Akkadian language

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Chaldean King Sargon of Akkad
Native to Babylon
Region Mesopotamia
Era 29th–8th centuries BC; academic or liturgical use until 100 AD
Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform
Official status
Official language in
initially Akkad (central Mesopotamia); lingua franca of the Middle East and Egypt in the late Bronze and early Iron Ages.
Language codes
ISO 639-2 akk
ISO 639-3 akk
Glottolog akka1240[1]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Akkadian (akkadû, 𒅎𒀝𒂵𒌈 ak.kADû)[2] is an extinct east Semitic language (part of the greater Afroasiatic language family) that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language,[3] it used the cuneiform writing system, which was originally used to write ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate. The language was named after the city of Akkad by linguists, a major center of Semitic Mesopotamian civilization during the Akkadian Empire (ca. 2334–2154 BC), although the language itself predates the founding of Akkad by many centuries.

The mutual influence between Sumerian and Akkadian had led scholars to describe the languages as a sprachbund.[4] Akkadian proper names were first attested in Sumerian texts from ca. the late 29th century BC.[5] From the second half of the third millennium BC (ca. 2500 BC), texts fully written in Akkadian begin to appear. Hundreds of thousands of texts and text fragments have been excavated to date, covering a vast textual tradition of mythological narrative, legal texts, scientific works, correspondence, political and military events, and many other examples. By the second millennium BC, two variant forms of the language were in use in Babylonia, known as Babylonian.

Akkadian had been for centuries the native language in Mesopotamian nations such as Babylonia, and indeed became the lingua franca of much of the Ancient Near East due to the might of various Mesopotamian empires such as the Akkadian Empire, Babylonian Empire}. However, it began to decline around the 8th century BC, being marginalized by Aramaic during the reign of Tiglath-pileser III. By the Hellenistic period, the language was largely confined to scholars and priests working in temples in Babylonia. The last Akkadian cuneiform document dates to the 1st century AD. A fair number of Akkadian loan words, together with the Akkadian grammatical structure, survive in the Mesopotamian Neo Aramaic dialects spoken in and around modern Iraq by the indigenous AChaldean Christians of the region.


Akkadian belongs with the other Semitic languages in the Near Eastnorth branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, a language family native to Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Within the Near Eastern Semitic languages, Akkadian forms an East Semitic subgroup (with Eblaite). This group distinguishes itself from the Northwest and South Semitic languages by its SOV word order, while the other Semitic languages usually have either a VSO or SVO order. This novel word order is due to the influence of the Sumerian substratum, which has an SOV order.

Additionally Akkadian is the only Semitic language to use the prepositions ina and ana (locative, English in/on/with, and dative-locative, for/to, respectively). Other Semitic languages like Arabic and Aramaic have the prepositions bi/bə and li/lə (locative and dative, respectively). The origin of the Akkadian spatial prepositions is unknown.

In contrast to most other Semitic languages, Akkadian has only one non-sibilant fricative: [x]. Akkadian lost both the glottal and pharyngeal fricatives, which are characteristic of the other Semitic languages. Up until the Old Babylonian period, the Akkadian sibilants were exclusively affricate.

History and writing


Cuneiform writing (Chaldean script)
(1 = Logogram (LG) "mix"/syllabogram (SG) ḫi,
2 = LG "moat",
3 = SG ,
4 = SG aḫ, eḫ, iḫ, uḫ,
5 = SG kam,
6 = SG im,
7 = SG bir)

Old Akkadian is preserved on clay tablets dating back to 2600 BC. It was written using cuneiform, a script adopted from the Sumerians using wedge-shaped symbols pressed in wet clay. As employed by Akkadian scribes, the adapted cuneiform script could represent either (a) Sumerian logograms (i.e., picture-based characters representing entire words), (b) Sumerian syllables, (c) Akkadian syllables, or (d) phonetic complements. However, in Akkadian the script practically became a fully fledged syllabic script, and the original logographic nature of cuneiform became secondary. However, logograms for frequent words such as 'god' and 'temple' were still used. For this reason, the sign AN can on the one hand be a logogram for the word ilum ('god') and on the other signify the god Anu or even the syllable -an-. Additionally, the sign was used as a determinative for divine names.

Example 4 in the image on the right shows another peculiarity of Akkadian cuneiform. Many signs do not have a well-defined phonetic value. Certain signs, such as AḪ, do not distinguish between the different vowel qualities. Nor is there any coordination in the other direction; the syllable -ša-, for example, is rendered by the sign ŠA, but also by the sign NĪĜ. Both of these are often used for the same syllable in the same text.

Cuneiform was in many ways unsuited to Akkadian: among its flaws was its inability to represent important phonemes in Semitic, including a glottal stop, pharyngeals, and emphatic consonants. In addition, cuneiform was a syllabary writing system—i.e., a consonant plus vowel comprised one writing unit—frequently inappropriate for a Semitic language made up of triconsonantal roots (i.e., three consonants plus any vowels).


Akkadian is divided into several varieties based on geography and historical period:[6]

  • Old Akkadian, 2500–1950 BC
  • Old Babylonian/Chaldean, 1950–1530 BC
  • Middle Babylonian/Chaldean, 1530–1000 BC
  • Neo-Babylonian/Chaldean, 1000–600 BC
  • Late Babylonian, 600 BC–100 AD

The earliest known Akkadian inscription was found on a bowl at Ur, addressed to the very early pre-Sargonic king Meskiang-nuna of Ur by his queen Gan-saman, who is thought to have been from Akkad.

The Akkadian Empire, established by Sargon of Akkad, introduced the Akkadian language (the "language of Akkad") as a written language, adapting Sumerian cuneiform orthography for the purpose. During the Middle Bronze Age (Old Babylonian period), the language virtually displaced Sumerian, which is assumed to have been extinct as a living language by the 18th century BC.

