Arabic pronouns and the Qur'an

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This article lists the pronouns of the Arabic language and discusses their usage in the Qur'an.

Arabic pronouns

To understand this section it would be good to know the Arabic alphabet, although transliterations will be provided. Only the Qur'anic Arabic will be discussed, but there are also other dialects of Arabic with slight differences in pronouns (like Egyptian Arabic). We won't go into too much detail.

Subject pronouns

There are 12 different subject pronouns in Arabic:

English Arabic Transliteration
I أنا ana
you (masculine singular) انتَ anta
you (feminine singular) انتِ anti
he هو howwa
she هي heyya
you (dual) أنتما antuma
they (dual) هما humaa
we (plural) نحن nahnu
you (masculine plural) أنتم antum
you (feminine plural) أنتن antunna
they (masculine) هم homa
they (feminine) هن hunna
  • They are more complicated than in English, because they differentiate between dual and plural forms and also sometimes differentiate between gender while English doesn't (for exampe "you" feminine plural and "you" masculine plural).
  • Since Arabic has different verb forms for different pronouns, the pronouns are often not written. For example in English "he wrote" and "she wrote" couldn't be expressed by just "wrote", because the gender would be ambiguous. But in Arabic "he wrote" is "howwa kataba" and "she wrote" is "heyya katabat", so writing "kataba" is enough to express "he wrote", without the need for "howwa" (he).
  • Dual pronouns might be considered redundant, when they can be expressed with plural forms. Also there is no gender neutral pronoun, like "it". So English is easier and has something that Arabic doesn't.

Object & posessive pronouns

Object pronouns, like "me" or "us" are expressed as a suffix added to the verb. For example, the violent verse 2:191, "Waqtuloohum haythu thaqiftumoohum" (واقتلوهم حيث ثقفتموهم), means "and-kill-them wherever you-find-them". Arabic uses only three words for the sentence, because the conjunction "and" (و, wa) is prefixed and the object pronouns "them" (هم, hum) are suffixed.

The verb is represented by "-" in the table:

English Arabic Transliteration
me ـني- -ni *
you (masculine singular) ـكَ- -ka
you (feminine singular) ـكِ- -ki
him ـه- -h
her ـها- -ha
you (dual) ـكما- -kuma
them ـهما- -huma
us ـنا- -na
you (masculine plural) ـكم- -kum
you (feminine plural) ـكن- -kunna
them (masculine) ـهم- -hum
them (feminine) ـهن- -hunna
  • (*) Posessive pronouns like "his" or "our" are expressed almost identically, with the exception of "my" being ـي- (-i).
  • Although possessive pronouns don't change the meaning of the noun in any way, apologists, when counting the word "day" (يوم, yawm), exclude words like "your day" (يومكم, yawmikum) in the 365 days miracle, because otherwise they wouldn't get to 365.

Allah refers to himself in the plural

Although the "oneness of Allah" (tawheed) is one of the main teachings of Islam, Allah sometimes talks about himself in the plural form. For example:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا ٱلذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُۥ

Inna nahnu nazzalna alththikra wainna lahu lahafithoona

Surely We (نَحْنُ, nahnu) have revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.

It is worth noting that Muhammad preached his message to polytheists in Mecca. He once preached polytheism in the incident called Satanic Verses and the polytheists understood the message of Islam to be "all gods grouped into one":

What! makes he the gods a single Allah? A strange thing is this, to be sure!

So the polytheists might have understood verses like "we created the heavens" as multiple gods creating the heavens.

It seems that Muhammad wanted to make it easy for polytheists to convert to Islam by saying "we" meaning "we the gods together". Apologists of Islam say that Allah referring to himself in the plural form is just a style of speech [1], but it is strange that he uses this style of speech, when tawheed is such an important issue.

Allah talks about himself in the 3rd person

Sometimes it looks like Muhammad is talking about god, rather than god talking about himself:

ٱللَّهُ لَآ إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ وَعَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُو

Allah, there is no god but He (هُوَ, howwa); and upon Allah, then, let the believers rely.

"Iltifaat" - bad usage of pronouns in the Qur'an

The Qur'an in some places contains strange changes in pronouns. While Muslims apologists consider them to be a "linguistic miracle" [2], critics of Islam might see them as grammatical errors.

هُوَ ٱلَّذِى يُسَيِّرُكُمْ فِى ٱلْبَرِّ وَٱلْبَحْرِ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا كُنتُمْ فِى ٱلْفُلْكِ وَجَرَيْنَ بِهِم بِرِيحٍ طَيِّبَةٍ وَفَرِحُوا۟ بِهَا جَآءَتْهَا رِيحٌ عَاصِفٌ وَجَآءَهُمُ ٱلْمَوْجُ مِن كُلِّ مَكَانٍ وَظَنُّوٓا۟ أَنَّهُمْأُحِيطَ بِهِمْ دَعَوُا۟ ٱللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ ٱلدِّينَ لَئِنْ أَنجَيْتَنَا مِنْ هَٰذِهِۦ لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلشَّٰكِرِينَ

He it is Who makes you (يُسَيِّرُكُمْ, yusayyirukum) travel by land and sea; until when you are in the ships, and they sail (وَجَرَيْنَ) on with them in a pleasant breeze, and they rejoice, a violent wind overtakes them and the billows surge in on them from all sides, and they become certain that they are encompassed about, they pray to Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience: If Thou dost deliver us from this, we will most certainly be (لَنَكُونَنَّ) of the grateful ones.

The other pronouns besides yusayyirukum are omitted and only signalized by the verb conjugation.

See Also