The general rule for creating plural nouns in Hebrew is:
Feminine nouns, add “OT” ות- with a cholem vav and tav after the shoresh
Masculine nouns, add “EEM” ים- adding a chireq under the final letter of the shoresh, followed by a yod (consonantal vowel) and Mem sofeet.
And that's basically it. However, (and you knew this was coming) Hebrew has many variations, like English does....not as predictable as English, however.
Let's examine these “irregular” plural nouns found in Chapter 6 of the First Hebrew Primer. (English also has irregular nouns like foot/feet and child/children). We will try to use the mnemonics of letters and “sounds like” that we have been becoming familiar with these past few weeks. If there is some way you find to remember them, please share!
- man/men. איש, “eesh”...seems like the plural would be “eesheem” nu? Well....no. אנשים, “ah-nah-SHEEM” is proper.* It begins with “A” as does the phrase: “ALL MEN” . Say it a few times: AnaSHEEM, ALL MEN....
- woman/women אשה, “eeSHA” for one now becomes (NOT eeSHOHT) but....נשים, nah-SHEEM. For more than one. Okay, it begins with “N” as does the phrase: “NO MEN”. Say it a few times: nah-SHEEM, NO MEN....
- house/houses בית, BAH-yeet in the plural is בתים, bah-TEEM. Notice that the yod of the shoresh drops. Don't say “bah-yeet-EEM” ', but bah-TEEM. Bah TEEM sounds like: “the team”...Bah-TEEM, (the team) went to their houses after the game...
- daughter/daughters בת baht, one daughter, becomes בנות, bah NOTE. Bah NOTE sounds like “the note”. Repeat this to help you: Bah NOTE (the note) is for my daughters.
- Father/fathers אב AV, becomes אבות ah-VOTE! Feminine form for fathers...hmm Just remember my fathers are riding alephants, and taking them to the vet with their shephards' crooks, along with their turtles. What you say?
ב: vet is vetrinarian
ו: vav is a hook, shepherd's crook
ת: tav is a turtle...see? See his shell, and his little head sticking out?
Okay, ah-VOTE sounds like “I vote”. Think: ah-VOTE (I vote) for the founding fathers!
- City/cities עיר, “ear” (Do you SEE with your EYES (ayin=eye) the city built on the huge ear??? In the plural, the vowels change so we have ערים ah-REEM. This is a masculine ending for a feminine noun, to boot! AhREEM sounds like “I reeeeemember where the cities are! Okay, so I'm getting tired. YOU think of one!
- We used flashcards to help get a picture in our heads of these various noun plurals. That is a really good way to build vocabulary. I would say pictures, writing in block and cursive, transliteration, with niqqud are great ways to review cards. You can purchase flashcards, but it is much more fun to make them! I suggest you also note gender of nouns for future reference. It will make it SO much easier when we start studying adjectives (which have to agree in number and GENDER with the noun they modify).
- *About Man, איש: The nun arises from a primitive form: אנוש, anosh related toאנוך anoch from which we derive אנכי (the personal pronoun, I) There seems to be some relation to Egyptian/Coptic ank, which literally means “life” and anki meaning “my soul” The significance of the relation of Hebrew and Egyptian is that both are languages of people groups that span back thousands of years.
Keren, Morah Ivrit