The مَـ of Place and Time


root: ك-و-ن / noun / plural: أَماكِن / definition: place

After 11 weeks, my first semester of teaching is officially over. And I’m reflecting on these past three months as I pack for my upcoming trip, having already tucked James Scanlan’s A Moroccan Journey into my backpack—a pertinent read considering my destination.

One thing that I’ve found myself mentioning to Arabic students across various classes, and something that seemed to spark some aha! moments, is the مَـ of place and time.

You see, the following word patterns in Arabic (with ف-ع-ل representing the root letters), all beginning with مَـ, are used to indicate nouns of place and time:




(Note that these مَـ patterns shouldn’t be confused with the form I passive participle pattern: مَفعول)

Let’s have a look at some (quite a few, actually) examples, which I’ve divided according to the type of root seeing as these affect how the patterns manifests themselves:

Sound roots

مَتحَف museum, place of تُحَف (“curiosities”, “articles of interest”)

مَكتَب desk or office, place of كِتابة (“writing”)

مَكتَبة library or bookshelf, place of كُتُب (“books”)

مَصنَع factory, place of صُنع (“making”)

مَبسِم mouth, place of بَسمة (“smile”)

مَغرِب place or time of sunset (غُروب)

مَشرِق place or time of sunrise (شُروق)

مَجمَع meeting place, place of جَمع (“meeting”, “gathering”)

مَرصَد observatory, place of رَصد (“observing”)

مَلعَب playground, place of لَعِب (“playing”)

مَرسَم studio, place of رَسم (“drawing, painting”)

مَطبَخ kitchen, place of طَبخ (“cooking”)

مَطعَم restaurant, place of طَعام (“food”)

مَركَز centre, place of تَركيز (“focus”)

مَسمَع earshot, the area in which hearing (سَماع) something is possible

مَذرَف tear canal, place of ذَرف (“flow of tears”), see Wehr Wednesdays #60—also: مَدمَع has a similar meaning, as the place of دُموع (“tears”)

مَرتَع breeding ground, place of revelling (رُتوع), see Wehr Wednesdays #98

مَقصِد destination, place that you intend (قَصَدَ / يَقصِدُ) to reach

Geminate roots

مَمَرّ corridor, place of مُرور (“passing”)

مَقَرّ headquarters, place of قَرار (“stability”, “being established” or “decision”)

مَحَلّ site or shop, could be related to a number of derivatives from the root, including the verbal noun حُلول (“to settle down”, “to visit”, “to occur”)

مَصَحّة sanatorium, place of getting back to صِحّة (“health”)

مَهَبّ place where or from which the wind blows (هَبَّ / يَهُبُّ)

مَجَرّة galaxy, place of جَرّ (“pulling”), I assume this refers to the pull of gravity that is keeping the various celestial bodies in formation? See the Space vocabulary list for more astronomy-related Arabic words

Assimilated roots

مَوقِع location or site, place of وُقوع (“being located”, “occurring”)

مَولِد birthday or anniversary, time of وِلادة (“birth”)

مَوطِن native country or town, place of وَطن (“residing”)

مَوبِق prison, place of وَبَق (“perishing”)

مَوحِل muddy ground or predicament, place of وَحل (“mud”)—notice the metaphorical derivation here: being in a predicament is like being stuck in the mud!

مَيتَم orphanage, place of أَيتام (“orphans”)

مَيمَنة the right side, place to the right (يَمين)

Hollow roots

مَكان place, from the verb كانَ (“to be, exist”)

مَقالة article or essay, place of saying or asserting (قَول) something

مَنام bedroom or dream, place of نَوم (“sleep”)

مَغارة cave, place of غَور (“being sunken in”)

مَسار path or orbit, place of سَير (“moving”)

مَنار / مَنارة lighthouse, place of نور (“light”)

مَطار airport, place of طَيَران (“flying”)

مَحارة maze, place of حَيرة (“confusion”)

مَصيف summer resort, the place you spend summer (صَيف)—note that, unlike the hollow-root examples above which follow the مَفعَل or مَفعَلة patterns, مَصيف follows the مَفعِل pattern, hence the ي representing the kasra instead of the alif representing the fatha

Defective roots

مَقهى café, place of قَهوة (“coffee”)

مَنفى place of exile (نَفْي)

مَرمى goal or range, place of aim (رَمْي)

مَشتى winter resort, the place you spend winter (شِتاء)

مَشفى hospital, place of شِفاء (“healing”)

مَبنى building, place of بِناء (“to build”), I guess

Hamzated roots

مَنشَأ place of origin or source, from نَشأَة (“coming into existence”)

مَلجَأ sanctuary or shelter, place of لُجوء (“refuge”)

مَرفَأ port, place of رَفء (“dragging boats to shore”)

مَأمَن place of safety (أَمان)

Mixed roots

مَوطَأ footprint, place where you tread (وَطء)—assimilated and hamzated root

مَأوَى shelter, place of إيواء (“sheltering”)—defective, hollow, and hamzated root

مَنأَى distant place, place of نَأْي (“remoteness”)—defective and hamzated root

So these are just some of the examples that came to mind as I was putting together this post—I also ended up deleting quite a few, especially in the sound roots section, as the list was getting quite long.

But مَلحَمة (an epic) and المَوصِل (Mosul) are quite interesting examples of these patterns if you fancy roaming the dictionary!

That’s all for now, إلى اللقاء!

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