Derived stem

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Derived stems are a morphological feature of verbs common to the Semitic languages. These derived verb stems are sometimes called augmentations or forms of the verb, or are identified by their Hebrew name binyanim. Semitic languages make extensive use of nonconcatenative morphology, and most words share a set of of two, three or four consonants[1] which comprise a root[2] wherein each root may be the basis for a number of conceptually related words. Traditionally, words are thought of as being derived from these root consonants, but a view increasingly held by contemporary linguists sees stem words being the source of derivations rather than consonantal roots.[2] Regardless, each language features a number of set patterns for deriving verb stems from a given root or underived stem. Stems sharing the same root consonants represent separate verbs, albeit often semantically related, and each is the basis for its own conjugational paradigm. As a result, these derived stems are part of the system of derivational morphology, not part of the inflectional system.

Typically, one stem is associated with the ordinary simple active verbs while others may be canonically associated with other grammatical functions such as the passive, the causative, the intensive, the reflexive, etc., or combinations thereof. These functions should not be taken as universal or absolute, but are better understood as relational, depending on the particular source of the derived stem.[3] These grammatical functions are also not present in all Semitic languages, Modern Aramaic, for example has only two stems, one for monosyllabic verbs and the other for disyllabic verbs, with hardly any cases of related verbs in each stem.[3][4]

For example, in Arabic and Hebrew, words containing the root √k-t-b have a meaning related to writing (In Hebrew, a process known begadkefat, alters the quality of certain consonants when they follow a vowel, so b becomes v and k becomes (a voiceless velar fricative like German Bach); the symbol ː indicates the preceding consonant is doubled or geminate). Thus:

  • In the basic stem, "he wrote" in Arabic is "kataba", and in Hebrew is "katav".
  • In a causative stem, "he dictated" in Arabic is "ʔaktaba" and in Hebrew is "hiḵtīv".
  • In the passive stem, "it was written" in Arabic is "inkataba" and in Hebrew is "niḵtav".
  • In a reflexive stem, "he corresponded" in Arabic is "kātaba" and in Hebrew is "hu hitkatːēv".

The following two tables show the full paradigm of templates for the nine most common Arabic stems and the seven most common Hebrew stems, and illustrate some of the different meanings and functions that stems can have.

The first column gives the traditional stem abbreviation used by Comparative Semiticists and the second column gives typical stem names used in Arabic and Hebrew grammars; the Arabic system uses Roman numerals, and the Hebrew uses binyanim forms with the root letters √p-ʕ-l (with p sometimes becoming f by begadkefat). The next columns give the canonical functions of each stem, and their templates (the three Cs stand in for the three Consonants of the root, and V stands for some Vowel). Finally, the meaning and form of the stems with the √k-t-b root is given in the 3rd person masculine singular perfect, which lacks inflectional affixes.[3]

Standard Arabic[3][5]
Stem Form Grammatical Function Template Meaning √k-t-b
G I base CaCVCa he wrote KaTaBa
Gt VIII reflexive of G iCtaCaCa he copied iKtaTaBa
D II multiplicative, transitivizing CaCːaCa he made to write KaTːaBa
tD V reflexive of D taCaCːaCa - -
L III associative CāCaCa he corresponded KāTaBa
tL VI reflexive of L taCāCaCa he exchanged letters taKāTaBa
Š IV causative ʔaCCaCa he dictated ʔaKTaBa
Št X reflexive of Š istaCCaCa he asked to write istaKTaBa
N VII passive, reflexive of G inCaCaCa he subscribed inKaTaBa
Biblical Hebrew[6][7]
Stem Binyan Grammatical Function Template Meaning √k-t-b
G paʕal base CaCVC he wrote KaTaV
D piʕel transitivizing, intensive CiCːēC he addressed[8] KiTːēV
Du puʕal passive of D CuCːaC he was addressed KuTːaV
tD hitpaʕel reflexive of D hitCaCːēC he corresponded hitKaTːēV
Š hifʕil  causative hiCCīC he dictated hiḴTīV
Šu hufʕal passive of Š huCCaC it was dictated huḴTaV
N nifʕal passive/reflexive of G niCCaC it was written niḴTaV

The tD Stem for Arabic is not given for the √k-t-b root because it does not occur, illustrating that not each root has an actual form for each stem; in fact, √k-t-b has a more complete stem paradigm than many other roots.

In each Semitic language, the number of derived stems is different. In Hebrew there are seven common ones,[9] and in Arabic there are nine common forms and at least six rare ones;[10] Akkadian has thirteen common patterns, Ugaritic has ten, Syriac has six, Modern Aramaic has two,[4][3] and so on.

