The construct state or status constructus is a noun form occurring in Afro-Asiatic languages. It is particularly common in Semitic languages (such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac), in the Berber languages, and in the extinct Egyptian language. Forms analogous to the construct state are also found in some other languages, such as Dholuo.
In Semitic languages, nouns are placed in the construct state when they are modified by another noun in a genitive construction. Note that this differs from the genitive case of European languages in that it is the head (modified) noun rather than the dependent (modifying) noun which is marked. However, in Semitic languages with grammatical case (e.g. Classical Arabic), the modifying noun in a genitive construction is placed in the genitive case in addition to marking the head noun with the construct state.
In some non-Semitic languages, the construct state has various additional functions besides marking the head noun of a genitive construction.
Depending on the particular language, the construct state of a noun is indicated by various phonological properties (e.g. a different suffix, different vowels or different stress) and/or morphological properties (such as inability to take a definite article).
In the older Semitic languages, the use of the construct state is the standard (often only) way to form a genitive construction with a semantically definite modified noun. The modified noun is placed in the construct state, which lacks any definite article (despite being semantically definite), and is often phonetically shortened (as in Biblical Hebrew). The modifying noun is placed directly afterwards, and no other word can intervene between the two. For example, an adjective that qualifies either the modified or modifying noun must appear after both. (This can lead to potential ambiguity if the two nouns have the same gender, number and case; otherwise, the agreement marking of the adjective will indicate which noun is modified.) In some languages, e.g. Biblical Hebrew and the modern varieties of Arabic, feminine construct-state nouns preserve an original -t suffix that has dropped out in other circumstances.
In some modern Semitic languages, the use of the construct state in forming genitive constructions has been partly or completely displaced by the use of a preposition, much like the use of the modern English "of", or the omission of any marking. In these languages (e.g. Modern Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic), the construct state is used mostly in forming compound nouns. An example is Hebrew bet ha-sefer "the school", lit. "the house of the book"; bet is the construct state of bayit "house". Alongside such expressions, the construct state is sometimes neglected, such as in the expression mana falafel (a portion of falafel), which should be menat falafel using the construct state. However, the lack of a construct state is generally considered informal, and is inappropriate for formal speech.
In Arabic grammar, the construct state is used to mark the first noun (the thing possessed) in the genitive construction. The second noun of the genitive construction (the possessor) is marked by the genitive case.
In Arabic, the genitive construction is called إضافة ʼiḍāfah (literally "attachment") and the first and second nouns of the construction are called مضاف muḍāf ("attached"; also the name for the construct state) and مضاف إليه muḍāf ʼilayhi ("attached to"). These terms come from the verb أضاف ʼaḍāfa "he adds, attaches", verb form IV from the root ض ي ف ḍ y f (a hollow root). In this conceptualization, the possessed thing (the noun in the construct state) is attached to the possessor (the noun in the genitive case).
The construct state is one of the three grammatical states of nouns in Arabic, the other two being the indefinite state and the definite state. Concretely, the three states compare like this:
|Indefinite||malikatun||"a queen"||malikatun jamīlatun||"a beautiful queen"|
|Definite||al-malikatu||"the queen"||al-malikatu l-jamīlatu||"the beautiful queen"|
|Construct||malikatu||"a/the queen of ..."||malikatu l-baladi l-jamīlatu||"the beautiful queen of the country"|
|malikatu baladin jamīlatun||"a beautiful queen of a country"|
|Indefinite||malika||"a queen"||malika gamila||"a beautiful queen"|
|Definite||il-malika||"the queen"||il-malika l-gamila||"the beautiful queen"|
|Construct||malik(i)t||"a/the queen of ..."||malikt il-balad il-gamila||"the beautiful queen of the country"|
|malikit balad gamila||"a beautiful queen of a country"|
In Classical Arabic, a word in the construct state is semantically definite if the following word is definite. The word in the construct state takes neither the definite article prefix al- nor the indefinite suffix -n (nunation), since its definiteness depends on the following word. Some words also have a different suffix in the construct state, for example masculine plural mudarrisūna "teachers" vs. mudarrisū "the teachers of ...". Formal Classical Arabic uses the feminine marker -t in all circumstances other than before a pause, but the normal spoken form of the literary language omits it except in a construct-state noun. This usage follows the colloquial spoken varieties of Arabic.
