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Adjectival Agreement in the Qurʾān

Adjectival Agreement in the Qurʾān
التطابق بين الصفة والموصوف في القرآن
Judith Dror
p. 51-75

Résumés

La question de l’accord de l’adjectif en arabe classique a préoccupé la plupart des grammairiens arabes traditionnels et des grammairiens occidentaux, lesquels ont fourni dans leurs études des exemples et des explications aux accords irréguliers attestés dans le Coran. Cet article, tout en faisant état des principales observations qui sont faites dans les différentes études de l’accord de l’adjectif dans le Coran, vise à en fournir de nouvelles, réunies dans un tableau détaillé accompagné de données statistiques qui permettent d’avoir une vision exhaustive de la question. Les « règles de l’accord » qui sont proposées dans les études antérieures sont ensuite réexaminées et de nouveaux facteurs déterminant l’accord sont pris en considération.

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Introduction

Definition of the term “Agreement”

  • 1 Wright 1896-1898, vol. 2, §136, p. 273.

1It is uniformly agreed by traditional Arabic grammarians and western grammarians that in the example of raǧulun karīmun (“a noble man”) the adjective agrees fully with the noun regarding determination or indetermination, as well as gender, number and case.1 This example also fits the working definition of the term “agreement” – a definition that should be presented here to better understand this notion.

2According to Lyons, the linguistic phenomenon of agreement or concord falls within the scope of “context sensitive.” In many languages, syntactic constituents in a sentence, such as adjectives, pronouns, numerals, articles and verbs agree with each other regarding gender, case and number. For example, in the French sentence un livre intéressant “an interesting book,” the article un and the adjective intéressant agree with the noun in gender (masculine) and number (singular). Lyons distinguishes between government and agreement by saying that under agreement two or more words or phrases are “inflected” for the same category, such as number and person. In government, two constituents in a syntactic construction do not exhibit the same category (Lyons 1971, p. 241). We may illustrate this principle with two examples from Arabic. In the syntactic structure hāḏā waladun kabīrun “this is a big boy”, the three members of this structure share the same categories: number and gender. In a structure such as kuntu fī l-bayti “I was in the house”, however, the preposition does not agree with the noun bayt, but determines it to be in genitive case.

3An additional definition of the term is presented by Moravcsik (1978, p. 333):

  • 2 Cf. Lehmann 1982, p. 203-204.

“A grammatical constituent A will be said to agree with a grammatical constituent B in properties C in language L if C is a set of meaning–related properties of A and there is a covariance relationship between C and some phonological properties of a constituent B1 across some subset of the sentences of language L, where constituent B1 is adjacent to constituent B and the only meaning-related non-categorical properties of constituent B1 are the properties C. ”2

4Regarding the example raǧulun karīmun, A (the noun) and B (the adjective) are called “agreeing constituents.” Constituent B1 is the adjective ending, for example, -āt, -ūna or no ending for masculine singular, which is called an “agreement marker.” As for C – number, person, determination and case mark – this is called “agreement features.” Thus, karīmun (B) agrees with raǧulun (A) in Arabic because there is a relationship of covariance between the number, person, indetermination and case mark specifications of the noun and between the phonological shape of the adjective, i.e., it has no ending, is undetermined and in nominative case.

5This type of determination may explain an agreement structure in which there is “full” agreement between the two constituents A and B; however, it is possible to find in Arabic an agreement structure like tawbatan naṣūḥan (Q 66:8) (“sincere repentance”), where the noun is in feminine singular but the adjective is in singular masculine form.

6According to Moravcsik, it is possible that a constituent agrees in gender with a noun phrase that has a gender affix (as in the noun tawba) even though this constituent does not have any overt gender marker (as in the adjective naṣūḥ) and therefore does not show any kind of gender agreement with the noun. Another possible agreement pattern is when the constituent that agrees with the noun has a different gender marker (Moravcsik 1978, p. 337). For example, ayyāman maʿdūdatan (Q 2:80) “numbered days”, where the noun is in plural masculine and the adjective has the feminine singular suffix. As can be seen, the presence of an overt gender marker on the noun may be neither necessary nor sufficient to guarantee gender agreement for all components that could in principle agree (Moravcsik 1978, p. 342). Furthermore, it is not generally true that a singular noun will agree always with singular constituent or a plural noun will always agree with constituents in plural (Moravcsik 1978, p. 343). As an example of such a structure, Moravcsik mentions that in modern Arabic, a plural inanimate subject may take either singular or plural verb agreement (Moravcsik 1978, p. 346).

Definition of the term “Adjective”

7According to Jespersen, there is usually a clear distinction in the languages between nouns and adjectives. Words denoting ideas such as “stone,” “tree” and “knife” are considered substantives, while “big,” “old” and “grey” are everywhere adjectives. This division is based on the common fact that substantives denote substances and adjectives refer to the qualities found in these things. It seems that this explanation is not satisfactory, because if the abstract noun “wisdom” and the adjective “wise” are compared, it can be seen that both denote the same qualities.

8One of the prominent features of the adjective which differentiates it from the substantive is that the adjective indicates and singles out one quality, one distinguishing mark. The substantives, however, indicate many distinguishing features. For example, the adjective “sweet” in English indicates only one quality, while the noun “sweets” is more general than the adjective (Jespersen 1953, p. 75-77).

9Thus, in general, the adjective is defined as a word that names a quality, and in some definitions the attributive adjective is described as modifying a head noun, or “adjective” is a term that refers to the main set of items that specify the attributes of noun. These definitions, which are presented by Goldenberg, are according to him generally inapposite (Goldenberg 1998, p. 51), therefore it would be more appropriate to define the adjective as follows (Goldenberg 1998, p. 53-54):

“Most typical are those adjectives which are distinguished by being susceptible of inflexion for gender, and may also be free, i.e. not syntactically connected with a substantive, as is also the case in many Semitic languages. Essential to the meaning of adjectives is that they do not name qualities but possessor of qualities […]. It is not enough to recognize the adjective as the syntactically independent expression of an entity as characterized by some quality or state. If we admit that adjective have to do both with the carrier of the quality and with the attributed quality itself, then the form ‘adjective’ is recognized as an attributive complex with pronominal references and attribute as distinguishable components, the former represented by the inflexional markers and the later given the lexeme involved.”

  • 3 Goldenberg says that the adjective is, in essence, equivalent to a genitive construction; however, (...)

10Thus, according to Goldenberg the adjective ḥakīm (“wise”) is equivalent to raǧulu ḥikmatin or raǧulun ḏū ḥikmatin (“a man of wisdom.”) In this case, the adjective ḥakīm includes the possessor of the quality, which is represented by a zero inflexion because the possessor is in singular masculine and it includes also the quality − wisdom.3

11Turning to the traditional Arab grammarians, it is possible to refer first to Sībawayhi’s definition of the term adjective as it was explained by Diem. Sībawayhi calls the adjective ṣifa “description.” He separates this category from the nouns, but in some cases he mentions that the adjective can be used as a substantive and in this case it will have a different plural form, as for example, faṣīḥ “artist talk”, which has the plural form fuṣūḥ. Ṣifa is not equivalent to the adjective in Latin grammar because it can be seen that Sībawayhi considers a verb to be an adjective. For example, in the sentence hāḏā raǧulun ḍarabanā “this is a man who hit (or hits) us,” Sībawayhi explains in a different context that the verb is used as ṣifa of an indefinite phrase because it actually takes the place of the active participle ḍārib. Thus, in this case the ṣifa denotes not only the adjective but also the asyndetic relative clause (Diem 2007, p. 281-282).

