Arabic Grammar – 26 (from old website)

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Nouns

Gender of Nouns

Feminine Markers (continued)

1. Feminine tȃʔ

‑a·t

ــَـة

The feminine tȃʔ تَاْءُالتَأْنِيْثِ  is the major feminine marker that appears at the end of most of the feminine singular nouns. It almost always assumes the “tiedfigure ـَة and very rarely the “open” figure ت . The tied tȃʔ الْتَاْءُ الْمَرْبُوْطَةُ is always preceded by a short A vowel.

Examples, click on the Arabic word to hear it:

Male teacher

muʕallim

مُعَلِّم

Female teacher

muʕallima·t

مُعَلِّمَة

Male cat

qiṭṭ

قِطّ

Female cat

qiṭṭa·t

قِطَّة

Man raǵul رَجُل
Woman ʔ·imraʔa·t *اِمْرَأَة
Male child ṭifl طِفْل
Female child ṭifla·t طِفْلَة
Male American (adj.) ʔAmerikiyy أَمريكِيّ
female American (adj.) ʔAmerikiyya·t أَمريكِيَّة
Female proper name Fȃṭima·t فَاْطِمَة
Female proper name ʕȂʔišha·t عَاْئِشَة

Tree (fem.)

šaǵara·t

شَجَرَة*

Hour (fem.)

sȃʕa·t

سَاْعَة

Book (masc.)

kitȃb

كِتَاْب

Pen (masc.)

qalam

قَلَم

*This is just another figure of the same letter (see joining figures of letters).

As we have mentioned before, the difference between a tied tȃʔ ـَة and an open one ت is that a tied tȃʔ is pronounced ‑ah or ‑a at pause rather than ‑at. It will be pronounced ‑at only if you kept speaking after saying it. If you halt your talk right after pronouncing the tied tȃʔ, you must turn it into ‑ah or ‑a in regular Arabic.

►Exceptions

Although the tied tȃʔ is primarily a feminine marker, it can appear at the end of the following kinds of nouns without being a feminine marker:

Examples:

Questions

(fem. irregular plural)

ʔaila·t

أَسْئِلَة

Writers/scribes

(masc. irregular plural)

kataba·t

كَتَبَة

Bears

(fem. irregular plural)

dibaba·t

دِبَبَة

Judges

(masc. irregular plural)

quaa·t

قُضَاْة

Cavalry

(fem. irregular plural)

xayla·t

خَيَّاْلَة

Transgressor/tyrant

(masc. sing. agent noun)

ȃɣiya·t

طَاْغِيَة

Erudite

(masc. sing. agent noun)

ʕalma·t

عَلاَّمَة

Male proper name

ʔUsȃma·t

أُسَاْمَة

Male proper name

Ħuðayfa·t

حُذَيْفَة

Irregular plural nouns are collective nouns, which means that they are grammatically singular even though they are semantically plural.

Irregular plural nouns are all inherently feminine. The presence of the tied tȃʔ in the above examples is not the reason for why they are feminine. There are many other irregular plural structures that do not have any feminine marker attached yet they are still feminine.

It is possible though for irregular plurals that refer to humans to be treated grammatically as plural nouns rather than singular, and the gender of the noun in that case will match the gender of its singular (it will often be masculine). This is how such nouns are treated in Modern Standard Arabic.

The presence of the tied tȃʔ in those kinds of nouns without functioning as a feminine marker is related to an old original function of the tied tȃʔ; this suffix had originally two functions:

  1. An augmentative function, which included turning a singular “count noun” (a noun referring to a single unit, like”friend”) into a “collective noun” (also a singular noun but refers to multiple units). This pluralistic function (represented in the irregular plurals) gave rise to another intensive or exaggerative function when the suffix was added to certain nouns (usually agent nouns).

  2. A diminutive function that included turning a “mass noun”(a noun referring to both singular and plural units, like “fruit,” “fish,”etc.) into a singular count noun. This “singularistic” function gave rise to another function of belittlement and depreciation that, sadly, evolved to signify the feminine gender when attached to many nouns.

These original functions of the ‑a·t were not dead by the time of Classical Arabic and the Quran; they were vividly in use along side the feminine function and they remained productive throughout the following ages giving rise to countless new words in the modern spoken varieties. The ‑a·t is still commonly used in modern spoken Arabic to coin diminutive nouns as well as to turn count nouns into collective nouns.

The open tȃʔ ت occurs as a feminine marker in very scarce nouns like:

Daughter

bint

بِنْت

Sister

ʔuxt

أُخْتْ

These nouns are ancient and their terminal feminine tȃʔ somehow escaped the process of being turned into a tied tȃʔ. Apart from these two nouns and maybe some few others, the open tȃʔ ت is not considered a feminine marker.

In some classical dialects of Arabic, particularly classical southern Arabian dialects (Himyarite), the feminine tȃʔ was pronounced ‑at invariably i.e. there was no tied tȃʔ in those dialects. This is why it is not considered officially wrong to pronounce a tied tȃʔ always ‑at even at pause. However, pronouncing a full ‑at at pause will doubtless sound awkward to most modern speakers of Arabic who are unfamiliar with this classical variety.

N.B. there are still few rural dialects today in which the tied tȃʔ is fully realized as ‑at at pause; this tends to be in dialects that are primarily derived from classical Yemeni Arabic, like modern southern Levantine Arabic (Palestine and Lebanon). (The former Maronite patriarch of Mount Lebanon often appeared talking on Lebanese TV and he paused realizing a full ‑at.)

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