B: Relative Clauses

There are two primary types of relative clauses in Arabic. You need to be completely familiar with both of them. In addition, there are a few other things you should be aware of. These things will be mentioned at the end of this section. They are very easy. Do not worry about them now. Focus on the two main types of clauses and get that material down.

The first type of relative clause which you must master is that which has an indefinite antecedent. Let’s take an English sentence as an example. “He is a man who works in the factory.” In this sentence, “a man” is indefinite. The word “who” is a relative pronoun and refers to “a man”. Now look at the Arabic equivalent: هو رجلٌ يعمل في المصنع In the Arabic sentence there is no word for “who” because the antecedent, رجل is indefinite.

English also uses “which” and “that” as relative pronouns. For example “This is an article which was published in the paper.” Here “which” is used as the relative pronoun. In Arabic, the sentence is هذه مقالة نشرت في الجريدة . Again, the Arabic sentence contains no relative pronoun. Whenever the antecedent is indefinite, there will be no relative pronoun in Arabic. This is the law. Here are a few more examples. Read the Arabic on the right and try to translate it. Then read the English translations on the left.

1. They are students who studied in Morocco.

١. هم طلاب درسوا في المغرب.

2. Are there correspondents who know anything about the Middle East?

٢. هل هناك مراسلون يعرفون شيئا عن الشرق الاوسط ؟

3. I do not know an American reporter who speaks Arabic well.

٣. لا اعرف صحفيا امريكيا يتكلم العربية جيدا.

Notice that none of the Arabic sentences has a relative pronoun since the antecedents are indefinite. Notice something else. Each of the examples so far has the antecedent as the subject of the verb. In an Arabic relative clause, the antecedent must be mentioned. So far, we see that the antecedent is mentioned in each clause by the conjugation of the verb. The conjugations agree with the antecedent. Now what happens if the antecedent is not the subject of the verb, but is the object instead?


To illustrate what I mean let’s look at the sentence “This is an idea which I heard yesterday.” The Arabic reads هذه فكرةٌ سمعتها امس . Now the antecedent in the Arabic sentence, فكرة is not the subject of the verb in the clause. It is instead the object. When this is the case, the antecedent is referred to by an object pronoun attached to the verb. Literally, the Arabic sentence is, “This is an idea I heard it yesterday.” The object pronoun agrees with the antecedent in the usual ways. The pronoun is known as the عائد in Arabic. Literally . عائد means “one that returns,” since it refers back to the antecedent.


Here are some more examples. Look at the Arabic on the right and translate it. Then look at the English on the left to check yourself.

1. This is an article which I read in the newspaper.

١. هذه مقالة قرأتها في الجريدة.

2. They are correspondents whom we saw in the hotel.

٢. هم مراسلون شاهدناهم في الفندق.

3. This is a degree which I obtained from Yarmouk University.

٣. هذه شهادة حصلتُ عليها من جامعة اليرموك.




In the first two sentences the antecedents are referred to by direct object pronouns attached to the verbs. In the third sentence the verb has a preposition before its object. Therefore the pronoun referring to the antecedent is attached to the preposition.

It may take you a while to become comfortable reading relative clauses in Arabic which do not have relative pronouns. The absence of relative pronouns is yet another reason for you to read things in context, because sometimes you need to see the bigger picture in order to understand the small parts which comprise it.


The second type of relative clause which you must master is one in which the antecedent is definite. In such cases you will have a relative pronoun. The relative pronoun in this case is ألذي . The word is a composite of the definite article to which is added لِ and then to which is added the word ذو , which means “possessing.” The combination yields ألذي, which has masculine, feminine, dual and plural forms. The masculine singular form is ألذي itself. The feminine singular is ألتي. We will use the singular forms for the moment to illustrate the use of the relative pronoun. Look at the Arabic sentences below and their translations on the left.

1. This is the man who traveled to Egypt.

١. هذا هو الرجل ألَّذي سافر الى مصر.

