Here’s a short but thorough handling of hollow verbs in Arabic. Such verbs are called Ajwaf.
What is a Hollow Verb in Arabic?
This tutorial deals with irregular verbs (as well as gerunds and derived nouns) whose second radical is a واو or a ياء. Such verbs are termed /Ajwaf verbs/ الأفعال الجوفاء (sing. الفعل الأجوف) and there are some morphophonemic rules that need to be considered when conjugating them. These rules are termed تعليل or إعلال and the rest of this tutorial is dedicated to their analysis.
For a more detailed picture of where this tutorial fits into Arabic morphology, consult the introduction to this section entitled Introduction to Arabic Morphology, and specifically the section on morphophonemic rules and weak verbs.
Since the categorization of verbs based on their level of weakness is parallel to their categorization based on verbal paradigms, hollow verbs can naturally be witnessed to occur in basically all major paradigms. However, in this tutorial we will focus on only the basic ones, using the examples given below. Analyzing the conjugation of these specific verbs will sieve out all major regulations associated to hollow verbs, and these canonical examples will be a sufficient analysis.
Specific Base Letters
Used as an Example
ق، و، ل
فعَل / يفعُل
ب، ي، ع
فعَل / يفعِل
خ، و، ف
فعِل / يفعَل
Hollow verbs can only occur in these three paradigms of the six basic paradigms. Their occurrence in any of the other three is possible but quite rare. Hollow verbs can occur in all of the advanced paradigms, but not all of those paradigms require morphophonemic changes. At the end of this tutorial, we will briefly discuss hollow verbs in paradigms other than the three mentioned above.
The Perfect Tense
if a vowelled واو or ياء is preceded by a فتحة in the same lexical word, it will change to an الف
vowelled واو or ياء preceded by فتحة becomes الف
If we attempt to use the examples given above and place them on their respective templates in order to form past tense verbs, the following will result.
Notice that in each of the three cases there is a weak letter (واو or ياء) which is vowelled and that before it is a فتحة. Based on Rule 1, the weak letter must become an الف, and the following conjugations result.
The conjugations yielded by Rule 1 look exactly the same irrespective of their paradigm. That is until we reach conjugation 6 onwards of the past tense table. In these 9 conjugations, the third radical of the verb loses its vowel, resulting in a vowel-consonant cluster.
Applying the rules of cluster reduction, we get the following.
This, however, is not how it’s done. The long vowel, الف, is dropped based on the rules of cluster reduction, but the فتحة on the letter before the الف is not necessarily maintained. In the case of قال (verbs from the فعَل / يفعُل paradigm), the فتحة is changed to a ضمة in order to indicate that the long vowel that dropped was a واو. Similarly, the فتحة in the case of باع (verbs from the فعَل / يفعِل paradigm) is changed to a كسرة to show that the letter that dropped was a ياء.
Now, using a ضمة to indicate that a واو has dropped in paradigm فعَل / يفعُل is fine because only those hollow verbs whose middle radical is a واو may be realized in this paradigm. Similarly, using a كسرة to indicate that a ياء has dropped in paradigm فعَل / يفعِل is fine because only those hollow verbs whose middle radical is a ياء may be realized in this paradigm. But as for paradigm فعِل / يفعَل, it sees both types of hollow verbs – those with واو as well as those with ياء. The logical thing to do in this case would be to leave the فتحة in these 9 conjugations as is in order to differentiate it from the other two paradigms. However, what is actually done is that the فتحة is changed to a كسرة, and the following conjugations result.
Exercise: Conjugate these three verbs in the past tense.
in the passive prefect conjugations, the كسرة from the middle radical will transfer to the first radical
If we attempt to construct the past passive verbs using our examples, the following conjugations will result.
Rule 2 sees that these are passive perfect conjugations and it therefore dictates that the كسرة from the middle letters should be transferred to the right. Hence the conjugations end up as follows.
However, there is another very important and very widely applicable rule that comes into play at this point and further changes the above conjugations.
if a non-vowelled ياء is preceded by a ضمة, the ضمة will become a كسرة
(occasionally, however, the ياء will become a واو instead)
(the ميزان rule) b)
if a non-vowelled واو is preceded by a كسرة, the واو will become a ياء
This rule is designed to take the two diphthongs that are not allowed in the phonology of the Arabic language – namely ـِوْ and ـُيْ – and transform them into one of the two that are allowed – namely ـَوْ and ـَيْ.
