. 6
( 23)


(4) Noun nisbas: Nisba or relative adjectives may also function as nouns, in
which case, if they refer to human males or mixed groups, they are often
pluralized with the sound masculine plural:28
Lebanese lubnaaniyy/lubnaaniyy-uuna ¿’q«fɦ‘d/qÊɦ‘d
European/s ¿’q«HQhCG/ q»HQhCG

Some exceptions to this include the words for ˜Arab,™ ˜bedouin,™ and ˜foreigner™ which take bro-
ken plurals: ¬arabiyy/ ¬arab ÜôY/q»HôY, badawiyy/ badw hóH/ ¦hóH, and √ajnabiyy/ √ajaanib
–fÉLCG / q»‘¦LCG.
144 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

electrician/s kahrabaa√iyy/ kahrabaa√iyy-uuna ¿’q«FÉHô¡c/q»FÉHô¡c
statistician/s ¿’q«FÉ°üMEG/ q»FÉ°üMEG

politician/s siyaasiyy/siyaasiyy-uuna ¿’q«°SÉ«°S/q»°SÉ«°S
country dweller/s riifiyy/riifiyy-uuna ¿’q«˜jQ/ q»˜jQ
(5) Numbers in tens: The tens numbers include the sound masculine plu-
ral suffix as part of their word structure. It inflects just as the regular
sound masculine plural, -uuna for nominative and -iina for genitive/

twenty sixty sittuuna
¿hô°»Y ¿’qà°S

thirty thalaathuuna seventy sab¬uuna
¿’K“K ¿’©‘°S
forty eighty thamaanuuna
¿’©HQCG ¿’fɪK

fifty xamsuuna ninety tis¬uuna
¿’°ùªN ¿’©°ùJ
kÉq°üd ¿’©HQC™Gh ÉHÉH »∏Y kGó∏› øjô°»Y ˜
¬aliyy baabaa wa-l-√arba¬-uuna liSS-an fii ¬ishr-iina mujallad-an
Ali Baba and the forty thieves in twenty volumes

bi-mushaarakat-i thalaath-iina baaHith-an
with the participation of thirty researchers

If a plural is needed for these terms (“forties,” “fifties,” the sound femi-
nine plural is suffixed to the genitive/accusative form of the number (see
above For more on numerals, see Chapter 15.

3.2.3 The broken plural ( jam¬ al-taksiir ’°ùµàdG „ªL)
The broken or internal plural is highly characteristic of Arabic nouns and adjec-
tives. It involves a shift of vowel patterns within the word stem itself, as in English
“man/men,” “foot/feet” or “mouse/mice.” It may also involve the affixation of an
extra consonant (usually hamza or waaw). The relationship between singular nouns
and their broken plural forms relates to syllable and stress patterns, so that there
is often a characteristic rhythm to the singular/plural doublet when said aloud.
The structure and regularities of the Arabic broken plural system have been
the subject of research in morphological theory over the past fifteen years, and
considerable progress has been made in developing theories to identify and
account for the underlying regularities in the broken plural system, the most
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 145

prominent of those theories being templatic morphology and prosodic
For nonnative speakers of Arabic, learning which nouns take which plurals can
take some time, but if singulars and plurals are learned as doublets and grouped
together, sound patterns of vowel“consonant distribution become evident and, at
least to some extent, ascertainable. The most common broken plural patterns are
listed here under triptote (fully inflected) and diptote (partially inflected) cate-
gories. (For the nature of diptote inflection see section in this chapter.)
Wherever possible, specific vowel patterns are identified.
Where patterns are more general, consonant“vowel structures are also given,
using the convention that the symbol V stands for any vowel and VV for any long
vowel. The letter C stands for any consonant.30 TRIPTOTE PATTERN PLURALS ( jam¬ mu¬rab Üô©e „ªL): These broken plural
patterns are fully inflectable. They show all three case markers and can take
nunation when indefinite.

(1) Broken plural patterns with internal vowel change only:
(1.1) Plural: CuCuuC ( fu¬uul «’©a) from singular: CaCC ( fa¬l π©a) or CaCiC
( fa¬il π©a)
The CuCuuC plural pattern is a frequent one, especially for plurals of
geminate root Form I verbal nouns:
right/s Haqq/Huquuq ¥’¤M/q≥M
doubt/s shakk/shukuuk ‘’µ°T/q‚°T
art/s fann/funuun ¿’¦a/qøa
army/ies jaysh/juyuush ¢T’«L/¢»«L
century/ies qarn/quruun ¿hôb/¿ôb
king/s malik/muluuk ‘’∏e/‚∏e
See, for example, McCarthy and Prince 1990a and 1990b, Paoli 1999, and Ratcliffe 1990. In
particular, see Ratcliffe 1998 for an extensive analysis of Arabic broken plurals within comparative
Semitic. As he describes it, it is “a historical and comparative study of a portion of the nominal
morphology of Arabic and other Semitic languages on the basis of a fresh theoretical approach to
non-concatenative or ˜root and pattern™ morphology” (1998, 1). As to the abundance of broken
plural forms, Lecomte notes (1968, 72“73): “Le problème des pluriels internes est fort complexe, et
rebelle à toute explication d©cisive. On notera toutefois que la fixation a ©t© op©r©e par les
lexicographes anciens aux IIe et IIIe siècles de l™Hegire à la suite de minutieuses enquêtes dans les
tribus. Les diff©rences dialectales constitutent donc une des cl©s du problème. Elles expliquent en
tout cas pourquoi les dictionnaires peuvent signaler plusieurs pluriels pour un même mot.”
For an extensive list and discussion of broken plural patterns, see Wright 1967, I:199“234. For
further lists and analysis of broken plurals, see also Abboud and McCarus 1983, Part 2: 267“76;
Blachère and Gaudefroy Demombynes 1975, 166“99; Cowan 1964, 23“28 and 200“202; Fleisch
1961, 470“505; MECAS 1965, 245“46; and Ziadeh and Winder 1957, 102.
146 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

A borrowed word that has taken this plural pattern:

bank/s bank/ bunuuk ‘’¦H/‚¦H
Plural CuCCaaC ( fu¬¬aal «Éq©a) from singular: CaaCiC ( faa¬il πYÉa): This
plural, used with the Form I active participle (m.), is used only for
human beings.31

deputy/ies naa√ ib/ nuwwaab ÜGq’f/–FÉf
worker/s «ÉqªY/πeÉY
¬aamil/ ¬ummaal

reader/s qaari√ / qurraa√ AGqôb/ÇQÉb
guard/s Haaris/Hurraas Harasa á°SôM ¢SGqôM/¢SQÉM
rider/s raakib/rukkaab ÜÉqcQ/–cGQ
student/s Taalib/Tullaab Talaba á‘∏W Üq“W/–dÉW
Plural CiCaaC ( fi¬aal «É©a) from singular CVCVC or CVCC ( fa¬al π©a,
fa¬ul π©a, fa¬l π©a)

man/men rajul/rijaal «ÉLQ/πLQ
mountain/s jabal/jibaal «É‘L/π‘L
sand/s raml/rimaal «ÉeQ/πeQ
earthenware jar/s jarra/jiraar QGôL/IqôL
basket/s salla/silaal «“°S/áq∏°S
Plural CuCaC ( fu¬al πn©oa) from singular CVCCa ( fa¬la, fu¬la, fi¬la ád©a)

state/s dawla/ duwal «hO/ádhO
room/s ghurfa/ ghuraf ±ôZ/áaôZ
sentence/s jumla/ jumal πªL/á∏ªL
opportunity/ies furSa/ furaS ¢Uôa/á°Uôa
time period/s mudda/mudad Oóe/Iqóe
picture/s Suura/Suwar Q’°U/IQ’°U
nation/s ·CG/áqeCG

For example, the noun ¬aamil in the singular can mean either ˜worker™ or ˜factor.™ When it means
˜worker™ the plural is ¬ummaal; when it means ˜factor,™ the plural is ¬awaamil.
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 147

(1.5) Plural CuCuC ( fu¬ul π©a) from singular: CVCVVC(a) ( fa¬iil(a) (á` )`∏«©a,
fi¬aal «É©a)
city/ies madiina/mudun ¿óe/á¦jóe
ship/s safiina/ sufun ø˜°S/ᦫ˜°S
newspaper/s SaHiifa/SuHuf ∞«°U/ᘫ«°U
path/s Tariiq/Turuq ¥ôW/≥jôW
book/s kitaab/kutub –àc/ÜÉàc
foundation/s ¢ù°SCG/¢SÉ°SCG
√asaas/ √usus

