Essential Arabic Grammar – Regular and Irregular Verbs

Verbs denote an action or the existence of a state or condition. English examples include “to write” and “to do.” By their very definition, regular verbs follow a predictable way of being made past tense. English accomplishes this with the addition of –ed to the verb stem. Likewise, irregular verbs do not follow a predictable way of being made past tense. English examples are “eat” à “ate” and “is” à “was.”

Classical Arabic has a rich verb system that includes both regular and irregular verbs. Most regular Arabic verbs consist of a root composed of three or four consonants. These consonants indicate the general meaning of the verb, such as d-r-s “to study.” Arabic verbs are marked for mood (e.g., indicative and subjunctive), person (e.g., I, he and you), voice (active or passive), gender (masculine or feminine), number (singular, plural or dual) and tense (past and present). These grammatical functions are expressed by changing the vowels between the consonantal root discussed above. This can also involve adding prefixes or suffixes.

Classical Arabic expresses the future by adding the prefix sato a present tense verb (both regular and irregular verbs) or by putting the particle sawfa before the present tense verb:

/’adrusu/ “I study” à/ sa ’adrusu/ sawfa ’adrusu / “I will study.”
/namshi/ “ We walk” à/ sa namshi/ sawfa namshi/ “We will walk.”

One of the major differences between Classical Arabic and Western languages, including English, is that the former does not have an equivalent to the infinitive (e.g., “to run” in English). So the third-person masculine singular past tense is used as the dictionary form. For example, /kataba/ means “He wrote,” but is also commonly used as the infinitive form “to write” in linguistic discussions. The same is true for all Classical Arabic verbs.

Regular Verbs: Past Tense

The past tense of a regular Arabic verb is formed by simply adding the following suffixes (in boldface) to the consonantal stem. Classical Arabic has thirteen pronouns, and each has its own conjugation. In addition, Modern Standard Arabic has the concept of the dual, which indicates two of something. So, for instance, a verb conjugated in the dual means that two things are performing the action.

The verb, /darasa/ “to study” is conjugated below as an example:

/ Darasa / “To study”
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

.أنا دَرَستُ

“I studied.” ’Ana darastu

.نَحنُ دَرَسنا

“We studied.” Nahnu darasna

.أنتَ دَرَستَ

“You (m.) studied.” ’Anta darasta

.هُوَ دَرَسَ

“He studied.” Huwa darasa

.أنتِ دَرَستِ

“You (f.) studied.” ’Anti darasti

.هِيَ دَرَسَت

“She studied.” Heya darasat

.أنتُم دَرَستُم

“You (m. pl.) studied.” ’Antum darastum

.هُم دَرَسوا

“They (pl.) studied.” Hum darasuu

.أنتُن ﱢ دَرَستُن ﱢ

“You (f. pl.) studied.” ’Antunna darastunna

.هنﱢ دَرَسنَ

“They (f.pl.) studied.” Hunna darasna

.أنتُما دَرَستُما

“You (m. dual) studied.” ’Antumaa darastumaa

.هُما دَرَسا

“They (m. dual) studied.” Humaa darasaa

.أنتُما دَرَستُما

“You (f. dual) studied.” ’Antumaa darastumaa

.هُما دَرَسَتا

“They (f. dual) studied.” Humaa darasataa

Regular Verbs: Present (Imperfect) Tense

Forming the present (imperfect) tense of a regular verb in Classical Arabic is somewhat more involved than forming the past tense. Prefixes and suffixes (in boldface) are added to the consonantal stem.

Again, the verb, / darasa /, serves as our example:

/ Darasa / “To study”
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

.أنا أَدرُسُ

“I study.” ’Ana ’adrusu

.نَحنُ نَدرُسُ

“We study.” Nahnu nadrusu

.أنتَ تَدرُسُ

“You (m.) study.” ’Anta tadrusu

.هُوَ يَدرُسُ

“He studies.” Huwa yadrusu

.أنتِ تَدرُسينَ

“You (f.) study.” ’Anti tadruseena

.هِيَ تَدرُسُ

“She studies.” Heya tadrusu

.أنتُم تَدرُسونَ

“You (m. pl.) study.” ’Antum tadrusuuna

.هُم يَدرُسونَ

“They (pl.) study.” Hum yadrusuuna

.أنتُن ﱢ تَدرُسنَ

“You (f. pl.) study.” ’Antunna tadrusna

.هُن ﱢ يَدرُسنَ

“They (f.pl.) study.” Hunna yadrusna

.أنتُما تَدرُسانِ

“You (m. dual) study.” ’Antumatadrusaani

.هما يَدرُسانِ

“They (m. dual) study.” Humaa yadrusaani

.أنتُما تَدرُسانِ

“You (f. dual) study.” ’AntumaTadrusaani

.هما تَدرُسانِ

“They (f. dual) study.” Humaa Tadrusaani

Irregular Verbs: Past Tense

A verb is considered to be irregular in Classical Arabic when one or more of the root letters is either w or y. Irregular verbs take the same suffixes as regular verbs to indicate past tense. The part that changes is the stem:

Examples include: q-w-l “to say” and “m-sh-y “to walk.”

