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Arabic Sentences


Every complete sentence in English must have at least a subject and a verb. This is also generally true in Arabic. However, the organization of these elements in a sentence can be a bit different in Arabic.

In English sentences, the subject usually precedes the verb. In Arabic, there are two types of sentences in regard to subject and verb ordering:

  • Nominal Sentences: sentences in which the subject precedes the verb.

  • Verbal Sentences: sentences in which the verb precedes the subject.


Usage of Each Type of Sentences

Unlike in English, where the change in the intonation of the speaker is probably the only way to emphasize or stress different elements of the sentence, emphasis of different elements can be achieved in Arabic by alternating between the two types of sentences.

Nominal sentences are used when the SUBJECT is the most important element in the sentence and which the speaker seeks to emphasize.

Verbal sentences are in fact the normal tone, they are used when the speaker is not stressing anything in particular, or also when the speaker seeks to stress the verb or the ACTION.



Nominal Sentences


A nominal sentence in Arabic  الْجُمْلَةُ الاِسْمِيَّةُis a sentence that starts with the subject (a noun) and the verb follows. The subject can be a noun, a pronoun, a demonstrative, or a relative clause.

The defining property of a nominal sentence is that the subject precedes the verb. Thus there are more than one possibility for nominal sentences in the presence of an object, an adverb, a prepositional phrase, etc. The first one is the standard usual one:

Standard Structure of Nominal Sentences

Subject Verb Others
THE BOY reads his book Object
THE BOY reads fast Adverb
THE BOY reads in the library Prepositional Phrase
THE BOY is smart Adjective

The capitalization is a reference to the fact that the subject is the stressed element in nominal sentences.

The other possible structures for nominal sentences are more rare:

Alternative Structure For Nominal Sentences




in the library




Alternative Structure For Nominal Sentences





in the library



his book


Alternative Structure For Nominal Sentences





in the library



So the important point is that the subject always precedes the verb in nominal sentences.


Examples on nominal sentences:


Subject - Verb - Object

الْوَلَدُ يَقْرَأُ كِتَاْبَهُ

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

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

Translation: THE BOY reads his book



Subject - Verb - Prepositional Phrase

الْبَنَاْتُ يَلْعَبْنَ فِيْ الْحَدِيْقَةِ

'al-banaat(u) yal"abn(a) fee ('a)l-hadeeqa(ti)

= the girls play in the yard/park

Translation: THE GIRLS are playing in the yard/park




We talked in a separate section about the fact that nominal, present tense, "be" sentences do not have verbs in Arabic (the verb "be" is omitted in the present tense). This is the only case in Arabic in which there is no verb in the sentence. In these verb-less sentences, the stress usually falls on the predicate not the subject (the part after the "be"); unless the intonation says otherwise.


Subject - Predicate

حَسَنٌ هُنَاَْ

hasan(un) hunaa

= Hassan (is) here

Translation: Hassan is here



Subject - Predicate

هَذَاْ يَوْمٌ عَصِيْبٌ

haathaa yawm(un) "aseeb(un)

= this (is) a day a hard

Translation: this is a hard day



Subject - Predicate

لَيْلَىْ هِيَ زَوْجَةُ مَحْمُوْدٍ

laylaa hiy(a) zawja(tu) mahmood(in)

= Layla she (is) (the) wife (of) Mahmud

Translation: Layla is Mahmud's wife



Subject - Predicate

صَدِيْقِيْ هُوَ مَاْلِكُ الْمَتْجَرِ

sadeeq-ee huw(a) maalik(u) ('a)l-matjar(i)

= (the) friend (of) me he (is) (the) owner (of) the shop

Translation: my friend owns the shop



Subject - Predicate

الْقَاْهِرَةُ هِيَ عَاْصِمَةُ مِصْرَ

'al-qaahira(tu) hiy(a) "aasima(tu) misr(a)

= Cairo she (is) (the) capital (of) Egypt

Translation: Cairo is the capital of Egypt

*Note: مِصْر is a "forbidden to Noonation" word and it takes an irregular sign for the genitive case.


Sentences that begin with an indefinite word, such as "a man is here" are NOT usually used in Arabic. The demonstrative "there" will be usually used for such sentences.


هُنَاْكَ رَجُلٌ بِالْبَاْبِ

hunaak(a) rajul(un) bi-l-baab(i)

= there (is) a man by the door

Translation: there is a man at the door



ثَمَّةَ أَحَدٌ مَاْ

thammat(a) 'ahad(un) maa

 = there (is) one-some

Translation: someone is there


Note that such sentences that begin with "there is" will NOT become "there was" when rendered in the past tense; nor will they become "there will be" when in the future tense. To change the tense of these sentences from the present to the past of the future, a verbal sentence is usually used (i.e. "was there a man at the door" or "will be there a man at the door," we will cover this when we talk about verbal sentences soon).


Be-sentences in the past tense will have the perfective verb kaan(a) كَانَ = was or one of its conjugations.


Subject - Verb - Adverb

الْسَّمَاْءُ كَاْنَتْ صَاْفِيَةً

'as-samaa'(u) kaanat saafiya(tan)

 = the sky was/existed clearly

Translation: the sky was clear

*The verb "be" in Arabic requires an adverb after it rather than an adjective as in English. This is only true when the verb appears but not when it is not apparent (i.e. in the present tense). Such verbs are called in Arabic the incomplete verbs الأَفْعالُ النَّاْقِصَةُ .


Subject - Verb - Adverb

حُسَيْنٌ كَاْنَ هُنَاْكَ

husayn(un) kaan(a) hunaak(a)

= Hussein was there

Translation: Hussein was there



Subject - Verb - Adverb

هَذَاْ كَاْنَ يَوْمًا عَصِيْبًا

haathaa kaan(a) yawma(n) "aseeba(n)

= this was a day a hard

Translation: this was a hard day

*The literal sense: "this existed as a hard day."


In the future tense, "be" verbs will be  sa-yakoon(u) سَيَكُوْنُ = will be, or  sawf(a) yakoon(u) سَوْفَ يَكُوْنُ = will be.


Subject - Verb - Adverb

الْسَّمَاْءُ سَتَكُوْنُ صَاْفِيَةً

'as-samaa'(u) sa-takoon(u) saafiya(tan)

 = the sky will be/exist clearly

Translation: the sky will be clear





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