Why Verbless Sentences in Standard Arabic are Verbless

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article aims to account for why present-tense topic-predicate sentences in Standard Arabic (SA), so-called verbless sentences, lack a copular verb, unlike their non-present-tense counterparts. In contrast to previous analyses which attribute the absence of the copula to some defect of present tense (Fassi Fehri 1981, Benmamoun 2000, Soltan 2007), I claim that a verbless sentence does not take a copular verb because its nominals do not need structural Case. The proposed analysis is in line with a conception of Case where structural Case is not licensed by phi-agreement or tense, but rather by a “Verbal Case” feature [VC] on the relevant Case-checking heads; thus structural Case is contingent on verbal licensing (Al-Balushi 2011). The present account assumes the Visibility Condition, under which structural Case is necessary to make arguments visible at LF for theta-role assignment (Aoun 1979, Chomsky 1981), and argues for a unique interaction between tense and word order. It is based on the proposal that verbless sentences are finite clauses (encoding [T], [phi], and [Mood])
composed of a topic and a predicate, as well as on the observation that they do not involve licensing of structural Case.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalCanadian Journal of Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 27 2012

Cite this