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Lesson 3b: Indefinite Nouns and Plurals


Lesson 3, Part A:
  • Intro
  • Dialogue
Lesson 3, Part B:
Indefinite Nouns
When describing someone's profession, Arabic and English both use indefinite nouns.

أنا طالِب I am a student.
هُم طُلّاب They are students.

Notice that in English we use the word 'a' when the noun is singular, while in Arabic, the noun alone is used.
Indefinite Nouns + Adjectives
In the previous lesson, we learned about adjectives in Arabic. In the dialogue above, we saw an adjective being used to describe a noun. Take a look at that sentence again. Where does the adjective go?

هَل أنتِ طالِبة جَديدة؟


In this example, the adjective "jadiida" goes after the noun it describes, "Taaliba". That is because in Arabic, the adjective goes after the noun it modifies. Take a look at some of the examples below.

اِسم جَمِيل A beautiful name
أُستاذة جَدِيدة A new teacher
كِتاب قَديم An old book
بَيت كَبير A big house
مُمَرِّضة لَطِيفَة A nice nurse

Notice that, as we saw in lesson two, the adjective always agrees with the noun.

Human Plurals

Human Plurals
ArabicEnglish


مُهَندِس
muhandis (sing.)

مُهَندِسون
muhandisuun (pl.)
Engineer


طَبيب
Tabiib (sing.)

أَطِباء
aTibaa' (pl.)
Doctor


مُسافِر
musaafir (sing.)

مُسافِرون
musaafiruun (pl.)
Traveler

(click)

Human Plurals

Introduction
In Arabic, nouns can be classified into three categories:

1. Singular, eg. (one) cat, city
2. Dual, eg. two cats, two cities
3. Plural, eg. (many) cats, cities


Note that English nouns can only be divided into two categories: singular and plural. We will talk more about this dual distinction later on. For now, let's focus on the plural. There are two types of plural nouns: regular and irregular (or broken) plurals. To form the plural, there are two things you must consider.

1. Is the noun masculine or feminine? (see lesson 2 for review)
2. Is the noun human or inanimate?

Human nouns are nouns that represent a human being, such as “teacher”, “child” or “grandmother”. Nouns that are classified as inanimate represent non-human things, such as “city”, “table” or “government”.

Regular Human Plurals
First let’s take a look at some regular human nouns. What letters are added to the words to form the plurals? Are any letters omitted?

مُمَرِّضة one female nurse
مُمَرِّض one male nurse
مُمَرِّضات three female nurses
مُمَرِّضون three male+female nurses

First of all, we see that just as masculine and feminine forms differ in the singular, there are also different plural forms for masculine and feminine words.
  • To form the feminine plural, remove the taa' marbuuTa and add ات (aat).
  • To form the masculine plural, just add ون (uun).
NOTE: The masculine plural is used for groups of men, or for groups of men and women. So even if you were talking about a group of 10 female nurses and one male nurse, you would still use the masculine plural form.

Irregular/Broken Plurals
Now, let’s take a look at some more plurals. What’s different about these plural forms?

طالِبة one female student
طالِب one male student
طالِبات three female student
طُلّاب three male+female student

Here, we see that the feminine plural form is the same. The taa' marbuuTa is removed and –aat is added to the end of the word. The masculine form is different, however. We did not just add –uun like in the last set of nouns. These are the irregular, or broken forms. Some nouns, like student and teacher, have regular forms in the feminine, but broken forms in the masculine plural. Since there is no rule that tells you which nouns have regular and which nouns have broken plural forms, you should memorize these forms as you learn new vocabulary.

A few common exceptions
There are a few common irregular forms of human plurals. These do not follow the rules outlined above, and need to be memorized. It may help to notice that three of the four nouns below also have irregular plural forms in English. The plural of woman is not womans, but instead is women, an irregular plural form. The same is true for man/men and person/people. While English does have some irregular plural forms, irregular plurals are much more common in Arabic .

Irregular Human Plurals
ArabicEnglish


إمرأة
imraa' (sing.)

نِساء
nisaa' (pl.)
woman


رَجُل
rajul (sing)

رِجال
rijaal (pl.)
man


بِنْت
bint (sing.)

بِنات
binaat (pl.)
girl


إنسان
insaan (sing.)

ناس
naas (pl.)
people



Appendix: Plural Charts

Human Plurals
Singular Plural English
Regular Human Plurals
مُمَرِّض
مُمَرِّضة
مُمَرِّضون
مُمَرِّضات
Nurse
مُهَنْدِس
مُهَنْدِسة
مُهَنْدِسون
مُهَنْدِسات
Engineer
مُسافِر
مُسافِرة
مُسافِرون
مُسافِرات
Traveler
Broken Masculine Human Plurals
طَبيب
طَبيبة
أطباء
طَبيبات
Doctor
أُستَاذ
أُستَاذة
أُساتِذة
أُستَاذات
Teacher
طالِب
طالِبة
طُلّاب
طالِبات
Student
Broken Human Plurals
إمرأة نِساء woman
رَجُل رِجال man
بِنت بِنات girl
إنسان ناس people