A: Defective Nouns and Adjectives

In Part II of this book defective verbs are discussed throughout. In Chapter Two of Part II under the discussion of active participles there is some discussion of defective nouns and adjectives. In this section we will review the whole issue. However, I am only going to give what you absolutely need to know about these words in order to understand them and use them properly. I am not going to go into the theory behind these derivations, nor will I bog you down with other details. I will try to give examples of what you will actually come across. There will be a number of examples below. Take your time with this section. You will no doubt have to return to it many times before you are fully comfortable dealing with defective words.

Any word whose root includes either a waaw or a yaa’ as its final radical is said to come from a defective root. When a noun or an adjective is derived from such a root, that noun or adjective may be defective. If the final waaw or yaa appears and is written with a shadda, the word will not be defective. For example, the noun عَدُوُّ “enemy” is not defective, because the final waaw is doubled. Therefore, this word will behave just like a regular noun. Also, sometimes the final waaw or yaa’ is written without a shadda but is followed by another letter (usually a ة). Such a word is not defective. For example بداية or عداوة . Sometimes the word will be written without the final waaw or yaa’, and an alif will be written instead. Usually the alif will be followed by a hamza. Such a word is not defective. For example, عداء and بناء

A word derived from a defective root will be defective if the final waaw or yaa’ is replaced by two kasras when the word is indefinite. For example, the word قاضٍ means “a judge.” It is derived from the verb قضى which has a yaa’ as the final radical of the root.’ The two kasras under the ض in قاضٍ do not represent the genitive case. They represent a vowel-consonant combination which does not exist in the language. The result of this combination always yields a defective noun or adjective.

The two kasras under the ض in قاضٍ will appear in both the nominative and the genitive cases as long as the word is indefinite. In the accusative case, the word is قاضياً . Now the yaa’ of the final radical has come back and a regular case ending is applied. If the final radical is a waaw, it will still appear as a yaa’. For example, عادٍis from the root ع د و . In the accusative it will be عادِياً . Masculine singular defective nouns and adjectives have regular case endings in the accusative only.

When the word is made definite with a definite article or a pronoun suffix, the yaa’ (whether or not the final radical is a yaa’ or a waaw) is also written, for example القاضي and قاضيهِ . In the nominative case and in the genitive case no case marker is applied to the yaa’. (That is why the a in the second example becomes s even if the word is nominative, since قاضيُهُ is not a possibility.) However, if the word is in the accusative case, a fatha will be placed over the yaa’ -القاضي and قاضيَهُ

The yaa’ will also be written if the word is the first term of an idaafa, or any term of the idaafa except the last, whether or not that idaafa is definite or indefinite. For example قاضي محكمة and قاضي المحكمة. The case endings (or lack of them) on the defective word in any idaafa will be the same as if the word were made definite by use of the definite article or a pronoun suffix.

If the defective word is the last term of the id*a, the yaa’ will pe written if the word is definite, but not if the word is indefinite. For example: محكمة القاضي and محكمة قاضٍ

If a word is defective in the singular and if it has a broken plural, the broken plural will not be defective. If the word has a masculine sound plural, the defectiveness of the singular will affect how the plural is written. For example, قاض can take a sound plural. (The meaning will not be “judges” but rather an adjective meaning “deciding.” Also, for a discussion of the sound and broken plurals of Form I active participles, see Part E of Chapter Two of Part II.) The nominative ending ونَ will be attached to the ض So you have قاضونَ and القاضونَ . The two kasras and the yaa’ disappear completely in the nominative plural. In the genitive and accusative the ending ين is also attached directly to the ض as in قاضينَ, and القاضينَ . Again the two kasras and the yaa are dropped before the plural suffix is added. The ن of the plural will be dropped if the word is any term but the last term in an idaafa. For example, مُغَنِّ “a singer” is made plural by مُغَنّونّ. In an idaafa it becomes مُغنو النادي or مُغني النادي if the word is genitive or accusative. (النادي “the club,” is itself a defective word. In the indefinite it is نادٍ .)

If the defective word can appear in the feminine singular, the yaa’ will return. For example, a female singer is مُغَنية Since the,word now ends in ة, it will have regular case endings. This word will take a feminine sound plural مُغَنِّيات

So far, we have seen words which are defective when they are singular and what happens to them when they are made plural if they have masculine feminine or sound plurals. Below are two charts summarizing the above. The first deals with masculine and feminine singular defectives; the second deals with these same defectives when they have sound plurals. In the first chart, note that the feminine singular forms behave as any feminine singular word. In the second chart, the feminine sound plural forms behave as any feminine sound plural would. The charts are below.

Masculine Singular Defectives and Their Feminine Singular Forms

Any Idaafa Acc.

Any Idaafa Nom./Gen.

Def. Acc.

Def. Nom./Gen.

Sing. Acc.

Sing. Nom./Gen.




مُغَنّي النادي








مُغَنِّية النادي

مُغَنِّيةِ النادي








Masculine Singular Defectives With Sound Plurals and Their Feminine Counterparts With Sound Plurals

Any Idaafa Acc./Gen.

Any Idaafa Nom.

Def. Nom./Gen.

Def. Nom.






مُغَنّو النادي








مُغَنياتُ النادي






Singular defectives can be made dual in both genders. When this is done, these words are all regular and will behave as any dual word would. Here is a chart using مُغَنِّ ° in the dual for both the masculine and feminine.

