# Arabic Roots: The Power of Patterns

I want to quickly introduce the Arabic language, through its “root system” —i.e., most words have 3-letters at their core— and how these roots can be placed in “patterns” to obtain new words.

I'd like to take a glance at Arabic's Verb Forms: These give you 10 words for each root!

Some interesting concepts will also be mentioned, for those curious, but should be ignored on a first reading. These will be hidden away in clickable/foldable regions.

These are notes of things that I'm learning; there's likely errors.

## 1.The Arabic Root System

Most Arabic words are derived from a three-letter —notable exceptions are words like “and” وَ and “on” علی. A root, or مصدر “masdar”, refers to the core meaning of a word. Simply put, roots are identified by ignoring all non-vowel letters, resulting in usually 3 letters —and, rarely, 4 letters. Roots are the building blocks of the Arabic language and are helpful for guessing the meaning of vocabulary.

For example, the sequence of letters س−ف−ر (read right-to-left as s-f-r) carries the meaning of “travel”. Any word containing these letters, in this order, likely has something to do with travel. For example:

English Arabic Transliteration
journey سفر safar
he travels يسافر yusafir
amabassdor سفير safeer
traveller مسافر musafir
embassy سفارة sifara

All of these words are derived from the root س−ف−ر, s-f-r, in this order. Much of Arabic grammar is concerned with how the root is manipulated to create different related meanings: Additional letters, or vowels, modify the meaning according to different general patterns.

Likewise, ك−ت−ب is a root regarding “writing”, from which we can obtain numerous words:

Can't we simply just stick the roots together?

No.

For example the letters ح−م−ل have the meaning of “to carry” but naively connecting the letters gives us حمل, which, without any context, could be read as

• حَمَلَ “he carried”, or
• حُمِلْ “he was carried”!
• ( are discussed below.)

Both of these words are specific to

1. a male person,
2. in the past, and
3. it's not clear whether the person is doing the carrying or the one being carried.

Thus حمل is far more specific than the general meaning of ح−م−ل “to carry” —which is not itself a word, but an abstract sequence of letters.

Irregular Roots

Irregular roots do not consist of 3 different consonants; instead, they fall into three categories:

Doubled roots

where the second and third root letters are the same.

− If a doubled verb is put into a form involving a sukkun ـْـ on the 3rd root, then the 2nd and 3rd letters are written separately; otherwise, the 2nd and 3rd letters are written together with a shadda ـّـ.

− For example, ر−د−د “to reply” becomes رَدَّ “he replied” when placed in the masculine-second-person-past-tense form فَعَلَ, but becomes رَدَدْتُ “I replied” when placed in the first-person-past-tense form فَعَلْتُ. More on forms below!

• In doubt: Doubled roots are usually written together.
Weak roots

where one of the three root letters is و or ي; for example ق−و−ل “to speak”.

• These letters are “so weak” that they change from the constant sounds و/w and ي/y to vowel sounds or disappear entirely, depending on the pattern the root is placed in.

− If و‌/ي is the first root, then it almost always drops out in the present tense. For example, و−ص−ل “to arrive” becomes أَصِلُ “I arrive” in the first-person-present-tense أَفْعُلُ form. Contrast this with the regular root ك−ت−ب “to write” becoming أَكْتُبُ “I write”.

Hamzated roots
where one of the root letters is hamza ء; for example ق−ر−ء “to read”.

### 1.1.Meanings of rootsInteractive

Enter 3 letters to get a link to Arabic words that are derived from that root:

Derived words from {{first}}-{{second}}-{{third}}

## 2.Arabic has 112 symbols and 112 sounds

What are the vowels that can be added to roots to make new words?

Arabic has 28 letters, and like cursive English, it is written with letters connected.

Each letter has 4 forms: The isolated form, the form where the letter starts a word, the form where the letter is in the middle of a word, and the form where a letter is at the end of a word. So, Arabic has 28 * 4 = 112 distinct shapes for its alphabet. (Since some letters do not connect forwards, the isolated form actually does appear in written text. For example, او means “or” and it consists of two isolated letters.) For example, the letter ha has the following forms:

isolated initial medial final
ه هـ ـهـ ـه

If a friend texts you something funny, you reply with ههههه −−− “hahaha”.

