girl writes it) is the predicate. The object of the predicate is the suffixed pronoun haa (it) that refers to the subject.

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a verbal sentence is called this in Arabic:

a nominal phrase whose predicate is a verbal sentence

On this website, you can see more examples of nominal sentences where the predicate is a verbal sentence.

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a nominal sentence

Let us look again at the sentence his daughter is skilled, that is a nominal sentence where the predicate is a single word.

His daughter is skilled.

We can use this sentence as a predicate. That will give as a nominal sentence where the predicate is another nominal sentence.

The engineer, his daughter is skilled.

In the sentence, al-muhandisu (the engineer) is the subject and the nominal sentence bintu-hu maahiratun (his daughter is skilled) is the predicate.

If the engineer whose daughter is skilled is instead a woman, we get the following sentence:

The engineer, her daughter is skilled.

In the sentence, al-muhandisatu (the engineer) is the subject and the nominal sentence bintu-haa maahiratun (her daughter is skilled) is the predicate.

An important rule for nominal sentences where the predicate is another nominal sentence, is that the predicate should refer to the subject. In the first sentence, the male engineer is the subject and the suffixed pronoun of the predicate hu (his) refers back to the subject. In the second sentence, the female engineer is the subject and the suffixed pronoun of the predicate haa (her) refers back to the subject.

Nominal sentences where the predicate is another nominal sentence is called this in Arabic:

a nominal phrase whose predicate is a nominal phrase

This type of sentence is not very comon, but this website has some examples of nominal sentences where the predicate is another nominal sentence.

Nominal sentence where the predicate is a semi-sentence

In Arabic grammar, there is the term shibhu jumlatin.

resemblance of sentence

The term shibhu jumlatin literally means resemblance of sentence. A shibhu jumlatin consists of two words. It does not count as a complete sentence. That is why I have chosen to call it semi-sentence.

A semi-sentence (shibhu jumlatin) can be either a prepositional phrase or an adverbial phrase.

Nominal sentences where the predicate is a prepositional phrase

Within the Arabic part of speech Harf (particles), there is a subcategory called Harfu jarrin. We translate it to prepositions.

preposition

While there are plenty of English prepositions, there are only eight Arabic prepositions. Three of them are:

ﻓِﻲ
fii
in
ﻋَﻠَﻰ
3alaa
on
ﻙَ
ka
as

An Arabic prepositional phrase is simply a combination of a preposition (Harfu jarrin) and a noun.

at school
on the stage
like a lion

Above, you can see three prepositional phrases. The word that follows a preposition always has genitive case, which is usually marked with the vowel i in the end.

Note that in the third phrase (like a lion), the preposition ka is attached to the word after.

Now we can create nominal sentences of these prepositional phrases.

The girl is at school.
The girl is on the stage.
The girl is like a lion.

In the sentences above, al-bitu (the girl) is the subject while the prepositional phraes are predicate.

Nominal sentences where the subject is an adverbial phrase

Within the Arabic part of speech ism (nouns), there is a subcategory called Zarf. Those are words that describe time or place.

ﻇَﺮﻑ
Zarf
adverb, circumstance, envelope

Within English grammar, some of these words are considered adverbs, and others are considered prepositions. However, they are called Zarf in Arabic. Here are three examples:

ﺃَﻣَﺎﻡَ
'amaama
before, in front of, opposite
ﻭَﺳﻂ
wasT
middle
ﺑَﻌﺪَ
ba3da
after

An Arabic adverbial phrase is simply a combination of a Zarf (ie word for time or place) and a noun.

in front of the house
middle of the room
afternoon

Above you can see three adverbial phrases. The word that follows a Zarf always has genitive case, which is usually marked with the vowel i in the end.

Now we can create nominal sentences of these adverbial phrases.

The girl is in front of the house.
The table in the middle of the room.
The lesson is in the afternoon.

In the first sentence, al-bintu (the girl) is subject while the adverbial phrase 'amaama l-bayti (in front of the house) is predicate. In the second sentence, aT-Taawilatu (the table) is the subject while the adverbial phrase wasta l-ghurfati (middle of the room) is the predicate. In the third sentence, ad-darsu (the lesson) is the subject while the adverbial phrase ba3da Z-Zuhri (after noon) is the predicte.

Conclusion - semi-sentences

An Arabic semi-sentence (shibhu jumla) is a combination of two words. The first word of a semi-sentence is either a preposition (Harfu jarrin) or a word for time or place (Zarf). The second word of a semi-senence is a noun that has genitive case. The verb "is" is normally used when translating semi-sentences, but in Arabic there is no verb.

On this website, you can see examples of shibhu jumla.

By combining a subject and a semi-sentence (shibhu jumla), we get a nominal sentence. Nominal sentences where the predicate is a semi-sentence is called this in Arabic:

a nominal phrase whose predicate is a prepositional phrase

On this website, you can see examples of nominal sentences where the predicate is a semi-sentence.

Conclusion - types of sentences

In Arabic, there are two kinds of sentences. Verbal sentences and nominal sentences.

A verbal sentences consists of a verb (fi3l) and a subject (faa3il). Some verbal sentences have an object (maf3uul bi-hi).

A nominal sentence consists of a subject (mubtada') and a predicate (khabar). Nominal sentences are divided into different categories, depending on what the predicate is.

Below, you can see some of the sentences we have looked at in this lesson, and what sentence category they belong to.

ﺗَﻜﺘُﺐُ
taktubu
ﺗَﻜﺘُﺐُ ﺍَﻟﺒِﻨﺖُ
taktubu albintu
ﺗَﻜﺘُﺐُ ﺍَﻟﺒِﻨﺖُ ﺍَﻟﺮِّﺳَﺎﻟَﺔَ
taktubu albintu arrisaalata
ﺍَﻟﺒِﻨﺖُ ﻣَﺎﻫِﺮَﺓٌ
albintu maahiratun
ﺍَﻟﺒِﻨﺖُ ﺗَﻜﺘُﺐُ
albintu taktubu
ﺍَﻟﻤُﻬَﻨﺪِﺱُ ﺑِﻨﺘُﻪُ ﻣَﺎﻫِﺮَﺓٌ
almuhandisu bintuhu maahiratun
ﺍَﻟﺒِﻨﺖُ ﻓِﻲ ﺍَﻟﻤَﺪﺭَﺳَﺔِ
albintu fii almadrasati
ﺍَﻟﺒِﻨﺖُ ﺃَﻣَﺎﻡَ ﺍَﻟﺒَﻴﺖِ
albintu 'amaama albayti