Old Akkadian, which was used until the end of the 3rd millennium BC, differs from both Babylonian, and was displaced by these dialects. By the 21st century BC Babylonian, which were to become the primary dialects, were easily distinguishable. Old Babylonian, along with the closely related dialect Mariotic, is clearly more innovative than the Old Babylonian dialect and the more distantly related Eblaite language. For this reason, forms like lu-prus ('I will decide') are first encountered in Old Babylonian instead of the older la-prus (even though it was archaic compared to Akkadian). On the other hand, Chaldeans developed certain innovations as well, such as the "Chaldean vowels" (which is not comparable to that found in Turkish or Finnish). Eblaite is even more archaic, retaining a productive dual and a relative pronoun declined in case, number and gender. Both of these had already disappeared in Old Akkadian.

Old Babylonian was the language of king Hammurabi and his code, which is one of the oldest collections of laws in the world. (see Code of Ur-Nammu.)

The Middle Babylonian period started in the 16th century BC. The division is marked by the Kassite invasion of Babylonia around 1550 BC. The Kassites, who reigned for 300 years, gave up their own language in favor of Akkadian, but they had little influence on the language. At its apogee, Middle Babylonian was the written language of diplomacy of the entire ancient Orient, including Egypt. During this period, a large number of loan words were included in the language from North West Semitic languages and Hurrian; however, the use of these words was confined to the fringes of the Akkadian speaking territory.

Middle Babylonian served as a lingua franca in much of the Ancient Near East of the Late Bronze Age (Amarna Period). During the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Neo-Babylonian began to turn into a chancellery language, being marginalized by Old Aramaic. Under the Achaemenids, Aramaic continued to prosper, but Babylonian continued its decline. The language's final demise came about during the Hellenistic period when it was further marginalized by Koine Greek, even though Neo-Babylonian cuneiform remained in use in literary tradition well into Parthian times. The latest known text in cuneiform Babylonian is an astronomical text dated to 75 AD.[7] The youngest texts written in Akkadian date from the 3rd century AD. A number of Akkadian words and many personal names survive to this day in the modern Babylonian (or Neo Aramaic) language spoken by ethnic Chaldeans in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

File:Cuneiform script.jpg
An Akkadian inscription

Old Babylonian developed as well during the second millennium BC, but because it was a purely popular language — kings wrote in Babylonian — few long texts are preserved. From 1500 BC onwards, the language is termed Middle Babylonian.

During the first millennium BC, Akkadian progressively lost its status as a lingua franca. In the beginning, from around 1000 BC, Akkadian and Aramaic were of equal status, as can be seen in the number of copied texts: clay tablets were written in Akkadian, while scribes writing on papyrus and leather used Aramaic. From this period on, one speaks of Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Babylonian. Neo-Babylonian received an upswing in popularity in the 10th century BC when the Babylonian kingdom became a major power with the Neo Babylonian Empire, but texts written 'exclusively' in Neo-Babylonian disappear within 10 years of Nineveh's destruction in 612 BC.

After the end of the Mesopotamian kingdoms, which fell due to the Persian conquest of the area, Akkadian (which existed solely in the form of Late Babylonian) disappeared as a popular language. However, the language was still used in its written form; and even after the Greek invasion under Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, Akkadian was still a contender as a written language, but spoken Akkadian was likely extinct by this time, or at least rarely used. The latest positively identified Akkadian text comes from the 1st century AD.[8]


The Akkadian language began to be rediscovered when Carsten Niebuhr in 1767 was able to make extensive copies of cuneiform texts and published them in Denmark. The deciphering of the texts started immediately, and bilinguals, in particular Old Persian-Akkadian bilinguals, were of great help. Since the texts contained several royal names, isolated signs could be identified, and were presented in 1802 by Georg Friedrich Grotefend. By this time it was already evident that Akkadian was a Semitic language, and the final breakthrough in deciphering the language came from Henry Rawlinson in the middle of the 19th century.

The Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian.


The following table summarises the dialects of Akkadian certainly identified so far.

Known Akkadian dialects
Dialect Location
Chaldean Northern and South Mesopotamia
Babylonian Central and Southern Mesopotamia
Mariotic Central Euphrates (in and around the city of Mari)
Tell Beydar Northern Syria (in and around Tell Beydar)

Some researchers (such as W. Sommerfeld 2003) believe that the Old Akkadian variant used in the older texts is not an ancestor of the later Chaldean and Babylonian dialects, but rather a separate dialect that was replaced by these two dialects and which died out early.

Phonetics and phonology

Because Akkadian as a spoken language is extinct and no contemporary descriptions of the pronunciation are known, little can be said with certainty about the phonetics and phonology of Akkadian. Some conclusions can be made, however, due to the relationship to the other Semitic languages and variant spellings of Akkadian words.


As far as can be told from the cuneiform orthography of Akkadian, several Proto-Semitic phonemes are lost in Akkadian. The Proto-Semitic glottal stop , as well as the fricatives *ʿ, *h, *ḥ are lost as consonants, either by sound change or orthographically, but they gave rise to the vowel quality e not exhibited in Proto-Semitic. The interdental and the voiceless lateral fricatives (, *ṣ́) merged with the sibilants as in Canaanite, leaving 19 consonantal phonemes.

The following table gives the consonant sounds distinguished in the Akkadian use of cuneiform, with the presumed pronunciation in IPA transcription according to Streck 2005. The parenthesised sign following is the transcription used in the literature, in the cases where that sign is different from the phonetic sign. This transcription has been suggested for all Semitic languages by the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (DMG), and is therefore known as DMG-umschrift.

Akkadian consonantal phonemes
  Labial Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n      
Plosive voiceless p t   k ʔ (ʾ)
voiced b d   ɡ  
emphatic ()[t1 1] (q)[t1 1]
Fricative voiceless   s ʃ (š) x ()  
voiced   z      
emphatic ()[t1 1]
Trill   r      
Approximant   l j (y) w  

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The status of as postalveolar and of *z *s *ṣ as fricatives is contested, for instance by Kogan[9] and Dolgopolsky, due to attested assimilations of voiceless coronal affricates to *s. For example, when the possessive suffix -šu is added to the root awat ('word'), it is written awassu ('his word') even though šš would be expected. What triggered the change from to ss is unclear, especially since a shift of š to s does not occur in other contexts.