But, where are the short vowels “a”? Arabic short vowels are generally not written!

There are only three short vowels in Arabic: a, i and u. They are denoted by small symbols above/below letters, for example:

ـَـ هَهَهَهَ hahahaha
ـُـ هُهُهُهُ huhuhuhu
ـِـ هِهِهِهِ hihihihi

Incidentally, the sound “h” is obtained by using the “no vowel” marker: هْـ. So with the 3 short vowels and the fourth symbol to indicate the absence of a vowel, there are a total of 4 * 28 = 112 sounds in Arabic.

Tell me more about Arabic Vowels!

Arabs infer vowels from context, otherwise words alone such as حمل are ambigious: It could mean حَمَلَ “he carried” or حُمِلْ “he was carried”.

An example sentence with vowels written:

Arabic has only three short vowels, or حركات (literally: “movements”), which are written as small symbols above/below letters.

Vowel name Vowel sound Arabic English example
Fatha / فتحة a ـَ mat
Dhamma / ظمّة u ـُ sugar
Kasra / كسرة i ـِ bit

The “no vowel” marker is suukun/سكون: While هههه has its vowels guessed to be هَهَهَهَ “hahahah”, we obtain “hhhh” by using sukkun, هْهْهْهْ.

Arabic has 3 long vowels, which are formed using specific letters after the short vowels:

Long vowel sound Arabic English example
aa ـَا far
ii ـِي meet
uu ـُو boot

Since short vowels are normally not written, letters ا ي و play two roles: They behave as long vowels aa,ii,uu (when preceded by short vowels) and also behave as consonant sounds a,y,w.

• For example, as a consonant, ي makes an English “y” sound; but as a long vowel it makes an “ii” sound.
• Occasionally, aa is written using ی (which is like ي but without the dots), or یٰ, rather than an alif. This always happens at the end of a word and is called alif maqsuura “broken alif”; for example علی “on” and موسیٰ “Musa”.

The following video reads all Arabic letters, where each letter is vowelised by one of the 3 short vowels. It's a really nice video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1Cl6W8EEBQ?start=6.

Of-course, there is more to the story! There is the “glottal stop”, Hamza ـٔ , and other special characters and symbols above/below letters. So the counts of 112 are not exact. For example, some letters, like alif ا, have the same shape for different forms, but sometimes it can be written as ی (such as علی “on”) یٰ (such as موسیٰ “Musa”).

The Arabic Hamza ـٔ is like the English Apostrophe ـ'
1. In both cases there is uncertaininty as to when and how to use it, even among native speakers.
2. Whereas in English we ask ourselves: Should the apostrophe come before the “s” or after the “s”?, in Arabic the question becomes: Which letter should carry the hamza?.
3. The hamza itself is considered a consonant, not a vowel, pronounced as a short pause.
4. Like the apostrophe, the rules for hamza are more concerned with where to place it than how to pronounce it.
5. General rules:
• At the start of a word, hamza is written on an alif: أ
• This might result in two alifs side-by-side, if so then merge them into alif madda آ, which is read as a long aa sound.
• Otherwise, the letter carrying the hamza tends to relate to the vowel before the hamza: If we have ـُـ ، ـِـ ، ـَـ before the hamza, then the hamza is written ؤ ، یٔ/ـٔـ ، أ respectively.
• If we have ـْـ before the hamza, we write ؤ ، یٔ/ـٔـ ، أ depending on the vowel the hamza root should be taking. For example, س−ء−ل “to ask” becomes يسْأَل “he asks” in the masculine-second-person-present-tense (يَفْعَلُ form, for this particular root).

The following video reads all Arabic letters, where each letter is vowelised by one of the 3 short vowels. It's a really nice video.

## 3.ف−ع−ل : The template for any 3 core root letters

As a symbol to represent the three root letters of any word, Arabic grammar uses the roots of the prototypical verb فعل “to do”, read fa'al.

For example, the root ك−ت−ب is associated with “writing”. The word for “office” مَكْتَب is the مَفْعَل-pattern: The root letters have مَـ before them, a sukkun ـْـ over the first root letter, and a fatha ـَـ over the second root letter. In the same way, “books” كُتُب is the فُعُل-pattern.

