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Derived Nouns

What is this Tutorial About?

This tutorial deals with an aspect of Arabic morphology that focuses on nouns instead of verbs. Some nouns have morphology inasmuch as they are constructed by taking a set of root letters and placing them on a particular pattern. The pattern renders the letters into a word and gives the word a tangible meaning. Moreover, the word may experience morphophonemic changes. This tutorial discusses such nouns.

 

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

Where these Nouns Fit in

Nouns in Arabic – we actually mean the broader part of speech known as اسم – can be divided into categories based on many considerations such as gender, plurality, grammatical inflection, and more. For example, if we want to divide nouns based on gender, we get the two categories Masculine and Feminine; every noun is either masculine or feminine, but not both and not neither.

 

Similarly, we can divide nouns based on derivation. When we do this, we get the following three categories:

 

1.       جَامِد (static noun): those that are not derived from anything and nothing is derived from them

2.       مَصْدَر (gerund): those that are not derived from anything, but other words are derived from them

3.       مُشْتَقّ (derived noun): those that are derived from a gerund

 

That is to say, any noun in Arabic is either not derived and nothing is derived from it, it is a source of derivation, or it is derived. All nouns must fall into one, and only one, of these categories.

 

The derived noun is a combination of a root meaning that we are given from its gerund, plus a particular pattern that adds a fixed connotation to that meaning. For example, the gerund “helping”, can be placed on a pattern for the active participle (one of the derived nouns in Arabic). This derived noun will add the connotation of the one who does an action. Hence we get “the one who helps”, or simply “helper”.

 

Technically, verbs are also derived since they are a combination of a root meaning that we get from the gerund plus a particular pattern that adds a connotation. In the case of verbs, the connotations added are tense (past, present, etc), voice (active, passive), person (first, second, etc), plurality, gender, and perhaps others. But we do not discuss verbs here. For conjugation of verbs, see the tutorial entitled Verb Conjugation.


 

Introduction

There are seven types of derived nouns. Each one of these is a class of noun that comes with a set of patterns (and perhaps some morphological rules) that tell us how to construct it, as well as a connotation that it adds to the base meaning which helps us understand its meaning.

 

We will discuss each of these seven nouns in turn by explaining how to take a set of base letters and construct the noun, and we will precisely define the connotation the noun adds to the base meaning. Here we give an overview and loose definitions as a gentle introduction.

 

·         اسم الفاعل (active participle): the one that enacts the base meaning

·         اسم المبالغة (hyperbolic participle): the one that enacts the base meaning exaggeratedly

·         اسم المفعول (passive participle): the one upon whom the base meaning is enacted

·         الصفة المشبهة (resembling participle): the one who enacts (or upon whom is enacted) the base meaning intrinsically

·         اسم الآلة (utilitarian noun): the thing used to enact the base meaning

·         اسم الظرف (locative noun): the time when or the place where the base meaning is enacted

·         اسم التفضيل (comparative & superlative): the one who enacts (or upon whom is enacted) the base meaning the most

 

Below is a table of examples that will help bring these definitions into perspective. For each type of noun, we have chosen a particular pattern from its inventory of patterns as well as a sample gerund. We place the gerund on that pattern and explain the meaning of the resulting word.

 

Example

Derived Noun

Meaning

Resulting Word

Sample

Gerund

One of the Patterns

one who hits
i.e. hitter

ضَارِب

ضرب
hitting

فَاعِل

اِسْم الفَاعِل

one who travels a lot

i.e. globetrotter

رَحَّالَة

رحيل
traveling

فَعَّالَة

اِسْم المُبَالَغَة

that which is understood

i.e. concept

مَفْهُوْم

فهم
comprehension

مَفْعُوْل

اِسْم المَفْعُوْل

one who knows ipso facto
i.e. the all-knowing

عَلِيْم

علم
knowing

فَعِيْل

الصِفَة المُشَبَّهَة

thing that is used to open
i.e. key

مِفْتَاح

فتح
opening

مِفْعَال

اِسْم الآلَة

place where people play
i.e. playground

مَلْعَب

لعب
playing

مَفْعَل

اِسْم الظَرْف

more/most far
i.e. further/furthest

أَقْصى

قصو
being far

أَفْعَل

اِسْم التَفْضِيْل

 

Below is a very similar chart. Here, however, we use the same base letters to illustrate all of the derived nouns. This gives a clear picture of the function of each of them.

