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Quranic Grammar - Preposition Phrases (جار ومجرور)


A preposition ḥarf jar (حرف جر) comes before a noun and always places the noun into in the genitive case majrūr (مجرور). The preposition may be an individual word or it can be a preposition prefixed to a noun as part of the same word. The preposition and the genitive noun are related through a dependency known as jār wa majrūr (جار ومجرور), with the noun dependent on the preposition. The preposition may also link with other parts-of-speech that are nominals instead of nouns. For example a single word can consist of a preposition and a suffixed pronoun, which together are related in a jār wa majrūr dependency. According to traditional Arabic grammar the suffixed pronoun will still be considered to be in the genitive case majrūr (مجرور).

The preposition and the genitive nominal together form a preposition phrase. In traditional Arabic grammar a preposition phrase jār wa majrūr must always be attached to another part of the sentence (PP-attachment). In a dependency graph the type of relation for preposition phrase attachment is known as mutaʿaliq (متعلق) which may be translated as "link" or "attachment". A preposition phrase may attach to either a verb or a nominal. For example, when an action is performed and the sentence uses a preposition phrase to add meaning, the preposition phrase can be attached to the verb through the mutaʿaliq relation. Similarly a preposition phrase can be mutaʿaliq with a noun. In dependency graphs a preposition and its genitive noun are represented together using a PP phrase node. PP-attachment is annotated by showing a dependency between the phrase node and a terminal node in the graph such as a verb.

In verse (100:5) below a preposition phrase (PP) is attached to its preceeding verb:

Then penetrate (in the) center
Then raise

Fig 1. Preposition phrase attached to a verb in verse (100:5).

The next verse (100:6) contains a preposition phrase attached to a noun:

(is) surely ungrateful.
to his Lord,

Fig 2. Preposition phrase attached to a noun in verse (100:6).

Particles of Oath as Prepositions

The letter wāw can be prefixed to a word as either a conjunction ("and") or as a particle of oath ("I swear by"). When used as an oath wāw acts like a genitive preposition ḥarf jar and places the following noun into the genitive case majrūr (مجرور). As an example consider the first verse of chapter 68 which begins with an oath. Because the letter wāw acts as preposition, it places the following noun (68:1:2) into the genitive case:

they write,
and what
By the pen

Fig 3. Preposition phrase used to form an oath in verse (68:1).

Preposition Phrase Attachment

The head node for PP-attachment is determined by both syntactic and semantic criteria. The grammatical rules for determining head node selection can be illustrated by considering several incisive examples from Salih's al-iʿrāb al-mufaṣṣal (Dar Al-Fikr, Beirut). For example, the preposition phrase spanning (4:141:34)-(4:141:35):

a way.
the believers
for the disbelievers
will make
and never

Fig 4. Examples of PP-attachment in verse (4:141).

Note that the first preposition phrase is attached to a verb, while the second preposition phrase is attached to a hidden circumstantial accusative known as known as hāl (حال). According to al-iʿrāb al-mufaṣṣal, the reason for this PP-attachment is:

جار ومجرور متعلق بحال لأنه صفة مقدمة عليه

In this example, the preposition phrase is attached to a circumstantial accusative (hāl) since this acts as a forwarded adjective (صفة مقدمة).

Attachment to Hidden Implicit Words

A preposition phrase may be attached to a hidden implicit word, introduced into a dependency graph as part of the reconstructive technique in traditional Arabic grammar known as taqdīr (تقدير). Studying examples of PP-attachment to hidden implicits in Salih's al-iʿrāb al-mufaṣṣal suggests that in general an adjective (متعلق بصفة) is used for attachment when the head word is indefinite, and a hidden implicit circumstantial accusative (متعلق بحال محذوفة) is used for attachment when the head is in a definite state. An interesting example may be found in Salih's analayis of PP-attachment for verse (4:98), where these two choices for PP-attachment are discussed:

متعلق بحال محذوفة لأن «من» حرف جر بياني أو متعلق بصفة لأن «المستضعفين» غير معرفة فيها «أل» لانها اسم جنس

and the children
and the women
the men
the oppressed

Fig 5. One choice for PP-attachment in verse (4:98).

Labeling the preposition as بياني in (4:98) suggests that its role is to illustrate or to clarify. In this analysis, one purpose of the preposition would be to specify the categories of المستضعفين. The alternative analysis of PP-attachment is supported by the fact that اسم جنس refers to a proper or common noun.

See Also

Language Research Group
University of Leeds