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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TJ_Q8

Relationships, and AL!

Just to make it clear here, I don't mean relationships between human beings; I suck at those :)
Rather, I wanted to talk about the relationships between words in forming the blocks of the sentence in the Arabic language, after seeing many many questions about sentences and their structure which seems vague to many, because of the nature of the language, which I will talk about with some details. So, no proverb today and no detailed work analyzing words of proverbs or saying, but "simple" (or so I hope) lesson in grammar.

Introduction

In the beginning, maybe a lot of you out there and those who are already doing the exercises and skills on Duolingo - maybe a lot of you all do not realize or have known before that in Arabic there are two major types of sentences:
1. Sentences starting with a noun (called جملة اسمية: nominal sentence).
2. Sentences starting with a verb (called جملة فعلية: verbal sentence).

I don't want to go deep into the history of the studies and the many many theories about the first type of these, the nominal sentence, because linguists (Arabs and non-Arabs alike) were baffled for its nature and how it works and whether it is a real sentence or not (since such sentences do not bear any indicator or essence of time!). Anyway, for simplification and probably the most convenient way is to teach what we were taught in schools and simplify the matter by considering the start of the sentence, whether it is a noun, or a verb, and from there we can work further on analysing the sentence.
It took me a considerable time of thinking: How and why do we, Arabs, understand such sentences right away? One of course can attribute this to the "sense of the language". Well, this is true to some extent but it is for sure not the end of the story. There must be a certain mechanics at play behind the scenes that automated our brains as Arabic readers to understand right away what is the meaning of the sentence (something behind vocabulary). Checking the many questions from users here, I've realized that the key point and pillar for such structures, and the magic that holds all together, is simply, the definite article "al" الـ; Its presence and absence makes all the difference in understanding what two words are supposed to tell. For this reason, I want to list a number of examples with as minimum and as direct explanations and translations as possible, in hope that it would help learners to distinguish the meaning of the sentences that they are facing, either in real life or on Duolingo.

Mechanics

In order to explain the work involving the definite article "AL" I will be dividing the relationships into two main components: Noun-Adjective, and Noun-Noun. Under each type of these, I will be going into details exchanging "AL" between words and give translations for such situation with some explanation as needed. I will be picking 2 words and do the "operations" on them to see what happens. Notice that here I Will be typing the transliteration as per letters and NOT phonetically, because I think this is better to clarify the changes (specially with the small font problem which some of you suffer from). Also, I will be typing the transliteration for the vowels at full, that is, I will not be neglecting the final vowels at the end of the sentence (which can be dropped down when spoken) just to show the changes, if any, to the words themselves. So, let's go!

Noun-Adjective:

For this case, I will pick the noun (مَنْزِل: manzil: House) -Yes, it is another word for "house" other than بيت (bayt)- and I will pick the adjective (أَخْضَر: Axđar: Green) -My favorite color! :) -

  1. مَنْزِلٌ أَخْضَرٌ (manzilun axđarun): A green house.

    Here, we have a complete absence of "AL." As you may have known already (or maybe not?) that adjectives in Arabic follow the noun, just like Romance languages for example. As you see from the translation, the adjective here is attributive; Meaning, it is a descriptive term for the noun before it. Attributive nouns follow the noun they describe in all its conditions: number, gender, definition. The noun here مَنْزِلٌ is indefinite (AL is removed) and thus the adjective أَخْضَرٌ must follow suit (even in the last vowel, Tanwin, -un). This composite, is not a complete sentence at all. Because we did not conclude any event from such simple phrase. Sometimes in Arabic grammar books, such phrases are called Semi-Sentence (شِبْه جُمْلة: Shibh Jumlah).

  2. المَنْزِلُ أَخْضَرُ (al-manzilu axđarun): THE house is green.

    Here, we have a first situation where "AL" is inserted on the noun (and Tanwin has to be removed because Tanwin and AL cannot be in a single word, naturally), but not the adjective. We see that the adjective ends with Tanwin (-un) in complete contradiction to (al-manzilu). That means the adjective is NOT following the noun any more and hence it is NOT attributive any more. The adjective here is said to be predicative. It "tells" the status of the house and does NOT describe the house directly. For this reason, the English translation for such sentence contains the verb (to be) which (i.e. "is") and we can say that this sentence is indeed *complete" because we did get a complete idea. We understand the speaker is trying to say that the house is green indeed.

  3. مَنْزِلُ الأَخْضَرِ (manzilu al-axđari): House of THE green.

    Here, we moved the definite article "AL" to the adjective. Strange as it may sound, we now have a genitive relationship between 2 nouns. Green, in essence is a color, but as a color it can be a noun as well, right? However insensible this sentence might be, but let's imagine a man named Al-Axđar (why not?) and we talking about his house. This phrase would show the relation between this man and his house, as simple as that! Of course, this might not applicable to every adjective you might encounter but this what happens when you add "AL" to the adjective after a noun; The adjective turns into a noun itself and the whole composite becomes Genitive, as you can see in the English translation by using the "of" to connect the two nouns. In Genitive relationships, the second noun in the composite gets kasrah to its end (this is for simple nouns, things might be a bit complicated with plurals and other factors).

  4. المَنْزِلُ الأَخْضَرُ (al-manzilu al-axđaru): THE green house.

    Remember the first example above? Exactly the same situation we have here, but this time both noun and adjective had been identified. In English, you would not define both the noun and the adjective describing it, but in Arabic you do. This is one of the features of the attributive adjectives that describe the noun directly; They mimic the status of the noun, exactly the case here. The noun is defined, so it is defined; The noun ends in Dhamma (-u) and so it does; The noun is singular, and so is the adjective.

Noun-Noun:

For this case, I will pick 2 nouns of course and I will gradually be adding "AL" to each one of them and see the kind of relations we get. I wanted to divide this further into XY and YX, with X and Y being the first and second nouns respectively but then I changed my mind because I don't think this would change concept of understanding anyway. The essence of the relationship between the two nouns is what really matters and not the real meaning behind such bond (i.e. the translation).
So, for this category, I will pick مَنْزِل again, and for my second noun I will pick theword (فَناء: faná': Yard). Worth noting, both nouns are masculine.

  1. فَناءُ مَنْزِلٍ (faná'u manzilin): a house's yard.

    Here, we have a complete absence of "AL." The absence of "AL" here, though, does not mean that the genitive relationship does not hold between the two nouns. It is just an indefinite genitive relationship. We will encounter the defined form in a few. As I've stated before, and again and again, the second term in the genitive relationship gets Kasrah (-i) to its end. However, because the noun here is indefinite, this Kasrah is changed to Tanwin bil Kasr (-in). I've explained in many posts why Tanwin is important and what is its usage, and for our example here, we can consider than Tanwin is a sign for the indefinite noun when "AL" is removed. This is over-simplification by the way but it will do for the understanding here.

  2. الفَناءُ مَنْزِلٌ (al-faná'u manzilun): THE yard is a house.

    I know, it is a non-sensical sentence and probably has no meaning, but it will do to show the purposes and the changes I believe. Imagine it as a line from a conversation in some movie; This might help! Anyway, adding "AL" to (faná') removed Tanwin as we see (since the two cannot be in a single word together). Here, we do have a complete sentence and not a genitive relationship as before. Thus you see in the English translation, the verb "is" is used to connect between the two and TELL a bit of information, that the yard is... a house (whatever that means!).

  3. فَناءُ المَنْزِلِ (faná'u al-manzili): Yard of THE house.

    Here, we are back again to the classical genitive relationship, just as was the case with example "3" in the Adjective-Noun section. Sometimes, I do imagine such genitive relationships between nouns in Arabic to be close to German, where words for a single item are actually grouped together to form one single LONG word. Did you experience that? Well, it can be considered the same in Arabic, except that the words are not merged or grouped, but simply connected in logical relationship using "AL" on the SECOND term in the composite, which is (al-manzili: the house, with "-i" to its end) in this case.

