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Lesson 9b: fii and hunaaka

Lesson 9, Part A:
  • Intro
  • Dialogue
Lesson 9, Part B:
In traditional Arabic grammar there are only two kinds of sentences: nominal sentences and verbal sentences. The type of sentence is determined by the first word in a sentence. If the first word is a verb then the sentence is verbal. Otherwise, the sentence is nominal. This means that in Arabic if a verb comes after the first word, the sentence is still considered nominal.

Note that this is very different from English where any sentence with a verb is considered a verbal sentence.

We will start covering sentences with verbs, both verbal and nominal, starting in Lesson 10. In this lesson we will explore some more variations of nominal sentences without verbs.

  1. Study the new vocab
  2. Take the vocab quiz
  3. Read the grammar lessons
  4. Take the grammar comprehension quiz
news, predicate
classroom, row
there, there is


Vocab Quiz

Nominal Sentence
The first word or phrase in a nominal sentence is what we would call the "subject" or "topic" in English. In Arabic, it is called the mubtada': مُبتَدَأfrom the tri-lateral root (b d ') meaning "start/begin":
ب د ء

The rest of the sentence, which gives us information about the subject, is called the predicate in English orthe khabar (literally "the news") خَبَر in Arabic.

So far we have learned several variations of the nominal sentence using nouns and adjectives. Let's look at 3 examples of the patterns you know for the sentence structure "X is Y".

The man is . . . .
ar-rajul . . . .
A الرَّجُل الاُستاذ
...the professor
B الرَّجُل اُستاذ
...a professor
C الرَّجُل مِصريّ

In all 3 sentences the subject/mubtada is the definite noun "the man" while the predicate/khabar is:
  • A - A definite noun
  • B - An indefinite noun
  • C - An adjective

As we have emphasized several times, an Arabic sentence cannot start with an indefinite noun. This means that:

The student is in the classroom
aT-Taalib fii aS-Saff
الطالِب في الصَّفّ

is a valid sentence but:

A student is in the classroom
Taalib fii aS-Saff
طالِب في الصَّفّ

is not a valid sentence in Arabic. Well, Arabic would be a pretty lame language if it had no way to express "A student is in the classroom", so how would you do it?

There are two different ways that we will be covering in this lesson:
  • Fronted Predicate - Change the word order
  • Hunaaka - Adverb of existence

Fronted Predicate
By changing the word order from "A student is in the room" to "In the room is a student" you can make a valid Arabic sentence:
In the classroom is a student
fii aS-Saff Taalib
في الصَّفّ طالِب

This sentence structure is known as a "Fronted Predicate" and is rather common.

Another simple way to say "A student is in the class" is by using hunaaka.

This also has the meaning of "there" but is commonly used to mean "there is":
There is a student in the classroom
hunaaka Taalib fii aS-Saff
هُناكَ طالِب في الصَّفّ

So . . . do you understand what makes a valid nominal sentence? Let's find out. Below are 5 sentences dealing with a pen on a table. Without looking at the answers below read each sentence and decide what it means and whether it is a valid sentence in Arabic. At least 1 of the sentences is not valid:

Valid or Invalid?
A عَلى الطاوِلة قَلَم
B قَلَم طالِب عَلى الطاوِلة
C قَلَم عَلى الطاوِلة
D قَلَمي عَلى الطاوِلة
E هُناكَ قَلَم عَلى الطاوِلة

Once again. Before reading these explanations, try to understand by yourself what the 5 sentences above mean and why.

A: This sentence means "On the table is a pen". This is a Fronted Predicate as we saw in this lesson and so this sentence is valid.

B: This sentence literally means "A pen of a student is on the table". The first two words are an idaafa phrase which we first covered in Lesson 6. Since idaafa phrases are always treated as definite, this sentence is also valid.

C: This sentence would mean "A pen is on the table" but since an Arabic sentence cannot start with an indefinite noun this sentence is invalid.

D: This sentence means "My pen is on the table" and uses possessive endings which we first covered in Lesson 6. Since possessive endings are always treated as definite this sentence is valid.

E: This sentence means "There is a pen on the table". This uses hunaaka like we covered in this lesson and so this sentence is valid.

Go over the 5 sentences a few more times until you have a complete understanding of what is happening grammatically.