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.

6 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.

      • Here is I might suggest:

        – He had been speaking: كان يتكلم (Kaana yatakalam) – We used the verb “كان” in the past tense which denotes that the sentence that follows occurred in the past. “كان” is also known to precede nominal sentence (Here the subject here is not visible but it stands for pronoun “him”. The original meaning of the sentence is: “كان هو يتكلم”. Also the predicate came in the form of a verbal sentence “يتكلم”; the verb is in the present tense). Technically, “كان” refers to the subject “He” being described by the predicate “been speaking” in the past tense.

        – He will not have spoken: If you were intending to use the “future perfect tense” then I think you should have added “by then” or “by tomorrow” for example. Here once again, we will use the verb “كان” in the present tense form preceded by “لن” (its role is to negate the occurrence of the verb in the future), Afterward we use the verb to speak in the past tense “تكلم” preceded by “قد” to stress the verb it precedes. Here is the final result: “لن يكون قد تكلم”
        – The last sentence is in the Perfect Continuous Conditional; meaning that if something had happened (which is not the case) then something would have happened. In Arabic, “لو” is like “if” since here you are wishing for something which will not occur since the chance had already passed by. In the main clause, we will introduce “ل” (it shows that the verb that comes after it is the result of the “if clause”) before “كان يتكلم”. Here is the outcome: لكان يتكلم

        Please keep in mind that Arabic is a language just like all other languages in the sense that learning it requires time and effort. Just because one ignores a language he deems it to be incomprehensible and complicated. It that was the case, Arabic wouldn’t have survived of these centuries along with its literature works. It is the only language that remained as exactly as it used to be spoken thousands of years ago (By this i mean classical Arabic). It is such a rich language that just changing the order of words in the same sentence can lead to another meaning for example. For such, God chose Arabic to be the language of His final messenger and the everlasting miracle that will stand until the final day.
        Here just a simple example: if you try to translate this one word you will need 6 words in English: سألتمونيها (You have asked me about her).

        Allah knows best

    • Salaam,

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


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