12The traditional Arab grammarians refer briefly to the definition of the term “adjective.” It is clear that they support the common idea that the adjective refers to a specific quality of the mentioned noun:

  • 4 Ibn Yaʿīš, Šarḥ al-Mufaṣṣal, vol. 2-3, p. 46.
  • 5 Ibn Yaʿīš (Šarḥ al-Mufaṣṣal, p. 47) gives the following example for “specification” and “clarificat (...)

aṣ-ṣifa: hiya l-ismu d-dāllu ʿalā baʿḍi aḥwāli ḏ-ḏāti wa-ḏālika naḥwa ṭawīlun wa-qaṣīrun wa-ʿāqilun wa-aḥmaqu wa-qāʾimun wa-qāʿidun (…) wa-yuqālu innahā li-t-taḫṣīṣi fī n-nakirāti wa-li-t-tawḍīḥi fī l-maʿārifi.4
“The adjective is a noun which refers to some of the situations [and qualities] of the [modified] noun, for example: tall, short, smart, stupid, standing and seating […] It is said that the adjective is used for specification when it follows indefinite noun and it is used for clarification when it follows definite noun.”
5

13For the principle of the adjective agreement as presented by the traditional Arab grammarians, Zaǧǧāǧī can be quoted:

  • 6 Zaǧǧāǧī, al-Ǧumal, p. 26; cf. Anbārī, Asrār al-ʿarabiyya, p. 294. He adds that the adjectives follo (...)

fa-ammā n-naʿtu fa-tābiʿun li-l-manʿūti fī rafʿihi wa-naṣbihi wa-ḫafḍihi wa-taʿrīfihi wa-tankīrihi. in kāna l-ismu marfūʿan fa-naʿtuhu marfūʿun wa-in kāna manṣūban fa-naʿtuhu manṣūbun wa-in kāna maḫfūḍan fa-naʿtuhu maḫfūḍun taqūlu min ḏālika qāma Zaydun l-ʿāqīlu tarfaʿu Zaydan bi-fiʿlihi wa-l-ʿāqil naʿtuhu .6
“As for the adjective, it agrees with the noun in nominative, accusative and genitive case and in indefiniteness. If the noun is in nominative case, the adjective will be in nominative case. If the noun is in accusative case then its adjective will be in accusative case. If the noun is in genitive case, the adjective will be in genitive case. You say ‘Zayd the wise stood up’ and you put Zayd in nominative case because it is the subject of the verbal predicate and
l-ʿāqil functions as its adjective.”

14Examination of the adjectives’ description given by the traditional Arab grammarians shows that they did not pay much attention to all agreement patterns in their discussion. In contrast to the issue of the adjectival agreement, the morphology occupies a large part in the discussion of the adjectives. Ibn Hišām, for example, divides the adjective into four categories:

a: Derived adjective: This type of adjective indicates both an action and its agent (mā dalla ʿalā ḥadaṯin wa-ṣāḥibihi). Ibn Hišām categorized in this group the active and passive participles, as ḍārib “hits” and maḍrūb “being hit.” Additionally he mentions the adjective of the kind ṣifa mušabbaha bi-l-fiʿl “adjective that is like a verb”, i.e., adjectives derived from intransitive. E.g., ḥasan “good,” which is derived from the verb ḥasuna “to become nice.”

b: “Frozen” adjective (al-ǧāmid): In this category belong adjectives formed by ḏū or with the so-called nisba-ending, as, for example, marartu bi-raǧulin ḏī mālin “I passed on a man who owns money” or marartu bi-raǧulin dimašqī “I passed a man from Damascus.”

c: Clause that functions as adjective: For example, wa-ttaqū yawman turǧaʿūna fīhi ilā llāhi (Q 2:281) “and fear a day on which you will be returned to God.”
The clause may function in this context as an adjective because it fulfils three conditions: first, the qualified noun yawm is indefinite; second, the relative clause includes an anaphoric pronoun that connects the clause with the qualified noun; and third, the clause should be declarative (ǧumla ḫabariyya).

  • 7 Ibn Hišām, Awḍaḥ al-masālik ilā alfiyyat Ibn Mālik, p. 6-9. Cf. Suyūṭī, Kitāb hamʿ al-hawāmiʿ, vol. (...)

d: Verbal noun: For example, raǧulun ʿadlun (“a just man.”) According to the grammarians of Kūfa this noun has the same value of the active participle ʿādil, while according to the grammarians of Baṣra, the nomen rectum is hidden and should be reconstructed (taqdīr muḍāf) as follows: raǧulun ḏū ʿadlin.7

Agreement types in Classical Arabic

15The western grammarians, such as Wright (1898-1896), Brockelmann (1962), Nöldeke (1963), Fleischer (1968) and Fischer (1972), do not ignore the issue of agreement in their discussion of adjectives. However, like the traditional Arab grammarians, they do not provide a detailed description of the agreement types that exist in Classical Arabic. They usually are satisfied with few examples in which the adjective is not in full agreement with the noun.

16There are additional works that deal directly or indirectly with agreement issues and will be reviewed briefly in this section.

17Sāmirrāʾī (1956) discusses in his dissertation plural and collective forms in the Qurʾān. After presenting the morphology of each form, he shows how the syntactic constituents agree with these nouns. Sāmirrāʾī’s work is more descriptive than analytic because the factors that affect the agreement are usually missing in this work. In his dissertation, Kahle (1975) dedicates a chapter to the agreement type of specific adjectives based on various pre-classical texts that belong, according to him, to the period before the Arab language was normalized by the traditional Arabic grammar.

18Fischer (1980), who deals with the plural forms in Arabic, refers inter alia to their agreement types. Ferguson (1989) examines the agreement pattern in Classical and New Arabic to see whether the change that has occurred in these types can support Versteegh’s theory that these changes are a result of pidginization, creolization and decreolization. The agreement of human and non-human plurals in Classical Arabic compared with Modern Arabic is the topic of two articles written by Belnap (1992, 1999).

  • 8 Nomen unitatis is the noun that denotes the individual − for example, baqar (nomen generis or asmāʾ (...)
  • 9 They are called in Arabic asmāʾ l-ǧamʿ, e.g. qawm “tribe.”

19It is worth noting in this context the adjectival agreement categories introduced by Reckendorf regarding Classical Arabic in general (1921, p. 89-90).89

Noun

Adjective

Singular masculine

Singular masculine

Singular feminine

Singular feminine

Dual masculine

Dual masculine

Dual feminine

Dual feminine

Sound plural masculine, human

Plural

Sound plural masculine, nonhuman

Singular feminine and seldom plural

Sound plural feminine, human

Plural and seldom singular feminine

Sound plural feminine, nonhuman

Singular feminine and seldom plural

Broken plural, human

Plural and seldom singular feminine

Broken plural, nonhuman

Singular feminine and seldom plural

Collective noun, human

Plural and seldom singular

Collective noun, nonhuman

Singular feminine or masculine or plural

Names of tribes

Singular feminine or plural

Collective nouns that have no nomen unitatis8

Singular feminine or plural

Collective nouns that have nomen unitatis9

Singular masculine or feminine and plural (feminine)

20It is the purpose of this article to present in a more detailed way than Reckendorf all agreement types that exist in the Qurʾān. Furthermore, this article attempts to clarify the types that show incomplete agreement. Some of these types were broadly discussed in the research literature (types of agreement 1,4 and 6 below), therefore the main findings are presented. Some of the types are not even mentioned in the research literature (types 2 an 3 below). In other cases a reexamination of the given explanation for the agreement type is necessary (type 5 below). As for the research methods, the analysis of the agreement phenomenon requires consulting Qurʾān exegeses, classical dictionaries or referring to further syntactic issues, such as the difference between the plural forms in Arabic that can affect the agreement.

Types of adjectival agreement in the Qurʾān

  • 10 Ferguson (1989, p. 9) uses the term “strict agreement” for describing agreement in which some categ (...)

21This part of the article attempts to present in a more detailed fashion the different types of adjectival agreement that exist in the Qurʾān. The following chart includes not only the different types and examples but also statistics that reveal the exact dimensions of the adjectival agreement phenomenon in the Qurʾān. The agreement types are presented in two parallel columns. The left column is entitled “transparent agreement” while the right column is entitled “obscure agreement.”10 The term “transparent agreement” is used here to refer to all agreement structures in which the integral noun characteristics of gender and number are fully manifested in the adjective. “Obscure agreement” refers to all agreement structures in which one or both characteristics are not manifested in the adjective. It should be emphasized that presenting agreement types under the same column does not mean necessarily that they belong to the same agreement category. Referring back to the definition of the term “agreement,” it might be seen that an agreement type such as tawba naṣūḥ cannot be compared with the type of an-nuḏur l-ūlā. In the first type, constituent B agrees with constituent A in all agreement features except gender. However, in the second type B agrees with A only in determination and case mark. There is no agreement between the constituents in number and gender.

Transparent agreement

Obscure agreement

Noun

Adjective

Occ.

Example

Noun

Adjective

Occ.

Example

1. sg. masc.

sg. masc.

sg. masc.

934

al-fawz l-mubīn

2. sg. fem.

sg. fem.

sg. fem.

186

ḥikma bāliġa

sg. fem.

sg. masc.

16

tawba naṣūḥ

sg. fem.

pl. masc.

1

nuṭfa amšāǧ

3. plural human

sound pl. masc.

sound pl. masc.

2

al-munāfiqīna ẓ-ẓānnīna

sound pl. masc.

broken pl. masc.

1

al-muṣṭafīna l-aḫyār

sound pl. fem.

sound pl. fem.