Plural CiCaC( fi¬al π©a) from singular CiCCa ( fi¬la á∏©a) or CaCiiC
( fa¬iil π«©a)
value/s qiima/qiyam º«b/᪫b
story/ies qiSSa/qiSaS ¢ü°üb/áq°üb
idea/s fikra/fikar ôµa/Iôµa
charm/s; enchantment/s fitna/fitan Ïa/á¦àa
team/s fariiq /firaq ¥ôa/≥jôa
Plural CaCCaa ( fa¬laa ≈∏©a) from singular CaCiiC ( fa¬iil π«©a) or CaCCiC
( fa¬¬il π©a): These plural forms go with certain adjectives that are also
used as substantives referring to human beings:
dead mayyit/mawtaa ≈J’e/âq«e
killed qatiil/qatlaa ≈∏àb/π«àb
wounded jariiH/jarHaa ≈MôL/íjôL
sick mariiD/marDaa ≈°Vôe/¢†jôe
(2) Plurals with vowel change and affixation of consonant:
(2.1) Plural: √aCCaaC (√af¬aal «É©aCG ) from singular: CVCC ( fa¬l π©a) or CVCVC
( fa¬al π©a) or hollow: CVVC ( faal «Éa, fuul «’a, fiil π«a): This plural involves
the prefixing of hamza plus fatHa to the word stem and the shift of vowel
pattern to a long /aa/ between the second and third radicals:
dream/s Hulm/ √aHlaam „¦“MCG/º∏M
tower/s burj/ √abraaj êGôHCG/êôH
profit/s ribH/ √arbaaH ¬ÉHQCG/íHQ
section/s qism/ √aqsaam „¦É°ùbCG/º°ùb
148 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

shay√ / √ashyaa√32
thing/s AÉ«°TCG/A»°T
color/s lawn/ √alwaan ¿G’dCG/¿’d
error/s ghalaT/ √aghlaaT •“ZCG/§∏Z
foot/feet qadam/ √aqdaam „¦GóbCG/„¦ób
door/s baab/ √abwaab ÜG’HCG/ÜÉH
market/s suuq/ √aswaaq ¥G’°SCG/¥’°S
bag/s kiis/ √akyaas ¢SÉ«cCG/¢ù«c
holiday/s OÉ«YCG/ó«Y
¬iid/ √a¬yaad

Borrowed words that fit the pattern:
film/s film/ √aflaam „¦“aCG/º∏a
ton/s Tann/ √aTnaan ¿É¦WCG/øW
mile/s miil/ √amyaal «É«eCG/π«e
yawm/ √ayyaam33
day/s „¦ÉqjCG/„¦’j
thousand/s √alf / √aalaaf ±™BG/∞dCG
Plurals of ˜paucity™: √aCCuC (√af ¬ul π©aCG) and CiCCa ( f i¬la á∏©a)
( jam¬ al-qilla áq∏¤dG „ªL): Certain nouns have an additional plural form
which denotes a ˜plural of paucity,™ usually considered to be in the range
of three to ten items:
river/s nahr/ √anhur ô¡fCG/ô¡f
month/s shahr/ √ashhur ô¡°TCG/ô¡°T
youth/s fatan/fitya á«àa/ k≈àa
(2.2.1) The plural of paucity can be contrasted with jam¬ al-kathra I̵dG „ªL, the
plural that indicates many:
√anhur (a few rivers) / √anhaar nuhuur (many rivers) Q’¡f QÉ¡fCG/ô¡fCG
√ashhur (a few months) /shuhuur (many months) Q’¡°T/ô¡°TCG
fitya (a few youths) /fityaan (many youths) ¿É«àa/á«àa
The plural √ashyaa√ ˜things™ is diptote despite the fact that the final hamza is part of the root. See
section in this chapter for further discussion of diptotes and diptote patterns.
By virtue of phonological rules that prevent the sequence /-yw-/ in *√aywaam, the plural form
becomes √ayyaam, with assimilation of the waaw to the yaa√. Likewise, *√a√ laaf is realized as √aalaaf
in order to avoid the sequence /√a√/. Other plurals of this pattern include ˜literature™ √adab/
√aadaab ÜGOBG/ÜOCG and ˜vestige™ √athar/ √aathaar QÉKBG/ôKCG.
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 149

(2.3) Addition of nuun: Plural: CVCCaan ( fa¬laan ¿“©a/ fi¬laan ¿“©a/fu¬laan
country/ies bilaad/buldaan ¿Gó∏H/O“H
neighbor/s ¿G’L/QÉL
fire/s naar/niiraaan ¿G’f/QÉf
worm/s duuda/diidaan ¿GójO/IOhO
bull/s thawr/thiiraan ¿G’K/Q’K
(2.4) Addition of taa√ marbuuTa: Sometimes a taa√ marbuuTa is suffixed as
part of a plural pattern. When used with the plural, it does not signify
feminine gender.
(2.4.1) Plural CaCaaCiCa ( fa¬aalila á∏dÉ©a). This is often used to pluralize names
of groups or professions borrowed from other languages:

professor/s √ustaadh / √asaatidha IòJÉ°SCG/PÉà°SCG
doctor/s duktuur/dakaatira IôJÉcO/Q’àcO
philosopher/s faylusuuf/falaasifa ᘰS“a/±’°S∏«a
Bolshevik/s bulshifiyy/balaashifa ᘰT“H/»˜°»∏H
African/s ¿’«¤jôaEG ábQÉaCG/»¤jôaEG
pharaoh/s fir¬awn/faraa¬ina á¦YGôa/¿’Yôa
bishop/s ∞bÉ°SCG á˜bÉ°SCG/∞¤°SCG
√usquf/√asaafiqa √asaaqif

(2.4.2) Plural CaaCa ( faala ádÉa): Used with nouns derived from hollow verbs:

sir/s sayyid/saada IOÉ°S/óq«°S
leader/s qaa√ id/qaada IOÉb/óFÉb
(2.4.3) Plural CuCaat ( fu¬aat IÉ©a): Used with active participles of Form I
defective verbs:

infantryman/infantry maashin/mushaat IÉ°»e/m¢TÉe
judge/s qaaDin/quDaat IÉ°†b/m¢VÉb
reciter/s raawin/ruwaat IGhQ/mhGQ
Phonological rules prevent the sequence /-iw-/ in the hypothetical form *jiwraan, and it is realized as
jiiraan, the /i/ sound assimilating the waaw. The same principle applies to naar/niiraan and others.
150 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

marksman/-men raamin/rumaat IGeoQ/m „¦GQ
dilettante/s; fan/s haawin/huwaat IG’g/mhÉg
(2.4.4) Plural CaCaCa ( fa¬ala á∏©a) from singular CaaCiC: This plural often
alternates with CuCCaaC.

student/s Taalib/Talaba Tullaab Ü“W á‘∏W/–dÉW
servant/s xaadim/xadama xuddaam „¦GóN áeóN/„¦OÉN
guard/s Haaris/Harasa Hurraas ¢SGôM á°SôM/¢SQÉM
Plural √aCCiCa (√af ¬ila á∏©aCG) from singular CVCaaC ( fa¬aal «É©a, fi¬aal
«É©a): In this broken plural pattern there is addition of both hamza at the
start of the word and taa√ marbuuTa at the end of the word:
carpet/s bisaaT /√absiTa busuT §°ùH ᣰùHCG/•É°ùH
answer/s jawaab/√ajwiba áH’LCG/ÜG’L
clothes libaas /√albisa á°ù‘dCG/¢SÉ‘d
mixture/s mizaaj/√amzija áLµeCG/êGµe
brain/s dimaagh/√admigha á¨eOCG/ÆÉeO
(2.4.6) Plural CaCaayaa ( fa¬aayaa ÉjÉ©a): This plural is used for certain feminine
nouns, especially if they are defective or hamzated. It is invariable,
always ending with √alif.

gift hadiyya/hadaayaa ÉjGóg/ájóg
sin xaTii√a/xaTaayaa ÉjÉ£N/á„«£N
corner zaawiya/zawaayaa ÉjGhR/ájhGR Diptote pattern broken plural (mamnuu¬ min al-Sarf ±ô°üdG øe ´’¦‡): A
number of common plural patterns are diptote and belong to conjugation five
(see section Among them are the following:

