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“I have never done that.” How do you say that in Arabic?

قط (qattu) can denote “never” in the Past. What about the word أبدا (abadan)? It is only for the future.

Last updated: May 2, 2021

Let’s open the discussion with a famous and common mistake in Arabic:

NOT CORRECTI have never done that. لَمْ أَفْعَلْ ذٰلِكَ أَبَدًا
Why is there a mistake? Because the word أَبَدًا is an adverb that is used for the future (ظَرْفُ زَمانٍ لِلمُسْتَقْبَلِ) only. It basically means al­ways, for­ever; ever. أَبَدًا con­veys the meaning of continu­ity (اِسْتِمْرارٌ) in the future. It may receive case inflections (مُعْرَبٌ).

So, what is the solution? How would you say: “I have never done that”? You use a different word!

CORRECTI have never done that..لَمْ أَفْعَلْ ذٰلِكَ قَطُّ
The word قَطُّmeans never; ever, at all. It is an adverb of time (ظَرْفُ زَمانٍ) that engages in the past tense (لاِسْتِغْراقُ الْماضِي. The word قَطُّ has an indeclinable, fixed shape (مَبْنِيٌّ) and never changes its form. قَطُّ must be used with the negation (نَفْيٌ). Since we have to use the past tense, we negate the verb with لَمْ or with ما.

Some examples to underline the difference:

incorrectI have never visited him..ما زُرْتُهُ أَبَدًا
correctI have never visited him..ما زُرْتُهُ قَطُّ
correctI will never visit him.. لَنْ أَزُورَهُ أَبَدًا
Remark: The translation of أَبَدًا depends on the context and – more important – whether there is a negation involved or not.
  • With a negation: Never (in the future), not at all, on no ac­count
  • Not negated: Never! Not at all! By no means!

Let us now check an example of the Holy Qur’an:

Sura 5:24:

قَالُوا يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنَّا لَن نَّدْخُلَهَا أَبَدًا مَّا دَامُوا فِيهَا ۖ فَاذْهَبْ أَنتَ وَرَبُّكَ فَقَاتِلَا إِنَّا هَاهُنَا قَاعِدُونَ

They said, ‘Moses, we will never enter while they are still there, so you and your Lord go in and fight, and we will stay here.’

Grammar, grammar, grammar….

Picture credit: pixabay (free license)

  1. Could you answer these two questions?
    1. If I use a مصدر that has a همزة الوصل with the article, does it get a همزة القطع ? Like امتحان > الإمتحان
    2. Does the ا at the end of for example اُغْزُوا or رَأَوْا remain written when a word with the article follows?
    Like اُغْزُو الرجالَ

  2. If you are right, I used “abadan” wrong till today :-).
    In Egyptian dialect I would use “khalis” to stress a kind of “never” for the past or “wa la marra”.

    1. don’t worry. This is about formal Arabic. I know that people use it in dialects (including me) ?

Any thoughts or ideas about this? Leave a comment!

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