Arabic Headline Analysis #3


root: ب-و-ء / noun / plural: بِيئات / definition: environment

I hadn’t realised how long it’s been since I last did an Arabic Headline Analysis which—for those of you who don’t know—is where we go through a news headline in Arabic word-by-word to understand the vocabulary and grammar.

Seeing as this week’s choice is quite a short headline (and I couldn’t resist fitting some more cool vocabulary into this post), I’ll also be going through the first line of the news story.

This article is from a few weeks ago, on the BBC Arabic website:

ـ 3 يونيو / حزيران 2020

تغير المناخ: استمرار تراجع الغابات الاستوائية في العالم

تتراجع مساحات الغابات الاستوائية القديمة الغنية بالكربون بمعدلات تثير المخاوف، حسب ما تظهر صور الأقمار الاصطناعية

Starting with the title:


تَغَيُّر is the مصدر (verbal noun) of the form V verb تَغَيَّرَ / يَتَغَيَّرُ from the root غ-ي-ر

it means “change” or “changing”

تغير doesn’t have the definite marker الـ here because it’s the first word in a two-word إضافة (genitive/possessive construction)

(note: you can view the Arabic verb chart here, if you need a reminder of the different forms)


مَناخ is a noun from the root ن-و-خ, and it means “climate”

it has the definite الـ prefix, so “تغيّر المناخ” is a definite إضافة phrase

as المناخ is the second word in the إضافة, it would be مجرور (in genitive case) and therefore take a kasra at the end

together, تَغَيُّرُ المَناخِ means “climate change” (literally: “the change of the climate”)

this phrase just introduces the general topic of the article


اِسْتِمْرار is the verbal noun of the form X verb from the root م-ر-ر

the verb اِستَمَرَّ / يَستَمِرُّ = “to continue”

thus, استمرار means “continuation”

this word also doesn’t take the الـ prefix or tanween because it is in an إضافة construct with the two following words (remember: only the last word in an إضافة can have either الـ or tanween or a possessive suffix)


تَراجُع is the مصدر of form VI from the root ر-ج-ع

it can mean “retreat” or “diminishing”

it’s the second word in the three-word إضافة (because of this, it would be مجرور and thus end in a kasra)


غابات is the plural form of غابة meaning “forest”, which comes from the root غ-ي-ب

الغابات has the definite الـ prefix and is the third and final word in the definite إضافة phrase

together: استمرار تراجع الغابات = the continuation of diminishing of the forests (in very literal terms)


اِستِوائِيّة is an adjective derived from the noun اِسْتِواء which means “levelness” or “steadiness” (root = س-و-ي)

خَطّ الاِستِواء = “equator” (it literally translates as “the line of steadiness”, which I think is pretty cool)

so the adjective اِستِوائي means “equatorial” or “tropical”

الاستوائية is the adjective modifying the last word in the إضافة phrase, الغابات (note that the adjective is not part of the إضافة, rather it is outside of it)

الغابات الاستوائية = “tropical forests”

adjectives in an adjective phrase have to agree with the noun they describe in four ways: definiteness, number, gender, and case

seeing as الغابات refers to a non-human plural, it is treated grammatically as the feminine singular—so the adjective has the typical feminine singular ending: ـة

also, الغابات is definite, so the adjective also takes the definite الـ prefix

in terms of case الغابات is مجرور (i.e. الغاباتِ) as it’s the final word in the إضافة, so the adjective mirrors this and would also take a kasra (الاستوائيةِ)


في is a preposition meaning “in”


عالَم means “world”

with the definite prefix, العالم = “the world”

remember: words following prepositions are مجرور in terms of case, so it would be العالمِ

Looking at the whole headline and translation now:

تغير المناخ: استمرار تراجع الغابات الاستوائية في العالم

Climate change: The world’s tropical forests continue to diminish

Translation notes:

  • you’ll probably notice that the word order of the translation is very different from that of the original
  • the literal translation of the Arabic would be Climate change: The continuation of diminishing of (the) tropical forests in the world
  • as you can see, it sounds quite awkward and too long
  • to make it sound more natural, I:
    • swapped “tropical forests in the world” for “the world’s tropical forests”
    • changed the noun “continuation” to the verb “continue”, where “the world’s tropical forests” is the subject
    • used the infinitive form “to diminish” instead of “diminishing”

Summary: sometimes you have to move around and adapt words to get a more natural-sounding translation!

Now, onto the first sentence of the article:

تتراجع مساحات الغابات الاستوائية القديمة الغنية بالكربون بمعدلات تثير المخاوف، حسب ما تظهر صور الأقمار الاصطناعية


تَتَراجَعُ is the present tense, feminine singular, third person conjugation of the form VI verb from the root ر-ج-ع

the verb means “to diminish/deteriorate” etc

(remember, we had تراجُع in the headline, which was the مصدر of this verb)

the subject of this verb is actually the phrase “مساحات الغابات الاستوائية القديمة الغنية بالكربون”, which consists of a two-word إضافة phrase (مساحات الغابات) followed by adjectives describing the word الغابات


مِساحات is the plural form of مِساحة (from the root م-س-ح) meaning “area” or “surface”

as we’ve just mentioned, the word مساحات is the beginning of the subject phrase and, therefore, controls the conjugation of the verb

مساحات is a non-human plural which is treated as feminine singular, hence we saw that the verb تتراجع is also feminine singular

this word is in an إضافة construction with the following word


الغابات = (the) forests, as discussed previously


الاستوائية = tropical, also seen earlier

question: how do we know this series of adjectives is describing الغابات and not مساحات from the إضافة phrase?

