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Students writing exam

How to pass the Al-Jazeera Arabic grammar test – a survival guide

Al-Jazeera offers a grammar test. There are a couple of pitfalls. So, reason enough to take a look at the most important Arabic grammar topics.

LAST UPDATED: 4 days ago

Al-Jazeera offers excellent material for free for Arabic learners. It is mainly for beginners and intermediate students who feel comfortable reading and listening short articles. Al-Jazeera also offers an online quiz (اختبر مستواك في التراكيب والقواعد النحوية) to test your knowledge of grammar: 20 questions about صرف and نحو.

About the Al-Jazeera grammar test

The questions start from how to correctly use question words and pronouns and end in more advanced structures. You have two and a half minutes for the test. In this article, I will revise some grammatical problems which occur in the test.

  • On the one hand because Al-Jazeera unfortunately does not explain on their website why answers are correct or wrong. (So even after having done the test, you may check here where and why you went with the wrong answer.)
  • Most importantly, however, if you understand these things, the test will be a piece of cake for you, and you can be sure that your level of grammar is quite bullet-proof.

For those who are not interested in the Al-Jazeera quiz, the article may still be interesting, as I cover and review some important chapters of Arabic grammar.

Note that in the online quiz, there is no English translation of the sentences. The vocab is not difficult and even if you don’t understand a sentence, by merely looking at the skeleton of the sentence and the vowels, you should be able to find the correct answer.


Al Jazeera grammar test websitesource: al-Jazeera website
capt Screenshot of al-Jazeera’s grammar test

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Logo al-Jazeera

The quiz is a multiple-choice-test. You will have four answers to choose from. Only one is correct. I do not want to spoil the fun and thus do not show the four answer possibilities. I only present the problem. Furthermore, I leave out questions which cover similar topics or are relatively easy.

I’m uncertain if the questions are always presented in the same form and order. In principle, that doesn’t matter because the grammatical problems are always the same. In case you feel comfortable in grammar or would like to test your knowledge without any preparation, you can follow this link to go to the test.

Question 2: demonstratives

هذَا أَخِي و … أَصْدِقائِي

Do you know the demonstratives (اسم الإشارة) in Arabic? This and that?

This in Arabic is هذا. In Arabic, it needs to agree with the noun to which it points. For feminine nouns, you need هذِهِ. If you want to say in Arabic: these are my friends, you will need to use the plural version of the demonstrative: هؤُلاءِ

Question 5: relative pronouns

كَرَّمَت الجامِعَةُ الطّالِباتِ … تَفَوَّقْنَ هَذا العام

Do you know the relative pronouns (الاسم الموصول) in Arabic? Okay, there is الّذِي which you most probably know. In Arabic, however, this word has to agree with the noun to which it refers. For example: The girl that/which… → in Arabic, you need the feminine version of الّذِي which is الَّتِي. It gets tricky if you need the plural version. For feminine (sound) plurals, you will need اللَّاتِي

masc.feminine
singularالَّذِيالَّتِي
(مُثَنًّى مَرْفُوعٌ)اللَّذانِاللَّتانِ
dual acc. (مَنْصُوبٌ) and genitive (مَجْرُورٌ)اللَّذَيْنِاللَّتَيْنِ
plural (جَمْعٌ)الَّذِينَاللَّوَاتِي / اللَّاتِي
Table: Relative pronouns in Arabic

Remark: In case you don’t know why الطّالِباتِ (= the direct object) has a كسرة here (= vowel “i”), don’t miss question 15.

Question 7: adjectives and agreement

شَرَحَ المُدَرِّسُ لِلطُّلّابِ … تَعَلُّمِ القَواعِدِ

The direct object needs the accusative case (منصوب) in Arabic, which is marked by “a” (فتحة) or “-an” (تنوين). Notice that if you have an adjective describing the direct object, it will also take the accusative case – because adjectives in Arabic need to be in agreement with the noun they describe.

Agreement means that you have to check the gender, number, case, and determination/indetermination (ال or not).

