Usually, it is pretty easy to identify the gender in Arabic. But there are exceptions.

Indicators for feminine words

Let us first have a look at the regular feminine endings. In Arabi­c, there are 3 different indicators or signals to define a word as feminine.

1تاء تَأْنِيثةطالِبة
2.1ألِف تَأْنِيثمَمْدُودة – اءصَحْراء
2.2ألِف تَأْنِيثمَقْصُورة – ى / ياكُبْرى, عُلْيا

Special kind of nouns

  • The ending اء is also the pattern for adjectives (صِفة) for colors and physical deficiencies in the singular feminine form.
  • The letter ى is the pattern for the feminine form of a com­parative (اِسْم تَفْضِيل). For example: older, smaller.

Here are some examples:

desert صَحْراء  smaller صُغْرَى
colour red حَمْرَاء  memory ذِكْرَى

The word for “war” – حَرْب

It doesn’t look feminine – but it is feminine!

Like in other languages there are words that look masculine by shape but are exceptions.

Common exceptions – words that look masculine but are feminine

war حَرْب  fire نار  sun شَمْس
land أَرْض  house دار  wind رِيح
soul نَفْس  cup كَأْس  well بِئْر
market سُوق  paradise الْفِرْدَوْس  Ghoul; ghost غُول

Watch out! If you want to add an adjective, you will need the femin­ine form:

central market سُوق مَرْكَزِيّة

Gender of body parts in Arabic

When you have two parts of one (mostly pairs) like: legs (رِجْل), eyes (عَيْن), ears (أُذُن), tooth (سِنّ) or hands (يَد), then these words are also feminine. In contrast, the words for nose (أَنْف), mouth (فَم), etc. are masculine as you only have one!

Some parts of the body can be either masculine or feminine, like: head (رَأْس), liver (كَبِد) or upper arm(عَضُد)

Also feminine are:

  • names of newspapers and magazines, for example: al-Ahram (الْأهْرام)
  • names of countries, cities and towns are normally femin­ine, except: Morocco (الْمَغْرِب), Jordan (الأُرْدُن), Lebanon (لُبْنان), Iraq (الْعِراق) and Sudan (السُّدان)

Arabic nouns which can be treated as masculine or feminine

country بَلَد  sky سَماء  wine خَمْر
way سَبِيل  road طَرِيق  alley زُقاق
power سُلْطان  situation حال  salt مِلْح
gold ذَهَب  hell(fire) جَحِيم  soul رُوح

More grammar related topics:


picture credit: Image by Robert Waghorn from Pixabay

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