(1) Plural: CuCaCaa√ ( fu¬alaa√ A“©a) from singular: CaCiiC ( fa¬iil π«©a):
This plural is used only for human beings:

prince/s AGôeCG/’eCG
√amiir/ √umaraa√

president/s ra√iis/ ru√asaa√ AÉ°SDhQ/¢ù«FQ
minister/s waziir/ wuzaraa√ AGQRh/ôjRh
leader/s za¬iim/ zu¬amaa√ AɪYR/º«YR
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 151

expert/s xabiir/xubaraa√ AGÈN/’‘N
poor person/s faqiir/fuqaraa√ AGô¤a/’¤a
(2) Plural √aCCiCaa√ (√af ¬ilaa√ A“©aCG) from singular CaCiiC ( fa¬iil π«©a).
This broken plural pattern prefixes and suffixes hamza. It is used with
humans only:
Tabiib/ √aTibbaa√35
physician/s AÉ‘WCG/–«‘W
friend/s Sadiiq / √aSdiqaa√ AÉbó°UCG/≥jó°U
relative/s qariib/√aqribaa√ AÉHôbCG/–jôb
loved one/s Habiib/ √aHibbaa√ AÉ‘MCG/–«‘M
(3) Plural CaCaaCiC ( fa¬aalil πdÉ©a). This is a frequent plural pattern. It is
used primarily with words that have four consonants in the singular,
but can also be used for plurals of words with three consonants in the
singular. It has a number of variations, as follows:
(3.1) Nouns derived from triliteral roots where the singular has a prefixed
miim. For example:
(3.1.1) Nouns of place:
center/s markaz/ maraakiz µcGôe/µcôe
kingdom/s mamlaka/ mamaalik ‚dɇ/áµ∏‡
restaurant/s maT¬am/maTaa¬im ºYÉ£e/º©£e
mine/s manjam/manaajim ºLɦe/º©¦e
(3.1.2) Nouns of instrument:
towel/s minshafa/manaashif ∞°Tɦe/ᘰ»¦e
broom/s miknaas/makaanis ¢ùfɵe/¢Sɦµe
elevator/s miS¬ad/maSaa¬id óYÉ°üe/ó©°üe
(3.1.3) Participles: (Form IV AP nonhuman):

problem/s mushkila/ mashaakil πcÉ°»e/á∏µ°»e
(3.2) Other patterns of triliteral roots with added consonants:
ladder/s sullam /salaalim „“°S/º∏°S
foreigner/s √ajnabiyy / √ajaanib –fÉLCG/»‘¦LCG
Phonological rules prevent the sequence *√aTbibaa√, so the medial /i/ shifts and the form becomes
152 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

middle part/s §°SGhCG/§°ShCG
ticket/s tadhkira/tadhaakir ôcGòJ/IôcòJ
fingertip/s πeÉfCG/á∏°CG
√unmula/ √anaamil

(3.3) Nouns derived from quadriliteral roots:
frog/s Dafda¬ /Dafaadi¬ ´Oɘ°V/´ó˜°V
element/s ô°UɦY/ô°ü¦Y
¬unSur/ ¬anaaSir
hotel/s funduq/fanaadiq ¥Oɦa/¥ó¦a
dagger/s xanjar/xanaajir ôLɦN/ô©¦N
bomb/s qunbula/ qanaabil πHɦb/á∏‘¦b
translation/s tarjama/taraajim ºLGôJ/áªLôJ
(3.4) Nouns that are borrowed from other languages, but fit the pattern:
consul/s qunSul/qanaaSil π°Uɦb/π°ü¦b
(3.5) Certain quinquiliteral (five-consonant) nouns reduce themselves by
one consonant in order to fit this quadriliteral plural pattern:
spider/s ¬ankabuut/ ¬anaakib (omission of /t/) –cɦY/¤’‘µ¦Y
program/s barnaamaj/baraamij (omission of /n/) èeGôH/èeÉfôH
index/es fihrist/fahaaris (omission of /t/) ¢SQÉ¡a/â°Sô¡a
(3.6) Variants on fa¬aalil πdÉ©a:
A frequent variant on this plural pattern is the insertion of an extra
sound in order to create the pattern: waaw or hamza, typically from sin-
gular CVCVVC or CVCVVCa:
(3.6.1) Plural CaCaa√iC ( fa¬aa√il πFÉ©a): medial hamza insertion:
newspaper/s jariida/ jaraa√id óFGôL/IójôL
minute/s daqiiqa/ daqaa√iq ≥FÉbO/ᤫbO
result/s natiija/ nataa√ij èFÉàf/á©«àf
church/es kaniisa/ kanaa√is ¢ùFɦc/á°ù«¦c
garden/s Hadiiqa/Hadaa√iq ≥FGóM/ᤫóM
ode/s qaSiida/qaSaa√id óFÉ°üb/Ió«°üb
Plural √aCaaCiC (√afaa¬il πYÉaCG): initial hamza insertion:
place/s makaan/ √amaakin øcÉeCG/¿Éµe
relative/s qariib/√aqaarib ÜQÉbCG/–jôb
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 153

(3.6.3) Plural CawaaCiC ( fawaa¬il πYG’a): waaw insertion:
( Active participles
Used primarily with Form I active participles (CaaCiC or CaaCiCa) that
do not refer to human beings:
salary/ies raatib/rawaatib –JGhQ/–JGQ
objection/s maani¬ / mawaani¬ „fG’e/„fÉe
capital/s º°UG’Y/᪰UÉY
¬aaSima/ ¬awaaSim
fruit/s faakiha/fawaakih ¬cG’a/á¡cÉa
mosque/s jaami¬ / jawaami¬ „eG’L/„eÉL
street/s shaari¬ / shawaari¬ ´QG’°T/´QÉ°T
ring/s xaatim/xawaatim ”G’N/”ÉN
incident/s Haadith/Hawaadith §OG’M/§OÉM
last part/s ôNGhCG/ôNBG
√aaxir/ √awaaxir

( Used with a few words that have the Form I active participle pattern
and that refer to human beings:
monarch/s πgG’Y/πgÉY
¬aahil/ ¬awaahil
pregnant (one/s) Haamil/Hawaamil πeG’M/πeÉM
(3.6.4) Plural CaCaaCin ( fa¬aalin m«É©a): defective noun variants: When the
fa¬aalil plural pattern is used with nouns from defective roots, or
nouns with defective plural patterns, it ends with two kasras when it is
indefinite. These kasras are not regular nunation but substitute for the
missing waaw or yaa√ from the root. These plural forms are still diptote
and therefore do not take regular nunation.36

coffeehouse/s maqhan/maqaahin m√ɤe/k≈¡¤e
range/s marman/maraamin m„¦Gôe/ k≈eôe
night/s m«É«d/π«d
effort/s mas¬an/masaa¬in m´É°ùe/ k≈©°ùe
(4) Diptote plural: CaCaaCiiC ( fa¬aaliil π«dÉ©a). This is a four-consonant
pattern with one short and two long vowels that applies mainly to the
following types of singular nouns:

See section 5.4.3 in this chapter for declensions of these words.
A few words, such as layl, are not from defective roots, yet they have a plural form that uses the
defective pattern. The words √arD/ √araaDin ¢VGQCG /¢VQCG (˜earth, land™) and yad/√ayaadin OÉjCG/ój
(˜hand™) have these plurals as well.
154 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

(4.1) Singular CVCCVVC: Used with words where the singular has an added
consonant and there is a long vowel between the second and third root
(4.1.1) Prefixed hamza:

pipe/s –«HÉfCG/Ü’‘fCG
√unbuub/ √anaabiib
week/s √usbuu¬ / √asaabii¬ „«HÉ°SCG/´’‘°SCG
legend/s ’WÉ°SCG/IQ’£°SCG
√usTuura/ √asaaTiir
fleet/s π«WÉ°SCG/«’£°SCG
√usTuul/ √asaaTiil

(4.1.2) Doubled middle root consonant:
window/s shubbaak/shabaabiik ‚«HÉ‘°T/‘Éq‘°T
prayer rug/s sajjaada/sajaajiid ó«LÉ©°S/IOÉq©°S
(4.1.3) Prefixed miim:
( Passive participles: Form I passive participles serving as substantives:
decree/s marsuum/maraasiim º«°SGôe/„¦’°Sôe
topic/s mawDuu¬ / mawaaDii¬ „«°VG’e/´’°V’e
concept/s mafhuum/mafaahiim º«gɘe/„¦’¡˜e
content/s maDmuun/maDaamiin ÚeÉ°†e/¿’ª°†e
( Some nouns of instrument:
key/s miftaaH/mafaatiiH í«Jɘe/¬Éà˜e
saw/s minshaar/manaashiir ’°Tɦe/QÉ°»¦e
Prefixed taa√: Certain Form II verbal nouns as a plural variant:
report/s taqriir/taqaariir ôjQɤJ/ôjô¤J
arrangement/s tadbiir/-aat tadaabiir ’HGóJ ¤G-/’HóJ
detail/s tafSiil/-aat tafaaSiil π«°UɘJ ¤G-/π«°ü˜J
statue/s timthaal/tamaathiil π«KÉ“/«Éã“
drill/s tamriin/-aat tamaariin øjQÉ“ ¤G-/øjô“
(4.2) Quadriliteral root nouns (singular pattern: CVCCVVC):
crocodile/s timsaaH/tamaasiiH í«°SÉ“/¬É°ù“
box/es Sanduuq /Sanaadiiq ≥jOɦ°U/¥hó¦°U
title/s; address/es øjhɦY/¿G’¦Y
¬unwaan/ ¬anaawiin
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 155

