The Arabic Liturgy - grammar questions

Hi all,

I've been trying to learn the liturgy in Arabic but some of the grammar is confusing me - there are a couple of things I don't understand:

First of all, in the Anaphora, the priest says, "Irfa3ou Qoloubakom" and the reply is, "Heyya 3and el-Rab" - shouldn't it be 'HOMMA 3and el-Rab?' since 'hearts' is plural and male (I think)? I noticed that it's common to refer to plural male objects as singular female, but I can't figure out why or when this happens ...

I know that it's very formal and not used colloquially, but another thing throwing me off is use of the 'tanwin' at the end of words (the 'un'/'an'/'in' used for verbs and adjectives). I know that it's used on the end of adjectives when they're used to describe something, so when we say 'Holy Holy Holy' we say 'Qoddousun' but I can't tell what it's purpose is when Abouna says: 'Imla Qoloobana faraHan wa Na3eeman' or 'Lekayna koona gasadan wahedan' etc. Here, the words with the tanwin are nouns, not adjectives - does anybody know why they are placed there?

Sorry to be long winded :) Hopefully there's some Arabic expert out there who can shed some light on these things.

God bless and pray for me


  • non-human plurals (male and female) are given feminine singular adjectives in formal arabic. sorry i don't know why!
    about the tanwin, i think there are certain words which need the tanwin after them.
    my book says eg.s are 'laysa' and 'kaan'. eg. 'i am not ill' is 'ana laysa maridan' not 'ana laysa marid'. of course, in egyptian arabic we would say 'ana mish marid' so we don't need to worry about the tanwin so much.
    this eg. uses adjectives, but the noun and adjective have to agree, that is if the adjective needs the tanwin, the noun does too. so i'm assuming that, in formal arabic there is some rule that says the verb 'make' (imla) and also 'lekayna' need the tanwin.

    i am 100% sure someone can explain it better (johns2000 is very good at arabic lessons) but maybe this will help till they are free to post a reply  :)

  • Well thank you mabsoota for the nice compliment!! I feel flattered  :)

    Believe it or not I was much better at French than Arabic during school, I was that weak in Arabic to be in constant need of taking private lessons! But I bite the bait (just joking :D you're such a good communicator) - oh yes I'm francophone!

    You're doing pretty well in Arabic yourself mabsoota.
    Hope you find enough time for good studying!

    epchois and mabsoota,

    I had to ask of course, this info could need improvement later.

    the reply is, "Heyya 3and el-Rab"

    in Arabic grammar it's called gam3 moanath salem, consider as irregular nouns tho widely used mainly because with time they're proved to sound nicer! there is also an added hidden meaning here that is: 'all our hearts' or 'all of them'. Many masculine nouns were conveniently ended with a kasra sound in plural (a feminine sign in case of a pronoun) that's why with time they were grammatically feminine when used in plural form.

    we say 'Qoddousun'

    the main reason for the tanueen (a double damma ending stop) is because tho repeated thrice, each is a complete sentence formed of a single word; an possibly added literary reason in the case of this special status noun would be the sound of nun al-tawkeed (a nun sound affirming the meaning), tho it's written in Arabic without the nun, only tanueen by diacritics.

    when Abouna says: 'Imla Qoloobana faraHan wa Na3eeman'

    this seems easier! generally the sentence means 'we hope You fill our hearts with joy and grace' so qoloobana is maf3ul behe (with a fatha diacritic/sign plus the pronoun also) and farahan is a second maf3ul behe (maf3ul thany) so it takes also a fatha sign tho being twice fatha (also a literary tawkeed sound helping to confirm the uniqueness of the farah), while na3eeman is grammatically considered a repetition (it follows it takes the same double fatha) as well as to reinforce the meaning (a na3et).

    Please correct me if wrong.

    ;) I won't bite!

  • tanween is used to indicate indefiniteness in Arabic.  Tanween may be applied to adjectives or nouns.  When you apply tanween to verbs it serves a different purpose. 

