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Arabic grammar (Arabic: نحو عربي naḥw ʻarabiyy or قواعد اللغة العربية qawāʻidu l-luġati l-ʻarabiyya) is the grammar of the Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. Arabic is a Semitic language and its grammar has many similarities with the grammar of other Semitic languages.
The identity of the oldest Arabic grammarian is disputed with some sources saying Ibn Abi Ishaq and medieval sources saying Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, the oldest known Arabic grammarian, established diacritical marks and vowels for Arabic in the mid-600s. The schools of Basra, Kufa, Sibawaih further developed grammatical rules in the late 700s.
Due to the rapid expansion of Islam in the 8th century, many people learned Arabic as a lingua franca. For this reason, the earliest grammatical treatises on Arabic are often written by non-native speakers. The earliest grammarian who is known is ʻAbd Allāh ʼibn ʼAbī ʼIsḥāq (died AD 735/6, AH 117). The efforts of three generations of grammarians culminated in the book of the Persian scholar Sibāwayhi (ca. 760–793).
For classical Arabic grammarians, the grammatical sciences are divided into five branches:
Classical Arabic has 28 consonantal phonemes, including two semi-vowels, which comprise the Arabic alphabet. It also has six vowel phonemes (three short vowels and three long vowels). These appear as various allophones, depending on the preceding consonant. Short vowels are not usually represented in written language, although they may be indicated with diacritics.
Hamzatu l-waṣl (همزة الوصل), elidable hamza, is a phonetic object prefixed to the beginning of a word for ease of pronunciation, since literary Arabic doesn't allow consonant clusters at the beginning of a word. Elidable hamza drops out as a vocal, if a word is preceding it. This word will then produce an ending vocal, "helping vocal" to facilitate pronunciation. This short vocal may be, depending on the preceding vowel, ـَ a fatḥa (فتحة) /a/ , ـِ a kasra (كسرة) /i/ or ـُ a ḍamma (ضمة) /u/. If the preceding word ends in a sukūn (سكون) (i.e. not followed by a short vowel), the Hamzatu l-waṣl assumes a kasra /i/. Symbol ـّ šadda (شدة) indicates a gemination or consonant doubling. See more in Tashkīl.
Nouns (and their modifying adjectives) are either definite or indefinite (there is an article for the definite state only). A noun is definite if it has the definite article prefix (الـ al-), if it has a suffixed pronoun (كلبها الكبير kalbu-ha l-kabīr "her big dog"), if it is inherently definite by being a proper noun (مصر القديمة Miṣru l-qadīma, "Ancient Egypt"), or if it is in a genitive construction (ʼiḍāfa, status constructus) with a definite noun or nouns (بنت الملك bintu l-malik(i), "the daughter of the king").
The article (أداة التعريف ʼadātu t-taʻrīf) الـ al- is indeclinable and expresses definite state of a noun of any gender and number. It is also prefixed to each of that noun's modifying adjectives. The initial vowel (hamzatu l-waṣl), is volatile in the sense that it disappears in sandhi, the article becoming mere l- (although the alif is retained in orthography in any case as it is based on pausal pronunciation).
Also, the l is assimilated to a number of consonants (dentals and sibilants), so that in these cases, the article in pronunciation is expressed only by geminating the initial consonant of the noun (while in orthography, the writing الـ alif lām is retained, and the gemination may be expressed by putting šadda on the following letter).
The consonants causing assimilation (trivially including ل (l)) are: ت (t), ث (ṯ), د (d), ذ (ḏ), ر (r), ز (z), س (s), ش (š), ص (ṣ), ض (ḍ), ط (ṭ), ظ (ẓ), ل (l), ن (n). These 14 letters are called 'solar letters' (حروف الشمسيه ḥurūf aš-šamsiyya), while the remaining 14 are called 'lunar letters' or 'moon letters' (حروف القمرية ḥurūf al-qamariyya). The solar letters all have in common that they are dental, alveolar and postalveolar consonants (all coronals) in the classical language, and the lunar consonants are not. (ج ǧīm is pronounced postalveolar in most varieties of Arabic today, but was actually a palatalized voiced velar plosive in the classical language, and is thus considered a lunar letter; nevertheless, in colloquial Arabic, the ج ǧīm is often spoken as if solar.)