3

al-muḥsināt l-ġāfilāt

broken pl. masc.

sound pl. masc.

25

ʿibādī ṣ-ṣāliḥīna

broken pl. masc.

broken pl.

3

ar-rukkaʿ s-suǧūd

broken pl. masc.

fem. sg.

1

an-nuḏur l-ūlā

broken pl. masc.

masc. sg.

2

riǧāl kaṯīr

broken pl. fem.

sound pl. fem.

9

nisāʾ muʾmināt

broken pl. fem.

masc. sg.

1

azwāǧ ḫayr

broken pl. fem.

broken pl.

4

azwāǧ abkār

broken pl. fem.

fem. sg.

3

azwāǧ muṭahhara

4. plural non–human

sound pl. fem.

sound pl. fem.

13

āyāt bayyināt

sound pl. fem.

fem. sg.

2

āyātunā l–kubrā

Sound pl. fem.

broken pl.

14

sunbulāt ḫuḍr

broken pl.

broken pl.

4

al-ašhur l-ḥurum

broken pl.

sound pl. fem.

11

ayyām maʿdūdāt

broken pl.

sound pl. masc.

4

arbāb mutafarriqūna

broken pl.

fem. sg.

47

ayyām maʿdūda

broken pl.

number

1

azwāǧ ṯalāṯa

5. collective nouns human10

collective noun masc.

sg. masc.

6

ǧund mahzūm

collective noun masc.

sound pl. masc.

85

qawm muʾminūna

collective noun fem.

sg. fem.

17

umma qāʾima

collective noun sg.

broken pl.

5

ḏurriyya ḍiʿāf

6. coll. nouns non–human11

collective noun

sg. masc.

19

al-saḥāb l-musaḫḫar

collective noun

sg. fem.

3

naḫl ḫāwiya

collective noun

sound pl. fem.

1

saḥāb ẓulumāt

collective noun

broken pl.

3

saḥāb ṯiqāl

7. plural of coll. noun human

pl.

sound pl. masc.

1

qurūn āḫarīna

pl.

sg. masc.

2

ribbiyyuna kaṯīr

pl.

fem. sg.

2

al-qurūn l-ūlā

8. plural of coll. noun non–human

pl.

broken pl.

2

naḫīl ṣinwān

pl.

fem. sg.

3

maġānim kaṯīra

9. dual

dual

dual

12

ġulāmayni yatīmayni

22To summarize, of 1461 collected adjectives, there are 1258 whose agreement is transparent as opposed to 203 with obscure agreement.

23Statistical segmentation of the transparent agreement:

  1. Adjectives in singular masculine agree with nouns in singular masculine (934 adjectives, which is 63.92% of all the adjectives).

  2. Adjectives in singular feminine agree with nouns in singular feminine (186 adjectives, which is 12.73% of all adjectives).

  3. Adjectives in broken or sound plural (masculine and feminine) agree with nouns in broken or sound plural designating the human (46 adjectives, which is 3.14% of all adjectives).

  4. Adjectives in broken or sound plural (masculine and feminine) agree with nouns in broken or sound plural designating the non-human (36 adjectives, which is 2.39% of all adjectives).

  5. Adjectives in singular masculine or feminine agree with collective nouns masculine or feminine designating the human (23 adjectives, 1.57% of all adjectives).

  6. Adjectives in singular masculine agree with collective nouns masculine designating the non-human (19 adjectives, 1.30% of all adjectives).

  7. Adjectives in dual agree with nouns in dual (12 adjectives, 0.82% of all adjectives).

  8. Adjectives in broken plural agree with plural of collective nouns designating the human or non-human (3 adjectives, 0.20% of all adjectives).

24Statistical segmentation of the partial agreement:

  1. Adjectives in broken plural or sound plural masculine agree with collective nouns designating the human (90 adjectives, 6.16% of all adjectives)

  2. Adjectives in singular feminine agree with nouns in broken or sound plural feminine designating the non-human (49 adjectives, 3.35% of all adjectives).

  3. Adjectives in broken plural or sound plural feminine agree with nouns in broken plural designating the non-human (25 adjectives, 1.71% of all adjectives).

  4. Adjectives in singular masculine agree with nouns in singular feminine (16 adjectives, 1.09% of all adjectives).

  5. Adjectives in singular masculine and feminine agree with nouns in broken plural designating the human (7 adjectives, 0.47% of all adjectives).

  6. Adjectives in broken or sound plural feminine agree with collective nouns designating the non-human (7 adjectives, 0.47% of all adjectives).

  7. Adjectives in singular masculine or feminine agree with plural of collective nouns designating the non-human (7 adjective, 0.47 of all adjectives).

  8. Adjectives in singular masculine agree with nouns in singular feminine (1 adjective, 0.06% of all adjectives).

  9. Adjectives in sound plural masculine agree with nouns in sound plural feminine designating the human (1 adjective, 0.06% of all adjectives).

Factors that affect adjectival agreement

Type of agreement (1): adjectives in singular masculine agree with nouns in feminine singular

25The common type of agreement with a noun in singular feminine is transparent agreement; 186 adjectives in singular feminine, as opposed to 16 adjectives in singular masculine and one adjective in plural.

26All adjectives that belong to this category do not display gender agreement. Among them it is possible to identify the following adjectives:

  • 11 Fleischer 1968, vol. 1, p. 672. See also Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 5, p. 108. Two nouns, one (...)

a: Adjectives in singular masculine, which agree with both masculine singular and feminine singular nouns, as in, for example, baldatan maytan (Q 43:11) (“a dead land.”) According to Fleischer, the adjective mayt is originally in the form of faʿīl and over time it transformed from mayyit to mayt. He mentions that both the forms mayyit and mayt have a parallel feminine form, mayyita and mayta, like other adjectives in this form, such as hayyin - hayyina, layyin - layyina. Another possibility that is presented by Fleischer is that the noun balda has the same meaning as balad or makān and therefore the adjective is in singular masculine. It is also possible that mayyit here has the same meaning as mawt, thus baldatan mayyitan could be translated as “a land of death” and according to Fleischer this structure is no different than silsilatun ḥadīdun.11 It seems that only the adjective mayt does not agree with the noun balda. Examination of other occurrences of this noun shows a transparent agreement, as in:

  • 12 Arberry 1964, p. 439. The translation of the Qurʾānic verses is taken from Arberry’s translation. I (...)

wa-škurū lahu baldatun ṭayyibatun (Q 34:15)
“And give thanks to him; a good land.”
12

innamā umirtu an aʿbuda rabba hāḏihi l-baldati llaḏī ḥarramahā (Q 27:91)
“I have only been commanded to serve the Lord of this territory which he has made sacred.”

b: Adjectives in singular masculine that can be only related to feminine singular nouns, such as ʿaǧūzun ʿaqīmun (Q 51:29) (“an old woman, barren.”)

  • 13 Wright 1896-1898, vol. 1, §297, p. 24. Cf. Reckendorf 1921, p. 60 and Nöldeke 1963, p. 20.

c: Adjectives in the form of faʿūl with an active meaning and those in the form of faʿīl with a passive meaning, such as imraʾatun ṣabūrun wa-šakūrun (“a patient and grateful woman”) do not have a separate form for the feminine, and thus an adjective in singular masculine follows both genders.13 For example:

yā-ayyuhā llaḏīna āmanū tūbū ilā llāhi tawbatan naṣūḥan (Q 66:8)
“Believers, turn to God in sincere repentance.”

qāla innahu yaqūlu innahā baqaratun lā ḏalūlun tuṯīru l-arḍa (Q 2:71)
“He says she shall be a cow not broken to plough the earth.”

d: Adjectives in the infinitive form (aṣ–ṣifa bi-l-maṣdar). The adjective sawāʾin can be categorized in this sub-category:

qul yā-ahla l-kitābi taʿālaw ilā kalimatin sawāʾin baynanā wa-baynakum (Q 3:64)
“Say: People of the book! Come now to a word common between us and you.”

  • 14 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 3, p. 373. According to Kurylowicz 1973, p. 96, verbal nouns that (...)

27According to Ibn Manẓūr, sawāʾin is an infinitive (maṣdar) that cannot be conjugated, i.e., does not have a feminine or plural form.14

Type of agreement (2): adjectives in broken plural agree with nouns in feminine singular

innā ḫalaqnā l-insāna min nuṭfatin amšāǧin (Q 76:2)
“We created man of a sperm-drop, a mingling, trying him.”

28It seems that the adjective amšāǧin is in broken plural form, thus the agreement with a noun in singular feminine is obscure. The commentators on the Qurʾān disagree about the form of this adjective. Thus, according to Zamaḫšarī, the adjective amšāǧin is in singular feminine and agrees with the noun in feminine singular:

  • 15 Zamaḫšrī, al-Kaššāf, vol. 5, p. 666.
  • 16 According to Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 5, p. 367, barmatun aʿšārun and bardun akyāšun are Ye (...)

(nuṭfatin amšāǧin) ka-barmatin aʿšārin, wa-bardin akyāšin: wa-hiya alfāẓun mufradatun ġayru ǧumūʿin wa-li-ḏālika waqaʿat ṣifātin li-l-afrādi wa–yuqālu ayḍān: nuṭfatun mašaǧun.15
“(a drop of mingled sperm) (this structure has the same form as):
ka-barmat aʿšār and bard akyāš16: the adjectives are in singular form and not in plural form and for that reason they function as adjectives of the preceding nouns. Another structure that is to be found is nuṭfatun mašǧun.”

29Bayḍāwī presents two possibilities in his commentary to Q 76:2. The adjective amšāǧin can be either singular or plural (1955, p. 289):

  • 17 The meaning here of the words ḫawāṣ or ḫiwāṣ is unclear. This form is not mentioned by Ibn Manẓūr a (...)
  • 18 20Bayḍāwī , Anwār al-tanzīl wa asrār al-taʾwīı, 1955, p. 289

(amšāǧin) aḫlāṭun ǧamuʿ mašaǧin, mašǧin aw mašīǧin min mašaǧta š-šayʾa iḏā ḫallaṭtahu wa-ǧumiʿa n-nuṭfatu bihi li-anna l–murāda bihā maǧmūʿu maniyyi r–raǧuli wa-l-marʾati wa-kullun minhumā muḫtalifu l-aǧzāʾi fī r-riqqa wa-l-qawāmi wa-l-ḫawāṣi,17 wa-li-ḏālika yaṣīru kullu ǧuzʾin minhumā māddata ʿuḍwin. wa-qīla mufradun ka-aʿšār wa-akbāšin. 18
“(
amšāǧin) this adjective that is parallel to the plural form aḫlāṭ is the plural of mašaǧ, mašǧ or mašīǧ. These forms are derived from the verb mašaǧta, which means ‘you mix something if you combine it (mix it up).’ This adjective is in plural because the meaning (of the noun nuṭfa) is the plural (form) of the man’s and the women’s sperms (i.e. ovum), yet the sperm of the man and the ovum chromosomes of the woman are different from each other in their softness and their composition, and for that reason the man’s sperm and the ovum become a “material” member in the combined mixture. It is also said that the adjective is in singular form, like aʿšār and akbāš.”

30To conclude, regarding this type of agreement it may be said that there are two different ways to understand the structure nuṭfatin amšāǧin. The adjective is in singular form and thus the agreement is transparent and can be translated as “a mixed drop;” or the adjective is in plural form and thus the agreement is obscure and this structure might be translated as an annexation structure (“a drop of mixed sperm and ovum.”)

Type of agreement (3): adjectives in singular feminine agree with nouns in broken plural designating the human

31Statistically, the most common agreement to nouns in plural designating humans is an adjective in plural, i.e., a transparent agreement. There are only seven exceptions − four of them are the following:

hāḏā naḏīrun mina n-nuḏuri l-ūlā (Q 53:56)
This is a warner, of the warners of old.”

wa-lahum fīhā azwāǧun muṭahharatun (Q 2:25; 3:15; 4:57)
“And there for them shall be spouses purified.”

  • 19 See also Q 54: 5 fa-mā tuġni n-nuḏuru “and their warnings will not be useful,” where a verb in femi (...)
  • 20 Cf. Bayḍāwī, p. 237.

32As for Q 53:56, the commentators on the Qurʾān present two possible meanings of the word nuḏur. According to Zamaḫšarī and Bayḍāwī, nuḏur means inḏārāt (“warnings”19) and thus the translation of the verse would be “this is a warning from the previous warnings.” However, they mention also that nuḏur is the plural of naḏīr, referring to the prophet Muḥammad, who was one of the first warners who was sent to the people (vol. 4, p. 429).20

  • 21 Q 46:21 wa-qad ḫalati n-nuḏuru “the warners passed on them” is another occurrence where a verb in s (...)

33Regarding the option that nuḏur is a plural non-human, it may said that the agreement is indeed obscure, but as will be shown in type 5, an adjective in singular feminine that agrees with plural nouns designating the non-human is common in the Qurʾān. Thus, the structure an-nuḏur l-ūlā is not an exceptional structure in the Qurʾān. However, an adjective in singular feminine that agrees with a plural designating the human is less common and even rare in the Qurʾān.21 Nöldeke (1963, p. 83) shows that in Classical Arabic the agreement in singular feminine with a plural noun designating the human also exists, as in:

ǧāʾathum rusuluhum      “their messengers came to them.”

aǧlat fawārisuhum      “their horsemen retreated.”

34As for Q 2:25, both types of agreement, i.e., the adjective in feminine singular and the adjective in plural, are allowed:

  • 22 Zamaḫšarī, al-Kaššāf, vol. 4, p. 110; cf. Bayḍāwī, p. 17.

fa-hallā ǧāʾati ṣ–ṣifatu maǧmūʿatan ka-mā fī l-mawṣūfi? qultu: humā luġatāni faṣīḥatāni. yuqālu: an-nisāʾu faʿalna, wa-hunna fāʿilātun wa-fawāʿilun, wa-n-nisāʾu faʿalat wa-hiya fāʿilatun.22
“Why is the adjective not in plural form like the noun that it modifies? I said (Zamaḫšarī): Both dialect variants are correct. It is said the women did, and they are doing and woman did and she is doing.”

  • 23 There are three occurrences in which azwāǧ has different meanings than “wives”. In Q 36:36; 43:12 i (...)

35Examination of other occurrences of the noun azwāǧ “wives”23 shows that the common agreement with this noun is in plural (feminine): Q 2:234; 4:12; 33:4; 33:6; 33:37; 33:50.

  • 24 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 2, p.  336.

36In Q 60:11, a verb in singular feminine precedes this noun and in Q 30:21 the pronoun that refers to azwāǧ is in singular feminine. Additionally, there is one case of Q 66:5 azwāǧan ḫayran, where the adjective ḫayr is an elative form which cannot be inflected.24

Type of agreement (4): adjectives in masculine singular agree with nouns in broken plural designating the human25

  • 25 Q 66:5 azwāǧan ḫayran minkunna can be also classified in this category. However, it is not discusse (...)

wa-baṯṯa minhumā riǧālan kaṯīran wa-nisāʾan (Q 4:1)
“And from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.”

37Obscure agreement with the adjective kaṯīr is also found in Q 3:146; 25:49; 36:62. The nouns in these verses are in plural denoting the human but the adjectives that follow them are in singular masculine. Contrary to this type of agreement, when the noun is broken plural and denotes the non-human, the adjective kaṯīra (feminine singular) follows it, as in:

  • 26 Additional examples are: Q 2:245; 4:94; 23:21; 38:51; 43:73; 48:19; 48: 20; 56:32

mawāṭina kaṯīratin (Q 9:25).26
“God help you in many battle-fields.”

38As opposed to the other types of agreement mentioned, the commentators on the Qurʾān do not discuss the obscure agreement that was created due to an adjective in singular masculine following a plural noun. The fact that the adjective kaṯīr does not reflect gender and number agreement is mentioned by Hopkins (1984, p.142):

“Some adjectives of the pattern faʿīl may remain without tāʾ marbūṭa when referring to a feminine noun (…). Among such words are qalīl “few” and its opposite kaṯīr: wa-ṣanʿatuka kaṯīr “and your affability towards me is great.”

39It should be mentioned that the adjective kaṯīr remains in singular masculine regardless of the gender and number of the modified noun, while verbs and prepositions show transparent agreement with riǧāl, as in, for example, Q 7:48; 9:108; 24:37; 33:23; 38:62; 48:25.

Type of agreement (5): adjectives in feminine singular agree with plural nouns designating the non-human vs. adjectives in plural agree with plural non-human

  • 27 These agreement variations are also mentioned in the research of Belnap (1991, p. 129-130). See als (...)

40There are 49 adjectives in singular feminine that agree with plural non-human, as opposed to 60 adjectives in plural that agree with plural non-human. The following are examples of these two types of agreement:27

Adjective in singular feminine

Adjective in plural

āyātinā l-kubrā (Q 20:23)

āyātun bayyinātun (Q 3:97)

ayyāman maʿdūdatan (Q 2:80)

ayyāman maʿdūdātin (Q 2:184)29

sururin maṣfūfatin (Q 52:20)

wa-qudūrin rāsiyātin (Q 34:13)

baqarātin simānin (Q 12:43)

41Before turning to the discussion of the agreement types, an important issue concerning this section should be clarified – the plural forms in Arabic, both of the nouns and adjectives.

  • 28 Cf. Fischer 1980, p. 70, 74.
  • 29 Cf. Ferrando 2003, p. 40, 46-47.

42The Arab grammarians recognize three numeric categories for Arabic nouns and adjectives. Singular (mufrad), dual (muṯannā) and plural (ǧamʿ). The grammarians further divide the plural forms into broken plural (ǧamʿ t-taksīr) and sound plural (al-ǧamʿ s-sālim). Plurals are then divided into plurals of paucity (ǧamʿ l-qilla) denoting three to ten items and plural of multiplicity (ǧamʿ l-kaṯra) denoting more than ten items (Ratcliffe 1998, p. 69).28 According to Fischer, the plural of paucity appears usually after numbers 3-10, except in the two cases Q 2:228 ṯalāṯata qurūʾin “three periods, “where a plural of multiplicity stands instead of plural of paucity in the form of afʿulun or afʿālun. In Q 27:48, a collective noun stands after a number tisʿatu rahṭin “nine groups of people” (Fischer 1980, p. 75).29 The question this plural division raises is whether it affects the agreement type; namely, is the form of the noun in plural designating non-human causing the adjective to be in broken or sound plural? And if so, what is the implication of the adjective in singular feminine that agrees with a plural noun designating non-human?

43The research literature presents several explanations for the existence of these two types of agreement:

  • 30 Ṭabarī, Ǧāmiʿ al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 5, p. 361.
  • 31 Ibn Kaṯīr, Tafsīr Ibn Kaṯīr, vol. 2, p. 191.

a: Looking at the exegeses of the verses cited in this section, it is noteworthy that usually the commentators do not refer to the agreement issue; nevertheless, they refer to the meaning of the adjectives only by replacing one adjective with another adjective in plural. In his commentary on ǧannātin maʿrūšātin in Q 6:141, for example, Ṭabarī replaces the adjective maʿrūšātin with two other adjectives in plural feminine form, marfūʿāt and mabniyyāt.30 As opposed to Ṭabarī, in his commentary on āyātun bayyinātun (Q 3:97) Ibn Kaṯīr replaces the adjective bayyināt with an adjective in singular feminine, explaining that the meaning of āyātun bayyinātun is dalālāt ẓāhira “clear signs”.31 These two examples indicate that both agreement types were familiar and used by the commentators.

  • 32 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 4, p.  272.

b: Referring to the expression ayyāman maʿdūdātin (Q 2:184), Ibn Manẓūr mentions the following explanation of Zaǧǧāǧ regarding the occurrence of the adjective maʿdūdātin in plural form.32

  • 33 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿArab, vol. 4, p. 272; cf. ʿAbbās 1963-1964, vol. 1, p. 163.

kullu ʿadadin qalla aw kaṯura fa-huwa maʿdūdun, wa-lākinna maʿdūdāt adalla ʿalā l-qilla li-anna kulla qalīlin yuǧmaʿu bi-l-alifi wa-t-tāʾi naḥwa durayhimāt wa-ḥamāmāt, wa-qad yaǧūzu an taqaʿa l-alif wa-l-tāʾ li-t-takṯīr.33
“each number, regardless of whether it indicates the plural of paucity or plural of abundance, is a number that can be counted, but
maʿdūdāt refers to a small number because a noun that indicates paucity will be pluralized by the suffix -āt such as: ‘pennies’ and ‘watering places.’ It is also possible that this suffix will indicate plural of abundance (large number).”

44A similar explanation is also introduced by Hopkins (1984, p. 144):

“In CA [Classical Arabic] when inanimate plural nouns do not exceed the number of ten, concord may take place in feminine plural rather than the feminine singular. This is the case in the papyri also, though restricted to certain stock expression connected with the calendar: ḫamsat sinīna awaluhunna šahr Rabiʿ. ‘five years beginning from the month of Rabīʿ.”

45Examination of the plural nouns shows that most of them have only one plural form except for ašhur, which is considered to be plural of paucity. Thus, regarding the occurrences of adjectives in plural agreeing with plural nouns denoting the non-human, it is worth exploring whether the adjectives indicate that the noun includes limited items.

46The first group that was examined is adjectives in feminine plural that agree with nouns in sound or broken plural.

    • 34 Suyūṭī & Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Ǧalālayn, p. 62.

    āyātun bayyinātun (Q 3:97) (“clear signs”) - It can be understood from the different exegesis that the noun refers to specific and limited signs. One of the signs is maqām Ibrāhīm, the stone upon which Ibrāhīm stood to build the House, and on which his footprints remain and whoever enters the House is secure.34

  • tisʿa āyātin bayyinātin (Q 17:101) (“nine clear signs”) - There is a numeric quantifier before the noun.

  • fa-arsalnā ʿalayhimu ṭ-ṭūfāna wa-l-ǧarāda wa-l-qummala wa-ḍ-ḍafādiʿa wa-d-dama āyātin mufaṣṣalātin (Q 7:133) “So we let loose upon them the flood and the locusts, the lice and the frogs, the blood, distinct signs.” - It is clear from the context that the noun āyātin refers to the five signs that are mentioned previously and they are: the flood, locusts, lice, and the frogs and blood.

    • 35 Farrāʾ, Maʿānī al-Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 190.

    āyātun muḥkamātun (Q 3:7) (“clear verses”) - According to Farrāʾ, the noun āyātun referred to verses 151-153 in Sura 6.35

  • wa-uḫarā yābisātin (Q 12:43, 46) (“and other lean ears of corn”) - It is clear from the context that the noun refers to the seven lean ears of corn.

    • 36 Suyūṭī & Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Ǧalālayn, p. 28.

    ayyāman maʿdūdātin (Q 2:184, 203; 3:24) ( “numbered days”) - According to the commentators, the expression ayyāman maʿdūdātin means specific days in the year; thus, for example, in Q 2:184 the noun refers to the days of Ramaḍān, i.e., 30 days.36

    • 37 Suyūṭī & Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Ǧalālayn, p. 31.

    ašhurun maʿlūmātun (Q 2:197) (“numbered month”) - The noun ašhurun refers to the well-known month for pilgrimage and it is: šawwāl, ḏū l-qiʿda and ten nights, some say all, of ḏū l-ḥiǧǧa.37

  • āyātin bayyinātin (Q 2:99; 22:16; 24:1; 29:49; 57:9; 58:5) (“clear signs”), ǧannātin maʿrūšātin wa-ġayra maʿrūšātin (Q 6:141) (“trellised and untrellised gardens”), qudūrin rāsiyātin (Q 34:13) (“anchored cooking-pots”), rawāsiya šāmiḫātin (Q 77:27) (“soaring mountains”), qiṭaʿun mutaǧāwirātun (Q 13:4) (“tracts neighbouring each to each”), ayyāmin naḥisātin (Q 41:16) (“days of ill fortune”). In the verses in this category, it is unclear if the nouns refer to a limited number of parts because the commentators do not explain to which part or entities the noun refers.

47To summarize, it should be mentioned that there is a specific list of nouns in plural with which adjectives in sound plural feminine agree. Of 18 nouns in plural, eight nouns are āyāt, three nouns are ayyām, one is the noun ašhur, two nouns are sunbulāt, and the other four nouns are: qudūrin, rawāsiya, qiṭaʿ and ǧannāt. Additionally, only āyāt and ayyām have the second type of agreement, in which an adjective in singular feminine agrees with them. A prominent fact raised during the analysis is that the sound plural feminine form of the adjective is restricted to active and passive participles. There is one exceptional form that is of naḥisāt.

48There are also adjectives in broken plural that agree with nouns in broken plural and they are classified in the second group. It is possible to divide these cases into the following four sub-groups.

49To the first sub-group belong the following verses, in which the nouns in plural include specific and limited items:

  • sabʿa baqarātin simānin yaʾkuluhunna sabʿun ʿiǧāfun wa-sabʿa sunbulātin ḫuḍrin (Q 12: 43, 46) (“seven fat cows have been eaten by seven lean ones and seven green ears of corn.”)

  • sabʿan šidādan (Q 78:12) (“seven strong (heavens)”).

  • ayyāmin uḫarā (Q 2:184) (“other days”)

  • al-ašhuru l-ḥurumu (Q 9:5) (“the sacred month”)

  • In the second sub-group, one cannot ignore the fact that the adjective in plural that appears at the end of the verse rhymes with the last word of the previous and the following verses:

  • fīhinna ḫayrātun ḥisānun (Q 55:70) (“maidens good and comely”)

  • sabʿan šidādan (Q 78:12) (“seven strong (heavens)”)

  • ǧannātin alfāfan (Q 78:16) (“luxurious gardens“)

  • as-samāwāti l-ʿulā (Q 20:4; 20:75) (“high heavens”)

  • ḥadāʾiqa ġulban (Q 80:30) (“enclosed gardens”)

  • kunnā ṭarāʾiqa qidadan (Q 72:11) (“different sects”)

  • In the third sub-group, the plural adjective in the form fuʿl denotes color:

  • ǧimālatun ṣufrun (Q 77:33) (“yellow camels”)

  • rafrafin ḫuḍrin (Q 55:76) (“green cushions”)

  • wa-mina l-ǧibāli ǧudadun bīḍun wa-ḥumrun muḫtalifun alwānuhā wa-ġarābību sūdun (Q 35:27) (“And in the mountains are streaks white and red, of diverse colour and pitchy black.”

50Beeston (1975, p. 65) refers to the question of the agreement of adjectives denoting colors by saying as follows:

  • 38 Cf. Ratcliffe 1998, p. 147.

“About thirty years ago, Polotsky called attention in one of his lectures to the fact that in CA colors referring to the plural of irrational beings stand in plural. I find it surprising that so distinguished a linguist as polotsky should have committed himself to this statement, which seems to imply that adjectives which are not colour terms have the singular concord with irretionalia. This is certainly not the case. In pre-Islamic poetry, it is virtually a universal rule that adjectives, no matter whether colour terms or otherwise, show plural forms when referring to pluralities; instance such as albīḍu Iṣawārimu ‘the trenchant swords’ […].”38

51Thus, according to Beeston, adjectives in plural that agree with a non-human plural are not unusual in CA. It is interesting, however, to see that nominal predicates and verbs that indicate colours are in singular feminine when they agree with the non-human plural, as in the following:

yawma tabyaḍḍu wuǧūhun wa-taswaddu wuǧūhun fa-ammā llaḏīna swaddat wuǧūhuhum a-kafartum baʿda īmānikum (Q 3:106)
“On the Day when some faces will be white, and some faces will be black. As for those whose faces will be black, (will be said): did you disbelieve after you had believed?”

wa-yawma l-qiyāmati tarā llaḏīna kaḏabū ʿalā llāhi wuǧūhuhum muswaddatun (Q 39:60)
“On the Day of Judgment you will see those who told lies against Allah. Their faces will be turned black.”

52As for the remaining verses, they can be categorized in the fourth sub-group (Q 33:19; 38:31; 66: 6). It might be concluded that the agreement of plural adjectives with plural nouns denoting the non-human is as follows: first, adjectives in sound plural feminine indicate that the nouns include a specific number of items. This number can be less than 10 items, but in some cases more than 10. Although the Arab grammarians describe in detail the morphological forms of plural of paucity and plural of multiplicity, there are plurals that are not categorized in these groups, as, for example, the broken plural ayyām or the sound plural āyāt. The adjective form, i.e., sound plural feminine, can indicate a number of items. This usage of the plural suffix -āt can be added to the common usages of this plural that are mentioned in the research literature. Thus, for example, Kurylowicz refers to the ending –āt that appears in nominalized adjectives, as in al-ḥasanātu “beautiful things.” Additionally, verbal adjectives with the feminine form -at have a regular plural masculine -ūna or plural feminine -āt when referring to a person. When used as impersonal adjectives or as substantives, they have the broken plural, e.g., kātib-kātibūn means “writing,” but kātib-kuttāb means “writer,” and in plural “writers.” (Kurylowicz 1982, p. 18-139 )

53Second, in some cases (see group two, sub-group one) adjectives in broken plural have the same function of the sound plural adjective, i.e., to indicate that the noun includes a specific number of items. The most prominent form of theses adjective is fiʿāl, the plural of faʿīl (Ratcliffe 1998, p. 13).

54Third, keeping the rhyme might lead to the use of adjectives in plural rather than adjectives in singular feminine. Fourth, there are certain cases in which the reason for using an adjective in plural form is unclear. There is no specific quantifier that indicates the number of the items or the adjectives do not carry any end-rhyming. Fifth, adjectives denoting colours are in the broken plural form fuʿl. Sixth, active and passive participles function as adjectives having the sound plural feminine form. Adjectives in forms other than active and passive participle are in the broken plural form of fuʿl, fuʿal, fiʿāl and afʿāl.

55This leaves the implication that adjectives in singular feminine agree with non-human plurals. A possible explanation for this type of agreement was found in Killean’s article, who considers agreement features in modern literary Arabic. According to Killean, the agreement of singular feminine with non-human nouns is clearly equivalent to a neuter gender in other languages, even though this agreement is manifested only in the plural number, a clearly-marked category. It is possible to view this agreement type as a synchronization of number combined with a neutralization of gender. That is, number is completely unmarked for these plural forms and gender is restricted to the category of feminine. It might be concluded from this explanation that if the number is unmarked it indicates that in this agreement type there is no intention to refer to the number of items. When this objective becomes important in the context, then an adjective in plural form will agree with the plural noun that designates the non-human.

56In conclusion, the agreement with the non-human plural can be presented as follows:

Adjective Type

Noun Type:

Non-human, sound plural feminine

Noun Type:

Non-human, broken plural

Sound plural feminine

13 occurrences

11 occureneces

Broken plural

14 occurrences

18 occurrences

Sound plural masculine

0

4 occurrences

Feminine singular

2

47 occurrences

57The statistical data show that the occurrence of adjectives in broken plural is almost identical to the occurrence of adjectives in sound plural. As was shown, both adjectives in sound plural forms and broken plural forms are used in order to indicate the limited number of items, especially when a specific noun has one plural form – sound or broken plural – and it is impossible to determine according to its form whether it is a plural of paucity or a plural of multiplicity. In other words, the adjective’s agreement is not determined by the plural form of the noun, but according the number of item(s) indicated by the noun.

58The most prominent data is that adjectives in singular feminine typically agree with a noun in broken plural. It cannot be argued, however, that in this case the plural form affects the adjective’s agreement. In this agreement type the gender is neutralized and there is no reference to the number of items.

Type of agreement (6): adjectives in singular masculine agree with collective nouns denoting human vs. adjectives in plural agreeing with collective nouns denoting human39

  • 39 An extensive definition of the term collective noun is presented in the article entitledCollectiv (...)

59According to Jespersen, a word like herd or flock denotes an assemblage of things as a set and they are correctly called collectives. Such words denote a unit made of several things or beings that may be counted separately. Hence, a collective noun is from one point of view “one,” and from another point of view “more than one.” (Jespersen 1953, p. 195) The double-sidedness of the collective nouns is shown grammatically: thus, for example, when they denote plurality, the verb may be in plural (Jespersen 1953, p. 195). A similar explanation is presented in the research literature that addresses the issue of adjectival agreement with the collective nouns in Arabic, as shown in the following quotation:

  • 40 Wright 1896-1898, vol. 2, §136B, p. 273. Cf. Brockelmann 1962, p. 162; Nöldeke 1963, p. 82; Fleisch (...)

“The adjective following a collective noun denoting rational beings may be put in singular and agree with the grammatical gender of the collective, or in plural sanus or fractus according to the natural gender of the persons indicated. For example: qawmun karīmun or qawmun kuramāʾu ‘a noble tribe or family, qawmun fāsiqūna ‘wicked people’.”40

60There are six collective nouns denoting the human and the adjective agreeing with them is in singular masculine. Among these are: Q 38:11; 38:59; 54:44; 37:8 and 38:69. However, as can be seen in Q 38:59, the adjective is in singular masculine, but the pronoun and the verb that refer to the collective noun fawǧ are in plural:

hāḏā fawǧun muqtaḥimun maʿakum lā marḥaban bihim innahum ṣālū n-nāri (Q 38:59)
This is a troop rushing in with you; there is no welcome - they shall roast in the fire.”