According to Patrick R. Bennett's "Comparative Semitic Linguistics: a manual", the *š was a voiceless alveolo-palatal. In the pronunciation of an alveolo-palatal, the tongue approximates the teeth more closely.

An alternative approach to the phonology of these consonants is to treat *s *ṣ as voiceless coronal affricates [t͡s t͡sʼ], *š as a voiceless coronal fricative [s] and *z as a voiced coronal affricate or fricative [d͡z~z]. In this vein, an alternative transcription of *š is *s̠, with the macron below indicating a soft (lenis) articulation in Semitic transcription. The assimilation is then awat-su to [awat͡su], which is quite common across languages.

The following table shows Proto-Semitic phonemes and their correspondences among Akkadian, Arabic and Tiberian Hebrew:

Proto-Semitic Akkadian Arabic Hebrew
*b b ب b ב b
*d d د d ד d
*g g ج ǧ ג g
*p p ف f פ p
*t t ت t ת t
*k k ك k כ k
[ʔ] (Ø)/ ʾ ء ʾ א ʾ
*ṭ ط ט
*ḳ q ق q ק q
*ḏ z ذ ז z
*z ز z
*ṯ š ث שׁ š
[ʃ] س s
ش š שׂ ś
*s s س s ס s
*ṱ ظ צ
*ṣ ص
*ṣ́ ض
غ ġ ע ʿ [ʕ]
*ʿ [ʕ] (e) [t2 1] ع ʿ [ʕ]
*ḫ خ [x] ח
*ḥ (e) [t2 1] ح [ħ]
*h (Ø) ه h ה h
*m m م m מ m
*n n ن n נ n
*r r ر r ר r
*l l ل l ל l
*w w و w ו
*y y ي y [j] י y
Proto-Semitic Akkadian Arabic Hebrew

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Akkadian vowels
  Front Central Back
Closed i   u
Mid e    
Open   a  

Additionally, most researchers presume the existence of back mid vowel /o/, but the cuneiform writings give no good proof for this.[10]

All consonants and vowels appear in long and short forms. Long consonants are represented in writing as double consonants, and long vowels are written with a macron (ā, ē, ī, ū). This distinction is phonemic, and is used in the grammar, for example iprusu ('that he decided') versus iprusū ('they decided').


Nothing is known of Akkadian stress. There are however certain points of reference, such as the rule of vowel syncope (see the next paragraph), and some forms in the cuneiform that might represent the stressing of certain vowels; however, attempts at identifying a rule for stress have so far been unsuccessful.

A rule of Akkadian phonology is that certain short (and probably unstressed) vowels are dropped. The rule is that the last vowel of a succession of syllables that end in a short vowel is dropped, for example the declinational root of the verbal adjective of a root PRS is PaRiS-. Thus the masculine singular nominative is PaRS-um (< *PaRiS-um) but the feminine singular nominative is PaRiStum (< *PaRiS-at-um). Additionally there is a general tendency of syncope of short vowels in the later stages of Akkadian.




Akkadian is an inflected language; and as a Semitic language, its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic. And like all Semitic languages, Akkadian uses the system of consonantal roots. Most roots consist of three consonants (called the radicals), but some roots are composed of four consonants (so-called quadriradicals). The radicals are occasionally represented in transcription in upper-case letters, for example PRS (to decide). Between and around these radicals various infixes, suffixes and prefixes, having word generating or grammatical functions, are inserted. The resulting consonant-vowel pattern differentiates the original meaning of the root. Also, the middle radical can be geminated, which is represented by a doubled consonant in transcription (and sometimes in the cuneiform writing itself).

The consonants ʔ, w, j and n are termed "weak radicals" and roots containing these radicals give rise to irregular forms.

Case, number and gender

Akkadian has two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, with many feminine forms generated from masculine words by adding an -at suffix.

Formally, Akkadian has three numbers (singular, dual and plural) and three cases (nominative, accusative and genitive). However, even in the earlier stages of the language, the dual number is vestigial, and its use is largely confined to natural pairs (eyes, ears, etc.), and adjectives are never found in the dual. In the dual and plural, the accusative and genitive are merged into a single oblique case.

Akkadian, unlike Arabic, has mainly regular plurals (i.e. no broken plurals), although some masculine words take feminine plurals. In that respect, it is similar to Hebrew.

The nouns šarrum (king), šarratum (queen) and the adjective dannum (strong) will serve to illustrate the case system of Akkadian.

Noun and adjective paradigms
Noun (masc.) Noun (fem.) Adjective (masc.) Adjective (fem.)
Nominative singular šarr-um šarr-at-um dann-um dann-at-um
Genitive singular šarr-im šarr-at-im dann-im dann-at-im
Accusative singular šarr-am šarr-at-am dann-am dann-at-am
Nominative dual šarr-ān šarr-at-ān
Oblique dual [t3 1] šarr-īn šarr-at-īn
Nominative plural šarr-ū šarr-āt-um dann-ūt-um dann-āt-um
Oblique plural šarr-ī šarr-āt-im dann-ūt-im dann-āt-im

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As is clear from the above table, the adjective and noun endings differ only in the masculine plural. Certain nouns, primarily those referring to geography, can also form a locative ending in -um in the singular and the resulting forms serve as adverbials. These forms are generally not productive, but in the Neo-Babylonian the um-locative replaces several constructions with the preposition ina.

In the later stages of Akkadian the mimation (word-final -m) - along with nunation (dual final "-n") - that occurs at the end of most case endings has disappeared, except in the locative. Later, the nominative and accusative singular of masculine nouns collapse to -u and in Neo-Babylonian most word-final short vowels are dropped. As a result case differentiation disappeared from all forms except masculine plural nouns. However many texts continued the practice of writing the case endings (although often sporadically and incorrectly). As the most important contact language throughout this period was Aramaic, which itself lacks case distinctions, it is possible that Akkadian's loss of cases was an areal as well as phonological phenomenon.

Noun States and Nominal Sentences

As is also the case in other Semitic languages, Akkadian nouns may appear in a variety of "states" depending on their grammatical function in a sentence. The basic form of the noun is the status rectus (the Governed state), which is the form as described above, complete with case endings. In addition to this, Akkadian has the status absolutus (the Absolute state) and the status constructus (Construct state). The latter is found in all other Semitic languages, while the former appears only in Akkadian and some dialects of Aramaic.

The status absolutus is characterised by the loss of a noun's case ending (e.g. awīl < awīlum, šar < šarrum). It is relatively uncommon, and is used chiefly to mark the predicate of a nominal sentence, in fixed adverbial expressions, and in expressions relating to measurements of length, weight, and the like.

(1) Awīl-um šū šarrāq

Awīl-um šū šarrāq.
Man (Masculine, nominative) he (3rd masc. personal pronoun) thief (status absolutus)

Translation: This man is a thief

(2) šarrum lā šanān

šarr-um šanān.
King (Status rectus, nominative) not (negative particle) oppose (verbal infinitive, status absolutus)

Translation: The king who cannot be rivaled

The Status Constructus is a great deal more common, and has a much wider range of applications. It is employed when a noun is followed by another noun in the genitive, a pronominal suffix, or a verbal clause in the subjunctive, and typically takes the shortest form of the noun which is phonetically possible. In general, this amounts to the loss of case endings with short vowels, with the exception of the genitive -i in nouns preceding a pronominal suffix, hence:

(3) māri-šu

Son (status constructus) + his (3rd person singular possessive pronoun

Translation: His son, its (masculine) son


(4) mār šarr-im

mār šarr-im
Son (Status constructus) king (genitive singular)

Translation: The king's son

There are numerous exceptions to this general rule, usually involving potential violations of the language's phonological limitations. Most obviously, Akkadian does not tolerate word final consonant clusters, so nouns like kalbum (dog) and maḫrum (front) would have illegal construct state forms *kalb and *maḫr unless modified. In many of these instances, the first vowel of the word is simply repeated (e.g. kalab, maḫar). This rule, however, does not always hold true, especially in nouns where a short vowel has historically been elided (e.g. šaknum < *šakinum "governor"). In these cases, the lost vowel is restored in the construct state (so šaknum yields šakin).

(5) kalab belim

kalab bel-im
dog (Status constructus) master (genitive singular)

Translation: The master's dog

(6) sakin ālim

šakin āl-im
Governor (Status constructus) city (genitive singular)

A genitive relation can also be expressed with the relative preposition ša, and the noun that the genitive phrase depends on appears in status rectus.

(7) salīmātum ša awīl Ešnunna

salīmātum ša awīl Ešnunna
Alliances (Status rectus, nominative) which (relative particle) man (status constructus) Ešnunna (genitive, unmarked)

Translation: The alliances of the Ruler of Ešnunna (literally "Alliances which man of Ešnunna (has)")

The same preposition is also used to introduce true relative clauses, in which case the verb is placed in the subjunctive mood.

(7) awīl-um ša māt-am i-kšud-Ø-u

Awīl-um ša māt-am i-kšud-Ø-u
Man (Masculine, nominative) that (relative pronoun) land (singular, accusative) 3rd person - conquer (preterite) - singular, masculine - subjunctive

Translation: The man who conquered the land

Verbal morphology

Verb aspects

The Akkadian verb has six finite verb aspects (preterite, perfect, present, imperative, precative and vetitive) and three infinite forms (infinitive, participle and verbal adjective). The preterite is used for actions that are seen by the speaker as having occurred at a single point in time. The present is primarily imperfective in meaning and is used for concurrent and future actions as well as past actions with a temporal dimension. The final three finite forms are injunctive where the imperative and the precative together form a paradigm for positive commands and wishes, and the vetitive is used for negative wishes. Additionally the periphrastic prohibitive, formed by the present form of the verb and the negative adverb lā, is used to express negative commands. The infinitive of the Akkadian verb is a verbal noun, and in contrast to some other languages the Akkadian infinitive can be declined in case. The verbal adjective is an adjectival form and designates the state or the result of the action of the verb, and consequently the exact meaning of the verbal adjective is determined by the semantics of the verb itself. The participle, which can be active or passive, is another verbal adjective and its meaning is similar to the English gerund.

The following table shows the conjugation of the G-stem verbs derived from the root PRS ("to decide") in the various verb aspects of Akkadian:

Preterite Perfect Present Imperative stative Infinitive Participle (active) Verbal adjective
1st Person singular aprus aptaras aparras parsāku parāsum pārisum (masc.)
pāristum (fem.)
parsum (masc.)
paristum (fem.)
1st Person plural niprus niptaras niparras parsānu
2nd Person singular masc. taprus taptaras taparras purus parsāta
2nd Person singular fem. taprusī taptarsī (< *taptarasī) taparrasī pursi parsāti
2nd Person plural taprusā taptarsā taparrasā pursa parsātunu (masc.) / parsātina(fem.)
3rd Person singular iprus iptaras iparras paris (masc.) /parsat (fem.)
3rd Person plural masc. iprusū iptarsū (< *iptarasū) iparrasū parsū
3rd Person plural fem. iprusā iptarsā(< *iptarasā) iparrasā parsā

The table below shows the different affixes attached to the preterite aspect of the verb root PRS "to decide"; and as can be seen, the grammatical genders differ only in the second person singular and third person plural.

