Praise & Disparagement
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Meanings of Verb Forms (continued)
Also called the C-stem (C for "causative"), this structure is formed by prefixing an 'a- and dropping the short A after the first root letter. The 'a- is a qat" or a disconnecting hamza(t), which means that it will always be pronounced (details about the different types of hamza(t) are available on this page).
The 'a- prefix imparts a causative meaning just like the one described for form II.
(He) made (a/the performer) do
(He) had (a/the performer) do
*These are irregular verbs.
Like any other causative form, this form can also be reflexive.
(He) made himself do
The reflexive causative verbs will mean nothing different from the form I verbs. They probably carry only an emphatic character.
I believe that the reflexive meaning of this form is not original but just a later development. This tendency to impart a reflexive meaning to all the causative verbs carried on even after the time of classical Arabic. For example, some form II verbs that were merely causative in classical Arabic became reflexive in the modern spoken dialects:
Also, like the other causative forms, this form has a transformative meaning. This is when these verbs are derived from nouns. It is like what we described for form II, but the difference here is that the transformative action will be most of the time reflexive.
(He) made be noun
(He) became noun
Many of these verbs have equivalent form I verbs, but I don't believe they were derived from the form I verbs.
Finally, form IV has a specific causative prefix and its causative function is a very strong one, so this leaves no space for a factitious transformative meaning like that of form II and III (the figurative transformative).
The causative prefix 'a- comes originally from ha-.
هَفْعَلَ ← أَفْعَلَ
haf"al(a) → 'af"al(a)
Cf. Hebrew hif"eel הפעיל.
Some classical Arabic verbs preserved the ha- causative prefix.
Both the ha- and 'a- forms of these verbs were possible in classical Arabic.
The ha- itself comes from sa-.
سَفْعَلَ ← هَفْعَلَ ← أَفْعَلَ
saf"al(a) → haf"al(a) → 'af"al(a)
This causative sa- prefix remains clear in the Arabic form X. There are also preserved sa- prefixes in some classical verbs of form IV:
It is believed by many people that the Arabic letter s was originally sh, but this doesn't appear to be true.
We will talk about forms VII & VIII before the rest of the forms.
This form contains the affix -n- and thus called the N-stem. The hamza(t) 'i- at the beginning is a connecting hamza(t), which means that it will be pronounced only if it was the first thing coming out of the mouth (details about the different types of hamza(t) are available on this page).
The connecting hamza(t) was added to the beginning of many Arabic words for a merely phonological purpose, and it is not original part of these words. It does not carry any meaning. This page lists the types of words to which the connecting hamza(t) is added.
Arabs used the connecting hamza(t) because they hated to start talking with a cluster of two consonants not containing a vowel in the middle (CC-). In Arabic terms, they hated to start with a "still" letter (a consonant not followed by a vowel).
Form VII has two meanings that are both passive meanings. Before we describe the meanings of form VII, we will talk about the passive verbs in Arabic in general.
Active vs. Passive
The difference between an active verb and a passive verb regards the direction of the action indicated by the verb with regard to the subject. That is, whether the subject of the verb receives the action or not.
In an active verb, the action is directed outward from the subject, which means that the subject performs the action but does not receive it.
In a passive verb, the action is directed toward the subject, which means that the subject receives the action.
Three Types of Passive
Arabic has three different types of passive verbs. They are:
Passive of the Unknown
The first type is the type usually designated "passive." It is meant when the passive voice is mentioned without specification.
This type is called in Arabic الْمَبْنِيُّ لِلْمَجْهُوْلِ = "the built for the unknown" (this is where I derived my designation from). Some westerners refer to it as the "internal passive," because it is formed by changing vowels within the verbal structure.
Generally, the passive of the unknown is derived from perfective verbs by changing the vowel following the first root-letter to u, and the one between the final two letters of the verb to i. We will go through forming it in detail later.
The passive of the unknown does not have an exact equivalent in English. Its literal meaning is the following:
The passive of the unknown, or simply "the passive" as it is usually called, indicates a passive action plus an unspecified agent.
Passive Without Agent
The passive without agent is called in Arabic الْمُطَاْوِعُ = "the pliable." Verbs carrying this meaning are ones with an -n- affix, like form VII.
The passive without agent denotes a passive action (i.e. directed toward the subject) without saying anything about the fact that someone did it. In other words, it ignores the agent of the action, thus indicating less meaning than the passive of the unknown.
Form VII (the agentless passive) is the principally used form of the passive voice in most of the modern spoken dialects of Arabic, but not in formal Arabic.
When forming an internal passive from form VII, the meaning will change to the passive of the unknown:
There is, of course, no verb without an agent, but I am using the "agentless passive" designation instead of simply saying "passive" because "passive" alone means the internal passive.
