The Equational Sentence

There are two kinds of sentences in Arabic, those with a verb and those without a verb. For the first few lessons we will deal with those sentences which have no verb. These sentences have the fancy name “equational sentences” but do not be put off by the terminology.

Equational sentences are sentences which would have the verb “to be” conjugated in the present tense if they were in English. For example, “I am Jim” would be “I Jim” in Arabic. Equational sentences can become quite complex; an entire paragraph may consist of a number of equational sentences or of one long equational sentence. Alas, the American student all too often never masters even this basic element of the language. Over the next few chapters we will learn to use equational sentences of increasing complexity. It will be easy.

In this lesson we will limit ourselves to very basic vocabulary in the examples and in the drills. All of the vocabulary items should already be very familiar if you have studied Arabic before.

Look at the Arabic sentences below.

  I am Samiir

أنا سمير

  You are Muhammad

أنتَ محمد

  She is Samiira

هي سميرة


Each of these sentences contains a subject that is a pronoun. Each of these sentences also contains a predicate (something that tells us about the subject) which is a proper name. The meanings of the sentences should be obvious if you have had Arabic before. If you have not, you now have examples of the most basic equational sentences.

The subject of an equational sentence does not have to be a pronoun. It can be any noun or proper noun. We could have sentences such as:

  Muhammad is a student.

محمد طالب


Here Muhammad is the subject and “student” is the predicate. Thus the predicate can also be any kind of a noun. In fact, the predicate can also be an adjective. For example:

  Muhammad is a tall

محمد طويل


Here the predicate ” طويل ” is an adjective.

5 comments… add one
  • hello,
    have you got any lessons that cover nominal sentences in detail? and also adjectival phrases in detail?


  • Hi,

    We know in English there are many different tenses (you can see them here But in Arabic there are basically two types of tenses i.e, Past and present which can be made to express in different tenses by prefixing different words to the verbs. I am wondering if Arabic has the ways of expressing tenses like English. For example; how would we translate tenses like: He had been speaking, He will be speaking, He will not have spoken, He would have been speaking etc?

    Your reply would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    • I am not an expert, but I think that what you need to read about is not just “tense” but “aspect.” The helping verb “had” indicates aspect. I think in Arabic these are usually expressed through participles. So while the narrative would be in past tense, the actions happening in the past tense (continuous aspect), would be in the “present tense” in Arabic.

      Some people say that what we call “present tense” in Arabic is more properly “imperfect aspect” and what we call “past tense” is more properly “perfect aspect.” Teachers of ancient Hebrew likewise teach that Hebrew verbs have no tenses—only aspects.

      Translating something like “he will not have spoken” or “he would have been speaking” into Arabic sounds pretty confusing to me. I don’t really know—I think it would involve lengthening the sentence considerably.

    • Salaam,

      See the lesson on this website on kaana inshaAllah as it goes through how to form these different tenses:


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