In Hebrew, the 7 verb forms (or "buildings") can be associated into passive-active pairs, e.g. Pa'al - Nif'al, Hef'il-Huf'al, Pi'el-Pu'al (and Hitpa'el on its own). So we can say e.g. "he wrote a book" using the active Pa'al form katav ("hu katav sefer") and a similar passive sentence "the book was written" would use the Nif'al form nikhtav ("hasefer nikhtav").

Looking through arabic conjugation tables e.g. on Wiktionary[1], I see that there seems to be a passive and active form of the past perfect tense within each form. So for example we have both kataba (active) and kutiba (passive) within form I in Arabic.

I'm aware (to the extent of my meagre knowledge of Arabic grammar) of certain relationships between the verb forms in Arabic, e.g. form II verbs are often causitive or intensive counterparts of their form I equivalents [2]. But do any of the 10 verb forms have active/passive relationships between them as in Hebrew?

[1] https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D9%83%D8%AA%D8%A8

[2] https://conjugator.reverso.net/arabic-verb-forms-awzan.html

  • this question's answer also includes some useful information on the development of binyanim/forms in Semitic more generally: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/27363/…
    – Tristan
    Aug 23, 2022 at 14:19
  • Thank you for the link. I was not familiar with the concept of aktionsart or lexical case so it was a very interesting read Aug 23, 2022 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


Typically Semitic languages form true passive verbs as "internal" passives formed by a change in the vowels of the stem, with "external" passives formed with affixes (possibly in addition to changes to the vowels of the stem) typically having a variety of other more specific senses (e.g. reciprocal, reflexive, or anticausative).

In some languages some of these reflexive and/or reciprocal patterns may have been reinterpreted as passive (cf the common reinterpretation of the PIE middle voice as passive).

Excluding rare Biblical binyanim (so limiting ourselves to seven major ones), Hebrew has two internal passives: puʿal (corresponding to active piʿel, the intensive stem) & hufʿal (corresponding to active hifʿil, the causative stem); and two external passives: nifʿal (corresponding to active paʿal, the basic stem) & hitpaʿel (which retains its reflexive sense).

In Hebrew, all these passives are typically considered distinct verbs from their corresponding active verbs, rather than part of the active verb's inflection.

In Arabic however, internal passives are considered part of the active verb's inflection and so where Hebrew sees a hifʿil/hufʿal pair as two distinct verbs, Arabic sees the corresponding afʿala/ufʿila pair as just two forms of the same verb.

Arabic does have external passives, but none have been reanalysed as a simple passive counterpart to an active form. Forms with external passives (taken from Wikipedia' handy table) are:

  • Form I: faʿVla (cognate with Hebrew paʿal)
    • Form VII: infaʿala (anticausative, cognative with Hebrew nifʿal)
    • Form VIII: iftaʿala (reflexive, possibly related to Hebrew hitpaʿel)
  • Form II: faʿʿala (cognate with Hebrew piʿel, and with an internal passive corresponding to Hebrew puʿal)
    • Form V: tafaʿʿala (reflexive, related to Hebrew hitpaʿel)
  • Form III: fāʿala
    • Form VI: tafāʿala (reciprocal)
  • Form Iq: faʿlaqa (just the quadriliteral equivalent of triliteral Form I)
    • Form IIq: tafaʿlaqa (reflexive, just the quadriliteral equivalent of triliteral Form VIII)
  • 1
    it doesn't address the question, so I'm adding it as a comment rather than in the body, but for the completeness of the comparison: Form IV afʿala corresponds to Hebrew hif'il (and with internal passive corresponding to Hebrew hufʿal), and Forms IX-XV, IIIq, & IVq have no clear counterpart in Hebrew (again excluding rare Biblical binyanim)
    – Tristan
    Aug 23, 2022 at 14:14
  • Thank you for the detailed answer! Aug 23, 2022 at 15:08
  • 2
    I would add that Forms V: tafaʿʿala and VIII iftaʿala are not only reflexive, but anticausative as well. Also the semantics and usage of stems is very different in modern Arabic dialects. Almost all dialects have lost the internal passive, so they rely on stems or additional constructions to form passives.
    – skybrod
    Aug 23, 2022 at 16:40
  • @skybrod That sounds similar to Hebrew then. Also one day I hope to apply some of this knowledge to spoken dialects as well, so that's very good to know - thanks! Aug 23, 2022 at 20:03
  • Fwiw this Wikipedia page (in Hebrew) discusses various aspects of the evolution of these forms with comparisons between Hebrew and Arabic, I found it informative: he.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Aug 23, 2022 at 20:04

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