Jan 3, 2010

The richness of the Arabic Language ( Sentence structures)

Dr Fadl Samarai a famous Arabic Grammarian in the Arab world compared the Arabic language to a highly sophisticated, state of the art computer alongside the English language (or any other language) which he compared to an obsolete and outdated computer. This might sound a bit biased considering he is an Arab, a Muslim and a famous Arabic Grammarian on Arab TV, however he has very good reason to make this comparison once we examine the Arabic language in a bit more detail.

Before we can understand this comparison we need to understand the difference between a declining language like Arabic and a non-declining language like the English language.

Let's take the following 3 simple sentences in both Arabic and English:

1. Khalid came

جَاءَ خَالِدٌ

2. I saw Khalid

رَأَيْتُ خَالِداً

3. I went with khalid

ذَهَبْتُ مَعَ خَالِدٍ

In all 3 sentences Khalid is written the same way in English regardless of what role it plays in the sentence.

On the other hand you will notice the name Khalid in Arabic (خَالِد) changes depending on its role in the sentence (Khalid(un), Khalid(an) and Khalid(in) respectively). In the first sentence he is the doer, the second he is the object and the third he followed by the word مَعَ (with). Most nouns and verbs in Arabic decline depending on their role in the sentence.

Declension, as Dr Fadl explains gives the Arabic language an added dimension of being able to communicate what one wants to say in the most precise way possible that English and other non declining languages are not able to do.

Comparison of one simple sentence

Let us take a simple sentence in English and translate it to Arabic

Muhammad gave Khalid a book

أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ خَالِداً كِتَاباً

In English we are limited to the proper sentence structure which needs to be adhered to. If we were to rearrange the same words of the sentence in random order as follows:

gave a Muhammad Khalid book

It would make absolutely no sense. Also if we wanted to say the same sentence in another way we would need to bring in a new word or change a word with one of its synonyms.

On the other hand!

In Arabic we can use the same words (with same function in the sentence) and rearrange them in 10 different ways:

أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ خَالِداًً كِتَاباً

مُحَمَّدٌ أَعْطَى خَالِداً كِتَاباً

كِتَاباً أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ خَالِداً

كِتَاباًً خَالِداً أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ

كِتَاباً خَالِداً مُحَمَّدٌ أَعْطَى

أَعْطَى خَالِداًً كِتَاباً مُحَمَّدٌ

أَعْطَى خَالِداً مُحَمَّدٌ كِتَاباً

أَعْطَى كِتَاباً مُحَمَّدٌ خَالِداًً

أَعْطَى كِتَاباًً خَالِداًً مُحَمَّدٌ

In all 10 sentences the same words are used with each word having the same function in the sentence. Each of the 10 sentences can be translated back into English as "Muhammad gave Khalid a book"

Now the question will arise what is the point. Would this not make the other 9 forms redundant since they all have the same meaning. Actually they all have the same general meaning with a subtle difference in each based on the positioning of the words.

Let's take some examples:

أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ
خَالِداً  كِتَاباًً

One did not know anything of the event (i.e. Muhammad giving Khalid a book) prior to hearing it. In other words, this is completely new information for the person hearing it.


مُحَمَّدٌ أَعْطَى
خَالِداً  كِتَاباً

One is aware that Khalid received a book but is unaware of the person who gave it to him. So one would ask "Who gave Khalid the book?" and this would be the response.


كِتَاباً أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ

One is aware that Khalid received something from Muhammad but is unaware of what he gave. So one would ask "What did Muhammad give Khalid?" and this would be the response.


خَالِداً ً أَعْطَى مُحَمَّدٌ

One is aware that Muahmmad gave something to someone but is unaware of what was given and to whom it was given to. So one would ask "What did Muhammad give and to whom it he give it to?" and this would be the response.

And so on…….

This is one example of how English seems quite powerless when compared with the Arabic language.

The Miracle of the Qur'an

Dr Fadl has written many books on the linguistic miracle of the Qur'an and I will try to share some of what he says. Much of his work is taken from Islamic scholars and grammarians of the past although he has added a substantial amount of his own insights.

One aspect of the miraculous nature of the Qur'anic language lies in the precision of its words. As Imam al-Suyuti said in al-Itqan fi Uloom al-Qur'an,

"It is possible to convey a single meaning with a variety of words, some more expressive than others. Likewise for the two parts – subject and predicate – of a sentence; each may be expressed in the most eloquent manner when taken alongside the other. Therefore, it is necessary [in good composition] to consider the overall meaning of a sentence, then to consider every single word that may be used to convey that meaning, and then to use the most appropriate, expressive and eloquent of those words. This is impossible for man to do consistently, or even most of the time, but it is well within the Knowledge of Allah [whose knowledge is boundless], and thus the Qur'an was considered the best and most eloquent of all speech…"

I have completed a course on this aspect of Rhetoric related to sentence structures and the associated meanings associated with changing word positions. The course information is found HERE


  1. i would have been interested to know what all ten sentences mean, you only translated the subtle differences of four.

  2. As-salaamu alaykum. Dear brother, would you translate the remaining sentences? I would like to see how the remaining shades of meaning differ. Jazaakumullahu khairan