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cropped war 1

Is حرب masculine or feminine?

Strangely, the word for war – حَرْب – is feminine. There are many words in Arabic that look or feel masculine but are feminine.

Last updated: February 20, 2022

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

6 comments
  1. Hi you mentioned سوق is feminine when in reality it can be both masculine and feminine

  2. 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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