Arabic Observations: Time of Day and “to Become” Synonyms


root: و-ق-ت / noun / plural: أَوْقات / definition: time

The first post in the synonyms series was Four Common Words for “to Become” in Arabic. By definition, the verb “to become” is inherently linked to time—it indicates that something first wasn’t and then came to be afterwards.

But the synonyms of “to become” in Arabic have a much deeper relationship with time than that: they’re actually linked to the time of day.

I can’t take credit for this observation myself, I discovered it on page 408 of Arabic for Nerds 2 where the author notes that many verbs that refer to “becoming” are tied to the idea of time.

Let’s take a look at some synonyms of “to become” and how they’re linked to different parts of day:

أَسفَرَ / يُسفِرُ

This form IV verb comes from the root س-ف-ر which is linked to daybreak.

For example, the form I verb from the root سَفَرَ / يَسفِرُ means “for the aurora (dawn) to glow” and, with that verb, we get the phrase سَفَرَت الشمس (“the Sun unveiled itself”).

The form IV verb also carries the meaning of the dawn glowing, in addition to the implication of becoming or resulting in.

(We may be more familiar with this verb as أسفر عن, “to result in”.)

It’s interesting to note that many words related to السفر (travelling) derive from this root—in the past, people would often set off for a journey at dawn.

أَصبَحَ / يُصبِحُ

أصبح is another form IV verb. It’s from the root ص-ب-ح and therefore linked to صَباح (morning).

Note how we say تُصبِح على خَير to others at night, expressing that we hope they wake up in the morning well.

So أصبح implies “to be or become in the morning”.

أَضحى / يُضحي

Another form IV verb, أضحى is from the same root (ض-ح-ي) as ضُحى (forenoon i.e. between morning and afternoon).

As well as meaning “to become”, this verb means “to bring to light”. This constitutes another link to the time of day, as forenoon is when the sky becomes bright.

أَمسى / يُمسي

One last form IV verb: أمسى. This one is linked to مَساء (evening) through the root م-س-و.

If you take a look at the Hans Wehr, this verb is defined as “to be or become in the evening” as well as simply “to become”.

It also gives us a phrase that includes another synonym of “to become”:

يَفعَلُهُ إذا أَصبَحَ ويَفعَلُهُ إذا أَمسى

he does so in the morning and in the evening (i.e. all the time)

باتَ / يَبيتُ

باتَ is a form I verb from the root ب-ي-ت. It means “to become” or “to pass or spend the night“.

The first thing that may come to mind with this root is the noun بيت (house), which I guess makes sense; a house is essentially where you stay for the night.

In fact, مَبيت from the same root is defined as “overnight stay” or “shelter for the night”!

صارَ / يَصيرُ

So صار is a form I verb too, and a common synonym of “to become”.

But I’ve searched the root ص-ي-ر in multiple dictionaries and there’s no clear link to the time of day with this one. Fine.

Well, not really fine because I’m determined to find some sort of connection now that there’s a theme going.

So the dictionaries did mention that this verb can mean “to end up”, and it’s specifically linked to water flowing towards and eventually ending up somewhere.

And from the root, we get the noun مَصير which is defined as “a place in which one arrives”.

So perhaps صار is linked to the end of the day. Or perhaps not. But I feel better now that I’ve found a possible link.

Just look at how these time-associated roots developed synonymous verbs that carry subtle layers of meaning. It’s really cool, isn’t it?

That’s it for this post in the Arabic Observations series! Hope you found the link between “to become” and the time of day as intriguing as I did when I first heard about it.

Don’t forget to check out last week’s post Arabic Books Currently in My Basket too, where I share some interesting books I’ve had my eye on (and am trying to resist buying, for the sake of the other half-read books on my desk).

See you on my next post, إلى اللقاء!

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