The go to dictionary for Arabic students is without a doubt the Hans Wehr dictionary. There are other dictionaries, however this one is the most useful. A more advanced dictionary for students of classical Arabic is Lane’s dictionary, however it is very large and may be difficult for a beginner. Hans Wehr dictionary is more suited for modern Arabic rather than classical, but there are small variations or usages between the two, to make this an obsolete dictionary for students of Classical Arabic. Hence, I would advise that the complete beginner and intermediate student stick to Hans Wehr dictionary.  

We’ll discuss some of the benefits of the Hans Wehr dictionary and where it shines. Then, we’ll go over some examples of how to find words.

Some of the Benefits of the Hans Wehr dictionary are the following:


Easy to Find Words as it is Trilateral Based

Almost all of the words in the Arabic language fall under trilateral letters, i.e. under a combination of certain three letters from which many words and verb forms can be derived and constructed. For example, look at the following entry: 

One important concept is the positioning of the trilateral letters. For example take the verb فَعَلَ (he did). The first letter is called the fa al-kalimah (fa letter), ‘ayn al-kalimah (‘ayn letter), lam al-kalimah (lam latter). Now, take another word like سَمِعَ (he heard), the fa al-kalimah is س, the ‘ayn al-kalimah is م, the lam al-kalimah is ع.

For the prototypical verb, فَعَلَ:

لَ عَ فَ
لام الكلمة عين الكلمة فاء الكلمة

For the verb, سَمِعَ:

ََع ِم َس
عين الكلمة عين الكلمة فاء الكلمة

Contextual Meanings with Preposition Usage

Hans Wehr provides the common prepositions that appear with words. This is important, because certain prepositions combined with verbs can change the meaning. Examples of prepositions in arabic are the following:

ل , ب , الى , مع,  في

For example, look at the meaning as it changes with prepositions:

He went to ذهب الى
He went with ذهب ب
He left (something) ذهب عن


Verb Types

Arabic has a number of different verb forms, traditionally they are differentiated by the verbal noun (المصدر). In Hans Wehr, the verb forms are differentiated by roman numerals. Below is a chart with the roman numerals. This will be helpful to figure out, what the verb looks like the roman numeral is listed in Hans Wehr. Refer back to this chart when you look up words. 


Verbal Noun


Present Tense


Past Tense

Roman Numeral

Default يَفْعلُ فَعَلَ I
تَفْعِيل يُفَعِّلُ فَعَّلَ II
مُفاعَلَة يُفاعِلُ فاعَلَ III
إفْعال يُفْعِلُ أفْعَلَ IV
تَفَعُّل يَتَفَعَّلُ تَفَعَّلَ V
تَفاعُل يَتَفاعَلُ تَفاعَلَ VI
اِنْفِعال يَنْفَعِلُ اِنْفَعَلَ VII
اِفْتِعال يَفْتَعِلُ اِفْتَعَلَ VIII
اِفْعِلال يَفْعَلُّ اِفْعَلَّ IX
اِسْتِفْعال يَسْتَفْعِلُ اِسْتَفْعَلَ X


Following are examples of words under the root of ك + ت + ب.

Example 1

He wrote كَتَبَ

This is a simple one, this is a past tense verb, so you would break it down into the letters ك + ت + ب.

Example 2

Book كِتَابٌ

This word would fall under the same root: ك + ت + ب as a noun. The alif is not part of the root.

Example 3

Written مَكْتُوْب

This is the passive participle ism-maf’ul of َكَتَب, so it would also fall under ك + ت  + ب. The ism-maf’ul has an extra waw after the ayn al-kalimah.


Now that we’ve covered an overview of the Hans Wehr dictionary, including it’s qualities and a few examples on how to find the exact word you’re looking for, you should be ready to look up words.

Remember, in order to be able to successfully find words, you need to have a decent amount of knowledge on Arabic Morphology. I would recommend that you look at Arabics Treasure Morphology to get the sufficient knowledge of Arabic Morphology.

One tip that I use when I look up words is that I underline them, so that I know that I’ve looked up this word before. Having the physical book is important, however you can use this online resource as well, which I use all the time.

Let us know down below if you face any problems looking up words and if there is another dictionary you find more useful, and why.


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!