Arabic is one of the most difficult languages to speak. Its grammar is a rich and complex system, but with the right tools, it can become easier to learn. That’s why we’ve put together this article to review the basics of Arabic grammar. So, let’s get started!
Arabic Subject Pronouns
Subject pronouns in Arabic can be considered the "superheroes" of a sentence! They are the stars of the show, and like in English, they let you know who is doing the action. Here are the subject pronouns in Arabic, and a fun little rhyme to remember them:
"I" - "أنا" (ana) - Ana is my name, which I always proclaim
"You (singular, masculine)" - "أنت" (anta) - Anta's got the charm, you're never dull, no harm
"You (singular, feminine)" - "أنت" (anti) - Anti's always sweet, you’re super upbeat
"He" - "هو" (huwa) - Huwa's got the power, he’s a strong and shining tower
"She" - "هي" (hiya) - Hiya's got the grace, her smile lights up the place
"We" - "نحن" (nahnu) - Nahnu are a team, together, we all dream
"You (plural, masculine or feminine)" - "أنتم" (antum) - Antum are so fun, you're never the only one
"They (masculine)" - "هم" (hum) - Hum are the men in charge, their strength is quite large
"They (feminine)" - "هن" (hunna) - Hunna are the queens of grace, their beauty's beyond any place.
Repeat these rhymes and use them to associate each pronoun with its meaning, and soon you'll be able to easily recall the subject pronouns in Arabic.
In Arabic, a verb is like a chameleon that changes its form to match the subject! Just like a chameleon changes its color to blend in with its surroundings, the verb changes its form to match the number, gender, and person of the subject in the sentence. And because the verb is conjugated, you usually do not need to include a subject pronoun with the verb.
Think of it like a group of friends going on a trip. The verb "to go" (ذهب)(dhahab) would change its form depending on who is speaking:
If the speaker is going on the trip, the verb would be in the first person singular form, such as "أذهب" (adhhab). I could say: اذهب الى البيت, meaning I go home. Notice how I don’t use “انا” in the beginning of the sentence, because the “انا” is implied in the conjugation of the verb. While you can say انا اذهب الى البيت , the “انا” is not needed and can even be a little redundant.
If the speaker is talking to one friend who is going on the trip, the verb would be in the second person masculine or feminine singular form, such as "تذهب" (tadhha)
If the speaker is talking about a group of friends who are going on the trip, the verb would be in the third person masculine or feminine plural form, such as "يذهبون" (yadhhaboun).
Earlier, I mentioned verbs being similar to chameleons. And just like a chameleon can change its color accordingly to match the different times of day, the verb can also change its form to match the time in which the action is taking place. Meaning, the verb will change its form depending on whether it describes something occurring in the past, present, or future. The above examples are all in present tense.
Adjectives in Arabic follow the nouns they describe, which is the opposite of how it is in English. Imagine that you're at a party, and you’re introducing someone to your friends. You might say, "Meet my friend, a tall, kind, and intelligent guy" In this sentence, "tall," "kind," and "intelligent" are adjectives that describe the noun, "guy."
Therefore, the adjectives come before the noun. In Arabic, however, instead of saying "the tall guy," you'd say "the guy tall." As mentioned earlier, you place the adjectives after the nouns instead of before.
Here's a sentence using an adjective in Arabic to help illustrate this concept: "الرجل طويل"
(Al-rajul tawil) (The man is tall). In this sentence, "طويل" is the adjective that describes the
noun "الرجل" (the man).
Now that you know how adjectives follow nouns in Arabic, go ahead and have some fun describing the people at your next party - Arabic style!
Arabic Root Words
Most words in Arabic are formed from a simple root, and understanding this concept can make learning Arabic easier.
