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Negation

 

Negation in English is achieved by using the word "not" (be not, do not). In Arabic, there are many words that are used to form negative statements, each one having its specific uses and conditions. However, there are four principle negative words that are commonly used in modern standard Arabic. As I try to do always, I am going to discuss here all the negative words known in Classical Arabic.

 

Negative Words

أَدَوَاتُ النَّفْيِ

Tense

Usage

Word

Verbal Sentences Nominal Sentences
Present

Before verbs only

(imperfective verb only)

Before nouns or verbs

(imperfective verb only)

lays(a)

لَيْسَ

is not

Present & Future

Before verbs only

(perfective & imperfective verb)

Before nouns or verbs

(perfective & imperfective verb)

laa

لا

not

All tenses

Before verbs only

(perfective & imperfective verb)

Before nouns or verbs

(perfective & imperfective verb)

maa

مَاْ

not

All tenses

Before verbs only

(perfective & imperfective verb)

Before nouns or verbs

(perfective & imperfective verb)

'in

إِنْ

not

Past

Before verbs only

(imperfective verb only)

lam

لَمْ

did not

Past

Before verbs only

(imperfective verb only)

lammaa

لَمَّاْ

did not yet

Future

Before verbs only

(imperfective verb only)

lan

لَنْ

will not

Present

Not Used

Before nouns only

(time words only)

laat(a)

لاتَ

is not

 

Negative Words Commonly Used in Modern Formal Arabic

Usage

Word

Before the predicate in present tense be-sentences

(sentences without verbs)

lays(a)

لَيْسَ

is not

Before verbs

(past tense)

lam

لَمْ

did not

Before verbs

(future tense)

lan

لَنْ

will not

Before verbs

(present tense & imperative)

laa

لا

not

 

 

Present Tense Negative Sentences

 

Tense

Usage

Word

Verbal Sentences Nominal Sentences
Present Tense Only

Before verbs only

(imperfective verb only)

Before nouns or verbs

(imperfective verb only)

lays(a) لَيْسَ

Not Used

Before nouns only

(time words only)

laat(a) لاتَ
Present or Future

Before verbs only

(perfective & imperfective verb)

Before nouns or verbs

(perfective & imperfective verb)

laa لا
All Tenses

Before verbs only

(perfective & imperfective verb)

Before nouns or verbs

(perfective & imperfective verb)

maa مَاْ

Before verbs only

(perfective & imperfective verb)

Before nouns or verbs

(perfective & imperfective verb)

'in إِنْ

In order to turn a present tense positive sentence into a present tense negative sentence, those are the words that can be used. All those words are particles (rootless) except for the first one, which is a perfective frozen verb in Arabic grammar.

Barring laat(a), those words can be used both in front of nouns and in front of verbs if the sentence were a nominal sentence (the subject is before the verb). If the sentence were a verbal sentence (the verb is before the subject), negative words can only be used before the verb but not the subject.

Clarification:

-The boy reads his book (positive nominal) →

The boy not reads his book (negative nominal)

OR

Not the boy reads his book (negative nominal)

 

-Read the boy his book (positive verbal) →

Not read the boy his book (negative verbal)

 

Possible Structures for Negative Nominal Sentences in Present Tense

Subject

Negative Word

Verb

Others

(e.g. object)

The boy

not

reads

his book

Negative Word

Subject

Verb

Others

(e.g. object)

Not

the boy

reads

his book

The first structure (before verb) is the better one and the one usually used.

 

Possible Structure for Negative Verbal Sentences in Present Tense

Negative Word

Verb

Subject

Others

(e.g. object)

Not

read

the boy

his book

 

A final note, negative words in nominal sentences with verb-like particles come after both the particle and the subject.

Negative Nominal Sentences in Present Tense  With Verb-Like Particles

VLP

Subject

Negative Word

Verb

Others

(e.g. object)

Truthfully

the boy

not

reads

his book

 

Now we will go through the negative words used in present tense sentences successively.

lays(a) لَيْسَ

The first word lays(a) is the word commonly used for verb-less sentences.  It is a negative perfective frozen verb. This means that there is only a perfective (past) form of this verb but not the other forms (imperfective & imperative).

Footnote: there are two theories for the etymology of lays(a), one theory says that it originally comes from a negated demonstrative. The other theory, which is in accord with Arabic grammar and which appears to be the truthful one, is that it comes from an obsolete verb (either أَيِسَ or يَسَاْ).

According to traditional Arabic sources:

لا + أَيْسَ لَيْسَ

laa + 'ays(a) = lays(a)
not + existed = not existed

'ays(a) أَيْسَ = "existed" is an archaic word (e.g. اِئْتِنِيْ بِهِ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَيْسَ وَلَيْسَ). However, lays(a) is always an incomplete verb meaning, literally, "was not" and it is never used in its complete sense "existed not" in the Arabic that we know of today.

