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How do you build the imperative of ‎قالَ‎ in the dual?

Arabic roots with weak letters are tricky. If you want to express “say!” (you both – dual) in Arabic, you use قُولا‎. Why do we keep the و here? An analysis.

Admittedly, this is a form that you will rarely encounter, as the dual (الْمُثَنَّى) is pretty much not used in colloquial Arabic. Instead, in spoken Arabic, you use the plural of the imperative (أَمْرٌ) to express the dual.

But it is a good exercise to test your feeling for tricky Arabic roots.

Let us recall how we build the imperative in Arabic:

  1. Form the present tense. For example: you write (تَكْتُبُ)
  2. Put the verb into the jussive mood (مَجْزُومٌ) → you delete the last vowel and add سُكُونٌ resulting in: تَكْتُبْ
  3. Delete the prefix – which is the ت. → We get: كْتُبْ
  4. If you now have a word that has a vowel on the first consonant, you are already done. This would be the situation in all verb forms other than form I (فَعلَ). For example, the V-verb you speak (تَتَكَلَّمُ)‎‎ → تَتَكَلَّمْ ‎‎→ ‎تَكَلَّمْ (speak!)
  5. If you end up with a word starting with consonant plus سُكُونٌ, you need to add a helping device (prefix) based on the stem vowel. This is our situation: كْتُبْ
  6. If the stem vowel is “u” (ضَمَّةٌ), the prefix is اُ. This is what we have in كَتَبَ‎ / يَكْتُبُ. The final result is اُكْتُبْ (write!)
  7. If the stem vowel is “a” (فَتْحةٌ) or “i” (كَسْرةٌ), the prefix is اِ. For example: جَلَسَ‎ / يَجْلِسُ (to sit). We get اِجْلِسْ (sit!)

This is the standard situation – but there are many spoilers. If there is a weak letter (حَرْفُ عِلَّةٍ) involved, i.e., a و or ي, we have to adjust our recipe. The verb to say (قالَ) has و as the second root letter. Let’s follow our steps to form the imperative. Note that we can stop after the first three steps!

STEP 1: تَقُولُ

STEP 2: تَقُلْ

STEP 3: We get the imperative which is: قُلْ

But what about the other imperative forms? What happens if we have to add a suffix after قُلْ?

قُلْyou; masculineأَنْتَ
قُولِيyou; feminineأَنْتِ
قُولاyou (both); dualأَنْتُما
قُولُواyou; masculine, pluralأَنْتُمْ
قُلْنَyou; feminine, pluralأَنْتُنَّ
Imperative of to say in Arabic

We see that the vowel on the last root letter ل is crucial for the form of the imperative. Let’s dig deeper.

impactvowel on لimperative
the weak letter disappearsno vowel (سُكُونٌ)قُلْ ; قُلْنَ
the weak letter is written“i” (كَسْرةٌ) or “u” (ضَمّةٌ)قُولِي ; قُولُوا
Imperative of to say in Arabic – when do we keep the weak letter?

A key principle of Arabic is responsible for whether you see the weak letter or not:

  • It is impossible to have two consecutive سُكُونٌ. For ex­ample: قُوْلْ or قُوْلْنَ – thus, the weak letter is omit­ted!

This explains, why we have و in قُوْلَا (say! – dual).

meaningdualpresent tensepast tense verb
(you both) say!قُوْلَايَقُولُقالَ
(you both) be!كُوْنَايَكُونُكانَ
Imperative of roots having a weak letter

The imperative often causes difficulties for learners of Arabic. Although the imperative is used frequently in everyday life, it is used rather little in class.

Let’s see how the most common ten verb stems (with or without weak letters) work in the imperative.

imperative table
source: Arabic for Nerds 1
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