In the spoken varieties of Arabic, the use of the construct state has varying levels of productivity. In conservative varieties (e.g. Gulf Arabic), it is still extremely productive. In Egyptian Arabic, both the construct state and the particle bitāʿ "of" can be used, e.g. kitāb Muḥammad "Muhammad's book" or al-kitāb bitāʿ Muḥammad "the book of Muhammad". In Moroccan Arabic, the construct state is used only in forming compound nouns; in all other cases, dyal "of" or d- "of" is used. In all these varieties, the longer form with the "of" particle (a periphrastic form) is the normal usage in more complicated constructions (e.g. with an adjective qualifying the head noun, as in the above example "the beautiful queen of the nation") or with nouns marked with a dual or sound plural suffix.
In some cases, (not) applying the construct state could completely alter the meaning of the phrase. The Berber particle d means "and" and "is/are" in English. Also, many Berber verbs are both transitive and intransitive. In the intransitive case, the construct state is required for the subject.
- Taddart n urgaz — lit. "The house of the man" — (instead of: "Taddart n argaz).
- Aghyul d userdun — lit. "The donkey and the mule" — (instead of: Aghyul d aserdun, which means: The donkey is a mule).
- Udem n temghart — lit. "The face of the woman" — (instead of: Udem n tamghart).
- Afus deg ufus — lit. "Hand in hand" — (instead of: Afus deg afus)
- Semmust n terbatin — lit. "Five girls" — (instead of: Semmust n tirbatin).
- Icca ufunas — "The bull has eaten" — (while "Icca afunas" means: He ate a bull).
The Dholuo language (one of the Luo languages) shows alternations between voiced and voiceless states of the final consonant of a noun stem. In the construct state (the form that means 'hill of', 'stick of', etc.) the voicing of the final consonant is switched from the absolute state. (There are also often vowel alternations that are independent of consonant mutation.)
- ɡɔt 'hill' (abs.), god (const.)
- lʊθ 'stick' (abs.), luð (const.)
- kɪdo 'appearance' (abs.), kit (const.)
- tʃoɡo 'bone' (abs.), tʃok (const.)
- buk 'book' (abs.), bug (const.)
- kɪtabu 'book' (abs.), kɪtap (const.)
In Hebrew grammar, the construct state is known as smikhut ([smiˈχut]) (סמיכות, lit. "support" (the noun), "adjacency"). Simply put, smikhut consists of combining two nouns, often with the second noun combined with the definite article, to create a third noun.
- בַית — /ˈbajit/ — "(a) house"
- הבַית — /ha-ˈbajit/ — "the house"
- בֵית — /be(j)t/ — "house-of"
- ספר — /ˈsefer/ — "(a) book"
- בֵית ספר — /be(j)t ˈsefer/ — "(a) school" (literally "house(-of) book")
- בֵית הספר — /be(j)t ha-ˈsefer/ — "the school" (formal; literally "house(-of) the book")
- עוגה — /ʕuˈɡa/ — "cake" (feminine)
- גבינה — /ɡviˈna/ — "cheese"
- עוגת גבינה — /ʕuˈɡat ɡviˈna/ — "cheesecake"
- דיבור — /diˈbur/ — "speech" (an example of a noun for which the smikhut-form is identical to the regular form)
- חופש — /ˈħofeʃ/ — "freedom"
- חופש הדיבור — /ˈħofeʃ ha-diˈbur/ — "freedom of speech" (literally "freedom(-of) the speech")
As in Arabic, the smikhut construct state, the indefinite, and definite states may be expressed succinctly in a table:
|Indefinite||malkah||"a queen"||malkah yafah||"a beautiful queen"|
|Definite||ha-malkah||"the queen"||ha-malkah ha-yafah||"the beautiful queen"|
|Construct||malkat||"the queen of ..."||malkat ha-medinah ha-yafah||"the beautiful queen of the country"|
Comparison between Classical and Modern Hebrew
Modern Israeli Hebrew grammar makes extensive use of the preposition shel (evolved as a contraction of she-le- "which (is belonging) to") to mean both "of" and "belonging to", thus almost completely avoiding the construct state except in a limited set of fixed terms, expressions, titles and names.
- Hans Wehr, Dictionary of Modern Standard Arabic: )ضيف( ضاف ḍāfa
- Faruk Abu-Chacra, Arabic: An Essential Grammar: p. 61
- Stafford, R. (1967). The Luo language. Nairobi: Longmans.
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