Grammar: The Definite Article

In this section:

  • You will learn about the use of definite article and its pronunciation and meaning in sentence contexts.
  • You will read and create sentences making use of definite article in different positions.

Grammar (1)

Sun and Moon Letters

The use of الـ in Arabic determines definite nouns. In Arabic, the consonants are divided into two groups: the Sun-letters (حروف شمسية‎) and Moon-letters (حروف قمرية). This classification is based on whether or not they assimilate the definite article al الWhen the definite article is assimilated into the Sun-letters it loses its distinctive sound. As a result, the sound at the beginning of the word is doubled. (Given Shaddah).

There are 28 consonants in the Arabic alphabet. Exactly half are Sun and half are Moon. Can you feel where your tongue is when you say al?  It’s at your teeth. Notice how your mouth changes when you make the sh sound? al ال and sh ش  are very close to each other: they’re both produced right at the front of your mouth. The Sun-letters assimilate the ‘Lam’ because it makes pronunciation easier. So the Arabs make use of Idgham (ادغام) to make the speech light. Now say القمر (Al Qamar). As far as your tongue is concerned, the al ال is nowhere near the qaf ق sound. The Moon-letters, therefore, keep the ‘L’ ل sound. It is pronounced with the alif ا and then the Lam ل for the Moon letter.

The 14 Sun-letters are: (ﻥ ,ﻝ ,ﻅ ,ﻁ ,ﺽ ,ﺹ ,ﺵ ,ﺱ ,ﺯ ,ﺭ ,ﺫ ,ﺩ ,ﺙ ,ﺕ).

Here are some examples of words that begin with sun letters:

(الرّحمن) The Merciful: a name of Allah.

(الضّحى) the morning brightness.

(التّاج) the crown.

(الثّلج) the ice.

(الدّب) the bear.

(الرّجل) the man.

(الزّمن) the time.

The 14 Moon-letters are: ( ه ,ﻱ ,ﻭ ,ﻡ ,ﻙ ,ﻕ ,ﻑ ,ﻍ ,ﻉ ,ﺥ ,ﺡ ,ﺝ ,ﺏ ,أ).

Examples of words that begin with moon letters are:

(الْارض) the earth.

(الْخلق) the creation.

(الْقيامة) the Day of Judgment.

(الْكتاب) the book.

(الْيوم) the day.

(الْبحر) the sea.

(الْفيل) the elephant.

Summary

  • Definite nouns in Arabic begin with ال al
  • The way the definite article is pronounced in Arabic is determined by the letter after it.
  • If the letter after the definite article is a Sun letter, the letter is merged/assimilated into the definite article.
  • If the letter after the definite article is a Moon-letter, the Lam ل  of the definite article is pronounced.
  • These names come from the fact that the word for the Sun, Al Shams, is pronounced “Ash Shams,” assimilating the Lam. While the word for the moon, Al Qamar, does not.

To practice, read the names of Arab countries and determine which include Shams or Moon letters.

1- al-kuwayt الكويت
11. al-jazaa’irالجزائر
2- as-Suudaan   السودان 12. liibyaa ليبيا
3- as-Sa ͨuudiyya السعودية 13. qaTarقطر
4- cumaan عُمان 14. al-baHrayn البحرين
5. al-yaman اليمن
15. suuriyya سوريا
6. lubnaan لبنان 16. filisTiin فلسطين
7. al- ciraaq العراق 17. aS-Suumaal الصومال
8. al-Urdunn   الأردن 18. al-imaaraat الإمارات
9. miSrمصر 19. jiibuutii جيبوتي
10. al-maghrib المغرب 20. muuriitaanya موريتانيا
  21-Tuunis تونس

Activity (11): Listen and practice reading these sentences. Note how you assimilate the preposition with the following definite article. 


reading alif laam

Grammar (2)

Definiteness and Sentence Structure

Study the following boxes and note the differences.

(1) رجُل طويل الرجُل الطويل الرجل طويل
(2) بنت جميلة البنت الجميلة البنت جميلة
(3) قصة قصيرة القصة القصيرة القصة قصيرة
(4) كُرسي صغير الكرسي الصغير الكرسي صغير

The simplest form of the Arabic sentence includes a definite noun and an indefinite adjective. If the noun and adjective agree in definiteness/indefiniteness, you get a phrase, not a sentence.

Activity (12): Practice different ways to change these phrases into sentences.

………………………………………. شاي أخضر (1)
………………………………………. شجرة كبيرة (2)
………………………………………. قطة لطيفة (3)
………………………………………. ولد صغير (4)
………………………………………. هذا الكتاب (5)
………………………………………. هذه البنت (6)
………………………………………. سيّارة واسعة (7)

Activity (13): Match sentences to their translations. Pay attention to the use of definiteness. 

 

Key Takeaways

  • You can easily distinguish between phrases and sentences.

License

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Elementary Arabic I by Sadam Issa and Ayman Mohamed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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