Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic


The ''Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic'' is an
Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East is a list of transcontinental countries, transcontinental region ...

dictionary A dictionary is a listing of lexemes from the lexicon of one or more specific languages, often arranged Alphabetical order, alphabetically (or by radical-and-stroke sorting, radical and stroke for ideographic languages), which may include in ...

compiled by
Hans Wehr Hans Bodo Gerhardt Wehr (; 5 July 1909, Leipzig Leipzig (, ; Upper Saxon: ) is the most populous city in the Germany, German States of Germany, state of Saxony. With a population of 605,407 inhabitants as of 2021 (1.1 million residents ...
and edited by
J Milton Cowan J Milton Cowan (February 22, 1907 – December 20, 1993) was an United States, American linguist. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Cowan was the son of a butcher, who, hesitating between the first names James and John when the boy was born, decided to ...
. First published in 1961 by Otto Harrassowitz in
Wiesbaden Wiesbaden () is a city in central western Germany and the capital of the state of Hesse Hesse (, , ) or Hessia (, ; german: Hessen ), officially the State of Hessen (german: links=no, Land Hessen), is a German states, state in Germany. Its ...

, Germany, it was an enlarged and revised English version of Wehr's German ''Arabisches Wörterbuch für die Schriftsprache der Gegenwart'' ("Arabic dictionary for the contemporary written language") (1952) and its ''Supplement'' (1959). The Arabic-German dictionary was completed in 1945, but not published until 1952. Writing in the 1960s, a critic commented, "Of all the dictionaries of modern written Arabic, the work n question... is the best." It remains the most widely used Arabic-English dictionary. The work is compiled on descriptive principles: only words and expressions that are attested in context are included. "It was chiefly based on combing modern works of Arabic literature for lexical items, rather than culling them from medieval Arabic dictionaries, which was
what Lane had done
what Lane had done
in the nineteenth century". Hans Wehr was a member of the
National Socialist Nazism ( ), officially National Socialism (german: Nationalsozialismus, ), is the ideology An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In ...
(Nazi) Party and argued that the Nazi government should ally with the Arabs against England and France. The Arabic-German dictionary project was funded by the Nazi government, which intended to use it to translate
Adolf Hitler Adolf Hitler (; 20 April 188930 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician who was the dictator of Nazi Germany, Germany from 1933 to 1945. Adolf Hitler's rise to power, He rose to power as the leader of the Nazi Party, becoming Cha ...

Adolf Hitler
's ''
Mein Kampf (; ''My Struggle'') is a 1925 autobiographical manifesto by Nazi Party The Nazi Party, officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party (german: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP), was a political pa ...
'' into Arabic. Despite this, at least one Jewish scholar,
Hedwig Klein Hedwig Klein (19 February 1911 or 12 September 1911 – after 11 July 1942) was a German Jewish Arabist who died in Auschwitz. Biography Hedwig Klein was born in Antwerp to Abraham Wolff Klein, a Hungarian oil wholesaler, and his wife Recha ...
, contributed to the dictionary. Besides English speakers, the dictionary is also very popular among Arabic language learners in Japan.


The dictionary arranges its entries according to the traditional
Arabic root The roots A root In vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from Greek τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία ''trācheia artēria'' 'windpipe' + φυτά ''phutá'' 'plants'), ...
order. Foreign words are listed in straight alphabetical order by the letters of the word. Arabicized
loanword A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning ...
s, if they can clearly fit under some root, are entered both ways, often with the root entry giving reference to the alphabetical listing. Under a given root, lexical data are, whenever they exist, arranged in the following sequence:Wehr, XIII *the perfect of the basic stem (stem I) *vowels of the imperfect of stem I *''maṣādir'' (verbal nouns) of stem I *finite
derived stemDerived stems are a morphological feature of verb A verb, from the Latin ''wikt:verbum#Latin, verbum'' meaning ''word'', is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurren ...
verb forms, indicated by Roman numerals Nominal forms then follow according to their length (including those verbal nouns and participles which merit separate listings). This ordering means that forms derived from the same verb stem (i.e. closely related finite verb forms, verbal nouns, and participles) are not always grouped together (as is done in some other Arabic dictionaries). The dictionary does not usually give concrete example forms of finite derived stem verbs, so that the user must refer to the introduction in order to know the pattern associated with each of the stem numbers ("II" through "X") and reconstruct such verb forms based solely on the stem number and the abstract consonantal root.

