Arabic Verb Forms: Negation Posted by on Jun 29, 2017 in Grammar, Vocabulary

To negate a verb in English, we use the word ‘not’ along with a helping verb that indicates tense, such as ‘doesn’t, don’t’ for present simple, ‘didn’t’ for past simple, ‘hadn’t’ for past perfect simple, and so forth. In Arabic, there are multiple particles for negating verbs. The most common particles in Modern Standard Arabic are مَا, لا, لَمْ, لَنْ.

Negating the Past Form of the Verb الفِعْلُ المَاضِي:

To negate the past form of the verb in Arabic, we use مَا before the verb. It means ‘didn’t.’ It simply negates the meaning of the verb without causing any change on its form, as in these examples:

مَا شَرِبْتُ العَصِيْر.  ‘I didn’t drink the juice.

مَا نِمْتُ اللَّيْلةَ المَاضِيَة. ‘I didn’t sleep last night.’

مَا فَهِمَ الطَّالِبُ الدَّرْس.  ‘the student didn’t understand the lesson.’

مَا جَاءَتْ سَارَة. ‘Sarah didn’t come.’

It is also possible to use لا to negate the past form of the verb; however, it must be repeated, i.e. employed with two verbs with an intervening coordinating conjunction, i.e. لا + past verb 1 + و +another لا + past verb 2. This repetition of لا translates as ‘neither … nor’. Like مَا, the repeated particle لا…لا does not inflect any change on the form of the verb, as in these examples:

ذَهَبْتُ إِلَى الحَفْلَة، لَكِنْ لا أَكَلْتُ ولا شَرِبْت.  ‘I went to the party, but I neither ate nor drank.’

كَانَ المُدِيْر حَائر، لا وَافَقَ ولا رَفَض.  ‘the manager was confused. He neither accepted nor rejected.’

Negating the Present Form of the Verbالفِعْلُ المُضَارِع :

As in the table above, multiple negating prepositions/particles are used to negate the present form of the verb. One reason for this multiplicity is the variation they cause in meaning and time/tense. Let’s look at each one of them singly.

1) لا ‘will not’:

When لا is used to negate the present form of the verb, it changes its tense/time to future. Therefore, if you are talking about your general dislikes, you should be careful not to use لا. Another negative particle is more appropriate for this (i.e. ما, see below). To illustrate, if you say أُحِبّ البِطِّيْخ ‘I like watermelon’ to indicate your like, you can’t say لا أُحِبّ البِطِّيْخ to indicate your dislike because the sentence with لا means ‘I will not like the watermelon.’ As for the form of the verb, it stays the same as the affirmative. It is worth noting that this is confusing even for native speakers of Arabic. Here are more examples:

لا أُشَاهِدُ الأَفْلام المِصْرِيَّة. ‘I will not watch Egyptian movies.’

لا أَكْتُبُ حَتَّى أَشْرَبَ قَهْوَة. ‘I will not write till I drink coffee.’

لا أُسَافِرُ إِلَى أَمْرِيكَا بِسَبَب تَرَمْب. ‘I will not travel to American because of Trump.’

لا يَتَعَلَّمُون اللُّغَةَ العَرَبِيَّة لِصُعُبَتِهَا. ‘they will not learn Arabic for its difficulty.’

2) لَمْ ‘did not’:

لَمْ  is used to negate the present form of the verb, but it changes its tense to past. Contrary to مَا, which is used to negate an action in the past (see above), لَمْ  indicates that negation continued from the past until the present moment. For example, if you say لَمْ أَكْتُبْ الدَّرْس, it means that action of ‘not writing’ started in the past and continued to the present. Therefore, لَمْ أَكْتُبْ الدَّرْس means ‘I have not written the lesson.’ As to the form of the verb, it changes a bit. That is, if the verb is in singular form, its final diacritical mark changes from dhammah to sukoon. If it is dual or plural, the final ن is dropped. If it is irregular, it loses its final or medial weak letter. Here are more examples:

لَمْ يَتَغَدَّ أَحْمَد. ‘Ahmed hasn’t eaten lunch.’

لَمْ يُغَادِرِ الضُّيُوف. ‘the guests have not left.’

لَمْ تُرْقُصِ البَنَات. ‘the girls have not danced.’

اللَّاعِبُون لَم يَخْرُجُوا مِنَ المَلْعَب. ‘the players have not left the playground.’

مُحَمَّد وأَخُوْه لَمْ يَذْهَبَا إِلى السُّوْق. ‘Mohammed and his brother have not gone to the market.’

3) لَنْ ‘will not’:

لَنْ  is used to negate the present form but changes its tense/time to future. That is, the action will take place in the future, not the present, as in these examples:

لَنْ أَكْذِبَ عَلَيْك. ‘I won’t lie to you.’

لَنْ نَصُوْمَ اليَوْم. ‘we won’t fast today.’

لَنْ يَذْهَبُوا إلى الخَمَّارَة. ‘they won’t go to the bar.’

نَحْنُ مُتْعَبُون لِذَلِك لَنْ نَجْرِيَ اليَوم. ‘we are tired, so we will not go running today.’

You may ask, though, what difference is there between لا and لَنْ. Well, لَنْ  is used for absolute negation. That is, the action is certainly not going to happen. However, with لا the action is likely to happen. Hence, if you say لَنْ أُشَاهِدَ الأَفْلام المِصْرِيَّة, you are utterly and surely determined that you ‘won’t watch Egyptian movies’; unlike saying لا أُشَاهِدُ الأَفْلام المِصْرِيَّة in which you are not completely sure ‘you won’t.’ As to the form of the verb, if the verb is in singular form, its final diacritical mark changes from dhammah to fatHah. And if the verb is dual or plural, the final ن is dropped. This is the case with both regular and irregular verbs.

4) مَا ‘don’t/doesn’t’:

Besides using it to negate the past form of the verb, مَا is used to negate the present form of the verb while maintaining its present meaning, as in these examples:

مَا يَشْرَب المُسْلِم الخَمْر. ‘A Muslim does not drink alcohol.’

مَا آكُلُّ الدَّجَاج. ‘I don’t eat chicken.’

مَا أَتَكَلَّمُ اللُّغَةَ الصِّيْنِيَّة. ‘I don’t speak Chinese.’

المُسْلِمُون مَا يَأكُلُون الخِنْزِير. ‘Muslims don’t eat pork.’

As for the form of the verb, no change is caused by مَا.

To recap, let’s look at the following sentence, the possible ways to make it negative, and how each negative particle affect the meaning and tense.

أَشْربُ القَهْوة فِي الصَّبَاح.

  • مَا أَشْرَبُ القَهْوَة فِي الصَّبَاح. ‘I don’t drink coffee in the morning’ (it is a habit)
  • لَنْ أَشْربَ القَهْوَة فِي الصَّبَاح. ‘I will never drink coffee in the morning’ (won’t do it ever)
  • لا أَشْرَبُ القَهْوَة فِي الصَّبَاح. ‘I will not drink coffee in the morning’ (the next morning, but may do it thereafter)
  • لَمْ أَشْرَبْ القَهْوَة. ‘ I have not drunk coffee’ (up until this moment, but may drink it later)
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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.


  1. ڤاس:

    !!!شوكراً لهذا I’ve been looking for an explaination between ma la lm and ln for so long! No grammar books I own have ever distinguished these words!

    • Ibnulyemen:

      @ڤاس ممتاز! glad that you found the answer for what you’ve been looking for. Good luck!