Introductory Arabic: The Idafa الإضافة

The idafa الإضافة is a basic construct essential to understanding Arabic. Without understanding it one can never get beyond a beginner's level. The word idafa literally means "the addition". In newspapers you will see اضاف المصدر (adafa almusdar) "the source added" used very often. Arabic is unlike languages like English and Spanish in that there isn't really a word for "of" in the possessive sense. In Spanish you would say "the book of the teacher" to mean "the teacher's book", but in Arabic you would say "book the teacher" to mean the same thing; كتاب الأستاذ (kitaab alustaadh).

When first starting to learn Arabic it seemed so foreign and strange that they don't have the simple word "of". I found myself struggling to form basic sentences because I didn't really understand the idafa. I would throw in the word مِن thinking that it meant "of" instead of "from" and get blank stares from my teachers. Here are some more examples to help drive home the idea of the idafa:

  • صواريخ بعيدة المدى (Sawareekh ba'eedat almada) - Long range missiles, literally "missles long of the range"
  • سرطان الجلد (Sarataan aljild) - Skin cancer, literally "cancer of the skin"
  • تكنولوجيا المعلومات (Technologia alma'loomaat) - Information technology, literally "technology of the information"

When the owner of the object is already a definite noun, such as a proper name, you don't add the alif and lam. For example, if you're talking about Nadir's wallet, you're not going to say "wallet alNadir". You would just say "wallet Nadir". محفظة نادر is correct, NOT محفظة النادر . Here are some more examples:

  • ولاية فلوريدا (wilaayat florida) - The state of Florida
  • مراسل بي بي سي (muraasil BBC) - BBC correspondent (correspondent of BBC)
Something else you may have noticed about idafas is that when the first word in the idafa (the thing that is owned) ends in altaa almarbouta ة it makes a "t" sound. This can be see in the example of "the state of Florida". Even though, by itself, the word ولاية (wilaaya) doesn't have a "t" sound at the end, if it's the first word in an idafa then it does have a "t" sound. If you didn't make the "t" sound at the end of it and just said "wilaaya Florida" it would mean "a state is Florida". My teachers used to always stop me when I wouldn't make the "t" sound at the end in situations like that and I never understood what the big deal was. Some time later I realized that not pronouncing the "t" actually gives the phrase a different meaning.


mo said...

thanks for your helpful posts and keep up the good work.

Jessica said...

yes, i LOVE your blogs!!! keep them coming!

in the mean time, can you tell me, are you still taking classes? what text books have you used? and what other texts do you read for fun?

The Arabic Student said...

Thanks very much. I'm not taking Arabic classes anymore. The books I used were the DLI curriculum. They weren't anything special. Well I haven't read a whole lot of books in Arabic, but two that I have read are the 1st Harry Potter book and some short stories in a book one of my teachers had called بنت السلطان .

Louis 'Lui' Penny said...

Ahlan u Sahlan ya ustaadh ;)
Really like your bit on Levantine Arabic and yes, its true - Syrians do draw out their last words ;)

I've been studying Arabic for around 12 months now and feel like I've got nowhere in terms of speaking. We have a real focus on MSA at first but even so... the concept of just effortlessly stringing words together really evades me... How long did it take to "click" for you?

Ma3 assalaama

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I look for inspiration everywhere . I love that fact that you speak arabic so well . I have been studying Korean for about 5 years . Any suggestions on getting out there and speaking ? I live in Los Angeles and am around so many Koreans . I have worked on studying so much that I have neglected speaking .

Zufash said...

Thanks for this post! Very helpful and clear!

Anonymous said...

This makes such good sense. Thank you for clearing this up for me. You explain so clearly the exact problems I've been having. It shows you've been there yourself at one point and you understand beginner frustrations.

Anonymous said...

I like this explanation of the edafa, but one issue I have is with the actual arabic; I see it written left to right, which confused me for some time. I kept reading perplexed by what those words meant.

Anonymous said...

This is exceptional, thank you.