Arabic has three grammatical cases (حالات ḥālāt) roughly corresponding to: nominative, genitive and accusative. Normally, singular nouns take the ending -u(n) in the nominative, -i(n) in the genitive and -a(n) in the accusative. Some exceptional nouns, known as diptotes (الممنوع من الصرف al-mamnūʻu mina ṣ-ṣarf), never take the final n, and have the suffix -a in the genitive except when the diptotic noun is in the definite state (preceded by al- or is in the construct state). When speaking or reading aloud, articulating the case ending is optional, but rarely used except in religious situations. Technically, every noun has such an ending, although at the end of a sentence, no inflection is pronounced, even in formal speech, because of the rules of 'pause' (الوقف al-waqf).
Case is not shown in standard orthography, with the exception of indefinite accusative nouns ending in any letter but ة tāʼ marbūṭa or ء hamza, where the -a(n) "sits" upon an alif added to the end of the word (the alif still shows up in unvowelled texts). Cases, however, are marked in the Qurʼān, children's books, primers and to remove ambiguous situations. If marked, it is shown at the end of the noun.
For singular nouns and broken plurals, it is marked as a ḍamma (-u) for the definite or ḍamma + nunation (-un) for the indefinite. The dual and regular masculine plural are formed by adding -āni and -ūna respectively (-ā and -ū in the construct state). The regular feminine plural is formed by adding -ātu in the definite and -ātun in the indefinite.
For singular nouns and broken plurals, it is marked as a fatḥa (-a) for the definite or fatḥa + nunation (-an) for the indefinite. For the indefinite accusative, the fatḥa + nunation is added to an alif e.g. ـًا, which is added to the ending of all nouns (e.g. كان تعباناً kāna taʻbānan "he was tired") not ending with a hamza or tāʼ marbūṭa. The dual and regular masculine plural are formed by adding -ayn(i) and -īn(a) (both spelled ـين in Arabic) respectively (-ay and -ī in the construct state, both spelled ـي in Arabic). The regular feminine plural is formed by adding -āt(i) in the definite and -āt(in) in the indefinite, both spelled ـات in Arabic.
For singular nouns and broken plurals, it is marked as a kasra (-i) for the definite or kasra + nunation (-in) for the indefinite. The dual and regular masculine plural are formed by adding -ayn(i) and -īn(a) respectively (both spelled ـين in Arabic) (-ay and -ī in the construct state, both spelled ـي in Arabic). The regular feminine plural is formed by adding -āt(i) in the definite and -āt(in) in the indefinite, both spelled ـات in Arabic.
Arabic distinguishes between nouns based on quantity. All nouns are either singular (مفرد múfrad) when there is one, dual (مثنى muṯánna) when there are two, and plural (جمع ǧamʻ) if there are three or more.
The dual is formed by adding ـان -ān(i) to the noun stem in the nominative and ـين -ayn(i) in the accusative and genitive. The final vowel "-i" is not pronounced in pausa and more colloquial forms of Arabic (not affecting the Arabic unvocalised spelling). The final ending ـن "-ni" is dropped in the ʼiḍāfa construct form (Status constructus), resulting in ـا -ā and in the nominative and ـي -ay in the accusative and genitive (affects the spelling as well).
The plurals are formed in two ways. The "sound plurals" are formed by the addition of a suffix. Masculine sound plurals take the forms ـون "-ūn(a)" in the nominative and ـين "-īn(a)" in the genitive and accusative. These do not change whether the noun is definite or indefinite. Note that in written Arabic (without vocalisation) dual and sound plural forms are spelled identically but pronounced differently. The final "-a" is not pronounced in pausa and in less formal Arabic.
Feminine indefinite sound plurals take ـات "-āt(un)" in the nominative and ـات "-āt(in)" in the accusative and genitive. Feminine definite sound plurals take ـات "-āt(u)" in the nominative and ـات "-āt(i)" in the accusative and genitive. The broken plurals are formed by altering the vowel structure according to one of about five established patterns. Some nouns have two or more plural forms, usually to distinguish between different meanings. All these feminine forms are spelled identically in Arabic, the endings in brackets are not pronounced in pausa and in less formal Arabic.