The reflexive encompasses the definitions of both the active and passive voices, as it indicates an action carried out by the subject and directed toward the subject in the same time. Thus, the subject of a reflexive verb is both a performer and a recipient of the action.
Reflexive verbs exist in English; consider the following example:
The glass broke
Subject: the glass
Agent (performer): the glass
Recipient: the glass
The reflexive indicates a passive action plus the self as an agent. Verbs that carry this meaning in Arabic are verbs carrying the -n- affix (for simple, basic actions) and verbs carrying the -t- affix (for all kinds of actions). The -t- affix appears in forms V, VI, VIII & QII.
The -t- affix could also impart an agentless passive meaning in some classical dialects. -t- affixed verbs are the principally used form of the passive voice in some modern dialects of Arabic that show strong relations with classical south Arabian dialects (i.e. Egyptian Arabic).
When forming an internal passive from a reflexive verb, the meaning will change to the passive of the unknown.
Unknown, Agentless, & Reflexive
The best way to differentiate between the three types of the passive is by considering the following question:
Who did the action?
Or "who is the agent of the verb?"
In the passive of the unknown, there is an unspecified agent indicated.
In the passive without agent, there is no agent indicated.
In the reflexive, the subject is the agent of the action.
And all the three actions are directed toward the same target, which is the subject of the verb (hence they are all passive verbs).
And all the three actions are directed toward the the subject of the verb (passive).
Meanings of Form VII
This is probably the original meaning of the -n- affix, whereas the agentless passive meaning is just a later evolution.
The -n- affix can be translated simply as "himself." It is somewhat similar to the French or Latin word se.
Naturally form VII will be intransitive, i.e. it will not take an object, because it has an inherent object already which is "himself."
Reflexive form VII verbs are mostly made out of simple form I verbs that indicate basic actions, whereas the reflexive -t- affixed forms (V, VI, VIII & QII) are made out of all the kinds of verbs.
2) Passive Without Agent
This is probably a secondary meaning that evolved from the reflexive meaning. As described earlier, this does not really mean a verb without an agent, but it means a passive verb without any mention of an agent.
≡ (He) was/became done
Naturally form VII will be made out of transitive from I verbs. However, there are very few of such verbs that are made out of intransitive verbs. In this case the form will have a different meaning which is the reflexive causative.
(He) made himself do
Form VII contains in it a still noon (-n-). Still noons, or noons without a directly following vowel, have numerous special phonological rules in Arabic. One of these rules is the one called in Arabic "the assimilation" الإِدْغَاْمُ . This rule means that the still noon will sometimes assimilate into following letter, or in other words, it will be transformed into the letter that follows it.
Example, the defective verb:
When rendered in form VII:
اِنْمَحَىْ ← اِمَّحَىْ
'inmahaa → 'immahaa
(He) became erased
The still noon was transformed to a meem; the letter following it.
In perfect classical pronunciation of Arabic, this phenomenon should happen whenever the still noon was followed by any of the following letters: ر ل م و ي .
Another comparable rule is called "the transformation" الإِقْلابُ . This states that the still noon should be transformed to a meem when followed by a baa'<:
-nb → -mb
These rules are all verbal rules and are not shown in writing, and they are no longer employed today except in reciting the Koran, the Islamic holy book. However, I mentioned them here because traces of them can appear written in some classical verbs of form VII, like the above mentioned example:
(He) became erased
In such verbs, the optional rule of assimilation became obligatory for some reason.
Such verbs are rare. Here are some other archaic examples:
Note: in modern times, there have been people calling for form VII not to be made from roots beginning with certain letters such as r, l, n, w, y, etc.
The still noon in Semitic languages is one of the most commonly altered letters. Knowing the rules of still noon transformation in Arabic makes it easier to understand why this letter is so much changeable.
One additional rule that was not mentioned above is the rule of "hiding" الإِخْفَاْءُ . This rule says that a still noon should be pronounced nasally whenever followed by any of the following letters:ت ث د ذ ز ج خ س ش ص ض ط ظ ف ق ك .
Nasal pronunciation of still noon exists also in French, but it is not exactly like the Arabic one which makes the noon even less evident. Knowing this Semitic rule is valuable when looking into languages such as Hebrew, Syriac, or Akkadian, where the nasal noon was lost completely.
Click on the Arabic word to hear the perfect classical pronunciation.
Note: the asterisk * means that these are reconstructed words. Nobody knows what Proto-Semitic was like (this is the supposed mother Semitic language), people only guess.
The word for a "man" in Hebrew is 'eesh איש and the Arabic equivalent is 'ins(un) إِنْسٌ = "a human being." This is also an example of this phenomenon.