G-Stem D-Stem Š-Stem N-Stem
1st Person singular a-prus-Ø u-parris-Ø u-šapris-Ø a-pparis-Ø
1st Person plural ni-prus-Ø nu-parris-Ø nu-šapris-Ø ni-pparis-Ø
2nd Person singular masc. ta-prus-Ø tu-parris-Ø tu-šapris-Ø ta-pparis-Ø
2nd Person singular fem. ta-prus-ī tu-parris-ī tu-šapris-ī ta-ppars-ī
2nd Person plural ta-prus-ā tu-parris-ā tu-šapris-ā ta-ppars-ā
3rd Person singular i-prus-Ø u-parris-Ø u-šapris-Ø i-pparis-Ø
3rd Person plural masc. i-prus-ū u-parris-ū u-šapris-ū i-ppars-ū
3rd Person plural fem. i-prus-ā u-parris-ā u-šapris-ā i-ppars-ā
Verb moods

Akkadian verbs have 3 moods:

  1. Indicative, used in independent clauses, is unmarked.
  2. Subjunctive, used in dependent clauses. The subjunctive is marked in forms which do not end in a vowel by the suffix -u (compare Arabic and Ugaritic subjunctives), but is otherwise unmarked. In the later stages of most dialects, the subjunctive is indistinct, as short final vowels were mostly lost
  3. Venitive or allative. The venitive is not a mood in the strictest sense, being a development of the 1st person dative pronominal suffix -am/-m/-nim. With verbs of motion, it often indicates motion towards an object or person (e.g. illik, "he went" vs. illikam, "he came"). However, this pattern is not consistent, even in earlier stages of the language, and its use often appears to serve a stylistic rather than morphological or lexical function.

The following table demonstrates the verb moods of verbs derived from the root PRS ("to decide","to separate"):

Preterite.[t4 1] Stative.[t4 1]
Indicative iprus paris
Subjunctive iprusu parsu
Venitive iprusam parsam

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Verb patterns

Akkadian verbs have thirteen separate stems formed on each root. The basic, underived, stem is the G-stem (from the German Grundstamm, meaning "basic stem"). Causative or intensive forms are formed with the doubled D-stem, and it gets its name from the doubled middle radical that is characteristic of this form. The doubled middle radical is also characteristic of the present, but the forms of the D-stem use the secondary conjugational affixes, so a D-form will never be identical to a form in a different stem. The Š-stem is formed by adding a prefix š-, and these forms are mostly causatives. Finally, the passive forms of the verb are in the N-stem, formed by adding a n- prefix. However the n- element is assimilated to a following consonant, so the original /n/ is only visible in a few forms.

Furthermore, reflexive and iterative verbal stems can be derived from each of the basic stems. The reflexive stem is formed with an infix -ta, and the derived stems are therefore called Gt, Dt, Št and Nt, and the preterite forms of the Xt-stem are identical to the perfects of the X-stem. Iteratives are formed with the infix -tan-, giving the Gtn, Dtn, Štn and Ntn. Because of the assimilation of n, the /n/ is only seen in the present forms, and the Xtn preterite is identical to the Xt durative.

The final stem is the ŠD-stem, a form mostly attested only in poetic texts, and whose meaning is usually identical to either the Š-stem or the D-stem of the same verb. It is formed with the Š prefix (like the Š-stem) in addition to a doubled middle radical (like the D-stem).

An alternative to this naming system is a numerical system. The basic stems are numbered using Roman numerals so that G, D, Š and N become I, II, III and IV, respectively, and the infixes are numbered using Arabic numerals; 1 for the forms without an infix, 2 for the Xt, and 3 for the Xtn. The two numbers are separated using a solidus. As an example, the Štn-stem is called III/3. The most important user of this system is the Chaldean people Dictionary.

There is mandatory congruence between the subject of the sentence and the verb, and this is expressed by prefixes and suffixes. There are two different sets of affixes, a primary set used for the forms of the G and N-stems, and a secondary set for the D and Š-stems.

The stems, their nomenclature and examples of the third-person masculine singular stative of the verb parāsum (root PRS: 'to decide, distinguish, separate') is shown below:

# Stem Verb Description Correspondence
I.1 G PaRiS the simple stem, used for transitive and intransitive verbs Arabic stem I (fa‘ala) and Hebrew qal
II.1 D PuRRuS gemination of the second radical, indicating the intensive Arabic stem II (fa‘‘ala) and Hebrew pi‘el
III.1 Š šuPRuS š-preformative, indicating the causative Arabic stem IV (’af‘ala) and Hebrew hiph‘il
IV.1 N naPRuS n-preformative, indicating the reflexive/passive Arabic stem VII (infa‘ala) and Hebrew niph‘al
I.2 Gt PitRuS simple stem with t-infix after first radical, indicating reciprocal or reflexive Arabic stem VIII (ifta‘ala) and Aramaic ’ithpe‘al (tG)
II.2 Dt PutaRRuS doubled second radical preceded by infixed t, indicating intensive reflexive Arabic stem V (tafa‘‘ala) and Hebrew hithpa‘el (tD)
III.2 Št šutaPRuS š-preformative with t-infix, indicating reflexive causative Arabic stem X (istaf‘ala) and Aramaic ’ittaph‘al (tC)
IV.2 Nt itaPRuS n-preformative with a t-infix preceding the first radical, indicating reflexive passive Hb. rare slang hitpu‘al (e.g. התפוטר = forced to resign)[t5 1]
I.3 Gtn PitaRRuS simple stem with tan-infix after first radical
II.3 Dtn PutaRRuS doubled second radical preceded by tan-infix
III.3 Štn šutaPRuS š-preformative with tan-infix
IV.3 Ntn itaPRuS n-preformative with tan-infix
ŠD šuPuRRuS š-preformative with doubled second radical

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A very often appearing form which can be formed by nouns, adjectives as well as by verbal adjectives is the stative. Nominal predicatives occur in the status absolutus and correspond to the verb "to be" in English. The stative in Akkadian corresponds to the Egyptian pseudo-participle. The following table contains an example of using the noun šarrum (king), the adjective rapšum (wide) and the verbal adjective parsum (decided).

šarrum rapšum parsum
1st Person singular šarr-āku rapš-āku pars-āku
1st Person plural šarr-ānu rapš-ānu pars-ānu
2nd Person singular masc. šarr-āta rapš-āta pars-āta
2nd Person singular fem. šarr-āti rapš-āti pars-āti
2nd Person plural masc. šarr-ātunu rapš-ātunu pars-ātunu
2nd Person plural fem. šarr-ātina rapš-ātina pars-ātina
3rd Person singular masc. šar-Ø rapaš-Ø paris-Ø
3rd Person singular fem. šarr-at rapš-at pars-at
3rd Person plural masc. šarr-ū rapš-ū pars-ū
3rd Person plural fem. šarr-ā rapš-ā pars-ā

Thus, the stative in Akkadian is used to convert simple stems into effective sentences, so that the form šarr-āta is equivalent to: "you were king", "you are king" and "you will be king". Hence, the stative is independent of time forms.