orchard/s bustaan/basaatiin ÚJÉ°ùH/¿ÉJ°ùH
hornet/s zunbuur/zanaabiir ’HÉfR/Q’‘fR
volcano/es burkaan/baraakiin ÚcGôH/¿ÉcôH
(4.3) Borrowed words that fit the singular CVCCVVC pattern:
million/s milyuun/malaayiin Új“e/¿’«∏e
billion/s bilyuun/balaayiin Új“H/¿’«∏H
(5) Plural CawaaCiiC ( fawaa¬iil π«YG’a) from singular CaaCuuC ( faa¬uul
«’YÉa): variant from triliteral root with addition of waaw: This fits a
triliteral root with two long vowels into a quadriliteral plural:
spy/ies jaasuus/jawaasiis ¢ù«°SG’L/¢S’°SÉL
law/s qaanuun/qawaaniin ÚfG’b/¿’fÉb
nightmare/s kaabuus/kawaabiis ¢ù«HG’c/¢S’HÉc
dictionary/ies qaamuus/qawaamiis ¢ù«eG’b/¢S’eÉb
rocket/s Saaruux/Sawaariix ïjQG’°U/±hQÉ°U
3.2.4 Plurals from different or modi¬ed roots
A few nouns have plurals with different or slightly variant lexical roots.
woman/women imra√a/nisaa√ niswa niswaan ¿G’°ùf I’°ùf AÉ°ùf/ICGôeG
horse/es Hisaan/xayl π«N/¿É°üM
water/s maa√ /miyaah √É«e/AÉe
mouth fam / √afwaah √G’aCG/ºa
3.2.5 Plural of the plural: ( jam¬ al-jam¬ „ª·G „ªL)
Occasionally a noun will have a plural form that can itself be made plural. It is
not clear whether there is a semantic difference between simple plural and plural
of plural or if the use is purely stylistic choice. Some instances of plural of plural

hand/s yad / √ayd-in/ √ayaad-in mOÉjCG/mójCG/ój
wound/s jurH / juruuH/ juruuHaat ¤ÉMhôL/¬hôL/¬ôL
path/s Tariiq/ Turuq/ Turuqaat ¤ÉbhôW/¥ôW/≥jôW
house/s bayt/ buyuut/ buyuutaat ¤ÉJ’«H/¤’«H/â«H
pyramid/s haram/ √ahraam/ √ahraamaat ¤ÉeGôgCG/„¦GôgCG/„¦ôg
156 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

In the following case, the plural of the plural has a semantic implication: the
first plural is straightforward, but the plural of the plural implies distinction as
well as plurality: ˜distinctive men, men of importance.™

man/men/men of distinction rajul/rijaal/rijaalaat ¤™ÉLQ/«ÉLQ/πLQ
4 De¬niteness and inde¬niteness
Arabic substantives may be marked for definiteness or indefiniteness. There is a
definite article in Arabic, but it is not an independent word, it is a prefix al-. The
indefinite marker (“a” or “an” in English) is not a separate word in Arabic. It is a
suffix, -n, referred to technically as “nunation” (from the name of the letter/sound
nuun). Thus, in Arabic, the definiteness marker is attached to the beginning of a
word and the indefiniteness marker is attached to the end of a word. They are, of
course, mutually exclusive.

4.1 De¬niteness
Specifying definiteness, or determination, is a way of specifying or restricting the
meaning of a noun. Arabic nouns are determined or made definite in three ways:

(1) By prefixing the definite article /al-/;
(2) By using the noun as first term of an √iDaafa (annexation structure);
(3) By suffixing a possessive pronoun to the noun.

4.1.1 The de¬nite article /al-/:
This function word has several important features:38 It is not an independent word, it is a prefix, or proclitic
particle. It is affixed to the beginning of a word and written as part of it.

the bread al-xubz µ‘ÿG
the pyramids al-√ahraam „¦GôgC™G
the joy al-faraH ¬ô˜dG Although spelled with √alif-laam, and
IT IS SPELLED WITH hamzat al-waSl:
most often transliterated as “al-,” the √alif in this word is not a vowel and is
therefore not pronounced; rather, it is a seat for a hamza and a short vowel -a
( fatHa) which is pronounced when the word is utterance-initial.
When the definite article is not the first word in an utterance, then the hamza
drops out, the /a/ vowel is replaced by the vowel that ends the previous word, and

For more on the definite and indefinite articles, see Chapter 2, section 8.
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 157

there is no break between the words. There is, instead, a liaison, or smooth tran-
sition from one word to the next.39

√ilaa l-madiinat-i
to the city á¦jóŸG ¤EG
in Arabic bi-l-¬arabiyyat-i á«Hô©dÉH
¬alam-u l-balad-i
the country™s flag ó∏‘dG º∏Y
al-√umam-u l-muttaHidat-u
The United Nations Ió«qàŸG ·C™G laam: The nature of the first letter of a noun or
adjective determines the pronunciation of /al-/. The letters of the Arabic alphabet
are divided into two sections, one section whose members assimilate the /l/ sound
and another section whose members allow the full pronunciation of /l/ of the
definite article. See also Chapter 2, section 8.1.2.

(1) Sun letters (Huruuf shamsiyya á«°ùª°T ±hôM): Certain sounds, or letters,
when they begin a word, cause the laam of the definite article to assimi-
late or be absorbed into them in pronunciation (but not in writing). When
this assimilation happens, it has the effect of doubling the first letter of
the word. That letter is then written with a shadda, or doubling marker,
and is pronounced more strongly. The list is:

AÉJ, AÉK, «GO, «GP, AGQ, ¦GR, Ú°S, Ú°T, OÉ°U, OÉ°V, AÉW, AÉX, „¦™, ¿’f
taa√, thaa√, daal, dhaal, raa√, zaay, siin, shiin, Saad, Daad, Taa√, Zaa√, laam, nuun

Spelling Arabic Pronunciation

the leader al-za¬iim az-za¬iim

the fish al-samak as-samak

the honor al-sharaf ash-sharaf

the fox al-tha¬lab ath-tha¬lab

the wolf al-dhi√b adh-dhi√b

(2) Moon letters (Huruuf qamariyya ájôªb ±hôM): Moon letters do not absorb
or assimilate the /l/ of the definite article. They are:

Iµªg, AÉH, º«L, AÉM, AÉN, ÚY, ÚZ, AÉa, ±Éb, ±Éc, º«e, AÉg, hGh, AÉj
hamza, baa√, jiim, Haa√, xaa√, ¬ayn, ghayn, faa√, qaaf, kaaf, miim, haa√, waaw, yaa√

For further discussion of the definite article and hamzat al-waSl, see Chapter 2, section 8.
158 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

the village al-qarya ájô¤dG
the institute al-ma¬had ó¡©ŸG
the schedule al-jadwal «hó·G
the government al-Hukuuma áe’µ—G

4.1.2 Uses of the de¬nite article
The definite article is used in the following ways: To specify a noun or noun phrase previously
referred to or understood by the reader or hearer. For example:

º«bCG ¦òdG ójó·G µcôŸG .–©∏ŸG ˜ óLh
al-markaz-u l-jadiid-u lladhii √uqiim-a wujid-a fii l-mal¬ab-i.
the new center which has been established It was found in the playground.

.áª∏µdG »°ùf ¬fCG ‘QOCG
√adrak-a √anna-hu nasiy-a l-kalimat-a.
He realized that he had forgotten the word. Here the definite article is used to specify a noun in
general terms. In English, the generic use of the noun often omits the definite
article, for example, “life is beautiful,” “squirrels like nuts,” “elephants never
forget,” “seeing is believing.” Sometimes, also, in English, an indefinite article is
used to refer to something in general: “a noun is a part of speech.” In Arabic, the
definite article is used when referring to something in general.

.¤BÉLɘŸG –MCG ™ .πª©dG ’g º¡ŸG
I don™t like surprises. The important (thing) is work.
laa √u-Hibb-u l-mufaaja√aat-i. al-muhimm-u huwa l-¬amal-u.

.áj’b á°ùaɦŸG .πª©dG ˜ º«¶¦àdG –MCG
Competition is strong. I like organization at work.
al-munaafasat-u qawiyyat-un. √u-Hibb-u l-tanZiim-a fii l-¬amal-i. PLACE NAMES: Certain place names in Arabic contain the definite article.
This includes names of places in the Arab world and elsewhere.

