Arabic Grammar – 90

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Words are built from roots.

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

Words derived from the root talk
to talk Infinitive
talking Present participle
talked Past participle
he talks Present simple
he talked Past simple
a talk Noun

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.

Words derived from the root ktb Meanings
Verbs kataba كَتَبَ he wrote
kutiba كُتِبَ he/it was written
ʔ·inkataba اِنْكَتَبَ he/it became written
kattaba كَتَّبَ he made [somebody] write
ʔaktaba أَكْتَبَ he made [somebody] write
kȃtaba كاتَبَ he exchanged writing with
→ he made contract with
takȃtaba تَكاتَبَ he exchanged writing
→ he made contract
ʔ·iktataba اِكْتَتَبَ he wrote himself
→ he subscribed
ʔ·istaktaba اِسْتَكْتَبَ he sought writing
Nouns katbuṋ كَتْبٌ a writing
kitȃbuṋ كِتابٌ a writing
→ a book/dispatch
kitȃba·tuṋ كِتابةٌ a writing
kutayyibuṋ كُتَيِّبٌ a booklet
kȃtibuṋ كاتِبٌ a writing [man]
→ a writer
maktȗbuṋ مَكْتُوْبٌ a written [thing]
→ a letter
maktabuṋ مَكْتَبٌ a writing [place]
→ an office/desk
maktaba·tuṋ مَكْتَبةٌ a library/bookstore
katȋba·tuṋ كَتِيْبةٌ a phalanx

All 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.

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


  • 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 violently (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,” which is also the source of English street. 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. dʕw “call” and bny “build.”

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


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