Arabic Grammar – 170

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Denominal nouns
Nouns in –V(V)w/–V(V)y (continued)
Nouns in –aw/–ay & –ȃw

The shapes of the suffixes –aw/–ay & –ȃw  are governed by the following rules, which are general phonetic rules that apply to all similar endings:

  • The ending –aw/–ay has the form –aw if preceded by the consonant y, and has the form –ay otherwise. (N.b. This rule does not operate in nouns with only three consonants.)
  • If the ending –aw/–ay is followed by nothing other than the singular inflectional ending –V(ṋ), it becomes –a (written –ȃ {ــَــا} if originally –aw, and –a⋅y {ــَــى} if originally –ay), and the the vowel of the singular ending is elided, thus –aw‑V(ṋ) > a(ṋ) & –aw‑V(ṋ) > a(ṋ).
  • If the ending –ȃw is followed by nothing other than the singular inflectional ending –V(n), it becomes –ȃʔ, thus –ȃwV(ṋ) > –ȃʔV(ṋ).

The important functions of the suffixes –aw/–ay & –ȃw can be summarized as:

  • Plurative: in broken plurals.
  • Abstractive: in verbal substantives.
  • Feminizing: in verbal adjectives.

In all of the these functions the suffixes are diptotic, so the singular ending following them will always have the form –V, never –Vṋ.

These suffixes are unproductive. They are found only in a limited number of fixed forms.

Following are broken plural forms that have these suffixes.

Plural Singular
*qatlayu > qatla·y قَتْلَى qatȋluṋ قَتِيْلٌ
killed (plur.) killed (sing.)
*yatāmayu > yatȃma·y يَتامَى yatȋmuṋ يَتِيْمٌ
orphans an orphan
*ruʔasāwu > ruʔasȃʔu رُؤَساءُ raʔȋsuṋ رَئِيْسٌ
chiefs a chief
*ʔaṣdiqāwu > ʔaṣdiqȃʔu أَصْدِقاءُ adȋquṋ صَدِيْقٌ
friends a friend

These forms must not be confused with other broken plurals made from roots III=w/y, such *ʔaʕdāwun > ʔaʕdȃʔuṋ {أَعْداءٌ} , the plural of ʕadȗwuṋ = ʕaduwwuṋ {عَدُوٌّ} “a transgressor, an enemy.”

Examples of verbal substantives that have the suffixes –aw/–ay are *šakwayu > šakwa·y {شَكْوَى} “pleading, protesting,” *ðikrayu > ðikra·y {ذِكْرَى} “remembrance,” and *bušrayu > bušra·y {بُشْرَى} “heralding.” These must be distinguished from verbal substantives made of roots III=w/y and having a prefix mV–, such as *maʕnayun > maʕnaṋ {مَعْنًى} “a meaning” and *multaqayun > multaqaṋ {مُلْتَقًى} “a meeting (place).”

Verbal substantives with the suffix –ȃw are rare. An example is *baɣḍāwu > baɣḍȃʔu {بَغْضاءُ} “hatred.” Most of the time the ending –ȃʔ in verbal substantives will be part of the root, like in *ʔihdāyun > ʔihdȃʔuṋ {إهْداءٌ} “offering, presenting.”

Feminine verbal adjectives with the suffix –aw/–ay have the forms *faʕlawu/*fuʕlawu > faʕlȃ/fuʕlȃ {فعْلا} and *faʕlayu/*fuʕlayu > faʕla·y/fuʕla·y {فعْلَى} . Their mascuine counterparts have the forms faʕlȃnu {فَعْلانُ} and fuʕlȃnu {فُعْلانُ} , with a suffix –ȃn.

Meaning Feminine Masculine
thirsty ʕaṭša·y عَطْشَى ʕaṭšȃnu عَطْشانُ
thirsty ð̣aa·y ظَمْأَى ð̣aȃnu ظَمْآنُ
with inflated belly, pregnant ħubla·y حُبْلَى ħublȃnu حُبْلانُ

These forms are common in personal names, e.g. female Salma·y {سَلْمَى} , Layla·y {لَيْلَى} , and Lubna·y {لُبْنَى} , and male Salmȃnu {سَلْمانُ} , Ħamdȃnu {حَمْدانُ} , ʕUθmȃnu {عُثْمانُ} .