Transcription and orthography

Transcriptions (for specific details, see
Hans Wehr transliteration The Hans Wehr transliteration system is a system for transliteration Transliteration is a type of conversion of a text from one script Script may refer to: Writing systems * Script, a distinctive writing system, based on a repertoire o ...
) are provided for the past tense of the basic verb form, for the vowel of the imperfect tense, and for all nouns and particles, but they are not provided for verb forms of the derived stems, except for any irregular forms, the rare XI to XV stems, and the quadriliteral roots. The morphology of the derived stems II-X is regular and is given in Wehr's "Introduction". Other
parts of speech In traditional grammar A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer t ...
such as nouns are fully given transcriptions. Foreign words are transliterated according to pronunciation, for which Arab students at the
University of Münster The University of Münster (german: Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, WWU) is a public university, public research university located in the city of Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. With more than 43,000 students and over ...
were consulted.Wehr, XII This means that the sounds , , , , , , , and , which are used in Modern Standard Arabic pronunciation among well-educated and careful speakers, but cannot be easily represented in standard Arabic script (even with full vowel diacritics), can be unambiguously indicated. Examples would be مانجو ''mangō'' 'mango fruit/tree' and كوري ''kōrī'' 'Korean'. As for the Arabic orthography used, word-initial glottal stops or ''
hamza Hamza ( ar, همزة ') () is a letter in the Arabic alphabet The Arabic alphabet ( ar, الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, ' or , ', ), or Arabic abjad, is the as it is codified for writing . It is written from ...
'' (i.e. the vs. vs. distinction) are not written either in the Arabic of the entries or in the transliteration. For example, (transliterated ''akala'', "to eat", from the root ''ʼ k l''), which has an initial ''hamzat al-qaṭʽ'', and (''ibn'' "son", from the root ''b-n''), which does not have an initial ''hamzat al-qaṭʽ'', are both written without a hamza represented in either the Arabic or the transliteration. In transliteration systems such as
DIN 31635 DIN 31635 is a Deutsches Institut für Normung ' (DIN; in English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early mediev ...
, the first would be transliterated as ''ʼakala'', with an apostrophe representing hamza, and the second as ''ibn'', without an apostrophe. Hamzas in the middle and end of words, however, are written, as in ''maʼkal'' "food". Word-final ''yā’'' (''-y'' or ''-ī'') and '' alif maqṣūra'' (''-ā'') are not distinguished in the Arabic: they are both written as , without dots (an
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identi ...

ian custom). They are, however, distinguished in the transliteration: for example, ("to double") and ("bending") are both written as , but the first is transliterated as ''ṯanā'' and the second as ''ṯany''.


Shortly after the publication of the first German version in 1952, the Committee on Language Programs of the American Council of Learned Societies recognized its excellence and sought to publish an English version. The publication of the English edition was financed by the
American Council of Learned Societies The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), founded in 1919, is a private, nonprofit federation of 75 scholarly organizations in the humanities and related social sciences. It is best known for its fellowship competitions which provide a r ...
, the Arabian-American Oil Company, and
Cornell University Cornell University is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly two ...
. The English version of the Wehr dictionary is commonly available in two editions. The so-called 3rd edition was printed by Otto Harrassowitz in
Wiesbaden Wiesbaden () is a city in central western Germany and the capital of the state of Hesse Hesse (, , ) or Hessia (, ; german: Hessen ), officially the State of Hessen (german: links=no, Land Hessen), is a German states, state in Germany. Its ...

, Hesse, in 1961 (reprinted in 1966, 1971) under the title ''A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: Arabic–English'', as well as by Spoken Language Services, Inc. of Ithaca, New York, in 1976, under the somewhat different title ''Arabic–English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Edited by J M. Cowan''. Librairie du Liban in Lebanon has printed it since 1980, and it is widely available in the Middle East (). The 4th edition (pictured above), which is considerably amended and enlarged (1301 pages compared to 1110 in the 3rd edition), was published in 1979. Harrassowitz published an improved English translation of the 4th edition of the Arabic-German dictionary with over 13,000 additional entries, approx. 26,000 words with approx. 20 words per page. It was published in 1994 by Spoken Language Services, Inc. of Ithaca, New York, and is usually available in the United States as a compact "student" paperback (). In 2019, a two-volume version also started being offered. The 5th edition available in German, published by Harrassowitz's publishing house in 1985, also in the city of Wiesbaden, under the title ''Arabisches Wörterbuch für die Schriftsprache der Gegenwart: Arabisch–Deutsch, unter Mitwirkung von Lorenz Kropfitsch neu bearbeitet und erweitert'' (). It has 1452 pages of dictionary entries. The 6th edition in German was published by Harrassowitz in December 2020, which was significantly expanded and comprehensively edited by Lorenz Kropfitsch. This edition was created that only has the basic set of lexemes in common with the previous edition. The Arabist and lexicographer Dr. Lorenz Kropfitsch, who taught Arabic at the FTSK Germersheim for decades, passed away on January 5th, 2020 at the age of 73.

See also

*Classical Arabic *Academy of the Arabic Language (disambiguation), Academy of the Arabic Language *Arabic phonology *Romanization of Arabic *Help:IPA/Arabic *Varieties of Arabic




*Robert Graham Irwin, Irwin, Robert (2006). ''For Lust of Knowing''. London: Allen Lane. *Sa'id, Majed F. (1962)
"Review of ''A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr, J Milton Cowan''"
''Language'' 38 (3): 328-330. (Available online through JSTOR) *Wehr, Hans (1976). "Introduction", in Hans Wehr & J M. Cowan ''Arabic–English Dictionary'', pp. vii–xv. Ithaca, N.Y.: Spoken Language Services. *Haywood, John
Reviewed Work: A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (Arabic-English) by Hans Wehr, J. Milton Cowan
Die Welt Des Islams, vol. 20, no. 3/4, 1980, pp. 246–248. 1961 non-fiction books Arabic dictionaries English bilingual dictionaries Translation dictionaries