Khartoum al-xarTuum Jordan al-√urdunn
„¦’£ôÿG ¿OQC™G
Riyadh al-riyaaD Iraq al-¬iraaq
¢VÉjôdG ¥Gô©dG
Cairo al-qaahira Kuwait al-kuwayt
IôgɤdG âj’µdG
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 159

Morocco al-maghrib Austria al-nimsaa
Üô¨ŸG É°ùª¦dG
Algeria al-jazaa√ir China al-Siin
ôFGµ·G Ú°üdG Names of the days of the week are
considered definite and include the definite article. If they are modified by an
adjective, it also carries the definite article:

»°VÉŸG AÉK“ãdG â‘°ùdGh ᩪ·G „¦ÉjCG
al-thulaathaa√-a l-maaDiy-a √ayyaam-a l-jum¬at-i wa-l-sabt-i
last Tuesday on Fridays and Saturdays

¦QÉ·G AÉK“ãdG ô¡X ó©H ᩪ·Gh ¢ù«ªÿG nπ«d
ba¬d-a Zuhr-i l-thulaathaa√-i l-jaarii layl-a l-xamiis-i wa-l-jum¬at-i
next Tuesday afternoon on Thursday and Friday night Referring to times of the day, the hours are specified
with the definite article:

óZ AÉ°ùe øe á¦eÉãdGh á°SOÉ°ùdG ÚH
bayn-a l-saadisat-i wa-l-thaaminat-i min masaa√-i ghad-in
between six and eight o™clock (˜the sixth and the eighth™) tomorrow evening

„HôdGh á©HÉ°ùdG ˜
fii l-saabi¬at-i wa-l-rub¬-i
at seven fifteen (˜the seventh and the quarter™) The definite article is used with adjectives when they
modify definite nouns. This is described in greater detail in Chapter 10.

„¦É©dG ÚeC™G –«°üÿG «“¡dG áÁó¤dG ájɵ—G
al-√amiin-u l-¬aamm-u al-hilaal-u l-xaSiib-u al-Hikaayat-u l-qadiimat-u
the secretary general the Fertile Crescent the old story

§°S’àŸG ô«‘dG Üô©dG AGô˜°ùdG
al-baHr-u l-mutawassiT-u al-sufaraa√-u l-¬arab-u
the Mediterranean Sea the Arab ambassadors

The article is also used on stand-alone adjectives when they serve as substitutes
for nouns.

al-kathiir-u min-naa
many of us ɦe ’ãµdG
the greatest ÈcC™G
at least ¬alaa l-√aqall-i πbC™G ≈∏Y
160 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic WITH CARDINAL NUMBERS IN DEFINITE PHRASES:
á∏‘¤ŸG ¢ùªÿG ¤G’¦°ùdG ˜ Iô°»Y „°ùàdG ±ô¨dG ˜
fii l-sanawaat-i l-xams-i l-muqbilat-i fii l-ghuraf-i l-tis¬-a ¬asharat-a
in the next five years in the nineteen rooms

4.1.3 De¬niteness through annexation (√iDaafa áaÉ°VEG )
A noun can become definite through being added or annexed to another (Arabic:
√ iDaafa ˜addition; annexation™ also called the “genitive construct”). The first term
of an annexation structure cannot have the definite article because it is made def-
inite by means of its annexation to another noun. When the annexing noun is
definite, or a proper noun, the whole phrase is considered definite.

πFÉ‘¤dG AɪYR ¬∏dG ܵM
zu¬amaa√-u l-qabaa√il-i Hizb-u llaah-i
the leaders of the tribes the party of God

πcÉ°»ŸG qπM ≥°»eO á¦jóe
Hall-u l-mashaakil-i madiinat-u dimashq-a
the solution of the problems the city of Damascus

If the annexing noun (the second noun in the phrase) is indefinite, the entire
phrase is considered indefinite:40

Haqiibat-u yad-in a handbag ój á‘«¤M
Tabiib-u √asnaan-in a dentist ¿É¦°SCG –«‘W
marmaa Hajr-in a stone™s throw ô©M ≈eôe
The √iDaafa is a very common syntactic structure in Arabic with a wide range of
meanings, reflecting relationships of belonging, identification, and possession.
For more detail and examples, see Chapter 8.

4.1.4 De¬niteness through pronoun suf¬x
A third way for a noun to be made definite is to suffix a possessive pronoun. The
pronoun is attached to a noun after the case marker. Note that a noun cannot
have both the definite article and a pronoun suffix: they are mutually exclusive
( just as one would not have “the my house” in English). Because a noun with a

The first noun in the annexation structure looks definite because it does not have nunation, but it
is not definite. For example, if it is modified, the adjective is indefinite:

á∏«ªL ój á‘«¤M
a beautiful handbag Haqiibat-u yad-in jamiilat-un
¦ô°üe ¿É¦°SCG –«‘W
an Egyptian dentist Tabiib-u √asnaan-in miSriyy-un
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 161

pronoun suffix is definite, any adjective modifying that noun has the definite
article, in agreement with the definiteness of the noun.

É¡àbÉW ájôjôµàdG É¡àbÉW
Taaqat-u-haa l-takriiriyyat-u
its capacity its refining capacity

√ô“D’e CGóH »aÉ«°üdG √ô“D’e CGóH
bada√a mu√ tamar-a-hu l-Sihaafiyy-a
bada√a mu√tamar-a-hu
he began his conference he began his press conference

¬JQÉjR ˜ I’NC™G ᫪°SôdG ¬JQÉjR ˜
fii ziyaarat-i-hi l-rasmiyyat-i l-√axiirat-i
fii ziyaarat-i-hi
on his visit on his last official visit

4.2 Inde¬niteness

4.2.1 Writing and pronunciation: nunation (tanwiin øj’¦J)
Indefiniteness as a noun feature is usually marked by a suffixed /-n/ sound, which
is written in a special way as a variation of the case-marking short vowel at the
end of a word.41 The technical term for this is “nunation” in English, and tanwiin
øj’¦J in Arabic. The suffixed /-n/ sound is not written by using the Arabic letter
nuun. Instead, it is signaled by writing the short case-marking vowel twice. There-
fore, the names of the nunation markers are:

o o/l
Dammataani two Dammas

`m ``
kasrataani two kasras

fatHataani two fatHas

Whereas the definite article is visible in Arabic script, the indefinite marker
normally is not, since it attaches itself to the inflectional short vowel suffixes.42
In general, the nominative (Dammataani) and genitive (kasrataani) forms of
nunation are not pronounced in pause form. The accusative ( fatHataani), however,
is often pronounced, even in pause form, especially in common spoken Arabic
adverbial phrases:

always daa√im-an especially xuSuuS-an
kɪFGO kÉ°U’°üN
never exactly tamaam-an
kGóHCG kÉeÉ“
See also Chapter 2, section 8.2.
The exception to this is the accusative indefinite suffix, -an, which is written into the script with
an √alif and two fatHas. See section for further description.
162 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic MASCULINE SINGULAR INDEFINITE WORD:

bayt ˜a house™

Nominative bayt-un
Genitive bayt-in


¬aaSifa ˜a storm™




nujuum ˜stars™

nujuum-un „¦’‚

nujuum-in „¦’‚

nujuum-an kÉe’‚
Accusative The sound feminine plural
does not take fatHa or fatHataani; the genitive and accusative forms are identical:

kalimaat ˜words™

kalimaat-un l¤Éª∏c

kalimaat-in m¤Éª∏c

kalimaat-in m¤Éª∏c
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 163 There are several things to note about the
writing and pronunciation of nunation:

(1) First, the nominative, Dammataan, is more often written as a Damma with
a “tail” or flourish, rather than two separate Dammas .
a schedule jadwal-un a colt muhr-un
l lô¡e
a steamship baaxirat-un a bell jaras-un
(2) Second, the accusative, fatHataan, is often accompanied by an √alif. This
√alif is a spelling convention and is not pronounced. It is considered to be
a chair or seat for the two fatHas to perch on. It is visible in Arabic script.

a rocket Saaruux-an a knife sikkiin-an
kÉNhQÉ°U kɦ«µ°S
a rabbit a saddle sarj-an
kÉ‘fQCG kÉLô°S

(2.1) If a word in the accusative ends with a taa√ marbuuTa, or a hamza, or pre-
ceded by √alif, then the √alif “chair” is not used and the fatHataan perch
right on top of the hamza or taa√ marbuuTa:

an evening masaa√-an a melon baTTixat-an
kAÉ°ùe ᮫£H
a meeting liqaa√-an a permit
a breeze hawaa√-an a language lughat-an
kAG’g ká¨d
.kAÉ£NCG kÉ°†jCG ∞°»àcGh .kÉqeÉg kAɤd Ghô°†M
HaDar-uu liqaa√-an haamm-an.
wa-ktashaf-a √ayD-an √axTaa√-an.
He also discovered mistakes. They attended an important meeting.