 

Example

Derived Noun

Meaning

Resulting Word

Gerund

One of the Patterns

one who knows
(scholar, scientist)

عَالِم

علم
knowing

فَاعِل

اِسْم الفَاعِل

one who knows a lot
(erudite)

عَلاَّمَة

فَعَّالَة

اِسْم المُبَالَغَة

that which is known
(known, fixed, determined)

مَعْلُوْم

مَفْعُوْل

اِسْم المَفْعُوْل

one who knows intrinsically
(the all-knowing)

عَلِيْم

فَعِيْل

الصِفَة المُشَبَّهَة

that through which we know (God)
(the world)

عَالَم

فَاعَل

اِسْم الآلَة

where/when we know
(landmark)

مَعْلَم

مَفْعَل

اِسْم الظَرْف

one who knows the most
(most learned)

أَعْلَم

أَفْعَل

اِسْم التَفْضِيْل

 

It is important to note that these are nouns just like any other nouns. When used in a sentence, they have the capacity to become the subject, the predicate, the object of a verb, possessive, and anything else. For example, the active participle in the following sentence is the object of the verb and the passive participle is the subject of that verb:

 

ضَرَبَ المَضْرُوْبُ الضَارِبَ
the one who was hit .. hit the hitter

 

Similarly, the locative noun in the following sentence is the subject of the sentence and it is not being used as a location, per se:

 

المَلْجَأُ لَيْسَ بَيْنَ أَشْدَاقِ التِمْسَاحِ
escape is not between the jaws of the crocodile

 

Another point to note is that many of these noun types can be used as adjectives just as they can be used as nouns. For example, compare the two uses of the same word in the following sentence:

 

اِسْتَجَبْتُ الرَجُلَ العَالِمَ وعَالِماً آخَرَ
I interrogated the knowledgeable man as well as another scholar

 


 

The Active Participle

Meaning

The active participle is that noun derived from a gerund which is used to indicate upon the one who has, is, or will enact something. It is loosely referred to as the ‘doer’. For example, the active participle for “helping” is “helper”. Recall that the word “helper” can be used in any grammatical positioning in a sentence and its function as the ‘doer’ is at the word level, not the sentence level. We can say “Zaid hit his helper.” “Helper” in this sentence is a ‘doer’ (one who helps), but it is not the one doing the verb of the sentence (the subject is Zaid).

 

When we take a set of base letters and place them on one of the active participle patterns, the resulting meaning may not be immediately clear. We do know that this noun adds the ‘doer’ meaning, but for the final, correct translation of the word, a dictionary is usually consulted. In the chart below, compare the base meaning of each word with the active participle.

 

Some Popular Actual Meanings

Expected

Meaning

Active Participle

Base Meaning

Base Letters

clubhouse

one who calls

نَادٍ

to call, convene

ن، د، و

pregnant

one who carries

حَامِل

to carry

ح، م، ل

eyebrow, hermetic

that which conceals

حَاجِب

to veil, conceal

ح، ج، ب

 

Notice that the translation “eyebrow” above is what we know in English as a noun, whereas the word “hermetic” is an adjective. Which of the two functions a given derived noun uses is dependent on context. For example, we may say “the capable people can do it.” In this case, the word “capable” is being used as an adjective. And we may say “the capable can do it.” It is now being used as a noun.

 

A final point to note is that not all gerunds may have an associated active participle. Although most do. For example, “one who is tall” will not be expressed using an active participle because being tall is an attribute, not an act of doing something, so it is better suited for the resembling participle.

