Nahw – Singular, Dual, and Plural Nouns in Arabic
Arabic nouns can either be singular( ﺍﻟﹿﻤﹹﻔﺮﹶﺩ), dual( ﺍﻟﻤﹹﺜﻨﳲﻲ), or plural( ﺍﹶﻟﺠﹷﻤﹿﻊﹸ). This is depicted diagrammatically in the following chart (click to enlarge), with further subdivisions for the plural noun.
The dual can be constructed depending upon its grammatical state. Thus, the rule for constructing dual in ﺭﻓﻊ are different than the rules for constructing the dual in either ﻧﺼﺐ or ﺟﺮ . Below, we analyze these rules for constructing the dual of a noun in Arabic.
- When the noun is in ﺭﻓﻊ the dual is constructed by adding the letters ﺍ and ﻥ
- When the noun is in either ﻧﺼﺐ or ﺟﺮ , the dual is formed by adding a ﻳﹿﻦﹺ to the singular e.g.ﺭﹶﺍﻳﺖﹸ ﺍﻟﻄﳲﺎﻟﹻﺒﹷﻴﹿﻦﹺ (I saw the two students) orﻣﹷﺮﹶﺭﹾﺕﹸ ﺑﹻﺎﻟﻄﳲﺎﻟﹻﺒﹷﻴﹿﻦﹺ (I passed by the two students). In this case, the ﻯ indicates both ﻓﹷﺘﹿﺤﺔ and ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ and, as before, the final ﻥ and the corresponding ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ do not have a grammatical significance
e.g. ﺟﹷﺎﺀﹶ ﺍﻟﻄﳲﺎﻟﹻﺒﺎﻥﹺ (The two students came) . In this structure the ﺍ is basically the sign of ﺿﹷﻤﳲﻪ whereas the final ﻥ and the corresponding ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ do not have a grammatical significance
Note on the use of Dual:
- If the verb precedes the ﻓﺎﻋﹻﻞ the verb must be singular, e.g. ﺫﹶﻫﹷﺐﹶ ﺍﻟﹿﻮﹶﻟﹷﺪﺍﻥﹺ (The two boys went)
- If the ﻓﺎﻋﹻﻞ precedes the verb then the verb should also be dual, e.g. ﺍﻟﹿﻮﹶﻟﹷﺪﺍﻥﹺ ﺫﹶﻫﹷﺒﹷﺎ
As can be seen from the above diagram, there are two types of plurals in Arabic:
- ﺍﹶﻟﺠﹷﻤﹿﻊ ﺍﻟﺴﳲﺎﻟﹻﻢ or the Sound Plural
- ﺍﹶﻟﺠﹷﻤﹿﻊ ﺍﻟﻤﹹﻜﺴﳲﺮ or the Broken Plural
The first category can further be divided into masculine or feminine genders.
The Sound Plural: This is formed from the singular by suffixing additional letters to it while retaining the original letters from the singular noun; thus the name Sound Plural. Below, we analyze rule for constructing the Sound Plurals.
