The Plural of Few and the Plural of Many


root: ق-ل-ل / noun / definition: few

I’m writing this post in between kneading and leaving-to-rise the Cypriot hellimli zeytinli I’m making in the kitchen, and the smell of black olives is stirring up hunger pangs despite the fact fasting is over (!عيد مبارك).

But this post isn’t about halloumi or olives, it’s about plurals. Specifically, two types of plural: جمع القِلّة and جمع الكَثرة.

You see, last August I was wondering why Arabic not only had different types of plurals (sound and broken) but why many Arabic words had multiple plural forms.

Well, one reason—but not the only one–why some nouns have more than one plural form is because they have:

  • a “plural of few” form (جمع القلّة)—used to refer to three to ten of the said noun
  • and a “plural of many” form (جمع الكثرة)—for indicating a higher number

For the “plural of many”, we’ll see a range of different plural patterns, like فُعول or فُعُل or فِعال.

But the “plural of few” form, جمع القلّة, has a specific pattern: either أَفعُل or فِعْلة.*

(*I’ve noticed أفْعال and أَفعِلة are listed in places as two other patterns of جمع القلّة, but these are also common plural patterns that appear as the only plural of many nouns. Good to know them, but good to note this too.)

An example:


a river


the plural of few: a few rivers (between three and ten)

أَنهار أو نُهور

the plural of many: many rivers

(as noted above, أنهار may also be considered an example of جمع القلة due to its أفعال pattern, so maybe أنهار indicates more rivers than أنهر but not as many as نهور? Just letting my mind run here…)

Here are some other examples from A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic:


a youth


a few youths


many youths


a month


a few months


many months

(interesting how the جمع القلّة form sounds (and is spelt) shorter and the جمع الكثرة form sounds longer with those long vowels)

More examples? Sure:


a sea


a few seas

بِحار أو بُحور أو أَبْحار

many seas

(again, أبحار could be an example of جمع القلة too)


a roof


a few roofs

سُقوف أو سُقُف

many roofs


a soul


a few souls


many souls


a young boy


a few young boys

صِبيان أو أصبِية

many young boys

(here, أصبية can also be considered جمع القلة due to its أَفعِلة pattern)

If you’re after more information about the different types of plurals, check out my post about the plural of the plural (جمع الجمع) too.

And actually, the difference between جمع القلة and جمع الكثرة reminds me a bit of the difference between بضع and بعض—and, yes, I have a post about that too!

My hellimli zeytinli is baking in the oven now and nearly done, so I’ll see you on my next post, مع السلامة!

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