it’s a good question because:

  • both words are definite because they are in a definite إضافة (even though only the last word in an إضافة can have a visible definite marker like الـ)—so adjectives describing either of the two nouns would be definite
  • both words are non-human plurals—so they’d both be treated as feminine singular with regards to the adjectives that describe them
  • you can’t insert adjectives in the middle of the إضافة—so whether the adjectives are describing مساحات or الغابات, they’d still be placed directly after الغابات

thankfully, in this context and most others, we can easily identify which noun the adjectives are describing by looking at the meanings

here, the adjectives are referring to الغابات, which will become even clearer as we go through rest of the adjectives

so far we have: تتراجع مساحاتُ الغاباتِ الاستوائية = (the) areas of (the) tropical forests are diminishing


القديمة is the second adjective describing الغابات

قَديم, from the root ق-د-م, means “old” or “ancient”

the adjective matches الغابات grammatically, hence we see the definite marker (الـ) and the typical feminine singular suffix (ـة) on القديمة


الغَنِيّة is the third adjective describing الغابات

غَنِيّ comes from the root غ-ن-ي and means “rich”

when followed by بـ, it means “rich in”

so you add the definite الـ and the feminine ـة onto غني to match with الغابات and you get الغنية


two components here: the بـِ prefix and the word الكربون

the preposition بـ means “in” here, as we already mentioned that if you add a بـ to the word after the adjective غني/ـة, the phrase means “rich in”

الكَرْبون means “carbon”

so الغنية بالكربون means “rich in carbon”

however—in English—when we describe something as rich in carbon, we would often say “carbon-rich”

so, if we put الغابات together with all of its adjectives…

الغابات الاستوائية القديمة الغنية بالكربون = the carbon-rich, ancient tropical forests

(note: an easy way to remember the order of adjectives in Arabic is knowing that the closest adjectives to the noun in English will be the closest adjectives to the noun in Arabic—the only difference being that, in Arabic, the adjectives come after the noun

to demonstrate: (pretend each letter is a different adjective) if we had a b c d noun in English, we’d get noun d c b a in Arabic, because d is closest to the noun, c is second closest etc…)


two components here again: the prepositional بـِ prefix and the noun مُعَدَّلات

بـِ can have many meanings such as “in” or “at”, we’ll decide what is best based on the context

معدلات means “rates”, it’s the plural of مُعَدَّل (note: the word معدلات would be مجرور, as it follows a preposition)

the next two words are actually a relative clause which give more information about the word مُعَدَّلات—but we won’t see the word التي introducing the relative clause because معدلات is an indefinite noun, so it isn’t required

(we discussed relative clauses in quite some detail in the post Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #2)


أثارَ / يُثير is the form IV verb from the root ث-و-ر and it means “to cause/provoke/stir up”

تُثير is the present tense, third person, feminine singular conjugation—and this is because the subject is معدلات which is a non-human plural

seeing as معدلات is the subject of the verb in this relative clause, we don’t need to add a pronoun suffix in this clause referring back to معدلات


مَخاوِف means “fears” and is the plural of the word مَخافة from the root خ-و-ف

الـ is the definite prefix

(remember: الـ is not always translated as “the”—“zero article” words in English (i.e. those not preceded any definite nor indefinite particle) often take the الـ prefix in Arabic)

so معدلاتٍ تُثيرُ المَخاوِفَ = literally “rates that stir up fears”


حَسَبَ = “according to”

(this is one of the words mentioned in the post Small but Useful Arabic Phrases That You Need To Know!)


ما simply means “what” here


أَظْهَرَ / يُظْهِر is a form IV verb from the root ظ-ه-ر meaning “to show/demonstrate/reveal”

تُظْهِر is the present tense, third person, feminine singular conjugation (the subject is the next word, صور, which is a non-human plural)


صُوَر is the plural form of صُورة, meaning “picture” or “image”

this noun is in an إضافة construction with the following word


oh, I really love phrases like this (wait for it…)

قَمَر means “moon”, أَقْمار is the plural—so “moons”

it takes the definite الـ prefix, and is the second and final word in the إضافة


this is an adjective describing الأقمار

from the root ص-ن-ع, we get اِصطِناعي, which is the adjective form of the مصدر of the form VIII verb (اِصْطَنَعَ / يَصْطَنِعُ / الاِصْطِناع “to make/produce”)

اصطناعي means “artificial”

it has to match with the noun it is describing, so it takes the singular feminine ـة suffix and the definite الـ prefix

so الأقمار الاصطناعية literally translates as “artificial moons”

what is meant by that phrase? Satellites

please tell me I’m not the only one excited by this (yes, yes, this is one of the main reasons I wanted to go through the first line of the article—I couldn’t resist going over vocab like this!)

together, صور الأقمار الاصطناعية = satellite images

Now we can put everything together and come up with a suitable translation:

تتراجع مساحات الغابات الاستوائية القديمة الغنية بالكربون بمعدلات تثير المخاوف، حسب ما تظهر صور الأقمار الاصطناعية

Areas of carbon-rich, ancient tropical forests are diminishing at alarming rates, according to satellite images.

Translation notes:

  • I swapped “at rates that stir up fears” for the more idiomatic phrase “at alarming rates”
  • instead of writing “according to what satellite images show”, I decided that “according to satellite images” was more fitting—but that’s just personal choice!

That’s all there is to it! Do let me know if you find these types of posts helpful!

And make sure you’ve checked out last week’s post about Arabic words with two completely opposite meanings… إلى اللقاء!

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