Essential Arabic Grammar – Singular and Plural

Gender in Modern Standard Arabic

All nouns in Modern Standard Arabic are either masculine or feminine. In addition, nouns can be singular, plural or dual (i.e. a pair of something). A useful rule of thumb to remember is that most nouns are masculine EXCEPT for the following categories:

Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

دَولَة

“Country” Dawlatun

مَدينَةٌ

“City” Madeenatun

زَهرَةٌ

“Flower” Zahratun
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

يَدٌ

“Hand” Yadun

عَينٌ

“Eye” ‘Aynun
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

أُختٌ

“Sister” Ukhtun

أُمٌ

“Mother” ‘Ummun
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

مِصرُ

“Egypt” Misru

الجَزائِرُ

“Algeria, Algiers” Al-jazaa’iru

باريسُ

“Paris” Baarisu
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

شَمسٌ

“Sun” Shamsun

أَرضٌ

“Earth, Ground” ‘Ardun
Masculine Noun Feminine Noun
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

كاتِبٌ

“Writer” Kaatibun

كاتِبَةٌ

“Writer” Kaatibatun

زَوج

“Husband” Zawjun

زَوجَةٌ

“Wife” Zawjatun

طالِبٌ

“Student” Taalibun

طالِبَةٌ

“Student” Taalibatun

Number in Modern Standard Arabic

Nouns in Modern Standard Arabic can be singular, plural or dual. Dual numbers refer to two, and more than two is a plural.

To form the dual, you simply add /aani/ انِ to masculine nouns or /taani/ تانِ to feminine nouns:

Singular Noun Dual Noun
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

بابٌ

“Door” Baabun

بابانِ

“Two doors” Baabaani

كَوكَبٌ

“Planet” Kawkabu

كَوكَبان

“Two planets” Kawkabaani

كَوكَبٌ

“Planet” Madeenatun

مَدينَتانِ

“Two cities” Madeenataani

طاوِلَةٌ

“Table” Taawelatun

طاوِلَتانِ

“Two tables” Taawelataani

The Plural in Modern Standard Arabic

The majority of nouns in Modern Standard Arabic, both feminine and masculine, have a “broken” plural. This phenomenon can be compared to the English irregular plural, e.g. “tooth-teeth” and “man-men.”

Feminine nouns ending in /at/ ة are typically made plural by removing the ة and adding /aat/ ات. This is especially true for nouns referring to feminine humans ending with /at/ ة:

Feminine Singular Noun Feminine Plural Noun
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

طاوِلَةٌ

“Table” Taawelatun

طاوِلاتٌ

“Tables” Taawelaatun

مُفاوَضَةٌ

“Negotiation” Mufaawadatun

مُفاوَضَاتٌ

“Negotiations” Mufaawadaatun

زَوجَةٌ

“Wife” Zawjatun

زَوجَاتٌ

“Wives” Zawjaatun

طالِبَةٌ

“Student” Taalibatun

طالِباتٌ

“Students” Taalibaatun

مُشرِفَةٌ

“Advisor” Mushrifatun

مُشرِفاتٌ

“Advisors” Mushrifaatun

However, not all feminine nouns ending in /at/ ة are made plural this way. One notable exception is /‘imra’tun/ إِمرَأَةٌ “woman”, whose plural is /nisaa’u/ نِساءُ “women.”

The Broken Plural in Modern Standard Arabic

The broken plural of nouns in Modern Standard Arabic is formed from the singular noun and usually involves internal changes. Even though there are about thirty different broken plural patterns, the broken plural can rarely be accurately predicted from the singular. For this reason, students of Arabic are advised to learn the plural form of a noun along with the singular.

The following table lists some common nouns having broken plurals:

Masculine nouns Feminine nouns
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation Phrase in Arabic Phrase in English Pronunciation

وَلَدٌ

“Boy” Waladun

أَولادٌ

“Boys” ‘Awlaadun

زَهرَةٌ

“Flower” Zahratun

زُهورٌ

“Flowers” Zuhouru

كِتابٌ

“Book” Kitaabu

كُتُبٌ

“Books” Kutubun

مَدينَةٌ

“City” Madeenatun

زُهورٌ

“Cities” Mudunun

قَلَمٌ

“Pen” Qalamun

أَقلامٌ

“Pens” ‘Aqlaamun

دَولَةٌ

“Country” Dawlatun

مُدُنٌ

“Countries” Duwalun

مَكتَبٌ

“Desk, Office” Maktabun

مَكاتِبٌ

“Desks, Offices” Makaatibun

جَريدَةٌ

“Newspaper” Jareedatun

جَرائِدُ

“Newspapers” Jaraa’idu

قَميصٌ

“Shirt” Qameesun

قُمصانٌ

“Shirts” Qumsaanun

غُرفَةٌ

“Room” Ghurfatun

غُرَفٌ

“Rooms” Ghurafun

طَريقٌ

“Road” Tareequn

طُرُقٌ

“Roads” Turuqun

أُسرَةٌ

“Family” ‘Usratun

أُسَرٌ

“Families” Usarun