- 1 Multiple plurals
- 2 Derived nouns and adjectives
- 2.1 Verbal nouns
- 2.2 Active participles
- 2.3 Passive participles
- 2.4 Relative adjectives (nisba)
- 2.5 Relative nouns (nisba)
- 2.6 Basic adjectives
- 2.7 Elative adjectives
- 2.8 Color or defect adjectives
- 2.9 Collective nouns
- 2.10 Singulative nouns
- 2.11 Instance nouns
- 2.12 Nouns of place
- 2.13 Tool nouns
- 2.14 Occupational nouns
- 2.15 Characteristic nouns and adjectives
- 2.16 Diminutives
- 3 References
- 4 See also
Arabic nouns often have multiple plural forms. For example بَحْر (baḥr, “sea”) can have plurals بِحَار (biḥār), بُحُور (buḥūr), أَبْحَار (ʾabḥār), or أَبْحُر (ʾabḥur). These forms are alternative ways of pluralizing the same noun. Sometimes a particular plural form corresponds to a particular sense of the noun, for example in the word عَيْن (ʿayn, “eye”), the fifth sense of "the thing itself" has a distinct plural أَعْيُن (ʾaʿyun). In other cases it is a matter of preference or dialect. Attempts should be made to put the most common plural form first in entry headings with multiple plurals.
Derived nouns and adjectives
In Arabic, many types of nouns and adjectives can be derived from verbal roots. Typically, derivations and other patterns for triliteral verbs are indicated using the root ف ع ل (f-ʿ-l). For quadriliteral (four-consonant) verbs, the classical root is ف ع ل ل (f-ʿ-l-l), but this is unfortunate in that the third and fourth consonants are the same, which wrongly suggests a geminated verb. Instead, we use ف ع ز ل (f ʿ z l).
Verbal nouns (مَصْدَر (maṣdar)) of form I do not follow any particular pattern. Most common is فَعْل (faʿl) but there are many others, e.g. فِعْل (fiʿl), فُعْل (fuʿl), فَعَل (faʿal), فَعَال (faʿāl), فِعَال (fiʿāl), فُعُول (fuʿūl), فُعَال (fuʿāl), فَعُول (faʿūl), مَفْعَل (mafʿal), مَفْعِل (mafʿil), تَفْعَال (tafʿāl), فِعْلَان (fiʿlān), فُعْلَان (fuʿlān), فَعَلَان (faʿalān), etc. as well as the corresponding feminines: فَعْلَة (faʿla), فِعْلَة (fiʿla), فُعْلَة (fuʿla), فَعَلَة (faʿala), فَعَالَة (faʿāla), فِعَالَة (fiʿāla), فُعُولَة (fuʿūla), فَعْلُولَة (faʿlūla), مَفْعَلَة (mafʿala), مَفْعِلَة (mafʿila), etc.
