Derived Nouns

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. There are words which are not derived from any other word and there are words that are basically made by adding letters to already existing words. These are called derived nouns.

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

 

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