Arabic Grammar – 230

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Declension (continued)

Singular declension

With regard to declension, singular nouns are three classes that differ only slightly in their declension:

  • The triptotes {الْمَصْرُوْفُ}
  • The diptotes {الْمَمْنُوْعُ مِنَ الصَّرْفِ}
  • The “six nouns” {الْأَسْماءُ السِّتَّةُ}


Triptote declension
Case State
Rafʕ STEM–uṋ ʔ·al‒STEM–u STEM–u
Naṣb STEM–aṋ ʔ·al‒STEM–a STEM–a
Ǵarr STEM–iṋ ʔ·al‒STEM–i STEM–i


Diptote declension
Case State
Rafʕ STEM–u ʔ·al‒STEM–u STEM–u
Naṣb STEM–a ʔ·al‒STEM–a STEM–a
Ǵarr STEM–a ʔ·al‒STEM–i STEM–i


“Six noun” declension
Case State
Rafʕ STEM–uṋ ʔ·al‒STEM–u STEM–ȗ
Naṣb STEM–aṋ ʔ·al‒STEM–a STEM–ȃ
Ǵarr STEM–iṋ ʔ·al‒STEM–i STEM–ȋ


Example, the singular declension of the triptote noun muʕallimuṋ {مُعَلِّمٌ} “a teacher (masc.).”

Triptote declension
Case State
“a teacher”
“the teacher”
“the teacher of”
Rafʕ مُعَلِّمٌ اَلْمُعَلِّمُ مُعَلِّمُ
muʕallimuṋ ʔ·almuʕallimu muʕallimu
Naṣb مُعَلِّمًا اَلْمُعَلِّمَ مُعَلِّمَ
muʕallimaṋ ʔ·al-muʕallima muʕallima
Ǵarr مُعَلِّمٍ اَلْمُعَلِّمِ مُعَلِّمِ
muʕallimiṋ ʔ·al-muʕallimi muʕallimi


Example, the singular declension of the diptote adjective ʕaṭšȃnu {عَطْشانُ} “thirsty (masc.).”

Diptote declension
Case State
“a thirsty”
“the thirsty”
“the thirsty of”
Rafʕ عَطْشانُ اَلْعَطْشانُ عَطْشانُ
ʕaṭšȃnu ʔ·alʕaṭšȃnu ʕaṭšȃnu
Naṣb عَطْشانَ اَلْعَطْشانَ عَطْشانَ
ʕaṭšȃna ʔ·al-ʕaṭšȃna ʕaṭšȃna
Ǵarr عَطْشانَ اَلْعَطْشانِ عَطْشانِ
ʕaṭšȃna ʔ·al-ʕaṭšȃni ʕaṭšȃni


Example, the singular declension of the noun ʔabuṋ {أَبٌ} “a father,” one of the “six nouns.”

“Six noun” declension
Case State
“a father”
“the father”
“the father of”
Rafʕ أَبٌ اَلْأَبُ أَبُوْ
ʔabuṋ ʔ·alʔabu ʔabȗ
Naṣb أَبًا اَلْأَبَ أَبا
ʔabaṋ ʔ·al-ʔaba ʔabȃ
Ǵarr أَبٍ اَلْأَبِ أَبِيْ
ʔabiṋ ʔ·al-ʔabi ʔabȋ


You can see from the tables above that the suffix –ṋ is a marker of the absolute state in non-diptotic nouns. The presence of this suffix is called nunation, after the name of the letter nȗn. In common nouns (non-proper nouns), nunation signifies indefiniteness, like the English article a(n).

The declension of the diptotes differs from the triptotes in the following regards:

  1. The absolute marking is identical to the construct.
  2. In the absolute state, the ǵarr marking is identical to the naṣb.

The declension of the “six nouns” differs in the length of the case markers in the construct state. In some dialects of CA this class had always the ending –ȃ in the construct.

Note that the rules of pause require dropping most of the above illustrated endings at pause. The ending –aṋ is exceptional in that it is not dropped but pronounced like –ȃ. Theoretically, the construct endings of the six nouns are also retained at pause due to their length, but it is unusual to pause at a word in the construct state.

Note that the broken plurals are grammatically singular and they are declined just like the rest of singular nouns. They can be triptotic or diptotic. Following is an example, which is the declension of ʕiṭȃšuṋ {عِطاشٌ} , a triptotic broken plural of the diptotic singular ʕaṭšȃnu {عَطْشانُ} .

Triptote declension
Case State
“thirsty (plur.)”
“the thirsty (plur.)”
“the thirsty of (plur.)”
Rafʕ عِطاشٌ اَلْعِطاشُ عِطاشُ
ʕiṭȃšuṋ ʔ·alʕiṭȃšu ʕiṭȃšu
Naṣb عِطاشًا اَلْعِطاشِ عِطاشِ
ʕiṭȃšaṋ ʔ·al-ʕiṭȃša ʕiṭȃša
Ǵarr عِطاشٍ اَلْعِطاشَ عِطاشَ
ʕiṭȃšiṋ ʔ·al-ʕiṭȃši ʕiṭȃši


The words of each declension class

The triptote declension is the default declension.

