Dual (grammar)

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The dual (also: Zweizahl or Dualis , Latin [numerus] dualis , to Latin duo "two") is a grammatical sub-category of the number . In contrast to the singular and the imprecise plural , the dual denotes a twofold number of the described elements with their own verbal or nominal forms (like the two other number categories trial and timpani ).


In most languages ​​that know a dual, it is mainly used for naturally paired things; for example for duplicate body parts such as arms and legs and corresponding items of clothing such as shoes, or for married couples . If, on the other hand, the number of objects or people only happens to be two, the normal plural is sometimes used.

In the family of Indo-European languages , languages that have been handed down early on have dual forms, both on the verb and on the noun and pronoun: Sanskrit , Avestic , Homeric and Classical Ancient Greek , Old Church Slavonic , Gothic , Old Irish and older Lithuanian , so the dual for Indo-European Original language is set.

Later the dual paradigm was mostly replaced by plural forms. On the other hand, original forms of the dual also took over the function of the plural. In Sanskrit the dual was still fully developed, in later ancient Greek ( koine ) and in Gothic the dual still existed in remnants. It was also used in the other Germanic languages , but became increasingly less important due to its complexity.

Two old dual forms that today take on the function of the plural are the forms for "you" and enk for "you" in Bavarian , also enker for "your", actually "your two". The word both is also considered a remainder of the West Germanic dual. Various North Frisian dialects could have dual pronouns in the first and second person (e.g. wat for “we both” and jat “you both”), and Sylter Frisian also in the third person, until the early 20th century.

Most of the Slavic languages ​​also had the dual, but have since lost it, with the exception of Slovene , Čakavian and Sorbian . In most of the other Slavic languages, it only survived in fragments.

In today's Celtic languages , it exists as an echo in special words for body parts that occur twice, if otherwise the singular would appear after 2 (as after other numerical words). In Old Irish it was even more pronounced , right into the inflection of the nouns.

A dual exists in numerous non-European language families. Most Semitic languages know it, for example Hebrew (for paired body parts, e.g. eyes and hands, for symmetrical objects, e.g. trousers and scissors, as well as numbers and certain times, e.g. two hundred, two thousand; two Days / weeks / months / years) and Arabic .

In the northern Iraqi languages the dual exists as a living form.


Old Norse

In Old Norse, only the personal pronouns of the first and second person had dual forms:

Nom. Sg. Acc. Sg. Date Sg. Gene. Sg.
ek mik mēr mīn I
þū þik þēr þīn you
Nom. Dual Acc. Dual Date dual Gene. dual
vit okkr okkr okkar we both
it ykkr ykkr ykkar you both
Nom. Pl. Acc. Pl. Date Pl. Gene. Pl.
vēr oss oss vār we
þēr yðr yðr yðar her


Singular Dual Plural (plural)
*البيت al-baytu 'the house' البيتان al-baytāni 'the two houses, the two houses' البيوت al-buyūtu 'the houses'
*أنت ʾAnta, ʾanti 'you' (m., F.) أنتما ʾAntumā 'both of you' أنتم, أنتن ʾAntum, ʾantunna 'you' (m., F.)

In Arabic, the dual in high-level language (for religion, literature, newspaper, news, official speeches) is mandatory in all grammatical contexts, i.e. on the verb, adjective, pronoun and noun. In all Arabic dialects , the dual is only marked on the noun. This is also productive in most dialects (except for e.g. Moroccan ).


In Bavarian the original dual form is used as a general plural form. There is no longer a dedicated dual today.

  • Adoption of the plural:
    • in the bair. és (often incorrectly written "ös", but always pronounced "es") "you" <"you both"
    • in the bair. enk "you" <"you two"


  • Got. knows "we" vs. wit "we both"


In Hebrew, the dual form יים- (-ajim) is only available for a few paired, mostly female nouns. This is then also used generally for the plural.

  • עין eye - עיניים eyes
  • רגל foot - רגליים feet
  • נעל Schuh - נעליים shoes

This also applies to ears, shoulders, socks, glasses, pants, etc.


  • hver each / who (of many), but hvor each / who (of two)
    E.g. hver þeirra which of them, but hvor þeirra which of the two


  • With a few exceptions, the dual is no longer preserved in Latin. The Latin words duo ("two"), ambo ("both") and octo ("eight", originally probably "twice four fingers") still show the old dual ending -ō.


Singular dual Plural
vyras ("man") vyru vyrai
mergina ("girl") mergini merginos
einu ("I'm going") aava lonely


Singular dual Plural
čekor ("step" - masculine) čekora čekori
čas ("hour" - feminine) časa časovi
conj ("horse" - neutral) conj konji


Lower Sorbian

Singular dual Plural
wuknik ("student" - masculine) wuknika wukniki
gólica ("girl" - feminine) gólicy gólice
wokno ("window" - neutral) woknje wokna

Upper Sorbian

In standard Upper Sorbian, the dual is mandatory both in the declension and in the conjugation of the verbs. In the dialects and colloquial language, however, it is often not used consistently and is replaced by the plural.

