There are six patterns of the simple Arabic verb – here’s how to avoid getting them mixed up!


Hello and welcome to another ‘Language Learner Friday. We are going to be looking at a mnemonic technique that I use to memorise the voweling in Arabic verbs. So, here we have the 6 possible patterns for a simple form Arabic verb:

1 – kataba-yaktubu where you go from fathah in the perfect to a dammah in the imperfect, so you have a  fathah–dammah pattern.

2 – daraba-yadribu, a fathah–kasrah pattern;

3 – fataha-yaftahu, a fathah–fathah pattern;

4 – fahima-yafhamu, a kasra- fathah pattern;

5 – kabura-yakburu, a dammah–dammah pattern;

6 – hasiba-yahsibu, a kasrah-kasrah pattern.

You just have to memorise for the simple form verb what the voweling pattern is, and usually by simple repetition you will become accustomed to the pattern for each verb. However, sometimes there are verbs where you could get confused about the voweling pattern, so on such occasions there is a mnemonic technique that I use and you may find helpful.

Firstly you can ignore these bottom two, kabura-yakburu is quite rare and it’s used for stative verbs, ‘to be something’, e.g. ‘to be big’, so usually the meaning will give it away that it will have a dammah–dammah pattern. You can also ignore form 6, it usually only occurs with assimilated verbs starting with waw, so waritha-yarithu for example. There are one or two verbs that don’t begin with waw, for example hasiba-yahsibu and ya’isa-yay’asu, but even those have alternative forms available. The reason these two verbs exist in these two forms at all is because of something called tadakhul al-lughat, or ‘dialect co-mingling’; Classical Arabic was a number of dialects – so some of the Arab tribes would have said hasiba-yahsabu, and others would have said hasaba-yahsibu, and we get a comingling of these two patterns to form a verb on pattern six which doesn’t begin with waw: hasiba-yahsibu.

So we can focus on mnemonic techniques for the first four. So the way I do it is I usually think of some sort of motion – connect the verb with some sort of motion. If the motion is upwards, then I know it is a fathah–dammah pattern. I have a spatial hierarchy from top to bottom: dammah-fathah-kasra, because that is the way we decline a noun in a table; nominative, accusative, genitive, from top to bottom.

If I have a downwards motion then I know it’s a fathah–kasra pattern. If I have a motion which is on a single level then it’s fathah–fathah, and a fathah-dammah is an upwards motion. For example kataba-yaktubu is ‘to write’; now you’ll probably be able to memorise that by repetition, but if you were struggling, you could imagine picking up a pen. So you have a pen which is level with you, you are sitting at your desk and you pick your pen up ready to write, that reminds me it’s an upwards motion.

kataba-yaktubu which is ‘to hit’; here you can imagine if you hit someone they are going to fall over, so they are initially at the same level as you, they are standing before of you, you hit them and they fall over, they go down.

fataha-yaftahu means to open, and when you’re opening a door you stay on the same level, you are not going up or down.

fahima-yafhamu is ‘to understand’, so initially you are in a state of confusion, and you do not understand something, so you are down here, then as you begin to understand you’re on the same level as it.

And you create similar motions for all of them. jalasa-yajlisu is to sit, so you are initially standing, and then you go down and you’re sitting. kasara-yaksiru means ‘to break’, imagine something is on a desk and you push it over and it breaks: that’s going down.

So it can be quite a lot of fun coming up with mnemonic techniques, very often you won’t have to use them, but when you are struggling to memorise a verb and you are getting it consistently wrong, what that shows is that simple repetition isn’t enough, and perhaps this mnemonic technique will help.

Hope that was useful I’ll see you next Friday!