Last updated: July 18, 2021
There are many ways to express “to have” in Arabic. You can use prepositions, adverbs, or verbs. It depends on what you want to express.
In Modern Standard Arabic, mainly for words are used to convey the idea of belonging or owning. They are of different nature and work differently. Note that dialects have their own ways to express “to have”.
Four ways to express "to have" in Arabic
- Words to express “to have”
- What they have in common
- I have a book. Four ways to express it
Words to express “to have”
The four words are:
What they have in common
- All of them aren’t verbs. In English books, you often read that they are prepositions. That is only half of the truth.
- The construction is usually as follows: You use the word, add a personal pronoun and add the thing that you possess/have.
I have a book. Four ways to express it
The usage of لِ
Meaning of لِ when used as “to have”
The focus is on belonging. The meaning of لِي كِتابٌ is that I have a book in the sense that “it belongs to me“.
Do we know where it might be right now? No. We can only guess it from the context. The main emphasis is on the notion of the book belonging to me – by right. It can also be used for actions that are abstract or in the future. For example: a book is reserved for me in the library.
Should you pronounce ل as “li” or “la”?
- “li”: Before nouns and before the personal pronoun ي.
- “la”: In all other situations, for example, “laka” (لَكَ) for you.
لِ is treated as a preposition (حَرْف الْجَر). Why is that important? You cannot use it as a single word, you need to connect it. Furthermore, it never gets case endings.
The application of مَعَ
Meaning of مَعَ when used as to have
The focus is on having something physically with you. The meaning of مَعِي كِتابٌ is that I have the book with me. (in my bag, in my car, etc.)
Do we know where it might be right now? Yes.
Do we know if the book is mine? Not really. We may assume that the book is mine from the context. However, this is not transported or included in the word مَعَ.Now, watch out!
If you want to say: I have Muhammad’s book with me – should you use مَعَ or لِ?
You only have one option: مَعَ. You cannot use لِ here because yo do not own the book. So, you say:
.مَعِي كِتابُ مُحَمَّدٍ
In fact, if you want to use لِ in the example above, it would only be appropriate to say:
. مَعِي كِتابٌ لِمُحَمَّدٍ
The application of عِنْدَ
Meaning of عِنْدَ when used as “to have”
The focus is on having it physically with me. Thus, the sentence عِنْدِي كِتابٌ means that I have a book in my possession (at a certain place).
Do we know where the book is? Yes. عِنْدَ usually indicates that I have a book in my possession at one’s place – at my office, my flat, etc.
Do we know who owns the book? We could say yes. The implication is that the book belongs to me (unless stated differently).
عِنْدَ may be used for possessing or owning in general as well. It may also be used for temporary possession. For example: I have a book which I borrowed from my friend.
عِنْدَ is always used in an idafa-construction (إِضافة). The second part is either a personal pronoun suffix or a noun.
عِنْدَ is an adverb (ظَرْف) in Arabic. But since it is always connected to another word, you don’t need to worry about the specialties of this word type.
The application of لَدَى
Meaning of لَدَى when used as “to have”
لَدَى indicates that “I have a book in my possession” – which is either “at my place” or “with me“. It has a very strong connotation of having. It implies that the book is mine, however, it could also belong to someone else.
Do we know where the book is? Yes, most probably. Do we exactly know who owns it? No, not necessarily; but we may tell from the context.
Classical grammarians say that لَدَى is an adverb (ظَرْف).
In many situations, لَدَى and عِنْدَ denote the same idea and can be used interchangeably.
However, there is a finesse:
- لَدَى is often more associated with the notion of the presence and used with abstract things – rather than concrete things.
- عِنْدَ can be used for both concrete and metaphorical things.
- لِ denotes the strongest notion of owning.
- عِنْدَ is the second strongest.
In case you are interested…
- لَبَّيْكَ (labbaika) – What does it mean?
- بقى in Egyptian Arabic – what does it mean?
- الصَّلاةُ خَيْرٌ مِن الْنَّوْمِ: “Prayer is better than sleep” – Is it really “better”?
- إذْ and إذا and إذًا – What is the difference?
- Why is the Quran so difficult to read?
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