Arabic – Digging up the past tense – Arabic Beginner Lesson-22


Arabic – Digging up the past tense
The structural form of the past tense is one of the easiest grammatical structures
in the Arabic language. Basically, every regular verb that’s conjugated
in the past tense follows a very strict pattern. First, you refer to all regular
verbs in the past tense using the huwa (hoo-wah; he) personal pronoun.
Second, the overwhelming majority of verbs in huwa form in the past tense
have three consonants that are accompanied by the same vowel: the fatHa
(fat-hah). The fatHa creates the “ah” sound.
For example, the verb “wrote” in the past tense is kataba (kah-tah-bah); its
three consonants are “k,” “t,” and “b.” Here are some common verbs you may
use while speaking Arabic:
 ‘akala (ah-kah-lah; ate)
 fa’ala (fah-ah-lah; did)
 dhahaba (zah-hah-bah; went)
 qara’a (kah-rah-ah; read)
 ra’a (rah-ah; saw)
The following table shows the verb kataba (kah-tah-bah; wrote) conjugated
using all the personal pronouns. Note that the first part of the verb remains
constant; only its suffix changes depending on the personal pronoun used.
Getting Started
Form Pronunciation Translation
‘anaa katabtu ah-nah kah-tab-too I wrote
‘anta katabta an-tah kah-tab-tah You wrote (MS)
‘anti katabtii an-tee kah-tab-tee You wrote (FS)
huwa kataba hoo-wah kah-tah-bah He wrote
hiya katabat hee-yah kah-tah-bat She wrote
naHnu katabnaa nah-noo kah-tab-nah We wrote
‘antum katabtum an-toom kah-tab-toom You wrote (MP)
‘antunna katabtunna an-too-nah kah-tab-too-nah You wrote (FP)
hum katabuu hoom kah-tah-boo They wrote (MP)
hunna katabna hoo-nah kah-tab-nah They wrote (FP)
antumaa katabtumaa an-too-mah kah-tab-too-mah You wrote (dual/MP/FP)
humaa katabaa hoo-mah kah-tah-bah They wrote (dual/MP)
humaa katabataa hoo-mah kah-tah-bah-tah They wrote (dual/FP)
Now here’s the verb darasa (dah-rah-sah; studied) conjugated using all the
personal pronouns.
Form Pronunciation Translation
‘anaa darastu ah-nah dah-ras-too I studied
‘anta darasta an-tah dah-ras-tah You studied (MS)
‘anti darastii an-tee dah-ras-tee You studied (FS)
huwa darasa hoo-wah dah-rah-sah He studied
hiya darasat hee-yah dah-rah-sat She studied
naHnu darasnaa nah-noo dah-ras-nah We studied
‘antum darastum an-toom dah-ras-toom You studied (MP)
‘antunna darastunna an-too-nah dah-ras-too-nah You studied (FP)
hum darasuu hoom dah-rah-soo They studied (MP)
hunna darasna hoo-nah dah-ras-nah They studied (FP)
antumaa darastumaa an-too-mah dah-ras-too-mah You studied
humaa darasaa hoo-mah dah-rah-sah They studied (dual/MP)
humaa darasataa hoo-mah dah-rah-sah-tah They studied (dual/FP)

Compare the conjugations of darasa and kataba and you probably see a clear
pattern emerge: Every personal pronoun has a corresponding suffix used to
conjugate and identify the verb form in its specific tense. Table  outlines
these specific suffixes.
Personal Pronoun Suffixes for Verbs in the Past Tense
Arabic Pronoun Pronunciation Translation Verb Suffix
‘anaa ah-nah I/me -tu
‘anta an-tah you (MS) -ta
‘anti an-tee you (FS) -tii
huwa hoo-wah he/it -a
hiya hee-yah she/it -at
naHnu nah-noo we -naa
‘antum an-toom you (MP) -tum
‘antunna an-too-nah you (FP) -tunna
hum hoom they (MP) -uu
hunna hoo-nah they (FP) -na
‘antumaa an-too-mah you (dual) -tumaaa
humaa hoo-mah they (M/dual) -aa
humaa hoo-mah they (F/dual) -ataa
Anytime you come across a regular verb you want to conjugate in the past
tense, use these verb suffixes with the corresponding personal pronouns.
At this stage, you should know that not all regular verbs in the past tense
have three consonants. Some regular verbs have more than three consonants,
such as:
 tafarraja (tah-fah-rah-jah; watched)
 takallama (tah-kah-lah-mah; spoke)
Even though these verbs have more than three consonants, they’re still considered
regular verbs. To conjugate them, you keep the first part of the word constant
and only change the last consonant of the word using the corresponding
suffixes to match the personal pronouns. To get a better sense of this conversion,
take a look at the verb takallama (spoke) conjugated in the past tense.
Notice that the first part of the word stays the same; only the ending changes.
Form Pronunciation Translation
‘anaa takallamtu ah-nah tah-kah-lam-too I spoke
‘anta takallamta an-tah tah-kah-lam-tah You spoke (MS)
‘anti takallamtii an-tee tah-kah-lam-tee You spoke (FS)
huwa takallama hoo-wah tah-kah-lah-mah He spoke
hiya takallamat hee-yah tah-kah-lah-mat She spoke
naHnu takallamnaa nah-noo tah-kah-lam-nah We spoke
‘antum takallamtum an-toom tah-kah-lam-toom You spoke (MP)
‘antunna takallamtunna an-too-nah tah-kah-lam-too-nah You spoke (FP)
hum takallamuu hoom tah-kah-lah-moo They spoke (MP)
hunna takallamna hoo-nah tah-kah-lam-nah They spoke (FP)
antumaa takallamtumaa an-too-mah tah-kah-lam-too-mah You spoke
humaa takallamaa hoo-mah tah-kah-lah-mah They spoke
humaa takallamataa hoo-mah tah-kah-lah-mah-tah They spoke
When you know how to conjugate verbs in the past tense, your sentencebuilding
options are endless. Here are some simple sentences that combine
nouns, adjectives, and verbs in the past tense:
 ‘al-walad dhahaba ‘ilaa al-madrasa. (al-wah-lad zah-hah-bah ee-lah almad-
rah-sah; The boy went to the school.)
 al-bint takallamat fii al-qism. (al-bee-net tah-kah-lah-mat fee al-kee-sem;
The girl spoke in the classroom.)
 ‘akalnaa Ta’aam ladhiidh. (ah-kal-nah tah-am lah-zeez; We ate delicious
 dhahaba ar-rajul ‘ilaa al-jaami’a fii as-sayaara. (zah-hah-bah ah-rah-jool
ee-lah al-jah-mee-ah fee ah-sah-yah-rah; The man went to the school in
the car.