Arabic Language Blog

Basic Sentence Structure in Arabic (IV) Posted by on Feb 20, 2018 in Grammar, Vocabulary

In a previous post, you learned about the types of sentence in Arabic. It is either nominal اِسْمِيَّة or verbal فِعْلِيَّة. The nominal must start with a noun called the subject/topic مُبْتَدأ. It is called مُبْتَدَأ because it is the focus of the sentence. Other words that follow (or may precede) state something about it and are called the predicate خَبَر. This post focuses on the subject مُبْتَدَأ that is indefinite نَكِرَة and on the nominal sentence that has two serial مُبْتَدأ—the first مُبْتَدَأ and the second مُبْتَدَأ.

What is the subject/topic مُبْتَدأ?

The Subject/Topic المُبْتَدأ is a noun اِسْم with which every nominal sentence must start. It requires that something—the predicate خَبَر—be stated about it to form a meaningful nominal sentence. Also, it must be definite مَعْرِفَة, that is known to the hearer/reader.

The forms of مَعْرِفَة definite nouns:

  • Proper nouns:

مُحَمَّد                 عَمْر                  زَيْد                    عَائِشَة                سَالِي                             …. etc.

  • Definite common nouns (i.e. begin with the definite article, الـ):

الكِتَاب                القِطّ                   الرَّجُل                 العِلْم                  المُهَنْدِسُون                      الطَبِيْبَات

المَدْرَسَة             الخِيَار                 اليَمَن                 الطَّالِبَان              الطَّاوِلَة                           …. etc.

  • Pronouns:

أَنَا                     هُوَ                    أَنْتِ                    هُمَا                   نَحْنُ                               ….. etc.

سَيَّارَةُ المُدِيْر                    بَيْتُ تَرَمْب                       كِتَابِي,               صَدِيْقُنَا                شَقَّتُهم

بَابُ اليَمَن                        جَامِعَة كَالِيْفُورنِيَا               غُرْفَتُكَ                ذَيْلُ القِطّ              …. etc.

Examples of definite nouns/definite subject المَعْرِفَة can be found in this post.

The indefinite مُبْتَدَأ:

There are cases where the مُبْتَدأ can be indefinite نَكِرَة. Like English, نَكِرَة in Arabic is a word, namely a noun or an adjective, that does not refer to a specific entity/thing. It is basically a word without the definite article الـ or the first word of an iDHafah structure.

There are many conditions under which a nominal sentence can have a مُبْتَدَأ that is نَكِرَة. However, the most common is when the خَبَر is a prepositional phrase (a preposition of location + a noun) شِبْه جُمْلَة which literally means ‘semi-sentence’, here are a few examples:

فِي البَيْت             فَوْقَ الشَجَرَة                    دَاخِل الغُرْفَة                     وَسَط الشَّارِع                    بَيْن العُشْب

عِنْد مُحَمَّد            مَعِيّ                               عِنْدَنَا                              هُنَاك/ فِيْه                        …. etc.

The rule is that when the predicate الخَبَر is a prepositional phrase شِبْه جُمْلَة, the مُبْتَدأ must come after it (contrary to the common rule) as in examples (2), (5), and (8) in the table above. Here are more examples:

  • عِنْدِي كِتَاب ‘I have a book.’
  • بَيْنَ العُشْب حَيَّة سَامَة ‘In the grass is a poisonous snake.’
  • دَاخِل الغُرْفَة سَرِيْر ‘Inside the room is a bed.’
  • فِي الغَابَة كَلْب مُتَوَحِّش ‘In the forest is a wild dog.’
  • فِيْه / هُنَاك دَبَابَة فِي الشَّارِع ‘There is a tank in the street.’

Two Consecutive Subjects/ Topics مُبْتَدَأ 1 + مُبْتَدَأ 2 + خَبَر:

Another form of the nominal sentence in Arabic that is commonly used in both formal and informal settings is the nominal sentence that has two مُبْتَدَأ in a row. This type of sentence has two nominal sentences. One is main, and the other is embedded, as in examples (3), (6), and (9) in the table above.