Verbal nouns of the other forms do follow particular patterns:
|Form||Sound verbal noun||Final-weak verbal noun|
|I||No particular pattern||No particular pattern|
|II||تَفْعِيل (tafʿīl), تَفْعِلَة (tafʿila), تَفْعَال (tafʿāl)||تَفْعِيَة (tafʿiya)|
|III||مُفَاعَلَة (mufāʿala), فِعَال (fiʿāl)||مُفَاعَاة (mufāʿāh), فِعَاء (fiʿāʾ)|
|IV||إِفْعَال (ʾifʿāl)||إفْعَاء (ʾifʿāʾ)|
|V||تَفَعُّل (tafaʿʿul)||تَفَعٍّ (tafaʿʿin)|
|VI||تَفَاعُل (tafāʿul)||تَفَاعٍ (tafāʿin)|
|VII||اِنْفِعَال (infiʿāl)||اِنْفِعَاء (infiʿāʾ)|
|VIII||اِفْتِعَال (iftiʿāl)||اِفْتِعَاء (iftiʿāʾ)|
|X||اِسْتِفْعَال (istifʿāl)||اِسْتِفْعَاء (istifʿāʾ)|
|XII||اِفْعِيعَال (ifʿīʿāl)||اِفْعِيعَاء (ifʿīʿāʾ)|
|XIII||اِفْعِوَّال (ifʿiwwāl)||اِفْعِوَّاء (ifʿiwwāʾ)|
|XIV||اِفْعِنْلَال (ifʿinlāl)||اِفْعِنْيَاء (ifʿinyāʾ)??|
|XV||اِفْعِنْلَاء (ifʿinlāʾ)||اِفْعِنْيَاء (ifʿinyāʾ)??|
|Iq||فَعْزَلَة (faʿzala)||فَعْزَاة (faʿzāh)??|
|IIq||تَفَعْزُل (tafaʿzul)||تَفَعْزٍ (tafaʿzin)|
|IIIq||اِفْعِنْزَال (ifʿinzāl)||اِفْعِنْزَاء (ifʿinzāʾ)|
|IVq||اِفْعِزْلَال (ifʿizlāl)||اِفْعِزْيَاء (ifʿizyāʾ)??|
Active participles (اِسْم الْفَاعِل (ism al-fāʿil)) follow regular patterns:
|Form||Sound active participle||Final-weak active participle|
|I||فَاعِل (fāʿil)||فَاعٍ (fāʿin)|
|II||مُفَعِّل (mufaʿʿil)||مُفَعٍّ (mufaʿʿin)|
|III||مُفَاعِل (mufāʿil)||مُفَاعٍ (mufāʿin)|
|IV||مُفْعِل (mufʿil)||مُفْعٍ (mufʿin)|
|V||مُتَفَعِّل (mutafaʿʿil)||مُتَفَعٍّ (mutafaʿʿin)|
|VI||مُتَفَاعِل (mutafāʿil)||مُتَفَاعٍ (mutafāʿin)|
|VII||مُنْفَعِل (munfaʿil)||مُنْفَعٍ (munfaʿin)|
|VIII||مُفْتَعِل (muftaʿil)||مُفْتَعٍ (muftaʿin)|
|IX||مُفْعَلّ (mufʿall)||مُفْعَيّ (mufʿayy)??|
|X||مُسْتَفْعِل (mustafʿil)||مُسْتَفْعٍ (mustafʿin)|
|XI||مُفْعَالّ (mufʿāll)||مُفْعَايّ (mufʿāyy)??|
|XII||مُفْعَوْعِل (mufʿawʿil)||مُفْعَوْعٍ (mufʿawʿin)|
|XIII||مُفْعَوِّل (mufʿawwil)||مُفْعَوٍّ (mufʿawwin)|
|XIV||مُفْعَنْلِل (mufʿanlil)||مُفْعَنْيٍ (mufʿanyin)??|
|XV||مُفْعَنْلٍ (mufʿanlin)||مُفْعَنْيٍ (mufʿanyin)??|
|Iq||مُفَعْزِل (mufaʿzil)||مُفَعْزٍ (mufaʿzin)|
|IIq||مُتَفَعْزِل (mutafaʿzil)||مُتَفَعْزٍ (mutafaʿzin)|
|IIIq||مُفْعَنْزِل (mufʿanzil)||مُفْعَنْزٍ (mufʿanzin)|
|IVq||مُفْعَزِلّ (mufʿazill)||مُفْعَزِيّ (mufʿaziyy)??|
Passive participles (اِسْم الْمَفْعُول (ism al-mafʿūl) follow regular patterns:
|Form||Sound passive participle||Final-weak passive participle|
|I||مَفْعُول (mafʿūl)||مَفْعُوّ (mafʿuww), مَفْعِيّ (mafʿiyy)|
|II||مُفَعَّل (mufaʿʿal)||مُفَعًّى (mufaʿʿan)|
|III||مُفَاعَل (mufāʿal)||مُفَاعًى (mufāʿan)|
|IV||مُفْعَل (mufʿal)||مُفْعًى (mufʿan)|
