/ʼahlan wa sahlan/ أَهلًا وَسَهلًا Hello and Welcome back to Part 3 of our Arabic for Life lesson on asking for directions.
Quite often when you’re giving directions in English, you’ll say something along the lines of “go past the library”, “take the next right”, or “it’s the last house on the left”? However, have you ever noticed how much you use the definite article “the” when giving directions? Well, it’s likely more than you’ve ever thought.
In Arabic, they also use the definite article in much the same way you do in English, and that’s why it’s the subject of Part 3’s grammar lesson for today.
So, let’s get straight into, shall we?
Similar to the English definite article “the”, the Arabic definite article is “اَلْ” (or “al”) and is used to change an indefinite noun ( نَكِرَة/nakirah ) into a definite ( مَعْرِفَة /maʻrifah) one. It's called مُعَرَّف بِاللَّام/muʻarraf billaam/ in Arabic which literally means "making definite with the help of ل/laam/".
Though Arabic has something called a “nunation” which marks something’s indefiniteness, it’s important to note that Arabic has no indefinite article per se. Where English uses “a” or “an”, Arabic simply uses the singular form of the noun. Notice the difference below:
There is no tanween with ال.
Since the tanweens (or the double vowels ـً ـٍ ـٌ ) mean a noun is indefinite, a noun with the Arabic definite article ال can never have a double vowel (tanween). As a result, all three types of tanweens drop to single vowels i.e. ـَ ـِ ـُ. Don’t worry so much about tanweens if you don’t understand them now because you’ll be learning more about them in a later post.
Here is an example using the word قَلَمًا/qalaman/ or “pencil”.
Moreover, in the three grammatical cases in Arabic (accusative, nominative, and genitive), the order of vowels with definite articles stays the same as with tanween/ تنوين. Only their tanweens (double vowels) are replaced with single vowels. Also of note is that in the accusative case, the extra ʼalif ( ا ) only comes in connection with tanween fatH ( ـً ).
The Sun and Moon Letters
In the Arabic alphabet, 14 letters fall under what are known as /alHuroofu ishamsiyyah/الحُرُوْفُ الشَّمْسِيَّة or sun letters. When the definite article ال(al) comes before these sun letters, the sound of ل (L) remains silent.
Unlike the sun letters, when ال (al) comes before these moon letters the sound of ل (L) is clearly pronounced.
Of course, you’re still at the beginning of your Arabic language journey and may not be familiar with the different types of symbols used with the letters of the Arabic alphabet like harakat, sukoon, and shaddah. However, once you learn these symbols, you’ll know where to pronounce ل and where to leave it silent. Still, note that symbols are normally not used in newspapers and books. In the meantime, however, you can use this mnemonic device - an old-school way of remembering all the moon and sun letters separately that teachers have been using since the days of yore:
ابغِ حَجَّكَ وَخَف عَقيمَه
/ibghi Hajjaka wa khaf ʻaqeemah/
“Perform your Hajj and fear its sterility.”
Teachers use this mnemonic catchphrase because it contains all the moon letters in it; therefore, every other consonant not found in this phrase is a sun letter. Of course, over time, as you read more and more Arabic, you’ll spot the differences in the sun and moon letters like the differences between night and day.
In the end, perhaps the biggest takeaway from this is that when you want to talk about something specific or something that someone already knows you’re talking about, then the Arabic definite article ال must be placed in front of the word.
In this lesson, we’ve talked about a lot of different types of Arabic grammar including nunation, tanweens, Arabic grammar cases, and so on. To find out more about these and everything else you need to know when it comes to learning Arabic, visit kaleela.com to download the Kaleela Arabic language learning app and start learning Arabic the right way today!