(3) Helping vowel with nunation: Because nunation causes the pronuncia-
tion of a word to end with a consonant (/-n-/), there may be a need for a
helping vowel after the nunation if, for instance, the nunated word is fol-
lowed directly by a noun or adjective with the definite article thus creat-
ing a consonant cluster. That helping vowel is pronounced as kasra (/-i-/),
but it is not written. Wright, in discussing this form of helping vowel,
gives the example:

t»‘¦dG lóª¬
muHammad-un-i l-nabiyy-u43
Muhammad the Prophet

Wright 1967, I:22.
164 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

(4) Words that do not take nunation: There are some words that do not take
nunation when they are indefinite. This includes words that fall into the
diptote declension (see section in this chapter), words that end with
the sound masculine plural (-uuna or -iina) (see section, subsection
(2) in this chapter), words that end with the dual suffix (-aani and -ayni) and
invariable words (see section 5.4.5. in this chapter).

ambassadors sufaraa√-u better
oAGô˜°S oø°ùMCG

Sound masculine plural:
engineers muhandis-uuna Egyptians miSriyy-uuna
n¿’°Só¦¡e n¿’jô°üe
two states dawlat-aani two poets shaa¬ir-aani
p¿ÉàdhO p¿GôYÉ°T
Invariable nouns:
chaos fawDaa issues qaDaayaa
≈°V’a ÉjÉ°†b
4.2.2 Uses of the inde¬nite TO EXPRESS NON-DEFINITE STATUS: Nunation is used on Arabic nouns and
adjectives to mark indefinite status. An adjective modifying an indefinite noun is
also indefinite.

môqµ‘e môªY ˜ mIójóL mádhO ¤EG
fii ¬umr-in mubakkir-in √ilaa dawlat-in jadiidat-in
at an early age to a new state

.kÉ«aÉc kÉeó¤J ɦ¤¤M .lóFGQ lπªY ÜÉàµdG Gòg
Haqqaq-naa taqaddum-an kaafiy-an. haadhaa l-kitaab-u ¬amal-un raa√ id-un.
We have achieved adequate progress. This book is a pioneering work. A perhaps unusual (to English speakers)
function of the indefinite marker is its use on many Arabic masculine given
names. They are semantically definite, but morphologically indefinite. This is so
because many of these Arabic names are derived from adjectives which describe
particular attributes. Nonetheless, given names are considered definite and
agreeing words are definite.

Muhammad ˜praised™ muHammad-un Salim ˜flawless™ saliim-un
lóqª¬ lº«∏°S
Munir ˜radiant™ muniir-un Ali ˜exalted™
l’¦e w»∏Y
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 165

Examples of agreement:

o¢ùeÉÿG lóqª¬
muHammad-un-i l-xaamis-u
Muhammad the fifth

Nunation is not marked on all masculine names, only those derived from Ara-
bic adjectives or participles. For example, the names √aHmad, √ibraahiim, sulay-
maan, and yuusuf are diptote and do not take nunation.44 Most female names are
also diptote and do not take nunation.45 Adverbial expressions in Arabic
tend to be in the accusative case, and quite often in the indefinite accusative. It is
therefore common to see the indefinite accusative marker when reading Arabic
texts. Another characteristic of the indefinite accusative marker, especially with
adverbs, is that it is pronounced as well as written, whereas the nominative and
genitive forms of nunation are not normally pronounced in spoken Arabic.46
The adverbial use of the accusative is described in greater detail in the section
on the accusative case, but here are some examples in the indefinite accusative
(see also 4.2.1 above):

immediately fawr-an a little (bit) qaliil-an
kGQ’a “«∏b
daily yawmiyy-an very jidd-an
kÉ«e’j kGóL

5 Case in¬‚ection
Arabic nouns, participles, adjectives and, to some extent, adverbs have word-final
(or desinential) inflection. That is, they are marked for case, which indicates the
syntactic function of the word and its relationship with other words in the sen-
tence.47 In Arabic, the term for case marking is (√i¬raab ÜGôYEG ).48 In respect to case

For the reasons behind this see section on the diptote declension.
There are a few exceptions. The feminine name hind-un, for example, may take nunation. But this
is exceptional.
Pronunciation of nunation at the end of a word is apparently still heard in some rural vernacular
forms of Arabic. For the most part, the only form of nunated ending that is regularly pronounced
in spoken MSA or in the urban vernaculars is the accusative (/-an/).
Blake (1994, 1) defines case as follows: “Case is a system of marking dependent nouns for the type
of relationship they bear to their heads. Traditionally the term refers to inflectional marking, and,
typically, case marks the relationship of a noun to a verb at the clause level or of a noun to a
preposition, postposition or another noun at the phrase level.”
The Arabic term √i¬raab ÜGôYEG refers to desinential inflection in general: not only case markers on
nouns, adjectives, and adverbs, but also mood markers (indicative, subjunctive, jussive) on verbs.
Arab grammarians classify case marking and mood marking together in one category, and give
them similar labels. For more on this see Bohas, Guillaume, and Kouloughli 1990, 53-55, and
Ryding 1993.
166 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

inflection, Arabic resembles some European languages such as German, Russian,
and Latin.
Arabic has three cases: nominative (raf ¬ „aQ), genitive ( jarr qôL), and accusative
(naSb –°üf). As a general rule, these cases are indicated by short vowel suffixes:
-u (Damma) for nominative, -i (kasra) for genitive, and -a ( fatHa) for accusative. How-
ever, these short vowels are not the only ways to mark case. Words inflected for
case fall into several declensions or inflection classes and therefore inflect for
these three cases in different ways.
Case marking is placed at the end of a noun or adjective. If a noun or adjective
is definite, then the case-marking short vowel is suffixed at the very end of the
word. If a noun or adjective is indefinite, the case marker is followed by an
indefinite marker (a final /-n/ sound, “nunation” in English and tanwiin in Arabic),
indicated in writing by the convention of doubling the short vowel case ending,
e.g., o o -un / ; m / -in/ ; kG / -an / (see above).
Case is one of the most challenging inflectional categories in MSA for several
reasons. First of all, it depends on rules of syntax for its implementation, and
second, in many ways it is redundant. Moreover, colloquial forms of Arabic do
not have case marking, so case is used only in written Arabic.49 Even for native
speakers of Arabic, therefore, the case system is learned through formal

5.1 Pronunciation and writing conventions
The Arabic case-ending system consists primarily of short, word-final vowels,
which are invisible in conventional written Arabic texts.50 This can hinder clear-cut
understanding of case inflections and sentential relations. Furthermore, because
the nature of these case marking vowels is dependent on a word™s function in a
sentence, they vary from one context to another, and only if one knows the rules
of grammatical usage can one ascertain what the noun-final case markers are for
any particular sentence.
The Arabic case-marking system, then, remains mostly hidden from view in
written texts and is apparent only when the text is read out loud with complete

This is true for the colloquial variants of spoken Arabic and even for educated spoken Arabic or
formal spoken Arabic. Case does not play a significant role in these forms of the language.
Exceptions to this general rule include case marking that occurs as long vowels in, for example,
the dual suffixes (-aani/ -ayni), the sound masculine plural suffixes (-uuna/-iina) and the “five
nouns” that inflect, under certain conditions, with long vowels (see section 5.4.1.c.). Another par-
tial exception is the word-final √alif that appears in written Arabic script on many words as a seat
for fatHataan, the indefinite accusative marker (e.g., √axiir-an (˜finally™), G’NCG, √aHyaan-an (˜some-
times™) ÉfÉ«MCG ). This particular form of case ending (the indefinite accusative ending in -an) is
often pronounced, even in pause form.
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 167

pronunciation of all vowels (i.e., in “full” form).51 The ability to use and pronounce
accurate case marking in written or literary Arabic is not an automatic skill but a
rigorous task, even for educated native speakers. It is also therefore the mark of a
well-educated or learned individual. The case-marking rules are used and under-
stood primarily by scholars and specialists in Arabic grammar, linguistics, scrip-
ture, and literature.52 Learners of Arabic as a foreign language need to know the
basic rules of word order, inflection, agreement, and governance in order to make
sense of Arabic texts. The degree to which they need knowledge of explicit case
marking rules depends on the structure and goals of particular academic pro-
grams, and on the goals of individual learners.53
In this book the case-marking system is described in some detail, but not
exhaustively. For those who wish to delve more deeply into Arabic morphosyntax,
Wright (1967) is recommended as are Hasan (1987) especially volumes II and IV;
Fleisch (1961, 268“82), Beeston (1970, 51“55), and Cowan (1958). For a recent theo-
retical study of case in general, a good reference is Blake 1994.

