In order to conjugate any word to past or present tense, look up a word in the dictionary, and derive the meaning of an unknown word, it’s important to know how to find the root of a word. In this section, we will be discussing what roots are, why they are important, and how to identify the root of a word.
Arabic is based on a root system, this means that all Arabic words are composed of three base letters in a specific order that conveys meaning. These roots can then be put into patterns or الأوزان to create sets of related nouns, verbs, and gerunds. For example:
The three root letter ك-ت-ب mean to write:
Any word that breaks down into the root of ك-ت-ب will have some meaning related to writing or books. Here’s another example:
The three root letter د-ر-س means to learn or study
Roots can also have two of the same letter like ح-ب-ب
When there is a double root it is indicated with a shudda, or a small w like symbol above a letter (وّ). This means that there are two letters even if you only see one.
Why are roots important?
- Learning new words: When you learn a new word or come across a word you do not know that has the same root as another word you already know, it makes it much easier to guess the meaning. For example, if you already know the word for green and you recognize that the word for vegetables has the same root, it will be much easier to identify the word vegetable in the future.
- Finding Patterns: I will discuss patterns or الأوزان in the next section, but basically, patterns are what letters are left in a word once you remove the root. Patterns are important because they can help you to identify the meaning of a new word and they can help you to conjugate words that you don’t know the conjugated form of.
Rules about Roots:
- Three-Letter: The vast majority of words in Arabic have 3 root letters.
- Four-Letter: A small number of words have 4 root letters. Many of these are actually the same two letters repeated twice, such as using a Shudda (وّ).
What letters can form the root?
- Short vowels ( وَ ِو وُ) and taa’ marbuuTa (ة) NEVER form part of the root
- Weak letters can form part of the root but are often missing or altered for example و and ي can sometimes be switched or represented with a ى.
- The consonant ء is written as أ in the place of the long vowel ا , because ا cannot be part of the root.
- In addition, the following 10 letters are sometimes part of a pattern and not part of the root: The 3 weak letters ( ا و ي), the hamza (ء), and these 6 letters ( ت,س,ل,م,ن, هـ )
Information sourced from: http://www.tengugo.com/arabic/arabic1/arabic_1/part_2___useful_arabic/lesson_7c_roots_and_patterns
If you know the root of the word, then you can lookup any word in an Arabic English dictionary by going to the page that contains the three root letters. But what if you’re not given the root? How do you find the root of a given word?
In order to understand how to find the root, it’s important to know what the prefixes and suffixes are for pronoun conjugation, as well as the 10 major root patterns. As discussed in chapter 1, when conjugating a word you add prefixes and suffixes for present tense and suffixes for past tense. Refer to the charts bellow for a reminder.
Present tense- to eat أكل (root ء-ك-ل)
|I eat أنا
|You (masc.) eat أنتَ
You (fem.) eat أنتِ
تأكلينَ ت+ ين
|He eats هو
She eats هي
|You two eat أنتما
|تأكلان ت + ان
|We eat نحن
|Y’all (masc.) eat انتم
Y’all (fem.) eat انتن
|تأكلون ت + ون
تأكلنَ ت + ن
|They (masc.) eat هم
They (fem.) eat هن
|يأكلون ي + ون
يأكلن ي+ ن
Past Tense- (to eat) أكل (root ء-ك-ل)
|I ate أنا
|You (masc.) ate أنتَ
You (fem.) ate إنتِ
|He ate هو
She ate هي
|You two ate أنتما
|We ate نحن
|Y’all (masc.) ate انتم
Y’all (fem.) ate انتن
|They (masc.) ate هم
They (fem.) ate هن
If given a word (يشاهدون for example) and asked to determine the root, the first step would be to get rid of any letters that indicate conjugation of the past or present tense:
From our conjugation charts in the last unit, we know that a prefix of ت and a suffix of ون means that it’s conjugated to انتم, thus we can exclude those letters from the root. Leaving us with:
Because we still have four letters instead of three, we now have to determine what letters are part of the pattern and which ones are part of the root. From the note section on roots above, we know that the letter alif (ا) is never part of the root, so we can delete that letter. That leaves us with the final root ش-ه-د.