“To say” Q-w-l “To walk” M-sh-y
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

.أنا قُلتُ

I said.” Qultu 

.أنا مَشَيتُ

“I walked.” Mashaytu

.أنتَ قُلتَ

“You (m.) said.” Qulta

.أنتَ مَشَيتَ

“You (m.) walked.” Mashayta

.أنتِ قُلتِ

“You (f.) said.” Qulti

.أنتِ مَشَيتِ

“You (f.) walked.” Mashayti

.أنتُم قُلتُم

“You (m.pl.) said.” Qultum

.أنتُم مَشَيتُم

“You (m.pl.) walked.” Mashaytum

.أنتُن ﱢ قُلتُنﱢ

“You (f.pl.) said.” Qultunna

.أنتُن ﱢ مَشَيتُن ﱢ

You (f.pl) walked.” Mashaytunna “

.أنتُما قُلتُما

“You (m. dual) said.” Qultumaa

.أنتُما مَشَيتُما

“You (m. dual) walked.” Mashaytumaa

.أنتُما قُلتُما

“You (f. dual) said.” Qultumaa

.أنتُما مَشَيتُما

“You (f. dual) walked.” Mashaytumaa

.نَحنُ قُلنا

“We said.” Qulna

.نَحنُ مَشَينا

“We walked.” Mashayna

.هُوَ قالَ

“He said.” Qaala

.هُوَ مَشَى

“He walked.” Masha

.هِيَ قالَت

“She said.” Qaalat

.هِيَ مَشَت

“She walked.” Mashat

.هُم قالوا

“They (m.pl.) said.” Qaaluu

.هُم مَشوا

“They (m.pl.) walked.” Mashuu

.هن ﱢ قُلنَ

“They (f.pl.) said.” Qulna

.هن ﱢ مَشينَ

“They (f.pl.) walked.” Masheena

.هُما قالا

“They (m. dual) said.” Qaalaa

.هُما مَشيا

“They (m.dual) walked.” Mashiyaa

.هُما قالَتا

“They (f. dual) said.” Qaalataa

.هُما مَشيَتا

“They (f.dual) walked.” Mashiyataa

Irregular Verbs: Present (Imperfect) Tense

Irregular verbs in Classical Arabic use the same suffixes as regular verbs to indicate the present (imperfect) tense:

“To say” Q-w-l “To walk” M-sh-y
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

.أنا أَقولُ

“I say.” ’A quulu

.أنا أَمشي

“I walk.” ’Amshi

.أنتَ تَقولُ

“You (m.) say.” Taquulu

.أنتَ تَمشي

“You (m.) walk.” Tamshi

.أنتِ تَقولينَ

“You (f.) say.” Taquuleena

.أنتِ تَمشينَ

“You (f.) walk.” Tamsheena

.أنتُم تَقولونَ

“You (m.pl.) say.” Taquuluuna

.أنتُم تَمشونَ

“You (m.pl.) walk.” Tamshuuna

.أنتُن ﱢ تَقلنَ

“You (f.pl.) say.” Taqulna

.أنتُن ﱢ تَمشينَ

“You (f.pl) walk.” Tamsheenaa

.أنتُما تَقولانِ

“You (m. dual) say.” Taquulaani

.أنتُما تَمشيانِ

“You (m. dual) walk.” Tamshiyani

.أنتُما تَقولانِ

“You (f. dual) say.” Taquulaani

.أنتُما تَمشيانِ

“You (f. dual) walk.” Tamshiyani

.نَحنُ نَقولُ

“We say.” Naquulu

.نَحنُ نَمشي

“We walk.” namshi

.هُوَ يَقولُ

“He says.” Yaquulu

.هُوَ يَمشي

“He walks.” yamshi

.هِيَ تَقولُ

“She says.” Taquulu

.هِيَ تَمشي

“She walks.” tamshi

.هم يَقولونَ

“They (m.pl.) say.” Yaquuluuna

.هُم يَمشونَ

“They (m.pl.) walk.” yamshuuna

.هُن ﱢﱢ يَقُلنَ

“They (f.pl.) say.” Yaqulna

.هُن ﱢﱢ يَمشينَ

“They (f.pl.) walk.” yamsheena

.هُما يَقولانِ

“They (m. dual) say.” Yaquulaani

.هُما يَمشيِانِ

“They (m.dual) walk.” yamshiyaani

.هُما تَقولانِ

“They (f. dual) say.” Taquulaani

.هُما تَمشيِانِ

“They (f.dual) walk.” tamshiyaani