Let’s look at sentence (3).

السَّيَّارة is the مُبْتَدَأ of the main nominal sentence, and its خَبَر is لُوْنُها جَمِيْل.

لَوْنُها جَمِيْل constitutes the embedded nominal sentence withلَوْنُها  being the مُبْتَدَأ and جَمِيْل is its خَبَر. Hence, the whole sentence, السَّيَّارَة لَوْنُهَا جَمِيْل ‘the color of the car is beautiful’ can be analyzed as follows:

السَّيَّارَة: first subject/topic

لَوْنُها: second subject/topic

جَمِيْل: predicate of the second subject/predicate

لَوْنُها جَمِيْل: both constitute the predicate of the first subject/predicate.

Here are more examples:

  • اليَمَن جَوُهُ جَمِيْل ‘the weather of Yemen is nice.’
  • المَطْعَم أَكْلُه لَذِيْذ ‘the food of this restaurant is delicious.’
  • أَحْمَد خَطُّهُ رَائِع ‘Ahmed’s handwriting is fantastic.’
  • الأَسَد صَوْتُه مُخِيْف ‘the roar of the lion is scary.’

One thing that you should note is that most two consecutive subjects can be change into an iDHafah structure that as whole forms one subject, hence:

السَّيَارَة لَوْنُها becomes لَوْن السَّيَّارَة

المَدِيْنَة شَوَارِعَها becomes شَوَارِع المَدِيْنَة

البْنْت شَعْرُها become شَعَر البِنْت

اليَمَن جَوُهُ becomes جَوُ اليَمَن ….. and so forth.

Describing the Subject/Topic وَصْفُ المُبْتَدَأ:

In the table above, you can see some intervening words between the مُبْتَدَأ and its خَبَر. These words are adjectives or adjective phrases. In (4) in the table above, العَرَبِي is an adjective that describes the مُبْتَدَأ, hence الأَكْل العَرَبِي. In (5), ضَخْم describes أَسَد. In (7), الَّذِي فِي الغُرْفَة is an adjective clause describing القِطّ. In (8), the مُبْتَدَأ which is طِفْل is followed by two adjectives صَغِيْر and a verbal sentence يَبْكِي (which describes the manner of طِفْل).

Also, you must remember that the adjective that follow the مُبْتَدَأ must agree with it in definiteness, gender, and number. For example, العَرَبِي in (4) is a definite adjective because it describes a definite noun/مُبْتَدَأ (i.e. الأَكْل). Similarly, ضَخْم in (5) is an indefinite adjective because it describes an indefinite مُبْتَدَأ.

Therefore, when constructing a nominal sentence, you can augment it using adjectives, adjective phrases, or adjective phrase with the مُبْتَدَأ. Also, the خَبَر can be expanded using other means. This along with the different types of خَبَر will be dealt with in the next post.

Alphabetical list of the vocabulary in the table:

The room الغُرْفَة The car السَّيَارَة Lion أَسَد
The old القَدِيْمَة The street الشَّاِرِع Blonde أَشْقَر
The cat القِطّ The tree الشَّجَرَة The food الأَكْل
Casino كَازِينو Her hair شَعْرُها The girl البِنْت
Big كَبِيْر Its street شَوَارِعُها The house الَبْيْتُ
Delicious لَذِيْذ Little/small صَغِيْر Under تَحْتَ
Its color لَوْنُها Huge ضَخْم Who (fem) الَّتِي
The city الـمَدِيْنَة Narrow ضَيِّقَة Beautiful جَمِيْل
The restaurant المَطْعَم Child طِفْل Who (masc.) الَّذِي
Cries يَبْكِي Arabic العَرَبِي Fat سَمِيْن
Tags: , ,
Keep learning Arabic with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

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. abdul qaddos: