An Introduction to the Arabic Case Marking System Posted by aziza on May 3, 2009 in Grammar
The case marking system (الإعراب) is one of the most important concepts in Arabic grammar. The word (إعراب) means expressing, and it is true of the system, as it expresses relationships between different elements of an utterance in very clear and explicit way. In the case marking system, each word is marked by a certain vowel or suffix for its case, i.e. its function in the sentence. Consider the following sentence:
أكلَ الولدُ تفاحةً.
“The boy ate an apple.”
ذهبَ التلميذُ إلى المدرسةِ.
“The pupil went to school.”
In the previous examples, the word (الولدُ) is the subject and it is marked by the short /o/ at the end according to this function, while the word (تفاحةً) is an object and it is marked accordingly.
The case marking system can disambiguate sentences and make relationships between different elements clear. In the following examples, the same words are used, but the case marking system makes the meaning of the first one almost the opposite of the second one.
ساعدَ الأبُ الابنَ.
“The father helped the son.”
ساعدَ الأبَ الابنُ.
“The son helped the father.”
Because of this important function, all highly valued texts such as the Qur’an and the Bible have case marking clearly marked on each and every word to avoid any possible confusion about meaning.
It should be noted that not all words in Arabic can be marked for their case; there are words that have fixed pronunciation regardless of where they occur in the sentence, and these are primarily functional words, e.g. pronouns, prepositions, particles, etc. For example, the preposition “from” (منَ) is marked by a short /a/ at the end and this does not change under any circumstances. On the other hand, nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs have special endings to mark their position and function in the sentence. Consider the following examples:
يعمل الأستاذُ في المدرسة.
“The teacher works at the school.”
قابلت الأستاذَ في المدرسة.
“I met the teacher at the school.”
تكلمت مع الأستاذِ في المدرسة.
“I talked to the teacher at the school.”
The word (الأستاذ) takes different endings according to its function as subject or object, or its location after a preposition.
The case marking system is a very challenging aspect of Arabic grammar, yet it is very systematic and logical. In future posts, I will explain different cases related to different categories of words.
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Hi Aziza! This looks great. We are just learning إعراب in my Arabic class and this is very helpful. Unfortunately my computer cannot see the markings (only the Arabic script). Do you know of a plug in I need to see the extra markings, or could you post a PDF of this?
Thanks a million for this one.
It really helped me a lot for my “Contrastive Ananlysis” study.
Thank you 🙂
Ramzi Abdullah Mansour:
I really wonder if you can tell me what assign case to the above mentioned ? Is it only the preposition and the verb or any thing else ? In case that there is no verb , which assign case ? If the verb must be overt , as Chomsky mentioned , then how does that come that some are assigned case without any verb or prepositions ? I am really in a hot water and doubt Chomsky’s case theory and have the certainty of proving him overgeneralized .
Ramzi Abdullah Mansour:
I really wonder if you can tell me what assigns case to the above mentioned ? Is it only the preposition and the verb or any thing else ? In case that there is no verb , which assign case ? If the verb must be overt , as Chomsky mentioned , then how does that come that some are assigned case without any verb or prepositions ? I am really in a hot water and doubt Chomsky’s case theory and have the certainty of proving him overgeneralized .