≡ Menu
Arabic Language Lessons

G: كانَ

The verb يكون ,كانَ. is a Form I hollow verb which conjugates exactly like يَزورُ , زارَ Therefore, the conjugations for this verb for the perfect, imperfect indicative, jussive and subjunctive (once we deal with the subjunctive in a later chapter) should pose no problem for the student who has mastered the conjugation of Form I hollow verbs. Please note that كان, like سكن , has a ن as a final radical. Whenever any verb has a ن as a final radical, that ن is written with a shadda whenever a suffix beginning with a ن is added to the verb. For example سكن conjugated in the perfect for نحن is سكنّا. The ن of the verb is combined with the ن of the suffix. The same thing happens with كانَ. Thus we have كنّا for the first person plural conjugation. So, other than the fact that the last radical of

كانَ is written with a shadda for certain conjugations, this verb should pose no problem for you with respect to its conjugations. The conjugations for this verb will be given at the end of this section.

كانَ works exactly like ليس in that it also takes a direct object. The object of كانَ is always in the accusative.

كانَ is the Arabic verb “to be.” One major function of this verb is to pit an equational sentence into the past tense. For example, أنا طالبٌ “I am a student” becomes كنتُ طالباً “I was a student” with كانَ added with the correct conjugation. طالباً is in the accusative just as it would have been had we used ليس instead of كانَ. (The meaning of such a sentence would be, of course, “I am not a student.”) كانَ used in a sentence will always have its object in the accusative in just the same way ليس does. Whatever would be the object of ليس in an equational sentence if ليس were inserted, will also be the object of كانَ if it were inserted.

The object of كانَ will always be accusative, no matter what tense or mood of كانَ is used in the sentence. Examine the sentences below.

 1. You were the new student.
 ١. كُنتَ الطالبَ الجديدَ.
 2. You were not the new student.
 ٢. لم تَكُنْ الطالبَ الجديدَ.
 3. You will be the new student.
 ٣. شَوفَ تكونُ الطالبَ الجديدَ.
 4. You want to be the new student. 
 ٤. تُريدُ انْ تَكونَ الطالبَ الجديدَ.


As you can see, whenever كان is used in a sentence you must be extra careful in determining the subject and object of the verb, just as with ليس. If you have the ليس business down, you should have no problem with كان.

كان is used to form a number of compound tenses (with horrible names) such as the pluperfect, the future perfect, past future, past habitual and past progressive. Below are some examples.

  1. I had studied Arabic.
 ١. كنتُ درستُ اللغة العربية.
  2. Samir had studied Arabic.
 ٢. كان سمير (قد) درس اللغة العربية.
  3. We were going to go to the Middle East.
 ٣. كنّا سنذهب الى الشرق الاوسط.
  4. The professors will have killed their lazy students.
 ٤. يكون الاستاذة (قد) قتلوا طلابهم الكسالى.
  5. Samir used to visit his relatives in Jordan every year.
٥. كان سمير يزور اقاربه في الاردن كل سنة
  6. Samir was sitting on the chair drinking tea when the policeman entered and arrested him and he was taken to jail where he died under mysterious circumstances.
٦. كان سمير يجلس على الكرسي يشرب الشاي عندما دخل الشرطي واعتقله وأُخذ الى السجن حيث مات تحت ظروف غامضة


Sentences one and two give examples of the pluperfect. The particle قد can be inserted between the two verbs in the pluperfect, but it is not required. If the subject is included in the sentence, it will appear between the two verbs. This is the case for any of the compound tenses.

Sentence three is an example of the past future. Again, if the subject is written into the sentence it appears between the first verb and the second. Sentence four gives an example of this.

Sentence four is an example of the future perfect. Note that the subject appears in this sentence. The first verb is singular since it comes before the subject, but the second verb is plural because the subject is plural. Again قد is optional here as it is for the pluperfect.

Sentence five is an example of the past habitual. Usually some sort of time indicator will appear in the sentence revealing when something was being done. This will help you distinguish between past habitual and past progressive.

Sentence six is an example of the past progressive. The combination of the perfect of كان plus an imperfect verb is the same as for the past habitual. However, past progressive sentences usually include some other past tense event that happened while the past progressive action was going on. In this case, the policeman entered while poor Samir was sitting down and drinking his tea.