Now we know that the root is ش-ه-د, but what is the pattern? Patterns (الأوزان) are the parts of a word that are not the root and can change the meaning of the word. There are 10 major patterns and they can generally be applied to any root. So how do you know what pattern the word is and what does that pattern mean? To figure out the pattern, once you find the root letters, replace them with the root for “to do” ( فعل). The root ف ع ل represents generic root letters in a pattern, like a place holder:
ف ع ل
Using our example word يشاهدون (they watch) the root is ش-ه-د, so we would figure out the pattern as follows:
Step 1: replace the root of the word with the placeholder ( ف ع ل)
يشاهدون becomes يفاعلون
Step 2: Identify the parts of the word
ي + ف ا عل + ون
- The red letters indicate the root
- The blue letter indicates the conjugation (present tense انتم or you all masculine)
- Green indicates a permanent part of the pattern
Step 3: delete the parts of the word that indicate conjugation
يفاعلون becomes فاعل
Step 4: You found the pattern!
- Now we know that the patterns for شاهد، شاهدت، تشاهد، يشاهدون are all فاعل
- فاعل is pattern number 4.
Sometimes it can be tricky to find the pattern, but in order to help you become more familiar with them, I will introduce the 10 root patterns next. Each root pattern conveys a specific meaning to the word, however for now we will just focus on recognizing patterns and conjugating verbs according to patterns. When it comes to recognizing root patterns, make sure to pay attention to short vowels and the root letter holder فعل:
|No specific meaning/most common form
|Reflexive (self reflection)
|Reflexive (something or someone causes reflection)
|Used for colors and deflects
While I’m not going to go into what causative, sharing, to seek, color, and deflective means in this unit, it is important to generally understand that putting a root into different patterns conveys different meanings. For example, the pattern can change a verb to be transitive or reflexive. Transitive would mean that you are performing the action such as to chop up (something) or to cut off (something). While reflexive would be the impact of the action, such as to be cut off or to be chopped up. Patterns can also imply whether an action is voluntary or involuntary. That being said, you don’t need to understand the nuances of the meanings of each pattern, this is a very complex abstract idea and takes many years of practice. For now, just try to recognize each pattern and its conjugation forms.
If you have ever had trouble conjugating verbs, it’s probably because you didn’t know about patterns or that different patterns conjugated words differently. This is why it is important to learn patterns, as they will help you to conjugate normal and irregular verbs. Bellow is the conjugation charts for patterns 1-10, which demonstrate how to conjugate the past, present, the gerund, commands, and passive which will help you to find the root of any given word:
وزن فَعَلَ (I)
فَعَلَا (هما) M
فَعَلَتَا (هما) F
|أُفْعُلْ (you masc)
أُفْعُلِي (you fem)
أُفْعُلُوا (you all)
أُفْعُلْنَ (you all fem)
( in progress, still working on uploading the pattern charts)
Patterns can also be used to transform words into superlatives and comparatives, using the form إفعل.
سهل – أسهل
صعب – أصعب
جميل – أجمل
سعيد – أسعد
كبير – أكبر
When using the superlative form followed by a defined or undefined noun, it forms a superlative sentence:
أمبر بناية/ أكبر البنايات
The largest building
أجمل بنت/ أجمل البنات
The prettiest girl
However, when the superlative form is followed by a preposition, especially من, it forms a comparative sentence:
انا أقصر من اخي
I am smaller than my brother
المدينة أكبر من القرية
The city is larger than the village
The word, مازال، is used to express something that is ongoing or continuous, which could be an action, a feeling, or a state of existence. For example:
انا مريضة، لكنني مازلت أريد الذهاب الى الحفلة
I am sick but I still want to go to the party
What makes this word unique and worth noting is that it is conjugated to the past tense but is used in the present tense.