5.2 Case marking and declensions
Arabic case marking takes place either as a short vowel suffix or as a modification
of a long vowel suffix. Cases are marked on nouns, adjectives, and certain adverbs.
The categories described below show the most common instances of particular
case functions in MSA. It has not been traditional to designate Arabic nouns as
belonging to particular declensions or inflectional classes, except to refer to them
as “triptote” (showing three different inflectional markers, one for each case) or
“diptote” (showing only two different inflectional markers when indefinite, nom-
inative, and genitive/accusative). However, for reference purposes here, each
inflectional type is classified into a separate, numbered declension.54

In reading written Arabic aloud, some narrators read most of the words in pause form, omitting
desinential inflections. News broadcasters, for example, vary in their formality and in the degree
to which they use case-marking in narrating news items. Some seldom use it; others use it par-
tially, and some use it more consistently. Officials giving formal speeches also vary in the degree
to which they pronounce case marking. Only in formal academic and religious contexts is pronun-
ciation of full desinential inflection considered necessary or appropriate.
Holes (1995, 142) states: “As a means of syntactic disambiguation in modern written Arabic, case
plays almost no role (inevitably so, since in most cases it is carried by short vowel distinctions
which are unmarked), and, despite the importance which the indigenous tradition of grammati-
cal description and language pedagogy attaches to it, it is clear, when one examines ancient tex-
tual material, that the functional load of the case endings was no higher in the Classical period
than it is now.”
See, for example, the article by Khaldieh (2001) titled: “The relationship between knowledge of
i¬raab, lexical knowledge, and reading comprehension of nonnative readers of Arabic.”
It should be understood that these declensional identifications are not standardized; they are
named as such in this book to facilitate description and reference.
168 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

5.2.1 Shift of declension
In Indo-European languages a noun usually belongs to a particular inflectional
class or declension in both the singular and the plural. However, in Arabic, the
number suffixes (duals and sound plurals) and even the internal broken plural
pattern, can shift a noun into a different inflectional class. The criteria for iden-
tifying declensions depend on the nature of the noun stem and also whether or
not it includes a dual or plural number inflection.

5.3 Case categories and their functions
The type of case marking on a noun or adjective depends on its form and func-
tion. That is, it is determined by the inflectional class (declension) of the word
involved and the role of the word within a specific sentence or clause (which case
is appropriate under the circumstances). For example, in a sentence such as:

.nÚ˜X’ŸG „e kÉYɪàLG oôjóŸG nó¤Y
¬aqad-a l-mudiir-u jtimaa¬-an ma¬-a l-muwaZZaf-iina.
The director held a meeting with the employees.

There are three nouns in this sentence: al-mudiir-u ˜director, manager,™ ijtimaa¬-an
˜meeting,™ and al-muwaZZaf-iina ˜the employees.™ Each noun is marked for its case
role in the sentence.
The first noun, mudiir, belongs to the triptote declension or declension one and
is marked for definiteness by means of the definite article. These facts provide
information about the nature of the word itself. Its function in this particular
sentence is as the subject of the verb ¬aqad-a ˜held,™ so this provides information
about its syntactic role. Putting these pieces of information together, it is then
possible to know that the case marker in this particular situation is Damma,
which is the nominative marker for definite triptotes.
The second noun, ijtimaa¬, also belongs to the triptote declension or declension
one, and is marked for indefiniteness by nunation affixed at the end of the word.
The noun functions in this sentence as direct object of the verb ¬aqad-a ˜held,™ so
this provides information about its syntactic role. Putting these pieces of infor-
mation together, it is then possible to know that the case marker in this particu-
lar situation is fatHataani, accusative.
The third noun is al-muwaZZaf-iina. It is plural and definite, and it follows the
semi-preposition ma¬-a. It is therefore in the genitive case. It has a sound mascu-
line plural suffix, which places it in a declension that shows the case inflection by
means of the long vowel before the nuun of the plural suffix (the -ii of -iina).
Therefore, case as a system is both morphological (word-related) and syntactic
(sentence-related) and is a hybrid “morphosyntactic” category. Each of the three
Arabic cases is presented here with its typical functions. These lists are by no means
exhaustive, but they cover the majority of occurrences of these cases in MSA.
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 169

5.3.1 Nominative case (al-raf¬ „aôdG, al-marfuu¬ ´’aôŸG)
The nominative inflection (typically -u or -un, -uuna in the sound masculine plural
suffix, or -aani in the dual suffix) has five key functions.55 It marks the subject of
a verbal sentence, the subject and predicate of equational sentences, certain loca-
tive adverbs, the vocative, and citation forms. (al-faa¬il ( jumla
πYɘdG) á∏ªL
á«∏©a): The subject of the verb is nominative because it forms, along with the verb,
a structural unit, termed jumla á∏ªL. This unit can stand independently of any
other units and conveys a predication.

.p¿hÉ©àdG µjµ©J ≈∏Y oAGQR’dG n≥˜qJG
ittafaq-a l-wuzaraa√-u ¬alaa ta¬ziiz-i l-ta¬aawun-i.
The ministers agreed to strengthen cooperation.

.k᫪°SQ m¤ÉãMÉ‘e p¿É‘fÉ·G nó¤Y
¬aqad-a l-jaanib-aani mubaaHathaat-in rasmiyyat-an.
The two sides held official discussions.

.ºgnAGQh n¿’ª∏°ùŸG ¬ncôJ
tarak-a-hu l-muslim-uuna waraa√-a-hum.
The Muslims left it behind them.

.náµe ˜ lóª¬ t»‘¦dG nódoh
wulid-a l-nabiyy-u muHammad-un fii makkat-a.56
The Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca. (al-mubtada√ CGóà‘ŸG) AND PREDICATE (al-xabar ÈÿG)
EQUATIONAL SENTENCE ( jumla √ismiyya áq«ª°SG á∏ªL):57

.lá„WÉN o¤Ée’∏©ŸG .lº®°V p‚∏ŸG oô°üb
al-ma¬luumaat-u xaaTi√at-un. qaSr-u l-malik-i Daxm-un.
The information is wrong. The palace of the king [is] huge.

In addition, the nominative case marking for defective nouns and adjectives fuses with the geni-
tive (/-in/ for indefinite, /-ii/ for definite); for indeclinable nouns and adjectives it is realized as /-an/
or /-aa/, and for invariable nouns and adjectives, the nominative appears the same as all other
cases; /-aa/. See the paradigms for declensions six, seven, and eight, 5.4.3“5.4.5.
The subject of an Arabic sentence with a passive verb, such as this one, is referred to as the naa√ib
al-faa¬il ˜the deputy subject.™ See Chapter 38 for the use of the passive.
The term for “subject” of an Arabic sentence differs depending on whether or not the sentence
contains a verb. The subject of a verbal sentence (al-faa¬il) is seen as the agent or doer of the action;
the subject of an equational sentence (al-mubtada√) is the topic of a verbless predication. For more
on equational sentence structure, see Chapter 4 , section 2.1ff.
170 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

.l≥‘°ùe „aódG
qo .oIO’©dG n’g tº¡ŸG
al-daf¬-u musabbaq-un. al-muhimm-u huwa l-¬awdat-u
Payment [is] in advance. The important thing [is] to return. A few adverbs retain a Damma (non-nunated) in many
syntactic functions, even when they are preceded by a preposition. It has been
hypothesized that this adverbial marker is a fossilized remnant of a locative case
in previous stages of language development.58 Certain function words, like mundh-
u and Hayth-u have Damma consistently. Other words, such as qabl-u and ba¬d-u have
the Damma ending when they are used as independent adverbs, but not when used
as prepositions followed by a noun or a pronoun (where they normally have fatHa).

mundh-u Hasb-u; fa-Hasb-u
since; ago only
oò¦e o–°ùM
where; whereas Hayth-u ba¬d-u
oå«M oó©H
qaTT-u qabl-u; min qabl-u
at all before
t π‘b øe ; π‘b
o o
.pájGó‘dG oò¦e n¥QɘdG n¿’«µjôeC™G n„q°Sh
wassa¬-a l-√amriikiyy-uuna l-faariq-a mundh-u l-bidaayat-i.
The Americans widened the margin [of points] from the beginning.

m–M o¢ü°üb o„¤J oå«M k≈˜°»à°ùe ˜
fii mustashfan Hayth-u ta-qa¬-u qiSaS-u Hubb-in
in a hospital where love stories happen

.oó©H º¡oàj’g r∞°»µJ r„
lam tu-kshaf huwiyyaat-u-hum ba¬d-u.
Their identities have not yet been revealed. THE VOCATIVE (al-nidaa√ AGó¦dG), where someone or some entity is addressed
directly by the speaker. The nominative (without nunation) is used on the vocative
noun unless that noun is the first term of an √iDaafa construction, in which case
it shifts to accusative.59

ó«°TQ Éj oIOÉ°ùdGh o¤Gó«°ùdG É¡qjCG
yaa rashiid-u! √ayyuhaa l-sayyidaat-u wa-l-saadat-u!
O Rashid! Ladies and gentlemen!

