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A crash course in the conditional sentence in Arabic: particles and words (2/3)

This three-part series of articles is designed to get the trouble out of the way once and for all. Part two is about the conditional words (mainly إن and إذا).

LAST UPDATED: 1 month ago

In part two of our series on the conditional sentence (جملة الشرط) in Arabic, we will check the different types of “if” in Arabic and the most common conditional words. We will also look at the difference between إن and إذا.

How many types of if are there in Arabic?

Arabic con­ditional devices and words (أَسْماءُ الشَّرْطِ) differ from those in Eng­lish. In Arabic, they are either a par­ticle (حَرْفٌ) or – which is the normal situa­tion – a noun (اِسْمٌ).

Particles as conditional words

While there are many words for “if” in Arabic, there are only two general types with varying degrees of influence.

Arabic con­ditional devices and words (أَسْماءُ الشَّرْطِ) differ from those in Eng­lish. In Arabic, they are either a par­ticle (حَرْفٌ) or – which is the normal situa­tion – a noun (اِسْمٌ).

The particles

The following three words are a حَرْفٌ, a so-called حَرْفُ شَرْطٍ. They are all (ٌمَبْنِيّ) and never change their shape. They do not have a place in إِعْرابٌ which is typical for a حَرْفٌ.

The word إِنْ

When, if, etc. إنْ simply indicates a condition. It ties the sec­ond part of the sentence (الْجَوابُ) by the con­dition. Watch out: إنْ de­scribes the “realness” (actual happening) of an event as un­certain.

The word إِنْ has some flexibility and specialties as we will see.

Specialty I: after إِنْ two verbs in the مَجْزُومٌ-mood have to follow. The first verb is the فِعْلُ الشَّرْطِ and the second the جَوْابُ الشَّرْطِ; the sec­ond is the result depending upon the first.

However, it is possible that a noun (اِسْمٌ) is placed after إِنْ. In such a situa­tion, we assume that there was a verb in the مَجْزُومٌ-mood immedi­ately af­ter the particle إِنْ, but it was deleted.

If Karim comes, treat him well (honor him)..إنْ كَرِيمٌ جاءَ فَأَكْرِمْهُ
Assumed/virtual meaning of the sentence:.إنْ جاءَ كَرِيمٌ (جاءَ) فَأَكْرِمْهُ

Specialty II: the word إِمّا. The word ما is often added after إِنْ. The ما is redundant, extra (ما الزَّائِدةُ). It is mainly there to strengthen the conditional meaning (ما لِتَأْكِيدِ مَعْنَى الشَّرْطِ). Now, why do the two words merge?

➡ The ن is embodied which frequently happens when م and ن col­lide. We finally get إِمّا. This process is called إِدْغامٌ. In constructions with إِمّا, the verbs are often strength­ened by the نُونُ التَّوْكِيدِ. This type of construc­tion occurs quite often in the Qur'an.

If should prompt you to do some­thing (if an suggestion comes to you from Satan), seek refuge with Allah. (Sura 7:200)وَإِمَّا يَنزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ نَزْغٌ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللّٰهِ

Specialty III: the negation. If إِنْ is used with a negation, the negation is achieved by لَمْ plus a verb in the present tense, مَجْزُومٌ-mood.

You should not use لا for the negation! If you do so, the إِنْ will change into a different word: إِلّا denoting if not, unless. What hap­pens here is that the ن is embodied in the لا.

If you don't read, you won't understand..إِنْ لَمْ تَقْرَأْ لا تَفْهَمْ
If you don't (unless you) read, you won't understand..إِلّا تَقْرَأْ لا تَفْهَمْ
If you do not go out and fight, Allah will punish you severely and put others in your place (will replace you with another people) – :39. Note that both verbs are in the مَجْزُومٌ-mood.إِلَّا تَنفِرُوا يُعَذِّبْكُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا وَيَسْتَبْدِلْ قَوْمًا غَيْرَكُمْ

The word لَوْلا

If not; if it were not for... It is a synonym of أَلَّا.

لَوْلا points to the refusal of the information that is pre­sented in the sec­ond part of the sentence (اِمْتِناعُ الْجَوَابِ). لَوْلا precedes a single noun or noun phrase and hypotheti­cally denies it.

  • لَوْلا is usually fol­lowed by a single noun (or pronoun) in the nominative as a state­ment of the noun's exis­tence which the particle hypothetically de­nies: “If it were not for…”
  • In the second part of the sentence, you use the particle لَ. It conveys emphasis and serves as a binder.

The first part of the sentence, which is placed after لَوْلا (protasis), includes the verbal meaning of كانَ, al­though you don't see a verb in the first part.

If there was no Nile, Egypt would be a desert..لَوْلا النِّيلُ لَأَصْبَحَتْ مِصْرُ صَحَراءَ

The word لَوْ

Put the case that…. This particle, in contrast to إِنْ, implies that what is sup­posed either doesn't take place (حَرْفُ امْتِنَاعِ) or isn't likely to be so.

  • لو is used for hypothetical situations, for things that are im­probable or contrary to fact. We talk about something that has already occurred, or we know that the scenario we are introducing doesn't match reality.
  • Similar to إِذا, the temporal meaning of the verb is not de­termined by its form, but by the meaning of the condition.

