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What is Arabic Sentence Parsing? Posted by on Apr 24, 2018 in Grammar, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

Arabic sentence parsing is called إِعْرَاب. It is a change in the way final letters of words, namely nouns and verbs, are assigned diacritical marks which are called parsing marks عَلَامَات الإِعْرَاب. They are فَتْحَة fatHah, ضَمَّة DHammah, كَسْرَة kasrah, and سُكُوْن sukuun. They have a grammatical value and cause a slight change in pronunciation. Their addition is caused by the function of the word in the sentence and the precedence with certain particles. This post explains a few basic rules on how to correctly assign parsing marks and their grammatical importance.

(1) الرَّفْع ‘nominative mark’

When a word that is a singular noun or a singular form of the present tense is assigned DHammah, it is called nominative مَرْفُوع. The noun that is a subject فَاعِل or a topic مُبْتَدَأ is always مَرْفُوْع, as in these examples:

جَاءَ رَجُـلٌ كَبِيْرٌ فِي السِّن. .An old man came
الحَسَاءُ لَذِيْذٌ. .The soup is delicious
نَامَتِ البِنْـتُ. .The girl slept
تَحْتَ الشَّجَرةِ أَسـَدٌ. .There is a lion under the tree

In assigning the DHammah to the subject and the topic, we have more flexibility in structuring Arabic sentence rather than following the rigid sequence that stipulates that the subject must follow the verb and the object must come after the subject. In other words, we can structure sentence more freely because we know which is a subject and which is an object from the final parsing mark.

Similarly, the present tense singular form of the verb that is not preceded by a particle, such as لَنْ ‘will not’ or لَمْ ‘did not’, among others, must be مَرْفُوع, i.e. assigned DHammah (i.e. be in the indicative mood), as in these examples:

يَنْبَـحُ الكَلْبُ. .The dog is barking
أَخِي يَتَكَلَّـمُ اللُّغَةَ الأُرْدِيَّة. .My brother speaks Urdu
أَسْتَيْقِـظُ بَاكِرًا. .I wake up early
نَعْمَـلُ فِي شَرِكَةِ بَرْمَجِيَّات. .We work in a software company

The verb that is in the indicative mood (مَرْفُوْع) implies that the action takes place in the present time; that is, it expresses a habit or an event that is happening at the time of speaking.

Hence, the ضَمَّة DHammah is the nominative mark عَلامَةُ الرَّفْع. It is used with singular nouns and the singular form of present tense verbs. Dual and plurals forms of nouns and verbs are marked differently since they carry the number marking.

(2) النَّصْب ‘accusative mark’

This mark is assigned to both nouns and verbs. Singular nouns that are in an object position, i.e. مَفْعُول, or follow certain particles, such as إِنَّ and its sisters إِنَّ وَأَخَوَاتُهَا (which are particles use with the nominal sentence and change the parsing mark of the topic مُبْتَدَأ to become accusative instead of nominative) are always assigned fatHah, and hence called مَنْصُوْب (accusative), as in these examples.

شَرِبْتُ المَاءَ. .I drank the water
إِنَّ الحَرَبَ مُدَمِّرَةٌ. .The war is indeed destructive
أَكَلَ القِطُّ فَأرًا. .The cat ate a rat
قَتَلَ الثَّوْرُ الأَسَـدَ. .The bull killed the lion

Besides ease and spontaneity in pronunciation, by having parsing marks assigned we know who does what regardless of the word order. Take the last sentence above (قَتَلَ الثَّوْرُ الأَسَدَ). When parsing marks are assigned properly, it can be written in four different ways while the same meaning is maintained:

قَتَلَ الثَّوْرُ الأَسَدَ.

قَتَلَ الأَسَدَ الثَّوْرُ.

الثَّوْرُ قَتَلَ الأَسَدَ.

الأَسَدَ الثَّوْرُ قَتَل.

Singular form of present tense verbs that are precedes by certain particles, such as إِنْ ‘to’, لَنْ ‘will not’, كَيْ ‘in order to’, and لـ ‘to, so as to’, are assigned fatHah مَنْصُوْب.