|V||مُتَفَعَّل (mutafaʿʿal)||مُتَفَعًّى (mutafaʿʿan)|
|VI||مُتَفَاعَل (mutafāʿal)||مُتَفَاعًى (mutafāʿan)|
|VII||مُنْفَعَل (munfaʿal)||مُنْفَعًى (munfaʿan)|
|VIII||مُفْتَعَل (muftaʿal)||مُفْتَعًى (muftaʿan)|
|IX||(مُفْعَلّ (mufʿall))||(مُفْعَيّ (mufʿayy)??)|
|X||مُسْتَفْعَل (mustafʿal)||مُسْتَفْعًى (mustafʿan)|
|XI||(مُفْعَالّ (mufʿāll))||(مُفْعَايّ (mufʿāyy)??)|
|XII||مُفْعَوْعَل (mufʿawʿal)||مُفْعَوْعًى (mufʿawʿan)|
|XIII||مُفْعَوَّل (mufʿawwal)||مُفْعَوًّى (mufʿawwan)|
|XIV||مُفْعَنْلَل (mufʿanlal)||مُفْعَنْلًى (mufʿanlan)|
|XV||مُفْعَنْلًى (mufʿanlan)||مُفْعَنْيًى (mufʿanyan)??|
|Iq||مُفَعْزَل (mufaʿzal)||مُفَعْزًى (mufaʿzan)|
|IIq||مُتَفَعْزَل (mutafaʿzal)||مُتَفَعْزًى (mutafaʿzan)|
|IIIq||مُفْعَنْزَل (mufʿanzal)||مُفْعَنْزًى (mufʿanzan)|
|IVq||مُفْعَزَلّ (mufʿazall)||مُفْعَزَيّ (mufʿazayy)??|
Relative adjectives (nisba)
Relative adjectives, also known by the Arabic term nisba, are adjectives formed from another word by adding ِـِيّ (-iyy) (usually pronounced as if written ـِي (-ī), also the pronunciation with yy returns in the feminine ـِيَّة (-iyya), the masculine plural ـِيُّون (-iyyūn), and the feminine plural ـِيَّات (-iyyāt)). This construction is quite flexible, and the nisba suffix can be added to any sort of noun, including plurals, as well as in some cases other parts of speech (e.g. خَارِجِيّ (ḵārijiyy, “outer, external”) from the adjective خَارِج (ḵārij, “outer, outside”), ثَانَوِيّ (ṯānawiyy, “secondary”) from the adjective ثَانٍ (ṯānin, “second”), أَنَانِيّ (ʾanāniyy, “egotistical, selfish”) from the pronoun أَنَا (ʾana, “I”), فَوْقَانِيّ (fawqāniyy, “upper”) from the adverb فَوْقُ (fawqu, “above”)). Nisba adjectives can also be formed directly from foreign words, such as دِيمُقْرَاطِيّ (dimuqrāṭiyy, “democratic”), where no such word #دِيمُقْرَاط (dimuqrāṭ) exists.
When nisba adjectives are added to a feminine noun in ـَة (-a) or ـَاة (-āh), this suffix is normally dropped, as in the adjective مَادِّيّ (māddiyy, “material, physical”), formed from the noun مَادَّة (mādda, “matter, material”). The common suffix ِيَا (-iyā) occurring in country names (sometimes written ـِيَة (-iya), both forms borrowed from -ia) is also dropped; for example, from بِرِيطَانِيَا (biriṭāniyā, “Britain”) is formed بِرِيطَانِيّ (biriṭāniyy, “British”). Other suffixes may also be dropped, e.g. from كِيمِيَاء (kīmiyāʾ, “chemistry”) is formed كِيمِيّ (kīmiyy, “chemical”) (also كِيمِيَائِيّ (kīmiyāʾiyy) or كِيمَاوِيّ (kīmāwiyy)).
