By Aarij A (Cross-posted from the True & Good Words blog)
For students of Arabic, there are a lot of wonderful dictionaries and resources available online and in-print. However, the wrong dictionary at certain stages of learning could lead to a lot of frustration, unnecessary expenditure of time and even ultimately a loss of motivation to study Arabic.
Thus, here is a list of dictionaries and resources in English that students of Qur’an and Arabic can use in their studies. For each resource, the following aspects are expanded upon:
- where is it available from,
- what are some of its main features (not exhaustive by any means),
- some pros and cons,
- a personal review (if applicable), and
- a final verdict.
The pros and cons, personal review and final verdict should help a student decide which dictionary is appropriate for them, insha Allah. The resources are categorized in two ways:
- Arabic-English/English-Arabic dictionaries and resources,
- Qur’an-Exclusive dictionaries and resources.
This categorization should further help a student decide which resource is most suited for their educational needs. The list is in no particular order. At the end of the article, there is a small concluding note as well, insha Allah.
Reading Time: 20-30 minutes.
Intended Audience: Students/Budding students of Qur’an and Arabic, preferably those with a little background.
Arabic-English/English-Arabic Dictionaries and Resources
The Mawrid has words that are arranged alphabetically, instead of by root words (which is more traditional). Moreover, unlike many Arabic-English dictionaries, the Mawrid also offers a synonym in Arabic for each Arabic word. The Mawrid, unlike most dictionaries, comes in print, in a software package and in a very handy electronic device that is easy to carry around.
The Mawrid comes in two types: Arabic-English only and in Arabic-English/English-Arabic, which makes it supremely useful for a student who is learning how to speak and write in Arabic.
1) Ease of Usage. It requires very basic knowledge of grammar to benefit from it. For example, for Arabic verbs, if you don’t know the root of the verb or you don’t know the form of the verb, you can still utilize this dictionary as long as you can figure out the past tense of the verb. So there is some basic grammar required, but not a lot.
2) Arabic Synonyms. These help a student quickly build up a very strong vocabulary.
3) Electronic Version. Easily one of the most useful tools for a student of the language. The time to search words is drastically reduced when using the electronic version, which makes reading Arabic texts much easier and faster.
1) Missing Information. The Mawrid does not provide the masdar of a verb, the forms of the verbs, the present tense of 3-letter verbs and the plural of nouns.
I have used the Mawrid extensively and have found it to be one of the best dictionaries. It helped me increase my vocabulary, helped save my time when I was looking up words quickly and it explained many words beautifully and concisely.
Essential for beginners, excellent for intermediate students but not too much value for advanced students/researchers. A dictionary that should be in every one’s library.
Hans Wehr arranges its entries by root word, giving many applicable meanings, commonly used phrases, usage of verbs with prepositions, how verbs effect the objects (مفعول به) (if applicable) and how the meaning changes with different forms of a verb (numbered II-X). Moreover, it provides the meanings of the masadir of verbs, meanings of many of the derivatives from verbs (المشتقات) and also the present tense of 3-letter verbs. All of these are done in a code that is explained in the preface of the dictionary. Furthermore, Hans Wehr provides a transliteration for most words which helps in pronunciation.
The Hans-Wehr does not come in English-Arabic, only in Arabic-English.
1) Thoroughness. The dictionary is very thorough and comprehensive, providing a wide range of meanings, usages, associated phrases in a very succinct manner.
2) Completeness. You can find relatively complete information about the basics of a verb (present, masdar, different forms, usages) and plurals for nouns. This makes it very beneficial for anyone who delves deeper into the language for studying the Qur’an or the ahadith.
1) Difficult Usage. Hans Wehr requires some intermediate knowledge of grammar to fully benefit and utilize it. Thus, it can be intimidating and time-consuming for beginners who do not have too much mastery over grammar.
2) Notation. There is a lot of notation in the dictionary that takes a lot of time and reading of the preface to get used to. This is another hurdle for the beginner, but once you get used to it, the notation is very useful.