Arabic has two genders, expressed by pronominal, verbal and adjectival agreement. Agreement with numerals shows a peculiar 'polarity', c.f. the section on numerals. The genders are usually referred to as masculine (مذكر muḏákkar) and feminine (مؤنث muʼánnaṯ), but the situation is more complicated than that. The 'feminine' singular forms are also used to express 'singulatives', which are singulars of collective nouns meaning irrationals of both grammatical genders.
The marker for the feminine gender is a ـة -at- (always follows a fatḥa, hence the short vowel /a/) suffix, e.g. جامعة ǧāmiʻa(t)- "University" but some nouns without this marker also take feminine agreement (e.g. أم ʼumm 'mother', أرض ʼarḍ 'earth'). Already in Classical Arabic, the -t marker was not pronounced in pausa. It is written with a special letter ة (Arabic: تاء مربوطة tāʼ marbūṭa) indicating that a t sound is to be pronounced in sandhi, but not in pausa. Strictly speaking, Classical Arabic requires this letter to be pronounced [h] in pausa (hence its form, a hāʼ with the two dots of a tāʼ), but even in Modern Standard Arabic the letter is most often ignored altogether, so مدينة "city", "town" is simply pronounced as madīna in less formal Arabic (all cases). Words ending in ـا are usually also feminine and are indeclinable.
Ending ـة never takes an alif marker in the accusative indefinite but the ending "-tan" may be still pronounced in non-pausal, formal Arabic.
In Arabic, adjectives and appositions follow the noun and agree with the preceding noun in state, gender and case. For example:
The Nisba (النسبة an-nisba) is a common suffix to form adjectives of relation or pertinence. The suffix is ـي -iyy- for masculine and ـية -iyya(t)- for feminine gender (in other words, it is -iyy- and is inserted before the gender marker). E. g. لبنان Lubnān(u) "Lebanon", لبناني lubnāniyy "Lebanese (singular masculine)", لبنانية lubnāniyya "Lebanese (singular feminine)", لبنانيون lubnāniyyūn "Lebanese (plural masculine)" لبنانيات lubnāniyyāt "Lebanese (plural feminine)".
A construct noun and nisba-adjective is often equivalent to nominal composition in English and other languages (solar cell is equivalent to sun cell).
The Arabic nisba has affected some English adjectives of Arabic or related origin: Iraqi, Kuwaiti, etc.
Adverbials are expressed using adjectives in the indefinite accusative, often written with the ending ـًا (e.g. أيصاً ayḍan "also") but pronounced "-an" even if it's not written (see accusative), e.g.: قرأ الكتاب قراءة بطيئة qara’a al-kitāba qirā’atan baṭīʼatan, literally: "he read the book a slow reading", i.e., "He read the book slowly". This type of construction is known as the "absolute accusative" (cf. absolute ablative in Latin grammar).
Adverbs can be formed from adjectives, ordinal numerals: كثيراً kaṯīran frequently, a lot, often, نادراً nādiran rarely, أولاً ʼawwalan firstly or from nouns: عادةً ʻādatan usually, جداً ǧiddan very.
The second method to form adverbs is to use a preposition and a noun, e. g. بـ bi-, e.g. بسرعة bi-surʻa(ti) fast, "with speed", بالضبط bi-ḍ-ḍabṭ(i) exactly
A pronominal paradigm consists of 12 forms: In singular and plural, the 2nd and 3rd persons differentiate gender, while the 1st person does not. In the dual, there is no 1st person, and only a single form for each 2nd and 3rd person. Traditionally, the pronouns are listed in order 3rd, 2nd, 1st.
|1st||ʼana (أنا)||naḥnu (نحن)|
|2nd||masculine||ʼanta (أنت)}}||ʼantumā (أنتما)||ʼantum (أنتم)|
|feminine||ʼanti (أنت)||ʼantunna (أنتنّ)|
|3rd||masculine||huwa (هو)||humā (هما)||hum (هم)|
|feminine||hiya (هي)||hunna (هنّ)|
Note: "ʼanta" is shortened to "ʼant" in pausa,
"hunna" is shortened to "hun" in pausa, "naḥnu" is shortened to "naḥn" in pausa, "ʼantunna" is shortened to "ʼantun" in pausa, "ʼanti" is shortened to "ʼant" in pausa, "huwa" is shortened to "huw" in pausa, "hiya" is shortened to "hiy" in pausa.
