February 2, 2020 0

Arabic Grammar: 9. Comparative and superlative and case endings

Arabic Grammar: 9.  Comparative and superlative and case endings


Ahla wa sahla! Right now I want to talk about comparatives and superlatives in Arabic, with a focus on the case endings that they take in certain common situations if we’re dealing with or creating a fully vocalized text. I’m assuming right now that you already have a good grasp on how we construct basic superlative adjectives, and a decent understanding of how case endings work on nouns in Arabic. So a lot of the time in a superlative construction the superlative functions kind of like the first word of an إضافة. Take these two sentences here: القاهرة أكبر مدينة عربية and القاهرة أكبر المدن العربية They’re equivalent in meaning, although this first example is an indefinite إضافة. That’s a little more emphatic, a little more normal. ‘The largest city,’ period, full stop.” and أكبر المدن العربية implies that maybe there’s another piece of information coming. ‘The largest of the Arab cities that…’ are in Egypt, for example, or something like that. It is the construction that we would expect to hear when there’s more information coming. The big difference, of course, is that here, we have an indefinite إضافة We don’t see any ‘alif-laam’ on this second noun, and this is a definite إضافة, we do have an ‘alif-laam.’ Either way, أكبر in these إضافت is The first word of an إضافة, so it’s not going to take any kind of تنوين Instead, since it’s the خبر of a جملة اسمية we’re just going to say أكبرُ in both cases, أكبرُ مدينةٍ our indefinite إضافة where the second word is مجرور, or أكبرُ مدن and since this noun is definite, it’s still مجرور, but it’s only taking one ‘kasra.’ Etc Now if we wanted to use a different sentence, and say ‘Baghdad was the largest Arab city twelve hundred years ago,’ كانت بغداد أكبر مدينة في العالم — Actually, that’s true. It was the largest city in the world. Not just the largest Arab city. Now, أكبر is the خبر of كان which means it needs to be منصوب But it’s still part of an إضافة, so it’s also not going to take تنوين so I’m putting one ‘fatha,’ not two onto أكبر. We would never say ‘akbaran,’ with تنوين in a case like this because of the إضافة, because it’s the first word of the إضافة. أكبرَ مدينةٍ, that’s how we would vowelize… vocalize? That’s how we would inflect that phrase properly. Or sometimes, if we have a preposition before a superlative that’s in an إضافة, then it would be مجرور. It would take normal case endings after a preposition like من, but it would still not take تنوين. So if we wanted to say ‘Gamal Abd el-Naser was among the most important political personalities of the Arab world in the 20th century,’ or something like that, we have كان جمال عبد الناصر من… He was ‘among,’ or he was ‘of’ the most important personalities. So because of this من, أهم is going to take one ‘kasra,’ but not two, again because it’s part of this three word إضافة: ‘the most important personalities of the world.’ In all of these cases, our superlatives are part of an إضافة. It’s a very normal, very common situation. in cases though where we’re using أفعَل التفضيل, That superlative and comparative pattern without an إضافة, the أفعَل comparative and superlative adjectives often fall into a category called ممنوع من الصرف. If they’re not definite they are ممنوع من الصرف. We have a separate video on that special category of words that you can go and check out if you care to, before you come back here. Basically if أفعَل التفضيل is really truly indefinite, that is, not part of an إضافة or not having ‘alif-laam’ on the beginning, it will still never take تنوين and while it still takes ‘Dhamma’ for مرفوع, it’s going to take ‘fatha’ for منصوب and مجرور, even if it comes after a preposition or something like that. So here are a couple of simple examples: if I wanted to say ‘I’m taller than my brother,’ أنا أطول من أخي You might think okay, أنا أطول… we have a مبتدأ and a خبر, a very simple جملة اسمية But أطول is only going to take one ‘Dhamma.’ Never two. We would never say ‘aTwalun.’ Similarly, if we want to say ‘my brother was taller than me,’ كان أخي… and now أطول is the خبر of كان ordinarily it would take A منصوب and even though we don’t have an ‘alif-laam,’ it’s only going to take one ‘fatha.’ كان أخي أطولَ مني. I tried to come up with a working example where we have a preposition followed by a superlative in the أفعَل pattern That was not part of an إضافة, and for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with one. But if we were to confront an example like that though, that أفعَل would not have taken a ‘kasra’ ever, unless it were definite because of being in an إضافة or because of having an ‘alif-laam’ in front of it. In a case like that where it’s really truly indefinite, It’s going to take a kasra, even in مجرور, because it’s ممنوع من الصرف. So the takeaway here is really no matter when, no matter what, أفعل is Really pretty much never going to take تنوين– in all of these most common situations, where we use superlatives, we’re never going to add ٌ or اً or ٍ to an أفعَل pattern. It’s an interesting combination of exceptions that combines to create that reality.

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