Arabic Observations: Arabic Plurals


root: ج-م-ع / noun / definition: the plural

I’m back from my little Venice getaway and straight back to working on my dissertation. Well… I mean, of course I took a day’s rest because, you know… jet lag, or something. I think those few days away from my laptop were worth the extra stress now though, with my deadline a week away and still half of the dissertation left to write.

(Pray for me.)

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard enough about my dissertation stress. This post is dedicated to something else: another of my Arabic Observations.

This isn’t a particularly remarkable observation (or is it?) in the sense that it’s probably crossed the mind of every Arabic learner at some point, but there’s something (or some things) about Arabic plurals that make them interesting.

Many other languages have fairly simple rules for forming plurals. In English, we add -s or -es as a suffix, and in Turkish, it’s either -lar or -ler, depending on the vowel harmony rules. Easy. Simple. Consistent.

But Arabic (along with other Semitic and Afroasiatic languages, Google tells me) has broken plurals (like أبيات) alongside sound plural suffixes that vary according to gender and case (whether ـون or ـين or ـات). And then we have the fact that some nouns have multiple plural forms (such as رِباط, which has the plurals رِباطات and رُبُط and أَربِطة).

I’ve heard a few times that when multiple plurals exist for the same word, they have subtle differences in meaning between them. But is this the case with all of them? And, if not, why are there multiple plural forms for one noun?

I’m thinking now that I should look more into the subtle differences between the plural forms of the same noun. I’m sure, in the midst of the thousands of Hans Wehr screenshots on my phone, that I screenshotted a website or post about this very topic.

Obviously, I won’t be searching for that until after this dissertation is out of the way.

Do you know any more about the curiosity of Arabic plurals? Let me know in the comments below because there’s nothing I’d love more than some grammar reading after I submit this 15,000-word stress inducer.

See you soon, إلى اللقاء!

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