    Here are some examples involving nouns:
    al farah - the joy
    farahun - joy

    al 3adhra' - the virgin
    3adhra'un - a virgin

    al kaneesa - the church
    kaneesatun - a church

    And now involving adjectives (*note these adjectives are substantives; Google substantives for more info):
    al quddusu - the holy one
    quddusun - a holy one

    al raheemu - the merciful one
    raheemun - a holy one

    al sama'iyu - the heavenly one
    sama'yiun - a heavenly one

    Notice that any word with the definite article "al" is a definite noun and therefore cannot take tanween.  (Tanween btw in English is called "nunation" because you add the letter nun at the end.)  You will also notice that all the nunated words do not have the definite article "al".  The parallels in English are clear: definite = al = the;  indefinite = no al = nunation = a.
    Al ilah al quddusu - the Holy God
    ilahun quddusun - a Holy God
    In the second example the word Ilah is nunated because it is indefinite; and the adjective quddus is nunated because it must agree in case with the noun it modifies.

    Because there is no "to be" verb in Arabic as in English (I am, You are, He is, etc.), nunation is used instead.  So, the phrase, "You are Holy O God", becomes "Anta quddusun ya allah."  This is the closest translation Arabic can provide.  Notice, if you look above, this Arabic sentence actually amounts to "You are a Holy One O God."  However, even though this is slightly different than the English, Arabic speakers still understand the real meaning.

    Now, as to difference between un/an/in.  Un means Nominative Case, An means Accusative Case, In means Genitive Case.  If you don't know what these cases are then Google them.  Having established nunation as a way to make nouns and adjectives indefinite, we now move to the sentence you provided:  Imla' quloobana farahan wa na3eeman.  The translation in English is "Fill our hearts with joy and gladness.  There are two things to note here.  1) farah and na3eem are two nouns, they are both nunated (which means they are indefinite), and the nunation on both of them is -an (which means they are in accusative case).  This makes sense because they are both objects of the verb "imla'" which means to fill.  The nunation indicates that we are not talking about any specific joy or gladness.  We are asking God to fill our hearts with joy and gladness in a general sense and not any particular type of joy and gladness.

    To recap:
    1) There are two uses of tanween:
        a) makes nouns and adjectives indefinite
        b) verbs - I didn't talk about this use here because it deserves its own post, maybe later

    2) There are three ways of forming tanween: un, an, in
        a) any word that has un is nominative case - it is the subject of a sentence
        b) any word that has an is accusative case - it is the object of a sentence
        c) any word that has in is genitive case - it either shows possession or is the second term of an Idafa construction
        d) any noun or adjective that takes either of the above three is indefinite meaning that, when translated, there should be no "the" before it
  • Thank you Archdeacon that's good info.

    (mabsoota: I told you!)
  • Wow thank you all for your replies :D Very helpful! That's made it a lot clearer. I'm sure I'll have more questions soon enough ;)

    God bless you all,
  • Dear all,
    I'm so impressed by the number of you who are trying to learn Arabic to get more involved and understand more the Coptic liturgy... and now you see where this is going... it's really so sad we left out the original language of the church and stuck to convenience and ease "the language of the oppressor". Should we not all have been very keen on learning the Coptic grammar rather than Arabic? Even the monk in our church went back to his monastery in Egypt to find for the first time that they scrapped reading the epistles in Coptic.... how sad?
    Anyway I just want you to note one thing: not everything in your kholagy's is uniform and consistent as it seems but what John_s2000 and Archdeacon pointed out makes perfect sense although they must know without probably needing me to say that the Arabic grammar is extremely complicated and there are many things which can fit either way, meaning that it can once be pronounced with an en nunation and yet can in the same sentence be pronounced with an un nunation. Although I lived 26 years of my life in Egypt I wouldn't have matched john_s2000's or archdeacon's posts... well done
    [coptic][/coptic]Oujai qen p[c
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