Verb conjugation I: Simple past tense

We keep running up against the fact that it’s difficult to give examples of vocabulary without using grammar elements that I haven’t introduced, so I’m going to roll out verb conjugations over a series of posts. Doing this across three languages, four if you count the English I’m trying to explain it in, is complicated by the fact that grammarians give different names to the same concepts in different languages, and conversely the same term might mean different things in each language.

First we look at simple past tense (“did”), which is called the “perfect” tense in my Arabic grammar book although it does not correspond to the English perfect tense (“had done”). We’re using the typical “example” verb in Arabic learning, فَعَلَ (faʿala, “to do”). These all translate as “I did,” you did,” “he/she did,” etc. Be aware that when referring to mixed gender groups, the masculine form is used no matter if the group is evenly matched by gender or lopsided; if there’s one male in the group then the group is masculine.

  • First person, singular: فَعَلتُ (faʿaltu)
  • Second person, singular (masculine): فَعَلتَ (faʿalta)
  • Second person, singular (feminine): فَعَلتِ (faʿalti)
  • Third person, singular (masculine): فَعَلَ (faʿala)
  • Third person, singular (feminine): فَعَلَت (faʿalat)
  • Second person, dual (masculine/feminine): فَعَلتُما (faʿaltumā)
  • Third person, dual (masculine): فَعَلا (faʿalā)
  • Third person, dual (feminine): فَعَلَتا (faʿalatā)
  • First person, plural: فَعَلنا (faʿalnā)
  • Second person, plural (masculine): فَعَلتُم (faʿaltum)
  • Second person, plural (feminine): فَعَلتُنَّ (faʿaltunna)
  • Third person, plural (masculine): فَعَلوا (faʿalū)
  • Third person, plural (feminine): فَعَلنَ (faʿalna)

The passive voice (“is done” rather than “does”) is formed by changing the short vowels on the first two letters of the root, so instead of فَعَلَ (faʿala), you’d say فُعِلَ (fuʿila), but all the number/person endings stay the same. This is especially fun when reading a text without short vowel markings, so you could in theory be reading a verb as active when it’s actually passive.

I won’t go into negating past tense right now, because to negate past tense in Arabic you actually need to use the present tense of the verb. That will come later.

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