The Arabic Consonatial System



The Arabic Consonatial System includes equal numbers of voiced versus voiceless, two nasals, three velarised, two lateral and one trill. Please note the following diagram:

                                                      Obstruents                            Sonorants (all voiced)

                               Unvelarized               Velarized

                                     Voiceless   voiced      voiceless voiced         nasal       lateral          trill


labial                                      ب                                            م           

labio-dental       ف

interdentalث           ذ                                             ظ                               

dento-alve. ر       ل             ن     ض     ص/ط     ز/د         س/ت  

palatal               ش     ج                                            

velar                  ك    

uvular   ق/خ         غ        

Pharyngal         ح                    ع

Laryngeal         هـ/ء


3. One Direction Connectors. Of the 29 letters that make the Arabic Alphabet only six connect to the proceeding letter. Theseinclude two long vowels ا and و, and four consonants; ،د، ذر،ز. The rest connect to both sides.


4. Emphatic Consonants are a Semitic languages phenomenon. In Arabic there are four which include ص،ط،ظ ض ،. These consonants are articulated by a process of velarization: the tip of the tongue is lowered, the root of the tongue is raised towards the soft palate (velum), and in the process the timbre of the neighboring vowels is shifted towards a posterior realization.

5. Short Vowels in Arabic

The notation of the short vowels was a complicated problem. Abu Al-Aswad Al-Du’ali is credited with introduction of the system of colored dots in the writing system, and the terminology, “FatHa , Dhamma , Kasra .”. But, a substantial improvement in the system of short vowels notation is usually attributed to the first lexicographer of the Arabic language, Al-Khalil Ibn Ahmed. He replaced the colored dots with specific shapes for the short vowels and the Shadda. With Al-Khalil’s reform, the system of Arabic orthography was almost the same ever since.

When used at the end of a definite noun or adjective they indicate case.


                   (a) indicates Nominative case as in الکتابُ

                   (b) indicates Accusative case as in الکتابَ

                   (c) indicates Genitive case as inالکتابِ

  As you might have noticed, Siibawaih did not include the short vowels. Neither did he talk about the diphthongs which are created every time you have a short vowel proceeding the long vowels وandيas inيَوم ، بَيت

6. Nunation. When a noun or an adjective is indefinite it carries Nunation, which is any of the short vowels plus /n/ sound.

(a)-ٌٌindicates Nominative case as in استاذةٌ

(b)indicates Accusative case as in استاذةً

   (c)indicates Genitive case as in      استاذةٍ


Please notice that the accusative Nunation is always written on ( ا ) as in بيتاً. An exception to that is when the final consonant is either the feminine marker, Taa’ MarbuTa طالبة ً, or Hamza, سماءً

7. The Shadda is used when you have two identical consonants in a sequence, providing that the first has a Sukuun (zero vowel).


                   دَرْرَسَ        is written as دَرَّسَ

8. The Sun Letters. Due to a Phonological rule, the /ل/sound of the definite article is assimilated by any of the following sun consonants. Therefore, you need to use Shadda to replace the assimilated /ل/. The Sun Letters are:

         ت ث د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ن   الدَّرسُ

9. The Moon Letters have the definite article fully pronounced. They are:

ب ج ح خ ع غ ف ق ك ل م هـ     الکتابُ                             

10. Arabic Syntax. According to Siibawayh words are noun إسم, verb فِعل, or particle حَرفintended for items which are neither noun nor verb. The basic difference between the three parts is the declension, الأعراب.In principle, only nouns and their adjectives have case endings to indicate their syntactic function in a sentence. This classification remained intact throughout the history of the Arabic grammatical traditions. The noun category was defined either as a word with certain syntactic characteristics such as its combinability with the definite article or as a word denoting an essence. Unlike the definition of the noun in Western grammar, the Arabic noun category includes adjectives, pronouns and even a number of prepositions and adverbs. The category of the verb was defined as a word that denotes an action and could be combined with some particles. The particle category includes the remaining words, and their function is to assist other words in their semantic function in the sentence.