In some cases, especially in very short words with only consonants and a short vowel intervening, a linking consonant added, as in سَنَوِيّ (sanawiyy, “annual”) from سَنَة (sana, “year”), نَوَوِيّ (nawawiyy, “nuclear”) from نَوَاة (nawāh, “nucleus”), يَدَوِيّ (yadawiyy, “manual”) from يَد (yad, “hand”), دَمَوِيّ (damawiyy, “blood-”) from دَم (dam, “blood”) (also دَمِيّ (damiyy) without a linking consonant). The particular linking consonant is usually و (w), but may be a different consonant if that consonant appears in other derived forms of the underlying word; cf. شَفَهِيّ (šafahiyy, “labial”), also شَفَوِيّ (šafawiyy), from شَفَة (šafa, “lip”) (cf. plural شِفَاه (šifāh, “lips”), also شَفَوَات (šafawāt)). Note that linking consonants are not used in cases like عَادِيّ (ʿādiyy, “normal”) with a long vowel (from عَادَة (ʿāda, “custom, habit”)) or صِحِّيّ (ṣiḥḥiyy, “health”) with a geminate consonant (from صِحَّة (ṣiḥḥa, “healthy”)). Linking consonants may also appear with stems from final-weak roots, e.g. ثَانَوِيّ (ṯānawiyy, “secondary”) from ثَانٍ (ṯānin, “second”), عَلَوِيّ (ʿalawiyy, “upper, heavenly, Alawite”) from عَلِيّ (ʿaliyy, “high, exalted, Ali”). Examples with a linking ـَانـ (-ān-) are أَنَانِيّ (ʾanāniyy, “egotistical, selfish”) from أَنَا (ʾana, “I”) and عَلْمَانِيّ (ʿalmāniyy, “secular, worldly”) from عَالَم (ʿālam, “world”). Sometimes the stem may be distorted (usually shortened) in the nisba, as in عَلْمَانِيّ (ʿalmāniyy) just mentioned (also pronounced عِلْمَانِيّ (ʿilmāniyy)) and عُلْوِيّ (ʿulwiyy, “upper”) from عُلُوّ (ʿuluww, “height”).
Relative nouns (nisba)
Relative (nisba) adjectives can be freely made into nouns. For example, from the adjective بِرِيطَانِيّ (biriṭāniyy, “British”) is derived the noun بِرِيطَانِيّ (biriṭāniyy, “British man, Briton”) and from the adjective دِيمُقْرَاطِيّ (dimuqrāṭiyy, “democratic”) is formed the noun دِيمُقْرَاطِيّ (dimuqrāṭiyy, “democrat”). These nouns form feminines and plurals the same way as the corresponding adjectives.
In addition, the feminine nisba noun frequently has the meaning of an abstract noun, e.g. دِيمُقْرَاطِيَّة (dimuqrāṭiyya, “democracy”) from دِيمُقْرَاطِيّ (dimuqrāṭiyy, “democratic”) or ذِهْنِيَّة (ḏihniyya, “mentality”) from ذِهْنِيّ (ḏihniyy, “mental”) (in turn formed from ذِهْن (ḏihn, “mind”)). In some cases, it is best to view these nouns as being formed directly using a suffix ِيَّة (-iyya), especially since the corresponding word in ِيّ (-iyy) may not exist. Examples are كَمِّيَة (kammiya, “quantity”) formed from كَمّ (kamm, “quantity”), أَهَمِّيَة (ʾahammiya, “importance”) formed from أَهَمّ (ʾahamm, “more important, very important”) and هُوِيَّة (huwiyya, “identity”) formed from هُوَ (huwa, “he”) (note that the last two examples are formed from parts of speech other than nouns).
Many adjectives are formed from the triliteral root using the pattern فَعِيل (faʿīl), for instance:
- كَبِير (kabīr, “big”) from ك ب ر (k-b-r)
- كَثِير (kaṯīr, “many, much”) from ك ث ر (k-ṯ-r)}
- سَعِيد (saʿīd, “happy”) from س ع د (s-ʿ-d)}
- جَدِيد (jadīd, “new”) from ج د د (j-d-d)}
- قَرِيب (qarīb, “near”) from ق ر ب (q-r-b)}
- جَمِيل (jamīl, “beautiful”) from ج م ل (j-m-l)}
Some nouns also use this form: for instance, الْخَمِيس (al-ḵamīs, “Thursday”).
