Although hijab is not an English word, it is commonly used in English to describe the head scarf worn by many Moslem women.

I was pretty sure I had just heard Christiane Amanpour of CNN call the plural "hijub", and that made me go to look up the correct plural.

There seems to be a disagreement among different sources.

WordForum calls the plural hujub (singular hijab)

Wikionary says it is hijabs.

In a case like this, where the original language has a plural different from a usage in English, which should be used? [I am aware of the precedents set by Greek plurals, and I would like to side-step all that.]

  • Update: at the moment, BBC is advertising a special on fashion and hijabis. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 23:42

2 Answers 2


If we look at usage, according to Ngram hijabs is the more common form.

"English has borrowed words from nearly every language with which it has come into contact, and particularly for nouns from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French, it has often borrowed their foreign plurals as well. But when loan words cease to seem 'foreign,' and if their frequency of use in English increases, they very often drop the foreign plural in favor of a regular English -s. Thus at any given time we can find some loan words in divided usage, with both the foreign plural (e.g., indices) and the regular English plural (e.g., indexes) in Standard use. And occasionally we’ll find a semantic distinction between the two acceptable forms, as with the awe-inspiring Hebrew cherubim and the chubby English cherubs."

(Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press, 1993)

  • 1
    From Google books it appears that the s plural took off in the early 2000. I think people are more confortable with the anglicised plural.
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 21:02
  • 1
    On the other hand, cherubim beats cherubs, so maybe it's a Semitic thing.
    – deadrat
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:31
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    @deadrat I would argue cherubs and cherubim nowadays refer to different things, likewise antennae and antennas, or mediums and media.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 0:58
  • @choster I'm already half convinced. The earthly beings (like the little bastards in my neighborhood on whose behalf I'm being asked to raise my taxes) would be called cherubs, not cherubim. The heavenly versions I think take both plurals, but preferentially the Semitic plural in the company of seraphim, which is the clear favorite in multitudes. What do you think?
    – deadrat
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 3:25
  • @deadrat Agreed, and I'd further note that the -im suffix seems to be a much more familiar borrowing than -ot — I'd wager more AmE speakers, for instance, recognize goyim than mitzvot(h) as plurals. Maybe we borrow more masculine nouns than feminine ones.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 15:51

Hijabs sounds reasonable. While I don't see it common to pluralize new foreign words as in the original language, you can always circumvent the problem with hijab scarves, signifying that particular veil headscarf (حجاب), as opposed to a Russian babushka kerchief.

Of course we do use established plurals like data and alumni.

  • 1
    A hijab is a scarf, so you're recommending scarf scarf? (BTW, I am not the downvoter.)
    – deadrat
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:14
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    Neither am I the DVer; I was actually looking for a plural, not a way to skirt the issue. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:20
  • @deadrat - As I understand it, the hijab serves more as a form of veil than scarf. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 22:38

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