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Arabic masdar forms: Do سُؤال and مَسْألة mean the same?

The original masdar (المصدر الأصلي) – asliyy – is not the only masdar in Arabic. There is a masdar mimy (المصدر الميمي). What is the difference?

Last updated: July 18, 2021

There is almost no difference in meaning. Both mean question. So when do we use which word? And what kind of words are they? Let’s have a look

The difference between the masdar mimy and masdar asly

  • سُؤَالٌ is the original masdar of the verb سَأَلَ. It is the so-called الْمَصْدَرُ الْأَصْلِيُّ.
  • مَسْأَلةٌ is the so-called al-Masdar al-Mimy (الْمَصْدَرُ الْمِيمِيُّ).

A مَصْدَرٌ مِيمِيٌّ basically means the same as the standard مَصْدَرٌ. So, what is it good for? Well, the po­ets needed it.

The extra م changes the length of the word. It has more rhythm and melody as the original مَصْدَرٌ. But that’s not all. The مَصْدَرٌمِيمِيٌّ may also indicate a stronger meaning and reinforce the original مَصْدَرٌ. If you find a ة at the end of a مَصْدَرٌمِيمِيٌّ, it may signal a slight exaggeration or widening of the action or a special focus on the abun­dance/frequency of the action.

(If you are not familiar with the word مَصْدَر scroll down to the end of this blog! (Excursus)

In daily talk and especially in newspapers, you will find many examples for the الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ – and most of the time, it basically has the same meaning as the original مَصْدَر:

TRANSLATIONالْمَصْدَرُ الْمِيمِيُّ
singular and plural
original infinitive
(الْمَصْدَرُ الْأَصْلِيُّ)
existence, lifeمَعايِشُمَعِيشةٌعِيشةٌ or عِيشٌعاشَ
benefit, utilityمَنافِعُمَنْفَعةٌنَفْعٌنَفَعَ
demand, requestمَطالِبُمَطْلَبٌطَلَبٌطَلَبَ
killing, murderمَقاتِلُمَقْتَلٌقَتْلٌقَتَلَ
descent, declineمُنْحَدَراتٌمُنْحَدَرٌاِنْحِدارٌاِنْحَدَرَ

Hot to build the الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّ

I-form verbs (الثُّلاثيّ)

You use the patterns of the اِسْمُ الْمَكانِ and the اِسْمُ الْزَّمانِ:

  • مَفْعَلٌ
  • مَفْعِلٌ – especially for verbs starting with و. For example, the verb to promise (وَعَدَ) → مَوْعِدٌ
  • مَفْعَلةٌ – making the word feminine by the تاءُ التَّأْنِيثِ

Verb forms II – X (غَيْر الثُّلاثيّ)

  • You use the same pattern as the اِسْم الْمَفْعُول

Watch out if you have to identify a مَصْدَرٌ مِيمِيٌّ. In the follow­ing table, the word مُسْتَخْرَج occurs in every sentence. But does it have the same meaning and function? Not at all!

The well is the place of ex­traction for petroleum.الْبِئْرُ مُسْتَخْرَجُ النَّفْطِاِسْمُ الْمَكانِ
Petroleum is extracted from the well.النَّفْطُ مُسْتَخْرَجٌ مِن الْبِئْرِاِسْمُ الْمَفْعُولِ
The extraction of the oil is in the morning.مُسْتَخْرَجُ النَّفْطِ صَباحًااِسْمُ الزَّمانِ
I extracted petroleum quickly.اِسْتَخْرَجْتُ النَّفْطَ مُسْتَخْرَجًا عَجِيلًاالْمَصْدَرُ الْمِيمِيُّ

Let us see some examples to understand it better:

Masdar Mimy and plural forms

pl.الْمَصْدَر الْمِيمِيّpluralالْمَصْدَر الأَصْلِيّmeaningroot


What is a masdar (مَصْدَر)?

The Arabic word مَصْدَر means source. It is the most basic, abstract meaning of the root.

In Arabic, a مَصْدَر is a noun (اِسْم) which is derived from a verb (فِعْل). It describes the action without giving you information about the time of the event, nor about the person who is doing the action.

The corresponding English grammar term depends on the function of a مَصْدَر in an Arabic sentence. A مَصْدَر can function as a verbal noun (noun of action), as an infinitive, etc. But don’t forget: A مَصْدَر is not a verb!

A مَصْدَر is a so called اِسْم مَعْنى; something, that is abstract, that has no color, no size – but that is connected to an action, like writing, reading, swimming.

All the other nouns are called اِسْم ذات and can be recognized with your senses – you can see, smell, taste, hear them. For example: a river – نَهْر – or mountain – جَبَل – or chair – كُرْسِيّ. These words can’t be a مَصْدَر.

A مَصْدَر doesn’t have a body, nor a concrete shape or form. How can you describe the word reading? You can’t say it is big, blue or loud. Every مَصْدَر needs a هَدَف (goal) and you can only grasp it with your mind.

Do you know other masdar types in Arabic? For example, the ism al-Marra?

Still energy to digest some more Arabic grammar?

picture credit: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

  1. What is the difference between اسم المصدر and مصدر الميمي
    Thank you

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