Singular dual Plural
šuler ("pupil" - masculine with "soft" ending) šulerjej šulerjo
tykanc ("cake" - masculine with "hard" ending) tykancaj tykancy
holca ("girl" - feminine) holcy holcy
wokno ("window" - neutral) woknje wokna
Singular dual Plural
Holca čita rjanu knihu. ("[The] girl reads [a] beautiful book") Holcy čitatej rjanej knize. ("[The two] girls read [two] beautiful books") Holcy čitaja rjane knihi. ("[The (pl.)] Girls read [several] beautiful books")
Dźěd rěči z nowym susodom. ("[The] grandfather talks to [the] new neighbor") Dźědaj rěčitaj z nowymaj susodomaj. ("[The two] grandfathers talk to [the two] new neighbors") Dźědojo rěča z nowymi susodami. ("[The (pl.)] Grandfathers talk to [the (pl.)] New neighbors")
Widźiš tute wysoke twarjenje? ("Do [you] see this tall building?") Widźitej tutej wysokej twarjeni? ("Do [you two (f.)] See these [two] tall buildings?") Widźiće tute wysoke twarjenja? ("Do [you (pl.)] See these tall buildings?")


There are only two numbers in Polish these days: singular and plural . Originally there was still a dual, which (as in almost all Slavic languages) has been lost. His traces can still be found in Polish today, albeit very rarely, for example in body parts that occur twice: w ręce (“in one hand”), w ręku (“in both hands”), w rękach (“in the hands "Eg from enemies, ie in several hands), which is derived from ręka (" the hand "), dwie ręce (" two hands "), trzy ręki (outdated) (" three hands "). This can often be found in proverbs (e.g. mądrej głowie dość dwie słowie instead of dwa słowa “two words”) and most recently with the Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz , in the 19th century.

In some dialects of Minor Poland the verb dual has been preserved, for example pijewa "we drink", widzieliśwa "we saw".


Singular dual Plural
korak ("step" - masculine) koraka koraki
lipa ("lime tree" - feminine) lipi lipe
mesto ("city" - neutral) mesti mesta
grem ("I'm going", 1st person) greva gremo
greš ("you go", 2nd person) gresta greste
gre ("he goes", 3rd person) gresta gredo
moj ("my", 1st person) najin naš
tvoj ("your", 2nd person) vajin vaš
njegov / njen ("his / her", 3rd person) njun njihov


In Czech, the dual was used in nouns and verbs until around the 15th century. Forms of this are still preserved today in the names for some body parts of humans and animals occurring in pairs in the genitive, prepositive and instrumental of the plural.

Nom. Sg. Nom. Pl. Gene. Pl. Prep. Pl. Instr. Pl.
noha (leg, foot) nohy nohou nohou nohama
ruka (hand, arm) ruce rukou rukou rukama
rameno (shoulder) ramena ramenou ramenou rameny
koleno (knee) kolena kolenou kolenou koleny
prsa (chest) prsa prsou prsou prsy
ok (eye) oči očí očích očima
ucho (ear) uši uší uších ušima

Another example is the formation of the numeral dvě stě (two hundred) instead of dvě sta and the declination of the numeral dva (two) in the instrumental plural dvěma . The latter differs from the formation of the instrumental plural of further numerals on -mi such as třemi (three) and čtyřmi (four).

In the spoken language, the instrumental formation of the dual is often transferred to the instrumental plural of the corresponding gender: s kamarádama instead of s kamarády (with friends).

The philosophical content of the dual

The German polymath Wilhelm von Humboldt dealt with the linguistic-philosophical penetration of the dualis . He pointed out that it was a mistake to reduce the dualis to the concept of the mere number two. In his opinion, it unites “the plural and singular nature” at the same time and is at the same time “a collective singular of the number two”, since the plural only occasionally brings the multiplicity back to unity. In this way the dualis expresses "the collectivsingularis" or the idea of ​​"unity in plurality".

In one of his last articles, “About the Dualis”, Humboldt emphasized that it was a mistake to regard the Dualis as “a luxury and outgrowth of languages”. On the level of the philosophy of language , the dualis fits very well into the appropriateness of the speech by increasing the mutual relationships between the words. According to Humboldt, it increases the lively impression of language and helps philosophical discussion of the sharpness and brevity of understanding. In this sense, he said that all other forms had "the advantage by which every grammatical form differs in the sharpness and liveliness of the effect from being paraphrased by words."

See also


  • Wilhelm von Humboldt : About the Dualis . Berlin 1828.
  • Karl Brugmann : Brief comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages. Trübner, Strasbourg 1904.
  • Albert Cuny : La catégorie du duel dans les langues indo-européennes et chamito-sémitiques (= Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Mémoire de la Classe des Lettres. Collection in-8. 2. Sér. , Vol. 28, 1, ISSN  0378-7893 ). Palais des Académies, Brussels 1930.
  • Wolfram Euler : The disappearance of the dual in the inflection of Indo-European individual languages . In: Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia 15, 2010, pp. 77-111.
  • Charles Fontinoy: Le duel dans les langues sémitiques . Les Belles Lettres, Paris 1969.
  • Matthias Fritz: The dual in Indo-European . University Press Winter, Heidelberg 2011.

Web links

Wiktionary: Dual  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rubenbauer / Hofmann / Heine: Latin grammar . 12th edition. Bamberg / Munich 1995, p. 26.
  2. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt: About the Dualis . Berlin 1828.