Arabic Grammar – 145


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Causative stems (Ⅱ & Ⅳ)

Stem Ⅱ faʕʕala, yufaʕʕilu فَعَّلَ، يُفَعِّلُ (called the D-stem, D for “doubled radical”) and Stem Ⅳ ʔaala, yuilu أَفْعَلَ، يُفْعِلُ both can have a causative or intensive meaning.


Causative verbs mean “make [object 1] do [object 2]” when they are derived from a transitive verb meaning “do [object 2],” and mean “make [object 1] do” when they are derived from an intransitive verb. Thus, a causative verb is inherently transitive, that is, it must govern at least one object. It governs two objects (ditransitive) when derived from a transitive verb and one object when derived from an intransitive verb.

Like other verbs, causative verbs can be action verb or non-action verbs. Non-action causative verbs mean “make [object] become something.”

Stem Ⅰ Stem Ⅱ
kataba كَتَبَ kattaba كَتَّبَ
he wrote [obj. 2] (tr.) he made [obj. 1] write [obj. 2] (ditr.)
damara دَمَرَ dammara دَمَّرَ
he vanished (intr.) he made [obj.] vanish (tr.)
→ he destroyed [obj.] (tr.)
kabura كَبُرَ kabbara كَبَّرَ
he was/became big(ger) (intr.) he made [obj.] big(ger) (tr.)
Stem Ⅰ Stem Ⅳ
kataba كَتَبَ ʔaktaba أَكْتَبَ
he wrote [obj. 2] (tr.) he made [obj. 1] write [obj. 2] (ditr.)
xaraǵa خَرَجَ ʔaxraǵa أَخْرَجَ
he went/came out (intr.) he made [obj.] go/come out (tr.)
taʕiba تَعِبَ ʔatʕaba أَتْعَبَ
he was/became tired (intr.) he made [obj.] tired (tr.)

Causative verbs are commonly derived from nouns, with the meaning “make [object] become noun.”

Following are examples.

Noun Stem Ⅱ
kabȋruṋ كَبِيْرٌ kabbara كَبَّرَ
big he enlarged (tr.)
kȃðibuṋ كاذِبٌ kaððaba كَذَّبَ
a lying [person] he made [obj.] lying (tr.)
Noun Stem Ⅳ
kabȋruṋ كَبِيْرٌ ʔakbara أَكْبَرَ
big he enlarged (tr.)
kȃðibuṋ كاذِبٌ ʔaaba أَكْذَبَ
a lying [person] he made [obj.] lying (tr.)

The meaning of denominal causative verbs is not always to be taken literally. For example, the verbs kabbara and ʔakbara have the literal meaning “he made [object] big(ger)” but they can also mean “he considered [object] big” or “he exaggerated the size of [object].” Likewise, kaððaba and ʔaaba mean literally “he made [object] a lying [person]” but what they really mean is “he considered [object] a lying [person]” or “he accused [object] of being a lying [person].”

When derived from nouns indicating place, direction, or time, causative verbs have the meaning “be(come) in place/time,” “head into place/direction,” or “spend time.”

Noun Stem Ⅱ
šarquṋ شَرْقٌ šarraqa شَرَّقَ
east he headed east (intr.)
uuṋ صُبْحٌ abbaħa صَبَّحَ
morning he was/became/went/came in morning, he spent morning (intr.)
Noun Stem Ⅳ
baħruṋ بَحْرٌ ʔaara أَبْحَرَ
sea he went into sea, he sailed (intr.)
uuṋ صُبْحٌ ʔaṣbaħa أَصْبَحَ
morning he was/became/went/came in morning, he spent morning (intr.)

A characteristic of causative verbs is that they can be frequently used as middle-voice verbs with reduced transitivity. English has many such verbs of alternating voice and transitivity, e.g. the verb break is active-voice and transitive in “He broke the glass” but middle-voice and intransitive in “The glass broke.” (Verbs whose voice and transitivity change like this are called ergative.) For example, the Stem Ⅱ ħaǵǵara, yuħaǵǵiru حَجَّرَ، يُحَجِّرُ , which is derived from the noun ħaǵaruṋ حَجَرٌ “stone(s),” can mean either “petrify [object]” or “become petrified.” The Stem Ⅳ ʔaslama, yuslimu أَسْلَمَ، يُسْلِمُ can mean either “surrender [object]” or “surrender self.”


Intensive verbs indicate more intense actions, the intensity being of character, duration, or frequency.

Stem Ⅰ Stem Ⅱ
kasara كَسَرَ kassara كَسَّرَ
he broke (tr.) he smashed (tr.)
qaaʕa قَطَعَ qataʕa قَطَّعَ
he cut (tr.) he chopped (tr.)
Stem Ⅰ Stem Ⅳ
šaraqat شَرَقَتْ ʔašraqat أَشْرَقَتْ
[the sun] appeared (intr.) [the sun] shined (intr.)
Noun Stem Ⅳ
ǵamaluṋ جَمَلٌ ʔaǵmala أَجْمَلَ
camel he has many camels (intr.)

The intensive meaning of Stem Ⅳ was not recognized by the grammarians of CA. However, the many verbs of this stem that are said to be synonymous with their Stem Ⅰ cognates are likely to have been originally intensive, like the following examples.

Stem Ⅰ Stem Ⅳ
masaka مَسَكَ ʔamsaka أَمْسَكَ
he held, grasped (tr./intr.) he held, grasped (tr./intr.)
xaaʔa/xaiʔa خَطَأَ/خَطِئَ ʔaxaʔa أَخْطَأَ
he missed [target] (tr.) he missed [target] (tr.)


In the modern vernacular dialects, Stem Ⅳ has practically disappeared. It remains only vestigially in some dialects. But Stem Ⅱ remains very productive. This development is unsurprising because Stem Ⅱ and Stem Ⅳ had identical meanings and eliminating one of them eliminated a redundancy.


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