An introduction to the root and pattern system in Arabic

Two very important principles. Over time these principles will help you to infer the meaning of many words and even help you to ‘produce’ words that you may need.

These two principles are the root system and the pattern system. They can be found in all Semitic languages, e.g. in Arabic and Hebrew. In this blog post we will look at the root system

The root system

Look at these three words



Salaam — Islam — Muslim

Notice that the first m in the word Muslim is not highlighted.

To understand the root system properly, it is important that the letters must always be IN THE SAME ORDER.


The only letters that are in the same order in ALL three words are:

S – L – M

Such a combination of letters is called a root.

So the root for SalaamIslamMuslim is S – L – M

This particular root (S – L – M) conveys the idea of ‘peace’.

And this is what the three words actually mean:

Salaam is the Arabic word for ‘peace’.

Islam is the name of the religion and means ‘submission’ (to the will of God/Allah), and this again means to be in peace with God/Allah and oneself.

Muslim means a person who has submitted their will to God/Allah and is, therefore, in peace with God/Allah and themselves.

Out of this root other words with similar meaning can ‘grow’

Now look at the following words and find the root. Remember that you must find THREE LEITERS that appear in all the words IN THE SAME ORDER.

Now look at the English equivalents for these words. But remember that with nouns the context finally decides what is actually meant.

Kitaab document, manuscript, book, etc.

Kaatib writer, author, secretary, etc

Maktab office, desk, etc.

Kataba he wrote

Yaktub he is writing / he writes

Makataba library

Remember that the root s — I — m conveys the idea of ‘peace’.

What would you say the root K – T – B conveys?

Now here is a third group of words try to identify their root.

This root J – M – L conveys the idea of beauty.

Here are the English equivalents for these words.

Jameel beautiful (masc.)

Jameela the name for a woman (‘the beautiful one”)

Ajmal more beautiful

Jamaal beauty

Tajmeel makeup, beautification

Mujaamala compliment

And finally Jamal camel

You might not believe it, but it is true: The camel is considered such a beautiful animal in Arab culture that its name consists of the root j-m-l, too.

Now try to identify the root of these five words.

Here are the English equivalents of the words with the root KH – R – J.

Kharaja he went out (of the house)

Khaarij outside

Makhraj exit

Istikhraaj extraction (e.g. of oil, coal)

Khaarijiyya external affairs (POI.)