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Brief Introduction to Arabic Roots

Introduction to the Use of Arabic Roots:

Arabic words are generally based on a "root" which uses three consonants to define the underlying meaning of the word. Additionally, various vowels, prefixes and suffixes are emloyed to accompany those three root letters in order to convey the desired inflection of meaning.

Each set of root letters can lead to a vast number of words, all predictable in form and all related to the basic meaning of the three root letters.

For example, the root k-t-b has the basic meaning of marking, inscribing or writing. The root may be conjugated in simple past tense (perfect) verb forms such as:

kataba   he wrote
katabū   they wrote
katabat   she wrote
katabnā   we wrote

Similarly, there are simple and predictable rules for present (imperfect) and imperative forms of  the basic root, such as:

yaktubu   he writes
yaktabunā   they write
taktubu   you write
naktubu   we write
'uktub   write!

And then the vastness really begins to be seen as additional forms such as verbal nouns are created from the same simple root k-t-b to describe things such as:

katīb   writer
kitāba the act of writing
kitāb   some writing, book
kutub   books
kutubī bookdealer
kutayyib booklet
maktūb   letter
maktab   school, office
maktaba   library, literature
maktabī   individual office
miktāb   typewriter
mukātaba   correspondence
iktitāb   registration
istiktāb   dictation

.... and on and on. This is only a limited sample of the immense variety of words that can be formed by simple and predictable usage of the basic root which was only the three consonants k-t-b.

A Brief List of some Arabic Roots:

The following list of roots is sorted according to the English alphabet, ignoring any diacritical marks.

Examples of typical usage of the root are shown in parenthesis.

