November 12, 2019 0

Arabic Grammar: ‘Laysa’ ليس

Arabic Grammar: ‘Laysa’ ليس


Marhaba! Right now we’re going to talk about ‘ليس’ which is a very important verb in formal Arabic that we use to negate things in the present tense, or to talk about ‘not being,’ in sentences like ‘I am not a student, I’m a professor,’ or ‘He is not in the office today.’ It comes from a very archaic and basically unused word called ‘أيس’ which means, like ‘being,’ or ‘existence,’ with the prefix ‘لا,’ ‘no, not, un-,’ so together, لا plus أيس is ليس The verb, conjugated for هو. You probably know how to use ليس already in certain contexts, if you’ve studied Arabic for a little bit. You may have seen it used to negate ideas of possession in formal Arabic. I could say, for example, ‘I don’t have a book.’ ‘ليسَ عندي…’ Or let’s say, ‘I don’t have *the* book,’ ‘ليس عندي الكتاب.’ And in a case like that, ليسَ is fixed. It’s sort of referring to the general state of ‘non-ness.’ ‘It is not that I have a book.’ If that makes any sense. However, ليس is actually a verb that can conjugate for all of the subjects that we have in Arabic. Right here is a chart with every single conjugation you’ll ever need. I’ve included the dual conjugations for the sake of completeness, and the human feminine plural conjugation. We don’t tend to hear those as much in speech, but I’ve included them here just for the sake of completeness. If you don’t know exactly how to deploy them, don’t worry about that. You’ll get to that later. ليس is unique and a bit strange in that While it only ever refers to the present tense, things ‘not being’ in the present tense, it conjugates as though it’s a past tense verb. You can see that with these suffixes. For example all past tense verbs if I’m talking about أنا, ‘I,’ a first-person singular conjugation, in the past tense they have the ‘taa’ with the ‘Damma’ on it, right? دَرَسْتُ, ‘I studied,’ in the past tense. But if I want to say ‘I am not,’ I would use the same suffix to say ‘لَستُ.’ The other complication about لَيسَ is that it’s a ‘hollow verb.’ If you want to go back and review the video about hollow verbs, that might be helpful. Here the ‘hollow’ part, the vowel in the middle that sometimes disappears, is The letter ‘yaa.’ You could go about memorizing this chart, crunching through it, or you could remember that in all cases but one, the ‘yaa’ disappears when the conjugation is for a subject that is not third-person. ‘هم ليسوا,’ we keep the ‘yaa,’ ‘هما ليسا,’ we keep the ‘yaa,’ هي, ‘she is not’, لَيسَتْ, we keep the ‘yaa.’ The only exception would be for هنَّ, ‘they,’ feminine plural, ‘those women,’ لَسنَ. We have to remove the ‘yaa,’ because there’s a rule in formal Arabic that we can’t have two letters next to each other that both have ‘sukuun as a letter on them. So we need to remove the ‘yaa’ in that case. But generally, most of the time you can get by remembering that when we’re using most third-person conjugations except for هنّ, we keep the ‘yaa,’ and all the other conjugations, first person, and second person, we get rid of the ‘yaa.’ So we use ليس most often to negate a جملة اسمية, a nominative sentence, one that doesn’t have a verb in it, at least not in Arabic. So we’ve seen the sentence ‘this is not my book.’ If I wanted to say ‘I am not from this city,’ conjugated for myself, it would be أنا لَسْتُ من هذه المدينة. Or if I wanted to say ‘Maryam is not my sister, she’s my friend,’ I could say مريم لَيسَتْ أختي، هي صديقتي. In very formal Arabic, we would actually take ليس, since it works just like other verbs, and put ليس at the front of that sentence. It would be considered elegant style. ليسَتْ مريم أختي. ‘Maryam is not my sister.’ ليس is very frequent in formal written Arabic, We see it all over the place in writing, in formal speech, but it’s not very frequent in colloquial speech. Often we would use a simple, fixed particle that doesn’t conjugate the way ليس does. If we wanted to rephrase these sentences in Levantine or Egyptian Arabic, we could probably get away with using a particle like ‘مش,’ which Stays مش, we aren’t going to change مش, or attempt to conjugate it for a subject. So I could say أنا مش من هذه المدينة Or مريم مش أختي, ‘Maryam isn’t my sister.’ مش is the same whether I’m talking about أنا or هي or هم, Or any other subject. But in formal Arabic we can’t use مش, It’s just not used in written expression. So it’s up to us to know how to Recognize and manipulate ليس when we are going to talk about ‘not being’ in formal contexts.

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