The adjectival patterns / أَنْماط الصِفات

The adjectival patterns, the nisba and participle in Arabic

There’s six different adjectival patterns in Arabic which are:

  1. The active participle / اِسْم الفاعِل
  2. The passive participle / اِسْم المَفْعُول
  3. The relative adjective / النِسْبة
  4. The elative (comparative and superlative) / اسم التَفْضيل
  5. The attributive particle / الصِفة المُشَبَّهة
  6. The hyperbolic particle / صِيغة المُبالغة

We already spoke about the active and passive participles in the “augmented forms” part of the Elementary section that’s we’re only going to focus on the four latter right here.

The relative adjective (al-nisba) / النِسْبة

The meanings

The relative adjective is called نِسْبة in Arabic which means ‘relation’. It is generally used to turn a noun into an adjective by adding a يّ or (يّة in the feminine) at the end of the noun (common or proper). It may be compared to English derivational morphemes like ‘-ish, -(i)an, -ese, -i, -ic(al), -al, -ly,’. The relative adjective is to express origin, matter or relation.

Moroccanمَغْرِبِيّ
historicتارِيخِيّ
dailyيَوْمِيّ

Rules of use

  • If the noun from which the relative adjective is formed ends with a ة or begins with the defining article ال, these disappear:
educativeتَرْبيّة ← تَرْبَويّ
Emiratiالإمارات ← إماراتيّ
  • If the noun from which the relative adjective is formed ends in an alif ا/ى
    • Contains a maximum of 4 letters we replace the alif with a و in front of the يّ.
chaoticفَوضى ← فَوضَويّ
worldlyدُُنيا ← دُنيويّ
  • Contains 5+ letters the alif ا disappears
Turkishتُرْكيا ← تُرْكيّ
technologicتِكْنولوجيا ← تِكْنولوجيّ
  • If the noun from which the relative adjective is formed ends in an alif hamza اء as a feminine marker, the hamza ء is replaced by a و
deserticصَحْراء ← صَحْراويّ
Oval (egg-shaped)بَيْضاء ← بَيْضاويّ
  • If the noun from which the relative adjective is formed comes from a defective root (3rd root letter) we add a و before the يّ.
past-relatedماضٍ ← ماضَويّ
judicialقاضٍ ← قاضَويّ
  • If the noun from which the relative adjective is formed has only two letters in its root, we add a و before the يّ.
parentalأَب ← أَبَويّ
manualيَد ← يَدَويّ
  • If the noun from which the relative adjective is formed is on the pattern فَعِيلة the ي and the ة disappear.
tribalقَبِيلة ← قَبَلِيّ
civil/urbanمَدِينة ← مَدَنِيّ

Note: The relative adjective is supposed to be in the singular however daily use made it so that it can also be formed in a plural.

شُعُوبيّ
populist
← شُعُوب
people

← جَمْع
plural
← شَعْب
people
كُتُبيّ
librarian
← كُتُب
books
← كِتاب  
book

The elative (comparative and superlative) / اسم التَفْضيل

In Arabic, the concepts of comparative and superlative degrees of an adjective are merged into a single form, the elative (اِسْم التَفْضِيل). This form is expressed by the pattern أَفْعَل in Arabic. This particular pattern is diptote (مَمْنوع مِنْ الصَرْف) which is a notion we’ll cover under the ‘Advanced section’. To simplify, the form cannot have the tanwīn (indefinite ending) or kasra of the genitive case added to it, regardless of its position in the sentence or whether it is definite or indefinite.

biggerأَكْبَر
largerأَوْسَع
smallerأَصْغَر
more (numerous)أَكْثَر
less (numerous)أَقَلّ
higherأَعْلى
lowerأَدْنى
closerأَقْرَب
more farأَبْعَد
betterأَحْسَنْ / أَفْضَل
worseأَسْوَأ

Comparative sentences

The preposition مِنْ ‘from’ is used like the English preposition ‘than’ as a link between the two parts (item compared and object of comparison) of the comparative sentence. The comparative sentence thus has the following structure:

 item compared + elative + مِن + object of comparison

To express a comparison of superiority between two terms, Arabic uses the elative أَفْعَل The 2nd term of the comparison is introduced by the preposition مِنْ

