Arabic Language Blog

A Vital Arabic Particle with Multiple Meanings Posted by on Apr 26, 2018 in Grammar, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

Arabic is full of words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. One example is the Arabic particle انalif and nun, with no ء hamzah or diacritics. Their addition and position make the word versatile. When the ن has fahHah with shaddah  َّ (إِنَّ and أَنَّ), it resembles the past tense verb; when it has sukuun (إِنْ and أَنْ), it resembles other particles. This post is about the ان, namely how the position of the hamzah and the type of diacritical mark on the ن affect its meaning and usage.

(1) Dictionary Features of إِنَّ, إِنَّ and إِنْ, أَنْ:

إِنَّ and أَنَّ are similar to verbs for two reasons. First, they are composed of three letters, أَ + نْ + نَ = أَنَّ and إِ + نْ + نَ = إِنَّ. When two letters occur in a single, they become one with shaddah, if the first has sukuun and the second carries another diacritical mark, hence نْ + نَ become نَّ. Secondly, they final diacritical mark is fatHah like the past tense verb. Besides, meaning-wise they carry a verbal sense which means ascertained.

إِنْ and أَنْ resemble prepositions and other particles because they are composed of two letters only, like most particles. In addition, they don’t carry any meaning unless they are put with another meaning-bearing word – a feature of most Arabic particles and prepositions. Also, the ن has a sukuun like most preposition since preposition are never assigned parsing marks.

(2) Usage of إِنَّ and أَنَّ:

إِنَّ and أَنَّ are used with the nominal sentence الجُمْلَة الإِسْمِيَّة. Both change the parsing mark of the topic المُبْتَدَأ from nominative to accusative, while the predicate الخَبَر remains nominative. إِنَّ is used at the start of independent nominal sentences, after the verb of saying ‘to say’ قَالَ, يَقُوْلُ, قُلْ, and after the oath وَاللهِ ‘I swear’, as in the these examples:

إِنَّ اللهَ رَحِيْمٌ. .Allah is indeed merciful
إِنَّ السَّيَّارَةَ جَدِيْدَةٌ. .The car is indeed new
قُلْ إِنَّــكَ مَرِيْضٌ. .Say that you are sick
أَحْمَد يَقُوْلُ إِنَّ الاِمْتِحَانَ صَعْبٌ. .Ahmed says that the exam is difficult
قَالَتْ إِنْــهَا سَعِيْدَةٌ. .She said that she was happy
وَاللهِ إِنْــكَ بَخِيْلٌ وَهُوَ كَرِيْمٌ. I swear that you are stingy and he’s generous
وَاللهِ إِنَّ سَلِيْمًا كَذَّابٌ. .I swear that Saleem is a liar

 أَنَّ is used in the middle of sentences, after certain verbs. It along with the topic المُبْتَدَأ and the predicate الخَبَر functions as the subject فَاعِل or the object مَفْعُوْل of the preceding verb. It is also used after prepositions and adverbs that are followed by (genitive nouns مُضَاف إِلَيْه), as in the following examples:

نَعْرِفُ أَنَّــكَ ذَكِيٌ. .We know that you are smart
يَعْلَمُ الأَمْرِيْكِيُّوْن أَنَّ تَرَمْب شِرِّيْر. .The Americans know that Trump is evil
أَعْجَبَ المُدِيْرَ أَنَّــكَ نَشِيْط. .Your being energetic admires the boss
سَمِعْتُ أَنَّ خَالِد سَافَر. .I heard that Khalid had travelled
أُحِبُّهَا رَغْمَ أَنَّــها مُتَكَبِّرَة. .I love her even though she’s snobbish
أَشْهَدُ بَــأَنَّـــك بَطَلٌ. .I affirm that you are a hero

In the first example, أَنَّكَ ذَكِيٌ is the object مَفْعُول of نَعْرِفُ. In the second, أَنَّ تَرَمْب شِرِّيْر is object of يَعْلَم. In the third, أَنْكَ نَشِيْط is the subject فَاعِل of أَعْجَبَ. Similar patterns can be found in the other examples.

