Arabic Grammar – 140

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Verb stems

In order to be able to recognize verbs and conjugate them for time (perfective vs. imperfective), you need to be familiar with the common types of verb stems.

The table below lists the 13 important stem types of Standard Arabic that you need to know. The table shows the perfective and imperfective conjugation of each stem.

Stem Ⅰ (the G-stem) is the basic stem from which all the others are ultimately derived. This means that all the stems other than Stem Ⅰ are deverbal. There are no distinctive stems for denominal verbs in Arabic.

For each stem, the imperfective prefix vowel is colored red and the theme vowel is colored green.

Verb stems
Stem Perfective Imperfective Example
Ⅰ (G-stem) a–u فَعَلَ يَفْعُلُ كَتَبَ، يَكْتُبُ
faʕala yafʕulu kataba, yaktubu
“write”
a–i فَعَلَ يَفْعِلُ ضَرَبَ، يَضْرِبُ
faʕala yafʕilu araba, yaḍribu
“hit”
a–a فَعَلَ يَفْعَلُ فَتَحَ، يَفْتَحُ
faʕala yafʕalu fataħa, yaftaħu
“open”
i–a فَعِلَ يَفْعَلُ فَرِحَ، يَفْرَحُ
faʕila yafʕalu fariħa, yafraħu
“be(come) happy”
u–u فَعُلَ يَفْعُلُ كَرُمَ، يَكْرُمُ
faʕula yafʕulu karuma, yakrumu
“be(come) noble”
Ⅱ (D-stem) فَعَّلَ يُفَعِّلُ كَتَّبَ، يُكَتِّبُ
faʕʕala yufaʕʕilu kattaba, yukattibu
“make [someone] write [something]”
Ⅲ (L-stem) فاعَلَ يُفاعِلُ كاتَبَ، يُكاتِبُ
fȃʕala yufȃʕilu kȃtaba, yukȃtibu
“exchange writing with [someone]”
→ “make contract with [someone]”
Ⅳ (ʔ-stem) أَفْعَلَ يُفْعِلُ أَكْتَبَ، يُكْتِبُ
ʔafʕala yufʕilu ʔaktaba, yuktibu
“make [someone] write [something]”
Ⅴ (tD-stem) تَفَعَّلَ يَتَفَعَّلُ تَكَسَّرَ، يَتَكَسَّرُ
tafaʕʕala yatafaʕʕalu takassara, yatakassaru
“break into pieces (intr.)”
Ⅵ (tL-stem) تَفاعَلَ يَتَفاعَلُ تَكاتَبَ، يَتَكاتَبُ
tafȃʕala yatafȃʕalu takȃtaba, yatakȃtabu
“exchange writing [with] (intr.)”
→ “make contract [with] (intr.)”
Ⅶ (n-stem) اِنْفَعَلَ يَنْفَعِلُ اِنْكَسَرَ، يَنْكَسِرُ
ʔ⋅infaʕala yanfaʕilu ʔ⋅inkasara, yankasiru
“break (intr.)”
Ⅷ (Gt-stem) اِفْتَعَلَ يَفْتَعِلُ اِكْتَتَبَ، يَكْتَتِبُ
ʔ⋅iftaʕala yaftaʕilu ʔ⋅iktataba, yaktatibu
“write self (intr.)”
→ “subscribe”
Ⅸ (R-stem) اِفْعَلَّ يَفْعَلُّ اِحْمَرَّ، يَحْمَرُّ
ʔ⋅ifʕalla yafʕallu ʔ⋅iħmarra, yaħmarru
“become red (intr.)”
Ⅹ (st-stem) اِسْتَفْعَلَ يَسْتَفْعِلُ اِسْتَأْذَنَ، يَسْتَأْذِنُ
ʔ⋅istafʕala yastafʕilu ʔ⋅istaʔðana, yastaʔðinu
“seek permission from [someone]”
QⅠ (Q-stem) فَعْلَلَ يُفَعْلِلُ زَلْزَلَ، يُزَلْزِلُ
faʕlala yufaʕlilu zalzala, yuzalzilu
“shake [something] violently”
QⅡ (tQ-stem) تَفَعْلَلَ يَتَفَعْلَلُ تَزَلْزَلَ، يَتَزَلْزَلُ
tafaʕlala yatafaʕlalu tazalzala, yatazalzalu
“shake violently (intr.)”
QⅣ (QR-stem) اِفْعَلَلَّ يَفْعَلِلُّ اِقْشَعَرَّ، يَقْشَعِرُّ
ʔ⋅ifʕalalla yafʕalillu ʔ·iaʕarra, yaaʕirru
“[skin] become gooseflesh (intr.)”

Note that:

  • The prefix vowel is a in all the stems except Stems Ⅱ, Ⅲ, Ⅳ & QⅠ which have u.
  • In the derived stems (stems other than Stem Ⅰ), the theme vowel is a in the perfective and i in the imperfective, except for the stems with a prefix ta– (Ⅴ, Ⅵ & QⅡ), which have a in the imperfective.
  • The imperfective of Stem Ⅳ lacks the prefix ʔa– of the perfective form. A rare variant of the imperfective with the prefix ʔa–is yuʔailu يُؤَفْعِلُ .
  • The stems with a prefix ta– have variants with a vowelless t–. Thus, Stem Ⅴ has the variant ʔ⋅itfaʕʕala, yatfaʕʕalu اِتْفَعَّلَ، يَتْفَعَّلُ and Stem Ⅵ has the variant ʔ⋅itfȃʕala, yatfȃʕalu اِتْفاعَلَ، يَتْفاعَلُ (the ʔ⋅i– prefix in the perfective is prosthetic). Such forms are found in the Qurʔȃn, but otherwise they are uncommon in Standard Arabic.
  • Stems ending with a doubled consonant (Ⅸ & QⅣ) have an irregular shape in the citation form. In this irregular shape the theme vowel is either hidden (Ⅸ) or displaced back (QⅣ).

Each stem has general meanings associated with it. Following is a survey of these meanings.

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