The Past tense in Gulf Arabic .
Arabic past tense verb conjugation. Talking About Things in the Past
It’s time to tackle the past tense! In Arabic, the past tense will adapt depending on whom it refers to: me, you, them, he, she, etc.
You might be surprised that we are starting our journey with the past tense instead of the present. Well, in Arabic, it’s the past tense that makes the “root” of the other forms of the verb, as well as all other words that are related in meaning.
So, the past tense for “he” is actually the “perfect” form of any verb; that is, it is the most basic form of the word from which all adaptations will be made.
To see these forms in action, let’s take a look at three different verbs as examples: drink, listen / hear and pay.
The same patterns run through all three of the verb examples. There are many more verbs that will fit these patterns. You’ll also notice that the past tense form for أَنَا (anā) “I” and إِنْتَ (inta) “you” (masc.) are the same.
With أَنَا “I” and إِنْتَ “you” (masc., singular), the letter تْ (t) is added to the end of the perfect form of the verb.
With إِنْتِ “you (fem. singular),” تِ (ti) is added to the end of the perfect form of the verb.
With إِنْتُوا “you (plural),” تُوا (tū) is added to the end of the perfect form of the verb.
With إِحْنَا “we,” نَا (nā) is added to the end of the perfect form of the verb.
With هُمَّ “they,” ـُوا (ū) is added to the end of the perfect form of the verb.
If the subject is not explicitly named, the pronoun هُوَّ (huwwa) “he” comes with the perfect form of the verb.
With هِيَ (hiyya) “she,” ـِتْ (it), is added to the end of the perfect form of the verb.
Gulf Arabic: Variation in vowel patterns.
Whether a verb has the a-a, i-a or
u-a vowel pattern has to be learnt – there is no reliable rule that predicts
it, and there is a certain amount of variation in vowel patterns from
area to area within the Gulf region.
_ Basic forms
The basic form of the
past tense of the first group of verbs we will consider (Theme I verbs)
consists of a consonant skeleton C-C-C (where C = consonant) to which
one of three vowel patterns is applied: a-a, i-a or u-a. Thus CaCaC , CiCaC and CuCaC are the possible Theme I basic forms
. Typical examples of the three types are sharab ʻto drinkʼ (sh-r-شربb), kitab ʻto
writeʼ (k-t-b) and kubar ʻto grow old/bigʼ (k-b-r). In fact, although verbs
are always, by convention, listed in vocabularies and dictionaries in
this basic form, and translated into English as infinitives, they are in
fact the 3rd person masculine singular form, and mean literally ʻhe
drankʼ, ʻhe wroteʼ and ʻhe grew oldʼ. There is no infinitive in Arabic
(though there is a verbal noun, equivalent to ʻ(the act of) drinking,
writingʼ, etc., as we shall see later).
To this basic form of the verb are added suffixes denoting gender
and number. As you will notice below, the second vowel of the vowel
pattern (a) is dropped in certain persons of the verb. The full paradigms
of our model verbs are:
|أنت شْرَبْت |
You drank (M)
You drank (F)
You drank (Pl )
|ا هو شْرَبْ|
|ا هي شْرَبْت|
|هم شْرَبُوا |
You cooked (M)
You cooked (F)
you cooked (pl)
sharab ʻto drinkʼ
|kitab ʻto writeʼ||kubar ʻto grow oldʼ|
1 The 3rd person feminine and plural are of the general form CvCCat
and CvCCaw. The ʻvʼ is i except in CuCaC-type verbs, when it is
2 In some areas of the Gulf, and especially in the speech of older or
uneducated people, alternative forms for CvCCat/w are often heard.
These alternatives have the general form iCCvCat/w. Thus, instead
of kítbat ʻshe wroteʼ, one hears iktíbat, and instead of shírbaw ʻthey
drankʼ one hears ishríbaw. It is as well to be aware of such forms,
though it might sound odd if you imitated them.
You cleaned (M)
You cleaned (F)
You clean (Pl)
|هم نظفون |
You called (M)
You called (F)
you called (Pl)
|اهو تصل |
_ Suffixed forms
When the personal pronoun suffixes are added to the verb forms
described so far, a number of changes occur:
1 If the verb form ends in a vowel, this vowel is lengthened and
becomes stressed. Thus:
kitabti ʻyou (f.) wroteʼ
kitabti + ha kitabtiiha ʻyou (f.) wrote it (f.)ʼ
kitabna ʻwe wroteʼ
kitabna + ha kitabnaaha ʻwe wrote it (f.)ʼ
If the pronoun suffix also begins with a vowel, the final vowel of the
verb form is likewise lengthened but the initial vowel of the suffix is
kitabti + ah kitabtiih ʻyou (f.) wrote it (m.)ʼ
sima3na + ich sima3naach ʻwe heard you (f.)ʼ
3 In the case of the 2nd and 3rd person plural, the final -aw changes
to oo on suffixation:
sim3aw + ik sim3ook ʻthey heard you (m.)ʼ
sima3taw + ah sima3tooh ʻyou (pl.) heard it/himʼ
The paradigms below summarise the rules for forming suffixed forms
that (a) involve verb form + vowel-initial suffix and (b) involve verb form
- consonant-initial suffix:
(a) ʻto hearʼ + -ik or -ah (b) ʻto hearʼ + -kum or -hum
Sima3tik I-you (m.) sima3tkum I-you (pl.)
Sima3tah you (m.)-him sima3thum you (m.)-them
Sima3tiih you (f.)-him sima3tíihum you (f.)-them
Sima3ah he-him sima3hum he-them
Sim3atah she-him sim3athum she-them
Sima3naak we-you (m.) sima3naakum we-you (pl.)
Sima3tooh you (pl.)-him sima3toohum you (pl.)-them
Sim3ooh they-him sim3oohum they-them
_ The negative (past tense)
Past-tense verbs are made negative by prefixing maa to the verb form.
Darabhum ʻhe hit themʼ
maa Darabhum ʻhe didnʼt hit themʼ
With a falling intonation (–|) on the syllable following the stress:
Darabhum ʻhe hit themʼ
maa Darabhum ʻhe didnʼt hit themʼ
a simple statement of fact is indicated. A question is indicated by an
intonation pattern that rises sharply (–|) on the syllable following the
Darabhum? ʻDid he hit them?ʼ
maa Darabhum? ʻDidnʼt he hit them?ʼ
When one wishes to ask a more open-ended question, the phrase walla
la (ʻor not?ʼ) with a falling intonation (–|) is used:
Darabhum walla la? ʻDid he hit them or not?ʼ