Dual forms: ʼantumā أنتما and humā هما, plural feminine ʼantunna أنتنّ and hunna هنّ are only used in very formal Arabic.
Enclitic forms of the pronoun (الضمائر المتصلة aḍ-ḍamāʼiru l-muttaṣila(tu)) may be affixed to nouns (representing genitive case, i. e. possession) and to verbs (representing accusative, i. e. a direct object). Most of them are clearly related to the full personal pronouns. They are identical in form in both cases, except for the 1st person singular, which is -ī after nouns (genitive) and -nī after verbs (accusative).
|1st||-(n)ī/-ya ـي||-nā ـنا|
|2nd||masculine||-k(a) ـك||-kumā ـكما||-kum ـكم|
|feminine||-ki ـك||-kunna ـكن|
|3rd||masculine||-h(u) ـه||-humā ـهما||-hum ـهم|
|feminine||-hā ـها||-hunna ـهن|
In a less formal Arabic, like in many spoken dialects, -ka and -ki are pronounced as -ak, and -ik in all case endings, thus, the case endings (-u, -i and -a) are often ignored.
There are two demonstratives (أسماء الإشارة ʼasmāʼu al-ʼišāra(ti)), near-deictic ('this') and far-deictic ('that'):
Plural forms of non-human nouns are treated as feminine singular.
Very formal Arabic also presents dual forms:
Some of the demonstratives (hāḏa, hāḏihi, hāḏāni, hādayni, hātāni, hātayni, hā’ulā’i, ḏālika and ’ulā’ika should be pronounced with a long "ā", although the unvocalised script doesn't contain an alif (ا). They have letter ـٰ "dagger alif" (ألف خنجرية alif ḫanǧariyya), which doesn't exist on Arabic keyboards and is seldom written, even in the vocalised Arabic.
The Arabic numerals are written as follows: ٠ - zero, ١ - one, ٢ - two, ٣ - three, ٤ - four, ٥ - five, ٦ - six, ٧ - seven, ٨ - eight, ٩ - nine.
The endings in brackets are dropped in less formal Arabic and in pausa. Note that ة (tāʼ marbūṭa) is pronounced as simple /a/ in this cases. There are cases when -t in ة must be pronounced but not the rest of the ending.
إثنان (ʼiṯnān(i)) is changed to إثنين (ʼiṯnayn(i)) in oblique cases. This form is also commonly used in a less formal Arabic in the nominative case.
The numerals 1 and 2 are adjectives. Thus they follow the noun and agree with gender.
Numerals 3-10 have a peculiar rule of agreement known as polarity: A feminine referrer agrees with a numeral in masculine gender and vice versa, e.g. ṯalāṯu fatayātin (ثلاثُ فتياتٍ) 'three girls'. The noun counted takes indefinite genitive plural (as the attribute in a genitive construct.)
Numerals 11-19 are indeclinable, perpetually in the indefinite accusative. Numbers 11 and 12 show gender agreement in the ones, and 13-19 show polarity in the ones. The gender of عشر in numbers 11-19 agrees with the counted noun (unlike the standalone numeral 10 which shows polarity). The counted noun takes indefinite accusative singular.
The numerals 20-99 are followed by a noun in the indefinite accusative singular as well. There is agreement in gender with the numerals 1 and 2, and polarity for numerals 3-9.
Whole hundreds, thousands etc. appear as first terms of genitive constructions, e.g. ʼalf(u) layla(ti) wa-layla(tu) (1001 nights) ألف ليلة وليلة
Fractions of a whole smaller than "half" are expressed by the structure sg. fuʻl (فعل) , pl. ʼafʻāl (أفعال) .
Ordinal numerals (الأعداد الترتيبية al-aʻdād at-tartiyabiyyat) higher than "second" are formed using the structure fāʻil(un), fāʻila(tun):
They are adjectives, hence, there is agreement in gender with the noun, not polarity as with the cardinal numbers. Note that "sixth" uses a different, older root than the number six.
