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Nahw – The Grammatical States playground: معرب and مبنی

May 1, 2007

Recall from our earlier discussion that إعراب is the name given to the process of reflecting grammatical states on the last letters of words by using dhamma, fatha, or kasra. To avoid false grammatical assumptions arising from vowel-less script (which is the case both in the writings of Classical Arabic and contemporary Arabic language) it is very important to know which words experience grammatical states in Arabic and which do not. Without this knowledge a reader may attribute grammatical states where they are not supposed to be attributed. In other words, by just looking at a dhamma a reader might assume the state of رفع whereas the word may very well be one which does not take any grammatical states.
To go about clearing this confusion the grammarians of Arabic Language have defined certain terms:

  1. معرب : These are the parts of speech which do experience grammatical states and show these states by using dhamma, fatha, and kasra
  2. True مبني: These are the parts of speech which do not experience any grammatical states
  3. Resembling مبني: These are parts of speech which do experience grammatical states but do not show them at their ends for one reason or another

Below, I will explain in detail which part of speech falls under which category.


كل حرف مستحق للبنا

[Everyحرف is worthy of being مبني]

So says the author of A Thousand Couplets. From amongst the parts of speech in Arabic, none of the حرف experience any of the grammatical state. Thus, we cannot say that فی or ھٰذِہِ is in رفع , نصب , or جر . It would be grammatically incorrect to say that. In Arabic Language, 100% of the حرف are مبني.


فعل أمر ومضي بنيا
وأعربوا مضارعا إن عريا
من نون توكيد مباشر ومن
نون إناث كير عن من فتن

[The Amr verb and past tense are mabnee

And they (The Arabs) considered the imperfect Mu’rab if it is naked

From the attached nun of emphasis and from the nun of femininity

Like they (group of females) scared the one who was put in trial]

Moving on to فعل , we know by now that فعل can be subdivided into 4 broad categories, namely ماضی , مضارع , امر , and نهي .

The نهي conjugations are nothing but a variation of مضارع . If we remove the لا all we are left with is مضارع in the state of جزم . For example, لا تَشرَبْ becomes تَشرَبْ which is a مضارع in the state of جزم . Also, within the امر everything except the 2nd person active voice is nothing but مضارع in the state of جزم due to the presence of لام with a kasra at the front. In addition to this, we have already said that the 2nd person active command ofامر has special conjugations, different from those of 1st and 3rd person active (and also the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person passive voice) since a command is almost always directed towards a second person. Thus, for the purpose of Nahw we divide the فعل into 3 different different categories. Note, that we are just shuffling around the same categories of فعل for the purpose of understanding the concept of معرب and مبني; no new categories are being defined:

  1. ماضی
  2. مضارع (including all conjugations except the 2nd person active voice)
  3. امر (including only the 2nd person active voice)

In the ensuing discussion, the terms ماضی , مضارع , andامر are used as defined above, and not in the usual صرف terms

Out of these, ماضی is all مبني so no governing agent will ever cause it to enter a grammatical state i.e. alter its endings. The امر is also 100% مبني. The مضارع, however, is generally معرب ; one indication of this is the change in endings which takes palce when we put a لم or a لن in front of a مضارع . Without a لم the مضارع has a dhamma whereas if we put a لن in front of it the ending changes to a fatha. Note that these changes are not received by either the ماضی or the 2nd person active command. In addition to this recall that the two feminine plurals which, if you recall , do not change when we add لم or a لن in front of the مضارع . For example, يَفْعَلْنَ remains يَفْعَلْنَ even if we add a لم or a لن in front of the مضارع . Thus out of the total 14 conjugations the two feminine plurals are مبني. The other 12 conjugations will change, i.e. they will be معرب provided that the ن of emphasis is not there, which, if it is there, will make these conjugations مبني. It is important to note that the ن of emphasis is a separate word in the emphatic conjugations and cannot receive the change to undergo a grammatical state. Thus, it causes the مضارع to be مبني. It is now high time to re-read the verses from A Thousand Couplets given above for فعل


الاسم منه معرب ومبني
لشبه من الحروف مدني
كالشبه الوضعى في اسمي جئتنا
والمعنوي في متى وفي هنا

[The Ism, from it are Murab and Mabnee,

Due to a resemblance to the particles which draws close,

Like the coinage resemblance in the two Isms of جئتنا ,

And the meaning resemblance in the words متى and هنا ]

If one notices, اسم and حرف are at the two ends of the Arabic Language spectrum: An اسم is defined within itself whereas a حرف requires additional information to be defined. Moreover, اسم are made up of a minimum of 3 letters whereas حرف are composed usually of two letters. There are, however, certain اسم which resemble حرف in that they are also composed of two letters. An example of this happens in جئتنا (you came to us) which has two اسم in it: تا (you) and نا (us). Thus, we say that such اسم resemble حرف on the basis of coinage i.e. in the way they are formed, and this resemblance causes the اسم to get one chracteristic of حرف i.e. become مبني.

Another part from the parts of speech is demonstrative pronouns which is closer to حرف on the basis of meaning. For example, the word متى could stand for:

  1. Interrogation e.g. متیٰ ﻫﻨﺍ الوعدُ ان کُنتُم ﺼﺩﻗﻴﻥ (when will this promise (be fulfilled) if your are from amongst the true)
  2. Condition i.e. it conveys the meaning if e.g. when he comes, respect him; when I play, you watch, which essentially can be conveyed in the form: if he comes, respect him or if I play, you watch

In both of these meanings it resembles a حرف which can be explained by the fact that for interrogation in Arabic we already have the particle called the hamza of interrogation, , and for condition we have the حرف called اِن . Thus on the basis of this meaning resemblance the اسم متى becomes مبني .

Lastly, to understand as to why هنا is an example of an اسم which is مبني , consider the how the following meanings are conveyed in Arabic using حرف :

Interrogation –

Condition – اِن

Negation – ما ، لا

Prohibition – لا

Emphasis – اِنَّ, ن ثقيلة

Elevation – علیٰ

Longing / Wishing – ليت

Anticipation – لئِلّا

Containment – فی

Destination – الیٰ

Origin / Initiation – مِن

Semblance – کَانَّ

Reference – ???

Now هنا is used for اشارة i.e. to refer to something. Every idea being conveyed in the above list has a corresponding حرف in the Arabic Language, except هنا . Thus, the Arabic grammarians say: ﻓﺣﻘﱡﻪ ان ﻳﻮﺿﻊ ﻟﻬﺎ حرف (So, it was also worthy of having a particle coined alongside it). In other words, اشارة should also have a حرف coined for it and yet there is none. Thus, هنا is an اسم which is مبني due to the resemblance to a حرف which should have existed but doesn’t.

This shows , at least, that there are certain categories of اسم which are مبني due to one reason or another: meaning, resemblance, dependancy etc. Below, I list these categories:

  1. Personal Pronouns: He, him, she, they, I, we etc.
  2. Interrogative Pronouns: من, ما, متیٰ,اين (Who, what, when, where)
  3. Relative Pronouns: الذی, التی (Who, what, which)
  4. Demonstrative Pronouns: ھٰذاِ, ھٰذِہ,ذٰلِکَ,ھُنا (this, here)

Finally, we are ready to put all this information together in the following 3 points:

  1. حروف: All مبني
  2. 80 % of أفعال are مبني and 20% are معرب
  3. 80% of أسماء are معرب and 20% are مبني

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