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اسم المرة: expressing frequency in Arabic

In Arabic, there is a special type of masdar which focuses on the number of times. It is called ism al-Marra (اسم المرة).

Last updated: 11 months ago

Let's have a look at these two sentences:

  1. قَفَزَ اللّاعِبُ قَفْزًا
  2. قَفَزَ اللّاعِبُ قَفْزَةً

What is the difference?

The first two words are the same and mean the player jumped. So, what about the object? First of all, both sentences are correct, but the meaning is slightly different.

In Arabic, there is a way to emphasize, if a person has done…

  1. Something in general (الْمَفْعُول الْمُطْلَق):قَفَزَ اللّاعِبُ قَفْزًا = the player jumped
  2. Something only once or a certain number of times: قَفَزَ اللّاعِبُ قَفْزَةً = the player jumped once

Let us look at some examples:

I ate in this restaurant. (once; exactly one time)أَكَلْتُ فِي هٰذا الْمَطْعَمِ أَكْلَةً
I ate in this restaurant. (unknown how often)أَكَلْتُ فِي هٰذا الْمَطْعَمِ أَكْلاً
I ate in this restaurant three times.أَكَلْتُ فِي هٰذا الْمَطْعَمِ ثَلاثَ أَكَلْاتٍ
The child smiled (one time only).اِبْتَسِمَ الطِّفْلُ اِبْتِسامةً
The child smiled (unknown how often).اِبْتَسِمَ الطِّفْلُ اِبْتِسامًا

If you use the regular مَصْدَر after a verb to emphasize an action, it means you are saying something in general or that you don't know how often the action was being done.

In Arabic, however, there is a special form to emphasize the amount of times an action was being done.

The form فَعْلة is called اِسْم الْمَرّة and is a form of a مَصْدَر. You can recognize this form easily: It is the مَصْدَر plus a ة. The is built by the usual for feminine nouns: ات. Since it has to be the object of a sentence, it has to be مَنْصُوب.

You will find more examples and tricky situations in the book Arabic for Nerds. Notice that there are many other forms as well that are a great and handy tool to express certain ideas nicely.

Other articles about Arabic grammar:

picture credit: Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

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