The Three Types of “If” in Arabic

إمْكانِيّة

root: م-ك-ن / noun / plural: إمْكانِيّات / definition: possibility


I intended for this week’s post to be a headline analysis or root exploration—neither of which we’ve had in a while. But then someone mentioned they’d like to see a post about the different types of “if” in Arabic, which happens to be one of the posts queued up in my ever-lengthening to-write list.

So now’s a good a time as any to explore the three conditional particles: لو، إذا and إن!

First things first, we have to know the different parts of a conditional sentence. Let’s take a look at an example in English:

If you want to write a novel, you have to start with the first page.

There’s three parts here:

  • the conditional particle (أداة الشرط): if
  • the condition (الشرط): you want to write a novel
  • the result (جواب الشرط): you have to start with the first page

We’ll need to keep these in mind as we look at how to use each particle.


إذا

We use it for… possible or likely situations

The condition: is in past tense (even if the meaning is present or future)

The result: is usually introduced by فـ and can be in any tense

Examples:

إذا درستَ جيداً، سوف تنجح في الامتحان

if you study well, you’ll pass the exam


إذا كنتُ مريضاً، فَلم أحضر الحفلة

if I were ill, I wouldn’t have attended the party


!إذا لم ترد أن تأكل، فلا تأكل

if you don’t want to eat, don’t eat!


سيتغير الوضع في البلد إذا كان هناك رئيس آخر

the situation in the country will change if there were a different president

note: in the last example here, the result (the situation in the country will change) precedes the condition (there’s a different president), so we don’t use the فـ


لو

We use it for… unlikely or impossible situations

The condition: is usually in the past tense

The result: is in the past tense and usually introduced by لَـ

Examples:

لَو كان صادقاً، لَقاله من قبل

if he were truthful, he would have said it before


لَو أخرجتَ فيلماً، لَأصبحتَ غنياً

if you produced a film, you’d become rich


When we want to make the condition negative, we use لَولا (written as one word) and often translate as “if it weren’t for”:

لَولا القاموس، لَبكيتُ

if it weren’t for the dictionary, I’d cry

We can also add a pronoun suffix to لولا, for example:

لم يدرس العربية لَولاكِ

he wouldn’t have studied Arabic if it weren’t for you

(notice also how, in the example above, the result precedes the condition, so لَـ isn’t used)


Another common phrase we might see with لَو is حَتّى لَو (or, sometimes, حَتّى وَلَو), meaning “even if“:

لن أذهب إلى السوق، حتّى لو أردتُ

I won’t go to the market, even if I want to


إن

We use it for… possible situations, but this particle is more archaic/stylistic

The condition: is in the past tense or jussive (المضارع المجزوم)

The result: usually reflects the tense of the condition (e.g. if the condition is past tense, the result is often past tense etc); if the result is a nominal clause (i.e. begins with a noun or pronoun), the verb in the result can be present tense—فَـ may or may not be used to introduce the result

Examples:

إن شاء الله

if God wills


إن رجعتَ إلى البيت، فَشعرتَ بالهدوء

if you go back home, you’ll feel calm


إن يستغرقْ وقتاً طويلاً، فَالولد ينام

if it takes a long time, the boy will fall asleep


When the condition is negative, إن + لا are combined and preceded by وَ, which gives us وَإلّا:

وَإلّا، فسوف أتّصل بهم لاحقاً..

…and if not, I’ll contact them later


And there we have the three ifs!

I’ll hopefully see you next week with a different type of post for some more variety. But don’t forget to catch up on the recent grammar explanations in the meantime.

!في أمان الله



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