Below are some example patterns. If you are faced with an Arabic word that you have never heard before, you can guess the meaning by its root and pattern.

### 3.1.The فَعَّال-pattern: “the person whose job is X”

This pattern gives the profession associated with a core root. Here's some examples:

Profession Core meaning
كَتَّاب ك−ت−ب
Scribe to write
فَنَّان ف−ن−ن
Artist to be artistic
خَبَّاز خ−ب−ز
Baker to bake
عَطَّار ع−ط−ر
Perfume vendor to perfume
رَكَّاض ر−ك−ظ
Runner to run
جَرَّاح ج−ر−ح
Surgeon to cut

### 3.2.The مَفعَل-pattern: “the place where X is done”

This pattern gives the place associated with a core root. Here's some examples:

Place Core meaning
مَسكَن س−ك−ن
home to live
مَكتَب ك−ت−ب
office to write
مَدخَل د−خ−ل
entrance to enter
مَخبَز خ−ب−ز
bakery to bake
مَعبَر ع−ب−ر
crossing point to cross
مَسبَح س−ب−ح
swimming pool to swim

## 4.Verb Forms: The True Power of Arabic's Form System

The richness of Arabic is based on its system of word roots, and nowhere is this more evident than in the verb system.

In English we can add extra letters to form different but connected meanings —for example: value, revalue, validate. Arabic takes this principle much farther with many different patterns that add meaning to the origninal root form. These derived forms are the major way in which Arabic achieves its richness of vocabulary. For example, from ق−ت−ل “to kill”, we can obtain

 he killed قتل qatala he massacred (“killed intensely”) قتّل qattala he battled (“tried to kill”) قاتل qaatala they fought each other تقاتلوا taqaataluu

Here are the significant verb forms. For simplicitly, I'm presenting them in the past tense using the root ف−ع−ل “to do”.

Form Common Meanings Example
1. فَعَلَ “doing an action X”; (this is the most basic form) كَتَبَ “he wrote” from ك−ت−ب “to write”
2. فَعَّلَ “doing X to another”; “making another do X” خَرّجَ “he made someone go-out/graduate” from خ−ر−ج “to go out”
“doing X intensely/repeatedly” كَسَّرَ “he smashed” from ك−س−ر “to break”
3. فَاعَلَ “doing X with someone else” جَالَسَ “he sat with (someone)” from ج−ل−س “to sit”
“trying to do X” سَابَقَ “he raced” from س−ب−ق “to come before”
4. أَفْعَلَ meaning: “doing X to another”; like Form-2 أَسْخَنَ “he heated (something)” from س−خ−ن “to be hot”
5. تَفَعَّلَ “doing X to yourself”; this is Form-2 + تَـ تَذَكَّرَ “he remembered” from ذ−ك−ر “to remind”
6. تَفَاعَلَ “doing X together (as a group)”; this is Form-3 + تَـ تَعَاوَنَ “he cooperated” from ع−و−ن “to help”
7. اِنْفَعَلَ meaning: “to be X-ed”. This is Form-1 + اِنْـ اِنْحَمَلَ “he was carried” from ح−م−ل “to carry”
8. اِفْتَعَلَ No consistent meaning; “to make yourself do X” اِفْتَعَلَ “he incited” from ف−ع−ل “to do”
9. اِفْعَلَّ ‌used for changing colours: “to turn colour X” اِحْمَرَّ “he blushed / turned-red” from أحمر “red”
10. اِسْتَفْعَلَ “asking for X”; this is nearly Form-1 + اِسْتَـ اِسْتَعْلَمَ “he inquired” from ع−ل−م “to know”
“to consider or find something to have quality X” اِسْتَحْسَنَ “he admired” from ح−س−ن “to be beautiful”
• Exercise! Place the roots ع−م−ل into all of these patterns, except form-9; then guess their meanings! ( Solution )
• AlManny.com is an excellent online dictionary to finding out the meanings of words when placing them in these forms.
All the derived forms do not exist for all roots, but most roots have at least one or two forms in general circulation.
1. You'll need to look in a dictionary, or the above root-meaning tool, to know exactly which forms exist.
2. There are an additional 5 forms, but they are super rare in usage.
3. In addition, Arabic speakers will sometimes make up new verbs from existing roots, either as a joke or in an effort to be creative or ✨poetic💐.

