Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Arabic Sentences

Arabic words have already been discussed in the Arabic Words tutorial. Words can come together in meaningful ways to form phrases. And phrases have also been discussed in the Arabic Phrases tutorial. Separate words as well as phrases can come together to form a sentence. This tutorial discusses the different types of sentences in Arabic in preparation for more advanced topics related to grammatical inflection.
Informative & Non-Informative Sentences
A sentence is a group of words divided into two piles. One of the piles of words is the thing about which something is being claimed. And the other pile is the claim itself. For example, “my youngest son is sleeping quietly” is a sentence. The first pile of words is “my youngest son” and the second is “sleeping quietly”, because “my youngest son” is the thing about which something is being claimed and “sleeping quietly” is the actual claim. This type of sentence is called جملة خبرية (informative sentence).

There is one other type of sentence. It also has two piles of words, but the second is not really a claim about the first. For example, “can I play, too?” is a sentence and the two piles of words are “can I” and “play, too”. However, nothing is being claimed. This is called جملة إنشائية (non-informative sentence).

A non-informative sentence is actually just an informative one with one of the following things done to it.
·         it is turned into a question; compare “I also play” and “can I also play?”
·        it is turned into a command; compare “you will play with us” and “play with us”
·        it is turned into a request; compare “it won’t rain” and “I hope it doesn’t rain”
·        about half a dozen others

There’s a simple rule of thumb that can differentiate between the two types. Given a sentence, we call the speaker a liar. If this makes sense, then the sentence was an informative one, and if it doesn’t, then it was non-informative. For example, when someone says “I went for a walk today”, we can say “you‘re lying” and this makes perfect sense. On the other hand, when someone says “can I play?”, we cannot say “you’re lying.”

Exercise: determine which of the two types of sentences each of the following is.
1.      what time is it?
2.      the time is a quarter past eight
3.      I can’t believe that
4.      oh my goodness
5.      take this to the car
6.      don’t eat that
7.      I think that Arabic is the most superior language
8.      would you please dispose of this
9.      I’m not sure
10.  I could be wrong
11.  that’s not the way we do things
12.  I was going to do that
Nominal & Verbal Sentences
Another way in which we can categorize sentences is with respect to the first word. If the first word is a noun, the sentences is termed جملة اسمية (nominal sentence). And if it is a verb, it is termed جملة فعلية (verbal sentence). If the first word is neither of these two, in other words it’s a particle, then we simply ignore it and consider the first non-particle word.
This concept is not actually as simple as meets the eye and one should not brush off this concept prima facia. A sentence may in fact be verbal where the initial verb is hidden. Consider the following examples.

يا زيدُ
زيداً ضربته

Both of the above sentences are verbal even though the first non-particle word in each is a noun. This is because the sentence begins with a hidden verb in each case. This is not a wide spread phenomenon at all; students will become aware of the few cases when verbs are hidden through exposure and through studying grammar.

Exercise: determine whether the following sentences are nominal or verbal and informative or non-informative.
1.      قرأتُ وِردي
2.      أنا أكثرُ منك مالاً وولداً
3.      إذا زُلزِلت الأرضُ زلزالها ...
4.      أنا كسَرت الأصنامَ
5.      ولا تحسَبنّ اللهَ غافلاً
6.      نِعْمَ رجلا زيد
7.      هذه الحالة الإسلامية لن يتّفق عليها ما لم يكن هناك فضّ الإشتباك عن التطاعن والتوتر
8.      ما لك؟
Parts of a Sentence
As mentioned earlier, the words in a sentence can be separated into two piles. That is to say, all sentences have two parts; the subject and the predicate.


مُسْنَد إليه
subject of a sentence

The term مسند إليه refers to the subject and the term مسند refers to the predicate, whether the sentence is nominal or verbal. But figuring out where the subject of a sentence ends and where the predicate starts is going to become vital and a mistake in this could mean the difference between heaven and earth. Since this topic is going to be treated so rigorously, we need more specific terminology.

Consequently, if the sentence is nominal then the مسند إليه is termed مبتدأ and the مسند is termed خبر.


subject of a nominal sentence (called the “topic”)
predicate of a nominal sentence (called the “comment”)

Similarly, if the sentence is verbal then the مسند إليه is termed فاعل and the مسند is termed فعل.


subject of a verbal sentence (i.e. the subject of the verb)
predicate of a verbal sentence (i.e. the verb)

Nominal sentence are thus made up of a مبتدأ and a خبر and it is between these two parts that we place the word “is”/”was”/etc when translating. Verbal sentences are made up of a verb, the subject of that verb, and there may also be some auxiliary material such as objects, adverbs, and other such entities.

جملة اسمية
(nominal sentence)
جملة فعلية
(verbal sentence)
مسند إليه
(verbal subject)
(verb + auxiliary entities)

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