Arabic Observations: Word Twins


root: ت-و-ء-م / noun / plural: تَوائِم / definition: twin

You notice many things when you look at the pages of Hans Wehr more than you see daylight.

And time and time again, I’ve noticed this one phenomenon which I call (in my head) “word twins”.

Basically, there are some Arabic words you’ll find that have essentially the same meaning, but they differ by a single letter. Sometimes it’ll be similar sounding letters and other times not, and sometimes they’ll occupy the same page in the dictionary (like if they differ in their final letters) and other times not.

Here’s one example:

بُقْعة / رُقْعة

Both mean “patch”/”plot of land” and they both have the same two plural forms which are فُعَل and فِعال, i.e.:

The plurals for بُقعة are بُقَع and بِقاع

And for رُقعة, it’s رُقَع and رِقاع

It really is fascinating because it gets you thinking about how these “word twins” came about; was it coincidence? Did one adopt the meaning of the other? Did they derive from the same word which was pronounced differently in different dialect groups? Did they split from a common form to each refer to more specific or distinct aspects of the core meaning? Was there some type of miscommunication at any point? The mind wanders and wonders.

But it’s not just one-off nouns that have twins.

I’ve come across really similar roots that share the same core meaning, for instance:

The roots ح-ش-د and ح-ش-ر (which occur directly next to each other in the Wehr) share the core meaning of “gathering”.

And the roots ن-ق-ب and ن-ق-ر (a page apart) both relate to “digging”/”piercing”.

It’s noticing these tiny little details that excites me so much and goes a long way into explaining why the majority of my phone gallery is filled with screenshots of pages of the Hans Wehr app. (Way too many to actually look through again).

If you’re lost with regards to the Hans Wehr dictionary, by the way, you can check out the beginner’s guide I made for using it here. The Wehr is a must-have source for the Arabic student!

Have you noticed these word twins too? And do you have any explanations as to why they actually occur? Because I’d love to know–leave your answers in the comments below!

See you soon, إلى اللقاء!

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12 thoughts on “Arabic Observations: Word Twins

  1. Fascinating post. Is there a numerical pattern or code pattern, maybe Hans Wher was leaving a secret message!?
    I love reading reading your posts especially for the fact that they make me “wander” and “wonder” too.

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