 

Construction

If the gerund from which the active participle is derived is a trilateral verb with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms), then we simply place the base letters on the pattern:

 

فَاعِل

 

If the gerund is that of any other verb, we employ the following algorithm:

 

1.       start with the imperfect verb

2.       replace the علامة المضارع with a ميم مضمومة

3.       change the vowel on the second-last letter to a كسرة if it’s not already such

4.       and of course the ending of the word will inflect like a noun, not a verb

 

Below are some sample transformations which illustrate the construction mechanism:

 

Active Participle

Verb

قَارِئ

قَرَأَ - يَقْرَأ

رَاضٍ

رَضِيَ – يَرْضى

قَائِل

قَالَ - يَقُوْل

مُحِسّ

أَحَسَّ - يُحِسّ

مُتَبَادِل

تَبَادَلَ - يَتَبَادَل

مُسَيْطِر

سَيْطَرَ - يُسَيْطِر

مُزَلْزِل

زَلْزَلَ - يُزَلْزِل

 

One will notice that, although the algorithm is simple, some morphophonemic rules may apply that change how the word looks on the face of it. Such rules are far too involved to treat here.

 

All of these resulting active participles are very well behaved nouns. That is to say, they are rendered feminine by adding the Taa of femininity and many of them are pluralized using the sound plural construction. The chart below makes this clear.

 

Some Common Broken Plurals

Sound Plural

Pattern

 

فُعَّال، فَعَلَة، فُعَّل

فَاعِلُوْنَ

فَاعِل

Masculine

فَوَاعِل

فَاعِلاَت

فَاعِلَة

Feminine

مُـ...ـعِلُوْنَ

مُـ...ـعِل

Masculine

مُـ...ـعِلاَت

مُـ...ـعِلَة

Feminine

 


The Hyperbolic Participle

Meaning

The hyperbolic participle is that noun derived from a gerund which is used to indicate upon the one who has/is/will enact the meaning expressed by the root letters to a very high degree or to a very large extent. For example, we can create a hyperbolic participle for “traveling” which gives us the meaning “one who travels a lot” or “one who travels by profession”, in other words “a globetrotter”.

 

Some points to note about the exaggerated participle have already been detailed in our discussion on the active participle:

 

·         it can occupy any grammatical positioning in a sentence

·         the meaning might not always be obvious

·         it can be used as both an adjective and a noun

·         not all gerunds have an associated hyperbolic participle; in fact, most don’t

 

One of the patterns in the inventory of this participle is especially useful for occupations. The list below gives some examples of this:

 

Translation

Meaning from Root Letters

Arabic Word

barber

to shave

حَلاَّق

mason, builder

to build

بَنَّاء

executioner

to whip, be tough

جَلاَّد

lethal, pernicious

to kill

قَتَّال

winegrower

also has to do with vines

كَرَّام

carpenter

to carve

نَجَّار

 

Construction

The hyperbolic participle exists only for trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms). Constructing the participle is a simple matter of placing the root letters on one of the following patterns. Given a set of three root letters, however, it is unpredictable which one of these patterns will be used, or if the root letters even have an associated hyperbolic participle at all.

 

·        فَعِل

·        فَعُوْل

·        فَعِيْل

·        فَعَّال

·        فُعَّال

·        فُعُّوْل

·        فِعِّيْل

·        فَيْعُول

·        مِفْعَال

·        مِفْعِيْل

·        فَعَّالَة

 

These words conjugate regularly just as the active participle.


The Passive Participle

Meaning

The passive participle is that noun derived from a gerund designed to indicate upon the thing upon which the root meaning has been, is, or will be enacted. For example, using the passive participle for the gerund “breaking” gives us “that which is broken”, or simply “broken”. For contrasting purposes, notice that the active participle would have been “that which breaks”, or simply “breaker”.

 

Some points to note about the passive participle have already been detailed in our discussion on the active participle:

 

·         it can occupy any grammatical positioning in a sentence

·         the meaning might not always be obvious

·         it can be used as both an adjective and a noun

·         not all gerunds have an associated passive participle; e.g. intransitive gerunds

 

The following chart provides some passive participles. Notice how the word “rational”, for example, can be used as both an adjective or a noun; compare “this rational proof is good” and “this rational (thing) is good.”

