Four Arabic Roots to Express the Phrase “on the Verge of”


أَرْبَعَة

root: ر-ب-ع / noun / definition: four


We couldn’t go much longer without another synonyms post (even though my posts-to-write list is ever-expanding with other wonderful things)—so this week we’re taking a look at four different roots that we can use to express the meaning of “on the verge of” in Arabic.

The reason why I specify four roots rather than four words is that we can sometimes use different derivatives of the roots to convey the same meaning—e.g. for the first root we look at, we can either use the verb or noun derivative.

And just before we jump into these different roots, I should remind you that these synonyms posts aren’t extensive lists of all synonyms for a particular expression or word.

For instance, we can also use the verb كادَ / يَكاد to express “on the verge of “, but I’ve decided to deal with this particular verb separately in a future post.


So anyway, here are the four roots we’ll be looking at:

و-ش-ك

ش-ر-ف

ه-م-م

ح-و-ف


Let’s begin with…

و-ش-ك

There are two different derivatives of this root that can express the meaning of “on the verge of”:

  • the form IV verb أَوشَكَ / يُوشِكُ (followed by على plus a مصدر or أن plus a verb)
  • the noun وَشْك in the phrase على وَشكِ أن followed by a verb (we saw this phrase in Wehr Wednesdays #7)

Each of the examples below uses a slightly different construction but produces the same meaning.

verb + أن + verb:

أوشَكَ أن يَبكي

he was on the verge of crying

verb + على + verbal noun:

أوشَكَ على البُكاء

he was on the verge of crying

على + noun + أن + verb:

كان على وَشكِ أن يَبكي

he was on the verge of crying

Note: remember that verbs after the particle أن are المضارع المنصوب i.e. the present tense subjunctive. For example: يَفعَلَ.


ش-ر-ف

For this root, we can use the form IV verb أَشرَفَ / يُشرِفُ followed by the preposition على and a مصدر:

أشرَفَ على الذَّهاب

he was on the verge of going

After على, we’re actually not limited to using a مصدر. We can follow على with أن and a verb:

أشرَفَ على أن يَذهَبَ

he was on the verge of going


ه-م-م

Any student who’s tried to record all the translations of the form I verb هَمَّ / يَهُمّ in their notes has probably ended up with nothing short of chaos on a page.

In any case, one of its many meanings—when followed by the preposition prefix بِـ—is “to be on the verge of”.

We can either follow بِـ with a مصدر:

هَمَّ بِالصُّراخ

he was on the verge of screaming

Or, we can follow بِـ with أن and a verb:

هَمَّ بِأن يَصرُخَ

he was on the verge of screaming

You might remember that we actually encountered this verb in the post Step-by-Step Arabic Literature Translation #3 in the phrase “كأنها تهمُّ بالشروق” which we translated as “as though verging on a new dawn“.


ح-و-ف

From this root, we get the noun حافة meaning “edge”, “brink”, or “verge”.

We can use the phrase على حافة to mean “on the verge of”, where حافة is in an إضافة (possessive/genitive construction) with the following مصدر:

كان على حافة المُقاطَعةِ

he was on the verge of interrupting

And we can also use it with a regular noun, such as in the phrase:

على حافة الهاوِيةِ

he was on the verge of the abyss

I mentioned a similar phrase—على حافة الانهيار, “on the verge of collapse“—in the post Four Simple Tips to Improve Your Essay Writing Skills in Arabic.


That’s all for this week’s synonyms post—have fun adding variety to your Arabic writing and speech with these phrases!

Make sure to check out last week’s Root Exploration and stay up-to-date with all of the Wehr Wednesdays vocabulary on this Quizlet vocabulary set.

See you on the next post, إلى اللقاء!


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