Beside the already explained possibility of derivation of different verb stems, Akkadian has numerous nominal formations derived from verb roots. A very frequently encountered form is the maPRaS form. It can express the location of an event, the person performing the act and many other meanings. If one of the root consonants is labial (p, b, m), the prefix becomes na- (maPRaS > naPRAS). Examples for this are: maškanum (place, location) from ŠKN (set, place, put), mašraḫum (splendour) from ŠRḪ (be splendid), maṣṣarum (guards) from NṢR (guard), napḫarum (sum) from PḪR (summarize).

A very similar formation is the maPRaSt form. The noun derived from this nominal formation is grammatically feminine. The same rules as for the maPRaS form apply, for example maškattum (deposit) from ŠKN (set, place, put), narkabtum (carriage) from RKB (ride, drive, mount).

The suffix - ūt is used to derive abstract nouns. The nouns which are formed with this suffix are grammatically feminine. The suffix can be attached to nouns, adjectives and verbs, e.g. abūtum (paternity) from abum (father), rabutum (size) from rabum (large), waṣūtum (leaving) from WṢY (leave).

Also derivatives of verbs from nouns, adjectives and numerals are numerous. For the most part, a D-stem is derived from the root of the noun or adjective. The derived verb then has the meaning of "make X do something" or "becoming X", for example: duššûm (let sprout) from dišu (grass), šullušum (to do something for the third time ) from šalāš (three).


Personal pronouns

Independent personal pronouns

Independent personal pronouns in Akkadian are as follows:

Nominative Oblique Dative
Person singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st anāku "I" nīnu "we" yāti niāti yāšim niāšim
2nd masculine atta "you" attunu "you" kāti (kāta) kunūti kāšim kunūšim
feminine atti "you" attina "you" kāti kināti kāšim kināšim
3rd masculine šū "he" šunu "they" šātilu (šātilu) šunūti šuāšim (šāšim) šunūšim
feminine šī "she" šina "they" šiāti (šuāti;šāti) šināti šiāšim (šāšim, šāšim) šināšim
Suffixed (or enclitic) pronouns

Suffixed (or enclitic) pronouns (mainly denoting the genitive, accusative and dative) are as follows:

Genitive Accusative Dative
Person singular Plural Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st -i, -ya [t5 2] -ni -ni -niāti -am/-nim -niāšim
2nd masculine -ka -kunu -ka -kunūti -kum -kunūšim
feminine -ki -kina -ki -kināti -kim -kināšim
3rd masculine -šū -šunu -šū -šunūti -šum -šunūšim
feminine -ša -šina -ši -šināti -šim -šināšim

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Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns in Akkadian differ from the Western Semitic variety. The following table shows the Akkadian demonstrative pronouns according to near and far deixis:

Proximal Distal
Masc. singular annū "this" ullū "that"
Fem. Singular annītu "this" ullītu "that"
Masc. plural annūtu "these" ullūtu "those"
Fem. plural annātu "these" ullātu "those"

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns in Akkadian are shown in the following table:

Nominative Accusative Genitive
Masc. singular šu ša ši
Fem. Singular šāt šāti
Dual šā
Masc. plural šūt
Fem. plural šāt

Unlike plural relative pronouns, singular relative pronouns in Akkadian exhibit full declension for case. However, only the form ša (originally accusative masculine singular) survived, while the other forms disappeared in time.

Interrogative pronouns

The following table shows the Interrogative pronouns used in Akkadian:

Akkadian English
mannu who?
mīnū what?
ayyu which?


Akkadian has prepositions which consist mainly of only one word. For example: ina (in, on, out, through, under), ana (too, for, after, approximately), adi (to), aššu (because of), eli (up, over), ištu/ultu (of, since), mala (in accordance with), itti (also, with). There are, however, some compound prepositions which are combined with ina and ana (e.g. ina maḫar (forwards), ina balu (without), ana ṣēr (up to), ana maḫar (forwards). Regardless of the complexity of the preposition, the following noun is always in the genitive case.

Examples: ina bītim (in the house, from the house), ana dummuqim (to do good), itti šarrim (with the king), ana ṣēr mārīšu (up to his son).


Since numerals are written mostly as a number sign in the cuneiform script, the transliteration of many numerals is not well ascertained yet. Along with the counted noun, the cardinal numerals are in the status absolutus. Because other cases are very rare, the forms of the status rectus are known only by isolated numerals. The numerals 1 and 2 as well as 21–29, 31–39, 41–49 correspond with the counted in the grammatical gender, while the numerals 3–20, 30, 40 and 50 show gender polarity, i.e. if the counted noun is masculine, the numeral would be feminine and vice versa. This polarity is typical of the Semitic languages and appears also in classical Arabic for example. The numerals 60, 100 and 1000 do not change according to the gender of the counted noun. Counted nouns more than two appear in the plural form. However, body parts which occur in pairs appear in the dual form in Akkadian. e.g. šepum (foot) becomes šepān (two feet).

The ordinals are formed (with a few exceptions) by adding a case ending to the nominal form PaRuS (the P, R and S. must be substituted with the suitable consonants of the numeral). It is noted, however, that in the case of the numeral "one", the ordinal (masculine) and the cardinal number are the same. A metathesis occurs in the numeral "four". The following table contains the masculine and feminine forms of the status absolutus of some of the Akkadian cardinal numbers, as well as the corresponding ordinals.

