Words are built from roots.
For example, the root “talk” is the source of many English words.
|Words derived from the root talk|
|he talks||Present simple|
|he talked||Past simple|
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|
|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|
→ a book/dispatch
|kȃtibuṋ||كاتِبٌ||a writing [man]
→ a writer
|maktȗbuṋ||مَكْتُوْبٌ||a written [thing]
→ a letter
|maktabuṋ||مَكْتَبٌ||a writing [place]
→ an office/desk
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.”
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.
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 ṣirȃṭuṋ 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.”
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.