The form fuʕlȃ/fuʕla·y (with u in the first syllable) productively forms feminine elative adjectives corresponding to the English superlative adjectives.

kubra·y كُبْرَى kabȋra·tuṋ كَبِيْرةٌ
biggest (fem.) big (fem.)
uɣra·y صُغْرَى aɣȋra·tuṋ صَغِيْرةٌ
smallest (fem.) small (fem.)
ʕulyȃ عُلْيا ʕȃliya·tuṋ عالِيةٌ
highest (fem.) high (fem.)
dunyȃ دُنْيا dȃniya·tuṋ دانِيةٌ
lowest, nearest (fem.) low, near (fem.)

 

Feminine verbal adjectives with the suffix –ȃw have the form *faʕlȃwu > faʕlȃʔu {فَعْلاءُ} . Their mascuine counterparts have the forms ʔaalu {أَفْعَلُ} , with a prefix ʔa.

They denote colors:

Meaning Feminine Masculine
white bayḍȃʔu بَيْضاءُ ʔabyau أَبْيَضُ
black sawdȃʔu سَوْداءُ ʔaswadu أَسْوَدُ
red ħamrȃʔu حَمْراءُ ʔaħmaru أَحْمَرُ
yellow afrȃʔu صَفْراءُ ʔaṣfaru أَصْفَرُ
blue zarqȃʔu زَرْقاءُ ʔazraqu أَزْرَقُ
green xaḍrȃʔu خَضْراءُ ʔaxḍaru أَخْضَرُ

 

They also denote human physical or mental defects:

Meaning Feminine Masculine
blind ʕamyȃʔu عَمْياءُ *ʔaʕmayu > ʔaʕmay
أَعْمَى
mute xarsȃʔu خَرْساءُ ʔaxrasu أَخْرَسُ
deaf aršȃʔu طَرْشاءُ ʔaṭrašu أَطْرَشُ
fool ħamqȃʔu حَمْقاءُ ʔaħmaqu أَحْمَقُ


A productive and important use of the ʔaalu pattern is to form elative adjectives corresponding to both the comparative and superlative adjectives in English:

ʔakbaru أَكْبَرُ kabȋruṋ كَبِيْرٌ
bigger (masc./fem.) big (masc.)
ʔaɣaru أَصْغَرُ aɣȋruṋ صَغِيْرٌ
smaller (masc./fem.) small (masc.)
*ʔaʕlayu > ʔaʕla⋅y أَعْلَى *ʕāliyun > ʕȃliṋ
عالٍ
higher (masc./fem.) high (masc.)
*ʔadnayu > ʔadna⋅y أَدْنَى *dāniyun > dȃniṋ دانٍ
lower, nearer (masc./fem.) low, near (masc.)

 

When an elative ʔaalu adjective is in the absolute state (does not have a definite article), it has a comparative meaning and a common gender (used for both the masculine and feminine). When it is in the determinate state (has a definite article), it has either a compartive or superlative meaning and a masculine gender, e.g. ʔ⋅al-ʔakbaru {الْأَكْبَرُ} can mean either “the bigger” or “the biggest.” The feminine superaltive is ideallay formed with fuʕlȃ/fuʕla·y. However, determinate ʔaalu is sometimes used for the feminine gender.

While the pattern ʔaalu forms comparative adjectives, it is wrong to assume that every ʔaalu adjective must have a comparative meaning. For example, the famous Islamic phrase ʔ·Allāhu ʔakbaruاللّهُ أَكْبَرُ does not mean “God is greater” but it simply means “God is (very) great.” Likewise, personal names such as ʔAħmadu أَحْمَدُ , ʔAsʕadu أَسْعَدُ , etc. do not have a comparative meaning.

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