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Comparative study - Verb stems

Nomenclature for verb forms differs considerably between standard texts on the different Semitic languages. This page attempts to summarise and compare the various names.


There are 7 stems of Hebrew verbs:
  1. Qal - Simple active
  2. Niph‘al - Simple passive (sometimes reflexive)
  3. Pi‘êl - Intensive active (sometimes causative)
  4. Pu‘al - Intensive passive
  5. Hithpa‘êl - Reflexive (also an intensive stem)
  6. Hiph‘îyl - Causative active
  7. Hoph‘al - Causative passive

There are three tenses expressing finite forms:

  1. Perfect - Completed action
  2. Imperfect - Incomplete, uncertain, habitual or repeated action
  3. Stative - Expressing a state or condition rather than an action

Non-finite forms are:

  1. Infinitive - Nominal form
  2. Participle - Adjectival form


There are four main stems:
  1. G, also called I or Grundstamm - Simple active
  2. D, also called II - Doubled middle radical - Intensive active
  3. Š, also called III - affixed š - Causative active
  4. N, also called IV - affixed n - Simple passive

Variations of these stems allow infixes -ta- or -tan- to give:

  1. Gt, also called I/2 - Simple reciprocal
  2. Gtn, also called I/3 - Simple habitual or repetitive
  3. Dt, also called II/2 - Intensive passive
  4. Dtn, also called II/3 - Intensive habitual or repetitive
  5. Št - Causative reciprocal
  6. Štn - Causative habitual or repetitive
  7. Ntn - Passive habitual or repetitive

ŠD is a poetic variation of D. There are four tenses expressing finite forms:

  1. Present - Continuing action
  2. Preterite - Action taking place at a single point of time
  3. Perfect - Completed action in temporal relation to the present
  4. Stative - Expressing a state or condition rather than an action

Non-finite forms are:

  1. Infinitive - Nominal form
  2. Participle - Adjectival form
  3. Verbal adjective - Adjectival form


Ugaritic is largely similar to the above for the main stems, but the passive forms are denoted *p - for example Dp for intensive passive. Tense formation is as Hebrew.

Comparison of the above

Simple activeQalGG
Simple reciprocal/reflexiveHithpa‘êlGtGt
Simple habitual/repetitive  Gtn
Intensive activePi‘êlDD
Intensive passivePu‘alDpDt
Intensive habitual/repetitive  Dtn
Causative activeHiph‘îylŠŠ
Causative passiveHoph‘alŠpŠt
Causative habitual/repetitive  Š
Simple passiveNiph‘alGpN
Passive habitual/repetitive  Ntn
Poetic variation on D  ŠD

Intensive is sometimes called factitive.


This is made complicated by considerations of the hieroglyphic writing style, so that variant forms are not always easy to identify. For example, intensive, continuous, repeated or habitual verbs are often formed by repeating some of the radical consonants to form quadriliteral or quinquiliteral forms (nd ask to ndnd take counsel, or sn brother to snsn fraternise). However, sometimes the consonants are not shown explicitly, but rather by drawing sp sn ("two times") beside the originals.

In addition, classification of Egyptian verb forms takes account more of relative timing of the actions than typical for the Semitic languages above.

Repetition of the final radical (as in Hebrew Pi‘lêl) occurs occasionally, for example špss enrich from šps noble. There is an equivalent passive (cf Pu‘lal). Duplication of the middle radical, as in Hebrew Pi‘êl, is strongly suspected to have occurred but cannot normally be identified from the glyphs.

Causatives are indicated by prefixing s to the original verb - for example msi bear child to smsi cause to give birth/deliver. In a few cases, the addition does not imply causation but intensification - for example ip count to sip test/account for.

For most stems, a passive form is derived by affixing -tw or -t to the stem after the formative element. Specific verb types are:

Action or state expressed by the verb stem, may be used in either nominal or verbal roles.
Old perfective
Past narrative tense with both active and passive meanings, more typically passive except in early writings, and often used to express the final state resulting from some action. Analogous to normal Semitic perfect.
The following stems are all formed by suffix conjugation
Typically a present tense, often extending into a description of purpose, wish or exhortation and thence into a future consequence on presented facts. Has a passive form as explained above, and is thought to have originated from a passive participle. It can also convey the idea of repetition or habituation - for example a characterisation of a person or condition, expressing a timeless truth or religious observation. In legal or contractual contexts it can refer to required actions even if these are not repetitive in nature.
By Middle Kingdom times, this passive form had become largely obsolete.
Often in a relative clause consequent to some other condition, so rendered as past (he did), past perfect (he had done) or present perfect (he has done). Occasionally a present tense is suitable, particularly if the verb is negated.
Used to describe an action consequent on some condition in narrative, usually though not invariably in the past.
Used to describe a single future action.
used to describe a future consequential act, confined to religious and royal texts.
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