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Part 6: Nahw


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How to Learn Arabic

© Saqib Hussain

6 Nahw

At some point (but not before you learn Arabic!) you will have to start working through a nahw book. This is the final stage of your Arabic education.

The first thing you should know about nahw is that it's messy! After you've moved beyond the basic books in Arabic Grammar, the more advanced books use a great deal of logic and give a huge amount of attention to detailed poetry analysis and its implications for grammar. The classical scholars of nahw were also concerned, in no small way, in disproving competing grammatical analyses and theories, which can lead to very abstract and difficult to follow passages in their books.

In this section, I'm only giving advice about getting started. If you've got this far, I'm sure you're more than capable of deciding how best to complete this final stage.

Start with a modern, basic book. Something like al-Durūs al-naḥwiyyah, three books in a single volume, will introduce you to the terminology used by the Arabic grammarians, and give you a basic grounding in the science of i’rāb (parsing sentences).

I strongly advise against studying anything classical in the beginning (e.g. Qaṭr al-Nadā) - it will be far too detailed, and it’s unlikely that you’ll derive significant benefit from it.

You should also use Wright’s Grammar and A Grammar of Classical Arabic (Fischer) in conjunction with your nahw texts - they will give you the corresponding English terminology, and help you apply the very theoretical information found in the latter books.

As you work through these texts, particularly as you get to the more advanced books, always try to identify how what you're learning can be applied. Ask yourself questions like, How do subtle differences in the syntax analysis of different structures translate into a difference in meaning? Only in this manner will you truly benefit from a study of Arabic syntax.