Question 8: future tense

يُرَتِّبُ سَعيدٌ حَقائِبَهُ لِأَنَّه …. غدًا

As soon as you have an indicator of time, for example, tomorrow (غدًا), you should opt for the in Arabic – which is built by adding the prefix س or the particle سوف.

Question 9: verbs in the feminine plural

الطبيبات …… المرضَى

Arabic, though an ancient language, does not have any gender issues. There is a feminine form even in the dual. Unfortunately, this does not make things easier. You may need the verb in the feminine plural, which can be nasty. For the III-verb to treat (عالج), we get: هنَّ – عالَجْنَ – يُعالِجْنَ

Question 10: the interpreted infinitive

أَصْدَر مجلسُ الأمنِ اليوم قرارًا طالَبَ فيه أَطْرافَ الصِّراع بأنْ … إطلاقَ النّار

Do you know what an interpreted infinitive (مصدر مؤول) is in Arabic? Let’s take, for example, the infinitive noun of ذَهَبَ which is ذَهاب.

Instead of using this مصدر, you could also produce an expression that can be interpreted as a مصدر and actually denotes the same: أَنْ يَذْهَبَ

So, to produce an interpreted masdar, you need the particle أنْ and a verb in the present tense, subjunctive mood (منصوب).

Now, how do you put a verb that is in the third-person plural (هُم) into the subjunctive mood? Answer: You delete the final letter ن!

For example: IV-verb to stop (أوقف):
هم – أَوْقَفُوا – يُوقِفونَ – يُوقِفُوا

Note that the jussive (مجزوم) and subjunctive mood (منصوب) here actually look the same.

Question 11: complex nominal sentences and collectives

…هذه الحديقةُ شجرُها

Nominal sentences sometimes produce quite complex structures. In so-called topic-comment (subject – predicate) structures, it may be necessary to use a binder – a referential pronoun to link both parts. In the above examples, it is the pronominal suffix ها which refers to الحديقةُ.

Now, what about the word شَجَرٌ? It means trees (plural). So, a tree would be شَجَرةٌ. The noun شَجَرٌ is a so-called genus collective noun (اسم الْجِنْس الْجَمْعِيّ); in German: Gattungskollektiv. Such words are treated as masculine singular! You may treat them as a plural if they refer to people.

Other examples of collectives: tears (دَمْعٌ) versus a tear (دَمْعةٌ); ants (نَمْلٌ) versus an ant (نَمْلةٌ).

Hence, in the above example, if you need to add an adjective, it should be masculine, singular!

Question 12: Sound masculine plural and cases

كرَّمت المؤسّسةُ ….. المُبْدِعِينَ

How do you put a sound masculine plural (جَمْعُ المُذَكَّرِ السَّالِمِ) into the accusative case (منصوب)? You need to change the و into ي. Fro example:

  • the employees – nominative case: المُوَظَّفُونَ
  • the employees – accusative or genitive case: المُوَظَّفينَ

The dual may look the same as the plural! –> The vowels matter! The dual (the two employees, genitive/accusative) is المُوَظَّفَيْنِ

Question 14: numbers

تُقدِّمُ القَناةُ … نَشَراتِ أخبار مُفَصّلة في اليوم

If we need to insert a number here, we have to check two things: the gender and case ending of the thing counted: so, here we have the plural, feminine, genitive case.

This means that we should insert a number between 3 and 10. If we take, for example, three, we need the opposite gender! So, we could use ثلاثَ in the above sentence.

Note: If you are not sure about how numbers work in Arabic, have a look at this article.

Question 15: sound feminine plurals and cases

…تُقدِّم هذه الشركةُ خدماتٍ

What is the function of خدماتٍ in this sentence? It is the direct object (مفعول به). Wait! But shouldn’t it take the accusative case then and not the genitive case? Well, what you see is, in fact, the accusative case! Sound feminine plurals (جَمْعُ المُؤَنَّث السَّالِم) are tricky. There is a golden rule:

In sound feminine plurals, you never use a فَتْحةٌ‎ (“a”)
on the final letter ت!

