Conjugation / تَصْرِيف الأَفْعال

Arabic Conjugation (تَصْرِيف الأَفْعال)

The verb is conjugated in one of the three tenses in Arabic conjugation:

  • The perfect tense (الماضي) corresponds to the English past or perfect tense.
  • The imperfect tense (المُضارِع) corresponds to the English present or future tense.
  • The imperative (الأَمْر) only exists in the 2nd person.

The Arabic language does not feature tenses which are precise reflections of the primary English verb tenses. Hence, the terms ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect tense’ does not accurately apply. For better understanding, however, we will continue referring to them as such for reference purposes.

As there are only three tenses in Arabic, we use the context, the temporal exponent كانَ or certain particles (which we’ll see later) to express all the nuances of time.

Note: The verb pronoun is not explicitly mentioned but rather conveyed in the verb conjugation through the past tense suffix or muḍāriʿprefix. When there’s no suffix or prefix like in the 3rd person masculine singular, it is considered hidden (مُسْتَتَر).

Every verb comes with 13 distinct conjugation forms, all of which vary depending on the person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), gender (male or female), and the number of people involved(singular, dual, or plural). This is true for each tense except for the imperative which only exists in the 2nd person.

The past tense / الماضي

The perfect tense, الماضي, typically denotes past states or completed actions. When used in the third and second persons it can also signify a wish or blessing. It is also employed to articulate hypotheses within conditional sentences.

This particular verb form omits a prefix but contains a suffix with the exception of one case – in 3rd person singular masculine there are no prefixes or suffixes.

مُثَنّى
(dual)
جمع
(plural)
مُفْرَد
(singular)
الماضي 
Perfect tense
نَحْنُ فَعَلْناأنا فَعَلْتُالمُتَكَلِّم 
1st person 

أَنْتُما فَعَلْتُما
أَنْتُم فَعَلْتُمأنتَ فَعَلْتَالمُذَكَّر
(masc.)
المُخاطَب 
2nd person 
أَنْتُنَّ فَعَلْتُنَّأَنتِ فَعَلْتِالمُؤَنَّث
(fem.)
هُما فَعَلاهُم فَعَلُواهُوَ فَعَلَالمُذَكَّر
(masc.)
الغائِب 
3rd person
هُما فَعَلَتاهُنَّ فَعَلْنَهِيَ فَعَلَتْالمُؤَنَّث
(fem.)

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Note: Unlike in English, Arabic does not have an infinitive form. Therefore, the third person masculine singular of the perfect tense is adopted as its reference point – serving as a basic verb without any additional suffixes or prefixes attached to it. For instance, when فَعَلَ (which literally means ‘he did’ or ‘he has done’) is used for all forms of this particular verb, it can be translated into the English infinitive “to do”.

Note 2: فَ عَ لَ are the default root letters used to exemplify patterns in Arabic. The verb built on those three root letters literally means “to do”.

Note 3: The alif ا in the 3rd person masculine plural فَعَلُوا is always silent and disappears when a pronoun is attached to the verb.

سَأَلُوا + ه = سَأَلُوهُ
They asked him

Note 4: When attached to a verb 2nd person plural masculine in the past tense, we add a و to facilitate pronunciation.

سَاَلْتُمْ + ها = سَأَلْتُموها
You asked her

The imperfect tense / المضارع

There’s 3 different moods in Arabic for the imperfect tense (مُضارع):

Only the imperfect indicative mood (المُضارِع المَرْفوع) will be treated in this section while the imperfect subjunctive mood (المُضارِع المَنْصوب) and imperfect jussive mood (المضارِع المَجْزوم) we get their own dedicated section on the Intermediate part of this course.

The imperfect indicative mood / المُضارِع المَرْفوع

The imperfect indicative mood (المُضارِع المَرْفوع) expresses ongoing or incomplete actions. It’s typically used to communicate a present or future event (which we will discuss immediately after).

The component “المَرْفوع” (marfūʿ) which is the word used to indicate a noun in the nominative case here directly refers to the fact that its last root letter ends with a ḍamma when a suffix is not attached to it. 

On the other hand, the imperfect subjunctive mood (المُضارِع المَنْصوب) implies that the last root letter should bear the fatḥa. On the same logic the imperfect jussive mood (المضارِع المَجْزوم) implies that the last root letter should bear the sukūn.

مُثَنّى
(dual)
جمع
(plural)
مُفْرَد
(singular)
المُضارِع المَرْفُوع 
Imperfect indicative 
نَحْنُ نَفْعَلُأنا أَفْعَلُالمُتَكَلِّم 
1st person 

أَنْتُما تَفْعَلانِ
أَنْتُم تَفْعَلُونَأنتَ تَفْعَلُالمُذَكَّر
(masc.)
المُخاطَب 
2nd person 
أَنْتُنَّ تَفْعَلْنَأَنتِ تَفْعَلِينَالمُؤَنَّث
(fem.)
هُما يَفْعَلانِهُم يَفْعَلُونَهُوَ يَفْعَلُالمُذَكَّر
(masc.)
الغائِب 
3rd person
هُما تَفْعَلانِهُنَّ يَفْعَلْنَهِيَ تَفْعَلُالمُؤَنَّث
(fem.)

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Future tense / المُسْتَقْبَل

There is no future conjugation in Arabic. Instead, we will use the particle before the verb. We distinguish between two future ‘forms’ in Arabic:

  • Near future / المُسْتَقْبَل القَرِيب : Used with the particle سَ attached as a prefix in front of the verb with the imperfect indicative mood (المُضارِع المَرْفُوع) to express a near future. 
  • Far future / المُسْتَقْبَل البَعِيد : A more distant future used the particle سَوْفَ before the verb (but not attached as prefix).

Near future / المُسْتَقْبَل القَرِيب

سَ + المُضارِع المَرْفُوع  (imperfect indicative mood) = المُسْتَقْبَل القَرِيب

سَيَسْتَرِيحُ بَعْدَ الدُرُوسِ
He will rest after the lessons

Far future / المُسْتَقْبَل البَعِيد

سَوْفَ + المُضارِع المَرْفُوع (imperfect indicative mood) =  المُسْتَقْبَل البَعِيد

سَوْفَ يَذْهَبُ إلى مَكّة في السَنةِ المُقْبِلةِ إِنْ شاء اللهُ
He will go to Mecca next year, God willing.

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Conjugation

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