Discovering definite and indefinite articles (and the sun and moon) The Arabic Sun and Moon Letters
Discovering definite and indefinite articles
(and the sun and moon) Shamsi – Gamari
A common trait that nouns and adjectives share in the Arabic language is
that both can be modified using definite article prefixes. To refresh your
memory, an article is a part of speech that you use to indicate nouns or adjectives
and specify their applications. In English, there are two types of articles:
indefinite and definite articles. The indefinite articles in English are “a” and
“an,” such as in “a book” or “an umbrella.” The definite article is the word
“the,” as in “the book” or “the umbrella.”
Unlike English, Arabic has no outright indefinite article; instead, the indefinite
article in Arabic is always implied. For example, when you say kitaab (keetab;
book), you mean both “book” and “a book.” Similarly, madrasa (mad-rahsah;
school) means both “school” and “a school.” However, Arabic does
employ a definite article, which is the prefix you attach to either the noun or
the adjective you want to define.
The definite article in Arabic is the prefix al-. When you want to define a noun
or adjective, you simply attach this prefix to the word. For example, “the
book” is al-kitaab, and “the school” is al-madrasa.
The inevitable exceptions
In the examples al-kitaab and al-madrasa, the prefix al- retains its original
form. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, the “l” in the
prefix al- drops off and is replaced by a letter similar to the first letter of the
word being defined. For example, the word nuur (noor) means “light” in
Arabic. If you want to say “the light,” you may assume that you simply attach
the prefix al- and get al-nuur. However, that’s not quite right. Instead, the
appropriate way of saying “the light” in Arabic is an-nuur (ah-noor), where
you replace the “l” in al- with the first letter of the definite word, which in this
case is “n.” Another example of this definite article exception is the word
SabaaH (sah-bah), which means “morning.” When you define it, the resulting
word is aS-SabaaH (ah-sah-bah; the morning) and not al-SabaaH.
24 Part I: Getting Started
So how do you know whether to use al- or another definite article prefix
format? The answer’s actually quite simple and has something to do with a
really cool concept. Every single letter in Arabic falls into one of two categories:
sun letters and moon letters. Put simply, every word that begins with
a moon letter gets the prefix al-, and every word that begins with a sun letter
gets the prefix a- followed by its sun letter. Table 2-4 lists all the sun letters.
Every other letter in Arabic is automatically a moon letter.
The Arabic Sun and Moon Letters
The Arabic alphabet (الأبجدية العربية) contains 28 letters, which are classified into 14 sun letters (الحروف الشمسية) and 14 moon letters (الحروف القمرية). This classification is based on the way these letters affect the pronunciation of the definite article (ال) at the beginning of words. The definite article is assimilated into the sun letters and loses its distinctive sound. As a result, the sound at the beginning of the word is doubled.
The 14 sun letters are: (The 14 sun letters are ﻥ ,ﻝ ,ﻅ ,ﻁﺽ ,ﺹ ,ﺵ ,ﺱ ,ﺯ ,ﺭ ,ﺫ ,ﺩ ,ﺙ ,ﺕ).
Examples of words that begin with sun letters are:
(التاج) /at-taj/ “the crown”,
(الثلج) /ath-thalj/ “the ice”,
(الدب) /ad-dub/ “the bear”,
(الرجل) /ar-rajul/ “the man”,
(الرجل) /ar-rajul/ “the man”,
(الزمن) /az-zaman/ “the time”,
(الشمس) /ash-shams/ “the sun”, etc.
The definite article retains its distinctive sound when it comes before one of the moon letters. The 14 sun letters are:
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:
(الأب) /al-abb/ “the father”,
(الباب) /al-bab/ “the door”,
(الجدار) /al-jadaar/ “the wall”,
(الفارس) /al-faaris/ “the knight”,
(المطر) /al-maTar/ “the rain”,
(الكلام) /al-kalaam/ “the speech”,
(الورد) /al-ward/ “the rose”, etc.
|Sun letters||Moon letters|
|الشَّمْس||ash-shams||‘the sun’||الْقَمَر||al-qamar||‘the moon’|
|الثِّقَة||ath-thiqah||‘the confidence’||الْمُرْجَان||al-murjān||‘the coral’|