Let’s take a look at something related to the science of صرف (sarf), which is often translated as “morphology”, which deals with how words derive from each other. This is a really powerful branch of Arabic studies, because once you know a single root stem (which is usually three letters), you’ll automatically know how to express more than a hundred meanings just by feeding a root into the sarf machine. For now, we’re just going to talk about how other words are derived from a mudari’ (present tense) verb. Let’s take a very common root and go from there.
If you look it up in a dictionary like Hans-Wehr, you’ll see that it means “to go” and it will give you how to say it in the past for the “he” form:
From this, we know that ذَهَبَ means “he went” and يَذْهَبُ means “he goes”. We’re not going to deal with how to convert from past tense to present tense because we’re just concerned with what do once you have the base form for the present.
The present tense verb with nothing attached to the end
So what we have now is يَذْهَبُ, the most basic present tense verb you can get. In other posts in this blog you’ll see it being called as “a present tense verb with nothing attached to the end”, and that’s exactly what is is because we didn’t add anything to the end. All we did was add a letter to the beginning of the word to show that is for the present tense and change the vowels. The form that’s used for “he” is the base, and all the other forms come out from that one.
Now, I want to show you something cool that you can do when you know the base form of the present tense…
Flipping the first letter
Once you have the base form of a verb (“he”), you automatically know how to say it for “you”, “she”, “I” and “we”, just by flipping the first letter. Look at what I mean.
|He goes – yadh-habu||يَذْهَبُ|
|You go – tadh-habu||تَذْهَبُ|
|She goes – tadh-habu||تَذْهَبُ|
|I go – adh-habu||أذْهَبُ|
|We go – nadh-habu||نَذْهَبُ|
That’s it. Just by switching the first letter between ي (yaa), ت (taa), أ (hamzah) and ن (nun) you can change the meaning. Also, one of the quirks of the Arabic language is the ت is used for both the feminine and the 2nd person (i.e when you’re talking to someone). You know which one is meant by the context.
In fact, anytime you’re dealing with a present verb, one of these four letters (ي-ت-أ-ن) must be at the front. So if you see one of these at the beginning, there’s a good chance you’re looking at something that is talking about the present tense.
The “Five Verbs”
Now that we have the present tense without anything else added to the end, let’s see how to get the “Five Verbs” from the base form. These are called the “Five Verbs”, because these are a special group that show their status either by keeping or dropping their final ن, as mentioned in Words that take status using letters. How to get them from the base form is pretty straightforward:
- To make the meaning dual, add انِ at the end. If you’re talking to two people instead of about them, flip the ي to ت
- To make the meaning plural (and there is at least one male in the group), put a dhammah on last letter and add وْنَ. If you’re talking to a group of people, flip the ي to ت
- To talk to a single feminine person/object
- put a kasrah on the last letter
- add يْنَ at the end
- flip the ي to ت
Applying these rules, we get these from يذْهَبُ:
|They both go||يَذْهَبانِ|
|You both go||تَذْهَبانِ|
|They all go||يَذْهَبُوْنَ|
|You all go||تَذْهَبُوْنَ|
- The Five Verbs give dual (“they both” or “you both”), masculine plural (“they all” or “you all”) or singular feminine (“you[f.]”) meaning
- They start with ي or ت, which means that if one of the other two letters used to start present tense verbs (أ and ن) is there , you won’t add anything to the end. Do NOT try these in front of an Arabic teacher:
The ن of the feminine plural
When it comes to female-only groups (more than 2), the Arabic language has special rules for them. Instead of using a و to make it plural, we start from the base form and do this:
- Put a sukoon on last letter and add نَ.
- If you’re talking to a group of females, flip the ي to ت
Using these rules, يَذْهَبُ (“he goes”) becomes one of these:
|They (f.) all go||يَذْهَبْنَ|
|You (f.) all go||تَذْهَبْنَ|
Like the Five Verbs, the feminine plural form can only start with ي or ت.
With that, you not only know how to get the Five Verbs from any root, you now know the full conjugation of a present tense verb. If we summarize all that we’ve said into a table, it’d look similar to one of the tables that students traditionally memorize. Most students in institutes are on track to become scholars, orators, researchers, etc. and won’t have the luxury of time to recall these conjugation rules when speaking and writing and doing their academic exercises, so they absolutely have to memorize it before progressing. My advice is to just focus in the beginning on understanding the rules. You’ll wind up internalizing them as you continue your reading anyway.
They all go
They both go
They (f.) all go
They (f.) both go
You all go
You both go
You(f.) all go
You(f.) both go
Also, don’t forget that this is how they look like in the state of raf’, before anything can come and change them to nasb or jazm.
If it doesn’t have anything extra attached to the end, it will change between raf’/nasb/jazm using dhammah/fathah/sukoon (as explained in detail here).
The Five Verbs change status by either keeping or dropping the final ن (as explained here).
The feminine plural present tense is fixed (it stays the same through all of its states).
From the Quran
Below, I have highlighted present tense verbs from 4:38-44, with some extra points to note.
- ِيَكُن is in jazm. In raf’ it was يَكُوْنُ (“he is”) but it became يَكُنْ (the silent و had to go because the ن after it became silent, and we can’t have two silent letters together). The first letter in the next word (ل) is also silent, so we put a kasrah on ن to again avoid the problem of consecutive silent letters. The change looked like this:
- يَكُوْنُ الْشَيطان –> يَكُوْنْ الشَيطان –> يَكُنْ الشَيطان –> يَكُنِ الْشيطان
- تَكُ is in jazm and is an abbreviated form of تَكُنْ (the “she” form of يَكُنْ)
- يُضاعِفْ (sukoon at the end), يُؤتِ (the ي at the end dropped), تَقْرَبُوْا (dropped the final ن) and تَجِدُوْا (dropped the final ن ) are in jazm
- تَعْلَمُوا (“you all know”), تَغْتَسِلُوا (“you all wash”) and تَضِلُّوا (“you all become lost”) are all in nasb. The final ن has been dropped to show that
- All the other highlighted words are in raf’. Try to figure out which forms they are (“he”, “she”, etc.). Don’t worry about the meanings for now
إن شاء الله we’ll be doing morphology in a more orderly fashion, but since present tense verbs change state, I thought that it was kind of important to bring this part sooner rather than later. It is a lot to absorb, but go back and read it again and it will become clear.
Until next time, السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته
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