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What are root words?

Updated: May 30

If you speak a European language, the root system of Arabic may be an unfamiliar concept. Arabic words are made from a few component letters, commonly called a "root". A root usually consists of three letters (sometimes 2 or 4), which convey a basic idea. By adding various vowels (i.e. changing pronunciation) as affixes*, associated meanings can be derived.

Root words are the Arabic letters that form the main part of a word. These root letters provide the basic meaning of a word. The root letters are joined together with other letters to form different words which have related meanings.


Example: the root of a plant will determine the type of plant, or the genes of a person determine the characteristics of a person, so similarly the root word will determine the meaning of the word.


Example: the root letters ر ح م joins together to form the original word رَحِّم (Rahim: womb).

Mercy springs from the womb, meaning if we understand the mercy of a mother, then we can understand the concept of mercy that is related to this root. The root gives the characteristic of mercy.


How many letters in a root

Most Arabic words have three-letter roots, very rarely it will have four or five letters.

Root letters always maintain a specific order.


Example: Changing the order will give a completely different meaning.

ع ل م = knowledge

ع م ل = action


What comes out of a root

From one set of the root letters come multiple stem words (مصدر ) and from these stem words, many other words emerge. Like the root of a plant, the stems then produce many branches.



  • The root ع ل م gives the stem words: عِلم (ilm) and عَلمْ (alam)

  • From the stem word عِلم (ilm)

  • you get branch words يعْلمُ (ya’lamu), عَليْم (aleem), عَالِم (aalim)

  • From the stem word عَلمْ (alam)

  • you get branch words عَالميْن (aalameen)


What can affect the root meaning

A word can have the root letters and other letters that share the basic root meaning.



In English there are stem words, letters are sometimes before, between and after the root letters. From the root word: eat

  • eating

  • eats

  • ate

  • eaten

  • eatery

  • eatable


In Arabic from the root word: ر ح م

· رَّحِيْم (Raheem) an extra ي is added near the end: meaning - always all-merciful

· رَّحْمَن (Rahmaan) an extra ن is added at the end: meaning - most merciful

From the root word: ك ت ب


Why are root words important?

  • To know the translation of the word

  • To understand the meaning of the word

  • To analyse the word

  • To know how to use the Arabic dictionary


Download the Quran Root Dictionary (From

Download PDF • 5.11MB

Download the Word Pattern Concordance (From

Download PDF • 6.47MB

Peace and Respect!



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