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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Nora here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Arabic questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: How come “two people” isn’t plural in Modern Standard Arabic?
You may have already noticed this in the previous lesson, but Modern standard Arabic has a conjugation that’s uncommon in other languages. That’s the dual conjugation. It means that Arabic has a special form of conjugation for groups of 2 people, a separate conjugation from the plural. Let's see what it looks like.
The suffix an and iin are the pointers that give away dual adjectives, nouns, and verbs. Let's first take a look at what this looks like for verbs in basic sentences. Note that the verb only agrees with the noun in number if and only if it comes AFTER the noun, directly or indirectly.
Let's consider the following sentences:
الوَلَدُ يَلعَبُ في الحَديقَة
al-waladu yalʿabu fī al-ḥadīqah
“The boy plays in the park"
الوَلَدان يَلعَبان في الحَديقَة
al-waladān yalʿabān fī al-ḥadīqah
“The 2 boys are playing in the park."
Observe how the word walad, meaning "boy," gained the suffix ān to become waladān. Now the verb conjugating this noun has to agree with the noun waladān in number. So, it changes from yalʿab to yalʿabān. The rest of the sentence remains unchanged.
Now let's see what a basic noun + adjective sentence looks like. In Arabic, adjectives must come after nouns, whether the sentence says "The good man is here" or "The man is good." The noun ALWAYS precedes the adjective, meaning "man" has to come before "good."
Let's consider the following sentences:
الرَجُلُ طَوْيلُ
al-raǧulu ṭawīlu
“The man is tall,”
الرَجُلان طَوْيلان
al-raǧulān ṭawīlān
“The two men are tall.”
Observe how raǧul, meaning "man," changed to raǧulān in the dual form. ṭawīl, meaning "tall," changing into the dual form ṭawīlān. This suffix changes slightly with tenses.
Let's see two more sentences, this time with a past tense verb.
الطِفلُ شَرِبَ اللَبَن
al-ṭiflu šariba al-laban
“The child drank the milk."
الطِفلان شَرِبا اللَبَن
al-ṭiflān šaribā al-laban
“The two children drank the milk."
Did you notice what changed this time? The verb lost its final "n" because of its conjugation in the past tense of the dual form. Note that verbs in Arabic usually come at the beginning of the sentence. In that case, the verb is conjugated for a singular noun, even if the noun following it is a dual noun.


Again, keep in mind that this lesson is specific for Modern Standard Arabic. Dialects like Egyptian Arabic don’t even have a dual form, so I guess that’s one less thing to worry about!
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
Bye! إلى اللقاء (ʾilā al-liqaāʾ)