Last updated: February 23, 2022
The conditional sentence (جُمْلةُ الشَّرْطِ) is one of the most difficult sentence structures in any language. In a three-part series of articles, we will look at tricky things in Arabic conditional clauses.
- In part one, we look at the basics: the two parts of a conditional sentence, its DNA and specialities.
- In part two, we will check the different ways to express if in Arabic and the most common conditional words. We will also look at the difference between إن and إذا.
- In part three, we will learn when and how to use ف in a conditional sentence and whether you should use the present or past tense of the verb.
Let’s start with part one.
The conditional sentence in Arabic Hide
What does a conditional sentence in Arabic consist of?
In Arabic, a conditional sentence (جُمْلةُ الشَّرْطِ) consists of three things:
- The condition (الشَّرْطُ) or if-clause. This is the first part of the sentence, the subordinate clause (Nebensatz), also called protasis.
- The answer (الْجَوابُ), also called complement, consequent to the condition, main sentence, apodosis. Another term is الْجَزاءُ which literally means reward; punishment or penalty and is often translated as final clause. For some readers, الْجَزاءُ might be easier to remember because the Arabic expression for penalty kick in soccer is ضَرْبَةُ جَزاءٍ. Important: the جَوابُ الشَّرْطِ does not have a place in إِعْرابٌ – you don’t need to worry about cases or moods or place values (لا مَحَلَّ لَها مِن الْإِعْرابِ).
- Both parts are linked (we could also say bound) by a conditional device or word (كَلِمةٌ شَرْطِيّةٌ). Don’t get confused by the English term conditional “particle” – in Arabic such words can be a حَرْفٌ or a اِسْمٌ.
The choice of a suitable conditional word depends on the relationship between the two parts of the conditional sentence.
You need to check whether there is a real condition or whether the hypothetical situation is possible or impossible. The subordinate clause (الشَّرْطُ) and the main clause (الْجَوابُ) take the place of a single sentence.
Why do we call such sentences conditional sentences?
Because the actual validity of a statement is “conditioned” by another statement which is given along with it. The information in the second (final) clause has no validity in itself (عَلاقةٌ عِلِّيّةٌ) without the restriction in the subordinate clause. It may be the situation that the meaning of the second part (جَوابٌ) is included in the first part already.
Notice: Sometimes the condition is pure temporal (زَمَنِيّةٌ). We get this situation if we link both parts with لَمّا (when) or كُلَّما (whenever). For example:
Whenever Zayd appears, ‘Amr is traveling. (Every time Zayd comes, ‘Amr leaves.)
كُلَّما حَضَرَ زَيْدٌ سافِرٌ عَمْرٌو = .لَمّا حَضَرَ زَيْدٌ سافِرٌ عَمْرٌو
The relationship of both parts does not depend on a condition. The presence or coming of Zayd is not the reason for the traveling of ‘Amr.
Does the first part of a conditional sentence need a verb?
Yes, it does. We need a فِعْلُ الشَّرْطِ.
The idea of a condition (شَرْطٌ) includes the requirement of an action/event (حَدَثٌ) leading to whatever result. Thus, there has to be a verb – a complete, declinable verb (فِعْلٌ مُتَصَرِّفٌ). It cannot be an inert or static verb (فِعْلٌ جامِدٌ) like عَسَى (perhaps) or لَيْسَ (= negation). What about كانَ (to be)? That’s possible if you put it immediately after the conditional word.
The main sentence (الْجَوابُ), of course, may be of any nature!
The following sentence is incorrect because a nominal sentence can’t form the condition or subordinate clause (شَرْطٌ) in Arabic.
|impossible in Arabic||If you succeed (are succeeding), I will reward you.||إِنْ أَنْتَ ناجِحٌ فَسَوْفَ أُكافِئكَ|
However, there are exceptions when a nominal sentence may be placed after لَوْ. The following example is a line of the famous Arab Christian poet ‘Adīy ibn Zayd (عَدِيُّ بْنُ زَيْدٍ) who lived in the 6th century in al-Hīra (الْحِيرة), an ancient city in Mesopotamia located south of Kūfa (الْكُوفة) in present-day Iraq. He died in 587/35 BH.
