Can’t We All Just Get Along? Agreement in Arabic pt. 1

There are a lot of agreement rules in Arabic. Welcome to the foundation.

Noun-Adjective Agreement

Nouns and adjectives in Arabic must agree in three ways:

1. Number
2. Gender
3. Definiteness

Starting from the bottom:

3. Definiteness.

In English, we say The beautiful girl… The big house… or The tall building… or The fast car… Or pretty much anything we can stuff into this grammatical formula:

–> (The|adjective|noun...)  [the=definite article]

[Quick Review: Noun: Person. Place. Thing. Adjective: Word that describes a person, place or thing.]

In English, we describe nouns by putting the adjective/s before it.

We see:
The old house 
all the time.
We might see:

The house old (sits quietly on yonder hill, for example) in a poem.
We would never see:
The house the old (sits quietly on yonder hill, for example)
in English. But in Arabic, that’s all we’ll see.

The beautiful girl… becomes The girl the beautiful… 
The big house… becomes The house the big…

           (The|adjective/s|noun) becomes (The noun|the adjective/s)
unless we’re talking about non-specific things. Like, ‘a beautiful girl’ or ‘an old house’. There is no indefinite article (a/an) in Arabic. You just delete ال entirely and it looks like this:
            (A(n) adjective noun) becomes (noun adjective.) 
(Note: An Arabic sentence can never begin with an indefinite noun.)

How do you say the following in Arabic? (Highlight for answers.)
The beautiful girl البنت الجميلة
The old house البيت القديم
The wide street الشارع الواسع
The long street الشارع الطويل
The tall building البناية الطويلة
The new car
My new car.
The new book
My new book.

Those last four are bonus. (See #2, below.)

A couple notes on definiteness:
1. A noun is definite when preceded by ‘the’. It is also definite when it is ‘owned’. So, ‘the book’ ‘her book’  and ‘Sarah’s book’ are all examples of a specific book.
1.5 Indefinite examples: ‘a book’ ‘someone’s book’
1.8 In English, ‘my’ ‘her’ ‘our’ are possessive adjectives, not definite articles. In Arabic, though,  ‘my’ ‘her’ ‘our’ etc make a noun definite, so here I count them the same as ‘the’. But Englishly speaking, they’re not.
2. Possession in Arabic is often indicated by iDafa (or الاضافة or ‘annexation’). It is the Arabic equivalent of apostrophe-S. I’ll tell you about that sometime.
3. You can’t start a sentence in Arabic with an indefinite noun. (I’ll explain that when we get to sentence types and structure.)

2. Gender
What is the difference between my new book and my new car ?
Structurally speaking (the|adjective|noun), nothing. This is because English doesn’t have gender. In Arabic:
My new book: كتابي الجديد
My new car:  سيارتي الجديدة
The new car: السيارة الجديدة
The new book: الكتاب الجديد
See that? ‘Book’ is masculine, ‘car’ is feminine. The adjectives take on the same gender as the noun they’re describing.

–>The new car is the new(f) the car(f)
–>The new book is the new(m) the book(m)

(Did you get ‘the tall building’ right from #3?)

1. Number
Nonhuman plurals take feminine singular.
Memorize this. Now.

What is a nonhuman plural? A noun that is not a person. Tables, boxes, cars, windows, shoes, vegetables, oceans, books, houses, cars, etc.
What is a human plural? Girls, boys, men, women, Egyptians, Palestinians, mothers, sons, etc.

So, for instance, ‘book’ in Arabic is masculine. The new book is the book(m)(s) the new(m)(s) but the new books ?

The books(m)(p) the new(f)(s) or الكتب الجديدة
Number الكتب الجديدة
Gender الكتب الجديدة
Definiteness الكتب الجديدة

Got it?

Here’s a formula to make it easier: NHP–>FS
And an example to carry with you forever: الكتب الجديدة (say it: al kutub al jadeeda al kutub al jadeeda al kutub al jadeeda. You got it!)


In short:
Adjectives morph depending on where they’re used. When the adjective comes after a masculine singular noun (kitaab), the adjective is masculine singular (jadeed). When it follows a feminine singular noun (siyyara), it becomes feminine singular (jadeeda). But when it follows  a nonhuman plural, it becomes feminine singular (al kutub al jadeeda).
Adjectives follow the nouns in order and in shape. If your noun has ال and ة , your adjective probably should, too.

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