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The Subject Between English And Arabic

the subject between English and Arabic

This post is about differences between the subject in English and Arabic. What are its forms? how it is inflected? what replaces the subject in a sentence? how the gender and the number is reflected?

The subject is said to be the doer of the action or what the sentence is about. It could be:
a) a noun phrase - e.g.: My ankle hurts.
b) a pronoun - e.g.: It hurts.
c) a clause - e.g.: Twisting my ankle hurts.
Let’s take look at this example “The boy kicked the dog”, “the boy” is the doer of the verb so the subject. But, it is not the case in this passive statement “The dog was kicked by the boy”. To solve this, another two terms have arisen the grammatical subject and the logical subject. Accordingly, “the dog” is the grammatical subject while “the boy” is the logical or the real subject. In general, it seems too difficult to set rules to determine which NP is the subject. However, in English, there are five possible grammatical ways to know the subject. The common way is word order; basically, the subject precedes the verb in statements as in these examples:
- John eats an apple.
- The student won the prize.

The second way is the pro-forms which are commonly known as pronouns. The first and third person pronouns appear in special forms when they are subjects while these forms are not used when they occur in other positions as in:
- He loves me.
- I hate you.
- We saw them.
- They know us.

The third way is agreement with verb, mainly the verb agrees with its subject in the present tense by adding (-s) at the end of the verb when a third person subject is singular, while the number of the object has no effect on the verb form.
- She loves him.
- They love them.
- He loves them.

By considering content questions, the subject is replaced by (who or what) without changing the rest of the sentence as in:   
- The dog bit the boy.
- Who bit the boy?

However, when we ask about any other element in the sentence, it is replaced by an auxiliary verb as illustrated by this example:
- What did the dog bit?

On the other hand, when we seek a confirmation of a statement we form a tag-question ended by a pronoun which refers back only to the subject and never to any other element in the sentence like in:
- The teacher is absent, isn’t he?
- My mother was sick, wasn’t she?

By contrast, the subject in Arabic is defined by inflections added at the end of the subject rather by word order like in English. Overall, in Arabic, unlike English, the word order doesn’t reflect the grammatical function. The subject commonly comes after the verb. It may be explicit or implicit, if it is explicit it is marked by the inflections (-u or -un) like in:
- Kataba Zaydun alqissata.                (Zayd wrote the story)
- Kataba Ahmadu alqissata.           (Ahmed wrote the story)

The subject could also be replaced by a pronoun attached to the verb. Accordingly, Arabic has specific pronouns that take place of the subject as in:

katabtu alqissata. (I wrote the story) Singular
katabta alqissata. (You wrote the story) Singular - masculine
katabti alqissata. (You wrote the story) Singular - feminine
katabtuma alqissata (You wrote the story) Plural (dual) masculine / feminine
katabna alqissata (They wrote the story) Plural - feminine

In these examples, the morpheme (-t-) at the end of to the verb refers to the subject and the inflections (-u, -a, -i) refer to the gender and the number of the subject. Moreover, the dual and plural subject pronouns are represented by the long vowel sounds (ɑ:, u:) respectively as shown in these examples :
- katab(ɑ:) alqissata.   (They wrote the story) (dual - masculine/feminine)
- katab(u:) alqissata.   (They wrote the story)         (plural - masculine)

To sum up, the subject between English and Arabic is slightly different which reflects the characteristics of each language system.

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