Every word in Arabic derives from 3 root letters. Forms in Arabic are a way of modifying these roots to create new words whose meaning is based on the original one. For example, one might turn a verb like "help" into the verb "cooperate", which carries the connotation of working in groups. Thus, essentially each verb in Arabic can be modified from its original root to make a new word with a different meaning.

How is this different from the role cases play in languages that rely strongly on cases (such as German, Polish, and Russian)?

In English, I thought an example of a case was I versus Me. Me denotes an object while I denotes a subject. Obviously, I and me sound nothing like. So in that sense, cases and forms are very different. But a similarity is that changing / modifying the word yet retaining the original meaning to some extent. Although I and Me are not the same kind of word, both refer to the same person. Similarly, both cooperate and help are related to the same general idea of performing positive, constructive actions.

Perhaps these concepts are unrelated but I was hoping someone could clarify why a bit so that I can better understand what exactly a "form" is in Arabic.

  • It's the grammatical role. Cases are different forms of nouns used for different roles the nouns play in the sentence. Arabic forms, as you've said, modify verbs. Both are subsumed under the category of "morphology". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphology_(linguistics) (Actually, Classical Arabic has a separate category of case, although it's not very significant to the modern Arabic languages.) Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 5:27
  • Do cases only apply to nouns? I didn't realize that. Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 8:09
  • Yes indeed, Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 10:19
  • Verbs cannot have cases.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 11:57

1 Answer 1


As has been mentioned, classical Arabic does “rely strongly on cases”, of which there are three (nominative, genitive, accusative). Declination for case is productive and for the most part regular, while the formation of so-called derived stems of verbal roots is only partially productive and the meaning of these stems is only partially predictable. In the classic description of Arabic grammar the cases are part of morphology (ṣarf), while stem formation is part of word-formation (etymology, ištiqāq).

  • Word-formation is called derivation rather than etymology in English.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 11:58
  • @Anixx. Please read my answer again. I am talking about Arabic linguistic terminology. ištiqāq covers both derivation and etymology.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 13:52

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