Dual and plural / المُثَنّى والجَمْع

Dual and plural in Arabic (المُثَنّى والجَمْع)

Arabic nouns and adjectives are inflected for three numbers:

  • Singular / المُفْرَِد
  • Dual / المُثَنّى
  • Plural / الجَمْع

Dual and plural in Arabic have different specificities which we’ll learn here.

Dual / المُثَنّى

When referring to two items or individuals, the dual is used – between the singular (for one thing/person) and plural (three or more things/people). To form a dual noun in Arabic, simply replace the singular ending with one of these suffixes: 

  • In the nominative case (مَرْفُوع)

ـانِ… /āni/


  • In the accusative (مَنْصوب) and genitive cases (مَجْرور)

ـَيْنِ… /ayni/ 

Dual nominative
(المُثَنّى المَرْفُوع)
Dual accusative/genitive
(المُثَنّى المَنْصُوب/المَجْرور)
Singular
(المُفْرَد)
كِتابانِ 
two books
كِتابَيْنِ
two books
كِتاب 
a book
وَلَدانِ 
two boys
وَلَدَيْنِ 
two boys
وَلَد 
a boy

Note: The final tā marbūṭa (ة …ـة…) in singular nouns, is replaced by a regular ـتـ /t/ in dual endings:

Dual nominative
(المُثَنّى المَرْفُوع)
Dual accusative / genitive
(المُثَنّى المَنْصُوب / المَجْرور)
Singular
(المُفْرَد)
مَدْرَسَتانِ 
two schools
مَدْرَسَتَيْنِ 
two schools
مَدْرَسَةٌ 
a school

Noun modifications

In some cases, when the root of a word is weak or finishes with ي, و or hamza, its ending transforms before adding the dual suffix.

Words ending with اء

  • ? If the ending اء is the mark of the feminine, the hamza turns into و :  
Dual (المُثَنّى)Singular (المُفْرَد)
صَحْراوانِ
two deserts
صَحْراء
a desert
رِجْلانِ حَمْراوانِ
two red legs
رِجْل حَمْراء
a red leg
  • ? If the ending in اء is the mark of a weak root, the hamza is maintained or sometimes turns into و
Dual (المُثَنّى)Singular (المُفْرَد)
كِساءان 
two pieces of clothes
كِساء 
a piece of clothing
لِقاءان (not لِقاوانِ)
two meetings
لِقاء
a meeting

If a singular noun ends with a ى, it will become a ي:

Dual (المُثَنّى)Singular (المُفْرَد)
مُسْتَشْفَيانِ 
two hospitals
مُسْتَشْفى  
a hospital
صَدَيانِ 
two echoes
صَدى 
an echo 

Plural / الجَمْع

There are two types of plural in Arabic: 

  • The sound plural (الجَمْعُ السالِمُ) which can be compared to the English regular plural.
  • The broken plural (جَمْعُ التَكْسِيرِ) which can be compared to the English irregular plural.

The sound masculine plural / جَمْعُ المُذَكّرِ السالِم

To form the sound masculine plural (جَمْعُ المُذَكَّرِ السالِم), we need to replace case endings in the singular form with these two suffixes:

  • In the nominative case (مَرْفُوع)

ـونَ… /ūna/

  • In the accusative (مَنْصوب) and genitive (مَجْرور) cases

ـِينَ… /īna/ 

Plural nominative
(الجَمْع المَرْفُوع)
Plural accusative and genitive
(الجَمْع المَنْصُوب والمَجْرور)
Singular
(المُفْرَد)
مُهَنْدِسُونَ 
engineers
مُهَنْدِسِينَ 
engineers
مُهَنْدِس  
engineer

Noun modifications

  • For words ending with اء the hamza stays 
Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (مُفْرَدال)Noun case (المَحَلّ الإِعْرابي)

 بَنّاؤُونَ
masons

بَنّاءٌ
mason
Nominative case
(مَرْفُوع)
بَنّائِينَ 
masons
بَنّاءً / بَنّاءٍ
mason
Accusative and genitive cases
(مَنْصُوب ومَجْرور)
  • For words ending with ى, the alif disappears but the fatḥa that precedes stays
Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (مُفْرَدال)Noun case (المَحَلّ الإِعْرابي)

مُغَطَّونَ
covered

مُغَطًّى (المُغَطَّى)
covered
Nominative case
(مَرْفُوع)
مُغَطَّينَ
covered
مُغَطًّى (المُغَطَّى)
covered
Accusative and genitive cases
(مَنْصُوب ومَجْرور)
  • For active participles of weak verbs, the final kasra and the ي belonging to the root disappear:
Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (مُفْرَدال)Noun case (المَحَلّ الإِعْرابي)

راضُونَ
satisfied

راضٍ (الراضِي)
 satisfied
Nominative case
(مَرْفُوع)
راضِينَ
satisfied
راضٍ (الراضِي)
satisfied
Accusative and genitive cases
(مَنْصُوب ومَجْرور)

The sound feminine plural / جَمْعُ المُؤَنّثِ السالِم

To form the sound feminine plural (جَمْعُ المُؤَنَّثِ السالِم), we need to replace case endings in the singular form with these two suffixes (we remove the ة if the word ends like this). 

  • In the nominative case (مَرْفُوع)

  ـاتٌ… /ātun/

  • In the accusative (مَنْصوب) and genitive cases (مَجْرور)

ـاتٍ… /ātin/ 

When the noun is indefinite, the final tanwīn appears.

PluralSingularNoun case (المَحَلّ الإِعْرابي)
مَلِكاتٌ (المَلِكاتُ
queens
مَلِكةٌ (المَلِكةُ) 
queen


Nominative case
(مَرْفُوع)
سِجِلاتٌ (السِجِلاتُ)  
registers
سِجِلٌّ (السِجِلُّ)
register
مَلِكاتٍ (المَلِكاتِ
 queens
مَلِكةً (المَلِكةَ )/ مَلِكةٍ (المَلِكةِ)
queen


Accusative and genitive cases
(مَنْصُوب ومَجْرُور)
سِجِلاتٍ (السِجِلاتِ
registers
سِجِلاً (السِجِلَّ) / سِجِلٍّ (السِجِلِّ)
register

Noun modifications

  • For nouns ending with ى, اة or اء this ending is replaced by a و or a ي (depending on the root letters):

With اة:

Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (المُفْرَد)
قَنَوات
canals/channels
قَناة
canal/channel
حَيَوات
lives
حَياة 
life 

With ى:

Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (المُفْرَد)
عُظْمَيات 
greatest (feminine)
عُظْمى
greatest (feminine)
حُبْلَيات
pregnant
حُبْلى
pregnant

With اء:

Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (المُفْرَد)
سَمَاوات
skies
سَماء
sky 
صَحْرَاوات
deserts 
صَحْراء 
desert 
  • For nouns whose singular pattern is فَعْل or فَعْلة and have a 2nd letter that’s neither a ي nor و, the sukūn generally turns into a vowel in the event of a sound plural (the same consonant as the 1st letter being fatḥa):
Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (المُفْرَد)
سَجَدات 
prostrations
سَجْدة
prostration
جَلَسات 
sessions
جَلْسة 
session 
ظُلُمات 
obscurities
ظُلْمة
obscurity 
  • Exceptions:
Plural (الجَمْع)Singular (المُفْرَد)
سَنَوات 
years
سَنة
year 
شَفَوات 
lips
شَفة 
lip 
بَنات 
daughters
بِنْت
daughter 
أُمَّهات 
mothers
أُمّ
mother
أَخَوات
sisters
أُخْت
sister 

Note: The sound feminine plural ending typically only applies to human entities.

Broken plurals / جَمْعُ التَكْسِير 

The Arabic language comprises a wide array of nouns and adjectives with an irregular plural form referred to as broken plural, or جَمْعُ التَكْسِير. This is analogous to the English equivalent like ‘man – men’, ‘goose – geese’, and ‘tooth– teeth’ or even ‘child-children’.

There are many broken plural patterns. Arabic grammarians have formulated distinctions between small numbers and collective plurals which are neglected today except for certain words such as:

أَحْرُف (less than 10 letters) / حُرُوف (beyond 10 letters) ← (letter) حَرْف

أَشْهُر (less than 12 month) / شُهُور (beyond 12 month) ← (month) شَهْر

Singular words are transformed into broken plural forms through different increments and internal changes. Taking the time to learn these patterns makes it easier to spot plurals within texts, as well as source their singular roots. Unfortunately, there are not any concrete regulations when creating broken plurals from singular words; some may have one or more versions while others could contain both broken and sound varieties. On top of that, it’s essential to note that these irregular formations are used more often than the sound “regular” plural constructions.

