Gulf Arabic Grammar:
The Broken Plural.

The fabulous ceiling of a hotel lobby in Abu Dhabi The Arabic language is quite a lot about roots and patterns. As the famous example goes, the three consonants ك - ت - ب k-t-b convey the meaning of ‘writing’. Hence كتب kitab - he wrote, كاتب kaatib – writer, مكتوب maktuub – written, a letter, مكتب maktab – office (a place where a lot of writing happens), مكتبة maktaba – library, etc.

If we let the letter C represent a consonant (in this case k, t or b), we could represent the above words with the following patterns:

كتب kitab CiCaC (verb, Past Tense)
كاتب kaatib CaaCiC (Present Participle or Agent Noun)
مكتوب maktuub maCCuuC (Past Participle)
مكتب maktab maCCaC (Noun of Place)
مكتبة maktaba maCCaCa (Noun of Place)

That said, many frequently-used nouns (and some adjectives) form their plural by breaking up their internal shape. You can see these in English in only a few words, e.g. ‘goose‘ becomes ‘geese’ (instead of 'gooses'), ‘mouse’ becomes ‘mice’ (instead of 'mouses'), ‘woman’ becomes ‘women’ (instead of 'womans'), etc.

In this section (V.2.x/G.2x) of the Gulf Arabic course you encountered several examples of ‘broken plurals’, some of which are:

سوق -> أسواق
suug -> aswaag (market/s)
ريال -> رياييل
rayyaal -> rayyaayyiil (man/men)
صديق -> أصدقاء
Sadeeg -> aSdigaa (friend/s)
عامل -> عمال
^aamil -> ^ummaal (worker/s)

Usually, short nouns take a broken plural. This includes many words borrowed from other languages as long as they are short in length: فيلم -> أفلام film -> aflaam (film/s), كرت -> كروت kart -> kuruut (card/s), بنك -> بنوك bank -> bunuuk (bank/s).

Below are some common ‘broken plural’ patterns. The first two patterns denote professions and occupations.

A view from Medina Jumeirah in Dubai1). Singular CaCCaaC -> plural CaCaaCiiC

مفتاح -> مفاتيح
miftaaH (key) -> mafaatiiH
نجار -> نجاجير
najjaar (carpenter) -> najaajiir

2.) Singular CaaCiC -> plural CuCCaaC

عامل -> عمال
^aamil (worker) -> ^ummaal
حاكم -> حكام
Haakim (ruler) -> Hukkaam
كاتب -> كتاب
kaatib (clerk, writer) -> kuttaab
تاجر -> تجار
taajir (trader, merchant) -> tujjaar

3.) A variation of 1.) is CiCCiiC -> plural CaCaaCiiC

سكين -> سكاكين
sikkiin (knife) -> sakaakiin
(you can hear sichchiin -> sachaachiin quite often as well.

4.) plural CuCuuc

بيت -> بيوت
bayt (house) -> buyuut
قلب -> قلوب
galb (heart) -> guluub
قصر -> قصور
gaSir (palace) -> guSuur
شيخ -> شيوخ
shayx (sheikh) -> shuyuux

5.) plural aCCaaC

خبر -> أخبار
xabar (a piece of news) -> axbaar (news)
فيلم -> أفلام
film -> aflaam
سوق -> أسواق
suug (market, marketplace) -> aswaag
رقم -> أرقام
ragm (number) -> argaam

6.) plural CiiCaaC

جار/ يار -> جيران / يران
jaar/yaar (neighbour) -> jiiraan/yiiraan
باب -> بيبان
baab (door) -> biibaan

7.) plural CaCaaCic

مكتب -> مكاتب
maktab (office) – makaatib
مطبخ -> مطابخ
maTbax (kitchen) – maTaabix
متحف -> متاحف
matHaf (museum) – mataaHif
مسجد / مسيد -> مساجد / مسايد
masjid/masyid/msiid (mosque) – masaajid/masaayid

You will have to learn the plurals together with the singulars. You will gradually develop a sort of intuition as to what the plural of a particular word should be.

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