## 5.Closing & Useful Resources

I've often seen introductions to Arabic mention the power of roots & patterns, but one usually has to work through a host of fundamental topics before actually seeing some of these patterns.

I've written this brief introduction so that one can actually see some of these patterns in action.

It's been a lot of fun —I had to learn a lot more than I thought I knew to make this happen. It seems writing about things forces you to understand them better!

Anyhow, I'm going to keep writing about Arabic since it seems fun and I'd like to have a way to quickly review my notes on what I'm learning.

### 5.1.Resources

• Mastering Arabic Grammar by Jane Wightwick & Mahmoud Gaafar

Perhaps the most accessible book I've seen on Arabic grammar.

It's a small book, whose chapters are also small/focused and digestible.

It assumes you're familiar with the Arabic alphabet and takes you to forming full sentences, and reading short stories.

• Almost every word in every sentence and phrase on this website is clickable, and takes you to a page with generous information about the word, along with audio clips. It's a free, beautiful, interactive website.

• This seems like a very good book.

• OERabic is an ambitious initiative that aims to enhance the mastering of Arabic by creating bespoke creative learning (and teaching) resources.

## 6.Appendix: Arabic Input Setup

On the left below is what I type, and on the right is what you see in this article (which include hover/tooltips for the cards).

### Source

[[card:I have a question]] How was this article written? green:Emacs!

card:Yes With Emacs, I type /phonetically/ (based on sounds) to get Arabic; e.g.,
typing  *musy$alHsaIY* gives me *موسیٰ الحسائي*, my name /Musa Al-hassy/.  ### Result How was this article written? Emacs! With Emacs, I type phonetically (based on sounds) to get Arabic; e.g., typing musy$ alHsaIY gives me موسیٰ الحسائي, my name Musa Al-hassy.

Moreover, this is how Arabic looks like within Emacs:

The rest of this section details my Emacs setup.

### 6.1.The look within Emacs

;; Makes all dots, hamza, diadiract marks coloured!
(set-fontset-font "fontset-default" '(#x600 . #x6ff) "Amiri Quran Colored")

How did I find this font?
1. Look for a font I like on https://fonts.google.com/?subset=arabic
2. brew search amiri
• Look to see if there is a font associated with it
3. brew install font-amiri
• Install the likely candidate
4. (set-fontset-font "fontset-default" '(#x600 . #x6ff) "Amiri Quran Colored")
• Get the full name by: Emacs -> Options -> Set Default Font
Why even bother with this line?

I found that I personally need the above line, since I was typing the phrase

 اهلاً وسهلاً “Hello, and welcome” Literally: ‌/Be with family, and at ease/

Yet I could not see the Fatha Tanween, ـًـ, on the Lam-Alif لا. This issue was only within Emacs: When I exported to HTML via C-c C-e h o then لاً would render with the tanween.

Anyhow, here are some other fun fonts to try out.

 "Times New Roman"    ;; Default?
"Libian SC"          ;; Default?
"Noto Sans Arabic"   ;; Also good! -- brew install  font-noto-sans-arabic  --cask
"Sana"               ;; is super fun!
"Al Bayan"
"Damascus"           ;; Thin
"Beirut"             ;; Super thick!
"KufiStandardGK"     ;; Reasonable bold
"Diwan Kufi"         ;; fancy, almost calligraphic
"DecoType Naskh"     ;; Tight; looks like handwritten; does not support ___ elongations.
"Farah"              ;; sloppy handwritten
"Waseem"             ;; handwritten
"Farisi"             ;; Persian-style: Super thin and on an angle
"Noto Nastaliq Urdu" ;; Like Farisi, but a bit larger & thicker
"Noto Kufi Arabic UI"
"Geeza Pro"          ;; nice and thick


### 6.2.Actually typing Arabic

The "arabic" input method (via C-\, which is ) just changes my English QWERTY keyboard into an Arabic keyboard —useful if one has already mastered touch typing in Arabic!

In contrast, the Perso-Arabic input method (known as farsi-transliterate-banan) uses a system of transliteration: ASCII keys are phonetically mapped to Arabic letters.