 

Some Popular Meanings

Expected

Meaning

Passive Participle

Base Meaning

Base Letters

rational, cogent

that which is comprehended

مَعْقُوْل

to comprehend

ع، ق، ل

(tooth)paste

something kneaded

مَعْجُوْن

to knead, to soak

ع، ج، ن

 

Construction

For trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms), the passive participle is constructed by placing the root letters on the following pattern:

 

مَفْعُوْل

 

For all other cases, the following algorithm is used:

 

1.       construct the active participle

2.       change the vowel on the second last letter from a كسرة to a فتحة

 

Below are some sample derivations. Notice that some morphophonemic rules may apply, which we will not discuss here.

 

Passive Participle

Verb

مَقْرُوْء

قَرَأَ - يَقْرَأ

مَرْضِيّ

رَضِيَ – يَرْضى

مَقُوْل

قَالَ - يَقُوْل

مُحَسّ

أَحَسَّ - يُحِسّ

مُتَبَادَل

تَبَادَلَ - يَتَبَادَل

مُسَيْطَر

سَيْطَرَ - يُسَيْطِر

مُزَلْزَل

زَلْزَلَ - يُزَلْزِل

 

These nouns are well behaved in terms of gender and plurality. The chart below gives an overview of this.

 

Some Common Broken Plurals

Sound Plural

Singular

 

مَفَاعِيْل

مَفْعُوْلُوْنَ

مَفْعُوْل

Masculine

مَفْعُوْلاَت

مَفْعُوْلَة

Feminine

مُـ...ـعَلُوْنَ

مُـ...ـعَل

Masculine

مُـ...ـعَلاَت

مُـ...ـعَلَة

Feminine

 


 

The Resembling Participle

Meaning

The resembling participle is that noun derived from a gerund which indicates on the root meaning being an attribute. And this attribute is usually perpetual or intrinsic. For example, if we want to translate the word “murdered one”, we would not use the passive participle for “to kill”. That is because death is an attribute, not an action. So we would use this resembling participle (قَتِيْل). An example of an intrinsic attribute is “the all-knowing” when applied to God.

 

This participle is used to indicate on an attribute for both the active voice as well as the passive. In other words, it is used in place of the active participle as well as the passive. For example, the word قَتِيْل from the example above means “murdered”, but it could theoretically have meant “killer” as well. Below is a list of some examples through which we can see that both active and passive voices are used. Which one is used is dependent on the individual word and a dictionary will have to be consulted, but it is more often the active voice that is intended.

 

Translation

Resembling Participle

injured

جَرِيْح

miser/miserly

بَخِيْل

strong

قَوِيّ

difficult

صَعْب

 

Some points to note about the resembling participle have already been detailed in our discussion on the active participle:

 

·         it can occupy any grammatical positioning in a sentence

·         the meaning might not always be obvious

·         it can be used as both an adjective and a noun

·         not all gerunds have an associated resembling participle, but many do

 

Notice, from the chart above, that the word “miser” is a noun and “miserly” is an adjective. This is a clear illustration of the resembling participle’s capacity to function as both.

 

Moreover, when a given set of root letters happens to have both an active/passive participle as well as a resembling participle, there is typically a difference between the two. Remember, active/passive participles indicate on an action or occurrence, whereas the resembling participle indicates on an attribute. Compare the participles in the following chart to identify whether there is a difference between the two or not.

 

Meaning

Resembling

Meaning

Active/Passive

Root

knower

عَلِيْم

scholar/scientist

عَالِم

ع، ل، م

prisoner

سَجِيْن

prisoner

مَسْجُوْن

س، ج، ن

embryo

جَنِيْن

possessed/insane

مَجْنُوْن

ج، ن، ن

 

Construction

This participle only exists for trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms). It is constructed by placing the root letters on one of many patterns. The patterns are so many, in fact, that we will only list the most common ones along with some of their most popular plural forms:

 

Example

Some Common Broken Plurals

Pattern

كَرِيْم

فُعَلاَء، أَفْعِلاء

فَعِيْل

صَعْب

فِعَال

فَعْل

حَسَن

؟

فَعَل

أَحْمَر

فُعْل

أَفْعَل

تَعْبَان

فَُعَالى، فَعْلى

فَعْلاَن

 

Unlike the participles we have seen thus far, these are typically not well-behaved. Their feminine forms are not necessarily regular, most do not use sound pluralisation, and a broken plural may be shared between both the masculine and feminine singulars.