تُرِيْدُ أَنْ تَكُوْنَ طَبِيْبَةً. .She wants to be / become a doctor
لَنْ أَشْرَبَ الخَمْرَ. .I will not drink liquor
كَيْ تَفْوْزَ يَجِبْ أَنْ تَعْمَـلَ بِجِدّ. .To win you must work diligently
ذَهَبَ عَلِي إِلَى النَّادِي لِيُقَابِـلَ صَدِيْقَهُ. .Ali went to the club to meet his friend

Assigning the singular form of the present verb a fatHah means that it is in the subjunctive mood. Grammatically, it means that the action the verb describes happens in the future.

Dual and plural forms of nouns and verbs are marked differently due to the number marking on them.

(3) الجَرّ ‘genitive mark’

The genitive mark is كَسْرَة kasrah, and the noun to which it is assigned is called مَجْرُوْر (i.e. have a genitive mark). It is assigned to nouns only, namely second nouns of genitive construction. It is a phrasal construction in which the first word can be a preposition, an adverb, or an indefinite noun and the second word is almost always a definite noun.

كِتَبُ الاُسْتَاذِ جَدِيْدَةٌ. .The teacher’s books are new
جَلَسْتُ تَحْتَ الشَّجَرَةِ. .I sat under the tree
فِي الجَامِعَــةِ مَلْعَبٌ كَبِيْرٌ. .There a big stadium in the university
هَذَا بَيْتُ الطَّبِيْـبِ. .This is the doctor’s house

Grammatically, marking a noun as مَجْرُوْر means that another noun, a preposition, or adverb is attributed to it, that is it gets it meaning from it.

(4) الجَزْم ‘jussive mark’

The jussive mark is سُكْوْن sukuun. It is assigned to singular forms of the present tense that are precede by certain particles, such as لَمْ and لا, and to singular forms of the imperative. The verb to which it is assigned is called jussive mood مَجْزُوْم.

لَمْ يُذَاكِـرْ جِيْدًا. .He didn’t study well
اِجْلِـسْ هُنَا. !Sit here
لا تَفْتَـحْ النَّافِذَة لِأَنَّ الجُوَ بَارِدٌ. .Don’t open the window, for it’s cold
لا تَحْزَنْ يَا صَدِيْقِي. .Don’t be sad, my friend

The grammatical meaning of jussive mood is that the action of the verb takes place in the future, i.e. after the time of speaking.

Hence, parsing in Arabic is assigning a diacritical (parsing) mark to the end of nouns and verbs. Parsing marks are الضَّمَّة, الفَتْحَة, الكَسْرَة, and السُّكُوْن. The DHammah is the nominative mark, the fatHah is the accusative mark, the kasrah is the genitive mark, and the sukuun is the jussive mark. Assigning them properly makes Arabic speech more natural and spontaneous; besides, they are grammatically significant as they make the structuring of sentence less rigid and make the mood of verbal sentence unambiguous.

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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. Usman Musa:

    Am enjoying the lesson really! Thanks a lot.

    • Ibnulyemen:

      @Usman Musa مُمَتَاز!

      لا شُكْر عَلَى وَاجِب، يا صَدِيْقِي

  2. Andy:

    As 3iraab is not used in everyday speech, how can it be said that ‘Assigning them properly makes Arabic speech more natural and spontaneous’? Anyone who uses them in everyday speech would sound the opposite of natural and spontaneous.

    • Ibnulyemen:

      @Andy Andy,

      You are on the wrong my friend, and so are most of the teachers of Arabic in English-speaking universities.

      if you don’t assign a diacritical mark to the end of words, it only means that you stop at the end of each word in a sentence which makes the speech sound unnatural, that is the speech will not be connected. what Arabs do is that they opt for the fatHah all the time because it is the unmarked (easy) parsing mark. Put more clearly, if you carefully listen to an Arab speaking Arabic naturally and spontaneously you will notice that he/she almost always uses fatHah at the end of words (which is grammatically incorrect). By so doing, the sentence is uttered as phrasal chunks rather than single words.