Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Arabic language has a distinct way of referring to two things or people, as opposed to just singular and plural. It is called the "dual" or "Al-muthanna" المثنّى in Arabic grammar. Basically, dual is used for any two things 2, while plural is used for three or more 3+. This also affects the way a word is written in Arabic, in each of the three cases: singular, dual, and plural.
Another consideration is whether the noun is feminine or masculine, so the way it is expressed in dual will be different. Sounds complicated, but it's not. One easy way of knowing how to change a noun from singular to dual, is by adding the suffix Aan ـان or Ayn ـين at the end of the word. Note that when the noun is feminine and ending with Taa marbouta ة , it changes to Taa Maftouha ت , before adding the suffixes Aan ـان or Ayn ـين.
كتاب Kitaab book
كتابان Kitaabaan (two) books
كتابيْن Kitaabayn (two) books
فتاة Fataat girl
فتاتان Fataataan (two) girls
فتاتيْن Fataatayn (two) girls
جمل Jamal camel
جملان Jamalaan (two) camels
جمليْن Jamalayn (two) camels
طاولة Taawila table
طاوِلتان Taawilataan (two) tables
طاوِلتيْن Taawilatayn (two) tables
جميلة Jameela beautiful
جميلتان Jameelataan (two) beautiful things/ people
جميلتيْن Jameelatayn (two) beautiful things/ people
I'm sure you're wondering when to use Aan ـان and when to use Ayn ـين.
Aan ـان is used in the nominative case, or when it is used as a subject or a predicate of nominal sentences. On the other hand, Ayn ـين is used in the accusative case when the noun is used as an object; and also in the genitive case, when the noun is used after a preposition or after the first word of "idafa construction".
أكل الولدان الطَّعام.
Akala al-waladaan at-ta'aam.
The (two) boys ate the food.
Here, we used the suffix Aan ـان, because "al-waladaan" or "the two boys" are the subject of the sentence. (Nominative Case)
Now, consider this sentence:
أكل الولدُ سمكتيْن.
Akala al-walado samakatayn.
The boy ate (two) fish.
In this case we used the suffix Ayn ـين, because "samakatayn" or "two fish" are the object of the sentence. (Accusative case)
نام الولدُ على وسادتيْن.
Naama al-walado 'ala wisaadatayn.
The boy slept on (two) pillows.
In this sentence the suffix Ayn ـين is used, because the dual noun "wisaadatayn" or "two pillows" comes after the preposition "'ala" or "on". (Genetive case)
غُرفةُ الطَّفليْنِ كبيرة.
Ghorfato at-tiflayni kabeera.
The (two) children's bedroom is big.
In this sentence the suffix Ayn ـين is used, because the dual noun "at-tiflayn" or "the two children" comes after the construction of an idafa.
(Idafa is the construction or addition of two noun; usually, the first in an indefinite case, and the second in a definitive case, marked by "al-": the bedroom of the (two) children: ghorfato at-tiflayn: )
When it comes to subject pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, and they) in English) and using the dual in Arabic, note that there is no specific first person dual to refer to "we" in term of two people (we two). Instead, the subject pronoun we or "nahno" is used. However, a special dual subject pronoun is used for second person: "you two"= "antomaa", and third person: "they"= "humaa". To summarize:
1st Person Pronoun: None, just use “we” نحن
2nd Person: You two أنتما (Antomaa)
3rd Person: They two هما (Homaa)
نحن أفضل صديقين.
Nahno afdalo sadeeqayn.
We are friends.
We are best friends.
You are friends.
You are friends (feminine/ 2 girls).
They are friends.
They are friends (feminine/ 2 girls)
The following flashcards will assist you in retaining the information:
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If you are confident with the above information, you may proceed to:
Further information (demonstratives "Asmaa' Al-ishaara" أسْماءُ الإشارَة / we will cover it in detail in another topic, so you may chose to focus only on the previous information for now):
this = هذا haza (singular/ masculine)----------> these (two) = هذان hazaan or هذين hazayn (dual/ masculine)
this = هذه hazih (singular/ feminine)-----------> these (two) = هاتان haataan or هاتين haatayn (dual/ feminine)
that = ذلك zalik (singular/ masculine)-----------> those (two) = ذنك zanik or ذينك zaynik (dual/ masculine)
that = تلك tilk (singular/ feminine)--------------> that (two) = تانك taanik or تينك taynik