(3) Meaning of إِنَّ and أَنَّ:

At the start of the independent nominal sentence, إِنَّ means indeed, certainly, or truly. It is used to underscore that a feature of something or a characteristic of someone is absolutely right. Hence, when you say إِنَّ اللهَ غَفُوْرٌ رَحِيْمٌ, it means Allah is undoubtedly forgiving and merciful.

أَنَّ has the meaning of a linking word. It means that, like to the English that in phrases like ‘think that …, believe that …, said that … and so forth’, as in the second set of examples above.

(4) Usage and Meaning of إِنْ and أَنْ:

The most common usage of إِنْ is as a subordinating conjunction in a conditional sentence. It begins the subordinate clause, which come at the start of the complex sentence, as in the examples below. As you can see from the examples, إِنْ means if.

إِنْ تَجْتَهِد تَنْجَح. .If you work hard, you will pass
إِنْ يَعْمَلْ مَعِيّ يَحْصِلْ عَلَى فُلُوْس أَكْثَر. If he works with me, he will make more money
إِنْ نَلْعَبْ جَيْدًا نَحْصُلْ عَلى الجَائِزَة. .If we play well, we will get the prize
إِنْ تُطِع (تُطِيْعْ) اللهَ يَغْفِرْ لَكَ. .If you obey Allah, he will forgive you

إِنْ is also used to negative nominal and verbal sentence, just like مَا, لا, and لَيْسَ. In this case, it does not affect the topic المُبْتَدَأ or the verb الفِعْل. This usage is very formal and literary.

أَنْ, which means ‘to’, is used with present tense verbs and less frequently with past tense verbs. With the present tense, it can be used at the start of the sentence, and in this case, it and the verb that follows constitute the topic المُبْتَدَأ and the remainder of sentence is the predicate الخَبَر. For example, when you say أَنْ تَقْرَأَ خَيْرٌ لَكَ ‘to read is better for you’. أَنْ تَقْرَأَ is the topic مُبْتَدَأ and خَيْرٌ لَكَ is the predicate خَبَر. Here are more examples:

أَنْ نُسَافِر أَفْضَلُ مِنَ البَقَاء. .To travel is better for us than staying
أَنْ تَصُوْمُوا خَيْرٌ لَكُم. .To fast is better for you all
أَنْ تَجَرِيَ كُلَّ يَوْم مُفِيْدٌ لِصَحَّتِكَ. .To run every day is useful for your health

Using it in the middle of the sentence is more common. In this case, it is usually preceded by a present tense and followed by a verb in the same tense, as in the examples below.

تُرِيْدَ أَنْ تَشْتَرِيَ سَيَّارَة. .She wants to buy a car
أَتَمَنَّى أَنْ أَكُوْنَ طَبِيْبًا. .I hope to be a doctor
يَجِبُ أَنْ تَصُوْمَ رَمَضَان. .You must fast Ramadhan
نَوَدُّ أَنْ نُسَاعِدَكِ. .We wish to help you

أَنْ is also used with other words to form two-word subordinating conjunctions, such as قَبْلَ أَنْ ‘before’ and بَعْدَ أَنْ ‘after,’ among others. The verbs after أَنْ in these connecting phrases is usually in the present (but may also be in the past), as in these examples:

قَبْلَ أَنْ أَذْهَبَ إِلَى الحَفْلَة كَتَبْتُ وَاجِبِي. .Before I went to the party, I wrote my HW
قَبْلَ أَنْ يَطْبُخَ غَسَلَ الصُّحُوْن. .Before he cooked, he washed the dishes
بَعْدَ أَنْ دَخَلَ الأُسْتَاذ سَكَتَ الطُّلَّاب. After the teacher entered, the student become silent
بَعْدَ أَنْ تُأَكُلَ تَنَاوَل العِلاج. .After you eat, take the medication

Although the verb in the first two examples is in the present tense, it has a past meaning due to the قَبْلَ in the connecting phrase. It refers to the past.

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About the Author: Ibnulyemen اِبْنُ اليَمَن

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. To learn more, you can also visit my website Ibnulyemen Arabic or my facebook page.