Reading verbs

omar al-mukhtar

English Canada/Libya
I am currently learning verbal sentences and am confused on how to tell the difference between verbs that have similar subject-markers and pausal form.

For example:

تعلـّمت العربيّة هنا.

Since arabic is usually unvowelled, how does one know what the verb is refering to since it could be he/she learned, you (masc./fem) learned or I learned.
  • elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Without vowels, your only guide is context.

    By the way, in your sentence it can't be "he learned" - but it can be "I learned." :) That's probably what you meant.


    Senior Member
    elroy said:
    Without vowels, your only guide is context.

    By the way, in your sentence it can't be "he learned" - but it can be "I learned." :) That's probably what you meant.
    It can be "she learned" .
    and it cane be "The Arabic was learnt here" :) as well

    Thomas F. O'Gara

    Senior Member
    English USA
    Omar, I don't know how to convince you of this, but when you start reading "regular" Arabic (i.e., not items put together for students) you'll find that you will rarely be confused regarding what is meant.

    For one thing, bear in mind that unless you're reading dialogue or a novel written in the first person, most verbs on the printed page in written Arabic (or in printed material in any other language, for that matter) are in the third person.

    Secondly, the subject, if expressed, will follow right after the verb. If the word immediately following the verb makes no sense in the construction, then you must have a verb in the first or second person.

    In fact, the only common case I know of where it can get confusing for a student is in reading the Qur'an, since it is sometimes difficult to figure out who is talking to whom at first glance. But since the Qur'an is always printed in pointed script it shouldn't be a problem even then.

    Abu Bishr

    Senior Member
    Afrikaans, South Africa
    Hi Omar

    On the issue of Arabic reading in general and not merely the reading of verbs, one can describe the reading process as a type of hypothesis testing. In other words, you start the reading process by having a certain idea (or hypothesis) about the meaning of what you are reading, & you continuously adjust, modify & change this idea by making use of textual & contextual pointers and clues as you proceed through it. So you are forever testing a particular hypothesis in the form of an interpretation by checking to what extent it is borne out by the text and in the light of that make the necessary adjustments to your interpretation.

    This applies to reading verbs as well. You might start off by thinking that the meaning of تعلَّمت should be (you learned) and then halfway through reading the sentence or even later on in the text you conclude that it should mean (she learned) or something-else.

    The crux of the matter is both textual and contextual factors play an important role in determining the meaning of expressions that lend themselves to multiple interpretations when taken out of their contexts.
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