Last updated: 7 months ago
When you read grammar books, you get the impression that there are no rules for the correct gender of grammar terms. Let's take the Arabic term for indeclinable. Some authors choose the masculine form (مَبْنِيٌّ), others the feminine (مَبْنِيّةٌ). So, what is correct?
Both are correct.
Both forms are actually used as adjectives (نعت) – but for two different words which are not there, but understood anyway. What are these hidden words? Both are Arabic terms for word. Arabic has several words for word:لَفْظٌ, كَلِمةٌ or لُغةٌ.
Now we are getting closer to the answer.
Grammar terms like indeclinable (word) are regarded as…
- Masculine – when they implicitly refer to the word لَفْظٌ.
- Feminine – when they relate to the gender of كَلِمْةٌ or لُغةٌ.
مَبْنِيٌّ is used to further describe these words. It is an adjective, and adjectives need to be in grammatical agreement with the word to which they relate. Thus, it is a matter of taste whether the author had لَفْظٌ مَبْنِيٌّ or كَلِمةٌ مَبْنِيّةٌ in mind. So, you can use either form.
Excursus: What does مَبْنِيٌّ mean in Arabic grammar?
When you see a particle (حَرْفٌ) – for example, a preposition (حَرْفُ الْجَرِّ) –, you can be sure that it will stay the same and never change its form/shape, no matter what the position in the sentence is.
Such words are called مَبْنِيٌّ which means set up, fixed, structured; in linguistics: indeclinable. Basically, they have a cemented shape. You never have to think about which vowel you should put at the end.
What about other grammar terms?
- Grammar terms which relate to اسْمٌ: They are usually masculine. For example, adjectives take the gender of اِسْمٌ which is the masculine form. For example: indeclinable noun (اِسْمٌ مَبْنِيٌّ).
- Grammar terms relating to a particle (حَرْفٌ): They are usually masculine. However, they may also be feminine because the author might relate to أَداةٌ (tool; instrument) and not to the masculine حَرْفٌ.
- The verb كانَ (to be) seems by common consent to be taken as feminine, e.g., كانَ النّاقِصةُ (defective “to be”) or كانَ التّامّةُ (complete verb “to be”). Note that mere words like كانَ are treated as proper names and do not take the article.
- What about the letters of the alphabet? They can have both genders, but are usually treated as feminine.
Just in case you are not familiar with the terms اِسْمٌ and حَرْفٌ:
A noun (اِسْمٌ) is defined as a word that denotes a complete meaning by itself, having no reference to past or present tense. Complete here means that the word can be understood independently and without reference to anything else.
The اِسْمٌ is equivalent to the noun in English, but it is much wider in scope. The term اِسْمٌ includes all pronouns, the infinitive (مَصْدَرٌ), adjectives, participles, and some adverbs.
A particle (حَرْف) doesn't convey any complete meaning until another word is added to it. Most common example: prepositions like في.
A حَرْفٌ is never influenced by other words. We say that a حَرْفٌ does not have a place in the analysis (لا مَحَلَّ لَهُ مِن الْإِعْرابِ). A حَرْفٌ doesn't take different jobs or functions in a sentence. It cannot serve as a direct object (مَفْعُولٌ بِهِ), circumstantial description (حالٌ), etc. A حَرْفٌ is often what we call a preposition.
The Arabs call a preposition حَرْفُ الْجَرِّ which means particle of dragging, in the meaning of subordination.