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Lesson 11c: The Present Tense


Starting in lesson 11, the use of transliteration will be slowly phased out. You will notice that the dialogues in this and all subsequent lessons are written exclusively in Arabic script.

Lesson 11, Part A:
  • Intro
  • Dialogue
Lesson 11, Part B:
  • Verbs Overview
Lesson 11, Part C:
Present Tense
The Present Tense in Arabic is used to convey two different meanings:
  • A habitual action like "I go to school"
  • An ongoing action such as "I am studying"
The exact sense is usually clear from context.

When you look up a verb in a dictionary you will be given the past and present tense of the verb in the 3rd person masculine (He). From the 3rd person masculine you will be able to apply rules to conjugate the verb. Verbs are conjugated by adding prefixes and suffixes to the beginning and end of the verb root depending on the conjugation.

In this lesson we cover how to conjugate Form 1 Regular Verbs (the most basic). Let's look at a simple example: He studies.

He studies - yadrus
ﻳَدرُس

Note: Like in the sentence above, Arabic often doesn't specify the subject with a pronoun (He) since that information is already included in the conjugation of the verb.

The 3 root letters for this word (d, r, s) are in black. They will stay the same regardless of the conjugation (I study, you study, he studies, etc). The red letters (ya) are the prefix and these will change depending on the conjugation. Some conjugations also have a postfix that comes after the root letters.

Take a quick look at this reference table showing the prefixes and suffixes for the present tense. Don't worry if it looks intimidating at first, you'll pick it up after a little practice.

Read this chart from Right to Left
Suffix Prefix Pronoun
أ   
'a
أنا
ﺗَ   
ta
أﻧﺖَ  
ﻴﻦَ   
iina
ﺗَ   
ta
أﻧﺖِ
ﻳَ   
ya
هُوَ 
ﺗَ   
ta
هِيَ 
ﻧَ   
na
ﻧَﺤﻦُ
ﻮنَ   
uuna
ﺗَ   
ta
أﻧﺘُﻢ
نَ   
na
ﺗَ   
ta
أﻧﺘَُّ
ﻮنَ   
uuna
ﻳَ   
ya
هُم 
نَ   
na
ﻳَ   
ya
ﻫَُّ

Note: The conjugation for the 2nd person masculine ('anta) and 3rd person feminine (hiya) are the same.

Note: Present tense verbs are conjugated using both prefixes and suffixes unlike the Past tense which requires only suffixes.

So the table above is just the prefixes and suffixes. Here is a table showing the conjugation for the verb "to study".

Arabic English
أنا  أدرُس
'anaa 'adrus
I study
أﻧﺖَ  ﺗَدرُس
'anta tadrus
You study
(masc)
أﻧﺖِ   ﺗَدرُﺳﻴﻦَ
'anti tadrusiina
You study
(fem)
هُوَ  ﻳَدرُس
Huwa yadrus
He studies
هِيَ  ﺗَدرُس
Hiya tadrus
She studies
ﻧَﺤﻦُ  ﻧَدرُس
naHnu nadrus
We study
أﻧﺘُﻢ  ﺗَدرُﺳﻮنَ
'antum tadrusuuna
You study
(masc, plural)
أﻧﺘَُّ  ﺗَدرُﺳﻦَ
'antunna tadrusna
You study
(fem, plural)
هُم  ﻳَدرُﺳﻮنَ
Hum yadrusuuna
They study
(masc, plural)
ﻫَُّ  ﻳَدرُﺳﻦَ
Hunna yadrusna
They study
(fem, plural)

adrus or adrusu?
The observant student will notice that "I study" is transliterated as "adrus" but the example pronunciation is "adrusu" with an "u" at the end. Which is correct? The answer is "adrusu" if you are speaking formal Modern Standard Arabic but "adrus" if you are speaking most colloquial dialects. The final "u" sound is an example of Case Endings which exist in MSA but have disappeared from almost every local dialect. These endings will be covered in TenguGo Arabic 2, for now it is enough for you to just know that they exist.

In-Depth Review
Let's take a look at some examples from the dialogue:

الى أين تذهب؟
أذهب الى الجامعة
ماذا تفعل في الجامعة؟
أدرس اللغة العربية

Do you remember these sentences from the dialogue? In the first question, Mariam asks "Where are you going?" because she wants to know where Yuusef is going right now. Yuusef answers, "I am going to the university." In the second sentences, Mariam asks "What do you do at the university?" because she knows he goes to the university regularly and wants to know what he does there. Yuusef answers, "I study Arabic." Did you notice the difference in the verb tenses used in English? That's because the present tense that we just learned in Arabic can have two meanings:
1. continuous: I am studying Arabic (right now, at this very moment)
2. habitual: I study Arabic (regularly, every day)

Context will tell you what the speaker means to say.

Take a look at a few more examples. Notice that the examples could translated two different ways into English depending on what the speaker intends to say.

البنات يدرسن اللغة الفرنسية الطلاب يذهبون الى المدرسة
The girls are studying French.
The girls study French.
The students go to school.
The students are going to school.

Ok, now the bad news. Even though memorizing verb tables is no fun, as a first step you will need to be able to write out the chart for the verb "to study" from memory. Later on, with enough practice, conjugating as you speak will come automatically.

So find 15 or 20 minutes and practice writing and saying the above chart for "to study" until you can do it from memory.

Only after you can write the chart from memory, take our present tense verbs quiz: