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Verse (16:69), Word 12 - Quranic Grammar


The twelfth word of verse (16:69) is divided into 2 morphological segments. A noun and possessive pronoun. The noun is masculine plural and is in the genitive case (مجرور). The noun's triliteral root is bā ṭā nūn (ب ط ن). The attached possessive pronoun is third person feminine singular.

Chapter (16) sūrat l-naḥl (The Bees)

their bellies
N – genitive masculine plural noun
PRON – 3rd person feminine singular possessive pronoun
اسم مجرور و«ها» ضمير متصل في محل جر بالاضافة

Verse (16:69)

The analysis above refers to the 69th verse of chapter 16 (sūrat l-naḥl):

Sahih International: Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you]." There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.

See Also

12 messages

Ozgur Cetiner

11th February, 2014

The current English translation is "THEIR bellies", which is obviously wrong if the pronoun used is the 3rd person feminine singular possessive pronoun.

The correct translation should be "HER bellies". This distinction is extremely important for 2 reasons:

- It correctly points out that a single bee has "multiple stomachs"

- It is the "female" bee that makes honey

If you keep the translations as "THEIR bellies", this unbelievable miraculous statement of God would not be clearly understood and appreciated.

Samiya Illias

6th May, 2014

I agree with Cetiner's comment. However, elsewhere on this website, I read that irrational masculine plurals are followed by singular feminine pronouns. My questions are:

1) How common is this phenomenon, i.e. how many verses contain such a combination?

2) Is this grammatical rule made in view of the usage in the Quran, or is it the traditional usage as per the Arabic in use at the time of revelation?

Please see the following:

[Quran 16:68-69]

68 And inspired your Lord to the Bee that "Take [second person female singular] among the mountains houses, and among the trees, and in what they construct

69 Then/ Moreover eat [second person feminine singular] from all the fruits, and follow [second person female singular imperative] ways/paths, of your Lord, made smooth." Comes forth, from her [singular feminine] bellies [plural], a drink of varying colours. In it is a healing for the mankind.

National Geographic: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/honeybee/

Worker honeybees are all females and are the only bees most people ever see. They forage for food and build and protect the hive, among many other societal functions.


Food enters through the esophagus and enters the crop (aka honey stomach). Most digestion and absorption occurs in the midgut (a.k.a. small intestine).

The small intestine opens to the rectum through which waste is expelled.



The crop and proventriculus make up what is referred to as the fore-gut while the ventriculus (stomach) and pyloric valve constitute what is otherwise known as the mid-gut. The small intestine and rectum form the region called the hind-gut. Each organ plays an integral role in digestion, absorption, and excrement.


6th May, 2014

Would anyone like to comment on the concept that irrational masculine plurals are generally followed by singular feminine pronouns?


6th May, 2014

More specifically, it would help Samiya if we clarify whether or not in butuun-ha, the ha refers to a feminine singular bee.

Samiya Illias

8th May, 2014

Two more questions:

1) Does the 'ha' refer to butuun or to the female bee addressed earlier as 'kulli' and 'uslukki'?

2) In classical arabic, is the bee traditionally referred to as feminine or masculine?

Abdul Rahman

9th May, 2014

If you refer to (16:66:9), the expression بطونه is there translated as "their bellies". Since the pronoun is masculine singular could it not be "his bellies" ? -- except that it would be ridiculous as male cattle do not produce milk, which is the substance produced in "his bellies" referred to in the verse. Why not بطونها referring to the female?

Now, there as well as here, the singular pronoun used is clearly referring to a collective noun. Cattle in Arabic, أنعام, is "he" and "bees" نحل is "she". In either case, in English, the pronoun "they" would be more appropriate, hence in English "their bellies" and this is the translation favoured by most English translators.

While Cetiner's point is interesting and deserves further inquiry, I don't think we can characterize the translation as "obviously wrong". Wallahu a'alam.

Samiya Illias

11th May, 2014

So, according to its usage in 16:66:9, the rule of irrational plurals being followed by a singular feminine pronoun is not being upheld.

16:68:4 is defined as N - genitive masculine noun. Is that incorrect?

Btw, the cow stomach has four compartments: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle#Anatomy

As regards Cetiner's point, please also see the links I've pasted in my first post on scientific discoveries about the bee.

Abdul Rahman

12th May, 2014

You might have noticed that Arabic dictionaries, do not as a rule, give the gender of nouns. Therefore what is the authority for saying that a particular noun is masculine or feminine? The only rule that I find on gender is this: Some nouns are always masculine, some nouns are always feminine, and the rest are sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine. You know the gender of a word from the context -- look at the pronoun or verb associated with it.

As for the word al-an'aam is at 16:69:4, there it is obviously masculine. However, in 6:139:6, the same word it is obviously feminine, because it is preceded by the demonstrative pronoun هذه . In many cases in the Quran, you cannot guess at the gender of al-an'aam from the context. Nor is it important, all the time, to know what gender a word is, to understand the Author's message.

Samiya Illias

12th May, 2014

Thank you and Jazak'Allah!

Abdul Rahman

12th May, 2014

"As for the word al-an'aam at 16:69:4, there it is obviously masculine." I meant 16:66:4.

Samiya Illias

13th May, 2014

I've just started publishing a blog to study and celebrate the factual accuracy of the Quran: http://signsandscience.blogspot.com/

Tanweer Malik

19th May, 2014

Dr. V. Abdur Rahim (author of "Madinah books") says, "The ismu jinsin jam"iyyun is used both as feminine singular and as masculine singular." Then he gives example of Nakhl (date palm) as used in [54:20] and [69:7].

Ismu jinsin jam"iyyun is the generic plural noun which refers to all the members of a particular group / species. The word Nahl (the bee) is an example of such noun.


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