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Nahw – The Grammatical States in Arabic Language

March 8, 2007

The concept of Grammatical States is the cornerstone of نحو . Without the proper understanding of grammatical states you can end up saying The rat ate the cat when you actually want to say The cat ate the rat. An oft cited example for this is from the Quran:

…و اذابتلٰی ﺍﹺﺑﺮٰﻫﻴﻢﹶﺭﺑﹽﹹﻪﹸ ُ…

“And remember when the Lord of Ibrahim tested him…” (Al-Baqarah: 124)

Notice the fatha at the end of ﺍﹺﺑﺮٰﻫﻴﻢﹶ and the dhamma at the end of ﺭﺑﹽﹹﻪﹸ (…Ibrahima Rabbuhu…). Now if someone was to say the same thing as (…Ibrahimu Rabbahu…), that is, switch the fatha with the dhamma, that would mean “Ibrahim tested his Lord”, which would change the meaning altogether [Thanks to Fajr who posted this explanation here].

In English language we seldom see nouns changing their grammatical structure in sentences no matter whether they are subject, object, or part of possession in a sentence. Take for example the following three sentences in English:

  1. The house fell
  2. I entered the house
  3. Door of the house

Notice the noun house: no matter how it occurs in the sentence (Subject in the first, Object in the second, and possessive in the third) its form does not change. The word house remains house. Not so in Arabic! The word for house, ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖ, will change grammatically (and not structurally) when the above three sentences are rendered in Arabic:

  1. سقط ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖُ (dhamma at the end of ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖ )
  2. دخلت ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖﹶ (fatha at the end of ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖ)
  3. باب ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖِ (kasra at the end of ﺍﻟﺑﻴﺖ)

This is a classic example of change in grammatical state in the Arabic Language. Technically speaking there are 4 grammatical states in Arabic:

  1. رفع
  2. نصب
  3. جر
  4. جزم

Let’s start with some simple rules:

  1. whenever a noun is the subject in a sentence it automatically goes in the state of رفع i.e. its last letter will have a dhamma on it
  2. whenever the noun is the object it goes in the state of نصب and its last letter will have a fatha on it
  3. whenever a noun occurs in a possessive phrase it will automatically go in the state of جر i.e. its last letter will have a kasra on it
  4. the state of جزم is experienced only by the مُضارِع (present and future tense) and we will tackle this in a later post, Insha Allah

The name given to this process i.e. reflecting grammatical states on the last letters of words by using dhamma,fatha, and kasra is إعراب .

You should remember here that an اسم in Arabic Language covers more than simply nouns. It spans the definition of Adjective, Adverb, Noun, and Pronoun. Therefore, rather than saying that an اسم goes into a certain grammatical state, we will desiccate the اسم into each of these categories and will see in which grammatical state each category falls. For now, let us take another example using three Arabic words: ضرب ، ولد ، ﺯﻳﺪ meaning Zaid, boy, and hit when read from left to right. Using these three words and the grammatical states 1-3 noted above we will see how we can convey different ideas. This example also shows the fact that there is no Subject-Object order in Arabic, as there is in English:

  1. ضَرَبَ وَلَدﹰ ﺯﻳﺪﹲ Zaid hit a boy
  2. ضَرَبَ وَلَدﹲ ﺯﻳﺪﹰ A boy hit Zaid
  3. ضَرَبَ وَلَدُ ﺯﻳﺪﹴ Zaid’s boy hit…

Notice how the the nouns Zaid and boy are being made subject, object, and part of a possessive phrase just by switching from one grammatical state to another. This is, thus, the concept of Grammatical Statesin Arabic. More on this in a later post, Insha Allah!

  1. MashaAllah this is a very beneficial blog, one of the few ones that actually provide valuable information. InshaAlalh I will tell others about this.

  2. Thanks Umm Reem!
    Please pray that I can keep up with posting what I am learning at the Toronto Shariah Program. May Allah make this blog a source of knowledge for all those who seek

  3. very effetive

  4. Shakeel permalink

    Very clear cut explanation.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Nahw - The Grammatical States playground: معرب and مبنی « Internals
  2. Nahw - Methods of reflection of an اِسم « Internals
  3. Nahw - Methods of reflection for the مُضارع verb « Internals

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