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.

Nouns - Singular, Dual, and Plural

The Dual:

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 and
  • e.g. ﺟﹷﺎﺀﹶ ﺍﻟﻄﳲﺎﻟﹻﺒﺎﻥﹺ (The two students came) . In this structure the is basically the sign of ﺿﹷﻤﳲﻪ whereas the final and the corresponding ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ do not have a grammatical significance

  • 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 indicates both ﻓﹷﺘﹿﺤﺔ and ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ and, as before, the final 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

The Plural:

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 and, with the having a ﻓﹷﺘﹿﺤﺔ on it. In this structure the is basically the sign of ﺿﹷﻤﳲﻪ whereas the final 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)

Sound Feminine Plural:

  • When the noun is in ﺭﻓﻊ the plural is constructed by adding the letters and 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 and to the singular, with a ﻛﹷﺴﹿﺮﹶﺓ on the 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

ﺍﻟﻮﺯﻥ Singular Plural Meaning
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
ﻓﹹﻌﳲﺎﻝﹲ ﺣﹷﺎﻓﹻﻆﹲ ﺣﹹﻔﳲﺎﻅﹲ Keeper -Keepers
ﻓﹹﻌﹷﻼﺀﹸ ﻓﹷﻘﹻﻴﺮﹲ ﻓﹹﻘﹷﺮﺍﺀﹸ Beggar – Beggars
ﺃﻓﹷﺎﻋﹻﻞﹲ ﺃﻧﹿﻤﹻﻠﹷﺔﹲ ﺃﻧﹷﺎﻣﹻﻞﹲ Fingertip – Fingertips
ﺃﻓﹷﺎﻋﹻﻴﻞﹸ ﺇﺑﹿﺮﹺﻳﹿﻖﹲ ﺃﺑﹷﺎﺭﻳﻖﹸ Beaker-Beakers
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.

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26 thoughts on “Nahw – Singular, Dual, and Plural Nouns in Arabic

  1. Pingback: Nahw - Let us count in Arabic - and get a headache! « Internals

  2. Salaam,
    احد is a noun whereas واحد is an adjective. I will Insha Allah, try to explain it a little bit with some examples.

    Examples of احد are: یوم الاحد first day of the week , or فابعثوا احدُکُم send one from amongst you, or ما جاءنی احد no one came to me

    As for واحد ,it can denote one man, one nation, one world etc. i.e. it can define sets. That is why the Quran will always have a صفہ of Allah whenever it uses the word واحد. Thus, اللہ واحدُ القھّار Allah is the only who encompasses everyone.

    I hope this explains some difference between the two

  3. Hello,

    I am from Arabic.tripod website. Thank you for commenting on my site. Your site is great and appears to be more comprehensive than mine. Wish you good luck.

  4. Sheepoo,

    I don’t want to be rude but I just accidentally saw your last comment here.

    How do you explain the phrase: الله الواحد الأحد ?

    Both words are adjectives. The difference is that one of them is اسم فاعل and the other is صفة مشبهة .

    sorry :-p

  5. salam
    i am a beginnner & learning arabic tenses Can anybody explain the grammar of this word
    the root word is ﻥ ﺯ ﻝ

  6. salam
    i am little confused still ,but thanks a lot.My question is
    Anzalna means we revealed
    it is past tense then why not nazalna why anzalna
    like fa’alna means we did
    then it should be nazalna we revealed

    Anyway i am beginner not knowing lot of things, but still if you can explain me further, it will be more helpful.
    jazakallahu khair

  7. Muslim,
    Arabic verbs are based on patterns. There are 15 patterns out of which 12 are important. The simplest of these pattern is ﻓﹷﻌﹷﻞﹶ from which you derive words like ﻧﹷﺰﹶﻝﹶ (to descend), ﻧﹷﺼﹷﺮﹶ (to help), ﻛﹷﺘﹷﺐﹶ ( to write), ﺩﹶﺭﹶﺱﹶ (to study) etc. Some examples of other patterns are ﻓﹷﺎﻋﹷﻞﹶ from which comes verbs like ﺩﺍﺭﹶﺱﹶ (to review something with someone), or ﻓﹷﻌﳲﻞﹶ from which comes verb like ﺩﹶﺭﱠﺱﹶ (to teach). Notice how the meaning is changing slightly with the verb pattern (or verb form, to use the correct technical term)but still contains the notion of the meaning of the simplest verb. Thus, ﺍﹶﻧﹿﺰﹶﻝ comes from the Fourth Verb Form i.e. ﺍﹶﻓﹿﻌﹷﻞﹶ and means to cause to descend, to bring down.
    I hope that this will make it helpful for you to understand the concept of Verb Forms in Arabic Language. Insha Allah, I plan to write about this topic on my blog soon

    Jazak Allah!

  8. Pingback: 2010 in review « Internals

  9. i have a question

    for example i have al-fataatu al-saghiiratu and i want to do it in plural, should it be alfatayaatu al-sighaaru or al-fatayaatu al-sighaaraatu? (is the broken plural the same feminine and masculine?) baraka Allahu fikum

  10. mashallah nicely explained but if a person does not know to much of arabic may be he will get confused by the bloks that comes in between the words is it a error or some thing else

  11. assalamu alikum,i need to know some (mufradh) words jam’e (ghaba,asad,madhinah,lail,jadheedha,qafas,bahar,bundhuqiyyah,khareetha,share’e)

    please answer me soon as possible..

  12. Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m looking to start my own blog soon
    but I’m having a tough time choosing between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.
    P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  13. Salam,

    I am looking for the email contact of Shaykh Amr of the previous lisanul Arab forum, if you have his contact, please do give me. Thanks.

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