4.2 Grammar: Idafa construct, was/were structure and object pronouns

In this section

  • You will learn about the grammar of “Idafa construct” as a frequent structure in Arabic.
  • You will also use the structure “was/were + verb” in talking about past continuous actions or childhood memories.
  • You will review object pronouns and extend your skills in sentence structure in Arabic.

Grammar (1)

Idafa structure in Arabic

The construct phrase or الإضافة refers to a relationship of possession or belonging. In kinship terms, the way it is phrased is parallel to the English structure X of Y as in “sister of Mohamed” أخت محمد and in “son of my uncle” ابن عمي . The table below gives you more examples of this use of الإضافة and how it relates to possessive pronouns:

Examples of الإضافة
his father والده Father of Ahmed والد أحمد
her car سيارتها Car of Layla سيارة ليلى
their car صورتهم Picture of my relatives صورة أقاربي

In the Idafa Structure, the first part should be indefinite and the second part definite. By the first part we refer to the possessed thing, for example: “book”. The second part is the possessor: “the teacher”. The structure always goes as “Book of the teacher” with the definite article on the second part, not on the first. Definiteness in Arabic can be marked by different ways: proper nouns; possessive pronouns; or the regular definite article. The Idafa structure can be longer than two words, in which case the definiteness comes in the end. Examples:

Examples of Idafa structure with more than two words
University of state of Michigan جامعة ولاية ميشيغان
Car of the husband of the sister of the teacher سيارة زوج أخت الأستاذ
Cousin of the uncle of the father of Mahmoud ابن عم والد محمود

Activity (5): Choose the correct Idafa structure in each of the following sentences.


Activity (6): Translate these sentences to or from Arabic paying attention to Idafa structures. Post your responses to the textbox below. 

(1)                خالة صاحبي تعمل في مكتبة كلية الحقوق

(2)            I don’t know the address of my friend’s house.

(3)          أقارب والدي يعيشون في فلوريدا.

(4)            My aunt’s husband teaches in the college of engineering.

(5)           أدرس تاريخ الشرق الأوسط في جامعة شيكاغو

6)            The family’s picture is in my grandmother’s room.

(7)          كتاب اللغة العربية فيه دروس صعبة

(8)            My grandfather’s house is big, and it has many rooms.

(9)          لا أعرف عنوان بناية مكتب القبول في الجامعة

(10)         I have a letter from my uncle’s wife.


Grammar (2)

The verb “was/were” 

The verb كان indicates a past tense (was/were). Learn how it is conjugated with different pronouns.

Translation Conjugation Pronoun
I was كنتُ أنا
You (m.) were

كنتَ أنتَ
You (f.) were كنتِ أنتِ
He was كانَ هو
She was كانتْ هي
We were كنا نحن
You (pl). were كنتم أنتم
They were كانوا هم

The verb كان indicates a past tense (was/were). Learn how it is conjugated with different pronouns.

When it is followed by a verb, it conveys the past progressive as “I was writing” or “She was listening.” In this case, the following verb is conjugated in the present tense. It can also convey the meaning of “I used to write” or “She used to listen.” Study the following table:

Translation Conjugation Pronouns
I used to like كنتُ أحب أنا
You (m.) used to like كنتَ تحب أنتَ
You (f.) used to like كنتِ تحبين أنتِ
He used to like كان يحب هو
She used to like كانتْ تحب هي
We used to like كنا نحب نحن
We used to like كنتم تحبون أنتم
They used to like كانوا يحبون هم

Activity (7): In class. Share memories of your childhood following the model sentences below. 

      في طفولتي كنتُ أحب أن أشاهد (سبونج بوب)

       في طفولتي كنتُ أحب أن آكل كاندي وشيكولاتة

Activity (8): Test yourself. Check the correct conjugation of كان in each of the following sentences.

Activity (9): Translate into Arabic with attention to the forms of كان in each of the following sentences.

(1)        I was in class with my classmates.

(2)        Sally was in the restaurant yesterday with her sweetheart.

(3)        My grandfather was listening to the news on the TV.

(4)        In our childhood, we used to love chocolate.

(5)        Max and his classmate were writing their homework in the library.

(6)       I was reading the news in my classmate’s room before class.

(7)       My classmates were writing their homework at the library yesterday.


Grammar (3)

Object pronouns 

When pronouns function as objects in the sentence, they get attached to the end of the verb. Object pronouns are equivalent to (me, his, her) in English. Study the following list.

meaning object pronoun subject pronoun
me ــــني أنا
you (m.) ـــكَ أنتَ
you (f.) ــــكِ أنتِ
him ـــه هو
her ــها هي
you (pl.) ـــكم أنتم
us ـــنا نحن
them ـــهم هم


Object pronouns mainly attach to the end of the verb, but sometimes they attach to the end of the proposition as in:

In it فيه / فيها
From him/her/it مِنه / منها
To him/her/it إليه / إليها

Activity (10): Test yourself. Fill in the gaps with the appropriate phrase guided by the provided clues between brackets.


Key Takeaways

  • Idafa structure is a very common structure in Arabic. It is a noun-noun structure with the first part indefinite and the second part indefinite.
  • Object pronouns are attached as suffixes to the end of verbs.


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Elementary Arabic II Copyright © 2021 by Ayman Mohamed and Sadam Issa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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