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Adjectives in languages that have grammatical gender have to be in agreement with the nouns they modify. In Classical Arabic, however, some adjectives were commonly used in their base form (masculine singular) in front of feminine or plural nouns for emphasis, as opposed to Modern Standard Arabic where disagreement would be considered unusual.

Is there a recognized term in linguistics for adjectives being used in their base forms for emphasis?
Are there other languages that use/used adjectives similarly?

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    One example (also Semitic) is Amharic, where gender is marked in the article, demonstratives and verb, but not nouns or adjectives themselves. In both Welsh and Manx, nearly all are indeclinable, with only a handful having separate feminine or plural forms. Jun 27 at 10:28
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    Could you give a Classical example of this phenomenon?
    – fdb
    Jun 27 at 14:01
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    Your example "sigāra inglīzī" is a really good one actually. I think similar cases of gender disagreement occur in several other Arabic dialects as well. A Classical example: امرأة حنون /əmrʌʔʌtɒn ħʌnuːn/ (a compassionate woman) where the masculine form حنون /ħʌnuːn/ is used instead of the feminine حنونة /ħʌnuːnʌ/.
    – Mohammad
    Jun 27 at 14:51
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    @Mohammad In Russian, for instance the expression "good teacher" when referring to a woman can be either хороший учитель (all masculine), хорошая учительница (all feminine) or хорошая учитель (adjective is feminine, noun is masculine). The opposite case (masculine adj+fem. noun) is always wrong.
    – Anixx
    Jun 27 at 16:29
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    @Mohammad This mostly includes names of professions and occupations. These nouns are masculine, but can be used for women (consider "president"). There is no "presidentess". In some cases there is a feminine form, but it is either disrespectful, informal or ambiguous (can also mean a wife of the man of that profession). There is also "common gender" (not to be confused with neuter) in Russian, which is the opposite: morphologically feminine but can be used for men. If we talk about teacher, учительница is not offensive but informal (not used in papers, for instance).
    – Anixx
    Jun 27 at 17:43
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I assume that you are thinking of nisba adjectives like ʻarabī or inglīzī, which are conjugated for gender in standard Arabic, but which in many dialects retain the masculine form regardless of the gender of the noun to which they are attached. For example: Cairene Arabic says sigāra inglīzī for “an English cigarette”.

You might want to compare this with those Latin adjectives which have the same form for all three genders, at least in some of the cases, e.g. vetus “old”. Such forms are said to be "of common gender" (communis generis); this is perhaps the technical term that you seek.

In both instances I do not see any linkage with emphasis.

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  • I've also heard the term "invariant" used for adjectives which don't decline in languages where the majority of adjectives do. I don't know whether that term is every used re Latin. Jun 28 at 0:49
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What I know about the agreement of the Classical Arabic adjectives is that they must agree in number and gender with the noun they modify. Another thing is, the plural nouns that denote non-persons (e.g. كُتُبٌ (kutubun) ‘books’, لُغَاتٌ (luḡātun) ‘languages’) are considered to be collective feminine singular nouns, so the adjectives must agree with them in the feminine singular form:

كُتُبٌ عَرَبِيَّةٌ (kutubun ʿarabiyyatun) ‘Arabic books’ (noun is pl., adjective is sg. fem.)

لُغَاتٌ أَجْنَبِيَّةٌ (luḡātun ʾajnabiyyatun) ‘foreign languages’ (noun is pl., adjective is sg. fem.)

If the plural noun denotes a person, the adjective is plural and of the same gender as the noun:

كُتَّابٌ عَرَبٌ (kuttābun ʿarabun) ‘Arabic writers’ (both words are masc. pl.)

طُلَّابٌ أَجَانِبُ (ṭullābun ʾajānibu) ‘foreign students’ (both words are masc. pl.)

As far as I know, the Classical Arabic masculine singular adjectives are not used with feminine or plural nouns.

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    You are correct. "عربية" and "أجنبية" modify feminine and plural nouns, however, they are used this way in both Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. "As far as I know, the Classical Arabic masculine singular adjectives are not used with feminine or plural nouns." Please see the example in my comment above.
    – Mohammad
    Jun 27 at 15:24

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