Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paradigm Connotations

In the tutorial entitled Verb Paradigms, we described very precisely the nature of verbal paradigms, what they are, how they look, and the rules associated with them. Briefly speaking, a verb can have extra letters added to its base letters that enhance its meaning and add various connotations. In this tutorial, we discuss how exactly these extra letters enhance the basic meaning of a verb. We will also discuss specialties of verbal paradigms beyond their meanings.

For a more detailed picture of where this tutorial fits into Arabic morphology, consult the introduction to this section entitled Introduction to Arabic Morphology.

Which Paradigms can a Verb Use?

For 3-lettered verbs, there are six basic paradigms and quite a few advanced ones. And for 4-lettered verbs, there is only one basic paradigm and three advanced ones.

·         3-lettered verbs
o       6 basic paradigms
o       34 advanced paradigms (the exact number is disputed)
·        4-lettered verbs
o       1 basic paradigm
o       3 advanced paradigms

Theoretically, verbs must use one of the basic patterns and only then can they utilize the advanced ones. Many verbs, however, are such that they use advanced paradigms, circumventing the basic ones. Moreover, a verb will typically use only a handful of the advanced paradigms – not more than a few.

Furthermore, which of the six paradigms a 3-lettered verb will use is, for the most part, random. And, at the basic level, there is no extra meaning given to the verb. But sometimes a verb may use more than one basic form and, in such a situation, there will usually be a difference in connotation (but not always).

# of Basic
Paradigms Used
# of Advanced
Paradigms Used
Rarity of
Such Verbs
at least one
عَطَّر  (to perfume), تَعَطَّرَ (to perfume oneself)
نَمِلَ (to be numb)
more than 1
very rare
ثَرَمَ (to knock someone’s tooth out),
ثَرِمَ (to have a lot of space between the teeth)
at least one
very common
خَزَنَ/خَزَّنَ (to store), اختزن (to hoard; accumulate)
more than 1
at least one
فَقِهَ (to understand), فَقُهَ (to be a jurisprudent), أفقه/فقّه (to instruct), تفقه (to comprehend)

Connotations of the Basic Paradigms

Paradigms فعَل-يفعِل and فعَل-يفعُل

Both of these paradigms do not normally add any extra meanings to the basic verb. However, they are sometimes used to indicate on the victor of a fight/argument/etc. For example, the verb ضارب means for people to contend. The verb ضرب from the فعَل-يفعُل paradigm would then be used to indicate who won the contention. So we would say “يضارب زيد وعمرو فسيضرُب عمرو” meaning “Zaid and Amr are arguing, and Amr is soon to win the argument.”

Paradigm فعِل-يفعَل

This pattern does not typically add extra meanings to the verb. However, some trends have been noticed. For example, many verbs from this paradigm attribute qualities to their subjects, as in ذرب “to be sharp”. Many other verbs are used to express that something negative has happened (especially to the body), as in عمي “to become blind” and بكم “to become dumb”. But no generalizations should be made.

Paradigm فعَل-يفعَل

Any verb inaugurated into this paradigm must have a throat letter (ء، ه، ع، ح، غ، خ) as its second or third root letter. This rule has very few exceptions.

Paradigm فعُل-يفعُل

These verbs are used to attribute qualities to their subjects. For example, جدر means “to be appropriate”. Being appropriate is a quality and not an action. Consequently, these verbs will never be translated using phrases such as “it became X”; we will simply say “it was X”. Another example is the verb وثَر-يثِر which means “to make soft”; in this paradigm it is وثُر and it means “to be soft”.

Another connotation offered by this paradigm is that of a pleasant exclamation. For example, the verb علِم simply means “to know”, but the speaker may opt to use فعُل if he wants to express “wow, he really knew!” or “wow, how well he knew!”.

All verbs in this paradigm are actually limited to these two connotations. That is to say, they will not be empty of one of these two meanings. Consequently, all verbs in this paradigm are intransitive.