Any Idaafa Acc./Gen.

Any Idaafa Nom.




مُغَنّيَيْ النادي

مُغَنّيا النادي




مغنيَتَيْ النادي

مُغَنيَتا النادي




Some words are regular in their singular forms but are defective in their broken plural forms. For example,كرْسِيِّ is regular in its singular form (note the shadda over the yaa’). However, its plural is كراسٍ, a defective word. In the nominative and genitive cases, broken plural defectives behave just like singular defectives. The two kasras are found in the nominative case and the genitive case when the word is indefinite. They are replaced by a yaa’ when the word is definite (الكراسي) or the first term of any idaafa (كراسي الصف ). This yaa’ will show no case if the word is nominative or genitive, but will show a fatha if it is accusative.

The one difference between a broken plural defective and a singular defective is that the indefinite plural accusative will not have nunation – كراسِيَ because (and you are going to love this) such words are all diptotes (see the next section in this chapter). So, for example, “I smashed chairs” is rendered in Arabic as كسّرتُ الكراسيَ .

Two other common broken plural defectives are أمانٍ (plural of أُمْنية “desire”) and أَغانٍ (plural of أُغْنية “song’).

Below is a chart summarizing broken plural defectives.

Any Idaafa Acc.

Any Idaafa Nom./Gen.

Definite. Acc.

Definite. Nom./Gen.

Indefinite. Acc.

Indefinite. Nom./Gen.

كَراسيَ مدرسةٍ

كَراسي مدرسةٍ





The main source of defective nouns and adjectives are defective verbs in Forms I-X. The active participles of these verbs are all defective. In addition the verbal nouns of all defective Form V and Form VI verbs are also defective. For example تَحَدّي means “to challenge. Its verbal noun is تَحَدٍّ. The plurals of these verbal nouns are feminine sound plurals and all show the yaa’ – تَحَدِّيات

You might ask “Do I really need to know all this stuff about defective nouns and adjectives?” In my opinion, the answer is no. That is one reason why I have included this discussion in Part III of the book and not in Part I or Part II. The main things you need to remember are:

1. Defective nouns and adjectives are usually either the active participles of defective verbs from Forms I-X or are the verbal nouns of defective Form V and Form VI verbs.

2. The masculine singular indefinite defectives and the broken plural defectives end with two kasras as in قاضٍ and كراسٍ .

3. The two kasras in item 2 above are not usually written, so you will see only قاض and كراس. So be careful when you look these guys up in Hans Wehr, since he too leaves the kasras out in the Arabic.

4. When definite or in any idaafa, the words in item 3 will show a yaa’ –القاضي and كراسي المدرسة. (But in Hans Wehr these words will only appear as they do in item 3.)

5. The way things usually work, the forms of these words referred to in item 4 are much more commonly seen that the forms referred to in item 3.

As far as I am concerned, the business above about case endings you can pretty much forget. The feminine singulars and plurals are all regular, so they are no problem. There is some problem with masculine sound plurals, especially in idaafas, but not enough of a problem to be a continuous concern. Just remember that due to the nature of indefinite defectives, you may end up getting confused about the root of a word you are looking at. قاض could theoretically be a Form I hollow verb, for example. Another example is one I have used in a reading comprehension exercise that I have given students in the past, taken from a newspaper editorial. The first line of the editorial began something like this:

….في تحد آخر للامم المتحدة

Students had a problem deciding what to do with the second word. Some of them thought is was a verb, although it is clearly followed by an adjective. Even most of those who recognized it as a noun thought that the root was a doubled one. Very rarely did I ever have an intermediate level student get this first line correct. The second word is تَحَدّ, the verbal noun of تَحَدّي”to challenge,” and which I used as an example above. The first line begins “In another challenge to the United Nations… .”

7 responses to “A: Defective Nouns and Adjectives”

  1. Matat Avatar

    For the defective nouns, how does adjective agreement work? Would it be هذا محامٍ طويلٌ or هذا محامٍ طويلٍ?

  2. Uri Avatar

    Thanks for the very useful information. One comment:
    A different source* claims the masculine singular indefinite form of “singer” is مُغَنٍّ (two fathas), while your example has a single fatha (مُغَنِّ). Which is correct?

    Also, why does قاضٍ have two kasras, whereas مُغَنِّ has fatha(s)?


    1. Alex Tarran Avatar
      Alex Tarran

      Hi Uri, the example you give (مُغَنٍّ) is not in fact two fathas, but two kasras. There is a writing convention that has the kasras written underneath the shadda above the consonant..

  3. Denis Avatar

    Hi all,
    Is مُغَنِّ in the first table above misspelled? One kasra instead of two.
    Also, مُغَنِّيّا next to it – where does the shadda over the yaa come from?

  4. Andrea Avatar

    I’d like to point out an inconsistency in the following example
    “I smashed chairs” is rendered in Arabic as كسّرتُ الكراسيَ .
    The Arabic should be
    كسّرتُ كراسيَ

  5. Meeriam Avatar

    Could you let me know the terms for defective nouns in Arabic?

  6. Masood Sidiqi Avatar
    Masood Sidiqi

    I don’t know if this is a mistake or I’m VERY confused.
    In the first table:
    Def. Acc.

    Is this not supposed to have a fatha on it? Is that just a typo. Please help me out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *