Mastering the verb system of Arabic is essential if you ever wish to attain any degree of proficiency
whatsoever in the language. In fact, a student with a good grasp of the verb system has learned about 80
per cent of what he or she needs to know, in terms of grammar, to be considered fluent in the language.
All too often (translation: almost always), American students of Arabic do not achieve more than a
superficial proficiency in using Arabic verbs. The result is that these students drop out of their Arabic
courses believing that the language is just too difficult for them to learn. If you do not believe this, go to
any second, third, or fourth-year Arabic class at any university in this country. Just listen to the students
and to their teachers as they struggle through a lesson. You do not need to understand a word of the
language to realize that the majority of students in the class have become hopeless cases.
The following chapters are designed for students who have been such hopeless cases in the past and
for those who would like to avoid becoming hopeless cases. Regardless of which category you are in,
you must have the desire to learn the language. That is, you must actually be willing to work. If you are
willing to work, you will find the material here to be of great benefit. If you follow the text carefully,
you will learn the 80 per cent that you absolutely must have in terms of grammar to become fluent in
Arabic. Other things that you will need to know have been covered in previous chapters or will be
covered in later ones.
The Arabic Verb
The following chapter assumes the student’s ability to conjugate a sound, Form I verb in the past tense. If you cannot do this, refer to Chapter Three of Part I where that material is covered.
The Arabic verb has only two tenses, perfect and imperfect. The perfect corresponds largely to what
we mean in English when we say “past tense.” The imperfect corresponds roughly to what we mean
when we say “present tense”. It has other applications as well. Therefore, in learning the verb system in
Arabic you need only learn two tenses, unlike other languages where you may have to learn many more
In addition to the two tenses you will have to learn two “moods” which are based on the imperfect.*
These two moods are called the jussive and the subjunctive. The jussive is used for past tense negation
(despite the fact that it is based on the imperfect), indirect and negative commands, and in some
conditional clauses. The subjunctive is used in conjunction with certain verbs and particles. The jussive
will be treated in Chapter One of Part II. The subjunctive will be treated in a later chapter. (The
subjunctive is very easy in Arabic.)
Arabic verbs also have command forms. These will be treated as we go along. The passive voice will be covered in Chapter Three.
THIS IS IMPORTANT! The Arabic verb exists in 15 “forms” which are numbered (surprise) I-XV.
Forms XI-XV are extremely rare. You do not need to learn them EVER. Forms I-X are very common and MUST BE LEARNED THOROUGHLY! If you do not learn the ten forms you will never, never, ever, ever, be able to do anything at all in Arabic.
If, on the other hand, you take the time to master the ten verb forms, you will have your 80 per cent down pat. Chapters One through Four will cover the past tense, present tense, jussive, subjunctive, and command conjugations for Forms I-IV. Chapters Five through Seven will each treat two verb forms. Chapter Seven will also introduce you to quadriliteral verbs.
If you have had considerable exposure to Arabic you are no doubt aware of something which the
hopeless cases usually live in fear of. Some Arabic verbs have a waaw or a yaa’ as their first, second, or third radical. These verbs exist in all of the forms and have their own names. Usually these verbs are treated as separate classes of verbs and are taught after the students have already failed to learn the ten forms for the verbs which do not have either of those two consonants as radicals.
In this text, the idea is to get students accustomed to seeing and using these “funny” verbs right from the start. They are not a big deal. Each chapter will have a section for “sound” verbs (verbs with no waaw or yaa’ as a radical), “defective” verbs (verbs whose last radical is either a waaw or a yaa’).
“hollow” verbs (verbs whose middle radical is a waaw or a yaa’), and “assimilated” verbs (verbs whose f i rst radical is either a waaw or a yaa’). In addition, each chapter will have a section on “doubled” verbs (verbs whose second and third radicals are the same).
If the above paragraph is Greek to you, never fear, all will be explained in detail as we come to it.
* Most text books speak of four moods of the imperfect. These four are the indicative, subjunctive, jussive, and energetic. The imperfect indicative is the equivalent of the present tense and I am not teaching it as a mood. The energetic is archaic and is not taught in this book. EMSA includes the imperative (commands) as a mood. I prefer to treat the imperative as a separate set of conjugations.