See Fleisch 1961, I:280 and 1979, II:465-66 about the Semitic “adverbial case” with /-u/ suffix. For
more on this see Chapter 11, section 4.1.3.
See section subsection (3) of this chapter for examples of the first terms of √iDaafa in the
accusative after the vocative particle.
If the vocative particle yaa (˜O™) is used, the following word has Damma, but not nunation or the
definite article. If the vocative particle is √ayyu-haa (m.) or √ayyatu-haa (f.), the following word or
words have the definite article.
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 171

Certain exclamations fall into this category:61
yaa salaam-u!
O goodness! (˜O peace!™) !„¦“°S Éj
yaa xasaarat-u!
What a loss! What a pity! !IQÉ°ùN Éj of nouns and adjectives in lists or lexicons, although
they may also be cited without desinence, in “bare” form. This function of the
nominative ” as the default case marker for substantives in isolation, is in line with
usage in other languages.62 For example, a list of vocabulary words out of context:

monarch lπgÉY
forbidden mamnuu¬-un l´’¦‡
treaty mu¬aahadat-un lIógÉ©e
The Sudan al-suudaan-u o¿GO’°ùdG
The Fertile Crescent al-hilaal-u l-xaSiib-u –«°üÿG o«“¡dG
5.3.2 Genitive case (al-jarr ô·G, al-majruur QhôÛG; al-xafD ¢†˜ÿG):
The genitive inflection (-i or -in, -a [in diptote declensions], -iina [for the sound mas-
culine plural] or -ayni [in the dual]) has three chief functions. It marks: Prepositions are followed by nouns or
noun phrases in the genitive case.

„¦“¶dG ˜ pÚª«dG ¤EG
fii l-Zalaam-i √ilaa l-yamiin-i
in the shade to the right

¤h’H øe
n ¦QÉ°†M mô°ù©`c
min bayruut-a ka-jisr-in HaDaariyy-in
from Beirut as a cultural bridge

nÚjô°üŸG p‚«dɪŸG øe pør«nHÉàµdG pørjnòg ˜
min-a l-mamaaliik-i l-miSriyy-iina fii haadh-ayni l-kitaab-ayni
from the Egyptian Mamelukes in these two books

Note that exclamations with yaa may also use the preposition li- ˜for™ + a definite noun in the
genitive case:
! pÚµ°ùª∏d Éj
O the poor man! yaa li-l-maskiin-i!
! p∞°SC“d Éj
How unfortunate! yaa li-l-√asaf-i!
Blake notes (1994, 31) that in Greek (and other languages as well) the nominative “is the case used
outside constructions, the case used in isolation, the case used in naming.” He further states the
proposition that (1994, 32) “the nominative simply delineates an entity not a relation between an
entity and a predicate.” See, for example, the Arabic vocabulary lists in Abboud and McCarus 1983.
172 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic (Zarf makaan wa-Zarf zamaan ¿Éµe ±ôX
¿ÉeR ±ôXh): Arabic locative adverbs function very much like prepositions. They
are different from true prepositions in that they are derived from triliteral lexical
roots and can also themselves be objects of prepositions. See section
following, and Chapter 16, section 3 on “semi-prepositions.”

m„¦ÉqjCG nπ‘b p¢ùª°»dG pQ’f nâ“
taHt-a nuur-i l-shams-i
qabl-a √ayyaam-in
[a few] days ago under the sunlight THE SECOND TERM OF AN √ iDaafa CONSTRUCTION: The second term of the
annexation structure or √iDaafa construction is normally a noun in the genitive

≥à°ùa ¢ù«c
m o pIQÉ©àdG oáaôZ Ú˜q¤ãŸG oá¨d
kiis-u fustuq-in ghurfat-u l-tijaarat-i lughat-u l-muthaqqaf-iina
a bag of nuts the chamber of commerce the language of cultivated

pá°ù°SD’ŸG oôjóe nOGó¨H oá¦jóe
mudiir-u l-mu√assasat-i madiinat-u baghdaad-a
the director of the establishment the city of Baghdad

5.3.3 Accusative case (al-naSb –°ü¦dG; al-manSuub Ü’°ü¦ŸG)
The accusative inflection (-a, -an, -in, -i, -iina [in the sound masculine plural] or -ayni
[in the dual]) has the most functions in Arabic because it not only marks nouns,
adjectives, and noun phrases in a wide range of constructions, but it also marks
adverbial expressions.63 In MSA, it frequently occurs in the following construc-
tions: (al-maf¬uul ¬H«’©˜ŸG): A transitive
verb is one which, in addition to having a subject or agent which accomplishes
the action, also has an object or entity that is affected by the action. The object of
the verb in Arabic is in the accusative case.64

.nAɤq∏dG Ghô°†M .kGQÉf rπ©°»J ™
HaDar-uu l-liqaa√-a. laa tu-sh¬il naar-an.
They attended the meeting. Don™t ignite a fire.

See Wright 1967, 2:45“129 for further discussion of the accusative in Classical Arabic.
Blake, in his discussion of case roles in general, states (1994, 134): “The accusative is the case that
encodes the direct object of a verb.”
Noun inflections: gender, humanness, number, definiteness, and case 173

.§¤a kIOhó©e m¤Éª∏c nºq∏©J
ta¬allam-a kalimaat-in ma¬duudat-an faqaT.
He learned a limited number of words only. (Zuruuf makaan wa-Zuruuf
¿ÉeR ±hôXh ¿Éµe ±hôX): These adverbs are usually in the accusative but
may be made genitive if they follow a preposition.65 They function in ways similar
to prepositions, describing location or direction, and are followed by a noun in
the genitive case. For that reason they are referred to in this work as semi-
prepositions.66 For a more extensive description and examples of prepositions and
semi-prepositions see Chapter 16 section 3.

mᦰS nπ‘b pør«nàQÉb nÈY
qabl-a sanat-in ¬abr-a qaarrat-ayni
a year ago across two continents

páq«e“°SE™G pádhódG nπNGO p¢†‘¤dG pAɤdEG nó¦Y
daaxil-a l-dawlat-i l-√ islaamiyyat-i ¬ind-a √ilqaa√-i l-qabD-i
inside the Islamic state at the time of arrest (al-maf¬uul ¬i-hi
The accusative case functions extensively in MSA to indicate the
¬«a «’©˜ŸG):
circumstances under which an action takes place.67 In this function, the
accusative can be used on nouns or adjectives. If the noun or adjective is by itself,
it is normally in the indefinite accusative; if it is the first term of an √iDaafa, it
does not have nunation.

.kGóMGh kÉe’j tôªà°ùJ .p´GÎb™G p„¦’j nô©a GhAÉL
ta-stamirr-u yawm-an waaHid-an. jaa√-uu fajr-a yawm-i l-iqtiraa¬-i.
It lasts one day. They came at dawn on the day
of balloting.

.pá«°ù¦·G ≈∏Y kÉãjóM oâ∏°üM .Éqj’¦°S pør«nYɪàLG oó¤©à°S oᦩ∏dG
HaSal-tu Hadiith-an ¬alaa al-lajnat-u sa-ta-¬qud-u jtimaa¬-ayni
I recently obtained citizenship. The committee will hold two
meetings annually.

They seem to fall into the category of “relator nouns” described by Blake: “Relator nouns are a spe-
cialised subclass of nouns that behave like adpositions (prepositions)” (1994, 205).
Wright states: “Many words, which are obviously substantives in the accusative of place . . . may be
conveniently regarded in a certain sense as prepositions” (1967, II:178).
Blake (1994, 182) notes that in a number of languages, “it is common for nouns in oblique cases to
be reinterpreted as adverbs, particularly adverbs of place, time and manner.”
174 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

.nOGó¨H ¤EG kÉ‘jôb oO’©«°S ¢ù«ªÿG nπ«d m¤ÉYÉ°S ÊɪK nIqóe
sa-ya¬uud-u qariib-an √ilaa muddat-a thamaanii saa¬aat-in
layl-a l-xamiis-i
He will return to Baghdad soon. [for] a period of eight hours on
Thursday night (al-maf¬uul
In this structure, the action denoted is intensified
through use of a verbal noun cognate with the verb (i.e., derived from the same
root; usually from the same derivational form (I“X)). Often the verbal noun is
modified by an adjective, also in the accusative:

.kÉqjQòL v“M n´’°V’ŸG âq∏M
Hall-at-i l-mawDuu¬-a Hall-an jidhriyy-an.


. 6
( 23)