Praise & Disparagement
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Number of Nouns (continued)
Plural nouns الْجَمْعُ are nouns that refer to more than two things or persons.
There are two types of plural nouns in Arabic:
The regular plural is very similar to the dual, it works by adding suffixes to noun stems.
The irregular plural, on the other hand, is nasty. This kind of plural does not work by adding suffixes but rather by taking the root letters (called radicals) of the singular noun and applying them into a totally different structure derived from a verbal noun structure. This is why this kind of plural is known as the "broken plural;" because it does not preserve the singular stem . There are many irregular plural structures as this kind of plural is common in Arabic, unfortunately.
The regular plural suffixes are two kinds:
Each one of these is inflected for two cases, the nominative (raf", subject case) and the oblique (nasb & jarr, object case), which is similar to the dual suffix inflection. However, whereas the masculine plural retains nunation in the definite state (like the dual), the feminine plural does not.
An important fact to know is that, for many nouns, the same singular noun has multiple plural words of more than one type.
Masculine plural nouns are always masculine and they have only masculine singulars. Feminine plural and irregular plural nouns are always feminine but they can have both masculine and feminine singulars. Irregular plurals can be masculine when they refer to male humans.
The masculine plural جَمْعُ الْمُذَكَّرِ الْسَّاْلِمُ is used primarily to pluralize participles that refer to more than two male humans or to groups of male and female humans.
Masculine plural nouns are identified by their masculine plural ending that is inflected for two cases and two states as follows:
The masculine plural endings are pronounced at pause except for the final short A vowel, and they are apparent in writing except also for the final short A vowel, which is indicated by an optional diacritic mark.
Example, click on the Arabic word to hear it:
The case inflection of the masculine plural (and feminine plural) ending is similar to that of the dual in that it involves only two cases because the nasb and jarr marking is identical.
However, masculine plural nouns, like the dual and feminine plural nouns, are not nomina diptota because they have nunation and they are inflected for two cases in all the three states not only in the absolute state like the diptotes.
Initially, in ancient times, the masculine plural suffix was used to pluralize all masculine nouns without distinction, including those referring to nonhumans. However, as the trend of the irregular (broken) plural arose, Arabs began to abandon this suffix and use the irregular plural instead. As they did that, restrictions began to appear on the use of the masculine plural and kept appearing and increasing until the masculine plural finally became restricted to derived nouns referring to male humans, and particularly to participles referring to male humans.
For example, masculine nouns that refer to humans but are not derived from verbs cannot take the masculine plural ending and they are pluralized via the irregular plural. Such nouns are like the following:
Derived nouns include verbal nouns, participles (including agent nouns), time and place nouns, and tool nouns.
Verbal nouns are abstract nouns that refer to ideas (e.g. eating, going, helping); they cannot refer to humans, so they cannot take the masculine plural ending unless they are used as male proper names. Time, place, and tool nouns also cannot take the masculine plural ending.
Remains the participles. The participles in Arabic are several categories:
Nouns belonging to any of these categories can function as agent nouns in addition to their primary function as participles. However, the active-participle-like structures are mostly used as agent nouns in Standard Arabic and rarely as participles; this is why I refer to them often as "the agent nouns."
Note: if you are not sure what "participles" and "agent nouns" are, the active participles in English are simply adjectives ending with -ing, like a "talking robot" and a "boring movie." The passive participles are adjectives that look like words after "have" like a "beaten kid" and a "freed prisoner." Agent nouns are nouns ending with -er, -or or the likes, like "teller," "liar", and "conductor."
The active participle structures are two types, a simple, basic type that is derived from triliteral perfective verbs (form I verbs), and a "meemic" type (begins with a mu- prefix) that is derived from the rest of the verb forms.
The meemic active participles are relatively complex structures that are hard to "break" and remake into irregular plurals (though it is possible to add to them an augmentative tied taa<). This is why those are pluralized primarily via the regular plural suffixes when they refer to male humans (and infrequently via the addition of an augmentative tied taa<).
On the other hand, the non-meemic active participles that are derived from triliteral verbs and refer to male humans have two situations: the ones that are functioning as participles or adjectives take the masculine plural ending, whereas those functioning as non-adjective agent nouns are irregularly pluralized.
Examples, active participles:
All these examples are active participles referring to male humans. The second and third ones are meemic active participles, so these are always pluralized by the addition of the masculine plural ending. However, the first example is non-meemic, so it takes the masculine plural ending only when it is functioning as a participle (when it means "writing," like in a "writing man"), but it will be irregularly pluralized when it functions as a non-adjective agent noun (when it means "writer").
Examples on non-meemic active participles functioning as agent nouns:
The emphatic active participles that refer to male humans are all standardly pluralized by the addition of the masculine plural ending to them regardless of whether they were participles or agent nouns, except for the structure fa"eel which is often pluralized irregularly.
N.B. in perfect Classical Arabic, fa"eel, mif"aal, and mif"eel do not take the masculine plural ending. A general rule is that participles that can modify feminine nouns as adjectives without having feminine markers (q.v.) do not take the masculine plural ending.
Active participles and emphatic active participles referring to male humans can have an augmentative tied taa'< suffixed to them; in that case, they cannot take the masculine plural ending just as if the tied taa'< were feminine.
The standard passive participle structures are all meemic; they all begin with m- prefixes (ma- for form-I-derived and mu- for the rest). These words are all pluralized by the addition of the masculine plural suffix to them when they refer to male humans.
The primary function of the active-participle-like structures in Standard Arabic is as agent nouns. This is why these structures are the least among the participles to take the masculine plural ending. Structures that can take the masculine plural ending include fa"il, fay"il, fa"ool, and 'af"al when it is functioning as a comparative adjective.
