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Quranic Grammar - The Verb kāna (كان واخواتها)


Certain verbs do not take a subject and object, but instead take a subject and predicate. In traditional Arabic grammar the two most common groups of these verbs are known as kāna and her sisters (كان واخواتها) and kāda and her sisters (كاد واخواتها). Figure 1 below lists words from the first group kāna and her sisters (كان واخواتها).

Verb Arabic Translation*
kāna كَانَ be
laysa لَيْسَ not be
ṣāra صَارَ reach
aṣbaḥa أَصْبَحَ become, reach morning
aḍḥā أَضْحى reach forenoon
amsā أَمْسى reach evening
ẓalla ظَلَّ become
bāta بَاتَ spend the night

Fig 1. The verb kāna and related verbs.
* precise meaning depends on context (see translation accuracy).

In a dependency graph, the verb kāna (كان) does not link to other words through subject and object dependencies. Instead kāna has dependencies known as ism kāna (اسم كان) and khabar kāna (خبر كان). The subject ism kāna is always in the nominative case marfūʿ  (مرفوع) and the predicate khabar kāna is always in the accusative case manṣūb (منصوب). Verse (110:3) contains dependencies for ism kāna and khabar kāna as shown below:

Indeed, He

Fig 2. The verb kāna in verse (110:3).

The Verb kāda (كاد واخواتها)

A related group of verbs is known as kāda and her sisters (كاد واخواتها). In traditional Arabic grammar these verbs are also known as أفعال المقاربة. The verb kāda (كاد) is similar to the verb kāna (كان) but there are some differences. As with kāna (كان) the subject is a nominal word (noun or pronoun) found in the nominative case. However for kāda (كاد) the predicate will be an imperfect verb (فعل مضارع) found in the indicative mood marfūʿ  (مرفوع). This verb takes the place of an accusative noun manṣūb (منصوب). An example of kāda (كاد) can be found in the first part of verse (67:8):

It almost

Fig 3. The verb kāda in verse (67:8).

Negative Particles Acting Like laysa

The particle (ما) in a negative sense can behave like the verb laysa (ليس). In this construction, the negative particle will take a subject and predicate. An example may be found in verse (86:14):

(is) for amusement.
And not

Fig 4. The particle in verse (86:14) with its accusative predicate.

See Also

Language Research Group
University of Leeds