Nov 20, 2014

The original word

The original word

The word masdar (مَصْدَر) linguistically means means "source" and from the perspective of Arabic linguistics it denotes the word which all other derived verbs and nouns originally came from. There has been a debate by Arabic linguists  as whether this original word was in fact the verbal noun or the verb

The verbal noun is a noun that denotes an action devoid of a time frame For example: eating, sleeping, reading, writing are all considered verbal nouns.

If we say " Eating adequate fruit and vegetables is essential for preventing a wide variety of health conditions". The word Eating is denotes the act of eating without a specific time frame linked to it.

In Surat Al Naba, Allah (Most High) says:

وَجَعَلْنَا نَوْمَكُمْ سُبَاتًا

And made your sleep [a means for] rest

Once again sleep denotes the act of sleeping without an associated time frame.

A verb on the other hand denotes an action with a time frame.

such as in the sentence

نَامَتْ فَاطِمَةُ في منى

Fatimah slept in Mina ( when she perfromed Hajj)

Here a past tense verb is used to indicate that her sleep took place in the past and the act has been complete.

Which word is the source?

The strongest opinion which most scholars hold today is that the original word is the verbal noun. One of the proofs for this is that Adam (peace be upon him) was taught the names as mentioned in Surat Al Baqarah ayah 31.

وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ كُلَّهَا

And He taught Adam the names - all of them

"all of them" is for added emphasis and refers to all the names that allowed Adam (AS) to fullfil his role as the vicegerent ( Khalifah) of Allah (Most high) on earth.

How to find the masdar of a word?

In the Hans Wehr dictionary the verbal noun can be easily found by looking at a verb entry.

As shown above the word in brackets is the Masdar

More than one Masdar

It is also important to note that a 3 letter root can have more than one Masdar. For example we have the verb قَرأَ " He read". This 3 letter root actually has 2 masdars or source words. They are:

قِرَاءَةٌ and قُرْآن

The following video explains why two source words exist with respect to the Quranic linguistic miracle.


Nabeel AlKhalidy

Teacher at the Sibaway Institute


  1. I found the information to be informative and useful. Thank you for the posts. i really appreciate it that you shared with us such a informative post. Linguistics

  2. Thanks for sharing! A side note, some translations try to overcome this by including note, e.g. the standard English translation of the Quran at of Quran 2:31:

    "And He taught Adam the Names, all of them;* then presented them** to the angels and said, ‘Tell me the names of these, if you are truthful.’"

    * It is to be noted that the pronoun in ‘all of them’ [kullahā] is feminine.

    ** The pronoun in the phrase ‘He presented them’ [ʿaraḍahum] is masculine, indicating that it does not refer to the ‘Names’ but to their referents.

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  4. Very useful sharing, do you want to know more about Quran and how to learn it? I have seen very useful methods introduced about quran reading pen .