Using an Arabic Dictionary Part II

In a previous post, some guidelines were given on how to effectively look up words using an Arabic dictionary. The focus here now is on what to do when looking up words which contain weak letters as this can sometimes prove problematic.

The difficulty that arises in using the dictionary is when weak letters (waw and yaa) are involved. Because they are weak letters they would often get changed to another letter or get dropped entirely and this could make it hard to determine what the actual original three-letter roots are.

Eg. the word صام. One might think that the root letters are saad-alif-meem since those are the only three letters visible but this is not the case. The roots are in fact saad-waw-meem but since waw is a weak letter and it would have had a harakah, it then gets changed to an alif.

The word ميزان. If you think to look for this word under yaa-zaa-noon then you would not find it. This is because this word is derived from the verb وزن. When it is put on the scale of mif’aal it becomes موزان but since this would be really hard to pronounce it gets altered to ميزان.

The word نائم. Since this word is on the scale of faa’il it might be assumed that the roots are noon-hamza-meem. But it isn’t so: the roots are noon-waw-meem. When you put these letters on the scale of faa’il you get ناوم. Here the weak letter has a harakah so it gets changed to a hamza to make it easier to pronounce.

So if you are struggling to find the roots of a particular word then it is perhaps because there is a weak letter involved and it has been changed to something else. So see if a waw or yaa could fit in anywhere in the word. To know all of the changes which can take place one would have to study i’laal which is one of the topics covered by sarf.

But it is not only weak letters which can be changed, it can happen to others as well. This is called ibdaal.

Eg. the word إزدحم. This word is on the scale of ifta’ala (eighth form). Here the taa of ifta’ala has changed to a daal. So the roots would be zaa-haa-meem.

The word اصطبر. It is the same as the word before except that the taa here has changed to a ط. So the roots are saad-baa-raa.

So in ibdaal, the taa of ifta’ala either changes to a daal or to a ط.

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