The Definite Article Overview

There is no separate word for ‘a’ or ‘an’ in Arabic. So ‘a book’ is simply كِتَاب kitāb. To make a noun definite we add the ال or the ‘definite article’

So ‘the book’ is الكِتَاب al-kitāb.

بَيت  bayt (a house) → البَيت al-bayt (the house)

قَلَم qalam (pen) → القَلَم al-qalam (the pen)

مَال māl (money) → المَال al-māl (the money)

Sun and Moon Letters الحروف الشمسية والقمرية

The pronunciation of the ال changes depending on the alphabet succeeding it. 

If it is succeeded by one of the sun letters الحروف الشمسية the ل is assimilated and the initial letter of the noun is pronounced with a shaddah (ـّـ) as in الشَّمس as-shams.

If it is succeeded by one of the moon letters الحروف القمرية then the ال is pronounced distinctively as in اَلْقَمَر al-qamar.

Half of the letters of the Arabic alphabet are shamsiyyah, while the other half are qamariyyah.

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

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

Here are some examples for both:

Moon lettersSun letters
ّالحَج  the pilgrimageالشَّبَّاك the window
الجِبَال the mountainالنَّوم sleep (noun)
اليَد  the hand التُّفَّاح the apple 
العَين the eyeالسَّمَاء the sky
البَحر the seaالدِّين the religion 

The Hamzat Al-Waṣl

Note that the alif in the definite article is hamzat al-waṣl. This means:

  • If the word is initial the hamza is pronounced as a short vowel (fathah). For example, الكِتَاب al-kitāb.
  • If it is preceded by another word then the hamza drops out completely to ensure a smooth transition with the vowel that the previous word ends with. For example,

 بِالعَرَبِيَّةِ bil-’arabiyyati

فِي البَيتِ fil-bayti

عِندَ المَحَلِّ ‘inda al-maḥalli

The Tanwīn

The definite article always removes the tanwīn:

مَدرَسَةٌ ← المَدرَسَةُ

فِي مَسجِدٍ ← فِي المَسجِدِ

مُدَرِّسٌ ← المُدَرِّسُ

وَلَدًا ← الوَلَدَ

مَالًا ← المَالَ

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