Grew up in England and studied Semitic languages at the University of London. His doctorate dealt with the language of early Arabic papyri and was published as Studies in the Grammar of Early Arabic (1984). After several years of teaching Hebrew at the University of Cape Town, he moved to Israel, where he worked on the Historical Dictionary project at the Academy of the Hebrew Language before joining the Arabic Department of the Hebrew University in 1984.
Simon Hopkins is interested in Semitic philology as a whole, especially in the historical development of Arabic and Aramaic and the relations between them. In these areas he has published work on mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic (particularly Maimonides) and Neo-Aramaic dialects.