Zharf (ظرف) In Arabic Grammar

The zharf (ظرف) is different from the ism zharf, which forms two of the nine nouns that resemble verbs that you would learn when studying sarf tables.

The zharf we’re talking about here is a grammatical role which are specific nouns which are of the mansubaat (منصوبات), meaning their default state is nasb (takes a fatha). It can be majrur (takes a kasra) as well, such as when it comes after a harf jarr (IE مِنْ قَبْلِ). It provides a time or place of an action.

It is also called a maf’ul fihi (مفعول فيه). Why? Because it conveys the meaning “fee zharfiyyah” (ويفيد معنى “في” الظرفية), or “in the circumstance of…” And because of that it is called the maf’ul fihi, since it provides the circumstance of time or place.

Mudaaf Ilayh

They require a mudaaf ilayh after them, though it can be omitted–in that case, it will actually take a damma. You’ve probably seen “مِن قَبْلُ” which is found in the Qur’an often, IE:

أَمْ تُرِيدُونَ أَن تَسْأَلُوا رَسُولَكُمْ كَمَا سُئِلَ مُوسَىٰ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ وَمَن يَتَبَدَّلِ الْكُفْرَ بِالْإِيمَانِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ سَوَاءَ السَّبِيلِ – 2:108
Or do you intend to ask your Messenger as Moses was asked before? And whoever exchanges faith for disbelief has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way.

Mu’rab and Mabni

Some are mu’rab (fully declineable) and some are mabni (non-declineable). For example, the word بَعْدَ is fully declineable, meaning its ending will change with its ‘irab. Others are non-declineable, such as إذَا, which never changes. In the cases where they are mabni (non-declineable), they will still be in the default state of nasb.

What About Idha (إذا)?

Beware that this section is quite technical. It’s mainly for grammar folks, though it’s helpful to be aware of this.

What about إذا? Since it is nasb it cannot be a mubtada (no one says it is a mubtada’). So what is its role in a sentence? There are different opinions.

We know it’s not a jumlah ismiyyah, even though the sentence begins with an ism. It’s basically a jumlah fi’liyyah.

A common opinion is that it is mutalliq (connected) to the jawab al-shart (جواب الشرط) or consequence of the condition (IE “when this happens, then that happens”).

Another opinion is that it creates its own sentence called a jumlah zharfiyyah (جملة ظرفية).

Another opinion is that it creates a jumlah idafiyyah (جملة إضافية) with the verb after it.

List of Zharfs

Here is a list of zharfs, though it is not exhaustive.

ظُرُوفُ الزَّمانِ – adverbs of time – indicate the moment of an action

  • غَدًا – tomorrow
  • بَعْدَ – after
  • قَبْلَ – before
  • أَثْناءَ – during
  • الآنَ – now
  • مُنْذُ – since
  • الصباح – the morning
  • المساء – the evening
  • إذ – When. Talks about the past. Used with a present tense verb but carries a past tense meaning.
  • إذا – When, whether, if. Talks about the future. Usually used with a past tense verb but carries a present or future tense meaning. (Syntax: When (condition) then (result)). Does not make the verb jazm.

ظُرُوفُ المَكانِ – adverbs of place – indicate the location of an action

  • أَمَامَ – in front of
  • خَلْفَ/ وَرَاءَ – behind
  • فَوْقَ – above
  • تَحْت – below
  • شَرْق – east of
  • غَرْب – west of
  • جَنُوب – south of
  • شَمال – north of
  • شِمال / يَسَار- left of
  • يَمِين – right of
  • وَسْطَ – middle, amidst, among

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