Verbs – Past Tense and the Accusative Case

We have covered so far two of the three cases in Arabic. Now we come to the last case, the accusative. The accusative is primarily used for the direct object of the verb but appears in other situations as well. These other situations will be discussed in other parts of this book. The information on the accusative below is crucial, essential, and fundamental. If you learn the material on the accusative presented in this lesson, you will know much of what you will ever need to know about case in Arabic and will have the foundation to be able to understand easily the remaining material concerning case in the other parts of this book. If you don’t learn the material in this lesson, go study Spanish.

The accusative is easy, but first we will look at some simple verbs so that we can apply the accusative in actual Arabic sentences.

The verb system in Arabic is thought by most, including myself, to be the core of the language. Part Two of this text will concentrate on the verb system of Arabic. Here you will review just enough about verbs (and that’s not much) to enable you to understand the accusative case.

You will now learn (relearn) how to conjugate some basic Arabic verbs in the past tense. There is no infinitive form of the verb in Arabic. Instead the conjugation for the third person masculine singular is normally used as the base for conjugations. For example دَرَسَ is translated as “to study” when it appears at the head of a verb chart, but it actually means “he studied.” The root of the verb is made up of the three consonants. The fatha placed over the س is the conjugation for هو. In other words, دَرسَ is the stem or the root, we add the fatha over the last letter of the word and we get  دَرَسَ , which really means “he studied.”

Arabic verbs are conjugated in the past tense by adding suffixes to the stem of the verb. A nice thing about Arabic is that the same suffixes are added to every verb in the language when we conjugate in the past tense. Basically, if you can conjugate one Arabic verb in the past tense, you can conjugate them all. Isn’t this an easy language?

Below is a conjugation chart for the verb دَرَسَ in the past tense. No doubt it will look familiar to you if you have studied Arabic before, as most Arabic texts (including this one) are filled with conjugation charts. Take a look at it and then read the comments which follow.























Let’s examine these conjugations a little. For انا the suffix تُ is added to the root دَرَس and we get  دَرَسْتُ  Another way to look at it is that we are replacing the final fatha in دَرَسَ with a sukuun and we are then adding the suffix تُ. This suffix is used for the first person singular conjugation in the past tense on every verb in the language.

For the pronouns أنتَ and أنتِ we add the suffixes تَ and تِ respectively in the same way we added the suffix تُ for the first person. Again, these suffixes will be used on every verb in the language.

For هي we add تْ to the stem. Another way to look at it is that we are just adding a ت with a sukuun to the conjugation for the pronoun هو. We will do this for every verb in the language.

I won’t belabor this by going over every single plural conjugation above, but do note that the conjugation for هم is not phonetic. The conjugation consists of a waw and an alif  – وا. The waw is pronounced as a long vowel and the alif is not pronounced at all. The verb would be read “darasu”. Other than this one, all of the conjugations are phonetic.

Now when Arabic is written, as you are no doubt aware, the short vowels are almost always not written in the text. Thus دَرَسْتُ  “I studied,” will appear as درست Three of the other conjugations will look exactly the same. It is the context that tells you how to read the conjugations.

Also, the internal vowels of verbs like دَرَسَ  will not always be only fathas. For example شَرِبَ  means “to drink.” Here one of the vowels is a kasra. That vowel will always be a kasra, but the conjugations of this verb will otherwise be exactly like those for دَرَسَ  . Likewise, the verb كَرُمَ  “to be generous” has a dhamma for its stem vowel. It will keep the dhamma in all of its past tense conjugations.

Memorize the conjugations above for دَرَسَ  so you can apply them to the other verbs which will be used in the drills at the end of this chapter. Since you have had Arabic before, this should only take you a minute or two. Then go on to the next part of this chapter.



The Accusative Case

The accusative case is applied to the direct object of the verb. For example “I studied the book” is rendered in Arabic as درستُ الكتابَ Notice several things about this sentence.

First, the pronoun for “I,” أنا is not used in the sentence. Such pronouns are usually not used, since the verb conjugation tells us who the subject is. These pronouns are used sometimes for emphasis.

Second, notice that I left most of the verb unvowelled. The only vowel I used is the vowel that tells you for which person the verb is being conjugated. Sometimes you may see such a vowel included in an authentic Arab text if there is a chance of ambiguity. However, usually the verb, like all words, will be completely unvocalized.

Notice that the verb ends in a vowel and that the vowel will elide the hamza on the definite article.

Fourth, the direct object of the verb, الكتابَ ends in a fatha. The fatha is the accusative case marker.

Look at this sentence: درستُ وثيقة “I studied a document.” Notice that two fathas are used here. The second fatha gives us the nunation. This is just like the other two cases, nominative and genitive where the second dhanuna and second kasra provide the nunation. So, we use one fatha if the word is definite and two fathas if the word is indefinite. But there is just a little bit more. Look at the following: درست كتاباً

This is “I studied a book.” Here the indefinite direct object ends in two fathas but we have also added an alif. What is this?

Here is the rule. An indefinite word which does not end in a ة will have an alif attached to it in addition to the two fathas when that word is in the accusative. The alif is not pronounced The alif must be written.

Let’s look at the rule carefully. “An indefinite word that does not end in a ة ,” means words like كتاب , طالب and سلام These words will all have the two fathas attached to them when they are accusative. But after you do that, you add an alif. The alif is a spelling convention and will not be pronounced. However, you must write the alif. As you know, the short vowels in Arabic, including the case endings, are almost never written. However, the alif of the accusative case must be. Thus, the sentence above would appear in a newspaper like this: درست كتاباThe fathas often will not be there, but the alif will.

If a word ends in a ة then we do not add the alif. The word طالبة is an example. If we make it accusative we will write two fathas over the o but we will not write the alif – طالبة.

Since you have had Arabic before, you know that some words have what are called “broken plurals”.

The broken plural of طالب is طلابThe rule about adding the alif applies to broken plurals as well.

Therefore the indefinite accusative of طلاب is طلاباً Many students believe that the alif is not added to broken plurals. But it is added to them unless they belong to a category of words called diptotes (won’t you diptote, through the tulips…). Some diptotes are singular, some are plural. They have different rules for their case endings. They are discussed in detail in Part III of this book. For now, you have no need to deal with diptotes.


Remember, the alif is only used for the indefinite accusative and only for words which do not end in a ة. Any word ending in ة will not have the alif. That means, do not write the alif on such a word

3 comments… add one
  • I am teaching myself arabic, can somebody help me ? هل يوجد طبيب هنا? وجد هنا مستوصف و فيه طبيب جيد? is the doctor nominative and the dispensary in the accusative? i am having difficulties understanding.

  • I am teaching myself arabic, can somebody help me ? هل يوجد طبيب هنا? وجد هنا مستوصف و فيه طبيب جيد? is the doctor in the nominative and the dispensary in the accusative? i am having difficulties understanding this.

    • Just so that everyone is on the same sheet of music here, my translation of the Arabic gule provides above is this:

      Is there a doctor here? Here he found a dispensary and a good doctor.*

      If this translation is correct, the sentence contains one subject (he) and two direct objects (a dispensary and a good doctor). In this example, both the dispensary and the good doctor are in the accusative case. Does that make sense? Does that help?

      *To be perfectly honest, I actually ran this through Google Translate, but the translation looked good to me, although a better translation might be “Here is found a …” rather than “He found a …” If anyone disagrees, please comment.


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