لَيْسَ

لَيْسَ is a verb which gives American students fits. I believe the reason for this is that the verb is introduced to students too early in their study of Arabic. Often it is the first verb they are taught. The verb poses several problems for the novice student. It is hollow, its conjugations are the same as those of the past tense of all other verbs even though ليس has only preset tense meaning, and it takes a direct object. For the new student who knows little or nothing about the Arabic verb system, all of these items are too much to deal with at once. The usual result is that the student never is comfortable even with the conjugations of the verb, never mind, with using it in speech or in writing.

However, you have, by now, been through the most difficult aspects of the Arabic verb system. From now on, it gets easier. ليس will be no exception.

Wright points out that ليس is a combination of لا and the unused أيْس meaning “being” or “existence.” Thus the verb ليس means “not to be” or “is not.” The verb is most often used in order to negate an equational sentence. For example محمد في البيت is negated ليس محمد في البيت

لَيْسَ is a hollow verb; however, the hollow root, the letter ي, is preceded by a fatha but followed by a sukuun. Therefore, it does not disappear and become an alif. Remember, when we talked about hollow verbs, we mentioned that the middle radical, whether a waaw or a yaa’, would disappear into an alif due to the presence of a fatha on both sides. The verb زارَ was used as an example. Theoretically, that verb in the third person masculine singular is زَوَرَ. The j is then eliminated by the two fathas, which then form an alif and we get the past زارَ.

When we conjugate the verb ليس, we add the same suffixes to it that we use when we conjugate any verb in the past tense. Of course, we will only have present tense meaning with ليس. Below is a chart with the conjugations for ليس. Enjoy.

Plural Dual Singular
لَسْنا
نَحْنَ
لَسْتُما
أنتُما
لَسْتُ
أنا
لَسْتُم
أنتُم
لَيْسا
هما (m)
لَسْتَ
أنتَ
لَسْتُنَّ
أنتُنَّ
لَيْسَتا
هما (f)
لَسْتِ
أنتِ
لَيْسوا
هم
لَيْسَ
هو
لَسْنَ
هنَّ
لَيْسَت
هي

 

The rules we learned for hollow verbs apply to ليسَ .Whenever a suffix begins with a consonant, we are left with two sukuuns in a row. For example, the suffix for the first person singular is تٌ. If we add it to the stem of ليس we get the theoretical conjugation of ليْسْتُ. This gives us two sukuuns in a row. Therefore the first sukuun is dropped, just as with any hollow verb, and the letter with that sukuun is also dropped, as with any hollow verb. Thus, we are left with لستُ once the sukuun and the yaa’ are dropped. The stem vowel is always a fatha. This is the fatha from the third person masculine singular form with which we started.

Whenever the suffix beings with a vowel, the hollow radical remains, just as with any hollow verb.

Now that you are able to conjugate ليس , the fun begins. As I said above, ليس can take a direct object. (See note 1 below) The direct object is put into the accusative case. For example انا طالب means “I am a student.” We will now negate the sentence. The subject of the sentence is انا; therefore ليس is conjugated as لسْتُ. Now we have to deal with the word طالب . It is the predicate of the sentence we are now negating. The subject of the new sentence we are creating is انا . The verb, conjugated for the first person singular, is لسْتُ Thus, we already have the subject and verb of this sentence – which is now a verbal sentence. طالب cannot remain in the nominative because it is not the subject of a sentence, nor is it any longer the predicate of an equational sentence. It cannot be genitive because it is not in an idaafa nor is it preceded by a preposition. It is in the accusative because it is the object of the verb لسْتُ. Thus, the negated sentence is لسْتُ طالباً meaning “I am not a student.”

Whenever you are dealing with ليس, you must always be aware of what is the subject and what is the predicate. The predicate of ليس should be considered its object. Sometimes this can be a little tricky. Examine the two sentences below.

  1. The director is not in this office
١. لَيْسَ المديرُ في المكتبِ
  2. He is not the director in this office.
٢. لَيسَ المديرَ في هذا المكتبِ

 

In the first sentence المديرُ is the subject. There is no object of لَيْسَ . The remainder of the sentence is a prepositional phrase.

In the second sentence هو is the subject. المديرَ is the predicate and is thus in the accusative case. If المديرَ were written in the nominative case, then the second sentence would be the same as the first.

The following two sentences may also help in understanding ليس

  1. Samir saw the student.
١. شاهدَ سمير الطالبَ
  2. Samir is not the student
٢. ليْسَ سمير الطالبَ

 

In the two sentences above we have a direct correspondence between verb, subject and direct object. شاهدَ, is the verb in the first sentence, ليس is the verb in the second. Samir is the subject in both sentences. الطالبَ is the direct object in both sentences. In other words, ليْسَ is working just as any other transitive verb works.

ليْسَ can also be used with the preposition بِ instead of having its predicate in the accusative. For example ليْسَ سمير بطالبٍ meaning “Sarni is not a student.” This construction is somewhat rare these days.

In literary contexts, you may see ليس used to negate a present tense verb. For example, لستُ ادْري means “I don’t know” and is sometimes used instead of لا ادْري. This usage is rare today, but you may still see it in literary works and in poetry.

Note 1 – Arab grammarians and most textbooks do not say that ليس or كان (the next section) take direct objects. They say instead that the predicate of these two verbs is put into the accusative. Here I am taking the liberty of using different terminology for explanatory purposes.

 

6 comments… add one
  • Hi,

    Just wondering if this was a typo. Thus, the negated sentence is طالباً لسْتُ meaning “I am not a student.” or لسْتُ طالباً ?

    Reply
    • You are correct. I made that change in the post. Much appreciated!

      Reply
  • Like you wrote above “laysa can be used with “ب” but thats really rare for these days?
    And the is سمير written “sarni” instead of “samir”
    Very useful source though

    Reply
  • Hey,

    I was wondering, can ليس follow ولكن in a sentence?

    Reply
  • Can Laysa bi-… be followed by an adjective?

    Reply
  • Can ليس be used for a verb? As in ‘I don’t know’ ‘انا لست أعرف’

    Reply

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