Kareema is bigger than Hamzaكَرِيمةُ أَكْبَرُ مِنْ حَمْرةَ
She’s faster than her competitorsهِيَ أَسْرَعُ مِنْ مُنافِسيها
His room is bigger than mineغُرْفَتٌهُ أَوْسَعُ مِنْ غُرْفَتِي 

Certain words cannot have an elative, those include:

For those word we’ll use elatives meaning more… (..many / intense / large) followed by the verbal noun of the same root used as a tamyīz (disambiguation) (see the dedicate section). The most used elatives are:

Their company is better organized than oursشَرِكَتُهُم أَفْضَلُ تَنْظِيمًا مِن شَرِكَتِنا
He is blacker (more black) than his sisterهو أَكْثَرُ سَوادًا مِنْ أُخْتِهِ
My friend’s family is smaller [in number] than mineأسْرةُ صَديقي أَقَلُّ عَدَدًا مِن أُسْرَتِي

Superlative

The superlative is formed by making the comparative pattern أَفْعَل definite, either with the definite article …ال or with the annexation (إضافة) construction

He is the best boxerهُوَ المُلاكِم الأَفْضَلُ
He’s my youngest sonهو اِبْني الأصْغَرُ
He’s the most knowledgeable manِهُوَ أَعْلَمُ الرِجال
My wife is the most beautiful womanِزَوْجَتِي أَجْمَلُ النِساء

Some superlatives can also be used in the feminine form following the pattern فُعْلى

The worldly (lowest) lifeالحَياة الدُنْيا
Graduate (highest) Studiesالدِراسات العُلْيا
The great[est] powersالقُوَى العُظمى

Superlatives patterns can also be put in the dual and plural forms

They are the best boxersهُمُ المُلاكِمونَ الأَفْضَلُونَ
They are my two youngest sonsهما اِبْنايَ الأصْغَران
They are my oldest daughtersهُنَّ بَناتي الكُبْرَيات

Note: The two nouns/adjectives خَيْر ‘good(ness)’ and شَرّ ‘evil’ are used as comparatives and superlatives with the meanings ‘better’ and ‘worst’, respectively.

The best people are the most helpful to others (hadith from the Prophet, peace be upon him ﷺ)خَيْرُ الناسِ أَنْفَعُهُم للناسِ
Worst calamity makes one laugh (saying in Arabic)شَرُّ البَلِيّة ما يُضْحِكُ

The attributive participle / الصِفة المُشَبّهة

This is an adjective close to participles, sometimes used as a noun. It denotes the attribute of the subject and its inherence to him. The inherent character it conveys is generally what sets it apart from active and passive participles. It relates to the intransitive verb that indicates the acquisition of an attribute or state.

الأَمْثِلة 
Examples
الأَوْزان
Patterns
يَقِظ
wary
فَرِح
happy
شَرِس
aggressive
سَئِم
desperate
فَعِلٌ
صَعْب
difficult
سَهْل
easy
عَذْب
sweet/fresh (water)
ضَخْم
huge
فَعْلٌ
صُلْب
solid
حُلْو
sweet
مُرّ
bitter
حُرّ
free
فُعْلٌ
صِفْر
مِلْح
salty
فِعْلٌ
بَطَل
hero
حَسَن
beautiful
فَعَلٌ
جواد
generous
جَبان
coward
فَعالٌ
هُمام
gallant
فُرات
fresh/sweet (water)
شُجاع
brave
فُعالٌ
بَخيل
stingy
كَرِيم
generous
قَبيح
ugly
جَميل
beautiful
فَعِيلٌ
جَيِّد
good/well
مَيِّت
dead
طَيِّب
good/delicious
ضَيِّق
narrow
فَيعِلٌ
غَضْبان
(م غَضْبى)
angry
فَرْحان
(م فَرْحى)
happy
عَطْشان
(م عَطْشى)
thirsty
كَسْلان
(م كَسْلى)
lazy
فَعْلان فَعْلى)
أَحْمَق (م حَمْقاء)
ج حُمْق
foolish
أَعْرَج (عَرْجاء)
ج عُرْج
lame
أَسْوَد (م سَوداء)
ج سُود
black
أَحْمَر (حَمْراء)
ج حُمْر
red
أَفْعَل فَعْلاء) ج فُعْل
only for colors
and deformities
(physical and mental)