Think about a tree: the trunk is the root, and the branches are the words that stem from that root. Just like a tree, words in Arabic can be traced back to a simple root. This root in arabic is called the جذر (jaz-ir)
For example, the root, “ك ت ب” (K- T- B, which also means to write) is used to create words related to writing or books, such as "كتاب" (book, ki-tab), "مكتب" (office, mak-ta-b), “مكتبة” (library, mak-ta-ba) and "كاتب” (writer, ka-tib). As you can see, these words all have a link to writing
Similarly, the root "س ل م” (S-L-M, meaning peace) is used to create words related to peace, such as "سلام" (hello/peace, sa-lam), "مسلم" (muslim), and "اسلام" (Islam).
By understanding the root words, you can guess the meaning of new words that you come across and expand your vocabulary. And who knows, maybe you'll even discover some new Arabic words to add to your tree!
Arabic Definite Articles
The Arabic definite article is a word used to indicate that a noun refers to a specific person, place, or thing.
In Arabic, the definite article is "ال" (al-), and it is added to the beginning of a noun. ال literally translates to “the”, and to use it, we can say something like: القطة برتقالية (al-qita burtuqalia), meaning the cat is orange. One interesting thing about the definite article is that it can change in pronunciation depending on the first letter of the noun that it is “attached” to. For some letters, called sun letters, “al” is pronounced “a”.
The rest of the alphabet is referred to as moon letters, and the “al” keeps its regular pronunciation. Essentially, the sun letters make the “ل” (lam) silent for the definite article “ال”. The sun letters are ت، ث، د، ذ، ر، ز، س، ش، ص، ض، ط، ظ، ن، ل. The moon letters are أ، ب، ج، ح، خ، ع، غ، ف، ق، ك، م، ه، و، ي.
In the example above, ‘ال’ is connected to ‘قط’ and ‘ق’ would be the letter that indicates whether the pronunciation of ‘ال’ changes. Since ق is a moon letter, the pronunciation of the ال is “al” and no change is made. If we say الشمس جميلة (a-shams jamilia, the sun is beautiful), the connected letter is ‘ش’, which is a sun letter. Therefore, the pronunciation of the ال is “a”.
Common Arabic Phrases and Words
Lastly, we can review some common Arabic phrases/words and their meanings.
أهلا (ahlan) - Hello
مرحبا (marhaban) - Hello
حبيبي/حبيبتي (habibi/habibti) - My love male/ my love female (informal, can be used withfriends, family)
كيف حالك؟ (?kayf halik) - ?How are you
مع السلامة (ma'a as-salamah) - Goodbye
بخير (bikhair) - Fine, good
شكرا (shukran) - Thank you
لا شيء (la shay') - Nothing
نعم (na'am) - Yes
لا (la) - No
أين تعيش؟ (?ayna ta'eesh) - ?Where do you live
ما هو عملك؟ (?ma huwa amalik) - ?What's your job
ما هو اسمك؟ (?ma huwa ismik) - ?What's your name
كم عمرك؟ (?kam 'umrak) - ?How old are you
أين تذهب؟ (?ayna tadhhab) - ?Where are you going
أنا أذهب إلى... (...ana adhab ila) - ...I am going to
متى؟ (?mata) - ?When
الآن (al-aan) - Now
غدا (ghada) - Tomorrow
أمس (ams) - Yesterday
هل تتكلم العربية؟ (hal tatakallam al-arabiyyah?) - ?Do you speak Arabic
أضحك عليك (adhak 'alayk) - I'm laughing at you (in a playful manner)
أنا عجبت ب... (...ana 'ajabt bi) - ...I was impressed by
So, now that you’ve reviewed the basics of Arabic grammar, it’s time to get out there and start practicing! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced learner, practicing your reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension skills is essential for improving in Arabic.
At ReDefiners World Languages, we specialize in teaching language through online courses and group class conversations. You can begin learning Arabic immediately by meeting with a teacher for instruction twice a week and by participating in group sessions for real, practical conversation experience. We offer classes in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. For more information, please visit our online program page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.