Verb-Subject Agreement

You will like this. This is easy. The typical Arabic sentences begins with a verb. In Arabic such a sentence is known as جملة فِعليّة verbal sentence.” The subject, if included in the sentence, normally comes after the verb. Here are two examples.


1. The student studied his Arabic book.

١.درس الطالبُ كتابَهُ العربيّ.

2. The student (f) studied her Arabic book.

٢. درسَت الطالبةُ كتابها العربيّ.


You will notice that in both sentences the verb agrees with the subject in number and gender. In both sentences, if we wished, the subjects could be left out. No other changes would be made in these sentences if we did so. By the way, I hope I do not have to explain the case endings for the words in the two sentences. Also, what case do you think the last word of each sentence should take?


Now look at the two sentences below.


١.درس المدرسون كتابَهم العربيّ.

٢. درسَت المدرسات كتابهن العربيّ.

The subject of each sentence is now plural. Notice that the verbs are still singular but they agree with the subjects in gender. IN A SENTENCE WHICH BEGINS WITH A VERB FOLLOWED BY A PLURAL SUBJECT, THE VERB WILL ALWAYS BE SINGULAR AND WILL AGREE WITH THE SUBJECT ONLY IN GENDER. If we were to drop the subjects from these two sentences, then the verbs would indicate the number as well as the gender. That is, the verbs would become plural. Our two sentences would then be:


١.درسوا كتابَهم العربيّ.

٢. درسَن كتابهن العربيّ.

So far, so good. Now look at the following three sentences.


١. ذهب ياسر عرفات وسميرة الى المطعم العراقي.

٢. ذهبت سميرة وياسر عرفات الى المطعم العراقي.

٣. ذهبت الى المطعم العراقي سميرة وطلابها.

٤. ذهب الى المطعم العراقي سميرة وطلابها.


In each sentence the subject is made up of more than one individual. Each individual is mentioned in the sentence. Sentences 1 and 2 show that the verb will agree in gender with the subject which comes immediately after it.

In sentence 3 we have a situation which occurs sometimes in Arabic. Here, the subjects (or subject as the case may be) are separated from the verb by one or more words. When this happens, if the subject is feminine, the verb can be feminine singular. Alternatively, the verb can be made masculine singular even when the subject is feminine. In sentence 3, the normal agreement would be feminine singular, since سميرة is the first subject. However, since سميرة is separated from the verb by one or more words, the verb can be made masculine singular. Sentence 4 illustrates this point. Note that the option of using either a feminine singular verb or a masculine singular verb does not depend on the presence of more than one subject in the sentence. For example, you could easily see the following:

After years of effort, the employees (f.) obtained their rights. حصل بعد سنوات من الجهد الموظفات على حقوقهن.



Now we come to verbal sentences which begin with a noun. Any sentence which begins with a noun is known in Arabic as a جملة اسمية (a “nominal sentence”). Whenever the subject precedes the verb the verb agrees with the subject in number and gender. Look at the examples below.

١. المراسلون المصريون كتبوا المقالة.

٢. المراسلات المصريات كتبن المقالة.

٣.سمير ومحمد وفريد كتبوا المقالة.

٤. سميرة ونادية وفريدة كتبن المقالة

٥. سمير ونادية وفريدة كتبوا المقالة

The situations in sentences 1-4 should be clear. Sentence 5 reminds us that the presence of one man in a group renders the group masculine for grammatical purposes. The only exception to that rule is when you have two or more subjects all of which follow the verb, as I have outlined above.


Review of the Verb-Subject Agreement Rules


Here is a quick run down of the rules.


1. If the subject comes before the verb, then the verb agrees with the subject completely (gender and number).

2. If the subject is not included in the sentence, then the verb will again show full agreement.

3. If the verb precedes a plural subject, then the verb agrees in gender, but is always singular.

4. If the verb is followed immediately by two or more subjects, the verb agrees with the first of those subjects. If the first of those subjects is plural, the verb will remain singular and agree with it only in gender.

5. If a feminine subject following a verb is separated from that verb by one or more words, then the verb may be either masculine or feminine singular.

Below is one example for each of the five rules above. The number for each example corresponds to the number for the rule.


١. المديرون السخفاء حضروا اجتماعات كثيرة.

٢. حضروا اجتماعات كثيرة.

٣. حضر المديرون السخفاء اجتماعات كثيرة.

٤. حضرت المديرات الحكيمات و المديرون السخفاء اجتماعات كثيرة

٥. حضرت (حضر) هذه الاجتماعاتِ الكثيرةَ المديراتُ الحكيمات.

2 comments… add one
  • Quick question regarding a disagreement i am having with a colleague!
    If i want to say What are these (women) doing. Would it be ماذا يفعلن هؤلاء النساء or ماذا تفعل هؤلاء النساء?
    please help!

  • I think this has an error. جملة إسْمِية (the nominal sentence) refers to the equational sentence i.e. that without a verb which was covered in the first chapter.


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