 

Another point to note is that those resembling participles that indicate on the passive voice do not have a separate form for the singular masculine and singular feminine; the same (masculine) word is used for both. The table below gives some examples of this.

 

Feminine

Masculine

Voice

Resembling Participle

عَدِيْلة

عَدِيْل

active

عَدِيْل

قَتِيْل

passive

قَتِيْل

جَرِيْح

passive

جَرِيْح

 

Finally, there are a few roots out there that use more than one pattern of the resembling participle. In such a situation, the two words will likely have different meanings. For example:

 

Meaning

Resembling Participle

Root

groom

عَرِيْس

ع, ر, س

bride

عَرُوْس

 


 

The Noun of Usage (The Utilitarian Noun)

Meaning

The noun of usage is a noun derived from a gerund used to indicate upon a thing used to carry out an action.

 

The table below gives a few examples. When reading the table, notice that the meaning is not immediately clear and a dictionary will often need to be consulted, and that this noun can never be used as an adjective, clearly.

 

Actual Meaning

Expected Meaning

Noun of Usage

Root

key

something used to open

مِفْتَاح

ف، ت، ح

large basket

something used to gather

مِكْتَل

ك، ت، ل

procedure

something used to give/award

مِنْوَال

ن، و، ل

road, curriculum

something used to pursue

مِنْهَاج

ن، ه، ج

 

This derived noun does not exist for every set of root letters. Whether a certain root uses the noun of usage must be checked against a dictionary. Moreover, not every word in the language that seems to be a tool is actually a noun of usage. For example, the word for eyeglasses or telescope is “نَظَّارَة” (that which is used to see something). But clearly this is not a noun of usage.

 

Construction

This derived noun exists only for trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms). One of the following four patterns will be used; we have also included the plural forms since all nouns in this category will use only these plurals. Which of the four patterns a given set of root letters uses, if any, is unpredictable. But we can say that the last pattern in the list is extremely rare.

 

Broken Plural

Singular

مَفَاعِل

مِفْعَل

مِفْعَلَة

مَفَاعِيْل

مِفْعَال

فَوَاعِل

فَاعَل

 


 

The Locative Noun

Meaning

The locative noun is one derived from a gerund used to indicate upon the time when or the place where the root meaning occurs. For example, the place where “playing” occurs is called a “playground” and the time when “sleeping” occurs is called “bedtime”.

 

Below is a list of examples in Arabic. While reading the table, notice that the end meaning is highly unpredictable, this noun cannot be used as an adjective, and that the location aspect is far more prevalent than the time aspect.

 

Actual Meaning

Expected Meaning

Locative Noun

Root

playground

time/place of playing

مَلْعَب

ل، ع، ب

mosque

time/place of prostrating

مَسْجِد

س، ج، د

landmark

time/place of knowing

مَعْلَم

ع، ل، م

battlefield

time/place of damaging

مَعْرَكَة

ع، ر، ك

time/place of sunset,
i.e. sunset and west

time/place of (sun) setting

مَغْرِب

غ، ر، ب

 

But not every set of root letters has an associated locative noun. Which do and which don’t needs to be checked against a dictionary. Moreover, some words that give the meaning of time or place are not necessarily locative nouns, as is seen in the following list.

 

Meaning

Word

lion’s den

عِرِّيْس

morning

صَبَاح

morning

بُكْرَة

 

Construction

This noun exists only for trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms). One of two patterns will be used for the construction:

 

Broken Plural

Singular

مَفَاعِل

مَفْعَل

مَفْعِل

 

Which of these two will be used is actually quite predictable. Those roots whose imperfect verb is realized with a كسرة on the middle letter will utilize the second pattern, and those whose imperfect verb is realized with a ضمة or فتحة on the middle letter will use the first.

