Arabic Language Blog

Some Insights into Arabic Verb Usage (2) Posted by on Oct 11, 2018 in Grammar, Vocabulary

In an earlier post, we looked at how intransitive verbs are made transitive and vice versa. This is done by adding or dropping a letter or letters to the basic verb. A verb like نَزَلَ ‘to get down’ is made transitive in two ways: adding hamzah or doubling the middle letter, hence أَنْزَل or نَزَّلَ ‘to cause to get down’. Similarly, the verb كَسَرَ ‘to break’ is made intransitive by adding two letters, that is اِنْكَسَرَ ‘to get broken’. In this post, more insights about the usage of Arabic verb are presented.

(1) The Imperative Verb:

The imperative verb is always derived from the imperfective form of the verb, namely the third person masculine singular form. In the course of the derivation, some rules are to be observed. Let’s look at the following groups of verbs:

Perfective مَاضِي Imperfective مُضَارِع Imperative أَمْر
نَظَرَ he looked يَنْظُر he looks اُنْظُر look
طَبَخَ he cooked يَطْبُخ he cooks اُطْبُخ cook
كَتَبَ he wrote يَكْتُب he writes اُكْتُب write
جَلَسَ he sat يَجْلِس he sits اِجْلِس sit
عَلِمَ he knew يَعْلَم he knows اِعْلَم know that ..
حَمَلَ he carried يَحْمِل he carries اِحْمِل carry
شَاهَدَ he watched يُشَاهِدُ he watches شَاهِد watch
نَظَّفَ he cleaned يُنَظِّفُ he cleans نَظِّف clean
أَغْلَقَ he closed يُغْلِقُ he closed أَغْلِق close
قَالَ he said يَقُوْل he says قُل say
بَاَعَ he sold يَبِيْعُ he sells بِع sell
كَانَ he was يَكُوْن he is كُن be
قَامَ he stood يَقُوْم he stands قُم stand

In (A) and (B), the perfective form of the verbs is composed of three letters. To derive the imperfective, the imperfective prefix يـ is added. To derive the imperative form, the يـ is dropped and is replaced by ا (which is called hamzat al-wasl). The reason it is added is that after dropping the يـ, verbs start with sukuun. This is not allowed in Arabic; therefore, ا is added.

Also, you can see that there is a DHammah over hamzat al-wasl in (A), but in (B) there is a kasrah below it. This is determined by the type of diacritical mark on the middle letter in the imperfective. That is, if the middle letter of root verb in the imperfective has a DHammah, then hamzat al-wasl should be accompanied by DHammah. If the middle letter has a fatHah or a kasrah, then hamzat al-wasl should always be accompanied by a kasrah.

In (C), the perfective verb is composed of four letters. The imperfective is formed by adding the imperfective prefix يـ. The imperative entails dropping this prefix. The remainder verb after dropping it does not start with sukuun; therefore, there is no need to add hamzat al-wasl. It is the imperative form as is.

In (D), the perfective verb is composed of three letters, the middle of which is a vowel ا. This makes verb conjugation irregular. In the imperfective, this vowel ا changes to و or ـيـ. In the imperative, it is dropped altogether. The reason it is dropped is that the last letter of imperative verbs must have a sukuun over it. The letter that precedes it also has a sukuun over it. In Arabic, it is forbidden to have two sukuuns in a row. When this happens, the first letter in the sequence must be dropped, hence يَكُوْن become كُنْ, يَبِيْع becomes بِعْ, and so forth.

The subject of imperative verbs in the table above is the second person masculine singular ‘you’. If it is the second person feminine singular, then the feminine marker ي is added, hence اِنْظُرِي, اِجْلِسِي, and شَاهِدِي. If it is the second person masculine plural, the plural suffix is added, hence اِنْظُرُوا, اِجْلِسُوا, and شَاهِدُوَا. So is the case with the second person feminine plural: اِنْظُرْنَ, اِجْلِسْنَ, and شَاهِدْنَ.

