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Broken Plural in Arabic Posted by on Jul 5, 2018 in Grammar, morphology, Vocabulary

In a previous post, you learned that Arabic plural nouns are three forms: sound masculine plural جَمْعُ المُذَكَّرِ السَّالِم, sound feminine plural جَمْعُ المُؤَنَّثِ السَّالِم, and broken plural جَمْعُ التَّكْسِيْر. The first two are regular because their formation entail adding a suffix (i.e. ون and ات, respectively) to the end of the singular without a change in the form and diacritics of the singular. In this post, you will learn about broken plurals. A good many broken plurals are based on hearing; however, the majority are rule-based. Since there are many rules, only the most common patterns will be highlighted in this post.

Why Broken?

This type of plural is called broken because its singular is not kept sound (i.e. it is broken). The brokenness that the singular undergoes is a change diacritical marks, al-Harakat, adding a letter, or dropping a letter. Take the word كِتَاب ‘book’. Its plural is كُتُب in which the three root letters ك + ت + ب of the singular are kept; however, the alif is dropped and the Harakat changes from kasrah and fatHah in كِتَاب to DHammah and DHammah in كُتُب.

Similarly, in the word قَلْب ‘heart’, the three root letters are kept in the plural which is قُلُوْب. However, in the plural we can see that the Harakat on the first two letter change from fatHah and sukuun to DHammah and DHammah. Besides, a letter is added the singular, that is و, hence قُلُوب.

This kind of brokenness or change does not happen with the sound masculine and feminine plurals. Take the word مُهَنْدس / مُهَنْدِسَة as an example. When changing them into the plural form, no change happens to the diacritics of the singular, and no addition or dropping of letters occurs except for the plural suffix, hence مُهَنْدِسُوْن and مُهَنْدِسَات.

Types of Broken Plurals:

There are two types of broken plurals: plural of a few جَمْعُ القِلَّة, i.e. from three to ten, and plural of manyجَمْعُ الكَثْرَة , from three to infinity. The irregularity and complexity of this type of plural, is resolved, to a great extent, by using the morphological measure. Weighing the singular noun (see the Arabic Morphological Measure) helps in forming it plural. For the plural of a few, there are four main morphological patterns: أَفْعُل, أَفْعَال, أفْعِلَة, and فِعْلَة. For the plural of many, there are around twenty-five patterns, of the which only the most common will be explained.

Plural-of-a-few Patterns:

(1) Every singular noun that is weighed as فَعْل, its ‘ain (عَيْنُ الكَلِمَة) is not a weak letter (i.e. و ، ا ، ي), its fa’a (فَاءُ الكَلِمَة) is not a waw و, and its second and third letter isn’t a geminate (i.e. a letter with shaddah), its plural is weighed as أَفْعُل, as in these examples:

Singular noun الاِسْمُ المُفْرَد

فَعْل

(broken) Plural noun الاِسْمُ الجَمْع

أَفْعُل

بَحْر ‘sea’ أَبْحُر
نَهْر ‘river’ أَنْهُر
نَفْس ‘soul, self, person’ أَنْفُس
حَبْل ‘rope’ أَحْبُل
ظَبْي ‘deer’ أَظْبِي / أَظْبٍ

(2) The following tri-consonantal nouns are weighed as أَفْعَال:

(a) Nouns in which ‘ain (i.e. the ‘ain of the word عَيْنُ الكَلِمَة) is a weak letter (i.e. ا, و, ي), as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
ثَوْب ‘garment’ أَثْوَاب
بَيْتَ ‘house’ أَبْيَات
بَاب ‘door’ أَبْوَاب
صَوْت ‘voice, sound’ أَصْوَات
عِيْد ‘Eid’ أَعْيَاد

(b) Nouns in which fa’a (i.e. the fa’a of the word فَاءُ الكَلِمَة) is a waw و, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
وَقْت ‘time’ أَوْقَات
وَصْف ‘description’ أَوْصَاف
وَزْن ‘weight’ أَوْزَان

(c) Nouns in which the last two letters form a geminate, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
جَدّ ‘grandfather’ أَجْدَاد
عَمّ ‘uncle’ أَعْمَام
تَلّ ‘hill’ أَتْلال

(d) Nouns in which ‘ain (عَيْنُ الكَلِمَة) has a diacritical mark other than sukuun, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
عَلَم ‘flag, great person’ أَعْلام
جَمَل ‘camel’ أَجْمَال
نَمِر ‘tiger’ أَنْمَار
كَتِف ‘shoulder’ أَكْتَاف
عِنَب ‘grape’ أَعْنَاب
عُنُق ‘neck’ أَعْنَاق

(3) Four-letter noun in which the pre-final letter is ا, و, or ي are weighed as أَفْعِلَة, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
طَعَام ‘food’ أَطْعِمَة
رَغِيْف ‘loaf’ أَرْغِفَة
عَمُوْد ‘post, pillar’ أَعْمِدَة

Plural-of-many Patterns:

As indicated above for this type of plural there are around twenty-five patters. Here, only the most commonly used patterns are highlighted.