As in many other Semitic languages, Arabic verb formation is based on a (usually) triconsonantal root (جذر ثلاثي, ǧiḏr ṯulāṯī), which is not a word in itself but contains the semantic core. The consonants كـتـب k-t-b, for example, indicate 'write', قـرـء (e.g. قرأ) q-r-ʼ indicate 'read', ءـكـل (e.g. أكل) ʼ-k-l indicate 'eat' etc.; Words are formed by supplying the root with a vowel structure and with affixes. Traditionally, Arabic grammarians have used the root فـعـل f-ʻ-l 'do' as a template to discuss word formation. The personal forms a verb can take correspond to the forms of the pronouns, except that in the 3rd person dual, gender is differentiated, yielding paradigms of 13 forms.
NOTE: The Arabic example below is the Arabic verb kataba (كتب), "to write". Only the prefixes and suffixes of the verb have been vocalised, the vocalisation of the stems (كَتَب for the past and كْتُب for the present) has been omitted for reasons of legibility.
|Perfective||Imperfective||Subjunctive and Jussive|
|1st||STEM-t(u)||a-STEM||no written change|
|2nd||masculine||STEM-t(a)||ta-STEM||no written change|
|3rd||masculine||STEM(-a)||ya-STEM||no written change|
|feminine||STEM-at||ta-STEM||no written change|
|1st||STEM-nā||na-STEM||no written change|
|feminine||STEM-tunna||ta-STEM-na||no written change|
|feminine||STEM-na||ya-STEM-na||no written change|
In unvocalised Arabic, كتبْت - katabtu, katabta, katabti and katabat are all written the same. Forms katabtu and katabta and even katabti can be abbreviated to "katabt" in spoken Arabic and in pausa, making them also sound the same.
"kataba" can be abbreviated to "katab" in spoken Arabic and in pausa.
Dual verb and feminine plural forms are only used in very formal Arabic.
ا (alif) in final ـوا (-ū) is silent.
In the perfective (occasionally called 'perfect') form, the perfective stem faʻal is affixed with a personal ending, e. g. kataba 'he wrote', qaraʼa 'he read'. The perfective expresses a completed action, i.e. mostly past tense. The second vowel is /a/ in most verbs, but /i/ in some verbs (especially intransitive) and /u/ in a few (especially verbs whose meaning is "be X" or "become X" where X is an adjective, usually naming a permanent or semi-permanent quality, e.g. kabura 'he became big, he grew up').
|1st||faʻal-tu (فعلتُ)||faʻal-nā (فعلنا)|
|2nd||masculine||faʻal-ta (فعلتَ)||faʻal-tum (فعلتم)||faʻal-tumā (فعلتما)|
|feminine||faʻal-ti (فعلتِ)||faʻal-tunna (فعلتنَّ)|
|3rd||masculine||faʻal-a (فعل)||faʻal-ū (فعلوا) ||faʻal-ā (فعلا)|
|feminine||faʻal-at (فعلتْ)||faʻal-na (فعلنَ)||faʻal-atā (فعلتا)|
The imperfective expresses an action in progress, or incompleted, i.e. mostly present tense. There are several vowel patterns (a-a, a-u, a-i) the root can take. The root takes a prefix as well as a suffix to build the verb form. E. g. يكتب yaktubu 'he is writing'. Note the co-incidence of 3rd f. sg. and 2nd m. sg. To explain the future tense, it is possible to use the prefix سـ sa- in front of the imperfective forms (or fully written سوف sawfa), e.g. سيكتب sayaktubu or سوف يكتب sawfa yaktubu "he will write".
Modal forms can be derived from the imperfective stem: the subjunctive (منصوب manṣūb) by (roughly speaking) replacing the final vowel by a, the jussive (مجزوم maǧzūm) by dropping this a of the subjunctive. In a less formal Arabic and in spoken dialects, verbs in the indicative mood (مرفوع marfūʻ) have shortened endings, identical to subjunctive and jussive.