I have used the Hans Wehr a lot and still use it as my first reference whenever I research a word. It is not something to use when you want to quickly look up a word, rather Hans Wehr is useful when you have some time to read the entire entry concerning the word, its usages, phrases, etc.
A little background in grammar is necessary to fully benefit from this work. A challenging book for beginners, essential for intermediate and advanced students. Another dictionary that should be in every one’s library, in my opinion.
Available online at: http://dictionary.sakhr.com/
Very similar to the Mawrid, but completely online. Sakhr allows words to be searched alphabetically (as well as by root words). Like the Mawrid, it offers an Arabic synonym for each word. Also like the Mawrid, there is an English-Arabic version available online as well. Unlike the Mawrid, it distributes the search results by verb, noun, verbal noun (masdar), etc. which makes it very helpful.
1) Ease of Usage. Exactly like the Mawrid, basic grammar knowledge is required to benefit from this resource. For example, as long as you can find the past tense of a verb, you can search for it.
2) Arabic Synonyms.
1) Poor Translations. Unlike the Mawrid, the English translations are sometimes confusing and inaccurate.
2) Missing Information. Like the Mawrid, the masdar of a verb, the forms of the verbs, the present tense of 3-letter verbs and the plural of nouns is not provided with each entry.
I have used Sakhr for quickly looking up words until I installed VerbAce (see below). It is still my go-to resource to look up words quickly when I don’t have VerbAce available. I have found it to be extremely useful and easy, despite its shortcomings.
Excellent resource for beginners and intermediate students. A worthy bookmark.
VerbAce Pro is a dictionary which comes as a computer software (i.e it has to be installed on your computer) that provides Arabic-English/English-Arabic translations. It enables searching by root words, searching by whole words, searching by verbs in their present/command tense and provides exact matches and partial matches.
The exact matches for verbs include basic information like form, present tense (in notation) for 3-letter verbs, synonyms in Arabic and usage with different prepositions. The nouns are provided with the plurals as well. The search results are nicely separated by verb/noun.
A very impressive feature is a hover-over translation for Arabic and English words, which makes reading Arabic articles incredibly easy and fun.
1) Ease of Usage. Very easy and intuitive to use. The amount of knowledge of grammar you need to fully benefit from VerbAce is roughly equivalent to the amount you need for the Mawrid. However, since you can search verbs in their different tenses and many times with attached pronouns, VerbAce benefits those beginners who cannot benefit from Sakhr and the Mawrid yet. Moreover, the hover-over translation is absolutely incredible.
2) Arabic Synonyms. Helps build up the vocabulary.
3) Completeness. Unlike the Mawrid and Sakhr, VerbAce provides much more complete information about verbs and nouns. It also provides commonly used phrases (mostly contemporary) which clarify the meanings further.
4) Accuracy. The search engine of VerbAce is far superior than Sakhr or that of the electronic Mawrid. It returns results faster and much more accurately.
5) Speed. The results are displayed very speedily, yet accurately.
1) Masdar. The VerbAce does not, sadly, give the masdar for verbs.
2) Typing in Arabic. VerbAce comes with a built-in keyboard so this should not be too much of a problem.
3) License. The software is licensed and the trial is for 14-days only.
I installed VerbAce recently and I have found it to be supremely useful. Since its install, I have stopped using the Mawrid and Sakhr, which were two resources I used extensively in the past. VerbAce, in my opinion, is a very complete package and offers quality at a fast speed.
Essential for beginners and intermediates, useful for advanced students (due to its speed and accuracy). The hover-over translate sets it apart from all online dictionaries. A must have for all students.
Google Translate and Dictionary
A very simple interface for English-Arabic/Arabic-English translations. It is surprisingly accurate and amazingly fast. Some of the words are listed in the dictionary, which is useful on occasion. The Arabic words can be typed in transliteration, which is quite impressive.
1) Speed. It is amazingly fast and the interface is very sleek.
2) Ease of Usage. There is literally no knowledge of grammar required to use this tool making it supremely easy. This, naturally, limits the benefit.
1) Inaccurate. Words are still inaccurately translated (even though Google keeps improving the tool).