Notice that Rule 3b applies to the case of قال and خاف, and not the case of باع. Applying the rule yields the following conjugations.
Notice again that all three paradigms look the same, just as they do with regular verbs. That is until we reach conjugation 6 and onwards. These 9 conjugations again experience the same changes that were applied to them in the active tables. Recall what occurred in the active tables; the following conjugations will result.
This is interesting because both the active and passive tables now look exactly the same from conjugation 6 onwards.
Exercise: Conjugate the three examples in the perfect passive. Juxtapose the active and passive tables to compare where conjugations are similar and where they are not.
The Imperfect Tense
If a vowelled واو or ياء is preceded by a non-vowelled letter in the same lexical word, its vowel will transfer to that preceding letter. In the case where the transferred vowel is a فتحة, the واو or ياء will become an الف in addition.
Conjugating the three examples in the imperfect tense, we would expect the verbs to look as follows based on regular verb conjugation.
But in each of the three above cases, a vowelled weak letter is preceded by a non-vowelled letter. Rule 4 then comes into play and dictates that the vowel from the weak letter should shift right. We then see the following results.
But Rule 4 also dictates that, in the case where the transferred vowel is a فتحة, the weak letter should become an الف. This is the case with يخوف, ergo the final results below.
This also occurs in the passive forms of each of these verbs. The expected passive forms are as follows.
Again we can plainly see that a vowelled weak letter is preceded by a non-vowelled letter in each of the three cases. Moreover, the weak letter is vowelled with a فتحة. Hence the passive conjugations are as follows.
1. Conjugate the three examples in both the active and passive voice. In how many of the conjugations do the rules of cluster reduction apply?
2. Repeat (1) with the imperfect verb in the subjunctive case. Are there any major differences between the subjunctive and the indicative?
3. Repeat (1) with the imperfect verb in the jussive case. In how many conjugations do the rules of cluster reduction apply now?
4. Form the imperatives of the three examples. Where does cluster reduction apply?
in the active participle of basic paradigms, if the middle radical is a واو or ياء, it will become a Hamza
Forming the active participles is quite simple; the following nouns are what we would expect.
And Rule 5 dictates simply that the weak letter in these three nouns be changed to a Hamza, giving the following.
What is more interesting, however, is the passive participle. Take close note of the examples below which are what we would expect the conjugations to be.
Notice, however, that in each of these cases is a vowelled weak letter preceded by a non-vowelled letter. Therefore, the following changes take place (exercise: which rule dictates these changes?)
One would expect the rules of cluster reduction to take effect now. However, notice that the clusters in each of the three above cases are vowel-vowel clusters; the phonology of the language is not equipped to handle these types of situations. Instead, we rely on the morphology for these types of clusters. And the morphology tells us that, in this case, the (second) واو will drop, This is because it is a part of the template, and letters that are part of a template have lower priority than base letters and are consequently more susceptible to being dropped.
Finally, Rule 3a takes effect in the case of مبيع and it becomes what is below.
Exercise: There are five other derived nouns; find examples to determine whether they experience change or not.
Of all the advanced paradigms in existence, only the following few experience تعليل.
1. Conjugate the verb خ، و، ف in paradigms تفعيل and مفاعلة.
2. Conjugate some hollow practice verbs in the paradigms mentioned above. All the rules learnt so far are sufficient for this task.
3. Form the active and passive participles for the verb خ، ي، ر in paradigm افتعال. What do you notice? In which other paradigms does this occur (if any)?
More Complicated Rules for Enquiring Minds
تعليل will not apply under the following cases:
1. the vowel on the weak letter is not original
2. the weak letter is followed by a مدة زائدة
3. the weak letter is the middle radical of a لفيف
4. the meaning of the word is that of colour or defect
5. the weak letter is followed by the الف of dual
6. the weak letter is the middle radical of a word in paradigm افتعال , but the connotation is that of تفعل or تفاعل
7. certain other restrictions …
if an الف is preceded by a ضمة or كسرة, it will change to واو or ياء, respectively
فُاعِلَ becomes فُوْعِلَ
In the gerunds of paradigms إفعال and استفعال, certain rules will cause a letter to drop. That drop is then mitigated by adding a تاء مربوطة to the word. Sometimes this تاء is omitted.
إِهْوَان becomes إِهَان which becomes إِهَانَة
other rules not worthy of mention