The Grammar of Using Arabic Numbers

عَدَد

root: ع-د-د / noun / plural: أَعْداد / definition: number


I remember learning the grammar for using Arabic numbers at university. It seemed fairly simple as there were essentially three sets of rules: one for the numbers 3-10, one for 11-99, and another for whole hundreds, thousands, etc.

But when I looked a little deeper, I realised that there were a few little exceptions and special cases! Well, now’s a good a time as ever to delve into the details…

Here’s a few things to know before we get into the rules:

  • the counted noun is the noun that’s—yes—being counted, or being specified by the number; so if we say “8 planets”, planet is the counted noun
  • a compound number is a number that’s a mix of units, tens, thousands, etc—for example: 34, 108, 7020, and 97592
  • in this post, I’ll be focusing more on the grammatical relationship between the number and counted noun, and not so much on how to say each number—I think we’d need a whole other post on that!
  • there’s a neat tool called تفقيط that’s amazing when you need to see a number written out in words and don’t feel like consulting your grammar notes(!)—find out how to use it best here

Like I mentioned at the start, there are three main sets of rules… although, as you can see, there are subsets too:

  • 3-10
  • 11-99
    • 11-19
    • whole tens
    • compound numbers ending in 1 or 2
    • compound numbers ending in 3-9
  • 100+
    • whole hundreds, thousands, etc
    • compound numbers

(Note: the reason we start at 3 is because for the numbers 1 and 2, the counted noun either takes the singular or dual form!)

Let’s begin!

3-10

For the numbers 3 to 10, the number is:

  • written in words (not figures)
  • the opposite gender to that of the (singular form of the) counted noun

And the counted noun is:

  • plural
  • مجرور (in genitive case, as the number and counted noun are in an إضافة)

Examples:

سَبعَةُ كُتُبٍ

7 books


أَربَعُ نِساءٍ

4 women


عَشَرُ مَرّاتٍ

10 times


11-99

For the numbers 11-99, we write the number in figures as opposed to words. However, I’ll write them out in the examples so that the grammar is clear.

With this category of numbers, the counted noun is always:

  • singular
  • منصوب (in accusative case)

However, the gender of the number in relation to the gender of the counted noun differs. Let’s look at the different sub-groups…


11-19

For 11, 12, and all of the “teen” numbers, the number is:

  • the same gender as that of the counted noun

Examples:

اِثنَتا عَشرَةَ رِوائيّةً

12 (female) novelists


أَحَدَ عَشَرَ عاماً

11 years


ثَمانِيَةَ عَشَرَ بَيتاً

18 houses


سِتَّ عَشرَةَ صَفحةً

16 pages

Note how, for the numbers 13-19, the two components of the number (tens and units) are opposite in gender. The gender of the ten determines the gender of the number.

I.e. خَمسَةَ عَشَرَ is masculine and خَمسَ عَشرَةَ is feminine.


whole tens

For the whole tens—i.e. 20, 30, 40, etc—the number is:

  • invariable for gender

Examples:

عِشرونَ ساعةً

20 hours


تِسعونَ يَوماً

90 days


ثَلاثونَ شَخصاً

30 people

Remember that the tens have sound masculine plural endings that vary according to case—they either end in ـونَ (as in the examples above) or ـينَ.


compound numbers ending in 1 or 2

For compound numbers ending in 1 or 2, the number is:

  • the same gender as that of the counted noun

Examples:

واحِدٌ وَعِشرونَ قَلَماً

21 pens


اِثنَتانِ وَسَبعونَ مَدينةً

72 cities


واحِدَةٌ وَسِتّونَ مِتراً

61 metres


اِثنانِ وَخَمسونَ أُسبوعاً

52 weeks


compound numbers ending in 3-9

For compound numbers ending in a unit from 3 to 9, the number is:

  • the opposite gender to that of the counted noun

Examples:

ثَلاثَةٌ وَثَلاثونَ شارِعاً

33 roads


أَربَعٌ وَعِشرونَ ساعَةً

24 hours


سَبعٌ وَتِسعونَ مِنطَقَةً

97 areas


خَمسَةٌ وَسِتّونَ زَعيماً

65 leaders


100+

The numbers 100 (which can either be spelt مِئة or مائة) and above are also written in figures.

Larger and more complex numbers often combine different sets of rules. For example, 3000 shelves is ثَلاثَةُ آلافِ رَفٍّ—where أَلف (a thousand) is the counted noun of ثلاثة (and therefore plural and مجرور), and رَفّ is the counted noun of 3000 (and therefore follows the rules we’ll mention below).


whole hundreds, thousands, etc

For whole hundreds, thousands, millions (basically, anything ending with at least two zeros), the counted noun is:

  • singular
  • مجرور (because it forms an إضافة with the number)

Examples:

خَمسُمِئةِ (/خَمسُ مِئةِ) طِفلٍ

500 children


ثَمانِيَةُ آلافِ شَجَرَةٍ

8000 trees


ثَمانِيَةُ آلافٍ وَخَمسُمِئَةِ صورةٍ

8500 pictures


اِثنانِ وَأَربَعونَ أَلفَ قِطارٍ

42,000 trains


مِليونا مِرآةٍ

2,000,000 mirrors


compound numbers

The last category! (Well, it’s more of a note really…)

When we have a number above 100 that includes tens or units, we use the last two digits to work out which set of rules to use.

For example, for the number 28,061, we’d use the same rules as we would for the number 61: the number is the same gender as the counted noun, and the counted noun is singular and منصوب.

And if we had the number 5,000,005, we’d use the set of rules for the number 5: the number is the opposite gender to that of the counted noun, and the counted noun is plural and مجرور.


…and, exhale! That’s it, you’ve reached the end of the rules!

(I need a lie-down after that.)

What sort of post would you like to see next? You can let me know via the comments below or social media!

!مع السلامة



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6 thoughts on “The Grammar of Using Arabic Numbers

  1. Excellent straight forward concise explanation of a bit confusing subject. Well done.
    I’ve made a little tool for converting numbers to its arabic text representation applying all rules you have mentioned and a little more. tafqit.com

      1. oops sorry did not notice it at first..
        I really appreciate you mentioning it and liking it. Please let me know if you have any feedback or think of more features.
        Thanks

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