Arabic has a unique system of flexibility where root letters can be inserted into different patterns to convey varying aspects of meaning. For example, the root letters ن ز ل, when inserted into a specific pattern, generate the word نَزّلَ which means to send something down over time, but when used in a different patten, without the shadda, generate the word نَزَلَ, which means to send something all at once.
This nuance in meaning is conveyed by the differing patterns or “families” that these words are placed into. Each of these “families” is made up of set members, or forms, utilized for different purposes. For example, each family has a dedicated form for each past tense, present tense, and negation.
Arabic has a specific rhetorical device for emphasis which is based on this concept of members and families. This device pairs the past tense form with the idea form of a word in order to add intensity. The idea form of a word is a noun which conveys the concept of performing an action and isn’t bound by a tense like a verb. For example, the word “sprinting” conveys the idea of running or moving fast.
“I scolded him a scolding” is an example of this device which pairs the idea of scolding, with the past tense, scolded. Although it may sound awkward in English, it produces emphatic meaning in Arabic.
This device can only be used, however, when both the past tense and idea version of the word originate from the same family. Referring back to the earlier example, the family which contains the past tense form, نَزّلَ, necessitates that the idea form be ًتَنزيل. Each past tense form from a specific family must be used with a corresponding idea form from the same family.
The Qur’an, however, intentionally breaks this rule in order to convey beautiful and profound meaning. In Surah Nuh Allah says:
وَاللَّهُ أَنْبَتَكُمْ مِنَ الْأَرْضِ نَبَاتًا
Allah has caused you to grow as a growth from the earth
This ayah is an example of the rhetorical tool we described. Looking at a rough English translation we can extrapolate that this ayah refers to Allah’s role in initiating and nurturing human growth, given that he causes all things. Interestingly, however, the past tense, َانبَت, and the idea version, نَبَاتً, are from different families, a contradiction to the grammatical rule we mentioned mandating that their families must match. In this case, the reader would expect اَنبَت to be paired with َاِنبَات. Why isn’t that the case here?
As we stated earlier, differing pattens or families that root letters are placed in to implicate subtleties in meaning. In this case, the past tense, اَنبَت, suggests someone actually growing something or causing it to grow. This correlates with Allah’s control and power over our organ systems, his provision of our sustenance, and his maintenance of an environment that allows us to physically grow.
The idea version of this verb here, نَبَاتً ,however, follows a pattern or family which implicates unprovoked or autonomous growth.
So what does this abnormal pairing of families indicate? What is the purpose behind it?
Here, the pairing of the two forms indicates a dual responsibility for human growth. Allah causes us to physically grow and provides us with the opportunities to grow spiritually through guidance. On the other hand, we are responsible for fostering our personal growth by making our best efforts in character development, and by appreciating, accepting, and putting to use the guidance that Allah grants us.
Through the unconventional pairing of these patterns, Allah underscores our personal responsibility in the own growth process. Someone could be given the best environment, but still turn out as a disappointment because of failure on their end, and that’s why, نَبَاتً, individual growth, is crucial alongside the guided growth of Allah, اِنبَات.
We ask Allah to allow us to fulfill our responsibility for personal growth and development and to continue to nourish us with his love and guidance. Ameen.