C: The Nisba Adjective

The nisba adjective is the “relative” adjective in Arabic. It is often used with place names. For example, a man from Baghdad can be referred to as بغدادي What we have done is we have added the suffix يّ ( the letter ي with a shadda) to the name of the city. Thus a male from دِمَشْق is a دمشقيّ. We do the same thing for countries. So a man from مصر is مصريّ – and one from Tunis is تونسيّ This is pretty difficult isn’t it?

These words are made feminine by adding the ة. So a woman from Tunis is  تونسيَّة  (pronounced “tunisiyya”).

Now as you know, some Arabic place names come with the definite article as part of their names.

For example الأردن , العراق and السودان. If we wish to convert these into indefinite relative adjectives we must drop the definite article and then add the nisba. If we want to say, for example, that King Hussein is Jordanian, we say that he is أُردُنيّ. What we have done is we have taken off the أل and then formed the indefinite adjective. If we want to say someone is “the Jordanian” we would reattach the definite article and say that he is الأُردُنيّ. If we want to say that a male is Sudanese, we drop the definite article and are left with سودانيّ. If we want to say “the Sudanese (sing.)” we say السّودانيّ.

Some words end in an alif, امريكا is an example. When this happens, just drop the alif and then add the nisba امريكيّ for example.

The nisba can be applied to a wide variety of nouns in addition to place names. For example مرْكز means “center” and مركزيّ is “central”. وطن means “nation” or “homeland”. Something which is national or a person who is a nationalist is called وطنيّ

Many nouns to which the nisba is applied are feminine. To apply the nisba to a feminine word, the ة must first be dropped and then the nisba is added to it. For example, جامعة, “university” is feminine. If you want to say a “university student” (masc.) you would drop the ة and add the يّ to جامعة – to get جامعيّ “University student” would then be rendered طالب جامعيّ . If the student is feminine, the ‘ة is then added to the nisba ending and you طالبة جامعيّة ّ

The country of Syria in Arabic can be spelled one of two ways سورية or سوريا To form the nisba for this country drop the ة or the ا, as the case may be, and then get rid of the ي . Then add the nisba’s ending. Thus “a Syrian” (masc.) is سوريّ .

القاهرة is Cairo. How would you say that someone is Cairene? First you drop the definite article and then you drop the ة. Then you add the nisba ending to get قاهريّ. So هو قاهريّ is “He is a Cairene.”

“She is a Cairene” is هي قاهريةّ You add the o to the masculine قاهريّ .

That does it for the nisba for now. For plurals of the nisba, see Chapter Four.

6 responses to “C: The Nisba Adjective”

  1. Malik Avatar

    I’m practicing drill 6 in section 2 of All of The Arabic You Never Learned The First Time at the moment, and question 8 has me confused. Here is the original sentence found on page 32 in the book:

    ” ما اسم مديرة البنك العالمي الجديدة؟”.

    What’s underlined just looks absolutely wrong to me. In my mind, “اسم مديرة البنك العالمي الجديدة؟…” looks like an إضافة phrase, which means thatمديرة should be written with the definite article, as it is not the first term in الإضافة, but follows it. When the case markers are applied, الجملة should, in my opinion, look like this: “ما اسمُ المديرةِ البنكِ العالمي الجديدةِ؟”
    I know that I’m wrong, as the author has provided the answer in the answer key, along with an explanation, but I’m unable to understand why I am wrong. I have no issue with being wrong; I do not like being told that I’m wrong and then not being give an explanation to tell me why that makes sense. Is there something that I am missing?
    Here is the author’s answer along with explanation, transcribed faithfully from page 410:

    “ما اسمُ مديرةِ البنكِ العالميِّ الجديدةِ؟”
    Explanation: “What is the name of the new director (f.) of the World Bank? (Note that مديرة” and الجديدة are in a noun-adjective relationship with each other. They are separated by البنك العالمي which are also in a noun-adjective relationship. Furthermore, البنك is the last term of the idaafa.)”

    The fact that he writes اسم in the nominative case makes perfect sense to me, as does writing مديرةِ in the genitive. What does not make sense to me is writing مديرة as if it were the first term in الإضافة, when it is not; instead, اسم is. Please help? I am losing my mind!
    شكراً جزيلاً لكم

    1. Siezzo Avatar

      This may be a very late comment, but I’m quite sure that only the last word of the Idaafa is allowed to have a definite article. The idaafa is in general genitive, so all the words get a kasra, and only the last words is allowed to have the ”choice” of having an article there or not.
      Here you can literally read it as ”the name of the new director (f.) of the world bank (world bank: noun-adjective relationship)”. The last term of the idaafa is allowed to have an article which then shows if the whole idaafa construction is definite or indefinite. The last term of the idaafa here is ”البنكِ” so ”مديرةِ” is not allowed to have a definite article: It isn’t the last term of the idaafa!

      1. Siezzo Avatar

        (all words in the second term which are always genitive get a kasra for correction)

    2. Lisa Avatar

      well, in this case it is an idaafa consisting of three words: “director”, “bank”, “the world”.
      only the last term of the idaafa must be definite and hence makes the entire idaafa definite -> in this case the word “world”.
      hence, the first and second terms of the idaafa, “director” and “bank” are indefinite but are turned definite by the third term “world”
      more info here: https://allthearabicyouneverlearnedthefirsttimearound.com/p1/p1-ch2/the-idaafa/

  2. Muhammad Aminu Saleh Avatar
    Muhammad Aminu Saleh

    your work is very good, very educative, may Allah replenish you with more knowledge, please at the same time I want to ask a question, I am staying in a place called بارك الله how can I do the Nisba or attache that town to myself as in Nisba, I am grateful and awaits your reply
    thanks I am grateful.

  3. Mu Avatar

    مديرة does not take the definite article because it itself is in إضافة relationship with البنكِ

    What is the name OF the new director OF the world bank?

    مديرة is possessive of اسم but is also possessed by البنك and things which are مضاف اليه cannot take ال

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