The masculine plural is sound, or broken. The most common patterns are فُعَلاء (fuʿalāʾ) and فِعَال (fiʿāl); others include أَفْعِلاء (ʾafʿilāʾ), فُعُل (fuʿul), and أَفْعال (ʾafʿāl).
- singular سَعِيد (saʿīd, “happy”), plural سُعَدَاء (suʿadāʾ)
- singular كَبِير (kabīr, “big”), plural كُبَرَاء (kubarāʾ) or كِبَار (kibār)
- singular صَدِيق (ṣadīq, “friend”), plural أَصْدِقَاء (ʾaṣdiqāʾ)
Elative adjectives (اِسْم التَّفْضِيل (ism at-tafḍīl) or أَفْعَل التَّفْضِيل (ʾafʿal at-tafḍīl)) are formed from basic triliteral adjectives, typically of the form فَعِيل (faʿīl) or فَاعِل (fāʿil), but also forms like فَعْل (faʿl), فِعْل (fiʿl), or فُعْل (fuʿl). The elative is formed directly from the root of the adjective and has the diptote form أَفْعَل (ʾafʿal) in the masculine singular. Elatives have the meaning of comparatives (as in English smarter or more intelligent), superlatives (as in English smartest or most intelligent), and absolute superlatives (as in English very smart, utterly intelligent). The difference is often expressed through different syntactical constructions. A few adjectives are formally elative without having an elative meaning, for example آخَر (ʾāḵar, “other”). Conversely, some adjectives are used as elatives without being in elative form, for example خَيْر (ḵayr, “better, best”).
The inflectional pattern for elative adjectives is as follows: The feminine singular has the form فُعْلَى (fuʿlā), which is invariable with regard to case and state. The masculine plural is diptote أَفَاعِل (ʾafāʿil), or sound أَفْعَلُون (ʾafʿalūn). The feminine plural is either فُعَل (fuʿal) or sound فُعْلَيَات (fuʿlayāt). An example with full declension is أَكْبَر (ʾakbar, “bigger, biggest”), elative of كَبِير (kabīr, “big”). This adjective has feminine singular كُبْرَى (kubrā), masculine plurals أَكْبَرُون (ʾakbarūn) and أَكَابِر (ʾakābir), and feminine plural كُبْرَيَات (kubrayāt).
Some elatives, like آخَر (ʾāḵar) and أَوَّل (ʾawwal, “first”), follow these inflections consistently. Most elatives, however, can be in the form of the masculine singular even when they refer to feminine or plural nouns. In fact, only a limited number of inflected elative forms are current in contemporary Arabic, and these are typically restricted to the absolute superlative sense; as in بْرِيطانْيَا اَلْعُظْمَى (brīṭānyā l-ʿuẓmā, “Great Britain”). In Classical Arabic, inflected elative forms were used more freely.
Color or defect adjectives
Color or defect adjectives are adjectives of the form أَفْعَل (ʾafʿal), with feminine singular فَعْلَاء (faʿlāʾ), generally referring to colors and physical defects. Both masculine and feminine are diptotes. Note that the masculine singular has the same form as elative adjectives, but the feminine singular is different. The plural, both masculine and feminine, is usually of the form فُعْل (fuʿl), but there are exceptions, e.g. أَحْمَق (ʾaḥmaq, “crazy”), with regular plural حُمْق (ḥumq) but also the plurals حُمُق (ḥumuq), حَمْقَى (ḥamqā) and حَمَاقَى (ḥamāqā). Prototypical examples of color adjectives of this form are:
- أَبْيَض (ʾabyaḍ, “white”),
- أَسْوَد (ʾaswad, “black”),
- أَحْمَر (ʾaḥmar, “red”),
- أَزْرَق (ʾazraq, “blue”),
- أَخْضَر (ʾaḵḍar, “green”), and
- أَصْفَر (ʾaṣfar, “yellow”).
