Tag Archives: words

Arabic Learners’ Most Important Question Answered!

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Exactly which Arabic words should you learn? Learning a language, especially one as broad and complex as Arabic, is no small commitment. Mastering Arabic, or even just achieving a working knowledge of the language, demands a great deal of time and effort. So it makes sense that you would want to make your learning time as efficient as possible. This can only be achieved if you know with confidence what it is that you should be learning.

Thankfully, there is a book that tells you exactly which words are the most useful to know in Arabic; it is called “A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners” (paid link) by Tim Buckwalter and Dilworth Parkinson.

Frequency Dictionary of Arabic

Unlike other dictionaries, this book lists the vocabulary in order of frequency.

The dictionary covers the 5,000 most frequently used words in Arabic. It also contains thematically organized lists of the top words from a variety of key topics such as weather, sports, clothing, and family terms.

Something that I have found most useful about this book is that it also includes an index of different parts of speech. So, for example, if I wanted to know what the most common verbs in Arabic were, I can refer to the book’s list of the most common verbs, given in order of frequency. It also lists in order of frequency the most common conjunctions, interrogatives, numbers, prepositions, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and nouns. For those that wish to use the book more as a conventional dictionary, it also includes a section that lists the words in alphabetical order.

The book focuses primarily on MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), but also includes words from several of the most widely spoken Arabic dialects, and where relevant are indicated in the word entries.

The book’s preface successfully highlights its usefulness when it states:

“Nation (1990) showed that the 4000 – 5,000 most frequent words account for up to 95 percent of a written text and the 1,000 most frequent words account for 85 percent of speech.”

Nigel of Arabia with Arabic Dictionary

I highly recommend this book and consider it an essential part of any Arabic learner’s book collection. A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners (paid link) is available in paperback, hardback, and in Kindle form on Amazon.


An Arabic “Word Tree”: Quarrelling Like a Forest?

One of the best ways to grasp the complex yet elegant structure of Arabic is to unlock its system of roots. To illustrate this system I have created an Arabic “word tree” – another kind of word map – to demonstrate how a single root in Arabic produces many distinct yet related words. In this case I have presented a tree made from the triliteral root ش – ج – ر (shjr).

These three Arabic consonants (“sh”, “j” and “r”), when they appear in that sequence, carry with them a particular meaning and can produce different words related to that meaning. If the order of the root letters is changed then the meaning will also change completely.

I thought it would be fun to use the root ش – ج – ر (shjr) in particular for a word tree since this root actually produces the Arabic word for “tree”.

Another example of a root in Arabic is the three consonants ك – ت – ب (ktb), written in that order, which carries the meaning of “writing” and produces various words, such as كتاب (kitaab) = “book”, مكتبة (maktaba) = “library”, and أكتب (aktub) = “I write”. There is also the root د – ر – س  (drs), which carries the meaning of “studying” and produces words like درس (dars) = “lesson”, مدرسة (madrasa) = “school”, and أدرس (adrus) = “I study”.

Interestingly, as well as words to do with trees, the root ش – ج – ر (sh – j – r) also produces words associated with quarrelling and unrest. I have coloured the words associated with trees in green and those about quarrelling in dark red.

One might speculate that the two seemingly unrelated offshoots of the same root are in fact connected. Perhaps the breaking out of unrest or a quarrel erupting and spreading is analogous to the growth of a forest that begins with only a few trees and expands outwards, getting ever bigger and more tangled. I would be very interested to hear other theories or explanations anyone else might have about the possible link between the two groups of words produced from this single root.

The Arabic words presented in this tree, along with their English translations, have been taken from A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr. These are not the only words that I could have included, but are the ones that I felt were most relevant for the purposes of this illustration.

It was great to see so many people interested in my last infographic of an Arabic Verb Map, which has received over 4,700 views and counting, from over 80 different countries, since its posting on January 21st! So I hope you enjoy this one too. Feel free to share with others and please do let me know if you have any feedback. Thanks!

An Arabic Word Tree by Nigel of Arabia


This creatively designed and detailed word tree is now available as a poster – perfect for use as a resource in the classroom or at home, or simply used as decoration – also making an intriguing conversation piece!

Click here to view the poster on sale in my official Zazzle store.