If my throat had trouble swallowing due to lack of water (dehydration), I would take water to me like someone choking.
لَوْ بِغَيْرِ الْماءِ حَلْقِي شَرِقٌ كُنْتُ كَالْغَصّانِ بِالْماءِ اعْتِصارِي
A remark on اعْتَصَرَ which conveys to press out, squeeze out something. The expression اعْتَصَرَ بالماءِ means to swallow the water by little and little in order that some food by which he was choked might be made to descend easily in his throat. (شَرِبَهُ قَلِيلًا قَلِيلًا لِيُسِيغَ ما غَصَّ بِهِ مِن طَعامٍ).
➢ Usually the construction لَوْ أَنَّ instead of لَوْ alone is used if you have a nominal sentence involved because أَنَّ itself has some verbal force. This often happens when you deal with “inverted verbal sentences” in which you have a construction consisting of a subject followed by a verb. Another fine option would be to use كانَ after لَوْ.
The jussive mood
The term jussive is based on the Latin word jubeō: to order, to command. The corresponding Arabic term, مَجْزُومٌ, literally means cut short; clipped. In grammar, it denotes with deleted ending. So where is the conceptual bridge between the Western and Arabic term?
Let’s start with the technical part. Elision (جَزْمٌ) describes a grammatical situation that requires to cut the end of the present tense verb (الْمُضارِعُ). We achieve that by using سُكُونٌ. If there is a weak letter involved (حَرْفُ عِلّةٍ), we drop و or ي to mark this mood.
Now let’s look at the practical application. When do we use the jussive mood (مَجْزُومٌ)? When you see a مَجْزُومٌ-ending,
- probably there is a connection to the meaning of should;
- maybe there is a command involved (imperative);
- maybe the sentence has a conditional meaning;
Important to know: The jussive mood (مَجْزُومٌ) does not occur by itself. It has to be induced by certain devices, so-called particles of elision (حَرْفُ جَزْمٍ). They may even have enough power to influence two verbs (often conditional sentences). We will check them in part two of our series.
Here is an overview:
|if; even if||إِنْ|
|in whatever way||كَيْفَما|
|in what time||أَيّانَ|
Which conditional devices do not trigger the jussive mood?
We call such particles غَيْرُ الْجازِمةِ. It comes down to four devices:
Why is the second verb in the jussive mood?
The jussive mood (مَجْزُومٌ) of the verb expresses the conditional meaning. However, the reason why both verbs in a conditional sentence may be in the jussive mood is nothing but trivial.
Grammarians disagree about which operator/regent causes the مَجْزُومٌ-mood (jussive) in the second verb of conditional clauses. The dispute goes back to the early times of Arabic grammar.
The Basra school (الْبَصْرِيُّونَ) claimed that the conditional particle affects both verbs; in other words, the conditional particle governs two verbs in the state of جَزْم.
Other scholars suggested a kind of domino effect. The first verb governs the second one. So, the conditional particle triggers the مَجْزُومٌ-mood in the first verb, and this verb, in turn, governs the following verb in that state.
This is similar to what the grammarians of Kūfa (الْكُوفِيُّونَ) suggested. The verb expressing the main clause/complement/consequence (جَوابٌ) is governed in the جَزْمٌ by its proximity (مَجْزُومٌ بِالْجَوارِ) to the first verb that describes the condition.
For this reason, the Kūfa grammarians were convinced that if the subject of the first verb is placed after the verb, then the second verb should be used in the indicative mood (مَرْفُوعٌ) because the “proximity” to the first verb is ruined.
|If you come to me, Zayd will respect you.||إِنْ تَأْتِنِي زَيْدٌ يُكْرِمُكَ|
The Basrans, on the other hand, said that this would not interrupt the governance – which means that the second verb should also be مَجْزُومٌ.
Note that I cover all these topics in more detail in my book Arabic for Nerds 2 and in parts also in Arabic for Nerds 1.
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To be continued…
- Part two is about the conditional words (mainly إن and إذا).
- Part three is about the Fa’ (ف) and the appropriate tenses.
Picture credit (header): Isaque Pereira ; Pexels