When counting in Hebrew, the first two cardinal numbers are in the correct gender, but all subsequent numbers seem to be in the opposite gender?

For example: Feminine Numbers are: אַחַתֹ-שְתַּיִםֹ-שָלֹש-אַרְבַּע-חָמֵֹשֹ-שֵֹשֹ-שֶבַעֹ-שְמוֹנֶה-תֵֹּשַע-עֶשֶׂר
The above numbers after שְתַּיִםֹ (two) seem to be masculine.

Versus: Masculine Numbers: אֶחָדֹ-שְנַיִםֹ-שְלֹשָה-אַרְבָּעָה-חֲמִֹשָּהֹ-שִֹשָּהֹ-שִבְעָהֹ-שְמוֹנָה-תִֹּשְעָה-עֲשָׂרָה
The above numbers after שְנַיִםֹ (two) seem to be feminine.

Is there a possible esoteric reason behind this?

  • 2
    This is a feature of virtually all Semitic languages and is thus thought to come from a hypothetical proto-Semitic language.
    – Argon
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 4:30
  • 1
    A duplicate of mine judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/86405/…
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 17:07
  • 2
    Like some extra fun with Hebrew - how about נשים or אבות?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 17:10
  • @MichoelR It moves the situation into prehistory. At any rate, the linguistic reason for it has not be adequately established (Hasselbach 58ff, Hatzron 180ff).
    – Argon
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 19:06
  • @Al Berko cool! It's funny that this questioner made the question permissible by including Kabbalah in the question.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


I can't give a full answer, but here's the start of one.

"Achat" (אחת) is structurally an adjective, with the "-at" one often finds as a suffix. So it makes sense that it follows the usual rule for adjectives -- "achat" with the feminine suffix is used for feminine nouns.

The fact that "echad" and "achat" are adjectives whereas the other numbers aren't may explain why Bereishis one goes from the cadinal "yom echad - one day" to the ordinal "yom sheini - second day", "yom shelishi - third day", etc... The numbers above 1 are grammatically different in kind than the others.

Also explains why there is no ordinal "echadi", it's "rishon" (first).

Two is also unique, as "shtayim" and "shenayim" come with their own suffix for a pair "-ayim" built in. We don't get that until "esrim" (20), which actually is multiple tens. (Although it's weird that 20 isn't "esrayim -- a pair of 10s".)

Because shenayim/shtayim is a noun, we use semichut to make a phrase. "Shetei yadayim -- two of hands", following a construction like "Benei Yisrael -- children of Israel". But the semichut does require gender to match.

(Another language oddity with "shtayim" is that in proto-Semitic it was "ashtayim", with a leading syllable we still see in "ashtei asar". So, the word is "shtayim" and "shtei", with the sheva under the shin a silent sheva nach.)

Now we get to your question... Numbers above 2.

Now we get to nouns (unlike echad/achat) that don't have the plurality suffix built in (unlike shenayim/shatyim). And why does the form used with masculine nouns have the usual structure for feminine words, and vice versa.

Well, the first part of the answer I do have is that they're nouns, not adjectives. So there is no rule about the genders having to match. "Shalosh" means more like "a set of three" than just "three". "Sheloshah avos -- a set of three, all forefathers."

As for the second half, I'll share what's just a guess: How do you pair nouns? Well, human couples (at least as halakhah recognizes them) come in male and female pairs.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .