Radical (Semitic Languages)

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A radical , also called a root consonant in German , describes a consonant in Semitic studies as part of the model structure that is fundamental to the Semitic languages .

Arabic language

In Arabic , most words have a three-radical root . Such a root can consist of all consonants , i.e. all letters of the alphabet , whereby the alif stands with its basic meaning Hamza (not its secondary vowel meaning). Word formation is created by adding certain prefixes , infixes or suffixes . The root serves as a classic exampleك ت ب (to be read from right to left) , DMG k – t – b :

  • كتب / kataba - write ( verb )
  • كتاب / kitāb - book
  • كاتب / kātib - scribe, writer ( active participle )
  • مكتوب / maktūb - letter, document (passive participle)
  • مكتب / maktab - desk, office
  • مكتبة / maktaba - library, bookstore

All derivatives of a root thus form a word family , so to speak , within which the sequence of the root consonants never changes.

In most cases the root consists of three consonants, there are also roots with four, so-called "four-radical roots".

The root structure is also of great importance for the Arabic conjugation , as the various verb forms (called verb stems) are derived from it and always follow the same pattern. The verb stems are usually numbered with Roman numerals. In addition to the tribes I to X listed here, there are also tribes XI to XV, which, however, are even more out of use in modern Arabic than in classical Arabic. The common example root in Arabic isف ع ل / f – ʿ – l (from faʿala , “he made”). This 3rd person masculine singular perfectly active is used as the basic form .

tribe Basic model Transcription feature Change of meaning
I. فعل faʿala Basic form
II فعّل faʿʿala Doubling the second radical intensifying, causative , denominative , almost always transitive verbs
III فاعل fāʿala Infix - between the first and second radical Action on a person or thing, almost always transitive verbs
IV أفعل afʿala Prefix a + lack of vowels in the first radical causative, denominative and other meanings, almost always transitive verbs
V تفعّل tafaʿʿala Prefix ta + II. Stem intransitive forms to the II. trunk
VI تفاعل tafāʿala Prefix ta + III. tribe reciprocal forms to the III. Stem, transitive and intransitive verbs
VII اِنفعل infaʿala Prefix in reflexive , always intransitive
VIII اِفتعل iftaʿala Prefix i + vowellessness of the first radical + infix ta between the first and second radical partly reciprocal forms, transitive and intransitive verbs
IX اِفعلّ ifʿalla Prefix i + lack of vowels of the first radical + doubling of the third radical Occurrence of a state, always intransitive
X استفعل istafʿala Prefix ista + lack of vowels of the first radical often meaning "ask for something" or "achieve / promote something", mostly transitive verbs

This model can also be used to get from the root ك ت ب derive the different verb forms:

  • I. كتب / kataba - write (actually: he wrote)
  • II. كتّب / kattaba - let write
  • III. كاتب / kātaba - correspond
  • IV. أكتب / aktaba - dictate
  • V. تكتّب / takattaba - not in use
  • VI. تكاتب / takātaba - write to one another
  • VII. اِنكتب / inkataba - enroll
  • VIII. اِكتتب / iktataba - write off
  • IX. اِكتبّ / iktabba - not in use
  • X. اِستكتب / istaktaba - ask to write

As can be seen, the different verb forms have different meanings, but they are closely related to the basic verb. In other cases, however, a meaning relationship to the basic verb is not always recognizable. The example also shows that the basic model can theoretically also be used to derive verb forms that are not in use.

Hebrew language

In the ancient Hebrew grammar, too, most of the words are based on a three-radical root, which can be formed from all letters of the Hebrew alphabet . The conjugation model of Hebrew verbs was adopted from Arabic grammar by Hebrew grammarians in the early Middle Ages . With seven tribes ( Hebrew binjaním , lit. “buildings”), it is a bit simpler than its model, but follows the same pattern. In Hebrew, too, the 3rd person masculine singular perfect is actively used as the basic form to derive the other verb forms.

Basic model pronunciation Change of meaning
פעל, קל pa'al, qal Basic form
נפעל nif'al mostly passive form of pa'al
פעל pi'el often intensifying, almost always transitive verbs
פועל pu'al Passive form of pi'el
הפעיל hif'il causative
הפעל hof'al Passive form of hif'il
התפעל hitpa'el reflexive forms

As an example of the possible derivation of a Hebrew root, the term for writing , Hebrew כ ת ב (kataw), is given here, with various verbal and nominal derivatives:

  • katáw (pa'al): he wrote ( infinitive : lichtów ), derived from it:
    • michtáw : letter; ketówet : address, address
  • nichtáw (nif'al): he (it) was written (infinitive: lehikatéw )
  • kitéw (pi'el): he inscribed (infinitive: lechatéw ), derived from this:
    • kitúw : lettering
  • hichtíw (hif'il): "he let write", d. that is, "he dictated" (infinitive: lehachtíw ), derived from this:
    • hachtawá : dictation
  • hitkatéw (hitpa'el): he corresponded (infinitive: lehitkatéw ), derived from this:
    • hitkatwút : correspondence


  • Burkhart Kienast: Historical Semitic Linguistics. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 2001, ISBN 3-447-04359-8 .