All the Semitic languages' are built up from triliteral roots: that is, the great majority of the words are derived from a simple verbal form, of which the essential elements are three consonants.
- As in the other Semitic languages, these stand almost entirely outside the system of triliteral roots, being mainly derived from certain demonstrative letters or particles.
The characteristic triliteral roots of all the Semitic languages seemed to separate them widely from others; but certain traits have caused the Egyptian, Berber and Cushite groups to be classed together as three subfamilies of a Hamitic group, remotely related to the Semitic. The biliteral character of Coptic, and the biliteralism which was believed to exist in Egyptian, led philologists to suspect that Egyptian might be a surviving witness to that far-off stage of the Semitic languages when triliteral roots had not yet been formed from presumed original biliterals; Sethes investigations, however, prove that the Coptic biliterals are themselves derived from Old Egyptian triliterals, and that the triliteral roots enormously preponderated in Egyptian of the earliest known form; that view is, therefore, no longer tenable.
The typical Coptic root thus became biliteral rather than triliteral, and the verb, by means of periphrases, developed tenses of remarkable precision.
Triliteral - - Very numerous.
It seems that all the above classes may be divided into two main groups, according to the form of the infinitive :with masculine infinitive the strong triliteral type, and with feminine infinitive the type of the III.
As Egyptian roots seldom exceeded three letters, there was no need for triliteral phonograms to spell them.
There is, however, one triliteral phonogram, the eagle,~, tyw, or tiu (?), used for the plural ending of adjectives in y formed from words ending in t (whether radical or the feminine ending).
In it the Old Egyptian verbal forms are mostly replaced by periphrases; though the strong roots are often preserved entire, the weaker con9onants and the ~ have- largely or entirely disappeared, so that the language appears as one of biliteral rather than triliteral roots.