Arabic Headline Analysis #4


root: ع-ن-و-ن / noun / plural: عَناوين / definition: title, headline

This week, we’re embarking on another Arabic Headline Analysis—exploring the vocabulary and grammar of a recent news headline and concluding with the resulting translation.

Our Arabic headline this week is taken from an article posted on the Project Syndicate website. I really recommend that you take a look at this post, where I mention why and how the website can be an amazing resource for language learners.

First we’ll go through the headline of the Arabic version of the article, and then at the end, we can look at how the translator adapted it from the original English version:

ـ 2 سبتمبر / أيلول 2020

خريطة إلى مستقبل أفضل من أجل مزارعي أفريقيا



root: خ-ر-ط


خَريطة means “map”

notice that there’s no definite الـ prefix, nor is it in a definite construction, so the word is indefinite



إلى = “to”


root: ق-ب-ل

noun, passive participle of form X

مُسْتَقْبَل = “future”

(an interesting word derivation here: استقبل / يستقبل can mean “to welcome”, so مُستَقبَل literally means “(the thing) that is welcomed”—that’s an interesting way to look at the future, right?)

again, this noun is indefinite, so we would translate it as “a future”


root: ف-ض-ل

comparative adjective

أَفْضَل, when used as a superlative means “best”, and when used as a comparative, it means “better”

because it’s used in the regular adjective position here (i.e. after the noun) and it doesn’t have the الـ definite prefix, we know that it is a comparative

the English term “comparative” may be confusing in this context because—while Arabic comparatives are sometimes followed by مِن, equivalent to “than”—sometimes they’re not used to explicitly compare something to something else

regardless, أفضل in this context means “better”

so: مستقبل أفضل = “a better future”

one thing to note: when أَفْعَل forms act as comparative adjectives in Arabic (i.e. they follow the noun if it is present and they have no الـ), they don’t change according to the gender/number of what they describe

(I think we might need a superlative/comparative post soon to explain all of this in more detail…)

another thing to note about comparative adjectives in Arabic is that they are diptotes (ممنوع من الصرف)

this means that they will take a damma when in nominative case (مرفوع) and fatha when in accusative or genitive case (منصوب or مجرور)—and they don’t take tanween

thus, the case endings on the noun phrase are as follows:

مستقبلٍ أفضلَ

مستقبلٍ takes kasratayn because it is مجرور (due to the fact it follows a preposition) and indefinite

أفضلَ is also مجرور and indefinite (because it has to agree with the noun that it describes), however—as it is a diptote—it must end in a fatha rather than kasratayn



if you’re reading carefully, you may have noticed I mentioned that the previous word was not a “typical” comparative adjective as it wasn’t followed by مِن, which is used for comparison

while it is blindingly obvious that there is a مِن directly after the comparative here, what I said still stands true—because the مِن used here is not being used to form a comparative phrase

in this instance, مِن is actually part of a phrase with the word after it, which carries its own meaning (see next word)


root: ء-ج-ل


as a phrase, مِن أَجْلِ = “for (the sake of)” or “on account of”

(this was one of the phrases mentioned in the post Small but Useful Arabic Phrases That You Need To Know)


root: ز-ر-ع

noun, active participle of form III

مُزارِع = “farmer”

this word has a sound masculine plural—i.e. it ends in either ـونَ or ـينَ depending on the context (ـونَ = when in nominative case/مرفوع, and ـينَ = when in accusative/منصوب or genitive case/مجرور)

here, it is ـينَ because it is مجرور (we’ll get onto where the ن went in a minute)

the reason the word is مجرور is because it’s the second word in a 3-word إضافة phrase (possessive construction)

the إضافة phrase is أجل مزارعي أفريقيا (remember, مِن doesn’t count as part of the إضافة because it is a preposition)

now: when a sound masculine plural is in an إضافة construction with the word after it (or it has an attached possessive suffix, which is considered a form of إضافة), its final ن is removed

so because there is a subsequent word within the إضافة (which is أفريقيا in this case), مُزارِعِينَ becomes مُزارِعِي


أَفْريقِيا = “Africa”

as this is a definite noun, it means the whole إضافة phrase is definite

Putting everything together now:

خريطة إلى مستقبل أفضل من أجل مزارعي أفريقيا

A Map to a Better Future for the Farmers of Africa

So there’s our literal translation of the Arabic headline.

Now, as I mentioned at the beginning, this article was originally published in English on the Project Syndicate website and then translated into Arabic (and a handful of other languages).

Let’s compare all three headlines now, the original English, the translated Arabic, and the literal translation of the Arabic (in that order):

Mapping a Better Future for Africa’s Farmers

خريطة إلى مستقبل أفضل من أجل مزارعي أفريقيا

A Map to a Better Future for the Farmers of Africa

You’ll probably notice one main translation point from the headlines above:

The original English headline uses the verbal noun “mapping” (which would be تخطيط in Arabic) and follows it with the direct object “a better future”.

Whereas the Arabic translation uses a simple noun instead, خريطة/”a map”, followed by the prepositional phrase إلى مستقبل أفضل/”to a better future”.

That’s all for this week!

Make sure you’ve checked out last week’s post about forming the pluperfect tense in Arabic and I’ll see you on my next post.

!إلى اللقاء

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