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A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language

A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language by J.A. Haywood and H.M. Nahmad

Primary Use:Mastering Classical and Modern Arabic grammar
Format:52 chapters, most of them including:
  1. Lesson
  2. New Vocabulary
  3. Translation Exercises
Key:Separate volume
Meant For:Beginner to advanced


This book, as stated in its preface, is meant to replace the old Rev. G.W. Thatcher’s Grammar and make the study of Arabic grammar more accessible for the ‘modern student.’ This idea is somewhat ironic, as this book – originally published in 1962 – now contains many outdated notions and terminologies of its own, such as referring to Sri Lanka as Ceylon. Later editions, such as the one published in 2003, do not bother to rectify these issues. As Arabic grammar hasn’t changed much in the past decades (let alone centuries), this somewhat antiquated approach presents only minor problems for today’s student.

This book is extremely thorough in its approach to Arabic grammar, drawing not just from Modern Arabic but including examples from Classical Arabic as well. Occasionally the book is almost too thorough, presenting copious amounts of exceptions to a rule and thus implying that exceptions are far more common in the language than they actually are. Some chapters also have so much information contained in them that it seems it would have been better to split it up into several chapters. The student should be prepared to be inundated with grammatical terms and concepts, occasionally all too briefly. Much of the information is presented in tables, particularly when it comes to verb conjugation, so students who learn from explanations instead of from memorizing tables might do well to look for another supplement.

In addition to its 52 chapters, this book includes a supplement of various authentic Arabic texts. It starts with some suras from the Qur’an and works its way through selections of some classical works such as by that of al-Jahiz up to modern day newspapers and modern poetry. The translations are located in the key. The book prepares the student by building both vocabulary and knowledge of grammar so that by the time the student reaches this supplement the texts are understandable.

This book also includes three appendixes. Appendix A, “Colloquial Arabic Dialects,” is only the briefest of introductions to the world of colloquial Arabic and its list of guides to the various dialects is outdated. Appendix B, “A Guide to Further Study,” is only mildly outdated and is worth looking at. The pages in Appendix C, “Supplementary Grammatical Notes” are not numbered normally but start with p. 511a and goes through 511i for no particular reason. Some of the notes are cross-referenced to chapters, but as the chapters do not cross-reference the appendix, it would be worthwhile to thumb through this appendix before starting to work through the book to pencil in the notes in the appendix inside the referenced chapter.

In addition, the final chapter (chapter 52) is a handy guide to the rules of Arabic poetry, or “the rules of Arabic versification” as the chapter is titled. The reader might find this chapter slightly more accessible than the more detailed but more ponderous description in Wright’s grammar.

The book is divided into the following Chapters and sections:

            Chapter 1: The Arabic Language. Orthography. Phonetics. Punctuation.
            Chapter 2: The Article. The Simple Nominal Sentence.
            Chapter 3: Gender. The Feminine.
            Chapter 4: Declension of Nouns. The Three Cases.
            Chapter 5: Number. The Sound Masculine and Feminine Plurals. Some Simple Verb Forms.
            Chapter 6: The Broken Plural.
            Chapter 7: The Broken Plural (continued).
            Chapter 8: The Genitive (‘Idafa).
            Chapter 9: The Attached Pronouns.
            Chapter 10: Demonstrative Pronouns.
            Chapter 11: Adjectives.
            Chapter 12: The Verb.
            Chapter 13: The Verb with Pronominal Object The Verb “to be.”
            Chapter 14: The Imperfect.
            Chapter 15: Moods of the Imperfect. The subjunctive.
            Chapter 16: Moods of the Imperfect. The Jussive.
            Chapter 17: The Imperative.
            Chapter 18: The Passive Verb.
            Chapter 19: Derived Forms of the Triliteral Verb. General Introduction.
            Chapter 20: Derived Forms of the Triliteral Verb, II, III, and IV.
            Chapter 21: Forms V and VI.
            Chapter 22: Forms VII and VIII.
            Chapter 23: Forms IX, X, and XI.
            Chapter 24: Irregular Verbs. The Doubled Verb.
            Chapter 25: Hamzated Verbs. Hamza as Initial Radical.
            Chapter 26: Hamza as Middle and Final Radical.
            Chapter 27: Weak Verbs. The Assimilated Verb.
            Chapter 28: The Hollow Verb.
            Chapter 29: The Verb with Weak Final Radical.
            Chapter 30: The Doubly and Trebly Weak Verb.
            Chapter 31: The Quadriliteral Verb.
            Chapter 32: Various Unorthodox Verbs.
            Chapter 33: How to Use an Arabic Dictionary.
            Chapter 34: Relative Sentences.
            Chapter 35: Conditional Sentences.
            Chapter 36: The Cardinal Numbers. Time. Dates.
            Chapter 37: The Ordinal Numbers. Fractions.
            Chapter 38: The Structure of Arabic Noun Forms.
            Chapter 39: Noun Forms. The Noun of Place and Time. The Noun of Instrument. The Diminutive.
            Chapter 40: The Relative Noun and Adjective. Various Adjectival Forms.
            Chapter 41: Abstract Nouns. Proper Names.
            Chapter 42: The Feminine.
            Chapter 43: Number.
            Chapter 44: Declension of Nouns.
            Chapter 45: The Use of the Cases.
            Chapter 46: The Permutative.
            Chapter 47: Particles. Prepositions.
            Chapter 48: Adverbial Usages, including miscellaneous quasi-adverbial particles.
            Chapter 49: Particles. Conjunctions.
            Chapter 50: Particles. Interjections.
            Chapter 51: Exception.
            Chapter 52: The Rules of Arabic Versification.

