In Arabic class, I began learning verb conjugations, and we observed the patterns for all the different ones (minus the dual forms) corresponding with their pronouns. We used the verb شرب (drank) as our base word. While we learning our conjugation chart, I noticed that تشرب applies to both the second person masculine and third person feminine. With context, the distinction is clear, but why did the language develop to have them be the same?

As a side note, do we have any well-documented analysis on the development of Arabic verb conjugation?

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    Phrased as a “why” question, this will almost certainly be closed due to the impossibility of answering it. Considering rephrasing the question to be about HOW this morphological trait of Arabic might have evolved rather than why.
    – Graham H.
    Oct 4, 2023 at 19:43
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    @GrahamH. seeing as this seems to have been true of Proto-Semitic too (and possibly beyond, as shown in the answer) we can answer the why question - it inherited that syncretism
    – Tristan
    Oct 5, 2023 at 9:27

1 Answer 1


For the prefix conjugation, Classical Arabic essentially represents the reconstructed situation for proto-Semitic as presented in e.g. Weninger 'Reconstructive morphology' at least for the consonants, though Akkadian is more conservative for the vowels. Wilson 2020 give evidence that this same system predates proto-Semitic, being also present in Berber and Cushitic.

The plural forms are more compositional (tV is 2nd person, yV is 3rd person), so why isn't 3fs -yV? In proto-AA (and Semitic), -t- is a feminine affix, and suffixal -t marks 3sf not only in Semitic but according to Wilson in proto-AA. As far as Arabic goes, the answer is "That's how it has been for millenia in Semitic", but understanding why the agglutinative ideal or a single general 3rd person vs 2nd person prefix isn't the case will require more work on proto-AA.

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