Comparative Morphology[edit]

There are different ways of naming stems, most systems classify stems by their morphological patterns but others simply number them. In Arabic, a system using Roman numerals is frequently used, as well as a more traditional system where the forms with the root letters √f-ʕ-l (roughly meaning "to do") are used as names of each stem. Hebrew also uses this latter system, although the cognate root used is √p-ʕ-l (with p sometimes surfacing as f by begadkefat). In Akkadian, forms with the √p-r-s root "to decide" are most often used. The convention using Latin letter abbreviations (such as G, Dt and Š) is a morphological shorthand used most often by comparative Semiticists, and emphasizes the relationships between stems within and between languages.

  • G Stem is the base stem, from the German Grund ("ground")
  • D Stem typically has a Doubled second root letter
  • L Stem typically Lengthens the first vowel
  • N Stem has a prefix with N
  • Š Stem has a prefix with Š (ʃ pronounced like English sh), S, H, or ʔ (the glottal stop).
  • t Stems (such as tG, tD, and Št) have an affix with t.

The following table compares some of the important stems of six different Semitic languages: Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Syriac, Standard Arabic, Geʿez, and Shehri (aka Jibbali), representing different Semitic subfamilies. By examining these and a few other forms, and using the comparative method and internal reconstruction, the Grammatical Function and Template for the Proto-Semitic derived stems have been reconstructed.[6] The asterisk (*) in the Proto-Semitic Template column indicates that these forms are hypothetical and reconstructed.

Basics of Semitic Verbal Derivation[6]
Stem Proto-Semitic Function




East Semitic Northwest Semitic Arabic South Semitic
Akkadian Bibl. Hebrew Syriac Std. Arabic Geʿez Shehri[11]
tG reflexive/mediopassive of G *tCVCVCa iCtaCːiC - ʔitCCiC iCtaCaCa taCaCCa əCteˈCeC
D multiplicative/transitivizing of G *CaCːaCa uCaCːaC CiCːēC CaCːiC CaCːaCa CaCːaCa -
tD reflexive of D *tCaCːVCa uCtaCːaC hitCaCːēC ʔitCaCːaC taCaCːaCa - -
L associative/intensive/causative - - - - CāCaCa CāCaCa eˈCoCəC
tL reflexive/mediopassive of L - - - - taCāCaCa - -
Š causative *šaCCaCa ušaCCaC hiCCīC ʔaCCiC ʔaCCaCa ʔaCCaCa eCˈCeC
Št reflexive/mediopassive of Š *štaCCVCa uštaCCaC - ʔitːaCCaC istaCCaCa ʔastaCCaCa ŝəCˈCeC
ŠtG causative of tG *šatCVCVCa uštaCaCːaC - - - - ŝəˈCeCəC
N reciprocal/passive of G *nCaCVCa inCaCːiC niCCaC - inCaCaCa - -

Because the L Stem is only attested in the geographically and genetically proximate Arabic and South Semitic languages, it is thought to be a later innovation, not present in Proto-Semitic. By contrast, since separate but morphologically similar Št and ŠtG Stems are attested in the relatively distantly related Akkadian and Shehri, these are posited to have been different stems in Proto-Semitic, but to have merged in most later Semitic languages.[6]


  1. ^ McCarthy, John J. (1981-01-01). "A Prosodic Theory of Nonconcatenative Morphology". Linguistic Inquiry. 12 (3): 373–418. JSTOR 4178229. 
  2. ^ a b Andrew Kingsbury Simpson (2009). "The Origin and Development of Nonconcatenative Morphology" (PDF). Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Bat-El, Outi. "Semitic Templates." The Blackwell Companion to Phonology. van Oostendorp, Marc, Colin J. Ewen, Elizabeth Hume and Keren Rice (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2011. Blackwell Reference Online.
  4. ^ a b Hoberman, Robert D. Formal properties of the conjugations in modern Aramaic. pp. 49–64. doi:10.1007/978-94-011-2516-1_5. 
  5. ^ Wehr, Hans (1979). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: (Arab.-Engl.). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 9783447020022. 
  6. ^ a b c d R., Bennett, Patrick. Comparative semitic linguistics : a manual. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 1575060213. OCLC 787653677. 
  7. ^ Ussishkin, Adam P. (2000). The Emergence of Fixed Prosody (PDF) (Ph.D.). UC Santa Cruz. 
  8. ^ "'כִּתֵּב' on Morfix Dictionary". Retrieved 2017-04-13. 
  9. ^ Rubin, Aaron D. (2008-03-01). "The Paradigm Root in Hebrew". Journal of Semitic Studies. 53 (1): 29–41. doi:10.1093/jss/fgm043. ISSN 0022-4480. 
  10. ^ Wright, W. (1896). A grammar of the Arabic language: translated from the German of Caspari, and edited with numerous additions and corrections (PDF). Cambridge. 
  11. ^ M., Johnstone, Thomas (1991-01-01). Jibbali lexicon. Univ. Press. ISBN 0197136028. OCLC 612174986.