The syntax of tense in Arabic

Authored by: Hamid Ouali

The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics

Print publication date:  January  2018
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138783331
eBook ISBN: 9781315147062
Adobe ISBN:


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Many languages have grammaticalized means to convey temporal information about when actions and events occur or when states and processes hold. This temporal information is conveyed through tense. Arabic has been an interesting case where the verb ambiguously expresses tense and aspectual information. This raised some debate among modern linguists on whether the verb morphology marks tense or whether it only marks aspect, whereas tense is denoted through syntactic and pragmatic means. This chapter aims to tackle these questions and discuss the properties of tense in Arabic. I will first focus on the past and present tenses and discuss what morphological and syntactic factors contribute to their different temporal interpretations. Besides simple tense, Arabic also allows for different complex tense interpretations by employing a fully inflected copula combined with a fully inflected main verb. These constructions are of utmost interest to syntacticians since they raise questions about the type of clause structure required to derive clauses with these complex tenses.

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