Usually when compound tenses are employed, the context will tell you what is going on. The best way to get used to them is to use them.

Below are charts for كان, يكون in the perfect, present tense, and jussive. Take a look at them and then do the drills on the following pages. You will then have completed the most complex chapter of this book! It is much easier form here on out – but you will still have to work.

Past Tense

Plural Dual Singular
هما (m)
هما (f)


Present Tense

Plural Dual Singular
هما (m)
هما (f)


The Jussive

Plural Dual Singular
هما (m)
هما (f)


22 comments… add one
  • Ad'din

    What is the difference between the case ending of طالبٌ and طالبًا

    • Patrick

      This question is very basic and explained in “The Nominative Case” and “Verbs – Past Tense and the Accusative Case”.
      ً = accusative case, indefinite for regular nouns
      ٌ = nominative case, indefinite for regular nouns

      • AMREEN

        Plz make DaAa ( pukhara – called ) past tense

    • Anil chandrakant jayswal

      طالب is a nominative case and طالبا is accustive case.

  • osman dawood

    السلام عليكم,
    ربما يكون هذا الشخص حزينا .i find it difficult to translate يكون in this sentence. i am studying from home. can the good sir help me please? أشكرك جدا

    • Arabic Instructor

      This person might be sad.

  • GS

    How would you explain the use of كَ after كان? For example: “كان كَالعدةُ”. Thanks.

    • Zazzo

      ك is like “as”. Translation “It’s as usual.” Not “It’s the usual.” Though it practically means the same thing.

  • Sal

    Hi, I always get confused with the phrase لم يكن could you please shed some light on this.

    • Lee

      لم يكن is the same as لم يكون however, in the jussive (after using لم) hollow verbs (such as كان) drop the middle radicle unless the verb ends in an oon or an een (plural and feminine singular shapes) in which case the middle radicle is kept and the final noon (ن) is removed instead.
      Weren’t / wasn’t / didn’t have (لم يكن لدى)

  • Hasan

    Could you please explain what is the meaning when the verb أصْبَحَ is followed by فعل الماضي/المضارع ? For example:

    أصْبَحْتُ أَسْهَرُ كَثِيْرًا خَارِجَ الْبَيْتِ
    أصْبَحْتُ سَهِرْتُ كَثِيْرًا خَارِجَ الْبَيْتِ

    • Lee

      اصبح means ‘to become’. أشهر is the elative form of شهور (famous). كثيراً describes أشهر (more)
      The sentence reads: I became more famous outside of the house

    • Mansour

      The verb أصبح will not precede a past tense verb as in the second sentence. So the only correct one is the first sentence. The translation of the first sentence is: I developed a habit of staying out late
      أصبحت + كثيراً = I developed a habit of.

  • Ian

    Is there a section of this website/book that covers كان وأخواتها and إنّ وأخواتها?

  • Nas


    Are there sentences in which كان does not conjugate and remains fixed?

  • Fatim

    Can كان be translated as “is?”
    Because in verses of quran, it’s كان الله but translation is “Allah is”.

    • Umar bin Abdul aziz

      كان is used for various purposes as you have read in the article but كان is used to describe universal truth as well.
      Sun rises from the East ( a universal truth )
      كان تطلع الشمس من المشرق
      So here translating “sun rised from East ” is totally wrong
      So in Similar way all the attributes of Allah are forever they don’t have a start or end therefore they are universal truth independent of any tense that’s why Whenever كان occurs with Allah translation ” is ” is done.
      في سورة النصر
      إنه كان توابا
      Indeed he ( Allah ) is ever forgiving.
      ” Is ” is used because we can’t say that his forgiveness will end at certain point of time.
      Hope you understand well.

  • ahmer

    I wanted to know the translation for this tense as you said “كُنتُ” is used in past tense.
    من کنت مولاه (Man Kunto Maula)??
    Please reply me via email as well….

  • Faraz

    How do we know that the word after كان is its ism taking rafa or khabar taking a nasb?

  • Hassan

    How would you say: Samir had 3 books?

  • ishak

    what is the function of يكون in present tense and its different without using it?

Leave a Comment