beginning, intermediate, Uncategorized

Counting things 1-10

If you have learned the numbers in Arabic and also a few plural nouns, you might be at the point that you would like to start using numbers in combination with nouns, as in “one car”, “two apples”, and “three houses”. This can be a bit tricky in Arabic. Here I will explain how to say expressions like these in informal Standard Arabic, ignoring some of the more complicated details in formal or Classical Arabic.

The following sections are organized according to the different rules that are used for expressing number: one thing, two things, three things, and how many things. To keep things easy, we will limit ourselves to counting the masculine noun بيت bayt ‘house’ and the feminine noun سيارة sayyaara ‘car’.

One thing

To say “one thing” in Arabic we use the word واحد waaḥid ‘one’ in combination with a singular noun. واحد waaḥid is an adjective in Arabic. As such, it follows the noun, and in combination with a feminine noun it needs to be put in its feminine form واحدة waaḥida. Here are our two examples with masculine بيت bayt ‘house’ and feminine سيارة sayyaara ‘car’.

Feminine Noun Masculine Noun
سيارة واحدة بيت واحد
sayyaara waaḥida bayt waaḥid
‘one car’ ‘one house’

Two things

To say “two things” we use the dual form of the noun. In nominative case, this is formed by adding the suffix ان aan (more formally pronounced aani) to the end of the noun , while in the genitive and accusative the suffix is ـَيْن ayn (more formally pronounced ayni). Here is how you would say “two houses”:

بيتين بيتان
baytayn baytaan
‘two houses (gen./acc.)’ ‘two houses (nom.)’

If the noun ends in a ة taa’ marbuuṭa, you need to change that letter into a normal ت taa’ before adding the dual suffix. Accordingly, here is how you would say “two cars”:

سياراتين سيارتان
sayyaaratayn sayyaarataan
‘two cars (gen./acc.)’ ‘two cars (nom.)’

If you don’t have a good idea about the use of the different cases (nominative, genitive, accusative), don’t let that bother you. Since this is a feature of Standard Arabic that is rooted in Classical Arabic and is not reflected in any of the modern Arabic dialects, Arabic speakers themselves typically don’t use the different cases correctly. Just choose one form and use it. In modern dialects, the dual forms sound like the genitive/accusative presented here.

Three to ten things

As you might expect, to say “three things” or “ten things”, we use a number in combination of a plural noun. So we will be using the plural forms بيوت buyuut ‘houses’ and سيارات sayyaaraat ‘cars’ in our examples. But that is where things stop being obvious.

When we are just counting, without using a noun (ثلالة، أربعة، خمسة… thalaatha, ’arbaʕa, khamsa ‘three, four, five…’), the numbers from one to ten are feminine in form, and all end in a ة taa’ marbuuṭa. It is these feminine forms that we use in combination with masculine plural nouns (but pronouncing the final ة as at). In contrast, to count feminine nouns we use masculine forms of the numbers, in which the final ة taa’ marbuuṭa is omitted. The tables below show how we count houses and cars from three to ten. Bear in mind that بيت bayt is masculine and that سيارة sayyaara is feminine.

Feminine Noun Masculine Noun
ثلاث سيارات ثلاثة بيوت
thalaath sayyaaraat thalaathat buyuut
‘three cars’ ‘three houses’
أربع سيارات أربعة بيوت
’arbaʕ sayyaaraat ’arbaʕat buyuut
‘four cars’ ‘four houses’
خمس سيارات خمسة بيوت
khams sayyaaraat khamsat buyuut
‘five cars’ ‘five houses’
ست سيارات ستة بيوت
sitt sayyaaraat sittat buyuut
‘six cars’ ‘six houses’
سبع سيارات سبعة بيوت
sabʕ sayyaaraat sabʕat buyuut
‘seven cars’ ‘seven houses’
ثماني سيارات ثمانية بيوت
thamaanii sayyaaraat thamaaniyat buyuut
‘eight cars’ ‘eight houses’
تسع سيارات تسعة بيوت
tisʕ sayyaaraat tisʕat buyuut
‘nine cars’ ‘nine houses’
عشر سيارات عشرة بيوت
ʕashar sayyaaraat ʕasharat buyuut
‘ten cars’ ‘ten houses’

If you are wondering why the ة taa’ marbuuṭa at the end of the feminine forms of the numbers is pronounced as at in this construction, it’s because it is technically an ’iḍaafa construction (i.e., an “X of Y” construction, as in سيارة محمد sayyaarat muḥammad ‘car of Muhammad, Muhammad’s car’). So, ثلاثة بيوت thalaathat buyuut literally means ‘three of houses’.

Note that in the modern dialects, it is only the masculine form of the numbers that are used in this construction. So don’t be surprised when native speakers do not actually use the feminine form of the number in combination with a masculine noun, as would be required in grammatically correct Standard/Classical Arabic.

How many things?

You may also want to ask “how many cars” or “how many houses”. For this we use the word كم kam ‘how many’. However, unlike the English phrase ‘how many’, كم kam is always followed by a noun in the singular. Furthermore, that noun should be in the accusative, so if it ends in a consonant (oversimplifying a bit here), you will need to add the suffix اً -an.

Feminine Noun Masculine Noun
كم سيارة؟ كم بيتًا؟
kam sayyaara? kam baytan?
‘how many cars?’ ‘how many houses?’


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