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What does the vowel on the second root letter of an Arabic verb tell us?

The vowel on the second root letter of an Arabic verb reveals many things about the character and personality of the verb.

Last updated: November 10, 2021

The second radical is the most important component of the past tense. Only the second root letter can have any of the three vowels (a, i, u) in the past tense whereas the first and third must have فَتْحةٌ.

The second vowel can help us understand verbs better and may tell us more about the character and meaning of the verb. Let’s see why.

2nd vowelpatternWhat does it denote?
a”فَعَلَan act; someone initiates something
i”فَعِلَa transitory state;
uفَعُلَa permanent state;

Some examples:

a”قَتَلَto kill
a”فَعَلَto do; to act
i”لَبِسَto dress
i”عَلِمَto know
uحَسُنَto be beautiful
uكَبُرَto be big

This is generally but not universally true. There are exceptions be­cause neighboring consonants have influenced the vowels (or the other way round). There is a rule of thumb for verbs of cate­gory 3 (فَعُلَ):

They usually don’t form an active participle – but a pseudo, quasi participle that describes the state of things (صِفةٌ مُشَبَّهةٌ). For example: big (ٌكَبِير), nice (لَطِيفٌ).

    1. Hi Teresa, do you mean the present tense (يَقْتُلُ)? This article only talks about the stem vowel of the past tense, which is “a” in قَتَلَ. Regarding the present tense, there are other rules.

Any thoughts or ideas about this? Leave a comment!

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