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 colours 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
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picture credit: Image by Robert Waghorn from Pixabay

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4 comments
  1. Very interesting read!
    I will add حَرْب to my list of growing words that are feminine for some weird reason even though they break the usual laws.

    I am just curious as a beginner to MSA what resources can we refer to to identify if a word is masculine or feminine?

    All the dictionaries that I have tried dont seem to list grammatic gender which is very frustrating to a beginner

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Mike! The dictionary of Hans Wehr will tell you the gender. If you check, for example, the root ح-ر-ب, you will see the letter “f.” after the word حَرْب. If you don’t have the dictionary, you’ll find some useful links here: Arabic Dictionaries

      1. Thanks a lot Gerald!
        That was very helpful of you!

        I havent checked ot for all the words but most of the words I checked have the “f” for female.

        Thanks again and sorry for the late reply

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