In hebrew and arabic, the number 7 is "sheva" and "sabah" respectively, and the number six is "shesh" and "sita" respectively. These numbers sound very similar to their translations in some Indo-European languages:


English: seven

French: sept


English: six

French: six

Is there a reason for this occurrence or is it just a coincidence?


1 Answer 1


It's very possibly not a coincidence, actually. The numeral '7' is one of our best candidates for a Semitic loanword in Proto-Indo-European. Several of the PIE numerals are possibly loanwords from other families, including Semitic and some Caucasian languages. The PIE word septm̥, whence English 'seven', is possibly related to Proto-Semitic sabʕatum, the masculine form of the numeral 7. The PIE form still shows the Semitic collective suffix -t-, and the nominative ending -um. There are a number of other words which are possible candidates for Semitic loans in PIE; see the answer here for more.

The Semitic forms you reference in the question, sheva (Hebrew) and sabʕ (Arabic), are actually descended from the Proto-Semitic feminine, *sabʕum. It'd be more accurate to say that the masculine counterparts of these words are related to English 'seven', i.e. shiv'a (Hebrew) and sabʕa (Arabic).

It's been proposed that the PIE root for '6', *swéḱs, whence 'six', is also loan from Semitic, but I find this one less plausible; the PS is *t͡sidθatum or *sidθatum (whence Hebrew masculine shisha, Arabic masculine sitta). The phonetic similarity is a lot less evident, and the PIE form does not reflect collective *-t- or nominative *-um, unlike PIE *septm̥ : PS *sabʕatum.

  • I feel like you are mixing up the masculine and feminine forms (or possibly labels) almost certainly in Arabic, highly likely in PS. Sabʕ is masculine, sabʕah is feminine. The 'masculine t' you mentioned seems like ðe 'taa marbuuṭah' of arabic, which is almost exclusively a feminine marker. Please review your answer, thank you. Jun 23, 2021 at 7:14
  • @QuintusCaesius-RM. Do you know about gender inversion of Semitic numbers?
    – fdb
    Jun 23, 2021 at 10:12
  • @Quintus Caesius - RM No, my answer is correct. Semitic numerals 3 and above do something interesting where the suffix *-(a)t-, which is normally feminine, actually encodes the masculine gender. So ex. in Hebrew, shlosha (3) is masculine (< *θalāθ-at-um) and shalosh is feminine (< *θalāθ-um). I call it a ‘collective’ suffix in the answer because it has a slightly different etymology than the homophonous feminine suffix *-(a)t-; it seems to be related to an Afroasiatic collective suffix. See here: en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%B9.
    – Khove
    Jun 23, 2021 at 17:11
  • @Quintus Caesius - RM Sorry, messed up the link. Here: en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D8%B3%D8%A8%D8%B9 (for Arabic), en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D7%A9%D7%91%D7%A2%D7%94 (for Hebrew), en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Semitic/… (for Proto-Semitic)
    – Khove
    Jun 23, 2021 at 17:50
  • 1
    "3 and above", read "from 3 to 10".
    – fdb
    Jun 23, 2021 at 21:37

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