There are others, such as
- أَغْبَر (ʾaḡbar, “dust-colored, roan”),
- أَسْمَر (ʾasmar, “dark-skinned, tawny”) and
- أَشْقَر (ʾašqar, “blond”),
but most remaining common colors are in the form of nisba adjectives, e.g.
- بُنِّيّ (bunniyy, “brown”) (literally "coffee", based on بُنّ (bunn, “coffee”)),
- بَنَفْسَجِيّ (banafsajiyy, “violet”) (based on بَنَفْسَج (banafsaj, “violet (flower)”))
- بُرْتُقَالِيّ (burtuqāliyy, “orange”) (based on بُرْتُقَال (burtuqāl, “orange (fruit)”)), etc.
Prototypical "defect" adjectives do refer to actual physical defects such as
- أَطْرَش (ʾaṭraš, “deaf”),
- أَعْمَى (ʾaʿmā, “blind”),
- أَعْوَر (ʾaʿwar, “one-eyed”),
- أَحْوَل (ʾaḥwal, “cross-eyed”),
- أَجْرَب (ʾajrab, “mangy, scabby”),
- أَجْرَد (ʾajrad, “bald”),
but others refer to mental defects such as
while others refer to characteristics that may have negative connotations but are not obviously "defects", such as
- أَخْشَن (ʾaḵšan, “rough, rude”),
- أَعْقَد (ʾaʿqad, “knotty”),
- أَزَبّ (ʾazabb, “hairy”),
- أَمْيَل (ʾamyal, “leaning, inclined”),
- أَجْوَف (ʾajwaf, “concave, hollow”),
- أَغْلَف (ʾaḡlaf, “uncircumcised, uncivilized”) and
- أَعْزَب (ʾaʿzab, “unmarried”),
and yet others have meanings that cannot in any way be characterized as defects, e.g.
- أَلْيَس (ʾalyas, “brave”),
- أَشْوَس (ʾašwas, “proud, daring”) and
- أَجْمَع (ʾajmaʿ, “all, entire”).
First-weak and second-weak roots are formed the same way as strong roots, e.g. أَوْجَر (ʾawjar, “timid, fearful”) and أَبْيَض (ʾabyaḍ, “white”); third-weak roots are formed on the pattern أَفْعَى (ʾafʿā) e.g. أَعْمَى (ʾaʿmā, “blind”); geminated roots are formed on the pattern أَفَعّ (ʾafaʿʿ) e.g. أَزَبّ (ʾazabb, “hairy”).
Collective nouns have the form of a singular but the meaning of a plural. Most collective nouns refer to non-humans (usually animals or plants), but there also exist collectives for people or other intelligent beings. These latter are sometimes called ethnic collectives. They often take plural agreement, whereas non-human collectives generally take singular agreement.
The noun with the corresponding singular meaning is the singulative (see below). From it, an actual plural can often be formed.
Singulative nouns have a singular meaning and are formed from collective nouns by adding َة (a), unless the collective refers to people or intelligent beings, in which case the ending is the nisba ending ِيّ (iyy), e.g. أَمْرِيكَان (ʾamrīkān, “Americans”), أَمْرِيكَانِيّ (ʾamrīkāniyy, “an American”), or يَهُود (yahūd, “Jews”), يَهُودِيّ (yahūdiyy, “a Jew”), or جِنّ (jinn, “jinn, demons”), جِنِّي (jinnī, “a jinn, a demon”).
Singulative nouns form plurals in the normal way, e.g. from شَجَرَة (šajara, “tree”) the plural أَشْجار (ʾašjār). This form and the collective شَجَر (šajar) both translate to English as “trees”. The difference is that أَشْجار (ʾašjār) considers them individually, شَجَر (šajar) collectively. (A similar case in English may be the difference between persons and people.) The plurals of singulative nouns are sometimes called plurals of variety; this term is somewhat misleading, but is based on the fact that أَشْجار (ʾašjār) is also used in the sense of “different kinds of trees”.