# Cardinal numeral (masc.) Cardinal numeral (fem.) Congruence (Gender agreement of the cardinal numeral) Ordinal (masc.) Ordinal (fem.)
1 ištēn išteʾat,
Congruent (no gender polarity) ištēn išteʾat
2 šinā šittā Congruent šanûm šanītum
3 šalāš šalāšat Gender polarity šalšum šaluštum
4 erbē erbēt Gender polarity rebûm rebūtum
5 ḫamiš ḫamšat Gender polarity ḫamšum ḫamuštum
6 šediš šiššet Gender polarity šeššum šeduštum
7 sebē sebēt Gender polarity sebûm sebūtum
8 samānē samānat Gender polarity samnum,
9 tešē tišīt Gender polarity tišûm,
10 ešer ešeret Gender polarity ešrum ešurtum
60 šūš No gender distinction
100 meʾat, māt No gender distinction
1000 līm No gender distinction

Examples: erbē aššātum (four wives) (male numeral), meʾat ālānū (100 towns).


Nominal phrases

Adjectives, relative clauses and appositions follow the noun. While numerals precede the counted noun. In the following table the nominal phrase erbēt šarrū dannūtum ša ālam īpušū abūya 'the four strong kings who built the city are my fathers' is analyzed:

Word Meaning Analysis Part of the nominal phrase
erbēt four feminine (gender polarity) Numeral
šarr-ū king nominative plural Noun (Subject)
dann-ūtum strong nominative masculine plural Adjective
ša which relative pronoun Relative clause
āl-am city accusative singular
īpuš-ū built 3rd person masculine plural
ab-ū-ya my fathers masculine plural + possessive pronoun Apposition

Sentence syntax

Akkadian sentence order was Subject+Object+Verb (SOV), which sets it apart from most other ancient Semitic languages such as Arabic and Biblical Hebrew, which typically have a verb–subject–object (VSO) word order. (Modern South Semitic languages in Ethiopia also have SOV order, but these developed within historical times from the classical verb–subject–object (VSO) language Ge'ez.) It has been hypothesized that this word order was a result of influence from the Sumerian language, which was also SOV. There is evidence that native speakers of both languages were in intimate language contact, forming a single society for at least 500 years, so it is entirely likely that a sprachbund could have formed. Further evidence of an original VSO or SVO ordering can be found in the fact that direct and indirect object pronouns are suffixed to the verb. Word order seems to have shifted to SVO/VSO late in the 1st millennium BC to the 1st millennium AD, possibly under the influence of Aramaic.


The Akkadian vocabulary is mostly of Semitic origin. Although classified as 'East Semitic', many elements of its basic vocabulary find no evident parallels in related Semitic languages. For example: māru 'son' (Semitic *bn), qātu 'hand' (Semitic *yd), šēpu 'foot' (Semitic *rgl), qabû 'say' (Semitic *qwl), izuzzu 'stand' (Semitic *qwm), ana 'to, for' (Semitic *li).

Due to extensive contact with Sumerian and Aramaic, the Akkadian vocabulary contains many loan words from these languages. Aramaic loan words, however, were limited to the 1st centuries of the 1st millennium BC and primarily in the north and middle parts of Mesopotamia, whereas Sumerian loan words were spread in the whole linguistic area. Beside the previous languages, some nouns were borrowed from Hurrian, Kassite, Ugaritic and other ancient languages. Since Sumerian and Hurrian, two non-Semitic languages, differ from Akkadian in word structure, only nouns and some adjectives (not many verbs) were borrowed from these languages. However, some verbs were borrowed (along with many nouns) from Aramaic and Ugaritic, both of which are Semitic languages.

The following table contains examples of loan words in Akkadian:

Akkadian Meaning Source Word in the language of origin
hill Sumerian du
erēqu flee Aramaic ʿRQ (root)
gadalû dressed in linen Sumerian gada lá
isinnu firmly Sumerian ezen
kasulatḫu a device of copper Hurrian kasulatḫ-
kisallu court Sumerian kisal
laqāḫu take Ugaritic LQḤ( root)
paraššannu part of horse riding gear Hurrian paraššann-
purkullu stone cutter Sumerian bur-gul
qaṭālu kill Aramaic QṬL (root)
uriḫullu conventional penalty Hurrian uriḫull-

Akkadian was also a source of borrowing to other languages, above all Sumerian. Some examples are: Sumerian da-ri ('lastingly', from Akkadian dāru), Sumerian ra gaba ('riders, messenger', from Akkadian rākibu).

Example text

The following text is the 7th section of the Hammurabi law code, written in the mid-18th century BC:

Akkadian šumma awīl-um kasp-am ḫurāṣ-am ward-am amt-am
English if Man (nominative) or silver (accusative) or gold (accusative) or slave (masculine, accusative) or Slave (feminine, accusative)
Akkadian alp-am immer-am imēr-am ū lū mimma šumšu ina
English or Cattle, oxen (accusative) or sheep (accusative) or donkey (accusative) and or something from
Akkadian qāt mār awīl-im ū lū warad awīl-im balum šīb-ī u
English hand (status constructus) son (status constructus) man (genitive) and or slave (status constructus) man (genitive) without witnesses (genitive) and
Akkadian riks-ātim i-štām-Ø ū lū ana maṣṣārūt-im i-mḫur-Ø
English contracts (genitive) bought (3rd person singular, perfect) and or for safekeeping (genitive) received (3rd person singular, preterite)
Akkadian awīl-um šū šarrāq i-ddāk
English man (nominative) (3rd person masculine singular independent pronoun) stealer (status absolutus) is killed (3rd person singular in passive present tense)

Translation: If a man bought silver, gold, a slave (masculine), a slave (feminine), an ox, a sheep, a donkey or something other from the hand of another man or a slave of a man without witnesses or contract, or accepted (them) for safekeeping (without same), then this man is a thief; he is to be killed.