2. I met the writer who wrote about human rights.

٢. قابلتُ الكاتبة ألَّتي كتبت عن حقوق الإنسان.

3. What are the foreign languages which you have studied?

٣. ما هي اللغات الاجنبية التى درستَها؟





The first sentence has الرجل as the antecedent. Since the antecedent is definite we must use الذي. Since الذي is the subject of the following verb, there is no pronoun needed as the عائد

The second sentence is essentially a feminine version of the first sentence. Notice that التى is now the relative pronoun.

The third sentence has اللغات as the antecedent. The relative pronoun remains feminine singular due to the rules of agreement learned in Part I. However, the antecedent is the object of the verb in the next clause. Therefore we need an object pronoun (the عائد). In this case that pronoun is feminine singular due to the rules referred to earlier in this paragraph.

The masculine plural of الّذي is الّذينَ. The feminine plural is usually اللَّواتي (note that this word has two separate ل’s with a shadda over the second). The feminine plural has two other spellings which are less common, but they do appear. There are listed in the table below.

The table also shows dual forms, masculine and feminine, for الذي. The dual forms also show case. Only the dual forms of الذي will show case. Study the table below.



Dual (Nom.)

Dual (Acc./Gen.)












More Feminine

أللاتي and أللائي





Note that all of the dual forms and the feminine plural forms will show two ل’s. The singular forms and the masculine plural forms show only one ل with a shadda. The shadda, of course, is almost never written. The existence of the two ل’s can help you differentiate from the masculine dual and the plural if the dual is in the genitive or accusative case.


The relative pronoun can be followed by the predicate of an equational sentence or even a prepositional phrase. For example, من الطالب الذي من الكويت؟ ends in a prepositional phrase. A pronoun of separation could be inserted in the clause after الذي but it is optional. So you could have من الطالب الذي هو من الكويت؟. The point is that the clause does not have to contain a verb.

Now, do you remember the superlative as we studied it in the last chapter? How do you say “the biggest building?” The answer is أكبرُ بناء . Often constructions of this kind are the antecedent for relative clauses. If there is no definite article or pronoun suffix in the construction to make the construction grammatically definite, then no relative pronoun is used. For example.


This is the biggest building I saw in Cairo. هذا اكبر بناء شاهدتُهُ في القاهرة


Since أكبر بناء. is not grammatically definite, it will not require a relative pronoun. However, the meaning of the phrase is definite and should be so expressed if translated into English.


The words الذي, مَنْ , and ما can all be used as relative pronouns without antecedents. مَنْ only refers to people. ما only refers to things. Here are some examples.


1. Those who study Arabic obtain good jobs.

١. الذين يدرسون العربية يحصلون على اعمال جيدة.

2. Those whom I saw in the Mosque were Muslims and, believe it or not, many of them were American citizens.

٢. الذين رأيتهم في المسجد مسلمون وصدّق او لا تصدق كان كثيرٌ منهم مواطنين امريكيين.

3. Did the director mention who attended the meeting?

٣. هل ذكر المدير من حضر الاجتماع؟

4. I do not know whom the correspondent will mention in his article on corruption in the government.

٤. لا أعرف من سيذكرهم المراسل في مقالته عن الفساد في الحكومة.

5. What was mentioned in the lecture is true.

٥. ما ذُكر في المحاضرة صحيح.

6. What you mentioned in the lecture is true.

٦. ما ذكرته في المحاضرة صحيح.







When من and ما are used in this way, the pronoun suffix referring to the antecedent (the ( عائد, is optional. It usually is used with من but less often with ما. However, the عائد must be used if the following verb takes a preposition. For example: أفهم ما تشير اليهِ “I understand what you are pointing to”

من can take singular, plural or dual agreement in any gender. ما is always treated as masculine singular.



