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unordered, chaos, computational thinking

“He gives it to me” – How to add two pronoun suffixes in Arabic

In Arabic, some verbs can take 2 objects. But as soon as you have 2 pronominal suffixes, it gets tricky. Here’s why.

Last updated: 10 months ago

In this article, we will look at a rare construction that you may encounter in literature and religious texts. I recently stumbled upon a Hadith which included the following sentence:

فَقالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ (ﷺ) : ‏ إِنْ أَعْطَيْتَها إِيَّاهُ جَلَسْتَ لا إِزارَ لَكَ فالْتَمِسْ شَيْئًا ‏.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “If you give it to her, you will not have a garment to wear, so look for something else”.

Source: Muwatta Malik; Book 28: Marriage

Note: ﷺ is an Arabic abbreviation of the phrase صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ which basically means May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him. It is used after the name of Prophet Muhammad as a sign of respect and reverence. In English, you may also read PBUH instead (= peace be upon him).

The word إِيَّاهُ is weird. The smaller and more general the words are, the more difficult they are to understand.

An analysis of the word إِيَّاهُ

The Arabic grammarians had different views on how to regard the word إِيّا. Let's cut إِيَّاهُ into two parts.

The most logical approach seems to me to be the following:

إِيّا

As weird, it may look, إِيّا – in constructions like above – is an undefined noun (اِسْمٌ مُبْهَمٌ) with a cemented shape that does not convey a specific meaning on its own. It works as the first part of a genitive construction (مُضافٌ). The word إِيّا will only occur when the form of a pronoun is needed (ضَمِيرٌ مُنْفَصِلٌ مَنْصُوبٌ). We can picture it as a helping word that enables us to add the usual pronoun suffixes(تَتَّصِلُ بِهِ جَمِيعُ الضَّمائِرِ)

In short: It is a prefix occurring only with a pronominal , forming with it an independent direct object personal pronoun.

هُ

This is a pronoun suffix (ضَمِيرٌ مُتَّصِلٌ) of the third person singular, masculine. Grammatically, it is located in the position of a genitive case as it is the second part of a -construction (فِي مَحَلِّ جَرٍّ مُضافٌ إِلَيْهِ).


Note that other grammatical interpretations are possible. It also depends on which constructions the word appears and what job it has there.

Other pronoun suffixes in the accusative forms

First person I and we (الْمُتَكَلِّم):
إيَّايَ and إيَّانا
Second person you singular, dual and m/f (الْمُخَاطَبُ):
إيَّاكَ and إيَّاكُما and إيَّاكُمْ and إيَّاكُن
Third person he/she and they m/f (الْغائِبُ):
إيَاهُ and إيَّاها and إيَّاهُمْ and إيَّاهُنَّ

When do we need إِيّا for pronouns?

There are several situations.

In this article, we will mainly focus on one situation, which is the one in the example (Hadith) at the beginning. In Arabic, there are verbs that take two direct objects (الأَفْعالُ الَّتِي تَنْصِبُ مَفْعُولَيْنِ). Verbs with two objects are difficult to handle for learners of Arabic. Arabic does not have a special case marker to distinguish between the two objects as other languages do, e.g., German (Dativ). In addition, unlike in English, verbs with two objects don't use a preposition for the second object, which would make the direction (= to whom) clearer.

But handling two direct objects in Arabic is actually not that difficult. The two direct objects can be understood as one direct object and one indirect object. However, in Arabic, they are called the first object (مَفْعُولٌ بِهِ أَوَّلُ) and the second object (مَفْعُولٌ بِهِ ثانٍ). Some examples:

أَعْطَيْتُ الطّالِبَ كِتابًا.

I gave the student a book = I gave a book to the student.

In Arabic, the word الطّالِبَ is the first direct object, and كتابًا is the second.

If you know German, the structure is easier to understand because in German, the (third) case Dativ is visible in the declination of the article and the noun: Ich gab dem Studenten ein Buch.