    Supplement: Specimens from Arabic Literature.

    Appendix A: Colloquial Arabic Dialects.
    Appendix B: Guide to Further Study.
    Appendix C: Supplementary Grammatical Notes

    Vocabulary, Arabic-English (dictionary)

    Grammatical Index

How to Use It

Although this book includes a description of the Arabic alphabet at the beginning, it is a good idea to be familiar with the alphabet before beginning this book. A good sense of English grammar and terminology – or a dictionary well suited for that purpose – is also necessary for understanding. This book assumes a decent background in English grammar, and if the reader doesn’t fully understand what an apodosis or a passive participle, too bad; the book doesn’t bother to explain many English grammatical principles other than to give its counterpart in Arabic.

In general, chapters move from simple to progressively more difficult, and it is suggested that the student work through the chapters in this manner. However, some principles that might seem basic to a learner – such as how the chapter on the use of the cases – are located in later chapters. It might be worthwhile for a student working his/her way through the book to continually reacquaint him/herself with the table of contents in case he/she might want to skip ahead.

Starting with Chapter Two, this book has exercises at the end of nearly every chapter. Twenty sentences are in Arabic to be translated into English, and twenty are in English to be translated into Arabic. The key to the translation exercises are located in the Key to a New Arabic Grammar which must be purchased separately. Most of the vocabulary in these exercises are located in the vocabulary list located in the same chapter as the exercise. As the book progresses, the word variety gets larger as vocabulary from earlier chapters is recycled. Occasionally, concepts and vocabulary from later chapters is introduced into the exercises prematurely. There is a root-based Arabic-English dictionary in the back of the book to look up words in the exercises; however, the use of an Arabic dictionary and even the root system itself is not introduced until later chapters.

The student should be aware that there are several errors in the book which, although rare, become more frequent as the chapters go on. For instance, exercise 50 fails to include a ninth sentence. The typeface can also be slightly misleading, as some of the diacritical marks are occasionally typed twice over the same letter. For this reason, it is encouraged to use this book with a teacher or together with another student.

It should be noted that the exercises don’t necessarily correspond with the grammatical lesson in the chapter. This is particularly true in the later chapters; the book even includes a note to this effect. Throughout the book, many of the sentences seem to function more as a vocabulary drill than as a grammatical exercise. The student should be aware that a portion of the Arabic vocabulary words in this book are classical words and are not commonly found in Modern Standard Arabic under the same meaning. One example is عربة given for car in the vocabulary list instead of the more common سيارة .

This book can also be easily used as a reference guide for those who would like to brush up on a particular Arabic grammatical issue. In addition to the clear table of contents, there is a grammatical index in the back written in English so that anyone can reference a particular grammatical term.


Haywood, J.A. and H.M. Nahmad. A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language. 1st ed. 1962. Hampshire, U.K.: Lund Humphries, 2003.