61A similar agreement pattern is found in the Hebrew Bible. Young investigates the types of agreement with the noun ʿam (“folk, people.”) He explains that the choice of singular or plural verb is explicable by some semantic distinction, such as whether the author conceived of the people acting as a whole or as many individuals. Among the different examples, Young mentions the following verses:

  • 41 The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, p. 417.

hinneh ʿam yored me-rašei heharim (Jud 9, 36)
“There come people down from the top of the mountain.”
41

  • 42 The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, p. 417.

hinneh ʿam yordim (Jud 9:37)
“There come people down.”
42

62He suggests that it is possible that in the first verse Gaʿal sees the people as a group, while in the following verse he sees them as many individuals – hence the verb is in plural. Although this explanation is plausible, Young believes that it is impossible to find any rules that can explain the choice of singular agreement over plural agreement (Young 1999, p. 56). Returning to the examples of the Qurʾān, it might be said that the adjective in singular that agrees with fawǧ indicates that fawǧ should be referred to as a group, as a collective and not as individuals. Yet it might be wondered why in the same verse the pronoun and the verb are in plural.

63Statistically, the second type of agreement, i.e., adjectives in plural agreeing with a collective noun denoting the human, is more common in the Qurʾān (85 occurrences of an adjective in plural vs. six occurrences of an adjective in singular). There are two possible explanations for the appearance of an adjective in plural:

a: An adjective in plural indeed indicates that the reference is to the individuals composing the group. Thus, examination of the collective noun qawm shows that the agreement with this noun is usually in plural, as in:

wa-awraṯnā l-qawma llaḏīna kānū yustaḍʿafūna mašāriqa l-arḍi wa-maġāribahā (Q 7:137)
“And we made the people who are considered weak inheritors of lands in both East and West.”

b: The adjective is in plural due to constraints of the rhyme, as in the following verse in which the adjectives carry the assonance -una:

a-fa-aminū makra llāhi fa-lā yaʾmanu makra llāhi illā l-qawmu l-ḫāsirūna (Q 7: 99)
“Did they feel secure against the plan of Allah? No one feels secure from the plan of Allah, except the people of the lost.”

64As has been shown, there are two patterns of agreement relating to a collective noun denoting the human. This can be constructed either with an adjective in singular or in plural form. An adjective in singular form is related to the grammatical gender of the collective noun, while an adjective in plural is related to the persons, the individuals indicated by the collective noun. The explanation presented for the agreement variations with collective nouns can be augmented in the following patterns of agreement:

a: Adjectives in singular masculine agree with a collective noun denoting the non-human in masculine form, as in:

yawma yakūnu n-nāsu ka-l-farāši l-mabṯūṯi (Q 101:4)
“The day that men will be like scattered moths.”

65Additional examples are: Q 2:164; 15:26; 37:49; 52:44; 54:20; 76:1.

b: Adjectives in singular feminine agree with a collective noun denoting the non-human in feminine form, as in:

kam min fiʾatin qalīlatin ġalabat fiʾatan kaṯīratan (Q 2:249)
“How often a little company has overcome a numerous company.”

66The following are additional examples: Q 2:128; 3:38; 3:113; 4:102; 5:66; 8:66.

c: Adjectives in singular feminine agree with a collective noun denoting the non-human in masculine form, e.g.:

  • 43 An adjective in singular masculine, singular feminine, broken plural or sound plural feminine can f (...)

ka-annahum aʿǧāzu naḫlin ḫāwiyatin (Q 69:7)43
“As they are roots of hollow palm-trees tumbled down.”

67Additional examples are: Q 3:14; 55:11; 69:7.

d: Adjectives in singular feminine agree with a plural of a collective noun denoting the human and the non-human, as in:

qāla fa-mā bālu l-qurūni l-ūlā (Q 20:51)
“He said: What then is the condition of previous generations.”

Conclusions

68The statistical data show clearly that transparent agreement of the adjective is the most common in the Qurʾān. There are 1258 adjectives whose agreement is transparent, as opposed to 203 adjectives with obscure agreement. Examination of the obscure agreement patterns yields the following factors that affect the agreement:

69– The grammarians mentioning that adjectives that can be related only to a feminine singular noun, as in ʿaǧūzun ʿaqīmun, adjectives of the form faʿīl and faʿūl, as in tawbatun naṣūḥun, will be in singular masculine even when the noun is singular feminine. To these cases might be added also the adjective kaṯīr, which follows a noun in singular masculine or in plural masculine, like riǧālan kaṯiran.

70– Adjectives in sound plural feminine usually in the form of active or passive participle or broken plural indicating the number of separate parts or items comprising the noun. Arab and western grammarians mention that there are two possible types of agreement with the non-human noun. One is an adjective in singular feminine and the other is an adjective in sound plural feminine. However, examination of these cases indicates that adjectives in the sound feminine plural and some adjectives in broken plural demonstrate that there is a limited number of parts – usually less than 10, sometimes more than 10, but still within defined limits. The “limits” can be a clear quantifier like a number, like tisʿa āyātin bayyinātin, or in some other cases the commentators explain to which or how many parts the adjectives refer, as in ašhurun maʿlūmāt or ašhurun ḥurumun. In addition, there is a list of prominent nouns followed by an adjective in sound plural masculine or in broken plural: āyāt (eight times), ayyām (three times), ašhur (two times) and sunbulāt (two times). Nevertheless, there are a few cases in which the appearance of an adjective in sound plural feminine is unclear. For example, regarding qudūr rāsiyāt it would be rather forced to claim that the adjective demonstrates that the number of the “cooking-pots” is limited because there is either a numeric quantifier or satisfactory explanation provided by the commentators regarding this noun.

  • The rhyme at the end of the verses might cause some of the agreement patterns in the Qurʾān. For example, in ǧannātin alfāfan the adjective is in broken plural due to the end-rhyme -an. Also in the case of qawmun fāsiquna and additional examples in which an adjective in sound masculine plural follows the collective noun qawm, the adjective is in plural to keep the assonance -un of the end-rhyme. It is noteworthy that an adjective in plural that agrees with collective nouns indicates also that the reference is made to the separate parts or items which comprise the noun.

  • As opposed to adjectives in plural following the collective noun, adjectives in singular masculine or feminine that agree with collective nouns demonstrate collectivity, as in ǧund mahzūm the adjective in singular masculine indicates that the reference is made to the collective, to the group and not to the individual . It could be argued that also adjectives in singular feminine that agree with nouns in plural non-human denote collectivity and generalization, for example, ayyām maʿdūda, where it is unclear to which and to how many days are referred, as opposed to ayyām maʿdūdāt.

  • There are some exceptional or rare agreement types in the Qurʾān, such as: nuṭfa amšāǧ and an-nuḏur l-ūlā. In the first case, there are some disagreements about the form of the adjective. Some commentators claim that the adjective is in singular and others argue that it is in plural form. As for the second type, the western grammarians mention that it is not rare to find in Classical Arabic an adjective in singular feminine that agrees with plural noun designating the human.

71The agreement types presented in this article are not special to the Qurʾān. They are found in pre-Islamics texts (6th century), in classical texts (from the 10th century), in modern texts and in the modern dialects. For example, adjectives designating colours are in the plural form regardless the noun’s form. However, in different works dealing with the historical development of the Arabic language and its grammar, one issue regarding agreement is the most discussed − the agreement types with the plural non-human. In their article, Belnap and Shabaneh (1992) examine variable grammatical agreement with non-human head nouns, relying on the examples of Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic text. The main findings are that in pre-Islamic and classical texts the common agreement type is adjectives in plural that agree with a noun in plural designating non-human. Additionally, Belnap and Shabaneh refer to Reckendorf’s observation that non-human plurals, both broken and feminine sound forms, seldom have plural adjectival agreement. They say that this observation appears to be accurate for post-Qurʾānic Arabic. The transition to deflected agreement, i.e., the adjectives in singular feminine agrees with nouns designating non-human, appears to have proceeded gradually with broken plural and gradually became the common adjective type. Ferguson (1989) examined the agreement type in old Arabic and new Arabic in order to refute Versteegh’s hypothesis that the Old Arabic as represented by the Classical Arabic of the grammarians was pidginized, i.e., drastically simplified during early centuries of Islam. This pidgin Arabic then was creolized, i.e., became the language of formerly non-Arabic speakers. Finally, he points out the diglossic use of Classical Arabic alongside the dialects, where many classical features entered the dialects. Ferguson claims that this hypothesis cannot be regarded as proven because there are other processes in the language that can explain the similarities between Classical Arabic and the dialects. To prove this claim, Ferguson attempts to investigate the history of certain phenomena of grammatical agreement. What is relevant here is the discussion of the deflected agreement. He mentions that both types – the strict and the deflected – agreement were found in Old Arabic, while there is a strong preference for one or the other. The deflected agreement according to Ferguson is very common, for example, in Damascus Arabic.