Most internal plurals follow the basic three-case declension. A significant number (notably among those of four syllables) are diptotic, some follow the diptotic-defective declination, finally others, few in number, are indeclinable (final in ى)

Triliteral root / الثُلاثي

Examples (أَمْثِلة)Plural pattern (الوَزْن)
قِطّ  ← قِطَط 
cats ← cat
فِرْقَة ← فِرَق 
teams ← team
فِعَل
مَدِينة ← مُدُن
cities ← city
حِمار ← حُمُر 
donkeys ← donkey 
فُعُل
صَنَم ← أَصْنام  
idols ← idol 
سُوق ← أَسْواق
markets ← market
أَفْعال
قارئ ← قُرّاء
readers ← reader 
طالِب ← طُلاّب
students ← student 
فُعّال 
كاتِب ← كَتَبة
writers ← writer 
طالِب ← طَلَبة  
students ← student 
فَعَلة (variation of فُعّال)
طَعام ← أَطْعِمة
foods ← food
زَمان ← أَزْمِنة  
times ← time
أَفْعِلة
بَنْك ← بُنُوك
banks ← bank 
فَنّ ← فُنُون
arts ← art
فُعُول
سُنّة ← سُنَن
traditions ← tradition 
صُورة ← صُوَر
pictures ← picture 
فُعَل
ظِلّ ← ظِلال 
shadows ← shadow 
صَغِير ← صِغار
small 
فِعال
حُوت ← حِيتان
whales ← whale
جار ← جِيران
neighbours ← neighbour
فِعْلان
فارِس ← فُرْسان
knights ← knight
بِلاد ← بُلْدان
countries ← country 
فُعْلان
شَهْر ← أَشْهُر 
months ← month
حَرْف ← أَحْرُف
letters ← letter
أَفْعُل
نَخْل ← نَخِيل
palm trees ← palm tree
عَبْد ← عَبيد
slaves ← slave
فَعِيل 
قاعدة ← قَواعِد
rules ← rule
قامُوس ← قَوامِيس
dictionnaries ← dictionary 
فَواعيل / فَواعِل (diptote)
قَصِيدة ← قَصائِد
poems ← poem 
جَزِيرة ← جَزائِر 
islands ← island 
فَعائِل (diptote)
أُنْمُلة ← أَنامِل
finger tips ← finger tip
أُسْبوع ← أَسابِيع
weeks ← week
أَفاعِيل / أفاعِل (diptote)
تَجْرِبة ← تَجارِب
experiences ← experience
تِمْثال ← تَماثِيل
statues ← statue 
تَفاعِيل / تَفاعِل (diptote)
مِقْدار ← مَقادِير
amounts ← amount
مِنْقار ← مَناقِير
beaks ← beak
مَفاعِيل (diptote)
مَذْهَب ← مَذاهِب
doctrines ← doctrine
مَطْعَم ← مَطاعِم
restaurants ← restaurant
مَفاعِل (diptote)
نَبِيّ ← أَنْبياء
prophets ← prophet
صَدِيق ← أَصْدِقاء
friends ← friend
أَفْعِلاء (diptote)
عالِم ← عُلَماء 
scholars  ←  scholar 
أَمِير ← أُمَراء 
princes ← prince
فُعَلاء (diptote)
فَتْوى ← فَتاوى
advisory opinions ← advisory opinion
سَكْران ← سُكارى
drunk 
فُعالى / فَعالى (indeclinable)
أَحْمَق ← حَمْقى
fools ← fool/foolish 
مَرِيض ← مَرْضى
sick
فَعْلى (indeclinable)
مَزيّة ← مَزايا
advantages ← advantage
خَطِيئة ← خَطايا
sins ← sin
فَعالا (indeclinable)

Quadriliteral root / الرُباعِي

Examples (أَمْثِلة)Plural pattern (الوَزْن)
ثَعْلَب ← ثَعالِب
foxes ← fox
عُصْفور ← عَصافِير
little birds ← little bird
فَعاليل / فَعالِل (diptote)
مَغْرِبي ← مَغارِبة
Moroccans ← Moroccan
أُسْتاذ ← أَساتِذة
professors ← professor 
فَعالِلة (diptote)

Note: Words with 5 roots letters are very rare and originally do not come from the Arabic language. They lose one root letter in the plural form:

بَرْنامَج ← بَرامِج

(programs ← program)

⚠️ Arabic learners are not expected to memorize those patterns, native speakers do not themselves. The aim of this section is to give an overview of the different broken patterns you can find in Arabic. The best practice, after all, is to always memorize both the singular and plural forms when learning a new word. As the student continues to expose himself to the language, most of these occurrences will be memorized organically and almost subconsciously.

Now, let’s test your knowledge

Dual and plural quiz

Dual and Plural

Learn about the Arabic language's unique dual and plural grammatical structures with our comprehensive guide. Discover the rules, examples, and common pitfalls of using dual and plural in Arabic, and improve your language skills today.

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