Fa"ool does not take the masculine plural ending in pure Classical Arabic. Comparative 'af"al does take it in Classical Arabic but rarely does so in modern Arabic.
Active-participle-like structures that do not take the masculine plural ending are the rest of the structures, which include fa"l, fi"l, fu"l, fa"al, fu"ul, fa"aal, fu"aal, fa"eel, 'af"al whose feminine form is fa"laa'<, and fa"laan whose feminine form is fa"laa.
The masculine plural ending used to be added to all masculine nouns, but in the current Arabic it is added only to participles referring to male humans provided that they function as participles not as nomina agentis.
The masculine plural ending cannot be added to the following:
Masculine nouns that do not take the masculine plural ending are pluralized irregularly or by means of the feminine plural suffix.
Extra Note: The Faa"il Participles
The non-meemic active participles (faa"il) that function as participles appear to be more resistant to change over time than other words.
An interesting example from modern spoken Arabic is found in the dialect of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo (Halab).
In standard North Syrian, the long A vowel (aa = ā) is changed to long E (ai = ē). However, as the dialect of urban Aleppo began to lose this feature, the long E in the faa"il participles (fai"el) was changed back to a long A (faa"el). Interestingly, this happened only in participles functioning as agent nouns but not ones functioning as participles.
So participles in Aleppo have two pronunciations for each, an original pronunciation with an ē sound that indicates "doing," and another one with an ā sound that indicates "doer" (there are exceptions though, like jaime" (mosque), baired (cold), saikhen (hot), "ailiy (high) 'aikher (last), etc.).
I see this similar to how the participles functioning as participles retained the regular pluralization in Arabic, whereas ones functioning as agent nouns became irregularly pluralized.
For description of irregular noun types, you may click here
I. Shortened Nouns
Shortened nouns are nouns that end with a long A vowel (-aa ـا / ـى ).
Shortened nouns that can take the masculine plural are all masculine singulars, so the final weak A can never be a suffix in this case; it will always be part of the stem and turned from w or y.
When attaching the masculine plural ending to a shortened noun, the final weak letter will be deleted and the masculine plural ending will change to -wn(a) / -yn(a).
-aa → -aW-uwn(a) → -a-wn(a)
-aa → -aW-iyn(a) → -a-yn(a)
-aa → -aY-uwn(a) → -a-wn(a)
-aa → -aY-iyn(a) → -a-yn(a)
Approval (masc., used as a male proper name)
II. Extended Nouns
Extended nouns are nouns that end with a long A vowel followed by a terminal consonant 'alif or hamza(t) (-aa'< ـَاْء ).
Extended nouns that can take the masculine plural are all masculine singulars, so the extended 'alif can never be a suffix in this case; it will always be part of the stem (an exception are some rare, obsolete male proper names that have a feminine -aa'<).
When attaching the masculine plural ending, the ء will be changed back to its origin (w or y) if the ء itself is not the origin.
-aa'< → -aa'-masc. plu. ending
-aa'< → -aaW-masc. plu. ending
-aa'< → -aaY-masc. plu. ending
*The figures: ئـ ، ؤ are just alternative joining figures for the hamza(t) أ (see joining figures for hamza(t)).
It is possible to always keep the hamza(t) unchanged when attaching the dual ending. This is typical of Modern Standard Arabic.
III. Defective Nouns
Defective nouns are nouns that end with a long I vowel (-iy ـِيْ ) whose terminal y belongs to the root.
When attaching the masculine plural ending to defective nouns, the final -iy ـِيْ will be deleted all together.
-iY → -iY-uwn(a) → -uwn(a)
-iY → -iY-iyn(a) → -iyn(a)
Annexed masculine plurals مُلْحَقَاْتُ جَمْعِ الْمُذَكَّرِ الْسَّاْلِمِ are either masculine plurals to which there are no singulars, or masculine plurals whose singulars do not achieve the conditions for receiving the masculine plural ending (e.g. do not refer to male persons, not derived from verbs).
These are remnants from the old days when the use of the masculine plural was not as restricted as it is today. There are several of these words in the classical language; the important ones are the following:
*The final ا is silent.
The last word 'uloo / 'ulee lacks its final -n(a) because it exists only in the construct state that is used to form genitive constructions. Masculine plural nouns (as well as dual nouns) lose their final -n(a) in the construct state; this will be covered later.
The most commonly used annexed masculine plural nouns are the "decade words" أَلْفَاْظُ الْعُقُوْدِ.
Extra Note: Modern Variations
In modern spoken Arabic, the masculine plural declension used similarly to Classical Arabic. The usual form of the masculine plural ending in modern spoken Arabic is:
This form is used for all cases as there is no case declension in modern spoken Arabic.
Examples (Urban Central Syrian):
bayyaa"een = male sellers
kazzaabeen = male liars
Syrian Arabic shows a phenomenon of adding the masculine plural ending to irregular plural nouns.
Examples (Urban North Syrian):
wlaideen = male children (أَوْلادِيْن)
shaibeen = male companions (أَصْحَاْبِيْن)
This might be related to confusion by the early Syriac-speaking inhabitants who apparently couldn't grasp the Arabic irregular plurals easily.
In modern spoken Arabic, the masculine plural (and dual) endings are not inflected for state as they retain the final -n in the construct state.
E.g. in Urban Central Syrian:
bayyaa"een ('e)l-falaafel = (the) sellers (of) falafel
Examples from other Semitic languages (absolute state):
Can you change the following singular masculine nouns to masculine plural nouns in the subject case?
Can you change the following masculine plural nouns to singular nouns?