Essential Arabic Grammar – Adjectives in Classical Arabic

In English, adjectives come before the nouns they modify. However, the opposite is true for adjectives in Classical Arabic; they follow the nouns. Examples of adjectives in Classical Arabic include kabeer “big,” taweel “tall” and jadeed “new.”

In Classical Arabic, adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in terms of gender (masculine or feminine), number (singular, dual or plural), grammatical case (subject, direct object or prepositional) and state of definiteness (whether the noun is definite or indefinite).

Masculine and Feminine Singular Adjectives in Classical Arabic

Most adjectives in Classical Arabic are made feminine by adding /at/ ة (taa marbouta) to the base form of the adjective. The following table demonstrates adjectival agreement with singular nouns. For illustration purposes, only indefinite examples are shown:

Masculine Nouns Adjectival Agreement Feminine Nouns Adjectival Agreement
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

كِتاب

“Book” Kitaabun

كِتابٌ كَبيرٌ

“A big book” Kitaabun kabeerun

سَيارَةٌ

“Car” Sayyaaratun

سَيارَةٌ كَبيرَةٌ

“A big car” Sayyaaratun kabeeratun

رَجُلٌ

“Man” Rajulun

رَجُلٌ وَسيمٌ

“A handsome man” Rajulun waseemun

قَهوَةٌ

“Coffee” Qahwatun

قَهوَةٌ لَذيذَةٌ

“Delicious coffee” Qahwatun latheethatun

قَلَم

“Pen” Qalamun

قَلَمٌ صَغيرٌ

“A small pen” Qalamun sagheerun

جَريدَةٌ

“Newspaper Jareedatun

جَريدَةٌ وَطَنِيةٌ

“A national newspaper” Jareedatun wataniyyatun

Masculine and Feminine Plural Adjectives in Classical Arabic

Plural adjectives are formed slightly differently than singular adjectives in Classical Arabic. If a plural noun refers to something that is not human (such as a cat or book), then the adjective modifying it must be in the feminine singular form. The following table demonstrates adjectival agreement with plural, non-human nouns:

Masculine Plural Nouns Adjectival Agreement Adjectival Agreement Adjectival Agreement
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

أَقلامٌ

“Pens” ‘Aqlamun

أَقلامٌ جَديدَةٌ

“New pens” ‘Aqlamun jadeedatun

سَيارَاتٌ

“Cars” Sayyaaraatun

سَياراتٌ كَبيرَةٌ

“Big cars” Sayyaaraatun kabeeratun

بُيوتٌ

“Houses” Buyoutun

بُيوتٌ جَميلَةٌ

“Nice houses” Buyoutun jameelatun

جَرائِدُ

“Newspapers” Jara’idu

جَرائِدُ وَطَنِيةٌ

“National newspapers” Jara’idu wataniyyatun

Plural nouns referring to humans are modified by the plural form of the adjective:

Masculine Plural Noun Adjectival Agreement Feminine Plural Noun Adjectival Agreement
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

أُساتِذةٌ

“Professors” ‘Asaatithatun

أُساتِذةٌ أَذكياءُ

“Smart professors” ‘Asaatithatun ‘athkiyaa’u

مُعلِماتٌ

“Teachers” Mu’allimaatun

مُعلِماتٌ ذِكِياتٌ

“Smart teachers” Mu’allimaatun thakiyyaatun

طُلابٌ

“Students” Tullaabun

طُلابٌ جُدُدٌ

“New students” Tullaabun jududun

طَبيبات

“Doctors” Tabeebaatun

طَبيباتٌ مُتَخِصِصَاتٌ

“Medical specialists” Tabeebaatun mutakhassisaatun

Masculine and Feminine Dual Adjectives in Classical Arabic

Unlike English, Classical Arabic has three numbers: singular, plural and dual. Dual numbers refer to two, and more than two is a plural. Dual nouns are modified by dual adjectives. Adjectives are made dual by adding /aani/ انِ (for masculine nouns) or /taani/ تانِ (for feminine nouns) to the base form of the adjective:

Masculine Dual Noun Adjectival Agreement Feminine Dual Noun Adjectival Agreement
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

رَجُلانِ

“Two men” Rajulaani

رَجُلانِ وَسيمانِ

“Two handsome men” Rajulaani waseemaani

شَجَرَتانِ

“Two trees” Shajarataani

شَجَرَتانِ طَويلَتان

“Two tall trees” Shajarataani taweelataani

The Predicate Adjective in Classical Arabic

A predicate adjective is an adjective that functions as the predicate of an equational sentence. In the sentence, “The book is old,” “old” is the predicate adjective. In Classical Arabic, predicate adjectives are always indefinite even if the nouns they modify are definite:

Adjective of Definite Singular Noun Predicate Adjective Adjective of Definite Singular Noun Predicate Adjective
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

الكِتابُ القَديمُ

“The old book” Al-kitaabu al-qadeemu

.الكِتابُ قَديمٌ

.“The book is old.” A-kitaabu qadeemun

.الغُرفَةُ الكَبيرَةُ

“The big room” Al-ghurfatu al-kabeeratu

.الغُرفَةُ كَبيرَةٌ

“The room is big.” Al-ghurfatu kabeeratun

الكَوكَبُ الصَغيرُ

“The small planet” Al-kawkabu al-sagheer

.الكَوكَبُ صَغيرٌ

“The planet is small.” Al-kawkabu sagheerun

الوالِدَةُ الجَميلَةُ

“The beautiful mother” Al-waalidatu al-jameelatu

.الوالِدةُ جَميلَةٌ

“The mother is beautiful.” Al-waalidatu jameelatun

The Comparative Adjective in Classical Arabic

In English, the comparative adjective is formed by adding –er to the adjective. In Classical Arabic, the comparative adjective is formed in several different ways depending on the words used, but it is basically formed by the comparative form of the adjective followed by /min/ من “than.” In the following table the comparative construction is highlighted in boldface:

 

Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

.الجَريدَةُ أَصغَرُ مِن المَكتَبِ

“The newspaper is smaller than the desk.” Al-jareedatu ‘asgharu min al-maktabi.

.الكِتابُ أكبَرُ من الجَريدَةِ

“The book is bigger than the newspaper.” Al-kitaabu ‘akbaru min al-jareedati.

The Superlative Adjective in Classical Arabic

In English, the superlative adjective is mostly formed by adding –est to the adjective. In Classical Arabic, on the other hand, the superlative adjective is formed in several different ways: by the comparative form of the adjective followed by a genitive noun, like /fi/ في “in”, by adding the definite article /al/ ال “the” to the comparative form, by adding /a/ أ to the root of the adjective and some other ways.

The following table lists some examples:

Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

أَصغَرُ كَوكَبٍ

“The longest river” ‘Atwalu nahrin

.هُوَ أَقصَرُ وَلَدٍ

“He is the shortest boy.” Huwa a’qsaru waladin.

أَصغَرُ كَوكَبٍ

“The smallest planet” ‘Asgharu kawkabin

.هِيَ أَطوَلُ بِنتٍ

“She is the tallest girl.” Hiya ‘atwalu bintin.

.هُم أَطوَلُ الأَولادِ

“They are the tallest boys.” Hum ‘atwalu al-‘awladi.

.هُنﱢ أَطوَلُ المُدَرِساتِ

“They are the tallest female teachers.” Hunna ‘atwalu al-mudarrisaati.

In Classical Arabic, the gender and number of the noun is irrelevant for the comparative and superlative adjectival constructions.