 

Now, unlike other derived nouns that are only realized for basic 3-lettered verbs, there is concession (or a trick) to using it in the advanced verb paradigms. What one will do is simply use the passive participle. For example, the word below is the passive participle of an advanced verb, but it is being used as a locative noun.

 

مُسْتَوْدَع

sojourn


 

The Comparative and Superlative (sometime called the Elative Noun)

Meaning

In Arabic, there is only one word which is used to indicate on the root meaning being carried out to both a greater extent as well as the greatest extent (comparative and superlative). For example, “being eloquent” can be made comparative by saying “more eloquent” and superlative by saying “most eloquent” and one word in Arabic would be used for both of these. Another example is “to be fast”; the comparative would be “faster” and the superlative would be “fastest”.

 

This noun can occupy most grammatical positions in a sentence. Ones it cannot occupy are easily identified based on the meaning and context and we do not need to discuss this further. Another point to note is that, unlike the participles, the meaning of this noun is usually quite transparent and can be induced without the use of a dictionary.

 

Furthermore, like the participles, it can be used as both a noun and an adjective. For example, the terms “fastest” and “most expensive” are used as adjectives in the sentence “the Bugatti Veyron is one of the fastest and most expensive cars.” And the term “most deserving” is used as a noun in the sentence “she is the most deserving of all people.”

 

The chart below gives some examples of this entity’s use as an adjective and a noun, as well as some examples of its use in the comparative context and the superlative context.

 

Gloss

Phrase

he is more eloquent than me

هُوَ أَفْصَحُ مِنِّيْ

he is the most eloquent of the eloquent people

هُوَ أَفْصَحُ الفُصَحَاءِ

the most eloquent man spoke to me

كَلَّمَنِيْ الرَجُلُ الأَفْصَحُ

he is the most eloquent

هُوَ الأَفْصَحُ

 

Now, this entity can be used in many grammatical ways, as can be seen from the chart above:

 

1)      as an indefinite noun

a)      followed by مِنْ

b)      followed by a clarification (تَمْيِيْز)

2)      as a definite noun

a)      in a possessive construction (مُضَاف)

b)      as an adjective (صِفَة)

c)       on its own

 

In (1), it is used as a comparative and in (2), it is used as a superlative. This is not always the case, though. Given the examples below, try to determine which of the constructions is being used, then translate the sentence.

 

a.       نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ القَصَصِ

b.      إِنَّ كَلِمَةَ اللهِ هِيَ العُلْيى

c.       فَهِيَ كَالحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً

d.      هُوَ أَفْصَحُ مِنِّيْ لِسَاناً

e.      وَالَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا أَشَدُّ حُبّاً للهِ

f.        ثُمَّ لَنَحْنُ أَعْلَمُ بِالَّذِيْنَ هُمْ أَوْلى بِهَا صِلِيّاً

g.       أَيُّ الفَرِيْقَيْنِ خَيْرٌ مَقَاماً وَأَحْسَنُ نَدِيّاً

 

The comparative/superlative noun applies to the active voice in the vast majority of cases and not the passive. For example, making the gerund “to help” superlative would result in the phrase “the most helpful” as opposed to “the one most helped”. Which of the two voices will be used depends on the individual word, but it is usually safe to assume that the active voice is used. Compare the translations in the following list for a few examples.

 

Meaning

Voice

Superlative

strongest

active

أَقْوى

most helpful

active

أَنْصَر

most famous

passive

أَشْهَر

 

Construction

This noun exists only for trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms). The method of construction is simply to place the root letters on the designated pattern. There is only one pattern and it behaves quite regularly; it has been given below.

 

Broken Plural

Sound Plural

Singular

 

أَفَاعِل

أَفْعَلُوْنَ

أَفْعَل

Masculine

فُعَل

فُعْلَيَات

فُعْلى

Feminine

 



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