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Pluralisation

1         Introduction

In Arabic, we indicate that there is only one of something by using the singular form of the noun. Similarly, we indicate that there is two of something by using the dual form. The chart below gives a simple example.

 

(Male) Student

One Student

Two Students

ط، ل، ب on the pattern فاعِل

طالِب

طالبانِ

 

Now plurality is where the discussion become more interesting. There are two major forms of plural nouns: the sound and the broken. The sound can be further divided into the sound masculine plural and the sound feminine plural. Below is a summary of the Arabic terms that describe these categories.

 

Definitions

 

جمع التكسير

The broken plural; a word that is pluralized by changing the noun’s structure

جمع المذكَّر السالم

The sound masculine plural

جمع المؤنَّث السالم

The sound feminine plural

 

Sound plurals are created simply by adding a suffix to the singular form, whereas broken plurals change the internal structure of the singular (ergo the term ‘broken’). Another distinction between the two is that there is only one form for the sound plural for each of the two genders, whereas there are many broken plurals in the language.

 

In this tutorial, we will discuss how to form the sound plurals, give some details about broken plurals, and discuss when to use which. What we do not discuss is how to form broken plurals; that is covered in an advanced tutorial entitled Broken Plurals.


 

2         Sound Plurals

2.1       Forming Sound Plurals

Rendering a noun plural using a sound plural is quite simple. Both the masculine and feminine versions have only one basic form each. And this form involves simply adding a suffix to the noun as indicated in the chart below.

 

The only thing to note is that the form for the masculine plural is changed slightly depending on the grammatical case of the noun.

 

 

Nominative Case

Accusative and Genitive Cases

 

Suffix

Example

Suffix

Example

Masculine

ـوْنَ

راغِبونَ

ـيْنَ

راغِبينَ

Feminine

ـاتٌ

راغِباتٌ

ـاتٍ

راغِباتٍ

 

2.2       Nouns that Can Use Sound Plurals

In this section we identify the types of nouns that can use this nice, simple plural. But remember, if a noun is capable of using the sound plural, it does not necessarily mean it will use it in practice.

 

2.2.1        The Sound Masculine Plural in Usage

Two types of nouns can use this plural: static nouns (جامد), and derived nouns (مشتق). This excludes gerunds (مصدر).

 

As for static nouns, only men’s names that do not end in تاء مربوطة can pluralize this way.

 

Reason for Counterexample

Counterexamples

 

Examples

It is not a name at all

رَجُلونَ

 

بَكَرونَ

It’s a woman’s name (not a man’s)

زَيْنَبونَ

 

عامِرونَ

The singular (طلحة) ends in تاء مربوطة

طَلْحونَ

 

زَيْدونَ

It’s a dog’s name (not a human’s)

ماكْسونَ

 

 

 

As for derived nouns, only those relating specifically to men which are void of تاء مربوطة can pluralize this way.

 

Reason for Counterexample

Counterexamples

 

Examples

‘Pregnant’: This refers to women

حامِلونَ

 

كاتِبونَ

The singular can refer to both men and women

صَبورونَ

 

مُسْلِمونَ

This refers to horses

سابِقونَ

 

مَشْغولونَ

The singular (رحالة) ends in تاء مربوطة

رَحّالونَ

 

 

 

Remember, we have only described nouns that can theoretically use the sound masculine plural. Not all nouns realize plurality in the described manner. Below are some examples of nouns that, despite meeting the requirements for sound plurality, use broken plurals instead:

 

Plural

Noun

طُلاّب، طَلَبة

طالِب

سادة

سَيِّد

نُظَفاء

نَظيف

 

Similarly, there are exceptions to the above rules. What we mean by that is that some nouns that do not meet the above criteria may pluralize using the sound masculine suffix. These exceptions, however, are very, very few in number. Below are a few examples:

 

Plural

Noun

عالَمونَ

عالَم

سِنونَ

سَنة

أَهْلونَ

أَهْل

 

2.2.2        The Sound Feminine Plural in Usage

This plural can be applied to any noun; static nouns, gerunds, and derived nouns are all capable of using it, theoretically speaking. The examples below illustrate this form being used on several types of nouns.