Instance nouns (اِسْم مَرَّة (ism marra)) have the meaning "an instance of doing something" and are formed from verbal nouns by adding َة (a), e.g. from the verbal noun ضَرْب (ḍarb, “hitting, striking”) is formed ضَرْبَة (ḍarba, “a blow, a stroke”) and from the verbal noun اِنْتِفَاض (intifāḍ, “shaking off”) is formed اِنْتِفَاضَة (intifāḍa, “a shaking off, an uprising, an intifada”).
Nouns of place
Nouns of place (اِسْم مَكَان (ism makān)) are typically derived from verbal roots and have the approximate meaning “the place for doing x”, where x is the meaning of the verb. Nouns of place usually have the prefix مَ (ma) and are often of the form مَفْعِل (mafʿil), مَفْعَل (mafʿal) or مَفْعَلَة (mafʿala).
It is often said that the noun of place is derived directly from the Form I verb, although technically it is derived from the root extracted from that verb. Examples are:
- مَكْتَب (maktab, “desk, office”) and مَكْتَبَة (maktaba, “library”), from كَتَبَ (kataba, “to write”)
- مَطْبَخ (maṭbaḵ, “kitchen”), from طَبَخَ (ṭabaḵa, “to cook”)
- مَصْنَع (maṣnaʿ, “factory”), from صَنَعَ (ṣanaʿa, “to make, manufacture”).
- مَجْلِس (majlis, “seat”), from جَلَسَ (jalasa, “to sit”).
Others are formed from non-form-I verbs, and in this case take the same form as the passive participle, meaning they tend to begin with مُ (mu), such as مُسْتَشْفًى (mustašfan, “hospital”), formed from the form-X verb اِسْتَشْفَى (istašfā, “to seek a cure”), hence “place for seeking a cure”.
Tool nouns (اِسْم الْآلَة (ism al-ʾāla)) are typically derived from verbs and have the approximate meaning tool for doing X where X is the meaning of the underlying verb. Tool nouns usually have the prefix مِ (mi-) and are often of the form مِفْعَل (mifʿal), مِفْعَلَة (mifʿala) or مِفْعَال (mifʿāl). Examples are:
- مِحْفَر (miḥfar, “spade”), from حَفَرَ (ḥafara, “to dig”)
- مِكْشَط (mikšaṭ, “erasing knife”), from كَشَطَ (kašaṭa, “to erase, to scratch off”)
- مِكْنَسَة (miknasa, “broom”), from كَنَسَ (kanasa, “to sweep”)
- مِكْوَاة (mikwāh, “iron”), from كَوَى (kawā, “to burn, to iron”)
- مِيزَان (mīzān, “weight”), from وَزَنَ (wazana, “to weigh”)
- مِحَشّ (miḥašš, “sickle”), also مِحَشَّة (miḥašša), from حَشَّ (ḥašša, “to mow”)
- مِلْعَقَة (milʿaqa, “spoon”), from لَعِقَ (laʿiqa, “to lick”)
- مِكْتَاب (miktāb, “typewriter”), from كَتَبَ (kataba, “to write”)
Some such nouns are derived from other nouns, having the approximate meaning "tool related to X":
- مِكْوَر (mikwar, “turban”), also مِكْوَرَة (mikwara), from كُورَة (kūra, “ball”)
- مِرْوَحَة (mirwaḥa, “fan”), from the root ر و ح (r w ḥ) of رِيح (rīḥ, “wind”)
A recent trend is to instead derive tool nouns from the feminine of occupational/characteristic nouns/adjectives or active participles, perhaps calqued on English:
- دَبَّابَة (dabbāba, “tank”), from دَبَّاب (dabbāb, “crawling”), دَبَّ (dabba, “to crawl”)
- نَظَّارَة (naẓẓāra, “telescope, eyeglasses”), from نَظَّار (naẓẓār, “keen-eyed”), from نَظَرَ (naẓara, “to look”)
