How to Spot Idaafa and Become an Arabic Ninja

Photo: Haraz Mountains, Yemen. (Rod Waddington/Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

I found this amazing book call 'All the Arabic You Never Learned the First Time Around' by James M. Price, he explains Arabic grammar simply, easily and with sass, I love it.

Idaafa is an essential concept, without it he says:

'you will never understand Arabic above the level of a two year old, or of an American journalist.'

Oof, guilty.

I'm pretty sure before I read this I hadn't got much past a two term idaafa, which is crazy, no wonder I find reading so difficult!

So What is an Idaafa?

∙ Idaafa indicate possession and consist of two or more nouns

∙ If the last term is indefinite, the whole thing is indefinite.

∙ If the last term is definite, the whole thing is definite.

∙ The first term of an idaafa can be in any case required in the sentence
∙ All terms other than the first must be genitive
∙ Only the last term can take nunation (if it is indefinite)


3-Term Idaafas

∙ An idaafa can have unlimited terms but you’ll rarely see more than four, lets go through a couple of examples:

∙ It's indefinite because the last term is indefinite
∙ The second term is genative because everything but the first term must be genitive
∙The second term doesn’t have nunation because it is followed by another term
∙The last term has nunation because it is indefinite


∙ It's definite because the last term is definite
∙ The second term is genitive because everything but the first term must be genitive
∙ The last term has no nunation because it is definite
∙ The last term is the only one that can have the definite article



∙ Only the last term can have the definite article, and adjectives cannot be the second term.

Idaafas and Demonstratives

∙ Whenever you see two nouns or more in a row and the first noun doesn’t have a definite article (or pronoun suffix) then assume it’s an idaafa

∙ Nothing can come between two terms of an idaafa except demonstratives
(plus their plural and dual forms هذا   هذه   ذلك   تلك)


Idaafas and Possessive Pronouns

∙ Possessive pronouns are considered definite — they define the noun they’re attached to
∙ Possesive pronouns attached to a noun are considered to be in an idaafa relationship
∙ It is quite common for an idaafa to end with a pronoun suffix, this makes the entire idaafa definite


I've started using these rules to go through short articles and try and identify idaafa, hopefully these exercises will help my reading comprehension :)