The linguistic definition of Sarf is a word صرف that is derived from the linguistic root ص ر ف meaning “to change/turn.” From this we have a hadith:


  • ."لا يقبل الله منه يوم القيامة صرفا ولا عدلا" ........
  • الحديث»صحيح مسلم » كتاب الحج » باب فضل المدينة ص996
  • Neither forfeiture (صرف) nor its equivalent (عدل) will be accepted from him.


Additionally, it is said:


  • اللبن ينصرف به عن الضرع حارا إذا حلب
  • Milk leaves (ينصرف) the udder warm when milked.


A crook is called الصريف as he is the agent of changing affairs. It looks like Lesaan al'arab and Alqamoos almoheet, the root of صرف.


A banker is called الصيرفي  as he is the changer of money. There are many similar usages that indicate changing or moving from one condition to another.


The grammatical term الصرف is defined as the changing of the original root into different forms to create an intended meaning that cannot be attained except by means of this change. An example of this would be changing the root word قَطْع into the past tense قطع , the present tense يقطع or the command اقطع , and so forth. الصرف includes all the derivatives of the root such as the active participle, passive participle and adjectives. It is a science that investigates the forms and shapes of word types, as well as why they are presented as sound, weak or substituted.


Not all early scholars agreed on the details of this science. The purpose of this science was stated by the Scholar Ibn al-Haajib in his commentary on Ash-Shaafiya. He stated, “Morphology is the science of word origins, by them the conditions of the forms of the words are known without their declensions.


  • انظر شرح الشافية لابن الحاجب الجزء الأول ص1 (Look at the explanation of Alshafeya for Ibn alhajib, part one, page one).


The scholar Ar-RaDHi argued for the earlier description in his explanation of Ash-Shafiya and clarified his arguments in his summary.


The Field of Morphology


Sarf can be categorized into two types of words.


  1. الأفعال المتصرِفة or derived verbs.
  2. الأسماء المتمكِنة of nouns.


Those words that do not fall into these two categories are not included in the Science of Morphology. This includes single letter words (و ب ف), pronouns (إذا أين حيث), personal pronouns (أنا هو), demonstrative pronouns (هذا هناك), relative pronouns (الذي التي), conditional nouns (ما من مهما), interrogative nouns (ما من متى), nouns that imitate letters (كم إذ), proper nouns of foreign origin (إبراهيم هسماعيل), rigid verbs (نعم بئس عسى) and any verb or noun consisting of one or two letters that is not مجزوم. This last one is due to fact that the smallest allowable derived verb or established noun must be built upon a three letter root.


Scales of Sarf


After having established through research and investigation that most Arabic words consist of three letter roots, the scholars of Sarf devised scales to measure the conditions of the various forms of the words.


They devised a scale consisting of three original letters (ف ع ل). This three letter scale represents the word that is to be measured, such that the ف represents the first letter, the ع represents the second letter, and the ل represents the last letter of the root. The form and shape of the scale is identical to the forms and shapes of the scaled word. For instance, the vowels and consonants are alike.


Scholars chose the word فعل to be used for the scale of Sarf for the reasons summarized below.


  1. The word فعل consists of a three lettered root, and the majority of Arabic words consist of three letter roots. Words consisting of more than three letters do exist but are rare.
  2. The word فعل is semantically common. Every verb indicates an action (فِعْل) so the verbs أكل ، جلس ، مشى  وقف ، ضرب ، قتل ، نام ، قام and so forth, all indicate an action.
  3. Its letters are sound (stable). In other words, they are not subject to deletion such as the weak letters و and ي. Verbs built upon these weak letters are exposed to weakness by alteration, movement and deletion.
  4. فعل includes three separate phonetic sounds. The letter ف is formed by the lips, ع comes from the back of the throat and ل is formed in the middle of the mouth.


The great benefit of the scales of Sarf is that they define the characteristics of words and clarify whether the word has been increased in form, augmented in form, or is in its original form. The scales also distinguish the letters of a word from its vowels, the root of a word from its additional letters and the word’s degree of weakness or soundness.


  • الوجيز في الصرف: دكتور مسعد زيادة ص5
  • Alwajeez fi alsarf: doctor: mos'ad zeyada page five.


How to Use the Scale of Sarf


When scaling words, the following is noted:


Three letter words:


















was killed



























From the chart it can be seen that a word’s scale is found by placing it in opposition to the standard scale (فعل), with precise awareness of the form.


For example, the first letter of the word ضرب is placed in opposition to the first letter of the word فعل by adjusting the vowels of the scaled word with a Fat'ha َ because the ض in ضرب has a Fat'ha َ. Likewise the second letter of ضرب i.e. ر is placed in opposition to the ع of فعل and given a Fat'ha َ  because the ر has a Fat'ha َ. The third letter ب is placed in opposition to the ل of the scale and given the same vowel as the original word. Thus, from the word ضَرَبَ we have the equivalent scale of فَعَلَ, and in this particular case the ض is called فاء الكلمة, the ر is called عين الكلمة and the ب is called لام الكلمة.


Further examples:


  • حَ سُ نَ ـ فَعُلَ . الحاء فاء الكلمة . السين عين الكلمة . النون لام الكلمة .
  • عَ لِ مَ ـ فَعِلَ . العين فاء الكلمة . اللام عين الكلمة . الميم لام الكلمة .


