The Rules of Agreement in Arabic

by Arabic Instructor on August 6, 2012

Whether you realize it or not, you already know most of the rules of agreement in Arabic. There is really only one more thing you need to learn. First, I will review the rules you have had. Then I will discuss the one thing you do not yet know (well, since you have probably had Arabic before you probably have heard of it, but I bet you do it incorrectly all the time).

 

All of the rules of agreement we have had so far appear in the sentences below. First look at each sentence and then ask yourself why the verb is conjugated the way it is

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and why the adjectives appear as they do. Then look at my discussion after the sentences.

1. The new student went to the new library

١. ذهب الطالب الجديد الى المكتبة الجديدة.

2. The Iraqi teacher (f.) went to her house

٢. ذهبت المدرسة العراقية الى بيتها.

3. The Jordanian students understood their lessons.

٣. فهم الطلابُ الاردنيون دروسهم.

4. The Jordanian students (f.) understood their lessons.

٤. فهمت الطالبات الاردنيات دروسهن.

5. The Tunisian teachers (m.) saw the new teachers (f.)

٥. المدرسون التونسيون شاهدوا المدرسات الجديدات


Now assuming you have meditated upon the esoteric meanings of these sentences, I will give you a quick run-down of the rules they reflect.

 

1. Verbs agree with their subjects in number and gender. This is clear in sentences 1 and 2.

2. Adjectives agree with nouns in definiteness, gender, number, and case. This is clear in each sentence.

3. If a verb precedes a plural subject, the verb will always be singular. The verb will agree with the subject only in gender. This is clear in sentences 3 and 4.

4. If a plural subject comes before a verb, the verb will agree with the subject in gender and in number. This is clear in sentence 5.

I hope you understand why the nouns and adjectives are in the cases they are in and why those cases are written the way they are. If not, refer to the appropriate sections of earlier chapters before you do anything else.

Now comes the one thing that is new. Look at the sentence below.

قرأت مقالاتٍ كثيرةً في هذه الجريدةٍ.

 

Note that the plural noun مقالات is modified by THE FEMININE SINGULAR ADJECTIVE كثيرة. This is because ALL PLURAL NOUNS WHICH DO NOT REFER TO HUMAN BEINGS ARE CONSIDERED TO BE GRAMMATICALLY FEMININE SINGULAR IN MODERN STANDARD ARABIC. This rule is difficult for Americans to accept. In fact, sometimes native speakers of Arabic who come to this country while they are young have trouble with this rule when they learn how to read and write Arabic. But this rule can be internalized with practice.

 

This rule does not just apply to adjectives. Anything that has to agree in some way with a non-human plural will always be feminine singular. Thus pronouns, demonstratives, and verbs will always be put in the feminine singular whenever they must agree with a non-human plural. Here are some examples:

1. I read many articles in these newspapers.

١. قرأتُ مقالات كثيرة في هذه الجرائد.

2. Did you read these articles? Yes, I read them. They are great.

٢. هل قرأت هذه المقالات؟ نعم, قرأتُها. هي ممتازة.

3. These important articles were published in these Magazines.

٣. صدرت هذه المقالات الهمة في هذه المجلات.

 

In sentence 1 we see that the plural of جريدة is modified by the feminine singular demonstrative هذه. The demonstrative هذه will be used with any non-human plural (regardless of the gender of the singular of that noun). Thus هذه الكتب means “these books.”

 

We see that in the response to the question in sentence 2 the person is saying “Yes, I read them.” He is using the direct object pronoun ها, which is feminine singular, to refer to “the articles.” (Direct object pronouns are discussed below.) Then the speaker says that the articles are excellent. He uses the feminine singular pronoun هي to refer to them and uses a feminine singular adjective in the predicate which refers to هي but which would be used to refer to مقالات as in: هذه المقالات ممتازة

In sentence 3 the verb صدر is used. It is an intransitive verb meaning “to be published.” المقالات is the subject of the sentence, so the verb must be feminine singular. Note that even if المقالات were written before the verb, the verb would still be in the feminine singular.

 

So now you should have the idea that any non-human noun, when it is made plural, will have feminine singular agreement at all times. Be sure to know that this applies to all non-human plural nouns, irrespective of the gender of the noun in the singular. Thus, if we replaced مقالات in the sentences above with the word كتب which is the plural of the masculine كتاب , there would be no changes to any of the sentences.

You must learn this rule and work to become accustomed to it. When you read or hear MSA, this rule will be very helpful to your understanding of what you are reading or hearing.

Thus when words in Arabic are said to agree for number and gender you must take into account the rules regarding non-human plurals.

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