Note

  • The patterns فَعَل and فَعال are linked to verbs in the pattern فَعُلَ
الصِفة المُشَبَّهة
The attributive participle
فِعْل
Verb
حَسَن
beautiful
← حَسُنَ  
To be beautiful
جَبان
coward
← جَبُنَ  
To be a coward
  • The patterns فَعْلان and أفْعَل are linked to verbs in the pattern فَعِلَ
الصِفة المُشَبَّهة
The attributive participle
فِعْل
Verb
عَطْشان
thirsty
←عَطِشَ   
To be thirsty
أَحْمَق
foolish
← حَمِقَ  
To be foolish

Note 2: Some attributive particles (صِفات مُشَبَّهة) on pattern فَعِيل can adopt the same meaning as the passive participle (المَفْعول). The nuance between the two is that فَعِيل being an attributive particle (صِفات مُشَبَّهة) expresses the idea of a permanent state more deeply.

قَتِيل = مَقْتول
murdered

Note 3: Colors and deformities are built on the same pattern as of elatives (اِسْم التَفْضِيل) on the masculine form (which is أَفْعَل). Nonetheless, the feminine form of colors and deformities is فَعْلاء whereas the feminine of elatives (اِسْم التَفْضِيل) is فُعْلى. Both patterns are diptote (see dedicated section), they cannot bear the tanwīn nor the kasra. 

The hyperbolic participle / صِيغة المُبالغة

Patterns expressing intensity. It denotes the multiplication of the description or event.

الأَمْثِلة 
Examples
الأَوْزان
Patterns
كَذّاب
big lier
رَسّام
painter
جَزّار
butcher
خَبّاز
baker
فَعّالٌ
(mainly used for
trades and professions)
دَؤوب
diligent
شَكور
thankful
صَبور
patient
عَجوز
old
فَعُولٌ
عَليم
all-knowing
حَكيم
wise
سَميع
all-hearing
رَحيم
merciful
فَعيلٌ
رحّالة
globetrotter
عَلاّمة 
savant
فَعّالةٌ
قِدِّيس 
saint
سِكّير
drunkard
صِدّيق
veracious
فِعِّيلٌ
داهية
astute
نابغة
eminent
داعية
proselytizer
فَاعِلةٌ
فَرِح
joyful
عَجِل
hasty
قَلِق
anxious
حَذِر
cautious
فَعِلٌ
طُلَعة
nosy
هُمَزة 
backbiter
لُمَزة 
criticizer
فُعَلة
مِتْلاف
destroyer
مِعْطاء
generous
مِقْدام
intrepid
مِلحاح
insistent
مِفْعال
زِنْديق
heretic
صِنْديد
Brave
عِرْبيد 
bacchic
فِعْلِيل
جاسوس
spy
حاسوب
computer
فاعُول

Note: The hyperbolic particles (صِيغة المُبالغة) are usually derived from the triliteral root verbs in form I, but exceptionally, they can be connected to the verbs of the augmented forms and verbs with four root letters.

أَعْطى
to give (form IV)
← مِعْطاء
generous
← مِفْعال
عَرْبَدَ 
to roister (4 root letters)
← عِرْبيد
bacchic
← فِعْلِيل

Note 2: The hyperbolic particles (صِيغة المُبالغة) on pattern فَعول have the same meaning as the active participle فاعِل. The nuance between the two is that فَعُول being hyperbolic particles (صِيغة المُبالغة) expresses the idea of a character trait inherent to the subject. Furthermore, it has only one form for both genders feminine and masculine.

صَبُور = صابر
patient

Now, let’s test your knowledge

Adjectival patterns

The adjectival patterns

Learn about the different patterns that adjectives follow in Arabic and how they can change. Improve your understanding of Arabic grammar and syntax with our comprehensive guide on adjectival patterns.

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