Introduction to Arabic (Modern Standard): Lesson 1

The first thing to know about Arabic is that there are a lot of different varieties. The variety that is taught in this lesson is called Modern Standard Arabic. It is the formal version of Arabic spoken in government, business, and scholarly parlance. Another thing to know about Arabic is that it does not use the Latin alphabet used by English and most Romance languages. Instead, it uses the Arabic script. For the purposes of this course, everything will be written using the Latin alphabet for easier comprehension. Let’s jump right in!

The word for I is ana.

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Unlike many languages such as English, the present tense of the verb "to be" (am, is, and are) is not written in Arabic. That means that, to say I am, one would simply say ana. In addition, there is no word equivalent to the English "a." Now, let’s learn two very important words for people:

The word for man is rajul. If you were to say I am a man, however, you have to add something called a case ending. In this case, the ending would be -un.

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The word for woman is imra’a. The case ending here is slightly different, because imra’a is a feminine noun ending in -a. As imra’aun would not sound right, you need to go one step further and add -tun.

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While there is no Arabic equivalent to "a," there is a word for "the." This word is al- and it comes directly before the modified word. However, before certain letters, the l in al- becomes a different letter. For example, in rajul, the r changes al- to ar-. It remains the same in imra’a, however.

This al- also changes something else: the case ending! While before the case ending was -un or -tun, al- causes it to drop the final n, becoming -u or -tu. That was a lot to take in, but here’s some practice.

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Now, let’s learn some more pronouns. There are several words for "you," but the ones we’ll be concerned with are anta and anti. These are both referring to a single person, but there is a difference -- anta is used when talking to a man, and anti is used to a woman.

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That wasn’t too difficult, was it? Now let’s learn some more nouns.

The word for dog is kalb. The name Caleb actually comes from the same root as this. Dog is a masculine noun, so it takes the -un or -u endings.

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The word for cat is qitta. This is easy to remember as it sounds a lot like "kitty." Cat, on the other hand, is feminine. It takes the endings -tun or -tu.

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Remember that, since qitta is feminine, you have to use anti here! Anyway, since you probably won’t be going around calling people cats and dogs, let’s learn how to say "to have" in Arabic.

The word for I have is indee; it’s not necessary to say ana beforehand. Something important to keep in mind is that indee is NOT a verb in Arabic. It is a preposition, for reasons I don’t understand. But when you learn about verbs later, just remember that indee and its relatives are not verbs.

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There are two words for you have: indaka and indaki. Again, these correspond to gender; you can see the parallels to anta and anti with the endings -a and -i. From now on, we’ll put (m.) or (f.) to show which gender the "you" is each time.

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Let’s learn the words for this. When referring to a masculine noun, this is hadha. The dh in hadha is pronounced like the th in this, so it’s easy to remember. The feminine equivalent is hadhihi. Again, the -a and -i endings crop up, but this time there’s an -h- in the feminine version.

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Wait! Since there is no word for "to be," couldn’t hadha rajulun mean either this is a man or this man? No, because in Arabic, instead of saying this man, they say this the man. Odd!

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Remember to make your case endings agree with the article, if there is one!

Let’s learn some more words for people, just to expand our vocabulary. The word for boy is walad, which is, of course, a masculine noun, so it takes the endings without -t-. The word for girl is bint. It is a special word in that it is feminine in terms of agreement, but does not take an extra -t-, as binttun would not look very pretty. Let’s practice these:

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Let’s learn some more pronouns and ways to say "to have." In Arabic, the word for he is huwa. This can also mean it due to Arabic’s grammatical gender, for example kalb would be huwa as well as rajul. The word for she (or a feminine it) is hiya. You can remember this because of the -i ending in words like anti and hadhihi.

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The way to say he has is indahu. This is again very similar to the other forms of "to have", and the -hu ending is much like the start of huwa. You’d expect she has to be indahi, but actually it’s indaha.

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That’s all for this lesson! Come back next lesson where we learn how to ask and answer questions and how to make sentences negative.

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