The diptote nouns are generally the following:

  • Proper nouns, except:
    • Nouns of the form fVʕl– (if feminine, can be optionally diptote, such as Miṣru(ṋ) {مِصْرُ/مِصْرٌ} “Egypt”)
    • Masculine proper nouns fulfilling the following:
      • Have a transparent Arabic etymology (not ʔIbrȃhȋmu {إبْراهِيْمُ} or Yȗsufu {يُوْسُفُ} )
      • Not compounds (not Maʕdiy-Kariba/Maʕdiy-Karibu {مَعْدِيْكَرِبَ/مَعْدِيْكَرِبُ} )
      • Do not have finite-verb-like stems (not Šammaru {شَمَّرُ} , ʔAħmadu {أَحْمَدُ} , or Yazȋdu {يَزِيْدُ} )
      • Do not have the stem fuʕal– (not ʕUmaru {عُمَرُ} )
      • Do not have a suffix –ȃn (not Ramaḍȃnu {رَمَضانُ} )
  • Class Ⅱ adjectives, e.g. sakrȃnu {سَكْرانُ} & sakra·y {سَكْرَى} “drunk.”
  • Class Ⅲ adjectives, e.g. ʔablahu {أَبْلَهُ} & balhȃʔu {بَلْهاءُ} “brainless, senseless.”
  • The adjective ʔuxaru {أُخَرُ} , the broken plural of the diptote ʔuxra·y {أُخْرَى} “another (fem.).”
  • Distributive numerals of the forms fuʕȃlu {فُعالُ} and mafʕalu {مَفْعَلُ} , e.g. θunȃʔu/maθna·y {ثُناءُ/مَثْنَى} “two by two.”
  • Feminine substantives with a suffix –aw/–ay, e.g. taqwa·y {تَقْوَى} “watching out for [something], piety.”
  • Feminine substantives with a suffix –ȃw, e.g. kibriyȃʔu {كِبْرِياءُ} “grandeur.”
  • Broken plurals with a suffix –aw/–ay, e.g. marḍa·y {مَرْضَى} “sick (plur.).”
  • Broken plurals with a suffix –ȃw, e.g. ħukamȃʔu {حُكَماءُ} “wise (plur.).”
  • Broken plurals of the forms CaCȃCil– & CaCȃCȋl– (where C means any consonant, radical or not), e.g. madȃrisu {مَدارِسُ} “schools” and mafȃtȋħu {مَفاتِيْحُ} “keys.”

The “six nouns” are the following, all of them masculine:

  • ʔabuṋ {أَبٌ} “a father”
  • ʔaxuṋ {أَخٌ} “a brother”
  • ħamuṋ {حَمٌ} “a father-in-law”
  • hanuṋ {هَنٌ} “a thing”
  • {فُوْ} “the mouth of”
  • ðȗ {ذُوْ} “the possessor of”

The word hanuṋ may be declined as a triptote and it is not always included in the group. If this word is left out, the group is called the “five nouns.”

The words and ðȗ exist only in the construct state.

The word is used as a suppletive for the triptote famuṋ {فَمٌ} “a mouth,” that is:

famuṋ (absolute), ʔ·al-famu (determinate), (construct)

A construct form famu also exists in CA.

The word ðȗ is a pronoun, corresponding to the plural ʔulȗ {أولُوْ} “the possessors of.”


The singular endings discussed above are almost completely lost in the modern vernaculars, which is unsurprising because they were half-lost already in CA (the pausal dropping).

One ending that is generally preserved is the construct state ending in the words for “father” and “brother,” which usually appears as –u without variation for case. So in Aleppo Arabic there is:

  • ʔab “father,” (ʔ)əl-ʔab “the father,” ʔabu “father of”
  • ʔax “brother,” (ʔ)əl-ʔax “the brother,” ʔaxu “brother of”

The rest of words have no difference between the absolute and construct states, for example:

  • mʕallem “teacher (masc.),” (ʔ)əl-mʕallem “the teacher (masc.),” mʕallem “teacher of (masc.)”
  • ʕaṭšȃn “thirsty (masc.),” (ʔ)əl-ʕaṭšȃn “the thirsty (masc.),” ʕaṭšȃn “the thirsty of (masc.)”

Some Bedouin and Bedouin-influenced dialects retain the absolute state ending in the form –ən without variation for case, for example:

  • yōmən “a day,” (ʔ)əl-yōm “the day,” yōm “the day of”

Modern speakers of Arabic learn the case-declension system of CA at school. It is generally considered a difficult topic and many modern speakers omit the endings completely when they use the standard language (mistakes are also very common).




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