How Arabic can drive you crazy

September 9, 2006 at 9:48 pm (Arabic, Languages)

One of the interesting aspects of Arabic is that it has many ways of forming the plural form of a word. It is not that one can use any method: one must know which method applies to which word. Here are a few examples that illustrate the formats that exist.

(c = consonant)
c1ac2c3 becomes c1uc2ūc3.
Examples: (حرب, Harb) becomes (حروب, Hurūb); and (جیش, jaysh) becomes (جیوش, juyūsh); and (فرق, farq) becomes (فروق, furūq); and (شیخ, shaykh) becomes (شیوخ, shuyūkh).

c1ac2ac3 becomes ac1c2āc3.
Examples: (قلم, qalam) becomes (أقلام, aqlām); and (قدم, qadam) becomes (أقدام, aqdām); and (قمر, qamar) becomes (أقمار, aqmār); and (شیخ, shaykh) becomes (أشیاخ, ashyākh).

The most common method puts an ending after the noun: -ūn if male, -āt if female (in which case ending h is dropped).
Examples: (عالم, cālam) becomes (عالمون, cālamūn); and (مسلم, muslim) becomes (مسلمون, muslimūn); and sometimes (کافر, kāfir) becomes (کافرون, kāfirūn, which is also the name of the 109th chapter of the Qur’an). (مسلمة, muslimah) becomes (مسلمات, muslimāt); and (شعرة, shacrah) becomes (شعرات, shacrāt); and (إمارة, imārah) becomes (إمارات, imārāt).

Other strange plurals:
(عالم, cālim) becomes (علماء, culamā’); (similarly (أمير, amīr) becomes (أمراء, umarā’));
(أستاذ, ustādh) becomes (أساتذة, asātidhah);
(طالب, Tālib) becomes (طلاب, Tullāb);
(كتاب, kitāb) becomes (كتب, kutub).

So when one sees a word, such as (سمك, samak), one has to guess what the plural can be: (سمکون, samakūn) or (سمکات, samakāt) or (أسماك, asmāk) or (سموك, sumūk) or (سمك, sumuk) or (سمکاء, sumakā’). The correct answers are (سماك, simāk) and (أسماك, asmāk).

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1 Comment

  1. John (AGJ) said,

    Sounds like what my father says about learning German. Interesting but no thanks, I’ll stick with Spanish myself. The grammar is more understandable to me, many words have like-sounding parallels in English, and I find more opportunities to use it. Now if we were in an ideal world I’d love to learn Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Japanese, and maybe Chinese. Yet alas, I am not one of the Immortals from the Highlander series and lack the wisdom of Solomon to acquire such languages in the pittance of time allotted to me on this earth. 😉

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