Haywood-Nahmad: Arabic Grammar

Posted By: vidra
Haywood-Nahmad: Arabic Grammar

A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language
J. A. Haywood - H. M. Nahmad | 2nd Edition | London, Lund Humphries | 1965 Year | 687 Pages | ISBN 0853310688 | PDF | ~76 Mb

A contribution to the Classical Languages Team Project

This is the standard Arabic grammar used at the university courses in the USA.

Customer review from

Recently, I began fulfilling a long-held dream of learning Arabic through my university course. This is the textbook we were told to buy and use.

The most important point to make about this work is that it is a grammar rather than a real "course in the language". As such, there is no focus in the early chapters on useful words or phrases. Of course, Haywood and Nahmad don't pretend that this is something it is not, but this is a warning directed at those who might be tempted to use this (even with the separately-printed Key) as a self-study tool. It can be used as one, but isn't going to work well as the only book you use.

As a grammar, it naturally focuses on the grammatical concepts inherent in Arabic. Many of these are difficult to explain in English, as we simply do not have concepts of "attached pronouns" and "broken plurals", to say nothing of Arabic's highly active case system (Arabic has a genitive case which produces phrases such as "the fork of the mother of the Caliph").

I would contend, however, that it often spends too little time explaining some points and such explanation is often related in grammatical terms rather than "layman's terms". A case in point is the cursory introduction to the three cases followed by a lengthy explanation of the possessive. Two chapters later, an exercise suddenly requires the use of Accusative case, which was mentioned as existing and being marked in a particular way, but no examples of its existence were given. The closest to an explanation of how to recognise its existence is a technical note which basically boils down to "Arabic Accusative isn't the same as Accusative anywhere else".
Explanations of the differing cases with reference to English are provided, however these are buried in chapter 45 or so, significantly after a student (particularly one not systematically taught English grammar) will need them.

The placement of exercises at the end of every chapter is also a problematic idea, as many chapters cover a number of topics and the exercises revise all the concepts covered (in some cases, all the concepts covered in the book so far). Because of the foreignness (for want of a better word) of many of these concepts, the work would be much better served by inserting a series of "drill" style exercises mid-way through some chapters, particularly where the concepts are massively foreign.

As another reviewer has pointed out, this is a grammar which tries to cover both Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. As a result, not only are some words and constructions presented without enough commentary as to whether they are Modern or Classical usage, there is also no indication whether certain grammatical points are still in use (Modern Arabic, it would appear, doesn't use quite as strong a case system, for example).

Another slightly irksome point is that the structure of the book does not appear to be completely designed with learning the language in mind. The first chapter on the Broken Plural, for example, blithely remarks that the student should learn the plural with the singular (a comment made in many other books on this language - for the simple reason that Arabic plurals are quite complex). There is nothing wrong with this assertion, but the fact that the preceding chapters have introduced many nouns, which pluralise in either the Sound (relatively regular) or Broken (relatively irregular) manner without any mention of this concept seems like a fault of editing. The much-vaunted dictionary (one of the reasons this book was recommended to us in the first place) is almost impossible to use until the reader has progressed to the chapter on "How To Use A Dictionary", which requires a fair bit of background understanding by then. Admittedly, this is the case with many Arabic-English bilingual dictionaries, and not one I seriously expected not to encounter here.

In contrast, there are some startling sections which are clearly not designed with the reader in mind. A number of exercises use words which have not been used in the text yet, although admittedly most of these are used in the immediately succeeding chapter.

There are also one or two typographical errors which appear from time to time, mostly to do with misplaced vowel markers (although some dots unaccountably move around as well), which is a little concerning. As other reviewers have also remarked, the paperback edition suffers from almost microscopic Arabic script.

That said, this book is worth four stars as a reference work alone. It still appears - despite its age - to be one of the most comprehensive Arabic grammars on offer. My hat goes off to anyone who can seriously claim to have learned the language fully by studying this book - particularly if they have not supplemented it with experience in Arabic-speaking countries.


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