2) Limited Information. The translation is a very basic translation with no grammatical explanations (exception being some entries in the dictionary, and even these are basic).
Google Translate is surprisingly good. It’s not a bad idea to use it in conjunction with Sakhr. I was recently reading an article about making tayyammum (wudu without water) and the Shaikh mentioned a word that I could not find on VerbAce or Sakhr. The word? بوية (Paint)! So Google Translate has its uses, even though they are limited.
Handy resource for beginners when used in conjunction with Sakhr/VerbAce. Too limited for intermediate or advanced students.
Arabic-English Lexicon (Lane)
The granddaddy of all Arabic-English dictionaries, a short introduction for the dictionary is presented:
The most scholarly dictionary of the Arabic language available. This work is the product of over thirty years of unrelenting labour. It is a work of such unique greatness that, since its first appearance almost 150 years ago, it has remained to this day supreme in the field of Arabic lexicography. No scholar or group of scholars has produced anything to supplant it. As it originally appeared and was later reproduced, the Lexicon consisted of eight large, cumbersome volumes, which made it difficult to use. Now, for the first time, the Islamic Texts Society has, with no loss whatsoever of clarity or legibility, brought together the eight large volumes into two compact volumes; it is now possible to keep the Lexicon on the work desk and refer to it with ease.
To get a glimpse at the detail that this work provides, take a glimpse at this page.
1) Thoroughness. The dictionary covers a huge amount of details that cannot be matched by other dictionaries in English.
2) Completeness. Not only does it provide the necessary Sarf-related elements, it also provides references to other dictionaries.
1) Extremely advanced. It is certainly not meant for beginners.
2) Humongous. The dictionary comes in 8 huge volumes. Not something that you can’t travel with.
3) Notation. The notation used in this dictionary is like calculus. It is extremely involved and verbose.
N/A. I have not used this dictionary for any work, but I have glanced through it. The main reason for that is the notation that has put me off. Nevertheless, I hope to utilize it in the future since it is a gem.
A treasure for the advanced students.
Glossary of Madinah Books
This is a complete glossary of the famous books of Arabic instruction (Durûs al-Lughaħ al-‘Arabiyya ħ li-Ghair al-Nâtiqîna Bihâ) popularly known as the Madinah Books. The glossary is very similar to Hans Wehr in organization and presentation, except it is much smaller and only comprises of the words in the Madinah books. Thus, it is a stepping stone to Hans Wehr and other advanced dictionaries for the students who study the Madinah books curriculum.
1) Ease of Usage. The glossary is fairly straightforward to use for a student of the Madinah books, despite being similar in organization to Hans Wehr.
2) (Relative) Completeness. The glossary only contains the words used in the books, and for those words, the complete Sarf-related elements are presented using a similar notation to Hans Wehr. The notation is introduced in layman’s terms in the preface by the author.
3) Additional Examples. The glossary gives additional examples and usages of words that are not in the books, strenghtening the understanding of the student.
1) Limited. Only limited to the Madinah books.
I used this glossary when I studying the curriculum and found it to be an essential companion, especially in later parts of book 2 and all of book 3.
A must-have for students of the Madinah books. A perfect first-step before taking on more advanced dictionaries like Hans Wehr.
Qur’an-Exclusive Dictionaries and Resources
Project Root List
Completely online, courtesy StudyQuran. Just click on a letter (at the very top) to begin.
This project aims to organize all the words in the Qur’an by their root letters. For each root word, the meanings, the occurrences in the Qur’an and grammatical notes about derivatives from the root word are mentioned. Each entry has a link to Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon for more details. Moreover, each entry is click-able and all occurrences in the Qur’an containing the root word are subsequently displayed.
1) Examples. Examples of occurrences in the Qur’an are mentioned, which makes it very useful for referencing.
2) Organized. The organization of this resource makes it very easy to research usages of words and their meanings in the Qur’an.
3) Link to Lane. Since each entry has a link to Lane’s Lexicon, it is a great time-saver. Rather than going through pages after pages in Lane’s to find the desired word, only the necessary pages can be browsed through quickly.