(1) Every adjective that is weighed on the morphological measure as أَفْعَل or فَعْلاء, its plural is morphologically weighed as فُعْل, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
أَحْمَر ‘red (masculine)’ حُمْر
حَمْرَاء ‘red (feminine)’ حُمْر
أَسْمَر ‘brown/tan” masc. سُمْر
سَمْرَاء ‘brown/tan’ fem. سُمْر
أَخْضَر / خَضْرَاء ‘green’ خُضْر

If the ‘ain of أَفْعَل is ي as in أَبْيَض, the fa’a of the plural must have kasrah (instead of DHammah), hence the plural of أَبْيَض and بَيْضَاء is بِيْض.

(2) Nouns that are weighed as فُعْلَة and adjectives that are weighed as فُعْلَى, their plural is morphologically weighed as فُعَل, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
غُرْفَة ‘room’ غُرَف
قَرْيَة ‘village’ قُرَى
شُرْفَة ‘balcony’ شُرَف
صُغْرَى ‘small’ صُغَر
كُبْرَى ‘big’ كُبَر

(3) If a noun is weighed as فِعْلَة, its plural is morphologically weighed as فِعَل, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
قِطْعَة ‘a piece of sth’ قِطَع
لِحْيَة ‘beard’ لِحَى
بِدْعَة ‘novelty, heresy’ بِدَع

(4) If a noun is a human masculine weighed as فَاعِل, its plural is morphologically weighed as فَعَلَة, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
كَاتِب ‘writer’ كَتَبَة
سَاحِر ‘magician’ سَحَرَة
قَاتِل ‘killer’ قَتَلَة
بَائِع ‘seller’ بَاعَة

(5) If an adjective indicates pain or an ordeal and is weighed as فَعِيْل, its plural is morphologically weighed as فُعْلَى, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
مَرِيْض ‘sick’ مَرْضَى
جَرِيْح ‘wounded’ جَرْحَى
أَسِيْر ‘captive’ أَسْرَى
مَيِّت ‘dead’ مَوْتَى

(6) The plural of the following nouns and adjective is morphologically weighed as فِعَال:

(a) Nouns and adjective the ‘ain of which is not ي and are weighed as فَعْل or فَعْلَة, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
ثَوْب ‘robe’ ثِيَاب
صَعْب / صَعْبَة ‘difficult’ صِعَاب
ضَخْم / ضَخْمَة ‘huge’ ضِخَام

(b) Nouns the laam of which is neither a weak letter nor a geminate (doubled letter) and are weighed as فَعَل or فَعَلَة, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
جَبَل ‘mountain’ جِبَال
رَقَبَة ‘neck’ رِقَاب
ثَمَرَة ‘fruit’ ثِمَار

(c) Nouns that are weighed as فِعْل or فُعْل, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
ذِئْب ‘wolf’ ذِئِاب
ظِلّ ‘shadow’ ظِلَال
رُمْح ‘arrow’ رِمَاح

(d) Adjectives the laam of which is not a weak letter and are weighed as فَعِيْل or فَعِيْلَة, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
كَرِيْمَ / كَرِيْمَة ‘generous’ كِرَام
طَوِيْل / طَوِيْلَة ‘tall’ طِوَال
ظَرِيْف / ظَرِيْفَة ‘humorous’ ظِرَاف
عَظِيْم / عَظِيْمَة ‘great’ عِظَام

(e) Adjectives that are weighed as فَعْلَان, فَعْلَى, or فَعْلَانة  and does not include a weak letter, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
عَطْشَان ، عَطْشَانَة ‘thirsty’ عِطَاش
نَدْمَان ، نَدْمَانَة ‘repenting’ نِدَام
غَضْبَان ، غَضْبَانَة ‘angry’ غِضَاب

(7) If nouns are weighed as فَعْل, فِعْل, or فُعْل, their plurals are morphologically weighed as فُعُوْل, as in these examples:

المُفْرَد singular الجَمْع plural
قَلْب ‘heart’ قُلُوب
رَأْس ‘head’ رُؤُوس
عِلْم ‘science’ عُلُوم
سِجْن ‘prison’ سُجُوْن
ضِرْس ‘teeth’ ضُرُوس
جُنْد ‘few soldiers’ جُنُود

There are a few more types of broken plural; however, they are not commonly used, and they best strategy to know them is memorization when encountered.

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About the Author:Ibnulyemen

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. Besides Arabic and English, I speak French and some German. I have a strong flair for languages; most of my foreign language competency has been self-learning. For Arabic, I have a strong command of its formal aspects. So, if you have any question about Arabic grammar or morphology, feel free to ask any question you may have. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential and interactive fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. Arabic dialectal expressions and vocabulary will be highlighted whenever pertinent to the topic of each post. Enjoy learning!


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