How to Study Arabic Morphology (Ṣarf) Based on Mufti Taqi Usmani’s Recommendations

The following recommendations are from Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani’s short treatise on how to study the dars nizāmī. The advice, though aimed at students of the Mīzān al-Ṣarf or ʿIlm al-Ṣīghah, is largely applicable to any beginning student of Arabic morphology.

1) Its absolutely necessary to memorize the conjugation tables. In fact, the conjugations should be practiced to such an extent that they flow from the tongue without hesitation or pause.

2) In general, teachers of ṣarf (morphology) become satisfied with simply repetition from students. When the student of knowledge memorizes the conjugations well they will simply move on and fail to pay attention to the recognition or knowledge of the different word forms (ṣīghahs). Immediate recognition of the word forms, their correct meanings, and place of use, is equally important to the memorization and repetition of conjugation tables. It is therefore imperative for teachers to keep in mind that after having students perfect the conjugations to do the following before proceeding to the next lesson:

  1. Identify each ṣīghah as masculine or feminine, singular, dual or plural. Two types are exercises are important to employ: (1) to provide the student a specific Arabic word form (ṣīghah) and ask them to identify the gender, person, and tense (2) to give different verbs (such as ḍaraba ḍ-r-b) and ask the student to provide a specific ṣīghah of that verb, e.g. singular, masculine, third person in the active past tense. Both exercises should be done to until the students are fluent in their answers, after which less emphasis on such exercises is needed.
  2. It’s also important that the student is able to recognize the correct meaning of every ṣīghah whenever they hear it. To achieve this, the following two exercises are needed: (1) Ask the student to identify the ṣīghah and provide its translation after giving it to them in Arabic. (2) Give the word in Urdu (or, say, English) and ask the student to translate it into Arabic. These two exercises should be done to the point that the correct meaning and the correct usage become ingrained in the student’s mind.
  3. In some books like Mīzan al-Ṣarf all the provided conjugations are based on the same verb: f-ʿ-l faʿala. While the verb tables are memorized based on this generic verb, other verbs and their meanings should be practiced as well.
  4. The aforementioned exercises should not only be done orally but also in writing. In other words, sentences should be given to the students and asked to change to them to different word forms. For example, they may be asked to translate the “all the females prostrated” to “you (all males) prostrated”. Care should be exercised to cover all the different verb tables in the exercises, including the past, present, imperative and prohibitive forms.

3) From the very beginning, the students should write their exercises out neatly so they get into the habit of writing well. Margins should be left and lines should be kept straight.

4) If a student doesn’t complete his written homework without excuse, they should be reprimanded.

5) If a student is weak in memorization, he should be entrusted to a group or good students so that he can memorize the verb conjugations well.

6) It is essential in studying the ta’lilāt (word changes in irregular verbs) that one does not suffice with simply understanding the rules. Rather, numerous examples for each rule should be given to the students.


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