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Irregular Nouns

Irregularly behaving nouns in Arabic are three types:


I. Shortened Nouns

A shortened noun الاِسْمُ المَقْصُوْرُ is a noun which ends with an 'alif denoting a long vowel aa . Such 'alif  is also called "extended 'alif " or "weak 'alif."

Extended 'alif assumes either one of two figures when it comes at the end of a word:





This alternation in figure has its significance as we shall see shortly. 


Examples of shortened nouns:


Shortened Nouns

Stick (fem.)



Dew (masc.)



Dock (masc.)



Hospital (masc.)



Forces (plu. fem.)




Nouns that end with extended 'alif's  are called shortened nouns because when an extended 'alif comes last in the word it does not get full pronunciation, rather it will be shortened a little bit.

This is why extended 'alif  is called "shortened 'alif " الأَلِفُ الْمَقْصُوْرَةُ when it occurs last in a word.

When a noun of three letters ends with a shortened 'alif , the 'alif must be original letter because every true word must consist of, at least, three original letters.

However, the long vowel 'alif will not be part of the tri-consonantal root of the word. In fact, this long vowel 'alif  at the end of triliteral words is a substitute for a changed ي  or و  consonantVery long time ago, the original ي  or و at the end of these words were changed into long vowel 'alif's. However, the consonants ي  or و  will still be the true root-letters not the  ـا or ـى . This phenomenon can happen only with the 'alif; it is the only letter that can be original letter but not one of the root letters.

Look at the table bellow:


Original Version

Actual Version




" S W ع ص و عَصَو عَصَاْ
N D Y ن د ي نَدَي نَدَىْ


Sometimes, the changed final letters will have to be changed back when we add endings to the noun, like the dual or plural endings. This is why it is important to be able to know the original letter.

Luckily, this is easy if you have the word written for you, because the figure of the shortened 'alif clearly indicates the replaced original letter. The وis the original letter for ـا  and the ي  is the original letter for  ى .

Shortened words with more than three letters usually have at their ends this kind of 'alif : ى, but in this case, the 'alif will not necessarily be an original letter; it could be additional letter, although it would still need changing to ي when new endings are added to the noun, no matter if it were original or not.


If we do not have the written word in front of us, we will not be able to determine the original letter from the figure of the 'alif. This case usually poses a problem for Arab school students, who need to know which form of 'alif to write when the word is being dictated on them. Actually, the only thing that a new learner can do is to look at the word in a dictionary, such as this one, to see how the word is written. Going to the dictionary is also the best sure way to find out the root of a word.


As we have mentioned already, shortened nouns with more than three letters typically end with: ى. However, there are few words that end with the other form, you may look here for more details.



II. Extended Nouns


An extended noun  الاِسْمُ الْمَمْدُوْدُis a noun which ends with a long vowel 'alif aa  ـا  that is followed by a consonant 'alif  '  ء , also called hamza(t) .





Extended Nouns

Water (masc.)



Heaven (fem.)



Supper (masc.)



Desert (fem.)



Friends (plu. masc.)



Those words are called extended words because the presence of the  ء hamza(t) at their ends allows the extended 'alif  ـا  to be fully pronounced; contrary to the case of shortened nouns. Thus the 'alif  here is still called extended 'alif  as usual.

The hamza(t) at the end of extended nouns can be a original root-letter, transformed from an original root-letter ( ي  or و  ) , or it can be additional letter (does not belong to the root nor it is transformed from a letter that belongs to the root). In the last case, where the hamza(t) is an additional letter, the noun will be feminine and the hamza(t) will be serving as a feminine marker. The hamza(t) will be additional only if it was fifth letter or beyond in a word. Thus, the feminine marker can be found only in words with five letters or more. However, this does not mean that extended words with fewer than five letters cannot be feminine.



III. Defective Nouns

A defective noun الاِسْمُ الْمَنْقُوْصُ is a noun which ends with a long vowel -ee ـِيْ that is original letter and belongs to the root. Proper names cannot be defective nouns; and defective nouns are always masculine unless a feminine taa'<  ـة  were attached, or they were irregular plurals.






Defective Nouns










Snakes (plu. fem.) 'afaa"ee أَفَاْعِيْ


The last original yaa'< of a defective noun should be differentiated from the common attributive "double yaa'<" that comes also at the end of nouns.