9 responses to “B: Relative Clauses”

  1. From Website Comments Avatar

    First, great website. I am shocked search engines don’t put websites like this at the top of the results. I read your section on relative clauses but there is one clause I have come across which I cannot seem to categorize or make sense of. Hopefully you could shed some light on this. The clause appears in Tareekh Tabari and is as follows الرقيم هو الكتاب الذي كان القوم الذين منهم كان الفتية كتبوه I understand the first relative clause but the second one which is كان القوم الذين منهم كان الفتية has left be baffled. Based on this sentence structure would the following be possible البيت الذي فيه كان الولد البيت الذي به مر الولد Thank you.

  2. mattbussey Avatar

    An excellent question and three cheers to anyone who enjoys reading al-Tabari in the original. The full answer to this question can be found here. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Jaskala Avatar

    Great job!
    I’m really impressed by this website because this is the first time I study Arabic syntax in English translation. It’s provided me with the all information I need for my research about relative clauses in English and Arabic. I just have one question, if you don’t mind. while I’m preparing for my research I found that relative clauses in Arabic are of two types: definite and indefinite. Do these terms have Arabic equivalents?
    In other words, do we translate them as ‘صلة الموصول المعرّفة’ and ‘ صلة الموصول النكرة’ ?
    I’d greatly appreciate if you would answer my question and thanks in advance. 😉

  4. sheila Avatar

    Hi, all, excellent website, thanks a lot for it. Now I have two questions:

    1. what is the Arabic term to the relative clause? I am really confused with all the grammar terminology.

    2. I wrote down this sentence a while ago: هل يمكنني مترجم يترجم من العربية الى المجرية. I took the second part as a relative clause with undefined antecedent, but someone told me this sentence is not correct. I wanted to say that: ‘can I have a translator who translates from arabic to hungarian? If the sentence is not correct, what is the problem with it?

    Thank you!


    It was very interested

  6. Naseer Qureshi Avatar
    Naseer Qureshi

    Salaam (I am sorry I could n’t locate your name!)
    Firstly, a great learning source. I am very impressed indeed.
    My query is about the following sentences which are found in G.M.Wickens- Arabic Grammar – a first workbook. He says his examples are taken from literary sources. Are these sentences “Haal” or “Indefinite Relatives” or both?
    أخذت البنت منّی خبزاً تأکلہ علی الفور۔

    دعوتُ أصدقائی کلّھم الی ولیمۃ أقیمھا فی دار ابوی۔۔۔۔۔۔۔

    Are these “Haal”?

    و علمَ أنّ اسّارق تُقتعُ یدہ و أنّ الکاذب یلعنہ اللہ و یعذّبہ یوم الدین یدخلہ النّار۔

    نشأت مکّۃ اول ما نشأت عند بئر زمزم یشرب سکّانھا من ماء۔

    Thank you in advance for any assistance you can offer. (Sorry my keyboard does n’t seem to have the full capacity to type Arabic)

  7. Pádraig Avatar

    First and foremost thank you very much for taking the time to write this. It is wonderful and very informative.

    I am looking for a particular sentence structure that employs the عائد.

    For example:

    ما هي السايرة التي اشتريتها؟
    What car did you buy?

    Can anyone help me as to where I can find information about this?

  8. Rehan Avatar

    This is an excellent website,teaching Arabic grammar ,can you explain relative clause in following sentence and form of verb used in this sentence
    المشتبه بتنفيذه الهـجوم على ملهـى اسطنبول يقول ان المكان اختير عشوائيا
    Thanks in advance

  9. Nodar Melkonyan Avatar
    Nodar Melkonyan

    My appreciations to what you have been doing, dear Author. I wish there were much more topics concerning Arabic grammar, even if you manage to encompass a wide range of them in such a limited number of lessons.
    However, I’d like to ask you a question regarding contracted preposition-pronouns relative sentences. The sentence is as follows: ويكون الهواء جافًّ جدًّا باستمرار ممّا يخفِّف الحرارة. Meaning, “The air is very dry permanently that reduces the temperature”. So, in this example, I am curious why they used ممّا which, I suppose, is the equivalent to ‘that’ in the English sentence? Wasn’t it possible to just put ما?
    Looking forward to your response.
    Thanks in advance!

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