Generally the grammar related to the numbers in Arabic is considered to be the most complicated thing about the language. In fact, it is considered so complicated that many teachers argue that not even Arabs use it correctly. . . .
All the Arabic You Never Learned the First Time Around

For those who are unfamiliar with Arabic (like me), skimming through the article linked above as well as Wikipedia reveals the elaborate system of case, gender agreement, part of speech and definiteness as well as frequent irregularities within that system.

In my opinion, some specific intriguing examples include:

  • gender polarity for 3 through 10
  • specific case forms for 12 but not other teens
  • unitary numbers from 20 on inflecting only as nouns
  • 20 through 90 dictating the case of their associated noun

(The patterns I cited do not only apply to the listed numbers.)

Surely a system of this sophistication has an interesting history associated with it. The only reason I could suggest for why its nuances arose is that the cardinals of the Arabic language were derived from words which predated the language’s inflection system and were not accommodated into it.

Could anyone shed light on this system?

  • 2
    Look at Slavic numerals. While the quirks are nearly not as many, they are somewhat similar and come from the fact that numerals above 4 evolved from ordinals, so they have very different syntactic reqs (in direct cases, they are followed by noun in genitive plural; while in subject, the predicate is neuter singular, etc.).
    – Eleshar
    Nov 18, 2018 at 20:13

1 Answer 1


The system of gender polarity is broadly identical in all ancient Semitic languages, such as Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic and Geez. It is not an Arabic innovation. The origin of it is shrouded in the prehistory of Semitic.

  • 2
    What about case inflection? Nov 11, 2018 at 18:10
  • 2
    Most of the Semitic languages have either lost the case endings, or else they are not visible in the script. Akkadian did preserve case endings, but did not use them with numbers.
    – fdb
    Nov 12, 2018 at 11:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.