Arabic Roots: the Different Types


root: ن-و-ع / noun / plural: اَنْواع / definition: type

I’ve thought about writing a book about Arabic grammar for a long time. Just because I love it so much. I thought that maybe I’d start off with a small one about Arabic verbs, focusing on the forms perhaps, but when I start making plans about what I’d include, the plan for the “small book” soon spirals out of control because there’s just so much I can’t bear to exclude!

The conclusion is that I’m sticking to writing blog posts for the time being. But keep an eye out…

So with that, I introduce this week’s post which is all about the different types of roots in Arabic. Specifically, we’re looking at triliteral (three-letter) roots.

The types of roots are important to know because they affect how verbs conjugate and what the derivatives of the root look like; the active participle of a geminate root doesn’t look the same as that of a hollow root, for example.

I’ll save all of those details for future posts, though. Right now, we’re just getting to know the different types of Arabic roots we’ll encounter. Let’s begin!

Sound roots

Sound or regular roots (الصَّحيح السالِم) contain three consonants, and don’t include a و or ي or ء.


د-ر-س م-ك-ن ق-ب-ل

Geminate roots

Geminate roots (المُضَعَّف) are the same as sound roots except that the last two letters of the root are the same.


ت-م-م د-ل-ل ف-ك-ك

Assimilated roots

Assimilated roots (المِثال) are roots with either و or ي as the first letter.

و and ي are semivowels and from among حُروف العِلّة (the “weak letters”, a group which alif also belongs to—but remember that alif is not part of any root!).


و-ك-ل و-ف-ق ي-س-ر

Hollow roots

Hollow roots (الأَجوَف) have one of the semivowels, either و or ي, as their middle letter.


ك-و-ن غ-ي-ر ق-و-ل

Defective roots

Defective roots (النّاقِص) have a semivowel, again either و or ي, as their final letter.


غ-ن-ي ب-د-و ض-ح-ي

Hamzated roots

Hamzated roots (المَهموز) are roots containing a hamza (ء), in any position.

Seeing as ء (the glottal stop) is a consonant, hamzated roots are technically sound roots. But they can be considered a category of their own because of the special rules the hamza necessitates in derived words.

(On that note, I think we need a post about which letters the ء sits on and when! Edit: Seats of the Hamza (ء))


ء-ب-د س-ء-ل ع-ب-ء

Mixed roots

Finally, there are some roots which are a mix of the categories above.

For example, we might find a root that is both geminate and assimilated:


An assimilated and defective root:


A hollow and defective root:


A hollow and hamzated root:


(which we explored in this post)

Even a hollow, defective, and hamzated root:


And so on!

So, expect posts in the future about the intricacies of the different types of roots and their derivatives—so we can understand how ضالّ is an active participle, why the و of a root might change to ي or ء in its derivates, and why the hamza looks different in the following derivatives of a hamzated root: : كفأ كفء كفؤ مكافئ!

Don’t forget to check out the other grammar posts here (there’s lots!), such as The False/Adjective إضافة, The Grammar of Using Arabic Numbers, and The ذاك Suffix, to name a few.

See you on the next post, إلى اللقاء!

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