I have heard (and used) both of these plurals – طُلّابٌ and طَلَبَةٌ – for “students,” and I know that طلاب is much more popular. When I used طلبة it was likely less correct than طلاب would have been, which made me think… when is the best time to use that particular plural form? Is it like “trees,” where one plural form (شَجَرٌ) is used more for “collective” (i.e. an unspecific or uncountable amount) and the other (أَشْجَارٌ) is more used for a given quantity or specific amount? Or is طَلَبَةٌ perhaps a more archaic form which has given way over time to the more common طُلَّابٌ?
Great question. I’m from Egypt, and I can assure you that in Egypt, both words are interchangeable, no difference whatsoever, in Fus-ha and Egyptian Arabic. And by the way, طالبات is the plural feminine.
You mention that in Egypt both are used almost interchangeably. I wonder if that is the case in other Arab-speaking nations. To my knowledge I don’t believe I have ever heard طَلَبَةٌ out loud, but have heard طُلَّابٌ many, many times. My Arabic instructors have come from nearly every Arab nation (except Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, the Emirates and Oman), so perhaps طَلَبَةٌ isn’t as common in other parts of the Arab world…
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