Sound Masculine Plural:
- When the noun is in ﺭﻓﻊ the plural is constructed by adding the letters ﻭ and ﻥ, with the ﻥ having a ﻓﹷﺘﹿﺤﺔ on it. In this structure the ﻭ is basically the sign of ﺿﹷﻤﳲﻪ whereas the final ﻥ and the corresponding ﻓﹷﺘﹿﺤﺔ do not have a grammatical significance. For example, ﺟﺎﺀﹶ ﺍﻟﹿﻤﹹﺴﻠﹻﻤﹹﻮﻥﹶ (The Muslim men came)
- When the noun is in either ﻧﺼﺐ or ﺟﺮ , the plural is formed by adding a ﻳﹿﻦﹶ , preceded by a letter with a kasra, to the singular. For example, ﺭﹶﺍﻳﺖﹸ ﺍﻟﹿﻤﹹﺴﻠﹻﻤﹻﻴﻦﹶ (I saw the Muslim men) or ﻣﹷﺮﹶﺭﹾﺕﹸ ﺑﹻﺎﺍﻟﹿﻤﹹﺴﻠﹻﻤﹻﻴﻦﹶ (I passed by the Muslim men)
- When the noun is in ﺭﻓﻊ the plural is constructed by adding the letters ﺍ and ﺕ to the singular, with a ﺿﹷﻤﳲﻪ on the ﺕ . For example, ﺟﺎﺀﹶﺕ ﺍﻟﻤﹹﺴﻠﹻﻤﺎﺕﹸ (The Muslim women came)
- When the noun is in either ﻧﺼﺐ or ﺟﺮ the plural is formed by adding the letters ﺍ and ﺕ to the singular, with a ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ on the ﺕ in both the cases. For example, ﺭﹶﺍﻳﺖﹸ ﺍﻟﻤﹹﺴﻠﹻﻤﺎﺕﹺ (I saw the Muslim women ) or ﻣﹷﺮﹶﺭﹾﺕﹸ ﺑﺎﻟﹿﻤﹹﺴﻠﹻﻤﺎﺕﹺ (I passed by the Muslim women)
The Broken Plural:
This is called broken because it does not retain the structure of the singular noun i.e. it is formed by breaking up the singular noun. Thus, in this type of plural the singular is altered by changing its vowel or altering its letters. This is analogous to the English where we say Man-Men, Mouse-Mice, or Sheep-Sheep.
The broken plural in Arabic is based on different patterns and there is no one rule which governs the formation of the broken plural. These are best learned by exposure. Below, I list some of these patterns or ﺍﻭﺯﺍﻥ
|ﺃﻓﹿﻌﹹﻞﹲ||ﻧﹷﻔﹿﺲﹲ||ﺃﻧﻔﹹﺲﹲ||Self – Selves|
|ﺃﻓﹿﻌﺎﻝﹲ||ﻧﹷﻬﹿﺮﹲ||ﺃﻧﹿﻬﺎﺭﹲ||River – Rivers|
|ﺃﻓﹿﻌﹻﻠﹷﺔﹲ||ﺳﹹﺆﹶﺍﻝﹲ||ﺃﺳﹿﺌﹻﻠﹷﺔﹲ||Question – Questions|
|ﻓﹹﻌﹹﻞﹲ||ﻛﹻﺘﹷﺎﺏﹲ||ﻛﹹﺘﹹﺐﹲ||Book – Books|
|ﻓﹹﻌﹹﻮﻝﹲ||ﻗﹷﻠﹿﺐﹲ||ﻗﹹﻠﹹﻮﺏﹲ||Heart – Hearts|
|ﻓﹻﻌﹷﺎﻝﹲ||ﺟﹷﹷﺒﹷﻞﹲ||ﺟﹻﺒﹷﺎﻝﹲ||Mountain – Mountains|
|ﺃﻓﹿﻌﹻﻼﺀﹸ||ﻧﹷﺒﹻﻴﻲﹲ||ﺃﻧﹿﺒﹻﻴﺎﺀﹸ||Messenger – Messengers|
|ﻓﹻﻌﹿﻼﻥﹲ||ﻏﹹﻼﻡﹲ||ﻏﹻﻠﹿﻤﹷﺎﻥﹲ||Boy – Boys|
|ﻓﹹﻌﹷﻼﺀﹸ||ﻓﹷﻘﹻﻴﺮﹲ||ﻓﹹﻘﹷﺮﺍﺀﹸ||Beggar – Beggars|
|ﺃﻓﹷﺎﻋﹻﻞﹲ||ﺃﻧﹿﻤﹻﻠﹷﺔﹲ||ﺃﻧﹷﺎﻣﹻﻞﹲ||Fingertip – Fingertips|
|ﻣﹷﻔﹷﺎﻋﹻﻞﹸ||ﻣﹷﺴﹿﺠﹻﺪﹲ||ﻣﺴﹷﺎﺟﹻﺪﹸ||Mosque – Mosques|
|ﻣﹷﻔﹷﺎﻋﹻﻴﹿﻞﹸ||ﻣﹻﻔﹿﺘﹷﺎﺡﹲ||ﻣﹷﻔﹷﺎﺗﹻﻴﹿﺢﹸ||Key – Keys|
I hope this introduction to the Singular-Dual-Plural system in Arabic will be a good starting point for anyone trying to master this subject.