- طَابِعَة (ṭābiʿa, “printer (computer device)”), from طَابِع (ṭābiʿ, “printer (person)”), from طَبَعَ (ṭabaʿa, “to print, stamp”); compare مِطْبَعَة (miṭbaʿa, “printing press”)
- كَاسِحَة (kāsiḥa, “sweeping device”) (cf. كَاسِحَة الجَلِيد (kāsiḥat al-jalīd, “icebreaker”), كَاسِحَة الأَلْغَام (kāsiḥat al-ʾalḡām, “minesweeper”), كَاسِحَة الثُلُوج (kāsiḥat aṯ-ṯulūj, “snowplow”), from كَاسِح (kāsiḥ, “sweeping everything away”), from كَسَحَ (kasaḥa, “to sweep, clean out”)
Some tool nouns are derived directly from active participles:
The active participle can also be used to form occupational nouns, e.g. طَالِب (ṭālib, “student”) from طَلَبَ (ṭalaba, “to ask”), كَاتِب (kātib, “writer, clerk”) from كَتَبَ (kataba, “to write”), بَائِع (bāʾiʿ, “vendor”) from بَاعَ (bāʿa, “to sell”), مُهَنْدِس (muhandis, “engineer”) from هَنْدَسَ (handasa, “to engineer”). The words using the form فَاعِل (fāʿil) often have plurals of the form فُعَّال (fuʿʿāl) or sometimes فَعَلَة (faʿala); sometimes both plurals exist with different meanings, e.g. كُتَّاب (kuttāb, “writer”) but كَتَبَة (kataba, “clerk”).
In addition, some occupational nouns are in the form of a nisba (with an ِيّ (-iyy) suffix), e.g. صُحُفِيّ (ṣuḥufiyy, “journalist”) or صِحَافِيّ (ṣiḥāfiyy, “journalist”), derived respectively from صُحُف (ṣuḥuf, “newspapers”) and صِحَافَة (ṣiḥāfa, “journalism”).
Characteristic nouns and adjectives
Characteristic nouns can be derived from verb stems using the form فَعَّال (faʿʿāl), creating nouns with the meaning of "person who habitually does X", e.g. كَذَّاب (kaḏḏāb, “liar”). Note that this is the same form as is used for many occupational nouns. Characteristic adjectives have the same form as characteristic nouns, e.g. دَبَّاب (dabbāb, “crawling”), نَظَّار (naẓẓār, “keen-eyed”).
Diminutives can be derived from triliteral nouns and some quadriliteral and longer nouns using the form فُعَيْل (fuʿayl) or فُعَيِّل (fuʿayyil); فُعَيْزِل (fuʿayzil) for quadriliteral and longer nouns. Diminutives are not very productive in Modern Standard Arabic or in many modern dialects (e.g. Egyptian) but were much more productive in some Classical Arabic dialects, as evidenced by their continuing productivity and prevalence in some dialects, such as Moroccan Arabic, where nearly every noun has an associated diminutive. A diminutive noun has the meaning "a small X" or "a cute, little X". Some examples are كُلَيْب (kulayb, “little dog”) from كَلْب (kalb), كُتَيِّب (kutayyib, “booklet”) from كِتَاب (kitāb, “book”), and بُنَيّ (bunayy, “little son”) from اِبْن (ibn, “son”). An example from a long noun is أُبَيْطِر (ʾubayṭir, “little emperor”) from إِمْبِرَاطُور (ʾimbirāṭūr, “emperor”). Feminine diminutives are also possible, e.g. قُصَيْبَة (quṣayba, “oats”) from قَصَبَة (qaṣaba, “cane, reed”) and بُنَيَّة (bunayya, “little daughter”) (compare بُنَيّ (bunayy, “little son”)).
- Fischer, August (1906), “Das Geschlecht der Infinitive im Arabischen”, in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (in German), volume 60, pages 839–859