Paradigm فعِل-يفعِل

Only 15 verbs (give or take) come from this paradigm, all of which are مثال واوي:

وثق، وجد، وحم، ورث، ورع, ورك، ورم، وعق، وعم، وفق، وقه، وكم، ولي، ومق، وهم

There are a few others, like حسب.

Connotations of the Enhanced Paradigms

Paradigm إفعال

This paradigm is very popularly used for transitivity. For example, the simple verb جلس means “to sit”, but the enhanced form أجلس means “to make someone sit”. Similarly, شرب means “to drink something”, but أشرب means “to make someone drink something”. And finally, علم can mean “to know someone is something”, but أعلم means “to inform someone that someone is something”. Notice that this paradigm increases the level of a verb’s transitivity.

This paradigm is also used to express that the subject of the verb has achieved the meaning of the verb. For example, the noun ثمر means “fruits” and so أثمرت الشجرة would mean “the tree has become fruit-bearing”. Such verbs are typically not realized in the basic paradigms; they bypass them.

Another connotation conveyed is that of entering the time or place indicated by the verb’s base meaning. For example, the noun نجد refers to the Arabian highlands (it is a proper noun), and so أنجد means “to enter the Arabian highlands”. Here, too, the verb has no equivalent in the basic paradigms.

The final connotation of mention here is that of removal. That is to say, this paradigm expresses the subject removing the root meaning of the verb from the object. For example, the base letters ش، ك، و mean “to complain”, and so أشكيتُه would mean “I removed his complaint.”

There are a plethora of other connotations expressed by this paradigm, but an exhaustive list would not be appropriate. The above are by far the most productive in the language and the rest are rare.

Paradigm تفعيل

As in إفعال, this paradigm is also popularly used for transitivity. For example, ضحك means “to laugh”, whereas ضحّك means “to make someone laugh”. Since both إفعال and تفعيل increase a verb’s transitivity, it is valid to ask which of the two will be used for a given verb. This is random and must be looked up in a dictionary. Sometimes, however, both paradigms are used, as in أنبأ and نبّأ. In such cases, either is fine. When this situation occurs in modern Arabic, the إفعال paradigm is considered more formal.

The تفعيل paradigm is also commonly used for expressing intensity. For example, the simple verb قطع means “to cut”, whereas the enhanced form قطّع means “to chop up”.

This paradigm is also used to indicate the subject’s turning towards a direction which comes from the verb’s base letters. For example, the noun شرق means east and the verb شرّق means “to face east”.

A very rhetorical usage of this pattern is its use for metaphor and simile. What happens here is that a set of base letters is chosen whose meaning acts as a metaphor for the subject’s condition. For example, if Zaid’s body is really bent and misshapen, we might say قوّس زيد “Zaid is bent”, where the word قوس actually means “bow”. So it is as if we’re saying that Zaid is bent like a bow.

Finally, another usage of this pattern is to abbreviate long words or phrases. The Islamic creed, لا إلـه الا الله, for example, is abbreviated using this paradigm. We take the three most significant letters and we get هلّل. This verb now means “to recite this creed”.

Rarely but sometimes, this paradigm does not add any connotation whatsoever. And there are, of course, many other connotations that we have not mentioned. The above, however, are the majority and the most commonly used.

Paradigm مفاعلة

Among the few connotations associated with this paradigm is its multi-partisan nature. In other words, verbs in this paradigm are such that they involve multiple parties. قاتل means “to fight”, ساهم means “to hold shares together”, شارك means “to participate”, and صافح means “to shake hands”. All of these things involve multiple groups interacting with each other at some level.

Paradigms Prefixed with تَـ

This group includes
·         تفعّل
·        تفاعل
·        تفعلل
·        and many of the rare paradigms

These are the reflexive versions of the equivalent paradigms without the ت prefix. For example, زيّن means “to adorn” whereas تزيّن means “to adorn oneself”, ساءل means “to interrogate” whereas تساءل means “to interrogate one another”, and so forth.

And these paradigms can also be used as consequences of their non-ت equivalents. For example, علّمني فتعلّمتُ “he taught me, so I learned”. Learning is a consequence of someone teaching.