Now, what's the analysis in Arabic?

Direct and indirect objects in Arabic: How to add two pronoun suffixes in Arabic

It gets tricky when you need to handle two objects in the form of a pronoun suffix. In such a situation, we are not allowed to add both pronoun suffixes to the verb.

The IV-verb يُعْطِي – أَعْطَى (to give) can have two ob­jects.

Let's take the sentence: He gives it to me. In English, it is impossible to have both pronouns next to each other (He gives it me or He give me it). In German, this is possible: Er gab es mir.

Now, you have to watch out to not mix up the translation. If we want to add the two pronouns in Arabic (it; me), the Arabic sentence is constructed as follows:

  • The first pronoun is attached directly to the verb. In our exam­ple: me.
  • The second pronoun is detached from the verb and is used in the accusative form (مَنْصُوبٌ). In our example: it.

So, we end up with the opposite English structure, which is im­portant to keep in mind if you translate.

Rule of thumb in Arabic:
The first object is usually the person.
The second object is usually a thing.

We can derive the following formula:

  • The indirect object (Whom? German: Dativ. Question: Wem?) of an English sen­tence is at­tached directly to the verb. That is often a person.
  • The direct object of an English sentence (What?) is at­tached to إِيّا. That's often a thing.
  • This works for all verbs that take two objects.
He gives it (masculine) to me.يُعْطِينِي إِيَّاهُ
He gives it (feminine) to me.يُعْطِينِي إِيَّاها
You (fem.) give it (e.g., the books) to him.أَهْدَيْتِهِ إِيَّاها
You (fem.) give it (e.g., the book) to her.أَهْدَيْتِها إِيَّاهُ

An example:

لَمْ يَعْلَمْ ما كانَ يُعْطِينِي إِيّاهُ.

He didn't know what he was giving me.

So far, so good. But do we really need to apply the two direct objects? It depends.

In dialects, you won't hear it. You actually use the English logic (to = لِ), and that is increasingly also used in contemporary written Arabic, also in the media. If you write an exam, you should better go with the two direct objects to avoid losing points. But in general, we can say the following:

يُعْطِينِهِ لِي = يُعْطِينِي إِيَّاها

He gives it to me.

For example:

أَعْطَى كِتابًا لِصَدِيقِهِ = أَعْطَى صَدِيقَهُ كِتابًا

He gave a book to his friend = He gave his friend a book. (Notice the word order!)

Arabic verbs that take two objects

In Arabic, verbs which express to give; to mean/think (أَفْعالُ الْقُلُوبِ), and the idea of transformation often take two direct objects. Some examples:

to give (R3=ي)يُعْطِي – أَعْطَى
to donate (R1=و)يَهَبُ – وَهَبَ
to see; to think; to believe (irregular verb)يَرَى – رَأَى
to think; believe (R2=R3)يَظُنُّ – ظَنَّ
to make; to bring aboutيَجْعَلُ – جَعَلَ

An example:

This factory makes cheese out of milk.

هٰذا الْمَصْنَعُ يَجْعَلُ حَلِيبًا جُبْنًا.

In Arabic for Nerds 2, you will find several chapters dealing with verbs with two objects.

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irena svilans-dennis
irena svilans-dennis
11 months ago

Very useful. Thank you, Gerald.

David Wilmsen
David Wilmsen
11 months ago

“In dialects, you won’t hear it.”

It depends upon the dialect – actually dialect area(s). Those of Egypt and the North African littoral put the direct object first , as in Egyptian Arabic ربنا يخليهم لك ‘May our lord keep them for you’ (usually said about children or parents or any other dear ones). But in eastern dialects it is الله يخلي لك إياهن ‘May Allah keep for you them,’ with the direct object second. It is used quite often in those dialects. اعطيني إيّاه, عندك إيّاه، بدّي إيّاه ، بدك ياني اخطب لك إياها : ‘Give me it,’ ‘You have it,’ ‘I want it,’ ‘You want me to engage for you her.’

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