The imperative (صيغة الأمر ṣīġatu l-ʼamr(i)) (positive, only 2nd person masculine) is formed by dropping the verbal prefix from the imperfective jussive stem, e.g. قدم qaddim "present!". If the result starts with two consonants followed by a vowel ("a" or "i"), an elidible alif is added to the beginning of the word, usually pronounced as "i", e.g. اغسل ʼiġsil "wash!" or افعل ʼifʻal "do!" if the present form vowel is "u", then the alif is also pronounced as "u", e.g. اكتب ʼuktub "write!". Negative imperatives are formed from jussive.
Note: the exception to the above rule is the form (or stem) IV verbs. In these verbs a non-elidible alif pronounced as "a" is always prefixed to the imperfect jussive form, e.g. أرسل ʼarsil "send!", أضف ʼaḍif "add!".
The subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses after certain conjunctions. The jussive is used in negation, in negative imperatives, and in the hortative li+jussive. For example: 2. sg. m.:
Arabic has two verbal voices, active (صيغة المعلوم ṣīġatu l-maʻlūm) and passive (صيغة المجهول ṣīġatu l-maǧhūl). The passive voice is expressed by a change in vocalization and is normally not expressed in unvocalized writing. For example:
Notice that active and passive forms are spelled identically in Arabic.
Roots containing one or two of the radicals w (wāw), y (yāʼ) or ʼ (hamza) often lead to verbs with special phonological rules because these radicals can be influenced by their surroundings. Such verbs are called 'weak' (verba infirma, 'weak verbs') and their paradigms must be given special attention. In the case of hamza, these peculiarities are mainly orthographical, since hamza is not subject to elision (the orthography of hamza and alif is unsystematic due to confusion in early Islamic times). According to the position of the weak radical in the root, the root can be classified into four classes: first weak, second weak, third weak and doubled, where both the second and third radicals are identical. Some roots fall into more than one category at once.
Arabic verb morphology includes augmentations of the root. Some augmentations are lexical derivations (they result in "new words"), but others are inflectional: they are part of the verb's conjugation. Western scholars have assigned Roman numerals to the various patterns of derivation, which are called "forms". Also, the root is designated "Form I". A particular form does not have a consistent meaning across verbs, although, it has a "usual" meaning. In addition, no verb root has all the derivations. The forms numbered beyond Roman numeral X are rare and obsolescent, for which reason many elementary grammars omit them.
In the following chart, a boldfaced transliteration indicates a word that would actually exist in an Arabic lexicon for this particular root (ف - ع - ل) (f - ʻ - l - right-to-left).
|Active voice||Passive voice||Active participle||Passive participle||Maṣdar|
|Past (3rd sg. masc.)||Present (3rd sg. masc.)||Past (3rd sg. masc.)||Present (3rd sg. masc.)||Sg. masc. nom.|
The middle vocal in form I active voice can be a, i or u, depending on the root applied in form I. The exact vocalization depends on the word form. Forms XI (ifʻālla), XIII (ifʻawwala), XIV (ifʻanlala), and XV (ifʻanlā) are very rare.
Common uses of those stems include:
A more complete list of meanings is found at Wiktionary's appendix on Arabic verb forms.
Every verb has a corresponding active participle, and most have passive participles. E.g. muʻallim 'teacher' is the active participle to stem II. of the root ʻ-l-m ('know').
In addition to a participle, there is a verbal noun (in Arabic, مصدر maṣdar, literally meaning "source") sometimes called a gerund, which is similar to English gerunds and verb-derived nouns of various sorts (e.g. 'running' and 'a run' from 'to run'; 'objection' from 'to object'). As shown by the English examples, its meaning refers both to the act of doing something and (by frequent semantic extension) to its result. One of its syntactic functions is as a verbal complement of another verb, and this usage it corresponds to the English gerund or infinitive (He prevented me from running or He began to run).
A noun may be defined more closely by a subsequent noun in the genitive (إضافة ʼiḍāfa, literally "an addition"). The relation is hierarchical; the first term (al-muḍāf) governs the second term (al-muḍāf ilayhi). E. g. بيت رجل baytu raǧul(in) 'the house of a man', 'a man's house'. The construction as a whole represents a nominal phrase, the state of which is inherited from the state of the second term. The first term must "be in construct state", namely, it cannot carry the definite article nor the tanween. Genitive constructions of multiple terms are possible. In this case, all but the final term take construct state, and all but the first member take the genitive case.