a-b 2 to be a father, ancestor, forefather
(ab, abū)
'a-b-d 685 to serve, worship, be devoted to, show veneration
('abd, 'ibāda, ma'būd)
'a-d-l 696 to act justly, equitably or to make straight, set in order
('adl, a'dāla, ta'dīl)
'a-d-m 698 to be non-existent, disappeared, destroyed, devoid of
('adam, 'adīm)
'a-f-w 731 to be obliterated, effaced, eliminated
(al-'afūw, 'afwīya, 'afā', isit'fā', 'āfin, mu'fan)
a-ḥ-d 7 to unify, be one
(al-aḥad, aḥadīya, uḥādī)
a-kh-r 9 to postpone, defer, be last, final, ultimate
(al-ākhir, ākhar, ukhrā, ta'khīr, mu'akhkhara)
a-l-h 30 to adore, deify, turn to another with intense feeling
(ilāh, ilāhī)
'a-l-m 743 to know, have knowledge, be informed, teach, notify 
(al-'alīm, 'ilm, 'ilmiya, 'allam, u'lūma)
a-m-l 35 to hope, to look attentively, meditate, consider
(amal, āmāl, āmil, muta'ammil)
a-n-s 38 to be familiar, friendly, sociable
(uns, insī, ins, anīs)
'a-q-d 734 to tie, knit, make a knot, put together, join
('aqd, 'aqīda)
'a-q-l 737 to have the faculty of reasoning, comprehension 
('aql, 'aqlī)
'a-r-f 708 to know, to perceive, discover, to announce
('arīf, 'irfān, ma'rīfa, ta'rīf, ma'rūf)
'a-ṣ-m 722 to hold back, restrain, preserve, to take refuge, guard
( 'aṣama, 'iṣāmī)
'a-ẓ-m 729 to be great, powerful, mighty
(a'ẓam, al-'aẓīm, 'iẓāmī, 'aẓīma)
'a-y-d 774 to celebrate, to feast
('īd ul adhā, mu'āyada)
'a-z-z 712 to be strong, powerful, respected, to fortify, strengthen
(al-'azīz, 'izz, ta'zīz, ma'azza)
b-d-' 57 to introduce, originate, start, do for the first time
(al mubdi', bdi', badī'a, abda', ibtidā')
b-q-y 84 to remain, continue, endure, be ever-lasting
( al- baqī', baqā', abqā, bāqin)
d-a'-ā 326 to call, summon, appeal to, invite, invoke
(du'ā, da'wa)
dh-k-r 358 to remember, recollect, bear in mind
(dhikr, tadhkār, dhākira)
d-w-n 350 to record, write down, enter, collect
d-y-n 352 to be obedient, submissive, to be indebted, to owe
(dīn, diyāna)
f-l-q 851 to split open, cleave, tear asunder, burst
(falq, falaq)
f-n-y 854 to wane, dwindle, recede, come to an end, cease to exist
(fanā', fānin)
f-q-h 847 to understand, comprehend or to teach, instruct 
f-t-ḥ 811 to open, unlock, reveal, conquer
( fattāḥ, mifatāḥ, miftāḥī, al-fātiḥa)
f-ṭ-m   to wean, relinquish, disengage, abstain, cut-off
gh-f-r 793 to cover, hide, forgive, guard, protect
(al-ghafūr, 'astaghfirullāh)
gh-n-y 803 to be rich, wealthy, free or to sing praises, extol
(ghanā', istighnā' )
gh-s-l 788 to wash, clean, cleanse, purge
ḥ-ā-l 251 to change, be transformed, become, to be transferred
(ḥāla, taḥwīl, iḥāla)
ḥ-a-t 249 to guard, protect, encircle, encompass, surround 
(iḥāṭa, muḥīṭ)
ḥ-b-b 179 to love, to endear, to make dear, to like, to prefer
(ḥubb, ḥabīb, maḥbūb)
ḥ-b-l 182 to catch, ensnare, or to be pregnant
(ḥabīl, ḥabila, ḥublā)
ḥ-f-ẓ 220 to protect, guard, preserve, take care of  
(ḥafīẓ, taḥfīẓ)
ḥ-m-d 238 to praise, commend, laud, extol 
(ḥamīd, maḥmūd, muḥammad, al-ḥamdulillāh)
h-m-l 240 to carry, bear, lift, take along, transport, convert, bring around
(ḥamīla, ḥaml)
ḥ-m-s 239 to be zealous, ardent, enthusiastic, excited
(ḥamās, taḥammus)
ḥ-q-q 224 to be true, right, correct 
(al-ḥaqq, ḥaqīq, taḥqīq)
ḥ-s-d 207 to envy,  to be envious
( ḥāsid)
ḥ-s-n 208 to be beautiful, lovely. fine, proper 
(ḥusnā, ḥasan)
ḥ-ṣ-n 214 to fortify, be accessible, to be chaste, pure
(ihsān ḥaṣāna)
ḥ-y-y 256 to live, to exist 
(al-ḥayy, taḥīya, iḥyā', ḥayāh, ḥayya)
j-ā-' 177 to come, to get to, reach, arrive, set forth, set out to do
(jai'a, majī', jā'iāt)
j-ā-d 172 to be good, to improve, to be skilled, proficient 
(jūd, tajwīd, jayyid)
j-ā-l 176 to roam, wander, move freely, circulate
(jawwāl, tajwāl, majāl)
j-h-d 168 to struggle, endeavor, strive, labor, strain, fight
(jihād, majhūd, ijtihād)
j-n-n 164 to hide, conceal, put under cover
(janna, junna, junūn, jinn, jinnī)
j-w-d 173 to be good, be better, to grant generously, liberally
(jūd, jayyid, jawād, tajwīd)
k-b-r 947 to be older, esteemed, big, great, large, famous, admired
(kabīr, 'akbar, takbīr)
k-f-ā 977 to be enough, sufficient, to meet all needs
(kifāya, iktifā', mukāfāh)
k-l-m 981 to speak, talk, converse, express
(kalima, kalām)
k-m-l 984 to be whole, complete, perfect, finished
(kamāl, kāmil, kamāla, takmīl, ikmā, istikmāll)
k-s-b 966 to earn, acquire, win, gather, attain 
(kāsib, iktisāb)
k-w-n 993 to be, exist, happen, take place or make, create, bring forth
(yakūn, kiyān, kaun)
