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What is the ism al Masdar in Arabic?

The Ism al-Masdar اسم المصدر and the regular masdar sometimes mean the same, sometimes not. Let’s check why.

Last updated: 1 year ago

Let's make it practical: Do تَغْنِيَةٌ and غِناءٌ both mean the same? There is almost no difference in meaning. But there is a tiny one.

Although both words are often translated as singing or song, precisely speaking, غِناءٌ is song and تَغْنِيَةٌ is singing.

They are both a مَصْدَر of the verb: غَنَّى. But why do they look different?

You might know that the مَصْدَر of a () follows a cer­tain pattern: تَفْعِيل

For example: دَرَّسَ – تَدْرِيسٌ

This is correct for regular verbs. But the pattern looks different if the last letter of the root is a حَرْف عِلّة – one of these tricky letters, namely و or ي. The pattern then changes to: تَفْعِيلة

This is why the مَصْدَر of the verb غَنَّى is written like this: تَغْنِية

Now, what about the second word: غِناء?

This is called the اِسْم الْمَصْدَر. Normally, a اِسْم مَصْدَر is shorter than the original مَصْدَر.

Why does it almost mean the same as تَغْنِية?

  1. The represents the action of the verb and
  2. the Ism al-Masdar is pointing more to the result / outcome of the action.

For native speakers the regular form of the مَصْدَر is a bit difficult to pronounce. So, a simplified pronunciation became popular following the pattern of I-verb (فعل).

To sum it up: The original مَصْدَر is تَغْنِية and is called الْمَصْدَر الأَصْلِيّ. However, native speakers prefer to use the word غِناء instead. This is called the اِسْم الْمَصْدَر. Normally, a اِسْم مَصْدَر is shorter than the original مَصْدَر.

Forms like this occur quite often in Arabic and exist for almost all verb patterns. But before dealing with them, let us have a closer look again at the correct pronunciation of the word: غناء

غَناءThe word غَناء with a فَتْحة under the غ is theمَصْدَر of the verb: غَنِىَ. This is a I-verb and means: to be rich. The مَصْدَر can be translated as wealth.
غِناءNotice here the “i”-sound at the beginning of the word, the كَسْرة under the letter غ. This is the alternative مَصْدَر of the II-verbغَنَّىَ as explained above. The word means singing or song.

So watch out for the pronunciation as without vowels, the words for song and wealth look the same!

Here are some examples for the اِسْم الْمَصْدَر:

meaningverbpatternالمصدر الأصليّاسم المصدر
to singغَنَّىَفَعَّلَتَغْنِيةغِناء
to make a mistakeأَخْطَأََإخْطاءخَطَأ
to travelسافَرَفَاعَلَمُسافَرةسَفَر
to buy thingsاِشْتَرَىاِفْتَعَلَاِشْتِراءشِراء
to marryتَزَوَّجَتَفَعَّلَتَزَوُّجزَواج

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Do you know other masdar types in Arabic? For example, the ism al-Marra? More grammar-related stuff:

picture credit: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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Sirine Demachkie
Sirine Demachkie
5 months ago

Agree. This is great. Those tricky letters can be so painfully and joyfully challenging.

David Parfitt
David Parfitt
5 months ago

This is great! Do you have any plans to compile all these recent posts into another book?

Arabic for Nerds
Arabic for Nerds
5 months ago
Reply to  David Parfitt

David Parfitt Yes, but I won’t just reuse the new blog posts. One book is in the making and I do have plans for other stuff (but simply not enough time)….

Enver Arslantas
Enver Arslantas
4 years ago

Great summary, shukran!
But there seems to be a mistake im the last two entries of the last table. Should it be tazawuj and zawāj?

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