Understanding the Interaction between Nouns and Adjectives in Arabic

Nouns and adjectives go hand in hand, and in Arabic you can manipulate nouns and adjectives to create little phrases. Unlike in the English language, nouns in Arabic always come before the adjective.

You can create three types of phrases by manipulating nouns and adjectives. This article examines the ways you can pair up nouns and adjectives to create definite and indefinite phrases.

Indefinite phrases

One of the most important things to remember about nouns and adjectives in Arabic is that they can be both defined and undefined using the definite article prefix al-. Hence, to create an indefinite phrase, all you do is take an undefined noun and add to it an undefined adjective. For example, to say "a big book" or "big book," you add the adjective kabiir (kah-beer; big) to the noun kitaab (kee-tab; book). So the phrase kitaab kabiir means "a big book" in Arabic. Here are some other examples of indefinite phrases featuring undefined nouns and adjectives:

  • walad Tawiil (wah-lad tah-weel; a tall boy)
  • bint jamiila (bee-net jah-mee-lah; a pretty girl)
  • rajul qawiiy (rah-jool kah-wee; a strong man)
  • 'imra'a laTiifa (eem-rah-ah lah-tee-fah; a nice woman)
  • madrasa Saghiira (mad-rah-sah sah-gee-rah; a small school)
  • Taawila Hamraa' (tah-wee-lah ham-rah; a red table)

Notice that the adjectives agree with their corresponding nouns in gender. For example, you say bint jamiila and not bint jamiil.

Adding more descriptive words to the noun is very simple: Because adjectives follow the noun in Arabic, you just add an extra adjective and you're done! But don't forget to add the conjunction wa (wah; and) between the adjectives. Check out some examples:

  • walad Tawiil wa kabiir (wah-lad tah-weel wah kah-beer; a tall and big boy)
  • bint Tawiila wa jamiila (bee-net tah-wee-lah wah jah-mee-lah; a tall and pretty girl)
  • rajul qawiiy wa sarii' (rah-jool kah-wee wah sah-reeh; a strong and fast man)
  • 'imra'a laTiifa wa qawiiya (eem-rah-ah lah-tee-fah wah kah-wee-yah; a nice and strong woman)
  • madrasa Saghiira wa bayDaa' (mad-rah-sah sah-gee-rah wah bay-dah; a small and white school)
  • Taawila Hamraa' wa qaSiira (tah-wee-lah ham-rah wah kah-see-rah; a red and short table)

Definite phrases

The biggest difference between creating an indefinite phrase and a definite phrase is the use of the definite article prefix al-. Both noun and adjective must be defined using the definite article prefix. For example, to say "the big book," you say al-kitaab al-kabiir. Here are some examples of definite phrases:

  • al-walad aT-Tawiil (al-wah-lad ah-tah-weel; the big boy)
  • al-bint al-jamiila (al-bee-net al-jah-mee-lah; the pretty girl)
  • ar-rajul al-qawiiy (ah-rah-jool al-kay-wee; the strong man)
  • al-'imra'a al-laTiifa (al-eem-rah-ah ah-lah-tee-fah; the nice woman)
  • al-madrasa aS-Saghiira (al-mad-rah-sah ah-sah-gee-rah; the small school)
  • aT-Taawila al-Hamraa' (ah-tah-wee-lah al-ham-rah; the red table)

Using similar patterns, you can create a defined phrase using multiple adjectives. Just like in indefinite phrases, make sure you use the conjunction wa in between adjectives:

  • al-walad aT-Tawiil wa al-kabiir (al-wah-lad ah-tah-weel wah al-kah-beer; the tall and big boy)
  • al-bint aT-Tawiila wa al-jamiila (al-bee-net ah-tah-wee-lah wah al-jah-mee-lah; the tall and pretty girl)
  • ar-rajul al-qawiiy wa as-sarii' (ah-rah-jool al-kah-wee wah ah-sah-reeh; the strong and fast man)
  • al-'imra'a al-laTiifa wa al-qawiiya (al-eem-rah-ah al-lah-tee-fah wah al-kah-wee-yah; the nice and strong woman)
  • al-madrasa aS-Saghiira wa al-bayDaa' (al-mad-rah-sah ah-sah-gee-rah wah al-bay-dah; the small and white school)
  • aT-Taawila al-Hamraa' wa al-qaSiira (ah-tah-wee-lah al-ham-rah wah al-kah-see-rah; the red and short table)
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