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Arabic Verb Forms [Imperfective Moods] Posted by on Jun 15, 2017 in Grammar, Vocabulary

In most languages, mood is a grammatical and/or semantic, i.e. meaning-related, term that is tied to verbs. It is a change in the form of the verb that indicates a contrast of some sort. For instance, the sentence “if he were you, he would buy that car’ in English is in the subjective mood; that is, using ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ indicates that the sentence is unreal, i.e. hypothetical. Generally, mood in Arabic pertains to the imperfective form الفِعْل المُضَارِع.

Unlike the perfective form, the imperfective form الفِعْلُ المُضَارِع does not refer to a specific tense. That is, it may express an event in the past, present, or future. For this reason, it has three types of mood: indicative, subjunctive, and jussive. So, how can we recognize these moods?

Singular imperfective forms:

With singular imperfective forms, mood is recognized from the diacritical marks assigned to the end of verbs. How? If the verb is assigned dhammah ضَمَّة, it is in the indicative mood; if it is assigned fatHah فَتْحَة, it is in the subjective mood; and if it is assigned sukoon سُكُون or loses the weak letter, it is in the jussive mood, as in:

يَذْهَبُ أَحْمَدُ إِلَى الجَامِعَةِ كُلَّ سَبْت.  ‘Ahmed goes to the university every Saturday.’—indicative

لَنْ يَذْهَبَ أَحْمَدُ إِلَى الجَامِعَةِ هَذَا السَّبْت.  ‘Ahmed will not go to the university this Saturday.’—subjunctive

لا تَذْهَبْ إِلَى الجَامِعَة هَذَا السَّبْت.  ‘oh Ahmed, don’t go to the university this Saturday.’—jussive

لا تَقُلْ إِنَّكَ مَرِيْض. ‘don’t say that you are sick.’—jussive (لا تَقُلْ instead of لا تَقُوْلْ, i.e. weak letter و is dropped).

Dual and plural imperfective forms:

In dual and plural imperfective forms, mood is recognized from the retention or deletion of the ن at the end of verbs. That is, if the ن is retained, the verbs are in the indicative mood, while the deletion of the ن means that the verbs are either in the subjective or jussive mood, as in:

الطَّالِبَان يَذْهَبَان إِلَى الجَامِعَةِ كُلَّ سَبْت.  ‘the two students go to the university every Saturday’—indicative

الطٌّلابُ يَذْهَبُون إِلَى الجَامِعَة كُلَّ سَبْت.  ‘the students go to the university every Saturday’—indicative

الطَّالِبَان لَنْ يَذْهَبَا إِلَى الجَامِعَة هَذَا السَّبْت.  ‘the two students won’t go to the university this Saturday.’—subjunctive.

الطٌّلابُ لَنْ يَذْهَبُوا إِلَى الجَامِعَة هَذَا السَّبْت. ‘the students won’t go the university this Saturday.’—subjunctive

لا تَذْهَبَا إِلَى الجَامِعَة هَذَا السَّبْت. ‘you both, don’t go to the university this Saturday.’—jussive

لا تَذْهَبُوا إِلَى الجَامِعَة هَذَا السَّبْت. ‘you all, don’t go to the university this Saturday.’—jussive

لا تَقُوْلَا إِنَّكُما مَرِيضَان.  ‘you both, don’t say that you are sick.’—jussive (weak letter is not dropped due to change in internal diacritics of the verb).

لا تَقُوْلوا إِنَّكُم أَمْرَاض.  ‘you all, don’t say that you are sick.’—jussive (again, weak letter is retained owing to internal diacritics of the verb).

So, what is the significance mood?

Semantically, i.e. with respect to the meaning, indicative means that the action takes place in the present, i.e. at the time of speaking, while subjunctive and jussive mean that the action will take place in the future.

What if the verb is not assigned final diacritical marks as oftentimes the case in modern written and spoken Arabic?

If verbs have no final diacritical marks, we resort to structural hints. If a verb is not preceded by subjunctive or jussive particles (or certain nouns in case of jussive), it is in the indicative mood. If it is preceded by one, it is in the subjective or jussive mood.

What are the subjunctive particles?

The most commonly used in Modern Arabic are:

  • أَنْ ‘to’—e.g.’ أُرِيْدُ أَنْ أَتَزَوَّجَ ‘I want to get married.’
  • لَنْ ‘will not’—e.g. لَنْ يَأكُلَ البِطِّيخَ بَعْدَ اليَوْم. ‘he will not east watermelon from today on.’
  • كَيْ (or لِكَيْ) ‘to, in order to’—e.g. أَدْخِرُ بَعْضَ النِّقُود كَيْ أُسَافرَ. ‘I save some money in order to travel.’
  • لـِ ‘to, in order to’—e.g. أَذْهَبُ إِلَى الجَبَلِ لأُصْطَادَ وَبْرًا. ‘I go to the mountain to hunt a hyrax.’
  • حَتَّى ‘until, so that, in order to’—e.g. لَنْ أَنَامَ حَتَّى أُكْمِلَ الوَاجِب. ‘I won’t sleep until I finish the homework.’

The verbs أَتَزَوَّجَ, يَأكُلَ, أٌسَافِرَ, أَصْطَادَ, and أُكْمِلَ are in the subjunctive mood, hence the actions they represent will occur in the future.

What are the jussive particles?

The most commonly used jussive particles (that has future meaning) in Modern Arabic are:

  • لا ‘don’t’—e.g. لا تُسَافَرْ بِالقَطَار فالطَّقْس بَارِدٌ جِدًا. ‘don’t travel by train as it (the weather) is very cold.’
  • إِنْ ‘if’—e.g. إِنْ تَدْرُسْ تَنْجَح. ‘if you study, you may pass.’
  • إِذَا ‘if’—e.g. إِذَا تَدْرُس تَنْجَحْ. ‘if you study, you will pass.’
  • مَنْ ‘whoever’—e.g. مَنْ يَدْرُس يَنْجَحْ. ‘whoever studies, he will pass.’
  • مَهْما ‘whatever’—e.g. مَهْمَا تَعْمَلْ تَفْشَلْ. ‘whatever you do, you will lose.’
  • حَيْثُما ‘wherever’—e.g. حَيْثُما تَجْلِسْ أَجْلِس. ‘wherever you sit, I will sit.
  • مَتَى or مَتَى ما ‘when, whenever’—e.g. مَتَى ما تُسَافِرْ أُسَافِرْ مَعْك. ‘whenever you travel, I travel with you.’

What is the difference between إِنْ and إِذَا? In using إِنْ, you are not sure if the action in the second clause, i.e. ‘passing’ in the example above, will be fulfilled, whereas إِذا indicates that the action will be fulfilled.

The second verbs in each of the clauses above are in the jussive mood which means that their respective actions will take place in the future.

To recap, indicative mood signifies a present action. Subjunctive mood and jussive mood, on the other hand, denote a future action.

In Modern Arabic dialects, the mood is a bit different and more complex. This will be explained in the next post.

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About the Author:Ibnulyemen

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. Besides Arabic and English, I speak French and some German. I have a strong flair for languages; most of my foreign language competency has been self-learning. For Arabic, I have a strong command of its formal aspects. So, if you have any question about Arabic grammar or morphology, feel free to ask any question you may have. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential and interactive fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. Arabic dialectal expressions and vocabulary will be highlighted whenever pertinent to the topic of each post. Enjoy learning!