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Learning Arabic Tips: How to use Hans Wehr Arabic Dictionary

by Omar Matadar

Posted on February 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM.

This dictionary is the close companion of any serious student of Arabic

One of the most widely used Arabic-English dictionaries is the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. This dictionary is the close companion of any serious student of Arabic. It is useful for both beginners and advanced students and can teach one a great deal about how words are structured in Arabic. Hans Wehr does take some skill to use, so don’t feel discouraged if you are finding it a challenge to look up words. First and foremost you have to understand that Hans Wehr, like most Arabic-Arabic dictionaries organizes words alphabetically according to root and not alphabetically according to the first letters in the word. This means you need to become very good at guessing, not the meanings of words but the three letter root that lies hidden within most Arabic words. When you get this knack you will be on your way to using Hans Wehr. To explain how this works let’s take a word like مكتبة meaning “library.” As you learn more Arabic you will start to recognize patterns that help you locate the root. The root of مكتبة is ك – ت – ب   reading from right to left. So, in the Hans Wehr dictionary you will actually look for the word مكتبة under the letter ك and not the letter م because the first letter of the root of the word مكتبة is ك. Another important point to know about Hans Wehr is that verbs are always listed first and then nouns, so to find the word مكتبة you will have to scroll down the entry till you find the word. Seems complicated right! Well it is but it is also elegant and beautiful if you are someone who can appreciate symmetry. There is much more to the Hans Wehr dictionary that we will touch upon in later posts like what the heck those Roman numerals are! Stay tuned!

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