Hans Wehr is my favorite Arabic-English dictionary to use. Some find it difficult to use, but with practice using it, it is very powerful (in my opinion).
I wanted to share some tips that made its usage easy for me.
Before I get into my tips, I thought this post on learning Arabic on your own had a neat paragraph on Hans Wehr as well as learning Arabic in general.
A little background (real little)
Hans Wehr is arranged alphabetically by roots instead of the words themselves (If you want words arranged alphabetically,you might try the Mawrid dictionary). I think this arrangement of Hans Wehr as opposed to an alphabetical arrangement by words helped me get a better feel for the Arabic language then if I just looked up the words alphabetically.
Looking Up Words
1. Look up by the roots:
So you have come across an Arabic a word that you don’t know the meaning of. To look it up in Hans Wehr, you need to determine the root of the word. Most often, this consists of three root letters but can sometimes be four.
(Side note: One thing that I did in the past was to read the Hans Wehr from cover to cover completely, two times. As I read through it, I jotted down roots that I thought would be useful and used a lot). I think that really helped me get acquainted with the dictionary. I tell my kids I did a “Malcolm X.” He read through the English dictionary completely. Its time consuming, but you can do it in little parts, a page here and there and I think it really helps).
Back on track…. it may seem difficult to pick out the roots but it gets easier with practice, insha Allah. One tip I have is that if you see a meem in the word, cover it up and see what you have left. If you can find three root letters (or two, the latter with a shaddah), try those to look up. A lot of the time, meem is used to make derivative words. If you can’t find three root letters, then the meem is probably one of the roots. This saves me a LOT of time.
2. If looking up verbs, don’t automatically take the first one listed. In Arabic you have the root verb and then you have other verbs based upon that (usually three letter) root. In Hans Wehr, the forms after form I are given by Roman numerals. I used to make the mistake of taking the first one because I didn’t understand about the other forms. Insha Allah, I’ll post later listing the main verb forms that you will find in Hans Wehr, what they look like. Until you learn the forms you will probably want to have a handy chart of them handy. There are printables with the verb forms shown from www.fatwa-online.com under downloads,http://www.fatwa-online.com/downloads/dow002/0030502.zip
You’ll probably want to also check out the other Arabic resoures on that page that that download is on: http://www.fatwa-online.com/downloads/dow002/index.htm if you haven’t already.
3. When looking up a verb, see if there are any harf such as fee, ilaa, ‘alaa, min, etc behind it. Depending upon the harf behind it, if any, the meaning can be different. For example, thaal, haa, baa (thahaba) can mean “to go” but if you put a harf such as ilaa it can mean “to slip the mind.” So look for any harf behind it (though they might not be directly behind) as well as use context clues.
4. Is the word a verb or noun (fi’l or ism)?
-Nouns can be preceded by the article (al)
-Nouns come after “harfs” such as ilaa, min, etc.
-Verbs (mudaari’-present tense) have subject markers (harf ul mudaari) in front telling you who/what is performing the action (the letter yaa, or taa, or alif, or noon. Maadi verbs (past tense) have subject markers after (such as taa with a dammah, noon-alif, etc).
Being able to pick these out can help you find the root letters more quickly, insha Allah.
How the Hans Wehr entries are arranged.
After the root (listed in Arabic), you will find the transliterated version of the word. After that, you will see an “a”, “i”, or “u” by itself. This tells you what goes on the second root in conjugation. Example; under kaa-taa-baa, you will see a “u” this tells you that for the third person, masculine, you will get: yaktUbu for he is writing.
After that, you will find the masdar (verbal noun) for that form I verb. After usually long definitions, youl will find other words listed which contain the root, but with other letters. These are derivatives such as the as the masdar, fa’il, etc.