Let’s take a look at something related to the science of صرف (sarf), which is often translated as “morphology”, which deals with how words derive from each other. This is a really powerful branch of Arabic studies, because once you know a single root stem (which is usually three letters), you’ll automatically know how to express more than a hundred meanings just by feeding a root into the sarf machine. For now, we’re just going to talk about how other words are derived from a mudari’ (present tense) verb. Let’s take a very common root and go from there.
If you look it up in a dictionary like Hans-Wehr, you’ll see that it means “to go” and it will give you how to say it in the past for the “he” form:
From this, we know that ذَهَبَ means “he went” and يَذْهَبُ means “he goes”. We’re not going to deal with how to convert from past tense to present tense because we’re just concerned with what do once you have the base form for the present.
The present tense verb with nothing attached to the end
So what we have now is يَذْهَبُ, the most basic present tense verb you can get. In other posts in this blog you’ll see it being called as “a present tense verb with nothing attached to the end”, and that’s exactly what is is because we didn’t add anything to the end. All we did was add a letter to the beginning of the word to show that is for the present tense and change the vowels. The form that’s used for “he” is the base, and all the other forms come out from that one.
Now, I want to show you something cool that you can do when you know the base form of the present tense…
Flipping the first letter
Once you have the base form of a verb (“he”), you automatically know how to say it for “you”, “she”, “I” and “we”, just by flipping the first letter. Look at what I mean.
|He goes – yadh-habu||يَذْهَبُ|
|You go – tadh-habu||تَذْهَبُ|
|She goes – tadh-habu||تَذْهَبُ|
|I go – adh-habu||أذْهَبُ|
|We go – nadh-habu||نَذْهَبُ|
That’s it. Just by switching the first letter between ي (yaa), ت (taa), أ (hamzah) and ن (nun) you can change the meaning. Also, one of the quirks of the Arabic language is the ت is used for both the feminine and the 2nd person (i.e when you’re talking to someone). You know which one is meant by the context.
In fact, anytime you’re dealing with a present verb, one of these four letters (ي-ت-أ-ن) must be at the front. So if you see one of these at the beginning, there’s a good chance you’re looking at something that is talking about the present tense.