kh-l-f 297 to be a successor, take the place of, substitute or to differ, argue 
kh-l-s 294 to be pure, refined, purged,  free, liberated, redeemed, sincere 
(ikhlāṣ, takhlīṣ)
kh-l-q 299 to create, make, form, mold, pattern
(khulq, khulqī, khalīq, al-khāliq, akhlāqī)
l-h-b 1032 to flame, burn, blaze, kindle, excite 
(iltihb, lahab)
l-ṭ-f 1018 to be kind, friendly, amicable, benevolent
m-l-k 1081 to possess, rule, own, have dominion over
(mālik, malīk)
m-r-' 1058 to be wholesome, healthy, manly
(imra', marī')
m-s-ḥ 1064 anoint, rub, wipe off, stroke with hand
m-w-l 1093 the have wealth, to become rich, finance something 
(māl, amwāl)
n-ḍ-r 1118 to dedicate, consecrate, vow, notify, warn 
(naḍīr, inḍār, manḍūr)
n-f-k 1152 to blow, puff, breathe, inflate 
(nafk, manfūk)
n-ṣ-r 1138 to help, aid, assist, defend, protect 
(naṣīr, manṣūr)
n-s-y 1130 to forget, neglect, omit  
(nasy, mansīy)
n-w-r 1182 to illuminate, light, enlighten, to clarify, be revealed, disclosed
(nārī, nūr, munīr, munawwar)
n-z-l 1122 to come down, descend, reveal 
(tanzīl, nazīl)
n-ẓ-m 1147 to arrange, put in order, determine the details of something
(niẓām, munazzam)
q-ā-m 934 to rise up, get up, ascend, to begin, to remain, to exist  
(al-qayyūm, qiyām, maqām, qā'im)
r-ā-d 425 to walk about, prowl, search, seek  
(irāda, murīd)
r-b-b 370 to bring up, to foster, to nourish, a master, lord, owner  
r-ḥ-m 384 womb, kinship, mercy, compassion   
(al-raḥmān, al-raḥīm)
r-sh-d 395 to be on the right track, rightly guided  
(murshid, irshād, rashād, rashīd)
r-z-q 389 to provide, supply, grant means of subsistence
(al-razzāq, rizq, marzūq, murtazak)
s-b-ḥ 457 to glorify, praise, to be swimming in  
(subḥan allāh, tasbīḥ)
ṣ-b-r 585 to be patient, to make durable  
(al-ṣabūr, ṣabbār, aṣbar, muṣābara, istibār)
s-l-m 495 to be safe, secure, protected, to surrender, to submit  
(al-salām, islām, salīm, muslim)
ṣ-l-w 611 to pray, worship, bless
(ṣalāt, muṣallā, ṣalawātun)
ṣ-m-d 613 to be unaffected, or turn to someone or to resist, oppose
s-m-' 501 to hear, to listen, pay attention, be told, hear about
(al-samī', samā')
ṣ-w-m 621 to abstain, to refrain, a particular form of abstinence e.g. fast
(ṣaum, ṣā'im, ṣiyām)
sh-k-r 563 to thank, to be grateful, laud, offer thanks  
sh-r-k 547 to share, become a partner, participant 
sh-r-q 546 to radiate, shine, beam,  to rise like the sun
sh-r-r 539 to be evil, bad, wicked 
(sharr, sharīr)
t-b-b 108 to perish, be destroyed, stabilized 
(tabban lahā)
t-w-b 119 to turn toward, to repent, renounce  
w-b-l 1226 to be unwholesome, unhealthy, noxious, heavy rain 
w-ḥ-d 1236 to be one, unique, without equal  
(waḥīd, wāḥid)
w-k-l 1283 to entrust, assign, commission, empower  
(wakil, tawakkul)
w-l-d 1285 to give birth, make, create  
(walid, maulūd)
w-l-y 1288 to be near, close, friend, servant, defender, supporter, protector  
(walīy, wālī, maulānā)
w-s-w-s 1254 to whisper, to temp, to awaken doubts 
y-d 1295 hand, handle, control, power 
y-q-n 1298 to be certain, convinced, certitude  
(yaqan, yaqīn, mūqin)
ẓ-h-r 682 to be visible, perceptible, manifest, distinct  
ẓ-l-m 681 to do wrong, treat unjustly or to grow dark, gloomy 
(ẓulm, ẓalām)


An Arabic-English Lexicon, Edward W. Lane... an eight volume masterpiece of classical Arabic which includes plentiful examples of classical usage and the meanings of the words during the time period that the Qur'ān was revealed. Indexed by Arabic roots, with definitions in English.

Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, edited by J.M. Cowan.

Dictionary of the Holy Qur'ān, Abdul Mannān Omar... truly a precious gift to those who speak English, this magnificent dictionary translates every Arabic word used used in the Qur'ān into English, giving the Arabic root word followed by English translations of every form of that root which appears in the Qur'ān. This dictionary is easy to use, is relatively inexpensive and is based on classical Arabic as used in the Qur'ān.

Diacritical marks

In Arabic, just as in English, many words have similar sounds and similar spelling, so the proper use and interpretation of the diacritical marks is often very important.

Consider for example the following three words which might all be found written simply damma in some English texts:

ḍamma 636 to bring together, join, combine, gather, embrace
damma 336 to coat, dye, smear
dhamma 360 to blame, criticize