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Quranic Grammar - Verb Forms


This section of the annotation guidelines provides an introduction and overview to verb forms in the Quran. More detailed explanations can be found in standard references of traditional Arabic grammar. In the Quran, verbs, and other words that denote related semantic concepts, are formed through a system known as derivation. The idea is that words are derived from a stem or template that is defined by a sequence of letters known as radicals. These are often referred to as triliteral or quadriliteral radicals, for 3 or 4 root letters respectively.

Arabic shares this linguistic feature with other Semitic languages such as Hebrew, which has seven different verb forms. The basic rule of derivation in Quranic Arabic is that nearly all words are derived from a three root (triliteral) or a four root (quadriliteral) pattern system. The Arabic letters fā ʿayn lām (ف ع ل) are typically used as placeholders in verb patterns to denote three different radical letters, since فَعَلَ is a prototypical verb that means "to do" or "to act". This is denoted by F-3-L in figure 1 below. Roots in Arabic convey a basic meaning which then allow for more complex semantic concepts to be derived, whether these are verbs or nouns. Based on this system nouns and verbs can have up to fourteen to fifteen forms, although though ten is the norm for most roots.


Fig 1. Three roots in a triliteral pattern.

For example, take the three root concept of D-R-S which gives the basic meaning of "to study". By adding letters to the three root template (before, in between or after the radicals in the stem) other more complex meanings are formed such as "school", "teacher", "lesson" or even "legislation". In figure 2 below the x's are the extra letters that can be added to the original 3 root letters. These additional letters do not have to all added at the same time. Notice that the root is still present in the template and has not changed. In some forms, the root letters are doubled, and in other forms vowels may be added or elongated.


Fig 2. Derivation of possible forms.

Using derivation system of roots and patterns, nouns (singular, dual, plural), and verbs (singular, dual, plural, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, imperatives and verbal nouns) are derived in an almost mathematical way, leaving little room for confusion as to the desired meaning of the word. Of course the ideal model of this derivation is the Quran, and as you look through the Quran you will see these in play. In the remainder of this section, examples are quoted from the Quran, so that it becomes easy to see the forms. These derived forms allow for the language to reflect the state of how a particular action (i.e. a verb) was performed. The derived forms even indiciate how many individuals participated in the action, and if it was reciprocal or not.

Triliteral Verb Forms

To illustrate the idea of derived forms, the examples below use a three letter root (although not all roots feature in all verb forms) and lists the first ten standard forms (I to X). When annotating Arabic verb forms, the convention in the Quranic Arabic Corpus is to use Roman numerals, e.g. IX denotes a form nine verb or noun. In the examples below, root letters are capitalized and their meanings are shown in brackets. The first column in the table below specifies the template used in the derivation, as found in standard references of traditional Quranic Arabic grammar. Letters shown in capitals denote a radical that is part of the original root used in the derived verb form. Example words are taken from the Quran. You can click on an Quranic word below to see details of the verse in context.

Form Derived Verb Meaning Examples
Form I
("to write")
The simplest form, "he wrote". Verbs of this form are generally transitive so that they require an object, as in "he wrote a book" or "he ate an apple". However it is possible to have intransitive verbs that require no object verbs in this class as well.


has ordained

Form II
("to teach")
A verb that is already transitive becomes doubly so, as it takes a meaning of "make do" or "make become", so the meaning could be "to make one learn" i.e. "to teach". This form reflects meaning in three ways:
  1. Intensity of the verb (repetition or the energy in which the action is performed).
  2. He made himself do (to make himself).
  3. Causative (to make another do).
In the intensity example on the right, the form of the verb shows the intensity and the repetition of the action, i.e. she closed all the doors and bolted them.




And she closed

Form III
("to fight")
This form implies that there is someone or something else present and that the action is performed upon him/her/it. This forms reflects meaning in two ways:
  1. Causative ("to be") as an active participle.
  2. Mutual action (he made him do the same).
In the causative example on the right, the active participle is derived from form I SH-a-H-i-D-a "to witness" or "to be present", which also occurs in the same verse. So here it is almost as if to say "he caused himself to witness".

In the second example, the verb "fight" requires someone to be fought with, and so the action is mutual.


a witness


And fight

Form IV
("to destory")
This pattern is similar to form II in that it makes intransitive verbs transitive, and transitive verbs doubly so. This form has the meaning of:
  1. He made himself do or perform an action.
  2. A reflexive causative, i.e. he made himself do something transformative to a place or a state.
In the first example on the right, he made himself "destroy the crops".

In the second example, the verb is causative, so that he made himself "want to harm".

In the third example, he was not of the losers before this action of killing, but now was transformed into that state.

Example 1:

and destroys

Example 2:


Example 3:

and became

Form V
("to receive admonition")
Form 5 is linked to form 2. Whatever action is done through a F-a-33-a-L-a form 2 verb, the t-a-F-33-a-L-a form 5 verb is from the point of view of the object of the verb. This usually reflects the reflexive or effective meaning, e.g. "he made himself" or "he made something undergo an action".

In the first example on the right, DH-a-KK-a-R-a "to remind" is form II, and now in form V it is from the point of view of the object, i.e. "he received the reminder".

In the second example, the verb here is t-a-GH-a-YY-a-R-a "to undergo change", so these rivers in paradise do not undergo any change of state or taste even if ones tries to do that (in relation to form II: GH-a-YY-a-R-a "to cause to change").

Example 1:


Example 2:


Form VI
("to support one another")
Form 6 is the reflection of how the object underwent the action of form 3 (F-aa-3-a-L-a). Notice that as in form 5, this is obtained by adding ta- before the verb. Since form 3 implies an action done on someone, form 6 implies reciprocity as in the English sentence "they looked at each other".

The subject cannot be singular in this function of the form. For example, t-a-K-aa-T-a-B-a itself would mean "they corresponded with each other" (they wrote to each other). Here they support one another in this particular action. This usually reflects the meaning of:

  1. Pure mutuality, e.g. t-a-B-aa-D-a-L-a "he exchanged" takes one object, or t-a-3-aa-W-a-N-a "he became assisting". More than one party needs to be involved in this action
  2. Conative - he made himself be the doer.
  3. Pretension – he made himself do something, e.g. "He made himself appear to forget".


you support one another


and We will overlook

Form VII
("to turn away")
This form expresses submission to an action or effect. In the case of an animate being, this is an involuntary submission. The form reflects meaning on two levels:
  1. Reflexive (to let oneself be put through).
  2. Angentless passive (non-reciprocal of form I).
In the second example, the verb is i-n-F-a-T-a-R-a "to be taken apart". In the Quranic sense, the agent of the action is God, as the skies do not split without a cause. But here it serves the heaven's submission to be broken apart.


turns back

Agentless passive:

(will) break apart

("to excuse oneself")
This form is generally the reflexive of the simple form K-a-T-a-B-a "he wrote", where the object of form 1 becomes its own object. This form reflects two meanings:
  1. Either conative or causative (to make oneself do).
  2. Reciprocal.
In the conative example on the right, the verb is i-3-t-a-R-a-DH-a "to excuse oneself". Here in the second person, the meaning becomes "do not excuse yourselves".

In the causative example, they made themselves take a conscious effortful action.


make excuse,

Causative :

you took

Form IX
("to turn black in color")
This form usually reflects the meaning of stativity, and typically refers to bodily defects and colors. For example, i-3-W-a-JJ-a "to be crocked or lame".


and would become black

Form X
("to make oneself mock at")
The tenth form usually reflects the meaning of someone seeking something. Typically the form reflects the meaning of:
  1. Causative - i-s-t-KH-R-a-J-a "to effortfully make come out" (i.e. he extracted) .
  2. Reflexive causative - i-s-t-a-H-Z-a-A-a "he made himself deride".
    Reflexive transformative - "he made be himself be something", e.g. i-s-t-a-3-R-a-B-a "he made himself an Arab"
  3. Causative - "to do to the self", e.g. "he made the object do himself" (as the subject), or "He sought to be done by the object". i-s-t-GH-F-a-R-a "he sought to be forgiven by someone else".

Reflexive causative:

were mocked


And seek forgiveness

Fig 3. Triliteral verb forms (I to X).

Quadriliteral Verb Forms

Quadriliteral verb forms have four radical root letters. These are much rarer than triliterals. In Arabic grammar, quadriliteral verbs have four standard forms, I to IV. The table below illustrates example quadriliteral verbs from the Quran.

Form Derived Verb Meaning Examples
Form I
("he rolled")
The basic quadriliteral verb form with four radical root letters.


Then whispered

Form II
("he rolled [intransitive]")
This form has the meaning of reflexive, or reflexive causative.  
Form III
("to bloom, to flourish")
This form corresponds in meaning to the form VII triliteral verb, and is usually intransitive.  
Form IV
("to be in a state of shuddering or shivering")
This form has a stative meaning.



Fig 4. Quadriliteral verb forms (I to IV).

See Also

Language Research Group
University of Leeds