Words with more than three letters


If the root of the word consists of more than three letters and the additional letters cannot be deleted because they are from the original construction of the word (thus the meaning is dependant on them), the scale is increased in letters in order to accommodate it. If the word is four letters, an additional ل is used in the scale:




  • دحرج : roll
  • فعلل
  • بعثر : scatter
  • فعلل     
  • زلزل : shake
  • فعلل
  • طمْأن : assure
  • فعلل
  • وسوس : meticulous
  • فعلل
  • دِرْهَم : dirham
  • فِعْلَل
  • جَرْهُم : tribe name
  • فُعْلُل
  • بَيْدَرٌ : threshing floor
  • فَعْلَلٌ


If the root of the word is five letters, two additional ل are added. However a ّ  is used for the first two, rather than each being written out.




  • سَفَرْجَل : quince
  • فَعَلَّل
  • زَبَرْجَد : aquamarine
  • فَعَلَّل
  • غَضَنْفَر : lion
  • فَعَنلَّل


Other cases:


If the increase in letters is the result of repetition or a double letter in the root word, the scale will reflect the same repetition.




  • قَدَّم : to introduce
  • فعَّل
  • ترْجَم : to be translated
  • فعْلَل
  • مرمريس : marmoreal
  • فَعْفَعِيل


However, if the increase in letters is not the result of repetition, nor is it from the root, and instead it is from the addition of one of the سألتمونيها (the ten letters), the addition is not blended into the scale, but rather keeps its form and vowels.


Note: The ten letters are س, أ, ل, ت, م, و, ن, ي, ه, ا and represent letters that are added to the Arabic verb root in order to derive the different forms. They are also used to conjugate verbs or attach pronouns to verbs and nouns.




  • مَقْتُول : killed
  • مَفْعُول
  • مسلوب : robbed
  • مفعول
  • أَحْسَنَ : did well
  • أَفْعَل
  • شَارَكَ : participate
  • فاعَلَ
  • مُستَحْسَن : recommendable
  • مُسْتَفْعَل
  • انْجَرَحَ : to be wounded
  • انْفَعَلَ
  • مَفَاتِيح : keys
  • مَفَاعِيل
  • مِنْشار : a saw
  • مِفْعال
  • مُدَرِّس : a teacher
  • مُفَعِّل
  • مُهَنْدِسَة : a female engineer
  • مُفَعْلِلَة


Important notes:


If two augmentations occur in the word, one of the two will be created by duplicating the original character, while the other will be created by adding one of the ten letters سألتمونيها. This changes the formulation. Therefore, when we scale it, we double what confronts the original character, and we put the additional letter under the same one in the word such as this:


  • تَقَدَّمَ : تَفَعَّلَ advanced
  • تَعَلَّم : تَفَعَّل learned
  • اِسْتَفْهَمَ : اِسْتَفْعَلَ questioned


Pronouns are not from the extra ten letters, so when we scale any verb or noun that has an attached pronoun, we keep it in the form of the verb or the noun, such as this:


  • كَتَبْتُهُ : فَعَلْتُهُ I wrote it.
  • كِتابِي : فِعالِي my book.


A prefix, or any other addition, that is placed before the root of a word is not from the original characters. Therefore, they are not scaled. This is like the present tense verb:


  • أذْهَبُ أَفْعَلُ نَذْهَبُ نَفْعَلُ يَذْهَبُ يَفْعَلُ تَذْهَبُ تَفْعَلُ .


وحرف السين علامة المستقبل في العربية and the particle [س] is placed before the present tense verb, which is an indication of the use of the near future in Arabic, such as:


  • سأدْخُلُ I will enter سَأَفْعُلُ.


وتاء التأنيث ونون التوكيد في آخر الفعل , as well as the ta'a (for the feminine) and the noon (for emphasis) are placed at the end of the verb, such as:


  • خَرَجَتْ I went out
  • فَعَلْتُ . لأكتُبَنَّ I must write لَأَفْعَلَنَّ


Furthermore, particles such as حروف الجر prepositions, حروف العطف conjunctions, وعلامة التعريف signs of definite nouns, as well as other similar grammatical structures that do not come from the word, are all repeated in the scale. For example:


  • بِخَيرٍ : fine
  • بِفَعْلٍ . بَيْتٌ وَمَدْرَسة : فَعْلٌ وَمَفْعَلة a home and school
  • القَلَم : الفَعَل the pen


Moreover, the suffixes that have to be added to the end of a word are not from the scale. For example:


  • التاء المَربوطة {ة} علامة التأنيث : alta'a almarboota {ة} the feminine sign.
  • وعلامة المثنى {انِ أو ينِ the sign of dual: Alef + noon + kasra or ya'a + noon + kasraوعلامة جمع المُذَكَّر السالم ونَ أو ينَ the sign of sound masculine plural: waw + noon + fat'ha, or ya'a + noon + fat'ha.
  • وعلامة جمع المؤنَّث السالم ات the sign of the sound feminine plural, which is Alef + ta'a


If the root contains double letters, we extract this letter, and it becomes two in the scale. For example:


  • مَدَّ : الدال حرف مُضعَّف لذا يجب أن نفك تضعيفه ليكون مدَدَ


The Dal letter is a double letter, so we have to extract it to make مَدَدَ = فَعَلَ


  • فَرَّ : فَعَلَ . اِحْتَلَّ : اِفْتَعَلَ . اِحْمَرَّ : اِفْعَلَّ.


If the word has a deleted letter from the root, we have to delete it when we scale as well. For instance:


  • نَمْ : فَلْ sleep
  • قُلْ : فُلْ say
  • بِعْ : sell
  • فِلْ . اسعَ : افْعَ go around
  • ارمِ : افْعِ throw
  • أب : فَع a father
  • صِلَة : عِلَة connection


These are some of the important rules that will enable you to formulate and derive words in Arabic. If you learn them, it will greatly improve your Arabic vocabulary.


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