• C-\ farsi-transliterate-banan RET M-x describe-input-method to enter this method and to learn more about it.
• For example, wrb ≈ عرب and alwrbYTh ≈ العربية
• When you're done writing in Arabic, just press C-\ to toggle back to English.
M-x describe-input-method
Input method: farsi-transliterate-banan (mode line indicator:ب)

Intuitive transliteration keyboard layout for persian/farsi.

KEYBOARD LAYOUT
---------------
This input method works by translating individual input characters.
Assuming that your actual keyboard has the ‘standard’ layout,
translation results in the following "virtual" keyboard layout
(the labels on the keys indicate what character will be produced
by each key, with and without holding Shift):

+----------------------------------------------------------+
| ۱ ! | ۲ ْ | ۳ ً | ۴ ٰ | ۵ ٪ | ۶ َ | ۷ & | ۸ * | ۹ ( | ۰ ) | − ـ‎ | = + | ٔ ّ |
+----------------------------------------------------------+
| غ‎ ق‎ | ع‎ ء‎ | ِ ٍ | ر‎ R | ت‎ ط‎ | ی‎ ي‎ | و‎ ٓ | ی‎ ئ‎ | ُ ٌ | پ‎ P | [ { | ] } |
+---------------------------------------------------------+
| ا‎ آ‎ | س‎ ص‎| د‎ ٱ‎ | ف‎ إ‎ | گ‎ غ‎ | ه‎ ح‎ | ج‎ ‍ | ک‎ ك‎ | ل‎ L | ؛‎ : | ' " | \ | |
+--------------------------------------------------------+
| ز‎ ذ‎ | ض‎ ظ‎ | ث‎ ٕ | و‎ ؤ‎ | ب‎ B | ن‎ « | م‎ » | ، < | . > | ‌ ؟‎ |
+-----------------------------------------------+
+-----------------------------+
|          space bar          |
+-----------------------------+

KEY SEQUENCE
------------
You can also input more characters by the following key sequences:

Th ة   kh خ   sh ش   ch چ


Also watch Perso-Arabic Input Methods And BIDI Aware Apps (also on youtube).

### Vowel me to the moon!

 fatha fathaTan kasrah kasrahTan dhama dhamTan sukun hamza alif madda shadda بَ بً بِ بٍ بُ بٌ بْ بٔ بٰ بٓ بّ ^ # e E o O @  \$ U ~

### Arabic Tatweel: Stretching out the handwritten text for beauty!

We can obtain elongation by pressing underscore: j_______w________f_______r gives us جـــــــعـــــــفــــــــر

• جعفر is read Jaafar; it is a popular name that also means small stream.

### 6.3.Typing outside of Emacs

TypingClub ~ Arabic is a fun & free website to learn how to type Arabic on a standard keyboard. I highly recommend it.

Being able to type Arabic while thinking in Arabic, instead of thinking of sounds using the English alphabet to approximate Arabic sounds, may be helpful in actually learning Arabic.

### 6.4.Using Images as Emojis

I found some images online, from OERabic​, that I thought could be used to enhance my prose.

• I want to treat them like emojis, as such they're intentionally small, so that they can more-or-less be used inline within sentences.
• When you click on them, they take you to the actual image source.
• This is better than me downloading the images then having to host them somewhere then linking back to the source to credit the people who made the images.
• When you hover over them, you see the translation.

The docstring of has nice examples, so we quickly adapt the very first example for our needs: We look at the label given to the link, then depending on that, we show an clickable image along with a tooltip.

(org-deflink card
"Show one of 6 hardcoded phrases as a small inline image."
(-let [url
(pcase o-label
(format "<a href=\"%s\" class=\"tooltip\" title=\"%s\"><img src=\"%s\" height=50></a>" url o-label url)))


Below is how I would go about actually using this new link type. The left shows what I would write within Emacs, and the right is the resulting HTML (which I also see within Emacs, and the Chrome Browser.)

### Source

[[card:Let's take a break]]
[[card:Yes]]
[[card:No]]
[[card:Agree]]
[[card:Disagree]]
[[card:I have a question]]
`

### Result

Generated by Emacs and Org-mode (•̀ᴗ•́)و