February 1, 2020 0

Arabic Grammar: 17. Imperative ‘laam’

Arabic Grammar: 17. Imperative ‘laam’


Sabaa7 al-kheir! Right now, I want to talk about a particle in formal Arabic that we can use for urging and suggesting and presenting strong opinions about what can or should be done. In Arabic we call this structure لام الأمر. the ‘laam’ of ordering or the ‘laam’ of commanding, you might say. In this video I’m assuming that you’re familiar with the real, genuine imperative, and also with present tense case endings in formal Arabic like منصوب and مجزوم If you need a refresher on those, we have other videos that you can go watch and then come back here. So in Arabic the true imperative, the genuine imperative, can only be constructed in the second person. ‘You, do this. All of you, do that.’ But this structure enables us to say something in Arabic closer to “let’s do this,” or “let them do that.” It’s a bit softer socially, than the real imperative just as “let’s do X” is different from saying “do X!” in English. Constructing this structure is really very simple. We start with that preposition ‘laam,’ With a ‘kasra’ underneath, and then attach a present tense verb in مجزوم, that variant present tense ending. So if we wanted to say ‘let’s study,’ we would just write the لندرسْ, and we have a ‘sukuun’ there, right? because it’s مجزوم. In a fully vocalized text of course, we wouldn’t probably have those vocalizations. We can also, if we want, attach a ‘faa’ to the ‘laam,’ and ‘faa’ is a bit like ‘so,’ in English it enables us to connect an idea a little more directly with any idea that preceded it, and if we do attach that ‘faa,’ if we choose to do that, then the ‘laam’ takes ‘sukuun’ instead of the ‘kasra’ that we had earlier. So we pronounce it فَلْنَدرسْ ‘So let’s study.’ We don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get cracking. So, a couple of examples. If we want to say ‘Hmm, I have some free time, let’s go to the cafe.’ عندي وقت فراغ… لنذهب إلى المقهى. And again, we would have ‘sukuun’ there because it’s مجزوم. The words that are famously attributed to Marie Antoinette, when she heard that the people didn’t have bread, Well, let them eat cake. أ ليس عندهم خبز؟… Here we have a complete idea, maybe we can use a ‘faa’ and say… فليأكلوا الكعك! Here again. We don’t have a ‘nuun’ At the end of our third person plural conjugation, because it is in مجزوم. It needs to be in مجزوم, not مرفوع. Or if a friend were broaching an embarrassing subject that you didn’t really feel like talking about you today. Hmm. “That’s a sensitive topic. Let’s talk about something else.” هذا موضوع حساس… لنتكلّم عن شيء آخر. Once more, we would have that ‘sukuun’ because it’s مجزوم. A couple of other things that I want to mention: in colloquial Arabic, in Egyptian or Levantine, for example, we can also express this same idea using other techniques. We could use the verb خلّي with a subject ending. So instead of saying لنذهب, we could say ‘let us’ in a different way. خلّينا… خلّينا نروح عَالقهوةwe would probably use some more colloquial vocabulary. Or we could just say يلا and then our present-tense verb, right? young ball يلا نروح or خلّينا نروح So here is a case where we can expect a little bit of variation between colloquial and modern written standard Arabic. Also as with lots of prepositions, لِـ serves a huge variety of functions in Arabic. Think of prepositions like ‘to’ and ‘at’ In English, they do so many different things in different contexts. It’s likely that you’re already familiar with another version of لِـ meaning something else, meaning something closer to ‘for, in order to, for the purpose of…’ For example, if you wanted to say “I’m studying to get a degree.” We could express that in Arabic أدرس لِأحصل على شهادة. Please excuse my line. We don’t have a lot of room here. One difference, a very very small difference, Is that after this لِـ, it’s not لام الأمر, we call it لام التعليم, sort of ‘the “laam” of explanation.’ Why are you doing this? For that reason. The verb, the present-tense verb that follows لام التعليم is going to be منصوب So here we wouldn’t have a ‘sukuun’ as in these examples. We would instead have a ‘fatha.’ In a fully vocalized text we might see it, if we’re reading something aloud in a formal context, we might have to worry about that. But in most texts that we read, we’re not necessarily going to get that visual information. So as always, if we’re reading a text and we see a لِـ, the context of the text is going to be our most important guide.

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