Whether they are definite or in­definite, sound feminine plurals use only two markers for the three cases: ضَمّةٌ and كَسْرةٌ.

So, it can never be “-an”. Nevertheless, since it is located in the position of an accusative case since it is the direct object, an adjective will take the usual case marker for the accusative case. This is true for any grammatical case. The position matters and not what you see. For example:

I saw beautiful cars in many places.

.رَأَيْتُ سَيَّارَاتٍ جَمِيلَةً فِي أَمَاكِنَ كَثِيرَةٍ

Question 17: the causal object

دخل الأستاذُ فوقف الطلابُ ….. له

We need to find an appropriate object here. We need a complement of cause (مفعول لأجله). This is an additional noun, usually an infinitive noun (مصدر) that indicates the motive or reason for an action. It provides an answer to the question: why has the doer/subject have done this? What for (reason)?

In other words, the مَفْعُولٌ لِأَجْلِهِ or مَفْعُولٌ لَهُ explains the reason why the act has been done and clarifies the reason for the occurrence of an ac­tion which ori­ginates from the doer (subject). It normally includes the idea of because of or out of. Some important features of the causative object:

  • The مَفْعُولٌ لِأَجْلِهِ is a dependent element – an object – and thus receives the accusative case (منْصُوبٌ).
  • It is not derived from the main verb in the sentence, but from a verb related to feelings and emotions.
  • It must be indefinite (نَكِرةٌ); otherwise, you need to paraphrase it and use a different construction with لِ, the so-called Lam of causality and justification (لامُ تَعْلِيلٍ).

Some other types of accusatives

1. مفعول مَعَهُ

The object of accompaniment (مَفْعُولٌ مَعَهُ) expresses something that happens along with the action. You can easily identify it as you will have a و before the accusative noun. Nowadays, such stylistic constructions are rare. For example: مَشَيْتُ وَالْبَحْر – I walked along the sea.

2. مفعول فِيهِ

The مفعول فيه (adverb of time or place) is the time or place where or when an action takes place. Other grammatical terms are: ظرف مكان or ظرف زمان.

3. مفعول مُطْلَق

The absolute object (مفعول مطلق) confirms or strengthens the action. You need two steps to produce it:

  1. Take the verb and build the مَصْدَرٌ.
  2. Add the مَصْدَرٌ as the object of a sentence.

Finally, you have the verb and the corresponding infinitive in the same sentence. This is the most common application (there are other ways as well). For English speakers, this sounds like a redundancy. In Arabic, however, it works perfectly well to emphasize the mean­ing this way, and it is used a lot. For example: I hit him hard (ضَرَبْتُهُ ضَبْبًا).

The term مَفْعُولٌ in this connotation means what is done and the term مُطْلَقٌ denotes free, general – in the sense of a noun which is not restricted by anything, e.g., an adjective or a preposition. A possible translation could be: unqualified thing done. We could say that the مَفْعُولٌ مُطْلَقٌ is free from any kind of restrictions or stipulations that other types of objects might have.

The abso­lute object (مَفْعُولٌ مُطْلَقٌ) signifies what (action) is done free from any idea of being done to something (بِهِ), in some­thing (فِيهِ), out of or for the purpose of something (مِنْ أَجْلِهِ) or with or in the com­pany of something (مَعَهُ). The مَفْعُولٌ مُطْلَقٌ empha­sizes (usually) the core meaning of the verb. It may show its nature and number.

4. حال

The circumstantial qualifier (حالٌ) gives an answer to the question word how (كَيْفَ) in regard to the state or circumstance/condition of the subject or object (or both) while the act is taking place. The حالٌ is a redundancy (فَضْلةٌ) because without the حالٌ, the sentence would still be complete and intelligible. Linguists also call it a non-predicative element.

Let’s introduce another important term to understand the logic be­hind the حالٌ: the صاحِبُ الْحالِ (concerned by the status). It is the en­tity (sub­ject and/or object) whose circumstances are described by the حالٌ. The word صاحِبٌ literally means holder, possessor, compan­ion. There­fore, the حالٌ describes the shape of the صاحِبُ الْحالِ at the time of the occur­rence of the action.