But, as noted with masculine plurality, a broken plural may be chosen to pluralize a word despite the legitimacy of the sound feminine plural.

 

Plural

Noun

اِمْتِحانات

اِمْتِحان

مُسْلِمات

مُسْلِم

عاهات

عاهة

 

Notice that, unlike for masculine plurals, the sound feminine may apply to non-humans. In fact, a word which is grammatically masculine may be pluralized using the feminine form.

 

2.3       Practice with Sound Plurals

For each of the following:

        I.            Identify whether the sound plural (masculine or feminine, as appropriate) can be used or not, based on the rules we learned

      II.            If it can, provide the sound plural (remember to use morphophonemic rules as appropriate)

    III.            Using a dictionary, check to see whether the sound plural is one of the plurals used for the noun

    IV.            If so, is it the only plural form or are there broken-plural alternatives?

 

 


a.       خاتَم

b.      تَجْرِبة

c.       اِلْتِزام

d.      دَلْو

e.      بَيْت (couplet)

f.        ميكال (Michael)

g.       قَوِيّ

h.      مُبارة

i.        مَنْهَج

j.        جِلْسة

k.       شَكور

l.        مُظْلِم

m.    حَمْزة

n.      شاعِرة

o.      ذات

p.      مُصْطَفى

q.      مُصْطَفاة

r.        أُسْلوب



 

3         Broken Plurals

There are many patterns on which we can place base letters in order to form broken plurals. For each new noun, students normally memorize the broken plural(s).

 

Broken plurals are often divided into those that indicate on a multitude of 3 to 9, and those that indicate on a multitude greater than 9. The pattern of the plural tells us which of the two is the case, and typically we do not memorize which pattern is for which.

 

Definitions

 

جمع القِلّة

The lesser broken plural (indicates on something 3-9 in number)

جمع الكَثْرة

The greater plural (indicates on something greater than 9 in number)

 

Below is an example of a word that happens to have many broken plurals, most of which are lesser plurals and some of which are greater:

 

Greater Broken Plural Example

Lesser Broken Plural Example

Singular

صُحْبان

أَصْحاب

صاحِب

 

Plurals may themselves be pluralized. This is a rare occurrence; an example is given below:

 

إِنْسان ج. ناس ج. أَناسِيّ

 

3.1       Practice with Broken Plurals

For each of the following singulars, use a dictionary to find all the plural forms. Some words have no broken plurals (they use sound), some have only one, some have many, some even have both a sound plural and broken plurals.

 


a.       قاضي

b.      أَسَد

c.       نادي

d.      شَيْخ

e.      ضَرْب

f.        عَبْد

g.       رَأْس

h.      فَرْق

i.        طَريق

j.        زائِدة

k.       صَبِيّ

l.        شابّ

m.    صائِم

n.      عاقِل

o.      لُغة

p.      عَرَبِيّ



 

4         Which Plurals to Use

1.       Using a dictionary, figure out whether a sound plural will be used, a broken plural, or both.

2.       If only the sound is used, clearly the matter determined.

For example, امتحان has only one plural which is the sound feminine: امتحانات

3.       If only broken plurals are used, one of them will be chosen.

For example, the word اَسَد has only broken plurals

This step requires caution; often a word will have many meanings and each of its plurals is reserved for one of those meanings:

For example, the word امر means both ‘issue’ and ‘command’. The plural for issue is اُمور and the plural for command is اَوامِر.

Even if all of the plurals are synonymous, they may still carry varying connotations (like in the multitude, as discussed).

4.       If both a sound and broken plurals exist, it is usually the broken plural that is used. The sound plural is reserved for certain grammatical circumstances.

For example, the word for طالب (student) can theoretically be pluralized using طالبون. But it also has plurals طُلاّب and طَلَبة. The latter two will be used under normal circumstances, and the former will be used only as حال. For example, جاءني الطلبة طالبين كتبهم (the students came to me looking for their books).

 



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