Arabic Headline Analysis #7


root: ج-م-ع / noun / plural: جامِعات / definition: university

So I’m finally here, at university (!), after a four-hour drive which depleted my already-sunken energy levels and temporarily numbed my arm that had the misfortune of being the support pillar of a precariously-balanced bag.

But who cares about the fatigue, the six hills I have to trek up to get to my seminar building, and the constant hum of the fridge in my little studio flat that’s driving me up the wall… because I’m so excited to be formally studying Arabic again!

I know my schedule is going to get significantly more packed next week, so I thought I’d spend some time this weekend on another headline analysis to add to our little series.

This week, we’ll be going word-by-word through the following headline:

ـ 17 أيلول / سبتمبر 2021

عمر المختار: “أسد الصحراء” الذي أصبح رمزا لمقاومة المستعمر في ليبيا

Let’s analyse!

We can actually translate the first two words together here…

عمر المختار

عُمَر المُختار is a name, commonly spelt Omar al-Mukhtar in English


root: ء-س-د


أَسَد = “lion”

this is the first word in a two-word definite إضافة construction, and therefore it can neither end in الـ nor tanween

it’s the subject of the clause (we’ll see the verb later), so it ends in a damma: أَسَدُ


components: الـ + صَحراء

root: ص-ح-ر


صَحراء = “desert”

الـ = the definite prefix

seeing as الصحراء is the final word in the إضافة, it’s مجرور

the word صحراء is actually a diptote (ممنوع من الصرف), which means that it usually takes damma as an ending when مرفوع and fatha when either منصوب or مجرور—and doesn’t take tanween

however, diptotes follow regular case ending rules when they either have the definite prefix الـ or they’re the non-final word in an إضافة

seeing as الصحراء has الـ here, it follows the regular rules—and because it’s مجرور in this context, it can take a kasra

together, أسدُ الصحراءِ means “the lion of the desert”

(p.s. did you know that صحراء is actually a feminine word? It follows the same pattern as adjectives that have the masculine form as أَفعَل and the feminine form as فَعلاء—like the colours, for example)


الَّذي is a relative pronoun, which introduces the relative clause that follows (أصبح رمزا لمقاومة المستعمر في ليبيا)

(note: a relative clause gives more information about a noun or noun phrase—e.g. “I saw the ruins that you spoke about“)

we have to use a relative pronoun to introduce the relative clause here because the noun phrase that we’re getting more information about (أسد الصحراء) is definite

الذي can be translated as “who”, “whom”, “that”, or “which”, depending on the context

as الذي is referring back to أسد الصحراء, it matches أسد (the core part of the إضافة) in gender and number—which is why we see الذي rather than التي or الذين

(if you want to read more about relative pronouns or clauses, we mentioned the topic in these two posts too)

so far, we have: عمر المختار: أسد الصحراء الذي “Omar al-Mukhtar: “The Lion of the Desert” who”


root: ص-ب-ح

form IV verb, past tense, third person masculine singular

أَصبَحَ = “he became”

the subject of the verb is أسد الصحراء, hence the conjugation

(we’ve talked about this verb quite a bit on the blog! Check out these posts: Four Common Words for “to Become” in Arabic, Arabic Observations: Time of Day and “to Become” Synonyms, and Another Use of أصبح)

أصبح is a “sister” of كان—meaning that its predicate (خبر) must be منصوب


root: ر-م-ز


رَمز = “symbol”

this is the predicate of أصبح, hence why it’s منصوب and ends with اً

together, أصبح رَمزاً means “he became a symbol”


components: لِـ + مقاومة

لِـ = “for” or “of”—it’s a preposition, so the following word will be مجرور

as for مقاومة…

root: ق-و-م

verbal noun (مصدر) of form III verb

مُقاوَمة = “resistance” or “resisting”

this noun is in an إضافة with the following word


root: ع-م-ر

active participle (اسم فاعل) of form X verb

مُستَعمِر = “coloniser”

and الـ, as you know, is the definite prefix

so لِمُقاوَمةِ المُستَعمِرِ literally means “of/for resisting the coloniser”



في = “in”


لِيبيا = “Libya”

(it’s nice when the last word is so simple, right?)

Okay, so it’s time to put together our headline, using all of the literal translations:

عمر المختار: “أسد الصحراء” الذي أصبح رمزا لمقاومة المستعمر في ليبيا

Omar al-Mukhtar: “The Lion of the Desert” who became a symbol of resisting the coloniser in Libya

So as we can see, it doesn’t sound quite right because of the “resisting the coloniser” part, so let’s swap that with something synonymous:

عمر المختار: “أسد الصحراء” الذي أصبح رمزا لمقاومة المستعمر في ليبيا

Omar al-Mukhtar: “The Lion of the Desert” who became a symbol of anticolonial resistance in Libya

Sound better? Would you make any edits to our final translation? (Side note: is a translation ever final?!)

Don’t forget to check out last week’s post which contains three super useful Arabic phrases that you can use to make your writing sound more sophisticated, and I’ll see you back here on Wednesday for our next Wehr Wednesdays post!

!إلى اللقاء

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