Arabic Grammar – 90

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Words are built from roots.

For example, the root “talk” is the source of many English words.

Infinitive to talk
Present participle talking
Past participle talked
Present simple he talks
Past simple he talked
Noun a talk

In Arabic the root is not a word but only a sequence of consonants found in all related words. The root consonants are called radicals.

See the following example.


Word derived from the root ktb


he wrote

kataba كَتَبَ

he/it was written

kutiba كُتِبَ

he/it became written

ʔ·inkataba اِنْكَتَبَ

he made [somebody] write

kattaba كَتَّبَ

he made [somebody] write

ʔaktaba أَكْتَبَ

he exchanged writing with

→ he made contract with

kȃtaba كاتَبَ

he exchanged writing

→ he made contract

takȃtaba تَكاتَبَ

he wrote himself

→ he subscribed

ʔ·iktataba اِكْتَتَبَ

he sought writing

ʔ·istaktaba اِسْتَكْتَبَ

a writing

katbuṋ كَتْبٌ

a writing

→ a book/dispatch

kitȃbuṋ كِتابٌ

a writing

kitȃba·tuṋ كِتابةٌ

a booklet

kutayyibuṋ كُتَيِّبٌ

a writing [man]

→ a writer

kȃtibuṋ كاتِبٌ

a written [thing]

→ a letter

maktȗbuṋ مَكْتُوْبٌ

a writing [place]

→ an office/desk

maktabuṋ مَكْتَبٌ
a library/bookstore maktaba·tuṋ مَكْتَبةٌ

a phalanx

katȋba·tuṋ كَتِيْبةٌ

All the words in the above table are derived from the root ktb كتب , which is itself not a word but just a sequence of consonants found in the words derived from it. The consonants of the root are separated by different vowels in different types of words. They can also be separated by other consonants that do not belong to the root.

Each root pertains to a certain meaning, e.g. ktb pertains to “writing.”

Root varieties

Verbs can be triradical when they have roots consisting of three consonants (triconsonantal), or quadriradical when they have roots consisting of four consonants (quadriconsonantal).

Nouns can be biradical (have two-consonant roots), triradical, quadriradical, or have longer roots.

However, most verbs and nouns are triradical.

Following are examples of biradical nouns. The radicals are colored blue.

a son ʔ·ibnuṋ اِبْنٌ
a name ʔ·ismuṋ اِسْمٌ
a mouth famuṋ فَمٌ
a hand yaduṋ يَدٌ
a lip šafa⋅tuṋ شَفةٌ
blood damuṋ دَمٌ


  • The prefix ʔ·i– in the first two examples is prosthetic (§II.11.).
  • The letter⋅t is never a radical and always part of a suffix –a⋅t (§II.6.).
  • The ending –uṋ is an inflectional ending.


Many quadriradical words are reduplicated biconsonantal syllables indicating periodic sounds or movements, e.g. tamtama تَمْتَمَ “he muttered” and zalzala زَلْزَلَ “he shook (tr.).”

Some roots come from foreign loanwords. For example, the name of a traditional Arab silver coin is the dirham (dirhamuṋ دِرْهَمٌ ). This word comes from the Greek δραχμή drakhmḗ. As it was Arabized it was made to follow a standard pattern of vocalization of quadriradical nouns in Arabic.

Another example is the word irȃuṋ صِراطٌ meaning “a way” or “a path.” This word comes from the Latin strata “paved road.” The Arabic form was patterned after words such as kitȃbuṋ كِتابٌ “a book” or “a dispatch.”

Weak Roots

The weak roots are certain types of roots whose words can show grammatical irregularity.

  • Roots Ⅱ=Ⅲ have identical seconds and third radicals, e.g. ʕdd “count” and ħkk “scrape.”
  • Roots Ⅰ=ʔ have ʔ as the first radical, e.g. ʔkl “eat” and ʔxð “take.”
  • Roots Ⅰ=w/y have w or y as the first radical, e.g. wθb “jump” and ybs “dry.”
  • Roots Ⅱ=w/y have w or y as the second radical, e.g. qwl “say” and syr “walk.”
  • Roots Ⅲ=w/y have w or y as the third radical, e.g. nmw “grow” and bny “build.”

Some weak roots have a combination of the above issues, e.g. the root wqy “protect” is I=w + III=y.




One thought on “Arabic Grammar – 90

  1. اشكرك اخ هاني على هذه المدونه الرائعة، لكن لدي استفسار حول اصل كلمة “صِرَاْطٌ” !! ذكرتم انها كلمة من اصل لاتيني!! وهي في الحقيقة كلمة عربية الاصل ذكرت في القرآن الكريم في مواضع كثيرة .. ارجو تعليل هذا..شكرا لك

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