  4. الفَناءُ المَنْزِلُ (al-faná'u al-manzilu): XXX

    Here, we might have a complete insensible combination between two definite words! Indeed, I wouldn't know how to translate this. However, this is just in our example here. But things can indeed do have a meaning when we have 2 nouns and BOTH of them are DEFINED. This would occur in rare occasions maybe, but let me stick to this non-sensible example of ours and please bear with me. One way I could have translated this would be: The yard which is the house or the yard which is a house. However, it doesn't really make sense here because of the nature of the words chosen. If I want to give another example, I would say for example الملكُ المُحارِبُ (al-maliku al-muħáribu), which would be translated as (the fighter king) or (the fighting king). Even in English, we used to knows grouped together under the umbrella of THE. I would have rephrased this title in English and say The king who is fighting, right? So, we have something in parallel to that meaning. In my experience, such expressions of 2 definite nouns might not quite popular in regular writings but rather in titles for example, like the king example I've just explained. But it is a good thing to give a notice of what type of meaning and relationship between 2 nouns would be if they were both definite!

Conclusion and Finale

I hope this text explains and answers many questions that learners have about the structure of the Arabic sentence, specifically the nominal sentence which uses no verbs to connect words or events. I'm quite sure that once you get to notice the "AL" and its role to connect between the two nouns or a noun and its adjective, things will be clear step by step. Generally speaking we can conclude that if the first word is defined with AL and the second is not so, then the chance is absolutely assured that we have a complete predicative sentence here which tells information, or in other words in English, it must contain the verb "to be". This of course is just a simplification for the matter, because Arabic does use the verb (to be) in connecting ideas like English does, but this would be rather in special conditions, and specifically in the past tense. But this is a story for another time!
Have a nice evening all!

August 5, 2019

11 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/paiva56

Would be great to make a lesson on this in Duo :)

August 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TJ_Q8

Aren't we in Duo already? :)

August 5, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Elke405873

Awesome work. Thank you so much. Your way of giving an overview makes everything much easier to get into the language. Your explanations are far better than in many grammar and course books. You really must love the language and teaching it and this is good for us. ;-) I can not say enough THANK YOU.

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TJ_Q8

Vielen Dank :)
Glad it works for you :) But better than books? I'm not sure :) I don't have a degree in education nor in writing skills haha - but thanks again :)

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Elke405873

I can tell you yes it is better than many books. I already tryed out a lot of them. Please do not underestimate your abilities of giving explanations. I am looking for every new post from you and hope you will not get discouraged to go on with this. Ok, and now I will stop otherwise there might someone get annoyed again. And sorry for the last time.

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TJ_Q8

haha ... no worries and thanks :) I'm glad you like them. I Will try to do what I can and hopefully some more is coming soon :) Have a nice day :)

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Elke405873

Thanks a lot. For you also a nice day. One last question. Can you imagine to start a language exchange when I open an account on FB, even if I hate this platform?

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Elke405873

We can share the contact details in a safe way on Conversation Exchange. Just search for Elke and the city Berlin. (This platform is for free.) There we can speak about everything in private and then you can decide how you like to get on. Genieße deinen Feierabend. LG

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TJ_Q8

If you mean a group on FB, well, it would be good but... BUT .... you really need some good time at your hand to manage the group. I can see forward already that you would be spending time managing the group more than learning the language (which is the first reason you made that group for). If you think you can do it and have the time, sure go ahead :) As for hating it .. sure .. I hate it as well, trust me. I hate everything related to FB and I've even stopped Instagraming because of this but unfortunately, I have friends that do not use any platform except of that so I'm usually there whenever they need to contact me or something. Otherwise, I would have abandoned it long time ago. Same thing for WhatsApp.

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Elke405873

No, I was speaking about a direct language exchange with you, no group. You might get an opportunity to refresh and use your German and I could ask from time to time for some pronunciation or grammar stuff in Arabic. And I could provice you some useful things for learning or repeating German. Actually I use Whatsapp and Telegram but prefer Telegram. This I can run on more then one device. I would be glad if I could convince you. But I promise this is going to be my last try. ;-)

August 6, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TJ_Q8

Haha .. oh FB is ok with me ... I want to check Telegram but i really didn't get the time to for the time being. I also run Whatsapp on multiple devices (i mostly use it on PC and laptop and almost never on my tablet or phone). We have another problem here also and that is ... sharing info in a public forum like this seems awkward .. i mean personal info. So i dunno. I will try to check Telegram as soon as i can really and i think i know some people who use it here so just in case i might ask them as well :)

August 6, 2019
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