The inner meaning of لَوْ denotes that something is re­fused due to other re­fused things (يَدُلُّ عَلَى امْتِنَاعِ شَيْءٍ لِامْتِنَاعِ غَيْرِهِ). In other words, لَوْ indi­cates that due to a certain performed or non-performed action, some­thing else was prevented from happening. لَوْ doesn't necessarily signify complete impossibility, it may be just stronger than the mere imagination of a situation.

Remark: لَوْ has sparked some debates. Since لَوْ postulates a situa­tion that is entirely impossible, this would theoretically mean that even God would not be able to make it happen. Thus, the theological dispute arose whether a believer may use لَوْ at all and under what circum­stances.

How do we use لَوْ?

  • If the first part of the if-clause cannot be achieved any­more, logically, the second part (or answer) is also not going to happen. In English, we call such sentences imag­ined conditions or third conditional. In Arabic, we call it اِمْتِناعُ الشَّرْطِ. The word اِمْتِناعٌ means impossibility; refraining.
  • That's why you need the (emphatic) particle لَ (“la) to con­nect the second sentence and underline the hypotheti­cal meaning. Such لَ is called Lām of the complement (لامُ الْجَوابِ). It is used in the sec­ond part of a condi­tional sentence with ْلَو or لَوْلا and in oaths. Notice: The لَ is not used if the second part of the conditional sentence is negated with ما or لَمْ.
If I had known (it), I would have walked..لَوْ عَرَفْتُ لَمَشَيْتُ

The most common indeclinable conditional nouns

Indeclinable (مَبْنِيٌّ) is the common theme of the following conditional devices.

The words مَنْ and ما and مَهْما

whoever; (any) who; for peo­ple onlyمَنْ
whatever; whatsoever; for non-humans (غَيْرُ الْعاقِلِ)ما
no matter what; whatever; (wie sehr auch immer)مَهْمَا

All three get the إِعْرابٌ depend­ing on the position and func­tion in the sen­tence (place value). Al­though you don't visually see the case marker as they are مَبْنِيٌّ, you should think about the func­tion and posi­tion to grasp the correct meaning.

The words مَتَى and مَتاما and أَيّانَ

with ما it means: when­everمَتاما
when, wheneverأَيّانَ

All of them are always treated as an ad­verb of time (ظَرْفُ زَمانٍ). What about their regent (عامِلٌ)? They are gov­erned by the verb (فِعْلُ الشَّرْطِ) in the first part (condit­ional).

The words أَيْنَ and أَيْنَما and أَنَّى and حَيْثُما

in whatever way; howeverأَنَّى

They are al­ways treated as an ad­verb of place (ظَرْفُ مَكانٍ). Their operator (عامِلٌ) is the verb in the first part (فِعْلُ الشَّرْطِ), the condi­tional part.

The word إِذا

When; whether; as often as; if. The event will happen, but the time (German: Zeitpunkt) is not clear.

Mostly followed by a verb in the . The past tense here conveys the meaning of the present tense. Therefore, إِذا is often used for the con­ditional I in English (If you do, I will).

The word إِذا is different from the other conditional particles. إِذا is a noun (اِسْمٌ) which points to the future (time). Why?

Because it is clear that the event will happen, but it is uncertain when this is going to be (German: Zeitpunkt). This is the difference to إِنْ which conveys the idea that the action/event itself is uncertain (and not only the time).

إِذا implies some note of expectancy, as if the one who tells the infor­mation (the speaker of the sentence) is antici­pating that the action will take place. Sometimes the note of ex­pectancy is strong and إذا is there­fore translated as when.

In Arabic (as in other languages too), temporal and conditional clauses are closely related. This is especially true when a temporal cir­cumstance is understood as being essential or neces­sary for the actual oc­currence of the action (expressed by the main clause). Therefore, إِذا is also fre­quently found with a meaning equiva­lent to that of a condi­tional parti­cle (i.e., if).

The basic conditional significance of إِذا normally remains so closely related to its temporal one that even in its conditional appli­cation, it only introduces a state­ment whose eventual occur­rence will happen without doubt.

What is the difference between إِذا and إِنْ‎?‎

It is subtle.

The temporal clause introduced by إِذا is often (almost) identical in meaning with a conditional clause introduced by إِنْ. But there are dif­ferences.

  • إِنْ denotes what is possible. It states a fact or an event that one cannot be sure will occur – but one which is always possible.
  • إِذا denotes what is ascer­tained. Through its conditional mean­ing, it only conveys un­certainty about the time when the action will take place (but not about whether the action will take place at all). We could say that إِذا seems to give a greater de­gree of certainty to the statement presented in the clause.
  • إِذا often conveys a conditional meaning and may even be used in hypothetical constructions; in such situations, it is close to be­come a synonym for إِنْ.
  • إِنْ, on the other hand, can never be used when the sentence has a temporal meaning. It can't be a syn­onym for a tem­poral إِذا.
If Karīm comes… (He might not come…)…إِنْ جاءَ كَرِيمٌ
When Karīm comes… (He will definitely come.)…إِذا جاءَ كَرِيمٌ

Some examples

Whoever studies will succeed.مَنْ يُذاكِرْ يَنْجَحْ
Whatever good you do, Allah is well aware of it (:197)وَمَا تَفْعَلُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ يَعْلَمْهُ ﷲُ
Wherever he goes, people (will) re­spect him.أَيْنَ يَذْهَبْ يَحْتَرِمْهُ النَّاسُ

To be continued…

  • Part one is about the basics. The main ingredients of a conditional sentence.
  • Part three is about the Fa' (ف) and the appropriate tenses.

Picture credit (header): Mustafa ezz ; Pexels

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