Arabic roots دوي/dwy & مرض/mrḍ - Why do they each include opposing concepts?


Senior Member
English - USA
First of all, from what I have seen, both دوي/dwy & مرض/mrḍ originally had to do with "illness, being sick" in Semitic. In Arabic, مرض/mrḍ still maintains this as the primary sense, whereas دوي/dwy maintains it in the (rare?) Form I verb دَوِيَ dawiya "to become sick" and the noun دَوًى dawan "illness, disease". However, in Form II of the مرض/mrḍ root (i.e. مَرَّضَ marraḍa), the verb means both (1) "to make someone sick, ill" as well as (2) "to nurse someone; to treat an illness", while دوي/dwy has become more associated with "treating disease" (more specifically, contrary to Form I of the root, the root's Form III (دَاوَى dāwā) and VI (تَدَاوَى tadāwā) verbs and their derivatives have to do with "treating disease" ~ they don't even maintain a double meaning like Form II of the مرض/mrḍ root that alludes to the original sense of "to be ill"). These senses seem opposite to each other and I am curious to know how this happens (especially in the case of Form II of the مرض/mrḍ root, where both opposing meanings are not just contained in the same root, but in the same word)?
  • rayloom

    Senior Member
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Regarding the 2 opposing meanings of marraḍa, it's a case of auto-antonyms in Arabic. English also has plenty like "I rented the car".
    The wikipedia page on Auto-antonyms lists several linguistic mechanisms which explain this phenomenon.

    In this case it's probably due to the polysemy of several Arabic patterns which can eventually lead to enantiosemy. For example, like the D-stem which can have a causative meaning, hence the "to make ill" meaning. However, the causative stem 'af3ala is more commonly used with mrḍ 'amraḍa to mean "to make ill".
    The L-stem of dwy has a reciprocal meaning which can explain the meaning to treat disease.
    In Arabic we say, لكل داء دواء li-kulli daa2in dawaa2un which means "for every disease (there is) a treatment". You can notice that the words for disease and treatment have the same root dwy.
    The G-stem of the root by3 baa3a for example means to sell, while the reflexive t-form 'ifta3ala 'ibtaa3a means to buy.
    In the case of "rent" in Arabic, we use the same root 2jr but with 2 different verbal patterns 2ajjara and 'ista2jara to convey its two meanings, albeit opposing ones.


    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    A good parallel in English is the verb to itch, which when used transitively can mean either "to cause itchiness" or "to scratch in order to relieve itchiness".