The Haal Construction

Now we come to a very common construction in Arabic which students often fail to recognize when they are reading due to the problem of not reading in context. The haal clause (from the word حال meaning “condition” or “circumstance,” as in the question كيف الحال؟ ) is a clause which modifies the subject of a sentence by using وَ as a subordinating conjunction. This is a fancy way of saying that وَ is used sometimes in Arabic to mean “while,” as in, “He entered the room while firing his machine gun.” The clause after “while” can have a verb, a participle, or it can be an equational sentence. First, we will look at examples using equational sentences. Study the sentences below, then read the commentary which follows.

 

1. He traveled to Kuwait while he was a student (as a student).

١. سافر الى الكويت وهو طالبٌ.

2. She traveled to Kuwait while she was a student (as a student).

٢. سافرت الى الكويت وهي طالبةٌ.

3. He traveled to Kuwait while he was a student (as a student).

٣. سافر الى الكويت طالبا.

4. She traveled to Kuwait while she was a student (as a student).

٤. سافرت الى الكويت طالبةً.


In the first Arabic sentence you have the وَ followed by the pronoun هو . A subject pronoun must be used with وَ and it must agree with the subject of the sentence. In the second sentence the subject is “she” so the subject pronoun which is used is هي

The وَ and the pronoun can be omitted if the predicate is indefinite. When this is done the predicate is put into the accusative. So in sentence three we now have طالباً instead of طالبٌ . Sentence four is the feminine equivalent of sentence three. Now, how would you say “They (masc. plural) went to Kuwait while they were students” using either of the two methods? The answers are below.

 

سافروا الى الكويت وهم طلابٌ.

سافروا الى الكويت طلاباً.

You should be able to see that the plurals work just like the singular forms. What would the feminine plural versions of the two sentences above be? See below for the answers to this ineffable mystery.

سافرن الى الكويت وهن طالباتٌ.

سافرن الى الكويت طالباتٍ.

 

If, for the second feminine plural sentence, you did not put the word طالبات into the accusative in THE CORRECT WAY, then all I can say is حرام عليك . Also, you should make sure you know the accusative of a feminine sound plural.

 

The predicate can also be an adjective, such as صغير or قديم or a prepositional phrase. You will see more examples in the drills.

 

Now we come to haal clauses using verbs. Cogitate on the examples below and then look at the explanation which follows.

 

1. The student smiled while reading the Washington Post.

١. إبتسم الطالب وهو يقرأ الواشنطن بوست.

2. The student (feminine) smiled while reading the Washington Post.

٢. إبتسمت الطالبةُ وهي تقرأ الواشنطن بوست.

3. The student smiled while reading the Washington Post.

٣. إبتسم الطالبُ يقرأ الواشنطن بوست.

4. The student (feminine) smiled while reading the Washington Post.

٤. إبتسمت الطالبةُ تقرأ الواشنطن بوست.

5. The student laughed while reading about the Middle East in the New York Times.

٥. ضحك الطالبُ قارئاً عن الشرق الاوسط في النيو يورك تايمز.

6. The student (feminine) laughed while reading about the Middle East in the New York Times.

٦. ضحكت الطالبة قارئةً عن الشرق الاوسط في النيو يورك تايمز.

7. The student (feminine) laughed while reading the newspaper.

٧. ضحكت الطالبةُ قارئةً الجريدة.

Sentences one and two use وَ + the appropriate subject pronoun, just as you would if the clause had no verb. Sentences three and four show that the وَ and the subject pronoun can be dropped. Again, this also can be done in clauses with no verb, as we have seen.

 

Sentences five and six show another variation. The verb itself can be replaced by its own active participle. The participle must be indefinite, accusative, and agree with the subject in gender and number. If the verb which is being replaced is transitive, the active participle can take a direct object as you see in example seven. Do not be put off by the fact that قرأ is a verb with a hamza as a final radical. The hamza will work just like any other consonant. I know that the active participle قارِئ looks strange, but it is exactly the same pattern as ساكن .

 

Sentences five, six, and seven could be modified by the return of the وَ + subject pronoun. The active participles would then be in the nominative case. So sentence five would be ضحك الطالبُ وهو قارئ عن الشرق الاوسط في النيو يورك تايمز

The sentences below use the verb إبتسم and its active participle to show you again the possible variations of a haal clause.

 

1. The student studied Arabic while smiling.

١. درس الطالبُ العربيةَ وهو يَبْتَسِمُ.

2. The student studied Arabic while smiling.

٢. درس الطالب العربية يبتسم.

3. The student studied Arabic while smiling.

٣. درس الطالب العربية وهو مُبتَسِمٌ.

4. (What do you think this sentence means?)

٤. درس الطالب العربية مُبْتَسِماً.

5. The students studied Arabic while smiling.

٥. درس الطلاب العربية وهم مبتسمون.

6. The students studied Arabic while smiling.

٦. درس الطلاب العربية مبتسمين.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sentences five and six are included to show the agreement and case of the active participle when the subject is plural.

Haal clauses with an imperfect verb can also be negated. They are negated either with وما or with لا by itself. Thus, sentence one above could be negated as follows:

 

١. درس الطالب العربية وما يبتسم.

٢. درس الطالب العربية لا يبتسم.

Both sentences mean “He studied Arabic while not smiling.” (A most unlikely situation.)

Sometimes the subject of the haal clause can be different from the subject of the main clause, so you may occasionally see sentences such as the following.

1. I delivered a lecture while my students slept.

١. القيتُ محاضرة وطلابي ينامون.

2. I delivered a lecture while they slept.

٢. القيت محاضرة وهم نائمون.

 

 

 

 

Haal clauses can also contain past-tense verbs. In such cases وقد is placed before the verb. It is usually translated as “having (done something).” These sentences are negated by dropping قد and adding ما or by using لم + the jussive. Here are a few examples.

 

1. The correspondent traveled to Damascus, having studied Arabic.

١. سافر المراسل الى دمشق وقد درس العربية.

2. The correspondent traveled to Damascus, not having studied Arabic.

٢. سافر المراسل الى دمشق وما درس العربية.

3. The correspondent traveled to Damascus, not having studied Arabic.

٣. سافر المراسل الى دمشق ولم يدرس العربية.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my experience, students often have trouble recognizing a haal clause when it is composed of ,و + pronoun + present tense verb. Then tend to translate the , و as “and” therefore giving a very awkward translation of the sentence. Recently, a student I have been working with translated an opinion piece from an Arabic newspaper. The item contained several haal clauses using و + pronoun + verb. He missed every one. Everything else in his translation was correct. So be careful.

 

 

 

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