The Nisba Adjective

The nisba adjective is the “relative” adjective in Arabic. It is often used with place names. For example, a man from Baghdad can be referred to as بغدادي What we have done is we have added the suffix يّ ( the letter ي with a shadda) to the name of the city. Thus a male from دِمَشْق is a دمشقيّ. We do the same thing for countries. So a man from مصر is مصريّ – and one from Tunis is تونسيّ This is pretty difficult isn’t it?

These words are made feminine by adding the ة. So a woman from Tunis is  تونسيَّة  (pronounced “tunisiyya”).

Now as you know, some Arabic place names come with the definite article as part of their names.

For example الأردن , العراق and السودان. If we wish to convert these into indefinite relative adjectives we must drop the definite article and then add the nisba. If we want to say, for example, that King Hussein is Jordanian, we say that he is أُردُنيّ. What we have done is we have taken off the أل and then formed the indefinite adjective. If we want to say someone is “the Jordanian” we would reattach the definite article and say that he is الأُردُنيّ. If we want to say that a male is Sudanese, we drop the definite article and are left with سودانيّ. If we want to say “the Sudanese (sing.)” we say السّودانيّ.

Some words end in an alif, امريكا is an example. When this happens, just drop the alif and then add the nisba امريكيّ for example.

The nisba can be applied to a wide variety of nouns in addition to place names. For example مرْكز means “center” and مركزيّ is “central”. وطن means “nation” or “homeland”. Something which is national or a person who is a nationalist is called وطنيّ

Many nouns to which the nisba is applied are feminine. To apply the nisba to a feminine word, the ة must first be dropped and then the nisba is added to it. For example, جامعة, “university” is feminine. If you want to say a “university student” (masc.) you would drop the ة and add the يّ to جامعة – to get جامعيّ “University student” would then be rendered طالب جامعيّ . If the student is feminine, the ‘ة is then added to the nisba ending and you طالبة جامعيّة ّ

The country of Syria in Arabic can be spelled one of two ways سورية or سوريا To form the nisba for this country drop the ة or the ا, as the case may be, and then get rid of the ي . Then add the nisba’s ending. Thus “a Syrian” (masc.) is سوريّ .

القاهرة is Cairo. How would you say that someone is Cairene? First you drop the definite article and then you drop the ة. Then you add the nisba ending to get قاهريّ. So هو قاهريّ is “He is a Cairene.”

“She is a Cairene” is هي قاهريةّ You add the o to the masculine قاهريّ .

That does it for the nisba for now. For plurals of the nisba, see Chapter Four.

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