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Verbs (continued)

Tenses for the Perfective Verb

Arabic grammar recognizes three tenses, the past, present, and future, without paying much attention to the different aspects of each tense nor to how to express these aspects.

However, following is a suggested standardized way for expressing different European tenses in Arabic:


1. Simple Past



= (he) did

Translation: he did


2. Anterior Past

كَاْنَ فَعَلَ

kaan(a) fa"al(a)

= (he) was did

Translation: ≈ he had done

When the perfective verb is preceded by kaan(a) كَاْنَ = "was," the formulation will mean something close to "he had done."


3. Anterior Future

سَيَكُوْنُ فَعَلَ

sa-yakoon(u) fa"al(a)

= (he) will be did

Translation: ≈ he will have done

When the perfective verb is preceded by sa-yakoon سَيَكُوْنُ = "will be," or sawfa yakoon سَوْفَ يَكُوْنُ = "will be," the formulation will mean something close to "he will have done."


4. Perfect Present

لَقَدْ فَعَلَ

la-qad fa"al(a)

= (he) indeed has done


The particle qad قَدْ  or la-qad لَقَدْ is used with the perfective verb for emphasis. However, it seems that la-qad is used in Modern Standard Arabic only when the verb has a perfect present meaning.



The particle qad can also precede the imperfective verb, but in that case it will have an entirely different function which is to confer a sense of incertitude on the verb as we are going to see.


Perfective as Subjunctive


Although perfective structures denote the past tense or the present perfect tense when used alone, Arabic often uses perfective verbs to express the subjunctive mood (the mood of hypothetical situations) rather than the actual perfective. Thus, perfective verbs can often indicate the present and future tenses rather than the past, especially in the classical language. This is very much like modern English; when one says in English "if I could, I would go" he doesn't really mean the past tense, even though he's using it.


The particle qad can also be used as an emphatic particle:

قَدْ نَجَحَ المُجِدُّ فِيْ عَمَلِهِ

qad najah(a) ('a)l-mujidd(u) fee "amali-h(i)

= certainly (he) succeeded the diligent in (the) work (of) him

Translation: certainly, the diligent succeeds at his work

The perfective verb was used here as a subjunctive verb, which is common in classical Arabic. This is similar to the English "if I were there..."




إِنْ دَرَسْتَ نَجَحْتَ

'in darast(a) najaht(a)

= if (you) studied (you) succeeded

Translation: if you studied, you would pass

= if you study, you will pass


الْمُؤْمِنُ مَنْ أَمِنَ جَاْرُهُ بَوَاْئِقَهُ

('a)l-mu'min(u) man 'amin(a) jaaru-h(u) bawaa'iqa-h(u)

= the believer (is) who (he) was secured (from), neighbor (of) him, harms (of) him

Translation: a (true) believer is one whose neighbor wouldn't have to worry about harm from him

The subject of the verb 'amin(a) was jaaru-h(u). The object of the same verb was bawaa'iqa-. The pronoun (-h(u) = him) was always referring to the believer.

Example on how the same sentence can have different meanings:

صَعُبَ عَلَيْهِ الأَمْرُ

sa"ub(a) "alay-h(i) ('a)l-'amr(u)

= (he/it) has been hard on him the matter (masc.)

Translation: the matter has been hard on him

This was the indicative mood.

صَعُبَ عَلَيْهِ الأَمْرُ

sa"ub(a) "alay-h(i) ('a)l-'amr(u)

= (he/it) was hard on him the matter (masc.)

Translation: the matter would be hard on him

This is the subjunctive mood.


Another example:

صَعُبَ عَلَيَّ أَنْ أُفَاْرِقَكَ

sa"ub(a) "alay-y(a) 'an 'ufaariqa-k(a)

= (he/it) was hard on me that (I) part from you (sing. masc.)

Translation: it would be hard on me to part from you

I couldn't part from you


We are going to see many other examples on this site of perfective verbs being used as subjunctive verbs.


Tenses for the Imperfective Verb


The imperfective structure is used in the following tenses:


1. Simple Present




= (he) does

Translation: he does


2. Simple Future




= (he) will do

Translation: he will do


سَوْفَ يَفْعَلُ

sawfa yaf"al(u)

= (he) will do

Translation: he will do


3. Progressive Present




= (he) does

Translation: he is doing



4. Progressive Past


كَاْنَ يَفْعَلُ

kaan(a) yaf"al(u)

= (he) was do

Translation: he was doing


5. Progressive Future


سَيَكُوْنُ يَفْعَلُ

sa-yakoon(u) yaf"al(u)

= (he) will be do

Translation: he will be doing


سَوْفَ يَكُوْنُ يَفْعَلُ

sawfa yakoon(u) yaf"al(u)

= (he) will be do

Translation: he will be doing



A scheme for all tenses:








Simple Perfective فَعَلَ
he did
Anterior/Perfect Perfective كَاْنَ فَعَلَ
كَاْنَ قَدْ فَعَلَ
≈ he had done
Progressive Imperfective كَاْنَ يَفْعَلُ
he was doing








Simple Imperfective يَفْعَلُ
he does
Perfect Perfective لَقَدْ فَعَلَ
he has done
Progressive Imperfective يَفْعَلُ
he is doing







Simple Imperfective سَيَفْعَلُ
he will do
Anterior/Perfect Perfective سَيَكُوْنُ فَعَلَ
 سَيَكُوْنُ قَدْ فَعَلَ
he will have done
Progressive Imperfective سَيَكُوْنُ يَفْعَلُ
he will be doing



Finally, here is a list of Arabic verbs.


List of Arabic verbs




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