In (D), if the subject of the imperative verb is the second person feminine singular or the second person masculine plural, the vowel letter is not dropped because the feminine marker and the plural suffix change the diacritical marks, and the sequences of two sukuuns no longer exist, hence قَال becomes قُوْلِي and قُوْلُوا. With second person feminine plural, the vowel is still dropped because the sequence of two sukuuns sill persists.

The following table summarizes the above explanation:

Basic verb 2nd person masculine singular 2nd person feminine singular 2nd person masculine plural 2nd person feminine plural
نَظَرَ اُنْظُرْ اُنْظُرِي اُنْظُرُوا اُنْظُرْنَ
طَبَخَ اُطبُخْ اُطْبُخِي اُطْبُخُوا اُطْبُخْنَ
كَتَبَ اُكْتُبْ اُكْتُبِي اُكْتُبُوا اُكْتُبْنَ
جَلَسَ اِجْلِسْ اِجْلِسِي اِجْلِسُوا اِجْلِسْنَ
عَلِمَ اِعْلَمْ اِعْلَمِي اِعْلَمُوا اِعْلَمْنَ
حَمَلَ اِحْمِلْ اِحْمِلِي اِحْمِلُوا اِحْمِلْنَ
شَاهِدَ شَاهِدْ شَاهِدِي شَاهِدُوا شَاهِدْنَ
نَظِّفَ نَظِّفْ نَظِّفِي نَظِّفُوا نَظِّفْنَ
أَغْلَقَ أَغْلِقْ أَغْلِقِي أَغْلِقُوا أَغْلِقْنَ
قَالَ قُلْ قُوْلِي قُوْلُوا قُلْنَ
بَاعَ بِعْ بِيْعِي بِيْعُوا بِعْنَ
كَانَ كُنْ كُوْنِي كُوْنُوا كُنَّ
قَامَ قُمْ قُوْمِي قُوْمُوا قُمْنَ

 (2) Verbs of waw:

Basic verbs that are composed of three letters, the first of which is و, such as وَجَدَ ‘to find’, وَعَدَ ‘to promise’ and وَصَلَ ‘to arrive’ lose this و when the imperfective form is derived. The following list illustrates:

Perfective / basic مَاضِي Imperfective مُضَارِع Imperative أَمْر
وَجَدَ he found يَجِد he finds جِدْ find
وَعَدَ he promised يَعِد he promises عِدْ promise
وَضَعَ he put يَضَع he puts ضَعْ put
وَزَنَ he weighed يَزِن he weighs زِنْ weigh

The reason for dropping the و is that it has a sukuun over it, and is flanked by two fatHahs or a fatHah and a kasrah over / below the preceding and following letters. This makes the pronunciation cumbersome; therefore, the و is dropped altogether.

(3) Irregular Verbs with Attached Pronouns:

Perfective / basic verbs such as خَافَ ‘to fear’, سَارَ ‘march/walk’, قَالَ ‘to say’, and alike behave irregularly when followed by first and second person attached pronouns:

  1st person مُتَكَلِّم 2nd person مُتَكَلِّم
Separate مُنْفَصِل Attached مُتَّصَل Separate Attached
Singular مُفْرَد أَنَا I ـتُ

أَنْتَ you (masc.)

أَنْتِ you (fem.)



Plural جَمْع نَحْنُ we ـنَا

أَنْتُم you (masc.)

أَنْتُنَّ you (fem.)



When verbs of this type are followed by the any of the six attached pronouns listed in the above table, the middle vowel letter is dropped, as illustrated below:

Perfective / basic verb 1st person attached pronoun 2nd person attached pronoun
قَامَ stood







سَارَ walked / marched







خَافَ feared







كَانَ was







The reason for dropping the vowel ا is that the addition of the attached pronoun triggers a sukuun on the letter that precedes it. Since ا (the alif) is always accompanied by a sukuun, a sequence of two sukuuns occurs. Therefore, the rule of two consecutive sukuuns must be applied –dropping the first letter in the sequence.

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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.