Although lays(a) is a perfective verb, it can be used only for present tense sentences (imperfective verbs) and it cannot be used for past or future tense sentences. Also, this word can never coexist with the verb "be/is" = yakoon(u) in one sentence.

Examples on lays(a):

Positive Nominal

الْوَلَدُ يَقْرَأُ كِتَاْبَهُ

'al-walad(u) yaqra'(u) kitaaba-h(u)

= the boy reads (the) book (of) him

Translation: the boy reads his book

OR: the boy is reading his book

 

Negative

لَيْسَ الْوَلَدُ يَقْرَأُ كِتَاْبَهُ

lays(a) 'al-walad(u) yaqra'(u) kitaaba-h(u)

 = is/exists not the boy reading (the) book (of) him

Translations: the boy does not read his book

it is not the boy who reads his book

the boy is not reading his book

it is not the boy who is reading his book

 

Negative (best choice)

الْوَلَدُ لَيْسَ يَقْرَأُ كِتَاْبَهُ

'al-walad(u) lays(a) 'yaqra'(u) kitaaba-h(u)

= the boy is/exists not reading (the) book (of) him

Translation: the boy does not read his book

OR: the boy is not reading his book

 

Positive Verbal

يَقْرَأُ الْوَلَدُ كِتَاْبَهُ

yaqra'(u) ('a)l-walad(u) kitaaba-h(u)

= read the boy (the) book (of) him

Translation: the boy reads his book

 

Negative

لَيْسَ يَقْرَأُ الْوَلَدُ كِتَاْبَهُ

lays(a) yaqra'(u) ('a)l-walad(u) kitaaba-h(u)

= is/exists not reading the boy (the) book (of) him

Translation: the boy does not read his book

OR: the boy is not reading his book

 

To use the negative word directly before the verb in nominal sentences is the best choice, because in this case there would not be two possibilities for the meaning of the sentence. When the negative word precedes the subject, it may be negating only the subject but not the verb, and it may be also negating both.

 

Positive Nominal

أَحْمَدُ هُنَاْ

'ahmad(u) hunaa

= Ahmad (is) here

Translation: Ahmad is here

 

Negative

لَيْسَ أَحْمَدُ هُنَاَْ

lays(a) 'ahmad(u) hunaa

 = is not Ahmad here

Translation: Ahmad is not here

OR: it is not Ahmad who is here

 

Negative (best choice)

أَحْمَدُ لَيْسَ هُنَاَْ

'ahmad(u) lays(a) hunaa

= Ahmad is not here

Translation: Ahmad is not here

 

 

Since that lays(a) is a verb, it must be conjugated to suite different subjects. The middle letter of the root is Y so it is a hollow weak verb (see here for conjugation of perfective hollow verbs).

 

 فِعْلٌ جَاْمِدٌ Frozen verb //  لَيْسَ = فَعِلَ  

S

I

N

G

U

L

A

R

(I) am not

last(u)

لَسْتُ

(You) are not (masc.)

last(a)

لَسْتَ

(You) are not (fem.)

lasti

لَسْتِ

(He) is not

lays(a)

لَيْسَ

(She) is not

laysat

لَيْسَتْ

D

U

A

L

(You) are not

lastumaa

لَسْتُمَاْ

(They) are not (masc.)

laysaa

لَيْسَاْ

(They) are not (fem.)

laysataa

لَيْسَتَاْ

P

L

U

R

A

L

(We) are not (dual / plu.)

lasnaa

لَسْنَاْ

(You) are not (masc.)

lastum

لَسْتُمْ

(You) are not (fem.)

lastunn(a)

لَسْتُنَّ

(They) are not (masc.)

laysoo

لَيْسُوْا

(They) are not (fem.)

lasn(a)

لَسْنَ

 

More examples:

 

Positive Nominal

السَّمَاْءُ صَاْفِيَةٌ

'as-samaa'(u) saafiya(tun)

= the sky (is) a clear

Translation: the sky is clear

 

Negative

لَيْسَتِ الْسَمَاْءُ صَاْفِيَةً

laysat(i) ('a)s-samaa'(u) saafiya(tan)

= is not the sky a clear

Translation: the sky is not clear

OR: it is not the sky that is clear

 

Negative (best choice)

الْسَمَاْءُ لَيْسَتِ صَاْفِيَةً

 ('a)s-samaa'(u) laysat saafiya(tan)

= the sky is not a clear

Translation: the sky is not clear

 

Remember that lays(a) is always an incomplete verb and it will always need an adverb to complete its meaning (i.e. the predicate of the positive sentence). Adverbs in Arabic are always in the accusative case ('an-nasb).

 

Separate Subject Pronouns

The rules for separate subject pronouns with the presence of lays(a) are the same of those without lays(a). These were mentioned in detail in the sentences section.

In short, separate subject pronouns can be emphatic in nominal sentences (before lays(a)) and they are always emphatic in verbal sentences (after lays(a)) .

 

Positive Nominal

أَنَاْ سَعِيْدٌ

'anaa sa"eed(un)

= I (am) a happy

Translation: I am happy

 

Negative (emphatic)

لَسْتُ أَنَاْ سَعِيْدًا

last(u) 'anaa sa"eeda(n)

 = am not I a happy

Translation: it is not me who is happy

 

Negative (best choice)

أَنَاْ لَسْتُ سَعِيْدًا

'anaa last(u) sa"eeda(n)

=  I am not a happy

Translation: I am not happy

 

Negative (best choice)

لَسْتُ سَعِيْدًا

last(u) sa"eeda(n)

 = (I) am not a happy

Translation: I am not happy

 

 

 

lays(a) With Verb-Like Particles

As we mentioned earlier, negative words in nominal sentences with verb-like particles come after the particle and the subject.

Positive

إِنَّ هَذَاْ لَقَوْلٌ عُجَاْبٌ

'inna haathaa la-qawl(un) "ujaab(un)

= truthfully this (is) certainly a saying an astonishing

Translation: this is astonishing talk

 

Negative

إِنَّ هَذَاْ لَيْسَ قَوْلاً عُجَاْبًا

'inna haathaa lays(a) qawla(n) "ujaaba(n)

 = truthfully this is not a saying an astonishing

Translation: this is not astonishing talk

 

*From this example we should conclude that emphatic la- doesn't stay in negative sentences.

 

lays(a) With Transitive bi-

Just as it is intransitive verb, lays(a) can be followed by the preposition bi- = "in/by/with" to relate it to an indirect object.

Example: the verb "die" is intransitive verb (can't have a direct object).

He died bed

Meaningless sentence, because an intransitive verb can't have a direct object

He died in bed Meaningful sentence, because the preposition related the verb to the indirect object

So lays(a) can have an indirect object instead of an adverb if it was followed by the preposition bi-.

Examples with literal translations:

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Adverb

الْسَمَاْءُ لَيْسَتِ صَاْفِيَةً

 ('a)s-samaa'(u) laysat saafiya(tan)

= the sky is/exists not clearly

Translation: the sky is not clear

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Preposition - Indirect Object

الْسَمَاْءُ لَيْسَتِ بِصَاْفِيَةٍ

 ('a)s-samaa'(u) laysat bi-saafiya(tin)

= the sky is/exists not in a clear (state)

Translation: the sky is not clear

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Preposition - Indirect Object

الْسَمَاْءُ لَيْسَتِ بِالصَّاْفِيَةِ

 ('a)s-samaa'(u) laysat bi-s-saafiya(ti)

= the sky is/exists not in the clear (state)

Translation: the sky is not clear

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Preposition - Indirect Object

أَنَاْ لَسْتُ بِسَعِيْدٍ

'anaa last(u) bi-sa"eed(in)

=  I am/exist not in a happy (state)

Translation: I am not happy

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Preposition - Indirect Object

أَنَاْ لَسْتُ بِالسَّعِيْدِ

'anaa last(u) bi-s-sa"eed(i)

=  I am/exist not in the happy (state)

Translation: I am not happy

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Preposition - Indirect Object

إِنَّ هَذَاْ لَيْسَ بِقَوْلٍ عُجَاْبٍ

'inna haathaa lays(a) bi-qawl(in) "ujaab(in)

 = truthfully this is/exists not in (the state of) a saying an astonishing

Translation: this is not astonishing talk

 

Subject - Incomplete Verb - Preposition - Indirect Object

إِنَّ هَذَاْ لَيْسَ بِالْقَوْلِ الْعُجَاْبِ

'inna haathaa lays(a) bi-l-qawl(i) ('a)l-"ujaab(i)

 = truthfully this is/exists not in (the state of) the saying the astonishing

Translation: this is not astonishing talk

 

The summery is: a noun after lays(a) will be an adverb (in accusative case) unless preceded by the preposition bi- where it will be an indirect object (in ablative case).

 

لَيْسَ

lays(a)

 

Is/exists not

Subject

Prep.

Noun

the boy

 

happily

Adverb

 

Accusative Case

('an-nasb)

bi-

 

in

happy

Indirect Object

 

Ablative Case

('al-jarr)

 

 

lays(a) in Modern Formal Arabic

The good use of lays(a) in modern formal Arabic is in sentences without verbs, that is in present tense be-sentences. lays(a) will usually come after the subject and before the predicate in such sentences.

Several examples on this have already been mentioned on this page.

 

 

 

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