72The quantitative study presented here may prove and strengthen the finding of Belnap and Shabaneh and clarify when the deflected agreement is preferred in the Qurʾān.

73The following table shows what are the agreement types of plural nouns designating the human and plural nouns designating the non-human:

Agreement type

Plural head human

Plural head non-human

Occurrences

Occurrences

Noun in sound plural masculine

Adjective in sound plural masculine

1

0

Noun in sound plural masculine

Adjective in broken plural

1

0

Noun in sound plural feminine

Adjective in sound plural feminine

3

13

Noun in sound plural feminine

Adjective in sound plural masculine

1

0

Noun in sound plural feminine

Adjective in singular feminine

0

2

Noun in sound plural feminine

Adjective in broken plural

0

14

Noun in broken plural

Adjective in broken plural

8

18

Noun in broken plural

Adjective in sound plural feminine

9

11

Noun in broken plural

Adjective in sound plural masculine

26

4

Noun in broken plural

Adjective in singular feminine

2

47

Noun in broken plural

Adjective in singular masculine

3

0

74There are only five adjectives that in singular agree with plural nouns designating the human, as opposed to 49 adjectives that in singular feminine agree with nouns in plural designating the non-human. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the fact that 60 adjectives in sound or broken plural agree with plural nouns designating the non-human. This statistical data show that there is no preference for one agreement type over the other. The agreement is determined according to what the adjective indicates – limited items of the noun or neutralization of this limitation.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1 Wright 1896-1898, vol. 2, §136, p. 273.

2 Cf. Lehmann 1982, p. 203-204.

3 Goldenberg says that the adjective is, in essence, equivalent to a genitive construction; however, can it be said that in the case of raǧulun lubnāniyyun, the adjective is also equivalent to a genitive structure? It might be said that it is impossible to compare the adjective lubnāniyyun to genitive contracture like *raǧul Lubnān (“a man of Lebanon”.) In addition, it is not quite clear how Goldenberg’s definition of the term “adjective” can explain cases such as tawba naṣūḥ, because according to Goldenberg the carrier or the possessor of the quality should be represented by the inflexional marks of the adjective. The adjective naṣūḥ, however, does not have any mark at the end, although the possessor is tawba – a feminine singular noun.

4 Ibn Yaʿīš, Šarḥ al-Mufaṣṣal, vol. 2-3, p. 46.

5 Ibn Yaʿīš (Šarḥ al-Mufaṣṣal, p. 47) gives the following example for “specification” and “clarification:” raǧulun ʿalīmun is more specific than raǧul – an indefinite noun without any specification. In the sentence ǧāʾanī Zaydun l-ʿāqilu the adjective helps to distinguish between Zaydun l-ʿāqilu and other men with the name Zayd, because the adjective clarifies to whom the speaker refers. Cf. Anbārī, Asrār al-ʿarabiyya, p. 293.

6 Zaǧǧāǧī, al-Ǧumal, p. 26; cf. Anbārī, Asrār al-ʿarabiyya, p. 294. He adds that the adjectives follows the noun in number (singular, plural or dual), in gender (feminine or masculine) and in definiteness or indefiniteness.

7 Ibn Hišām, Awḍaḥ al-masālik ilā alfiyyat Ibn Mālik, p. 6-9. Cf. Suyūṭī, Kitāb hamʿ al-hawāmiʿ, vol. 6, p. 57-56; Krahl n.y, p. 27-49; Fischer 2006, vol. 1, p. 16-18.

8 Nomen unitatis is the noun that denotes the individual − for example, baqar (nomen generis or asmāʾ l-ǧins) and baqara (nomen unitatis). See Ullman 1989-1993, p. 1-5.

9 They are called in Arabic asmāʾ l-ǧamʿ, e.g. qawm “tribe.”

10 Ferguson (1989, p. 9) uses the term “strict agreement” for describing agreement in which some category that is overtly or inherently present in the “controller” (subject or head-noun) is copied in the “target” (verb, noun-modifier) and “deflected agreement” in which, for example, a plural controller is associated with a feminine singular target. Bahloul (2006, p. 46) uses the notions “partial agreement” and “asymmetric agreement.”

11 Fleischer 1968, vol. 1, p. 672. See also Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 5, p. 108. Two nouns, one in singular masculine and the other in singular feminine having the same meaning, also exist in the Biblical Hebrew, e.g., naqam-neqama “revenge”, ʼašam-ʼašma “guilt.” See Waltke & O’connor 1990, p. 106.

12 Arberry 1964, p. 439. The translation of the Qurʾānic verses is taken from Arberry’s translation. In some cases, there are some changes introduced to his translation.

13 Wright 1896-1898, vol. 1, §297, p. 24. Cf. Reckendorf 1921, p. 60 and Nöldeke 1963, p. 20.

14 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 3, p. 373. According to Kurylowicz 1973, p. 96, verbal nouns that function as adjective are actually abstract nouns that are usually analyzed as appositional impeding the agreement of gender.

15 Zamaḫšrī, al-Kaššāf, vol. 5, p. 666.

16 According to Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 5, p. 367, barmatun aʿšārun and bardun akyāšun are Yemeni garments.

17 The meaning here of the words ḫawāṣ or ḫiwāṣ is unclear. This form is not mentioned by Ibn Manẓūr and Lane.

18 20Bayḍāwī , Anwār al-tanzīl wa asrār al-taʾwīı, 1955, p. 289

19 See also Q 54: 5 fa-mā tuġni n-nuḏuru “and their warnings will not be useful,” where a verb in feminine singular precedes the plural noun designating the non-human.

20 Cf. Bayḍāwī, p. 237.

21 Q 46:21 wa-qad ḫalati n-nuḏuru “the warners passed on them” is another occurrence where a verb in singular feminine precedes noun in plural designating the human.

22 Zamaḫšarī, al-Kaššāf, vol. 4, p. 110; cf. Bayḍāwī, p. 17.

23 There are three occurrences in which azwāǧ has different meanings than “wives”. In Q 36:36; 43:12 it means “pairs” and in Q 56:7 it means “bands”.

24 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 2, p.  336.

25 Q 66:5 azwāǧan ḫayran minkunna can be also classified in this category. However, it is not discussed in detail because the adjective ḫayran is in elative form and is considered to be “frozen,” i.e., this form agrees with nouns in singular or plural designating the human and non-human.

26 Additional examples are: Q 2:245; 4:94; 23:21; 38:51; 43:73; 48:19; 48: 20; 56:32

27 These agreement variations are also mentioned in the research of Belnap (1991, p. 129-130). See also Benlap & Shabaneh (1992, p. 249).

28 Cf. Fischer 1980, p. 70, 74.

29 Cf. Ferrando 2003, p. 40, 46-47.

30 Ṭabarī, Ǧāmiʿ al-bayān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 5, p. 361.

31 Ibn Kaṯīr, Tafsīr Ibn Kaṯīr, vol. 2, p. 191.

32 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab, vol. 4, p.  272.

33 Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿArab, vol. 4, p. 272; cf. ʿAbbās 1963-1964, vol. 1, p. 163.

34 Suyūṭī & Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Ǧalālayn, p. 62.

35 Farrāʾ, Maʿānī al-Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 190.

36 Suyūṭī & Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Ǧalālayn, p. 28.

37 Suyūṭī & Maḥallī, Tafsīr al-Ǧalālayn, p. 31.

38 Cf. Ratcliffe 1998, p. 147.

39 An extensive definition of the term collective noun is presented in the article entitledCollective Nouns in the Qurʼān: Their Verbal, Adjectival and Pronominal Agreement.” Forthcoming in the Journal of Semitic Studies.

40 Wright 1896-1898, vol. 2, §136B, p. 273. Cf. Brockelmann 1962, p. 162; Nöldeke 1963, p. 82; Fleischer 1968, p. 47 and Fischer 1972, p. 64.

41 The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, p. 417.

42 The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, p. 417.

43 An adjective in singular masculine, singular feminine, broken plural or sound plural feminine can follow a collective noun denoting the non-human that do not have a nomen unitatis form. See Wright 1896-1898,vol. 2, p. 273. Cf. Fleischer 1968, vol.1, p. 257.

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Judith Dror, « Adjectival Agreement in the Qurʾān », Bulletin d’études orientales, LXII | 2014, 51-75.

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Judith Dror, « Adjectival Agreement in the Qurʾān », Bulletin d’études orientales [En ligne], LXII | 2014, mis en ligne le 04 juin 2014, consulté le 22 janvier 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/beo/1276 ; DOI : 10.4000/beo.1276

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Judith Dror

University of Erlangen

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