December 24, 2019 0

Arabic Grammar: 28. Subject-verb agreement

Arabic Grammar: 28. Subject-verb agreement

Ahlan wa sahlan! In this video. I’m going to expand a little bit on verb-subject agreement in Arabic. What we might call the relationship between الفعل والفاعل. For the moment I am assuming that you have a good control of past and present-tense verb conjugations in Arabic, and that you also have a good understanding of verbal and nominative sentence structures الجملة الفعلية والجملة الاسمية. If you need a review, we have four separate videos on each of those topics that you can go and brush up on. So if you’ve studied your verbs, you know that a verb and it’s subject need to match, to agree with each other. However, there are a couple of important exceptions and idiosyncrasies in formal Arabic, formal written Arabic, and those are what I would like to expand on a little bit right now. First big exception is: if the verb comes after the subject it agrees with that subject in gender and In number. It can ‘look plural.’ But if a verb comes before it’s subject, as is often the case in written Arabic, Then it agrees with the subject in gender, but it stays singular even if the subject is plural. So let’s take a look at what I mean. Here is an example. We have two sentences الطلاب تخرّجوا من الجامعة and تخرّج الطلاب من الجامعة and in terms of meaning they are absolutely identical. “The students graduated from college.” Here, we have a nominative sentence, a جملة اسمية. It starts with the noun, and the noun is plural. So the verb that follows it, the verb that follows that subject, is also going to be plural. It’s conjugated with that ـوا at the end: تخرّجوا. However, in the second version we’ve put the subject after the verb, and because the verb comes first, even though the subject is absolutely plural, الطلاب, a plural group of students, this verb is conjugated as though it were singular. That is to say it’s conjugated for the masculine third-person singular conjugation. In written Arabic, this is obligatory. We’re going to put the verb first. Here’s another example of the same thing, except this time, we have a feminine human plural, صديقات. Again, these two sentences are identical in terms of meaning: صديقاتي يخرجن معاًكل أسبوع or تخرج صديقاتي معاً كل أسبوع “My [grammatically feminine] friends go out together every week.” Once again, though, صديقاتي comes first in this version of our sentence, so our verb is conjugated in the plural, because it comes after, because we lead with the noun. However here, since we’re starting with the verb, even though صديقاتي is definitely a human plural, we’re conjugating this verb, تخرج, as feminine singular, because it comes first. In formal Arabic, tis is the way we have to do it. Anything else is a bit wrong, or perhaps more than a bit wrong. You should also be aware that there are those who would argue that version two of each of these sentences is better style in formal written Arabic, that if we can get away with constructing our sentences verb-first, Then that is the more elegant choice. Sometimes we can’t–maybe there’s a preposition or a conjunction in an earlier clause of our sentence that requires a noun to come after it, in formal Arabic, and then we would have to go with option one. But in the absence of another force that compels us, an educated user of Arabic would often go for a choice number two. And if you’re approaching the Arabic from the perspective of an educated user of English, version number two is also the more complicated choice for us, right? Because of the word or differs a little bit from English. So if you, like me, are an educated user of English and continuing to learn Arabic, then you might choose version two just because it gives us more practice with the choice that’s a bit exceptional for us. If we have a verbal sentence without a noun or a pronoun in it, where it’s just implied, and the implied subject of that verb is plural, then the verb will continue to be conjugated in the plural. That’s going to be the only context we have, so if you take a look at these two sentences: درسوا كتابهم العربيor درسَنَ كتابهن العربي those are both human plural conjugations– درسوا is conjugated for هم, but we don’t know whether we’re talking about طلاب or أساتذة, and درسنَ is the feminine human plural conjugation. But either way, we would not change that verb because the verb is giving us important context in the sentence. If we’re dealing with a list of subjects, then we’re still going to obey the rules that we talked about over here, and we’re going to conjugate the verb for the first subject in our list that comes afterwards. So here again, we have two sentences that are functionally identical, you could say: ذهبت سميرة ومحمد ويوسف إلى المطعم or ذهب يوسف وسميرة ومحمد إلى المطعم and in this version, since Samira, that woman’s name Samira, comes first, we’ve conjugated ذهبَتْ for feminine singular third person, and in this version we’ve switched the order So Youssef comes first, and for that reason ذهب is conjugated masculine singular third person. One final reminder that you might have heard before, especially if you study with me: in formal Arabic, non-human plurals are always treated in the sentence as though they’re feminine singular, and that includes verb conjugations. Up until now, in all of these other examples, we’ve been talking about human beings. Students, friends, individuals with names. But if we wanted to talk about something non-human, we would conjugate the verb as though it was feminine singular, even if it were plural. So if we wanted to say ‘the cats drank the milk,’ we could say شربت القطط الحليب, or we could say القطط شربت الحليب, but either way, our verb is going to look feminine singular, شربتْ, even though we’re talking about plural cats. So we can play with the word-order, but the verb is going to remain the same because cats are not humans. In colloquial Arabic, say in Egyptian or Levantine colloquial, we could probably get away with using a plural conjugation, شربوا القطط الحليب, for example, but in formal written Arabic, this is the way it has to be.

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