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How to I’rab: What is the formula (steps) to analyze/(إعراب) a word in Arabic?

Reading grammar books in Arabic can be challenging if you cannot decode the language of the grammarians (i’rab/إعراب). But there is a formula.

Last updated: September 1, 2021

Recently a reader asked me how he should read a typical grammatical analysis in Arabic grammar books. Reading grammar books in Arabic can be challenging if you cannot decode the language of the grammarians.

For example, the sentence:

ضمير متصل مبني على الفتح في محل نصب مفعول به مقدم

It is actually not difficult. Of course there are many varieties and styles, but we can break it down to mainly two formulas.

The main problem is that the grammarians do not use commas or dashes which makes it sometimes difficult if you are not familiar with the language of the analysis.

What is the standard situation of a noun (اِسْم)?

The word is declinable مُعْرَب) and has no anomalies.  This is the formula :

  1. Tell the function of the word in the sentence, for example: subject of a nominal sentence (مُبْتَدَأ), circumstantial qualifier (حال).
  2. Tell the case: nominative (مَرْفُوع).
  3. Tell how the case is expressed: by a visible marker for the nominative (بِالضَمَّةِ الظَّاهِرةِ) or the extended version: وَعَلامةُ رَفْعِهِ الضَّمّةُ الظَّاهِرةُ.

An example:

The dog is at home.الْكَلْبُ فِي الْبَيْتِ

Let’s put the word الْكَلْبُ under the microscope.

step 3step 2step 1noun
وَعَلامةُ رَفْعِهِ الضَّمّةُ الظَّاهِرةُمَرْفُوعٌمُبْتَدَأٌالْكَلْبُ
the sign for the nominative is a visible ُ_nominativesubjectthe dog

Now a more sophisticated situation.

The word which we want to analyze is not a standard noun. It could be a particle, a word that has a fixed shape, etc.  This is the formula: 

  1. Now we don’t start with the function. We first tell the type and nature of the word. This is usually only done if the word is indeclinable and cannot get case markers. So you will read expressions such as: demonstrative noun/particle (اِسْمُ إِشارةٍ), relative pronoun (اِسْمٌ مَوْصُولٌ), adverb of place (ظَرْفُ زَمانٍ), etc. You may also encounter that the analyzer defines the part of a sentence that he will put under the microscope, e.g., the sentence consisting of the subject and the predicate (الْجُمْلةُ مِن الْمُبْتَدَإِ وَالْخَبَرِ).
  2. If we deal with an indeclinable word (مَبْنِيّ), then give the letter or vowel that the word is cemented on by saying for example: fixed on the “a”-vowel (مَبْنِيٌّ عَلَى الْفَتْحِ).
  3. Since you can’t mark the case, you have to assign a place value. E.g.: located in the position of a nominative case (فِي مَحَلِ رَفْعٍ).
  4. Tell the grammatical usage/function of the word. E.g.: subject of a verbal sentence (فاعِلٌ), predicate of a nominal sentence (خَبَرٌ).

An example:

I will visit him tomorrow.سَأَزُورُهُ غَدًا

Let’s analyze the letter ه at the end of the verb and the last word.

step 4step 3step 2step 1letter
مَفْعُولٌ بِهِفِي مَحَلِّ نَصْبٍمَبْنِيٌّ عَلَى الضَّمِّضَمِيرٌ مُتَّصِلٌه (الْهاءُ)
direct object of the verb visit (أَزُورُ)in the location of an accusativ­e caseindeclinable; structured (fixed) on the vowel “u”pronoun suf­fixhim
مَفْعُولٌ فِيهِفِي مَحَلِّ نَصْبٍمَبْنِيٌّ عَلَى الْفَتْحِظَرْفُ زَمانٍغَدًا
adverbial ob­ject of time or placein the location of an accusativ­e caseindeclinable (fixed/structured) on the vowel aadverb of timetomorrow

Most authors use similar formulas.

It is more important that you understand how such explanations should be read and how grammatical concepts are conveyed in Arabic. If you use commas and colons, it is easier but almost nobody writes them.

Sometimes, if you don’t imagine a comma in certain positions of the explanation, the sentences would not make sense or might even provide a wrong interpretation (could happen if you read some parts as a long إِضافة).

غَدًا: ظَرْفُ زَمانٍ, مَبْنِيٌّ عَلَى الْفَتْحِ, فِي مَحَلِّ نَصْبٍ, مَفْعُولٌ فِيهِ

Imagine (or even write) a comma, if you want to tell that a verbal sentence serves as the predicate:

وَالْجُمْلةُ مِن الْفِعْلِ وَالْفاعِلِ: فِي مَحَلِّ رَفْعٍ, خَبَرٌ

Whenever you read such explanations, don’t worry about the case endings of the explanation or how to write nice sentences. See it as a chain of information and text modules. The only important thing is that you use the correct terms. Of course, there are dozens of “add-ons”, especially, when we deal with sophisticated sentences or have to search for deleted words.

Arabic for Nerds 2 will teach you all that in depths

Arabic for Nerds 2 (450 questions on Arabic grammar) cover all of those things in detail and will teach you how to analyze and inspect any Arabic sentence.

Arabic grammar is addictive:

Picture (free to use): pixabay.com ( Tero Vesalainen) and Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay 

  1. Thank you so much for your great and detail explanation. I always wondering how to interprete the meaning irab in Irab Mufassal book and now with your explanation I am able to understand it’s meaning…

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