This brings us to the most important rule:

  • The حالٌ is always indefinite (unless it is a sentence).
  • The صاحِبُ الْحالِ must be definite.
  • Usually, the حال is a participle: He came laughing (صاحِكًا)

5. تمييز

The specification (تَمْيِيزٌ) helps us get rid of the vagueness in a sen­tence. It answers the question: What exactly?

In grammar, we call the تَمْيِيزٌ (specification; distinguishing element) a sup­plement of the sentence, a فَضْلةٌ, which means remnant or surplus. We don’t necessarily need it to produce a meaningful sen­tence; if we deleted the تَمْيِيزٌ, the sentence would still work. The specification is used to clarify the meaning of a noun, verb, or which may otherwise remain ambiguous.

Let’s examine the main characteristics of a تَمْيِيزٌ:

  • The تَمْيِيزٌ must be an indefinite noun (اِسْمٌ نَكِرةٌ). It cannot be a verb, nor a particle.
  • The تَمْيِيزٌ cannot be a sentence that is reinterpreted as a noun – which, for example, is possible for the حالٌ.
  • The تَمْيِيزٌ clarifies an abstract, vague, ambiguous, or unde­fined word (كَلِمةٌ مُبْهَمةٌ). It may classify a summa­rized mean­ing (مَعْنًى مُجْمَلٌ). Most importantly, it can qualify nouns, adjectives, or verbs.
  • The تَمْيِيزٌ must be in the state of an accusative (نَصْبٌ).
  • The تَمْيِيزٌ is placed imme­diately after the word which it defines.
  • The English translation of a specifica­tion depends on the context. It may be an adverb of manner (end­ing -ly), a direct object, or a prepositional phrase. Other suit­able translations could be: in re­gard to; in terms of; as.

I cover all types of accusatives extensively in my book Arabic for Nerds 2!

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Question 19: diptotes

في التعليمِ المُكَثَّف يَحتاج الطالِبُ إلى دراسة … عَدِيدَةٍ

How do you put a dipote (ممنوع من الصرف) into the genitive case (مجرور)? This happens, for example, if it serves as the second part of a إضافة-construction. Let’s assume we need to place the word program in the above example, which in Arabic is بَرْنامَج (plural: بَرامِجُ). The plural بَرامِجُ is a diptote!

RULE 1:
If a noun is a diptote, you DON’T write nuna­tion (تنوين)!

Practically speaking, you don’t write nor pronounce the end­ings “-un”, “-in” or “-an”. Instead, you just use a simple vowel without the n-sound. Watch out: the genitive case is tricky!

RULE 2:
If an indefinite diptote noun needs the GENITIVE case,
we must mark it with “a” (فَتْحةٌ).

Question 20: conditional sentences

مَنْ يَبْذُلِ الْمَعْروفَ … بِمَحَبَّةِ النّاسِ

I will soon start a series of articles on the sentence. So, I don’t want to go too deep here. There are some words in Arabic that introduce a conditional meaning (= possibility) and do not present a fact. One of those words is مَن (who).

After مَنْ, you usually get a conditional sentence. مَنْ is a device that induces the jussive mood (مَجْزُومٌ) in the verb. This is usually done by clipping the last vowel and add سكون.

Watch out: If the verb ends in a weak letter (حرف علة), you get rid of the weak letter and compensate that by adding a vowel on the second and now last letter.

For example: the I-verb حَظِيَ ب means to get; to obtain.

  • The indicative, standard mood (مرفوع) is: يَحْظَى
  • the subjunctive mood (منصوب), e.g., after أَنْ, is: يَحْظَى
  • the jussive mood (مَجْزوم), which is used to express a conditional meaning, the with لَمْ or prohibitions, is: يَحْظَ

Now that you’ve brushed up on these grammar things, I’m sure you will get a score of 20 out of 20. Here is the link to the test:

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