Now, let’s go straight to our question:

What is the total number of roots in Arabic?

Number of roots in Hans Wehr

There are many Arabic dictionaries. Hans Wehr’s Arabisches Wörter­buch für die Schriftsprache der Gegenwart (named after a German scholar, pub­lished in 1952) is the most complete dictionary of Standard Ar­abic ever published in the West. It con­tains 2967 roots (جِذْر) with 3 letters and 362 with 4 letters.

Number of roots in Lisan al-Arab

The most famous dictionary of Classical Arabic is Lisān al-‘Arab (لِسان الْعَرَب), com­piled by Ibn Manzūr (ابْن مَنْظُور) in the early 14th cen­tury (711 AH). It contains around 80,000 entries and in total (3 + 4 letters + foreign words) 9273 roots.

Mathematically possible number of roots

Since the Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters (consonant phonemes) there are 21,952 theoretical combinations (=283) of roots with three radicals. However, certain combinations are impossible (with few exceptions):

  • There is no Arabic root which consists of three identical consonants.
  • There are no Arabic roots with identical consonants in the first and second position.
  • There are almost no Arabic roots with identical consonants in the first and third position. An exception would be قلق (@Erik – thanks for telling me; see comment).
  • However, there are roots whose second and third letter are identical, for example, to pass (م-ر-ر).

Considering all possible restrictions, the theoretical number of all possible combinations of roots (morphemes) with three letters is 6332.

What are the most common root letters?

n Hans Wehr, the most common root letter is ر(722 times). The ظ is the least common: only 42 times (1.4 %). The ن is the most common first radical (235 times).

A joke about Arabic roots

The joke goes as follows.

Every root denotes four things:

  1. its basic concept
  2. the opposite
  3. something related to a camel or horse
  4. and something so obscene you need to look it up for yourself.

Okay, this is only a joke, but it may work quite well with the root جمل.


Question: Do you know which letters you can theoretically add to an Arabic root? Hint: There aren’t many.

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Picture credit: Image by Erzsébet Apostol from Pixabay

Last updated: Jun 20, 2020 @ 17:14

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