1) Incomplete. The project is still not complete yet. There are volunteers working on the completion of the project.
2) Inconsistent. Since the project is a collaboration by a bunch of volunteers, it is inconsistent in its formatting on occasion. However, it still is very usable.
The project is a great resource for students of the Qur’an. The organization by root words, the examples of usage in the Qur’an and some explanatory notes make it a very useful resource. It’s a pretty good idea to just read the dictionary because you end up learning a lot about words you thought you knew.
A little advanced for beginners, but a great resource for intermediate and advanced students.
Vocabulary of the Holy Qur’an (Dr. Nadwi)
For purchase from Islamic Bookstore. If someone has a PDF or online version, please add it to the comments.
This is a dictionary of all the words of the Qur’an. The organization is by root words. If the word is a noun, its occurrence in the Qur’an and its plural is mentioned (most of the time). If the word is a verb, then only its Qur’anic usages are mentioned and explained, along with the basic tasreef (grammatical distribution) of the verb and examples from Qur’an. Since the author (Dr Nadwi) is a scholar of the Shariah, there are some notes on tafsir as well that are very intriguing.
At the end of the book, there is an index of root words that help a beginner in identifying the root words.
1) Focused. The dictionary is concise, to the point and very succinct. Moreover, it is focused on usages of words in Qur’an and not their general usage, which makes it perfect for those beginning their studies in Qur’an and an useful reference for more advanced students.
2) Explanations. The grammatical explanations are very helpful and small tafsir notes greatly help in understanding.
1) Basic. Due to its intended audience, there is a lack of depth in explanation of difficult words.
This was the first dictionary I ever used and I greatly benefited from it. Despite knowing almost no grammar, I benefited immensely from the dictionary and the explanations. I like this dictionary so much that I included it in the list despite not having an online copy available (unlike all the other entries in this article).
A must-have, essential resource for beginners, a useful resource for intermediate and advanced students.
Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an
The dictionary is organized traditionally and detailed explanations of each word and its derivatives is given. For verbs, the basic grammatical distribution is given. In addition, a fabulous comparison between similar words and their usages is provided, along with examples from the Qur’an.
1) Deep and Concise. The dictionary is concise, yet very deep in its analysis. The comparisons between words and the examples of usages from the Qur’an are very profound.
2) Notation. The notation used in the dictionary is very intuitive, clear and non-confusing.
3) Straightforward. The English used in this dictionary is very easy and straightforward.
1) Ahmadi. This book is written by an Ahmadi scholar. The Ahmadi’s are by consensus not Muslims, so tread with caution. Nonetheless, it is an excellent resource on the Qur’an.
N/A. I have not used this dictionary. It was recommended to me recently and I read portions of it for the purpose of including it in the article. Insha Allah, I hope to utilize it in the future.
A great resource for all types of students. The beginners can benefit from its simple, straightforward style. The more advanced students can benefit from the word analysis, word comparisons and examples from the Qur’an.
This list is not exhaustive by any means. There are other resources available that have not been included either due to the unfamiliarity of the author or unavailability online. If you are familiar with any other useful resource online, please contribute it in the comments below, insha Allah.
Moreover, for advancing one’s understanding, a student must use Arabic-Arabic dictionaries as well. The Arabic-Arabic dictionaries are an ocean that require a lot of time to get used to. A superb resource for Arabic-Arabic dictionaries online is Al-Baheth Al-Arabiy.
Lastly, A question often asked is, “What is the best dictionary to use when studying fiqh?” The answer to this is that many Islamic sciences have specialized terms that aren’t generally mentioned in dictionaries.
For example, the word انحراف (inhiraaf) means declination, deviation, skewness, inclination, skew. However, in tajweed, it is a characteristic of certain letters. So, often a dictionary does not provide a suitable definition to terms that are specific for Islamic sciences.
Thus, a student must either: 1) ask a qualified person in that science for an explanation, or 2) refer to an advanced Arabic-Arabic dictionary like Lisaanul Arab, where Islamic science-specific words are often explained. WAllahu alam (and Allah knows best).