Furthermore, paradigms تفعّل and تفاعل in particular can be used to express that the subject has pretended to enact the root meaning of the verb. For example, تشجّع can mean “to pretend to be encouraged“ and تجاهل can mean “to pretend to be ignorant; i.e. to be coy”.

And finally, the تفعّل and تفاعل paradigms are also used for diligent acquisition. This is very similar to the previous connotation of pretending. With pretending the subject has not acquired the root meaning of the verb but is pretending to have done so, whereas with diligent acquisition the subject is trying to acquire the root meaning. For example, تجاهل in the pretending sense will mean “to be coy” while in the acquisition sense it will mean “trying to be ignorant”. A minor point to note about diligent acquisition is that تفعّل can only be used for positive meanings and تفاعل only for negative meanings. Since ignorance is negative, one would not say تجهّل with the intention of conveying the acquisition connotation.

Paradigm افتعال

This pattern has many associated connotations. Among them is for its verbs to be a consequence of the same verb from a different paradigm. For example, جمَعتُ الكتب فاجتمعت “I collected the books, thus they gathered (or became collected)”.

There are several other meanings; however, they are often not helpful and a dictionary is invariably required to ascertain a verb’s meaning. Therefore, they will not be listed here.

Paradigm استفعال

In the vast majority of cases, this paradigm connotes the sense of seeking the meaning of the verb. Whereas نصر simply means “to help”, for example, استنصر means “to seek help”. Similarly, استغفر means “to seek forgiveness” and استخرج means “to want to take out” or more accurately “to derive; to extrapolate”.

This paradigm also indicates the verb’s subject deeming something. An example will clarify this: ضعف means “to be weak” and استضعف means “to deem someone weak”; in other words, to think of someone as weak. Similarly, استقلّ means “to consider something to be less or insufficient”.

This paradigm does have other connotations which will not be listed here.

Paradigms with نْـ Near the Beginning

These include the following
·         انفعال for 3-lettered verbs
·        افعنلال for 4-lettered verbs

These paradigms render the verb passive. A clear example of this is the word كسر meaning “to break”, which when inaugurated into this pattern gives انكسر meaning “to become broken; to shatter”.

There is actually a rhetorical difference between expressing passiveness using a verb’s actual passive form and between using this paradigm. When we use a verb’s passive form, although the subject of the verb is not mentioned, there is an indication and hint towards the fact that there is a subject. For example, the passive verb كُسِر means “it was broken (by someone)”. On the other hand, using the انفعال paradigm gives no such indication. Hence انكسر would simply mean “it broke.”

This is the only connotation conveyed by these patterns. As a consequence, all verbs in these paradigms will be intransitive.

Paradigms افعلال and افعيلال

These paradigms can be used only for verbs that carry the meaning of colours or bodily defects. For example, احمرّ means “to blush or become red” and ادهامّ means “to become dark green/black”.

Paradigm افعلاّل

This paradigm is used to slightly exaggerate the meaning coming from the root letters. For example, اقشعرّ means “to tremble or quake”.


This section explains what the reader should take away from this tutorial.

Basic Paradigm


·         a quality is attributed to the subject
·        a (bodily) defect has occurred
·         the second or third base letter must be a throat letter
·         a quality is attributed to the subject
·         only a handful of verbs use this paradigm

Enhanced Paradigm
·         transitivity
·        entering into a time or place
·         transitivity
·        intensifying the meaning of the verb
·         participation of different groups/people
·         reflexive of تفعيل
·        consequence of an action expressed using تفعيل
·        the subject pretends to do the meaning of the verb
·        diligent acquisition of a positive quality
·         reflexive of مفاعلة
·        consequence of an action expressed using مفاعلة
·        the subject pretends to do the meaning of the verb
·        diligent acquisition of a negative quality
·         consequence of an action
·         to seek or want the meaning of the verb
·        for the subject to deem/consider the object to be something
·         passive
·         verbs are either colours or defects
·         verbs are either colours or defects
·         reflexive of فعلل
·        consequence of an action expressed using فعلل
·         passive
·         slightly intensive

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