This construction is typical for a Semitic language. In many cases the two members become a fixed coined phrase, the ʼiḍāfa being used as the equivalent of nominal composition in some Indo-European languages (which does not exist in Semitic). بيت الطلبة baytu-ṭ-ṭalabati thus may mean either 'house of the (certain, known) students' or 'the student hostel'.
Note: ة (tāʼ marbūṭa) of the first term must always have a pronounced -t (after /a/). This applies to spoken Arabic as well.
Classical Arabic tends to prefer the word order VSO (verb before subject) rather than SVO (subject before verb). However, the word order is fairly flexible, since words are tagged by case endings. Subject pronouns are normally omitted except for emphasis or when using a participle as a verb (participles are not marked for person). Auxiliary verbs precede main verbs, and prepositions precede their objects.
Adjectives follow the noun they are modifying, and agree with the noun in case, gender, number, and state: For example, بنت جميلة "bint(un) ǧamīla(tun)" "a beautiful girl" but البنت الجميلة "al-bintu l-ǧamīla(tu)" "the beautiful girl". (Compare البنت جميلة "al-bint(u) ǧamīla(tun)" "the girl is beautiful".) Elative adjectives, however, precede their modifying noun, do not agree with it, and require that the noun be in the genitive case (see below).
Note that case endings are dropped in pausal forms, in colloquial Arabic and in less formal MSA ("Formal Spoken Arabic"), hence SVO is more common in spoken Arabic.
The subject of a sentence can be topicalized and emphasized by moving it to the beginning of the sentence and preceding it with the word إن ʼinna ~"indeed". Examples are إنك أنت جميل "ʼinnaka anta ǧamīlun" "You are beautiful indeed" or إن السماء زرقاء "ʼinna s-samā’a zarqā’u" "The sky is blue indeed". (In older texts, "ʼinna" was translated "verily".)
"ʼinna", along with its "sister" terms أن "ʼanna" ("that", as in "I think that ..."), "ʼinna" ("that" after قال/يقول qāla/yaqūlu "say"), ولكن "(wa-)lākin(na)" "but" and كأن "ka’anna" "as if" require that they be immediately followed by a noun in the accusative case, or an attached pronominal suffix.
Numbers behave in a quite complicated fashion. "wāḥid-" "one" and "ʼiṯnān-" "two" are adjectives, following the noun and agreeing with it. "ṯalāṯat-" "three" through "ʻašarat-" "ten" require a following noun in the genitive plural, but agree with the noun in gender, while taking the case required by the surrounding syntax. "ʼaḥada ʻašara" "eleven" through "tisʻata ʻašara" "nineteen" require a following noun in the accusative singular, agree with the noun in gender, and are invariable for case, except for "ʼiṯnā ʻašara/ʼiṯnay ʻašara" "twelve". Numbers above this behave entirely as nouns, showing case agreement as required by the surrounding syntax, no gender agreement, and a following noun in a fixed case. "ʻišrūna" "twenty" through "tisʻūna" "ninety" require the accusative singular; "miʼat-" "hundred" and up require the genitive singular. The numbers themselves decline in various fashions; for example, "ʻišrūna" "twenty" through "tisʻūna" "ninety" decline as masculine plural nouns, while "miʼat-" "hundred" declines as a feminine singular noun and "ʼalf-" "thousand" as a masculine singular noun. "miʼat-" "hundred" and "ʼalf-" "thousand" can themselves be modified by numbers (to form numbers such as 200 or 5,000) and will be declined appropriately. ("miʼatāni" and "200" "ʼalfāni" "2,000" with dual endings; "ṯalāṯatu ʼālāfin" "3,000" with "ʼalf" in the plural genitive, but "ṯalāṯu miʼatin" "300" since "miʼat-" appears to have no plural.) In compound numbers, the last number dictates the declension of the associated noun. Large compound numbers can be extremely complicated, e.g.:
Object pronouns are clitics and are attached to the verb, e.g. arā-hā "I see her". Possessive pronouns are likewise attached to the noun they modify, e.g. "kitābu-hu" "his book". The definite article "al-" is a clitic, as are the prepositions "li-" "to" and "bi-" "in/with" and the conjunctions "ka-" "as" and "fa-" "thus, so".