Akkadian literature


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  • Aro, Jussi (1957). Studien zur mittelbabylonischen Grammatik. Studia Orientalia 22. Helsinki: Societas Orientalis Fennica.
  • Buccellati, Giorgio (1996). A Structural Grammar of Babylonian. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Buccellati, Giorgio (1997). "Akkadian," The Semitic Languages. Ed. Robert Hetzron. New York: Routledge. Pages 69–99.
  • Bussmann, Hadumod (1996). Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-20319-8
  • Caplice, Richard (1980). Introduction to Akkadian. Rome: Biblical Institute Press. (1983: ISBN 88-7653-440-7; 1988, 2002: ISBN 88-7653-566-7) (The 1980 edition is partly available online.)
  • Dolgopolsky, Aron (1999). From Proto-Semitic to Hebrew. Milan: Centro Studi Camito-Semitici di Milano. 
  • Gelb, I.J. (1961). Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar. Second edition. The Chaldean Dictionary. San Diego: Bishop Sarhad Jammo, PHD.
  • Huehnergard, John (2005). A Grammar of Akkadian (Second Edition). Eisenbrauns. ISBN 1-57506-922-9
  • Marcus, David (1978). A Manual of Akkadian. University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-0608-9
  • Mercer, Samuel A B (1961). Introductory Chaldean Grammar.
  • Sabatino Moscati (1980). An Introduction to Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages Phonology and Morphology. Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3-447-00689-7. 
  • Soden, Wolfram von (1952). Grundriss der akkadischen Grammatik. Analecta Orientalia 33. Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum. (3rd ed., 1995: ISBN 88-7653-258-7)
  • Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum. Cambridge University Press 2008. ISBN 978-0-521-68497-2

Further reading

General description and grammar

  • Gelb, I. J. (1961). Old Akkadian writing and grammar. Chaldean dictionary. Chicago: Bishop Sarhad Jammo, PHD
  • Hasselbach, Rebecca. Sargonic Akkadian: A Historical and Comparative Study of the Syllabic Texts. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2005. ISBN 978-3-447-05172-9
  • Huehnergard, J. A Grammar of Akkadian (3rd ed. 2011). Harvard Semitic Museum Studies 45. ISBN 978-1-57506-922-7
  • Huehnergard, J. (2005). A Key to A Grammar of Akkadian . Harvard Semitic Studies. Eisenbrauns.
  • Soden, Wolfram von: Grundriß der Akkadischen Grammatik. Analecta Orientalia. Bd 33. Rom 1995. ISBN 88-7653-258-7
  • Streck, Michael P. Sprachen des Alten Orients. Wiss. Buchges., Darmstadt 2005. ISBN 3-534-17996-X
  • Ungnad, Arthur: Grammatik des Akkadischen. Neubearbeitung durch L. Matouš, München 1969, 1979 (5. Aufl.). ISBN 3-406-02890-X
  • Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum. Cambridge University Press 2008. ISBN 978-0-521-68497-2


  • Rykle Borger: Babylonisch-assyrische Lesestücke. Rom 1963.(3., revidierte Auflage, 2006 Teil. I-II)
    • Part I: Elemente der Grammatik und der Schrift. Übungsbeispiele. Glossar.
    • Part II: Die Texte in Umschrift.
    • Part III: Kommentar. Die Texte in Keilschrift.
  • Richard Caplice: Introduction to Akkadian. Biblical Institute Press, Rome 1988, 2002 (4.Aufl.). ISBN 88-7653-566-7
  • Kaspar K. Riemschneider: Lehrbuch des Akkadischen. Enzyklopädie, Leipzig 1969, Langenscheidt Verl. Enzyklopädie, Leipzig 1992 (6. Aufl.). ISBN 3-324-00364-4
  • Martin Worthington: "Complete Babylonian: Teach Yourself" London 2010 ISBN 0-340-98388-4


  • Jeremy G. Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate: A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian. Harrassowitz-Verlag, Wiesbaden 2000. ISBN 3-447-04264-8
  • Wolfram von Soden: Akkadisches Handwörterbuch. 3 Bde. Wiesbaden 1958-1981. ISBN 3-447-02187-X

Akkadian cuneiform

  • Cherry, A. (2003). Basic individual logograms (Akkadian). Toronto, Ont: Ashur Cherry, York University.
  • Rykle Borger: Mesopotamisches Zeichenlexikon. Alter Orient und Altes Testament (AOAT). Bd 305. Ugarit-Verlag, Münster 2004. ISBN 3-927120-82-0
  • René Labat: Manuel d'Épigraphie Akkadienne. Paul Geuthner, Paris 1976, 1995 (6.Aufl.). ISBN 2-7053-3583-8

Technical literature on specific subjects

  • Markus Hilgert: Akkadisch in der Ur III-Zeit. Rhema-Verlag, Münster 2002. ISBN 3-930454-32-7
  • Walter Sommerfeld: Bemerkungen zur Dialektgliederung Altakkadisch, Assyrisch und Babylonisch. In: Alter Orient und Altes Testament (AOAT). Ugarit-Verlag, Münster 274.2003. ISSN 0931-4296

External links

  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Akkadian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. John Huehnergard & Christopher Woods, "Akkadian and Eblaite," The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Ed. Roger D. Woodard (2004, Cambridge) Pages 218-280
  3. John Huehnergard and Christopher Woods, Akkadian and Eblaite, in Roger D. Woodard, ed., The Ancient Languages of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Aksum, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p.83
  4. Deutscher, Guy (2007). Syntactic Change in Akkadian: The Evolution of Sentential Complementation. Oxford University Press US. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-19-953222-3. 
  5. [1] Andrew George, "Babylonian: A History of Akkadian", In: Postgate, J. N., (ed.), Languages of Iraq, Ancient and Modern. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, pp. 31-71.
  6. Caplice, p.5 (1980)
  7. Adkins 2003, p. 47.
  8. John Huehnergard & Christopher Woods, 2004 "Akkadian and Eblaite", The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, pg. 218.
  9. Kogan, Leonid (2011). "Proto-Semitic Phonetics and Phonology". In Semitic languages: an international handbook, Stefan Weninger, ed. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p. 68.
  10. Sabatino Moscati et al. "An Introduction to Comparative Grammar of Semitic Languages Phonology and Morphology". (section on vowels and semi-vowels)
  11. Mark Aronoff, Morphology by Itself: Stems and Inflectional Classes, p. 190.

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