Kāna and its sisters / كانَ وأَخَواتُها

Kāna and its sisters / كانَ وأَخَواتُها

Kana and its sisters are verbs when placed as head constituents of a nominal sentence, put the information/predicative complement (الخَبَر) in the accusative case (مَنْصُوب); this is opposite to ‘Inna and its sisters’. 

The verb كانَ originally means ‘to be’. Because the nominal sentence (الجُمْلة الاسمية) doesn’t note the tense in Arabic, we need to precede it with the verb كانَ (= to be) as a temporal exponent if we want to place it clearly in the past.

According to Arabic grammarians, a verb is an action correlated to a tense. Kāna is mainly used as a complement to time and lacks the ‘action’ condition. For that very reason, it is not considered to be fully a verb in Arabic even though it has its own conjugation

Henceforth, when كانَ is put as the head constituent of a nominal sentence, the sentence doesn’t become a verbal sentence but the subject (المُبْتَدأ) following it is then called اِسْم كانَ (noun of kāna) and remains in the nominative case (مَرفُوع), while the predicate called خَبَر كانَ (predicate of kāna) turns into the accusative case (if it is a noun or an adjective).  

Kāna time values 

Depending on its use كانَ can express several nuances in the tenses which their English equivalent would be:

1. Past tense as a head constituent of a nominal sentence (الجُمْلة الاسميّة):

ExampleConstruction
كانَ الطَقْسُ مُشْمِسًا و حارًّا فِي الصَبْاحِ 
The weather was sunny and hot this morning
كانَ + جُمْلة اسمية

2. Past progressive or past habitual followed by a verb in the imperfect (present) indicative tense ( المُضارِع المَرفُوع):

ExampleConstruction
كُنّا نَخْرُجُ من الجامِعةِ
We were getting out of the university
كانَ + المُضارِع المَرْفُوع

3. Pluperfect when followed by a verb in the perfect (past) tense (الماضي):

ExampleConstruction
كانَتْ قَدْ اِسْتَعَدَّتْ لِعَرْضِها
She had prepared for her presentation
كانَ + قَدْ + الماضي

4. Future perfect when put in the future tense followed by a perfect (past) tense verb (الماضي):

ExampleConstruction
سأَكُونُ قَد جَلَسْتُ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَتَكَلَّمَ المُعَلِّمُ
I will have sat down before the teacher speaks
سَ+ يَكونُ + قَدْ + الماضي

Note: If the subject (المُبْتَدأ) was a detached pronoun, in the nominal sentence without كان, it will be implied in the temporal exponent conjugated كانَ.

كُنّا مُرْهَقِينَ
We were exhausted
? نَحْنُ مُرْهَقُونَ
We are exhausted

Kāna’s conjugation / تَصْريف كان

Perfect tense / الماضي

مُثَنّى (dual)جمع (plural)مُفْرَد (singular)الماضي
Perfect tense
كُنّاكُنْتُالمُتَكَلِّم 
1st person 

كُنْتُما
كُنْتُمكُنْتَالمُذَكَّر
masc.
المُخاطَب 
2nd person 
كُنْتُنَّكُنْتِالمُؤَنَّث
fem.
كانَاكانُواكانَالمُذَكَّر
masc.
الغائِب 
3rd person
كانَتاكُنَّكانَتْالمُؤَنَّث
fem.

Imperfect indicative tense / المُضارِع المَرْفوع

مُثَنّى (dual)جمع (plural)مُفْرَد (singular)المُضارِع المَرْفوع
Imperfect indicative tense
نَكُونُأَكُونُالمُتَكَلِّم 
1st person 
تَكُونانِتَكُونُونتَكُونُالمُذَكَّر
masc.
المُخاطَب 
2nd person
 
تَكُنَّتَكُونِينَالمُؤَنَّث
fem.
يَكُونانِيَكُونُونيَكُونُالمُذَكَّر
masc.
الغائِب 
3rd person
تَكُونانِيَكُنَّتَكُونُالمُؤَنَّث
fem.

Kana’s sisters

We usually divide kāna and its sisters into three separate categories:

  • Complete verbs / أفعال تامة التصرف: those are the verbs that exist in all three conjugation tenses in Arabic, perfect, imperfect, and imperative.
  • Incomplete verbs / أفعال ناقصة التصرف: those are the verbs that only exist in the perfect and imperfect tenses.
  • Frozen verbs / أفعال جامدة: those are the verbs that only exist in the perfect tense.

أَفْعال جامِدة
Frozen verbs 
أَفْعال ناقِصة التَصَرُّف
Incomplete verbs
أَفْعال تامّة التَصَرُّف
Complete verbs
لَيْسَ
nominal sentence negation
ما زالَ
to still do /to continue to do
كانَ
to be
صارَ
to become
أَصْبَحَ
to become
ما دامَ
as long as
ما بَرِحَ
to still do /to continue to do
ظلَّ
to still do /to continue to do
باتَ
to become
ما ظَلَّ
as long as
ما اِنْفَكَّ
to still do /to continue to do
أَمْسَى 
to become
ما فَتِئَ
to still do /to continue to do
أَضْحى 
to become

✨ Try out the automatic verb conjugator here

Note: At the exception of كانَ all the complete verbs also have a 2nd original meaning when not used as a temporal exponent.

Note 2: The incomplete verbs (الأَفْعال الناقِصة التَصَرُّف) are translated as ‘to cease’, ‘disappear’, and/or ‘go away’. When accompanied by the negative particle ما in the perfect tense, or لا in the imperfect tense, they mean “is still (doing)” and/or “continues to (do)“. Both tenses have an identical significance.

لا يَزالَ يَدْرُسُ في الجامعةِ
He’s still studying at university
ما زالَ يَدْرُسُ في الجامعةِ
He’s still studying at university
لا تَنْفَكَُ تَعْمَلُ في اللَّيْلِ
She’s still working at night
ما اِنْفَكَّتْ تَعْمَلُ في اللَّيْلِ
She’s still working at night
لا نَبْرَحُ المَكانَ
We are still in place
ما بَرِحْنا المَكانَ
We are still in place

Note 3: The ما used for frozen verbs (الأَفْعال جامِدة) isn’t the negative particle used for incomplete verbs but rather the relative particle.

I will work as long as I liveسَأَعْمَلُ ما دُمْتُ حيًّا
She will disturb us as long as she stays in our houseسَتُزْعِجُنا ما ظَلّتْ في بَيْتِنا

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Kāna and its sisters

Understand the Arabic verbs 'Kāna' and its sisters with examples and exercises. Learn how to use them in past tense sentences and expand your language skills.

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Course Provider Name: ArabiKey

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