Definite form

What do the words Alcazar, alcohol and Al Jazeera have in common? They are all words with Arabic origin. And they are all in definite form.

Many Arabic words in definite form start with "al".

Definite form with "al"

We start with the Arabic word for castle:

castle
qaSr
ضَصر

This is the indefinite form; it literally means "a castle".
Here is the definite form that means "the castle":

the castle
alqaSr
القَصر

The only difference is the "al" in the beginning, which look like this in Arabic writing:

اَل

Now you now that Alcazar means "the castle". Let's find out the origin of another familiar word.

Kohl is a black powder used as eye makeup.

kohl
kuHl
كُحل

And here's the definite form.

the kohl
alkuHl
الكُحل

The word for alcohol was originally used to describe a powder. Later people started to use the word to describe destilled substances in general and alcoholic ones in particular.

As a last example we take the Arabic word for island. It is a word in feminine form.

island
jaziira
جَزِيرَة

Here is the definite form:

the island
aljaziira
الجَزِيرَة

Now you know that meaning of the name of news network Al Jazeera, based in the country Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula.

Challenge

Here is the Arabic word for moon:

moon
qamr
قَمر

How do you say "the moon" in Arabic?

See the answer
the moon
alqamr
القَمر

The Arabic word for moon begins with the letter q (ق) which is one of the moon letters.

Sun and moon letters

The lettes in the Arabic alphabet are divided into sun letters and moon letters.
The words we just looked at all begins with moon letters. The moon letters are pronunced with the tongue in the back or middle of the mouth. Here are all the moon letters:

ا ب ج ح خ ع غ ف ق ك م ه و ي

The other letters in the alphabet are sun letters. The sun letters are pronunced with the tongue in the front of the mouth, the tip of the tongue is near the teeth or even touches them. Here are the sun letters:

ت ث د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ل ن

All Arabic words in definite form start with

ال

If the first letter of the word is a moon letter, the pronounciation is "al".
If the first letter of the word is a sun letter, the "l" is assimilated into that letter.

We have already seen examples of words the begin with moon letters. Let's look at some words that begin with sun letters.

Definite form with sun letters

The first word we learned to write was the Arabic word for easy. It begins with sun letter s (س).

easy
sahl
سَهل

If we want to say "the easy" we need the definite form. How do we create that?
We know that definite form is always marked with ال. When it comes to the pronounciation, we say "as" (and not "al") because the letter "l" is assimilated into the sun letter "s". The whole word is is pronounced "assahl" (and not "alsahl").

the easy
assahl
السَّهل

Do you note the curvy shape above the letter s? It is called shedda and it means that the consonant is doubled.

I think we need another example. Let's take the Arabic word for lesson, that we practiced in the fourth lesson on how to write in Arabic.

lesson
dars
دَرس

As always, we place the marker for definite form ال in the beginning. Since the word begins with the sun letter d (د), the marker for definite form should be pronounced "ad" (instead of "al"). And the whole word is pronounced "addars".
Since the consonant d is doubled, we place the shedda sign over it.

the lesson
addars
الدَّرس

Sun letter challenge

The term sun letter comes from the Arabic word for sun, a word that starts with the sun letter sh (ش).

sun
shams
شَمس

How do you say "the sun" in Arabic?

See the answer
the sun
ashshams
الشَّمس

Thoughs on sun letters

One might think that the sun letters make Arabic more complicated. But they are actually there because of simplification.

A natural thing in languages is that if two sounds with very different pronounciation comes after eachother, one or both of them changes so that they become closer in pronounciation. This is called assimilation.

When you say the letter "l" follwed by any of the moon letters, like "q", the tongue don't have to move so much. Both are pronunced with the tip of the tongue in the back of the mouth.
But when you say the letter "l" followed by any of the sun letters, like "d", the tonge have to move from the back of the mouth to the front. Therefore, the assimilation of "l" into the sun letter in definite form makes speaking easier and faster.


Arabic is a language that is, with few exceptions, written just like it sounds. The definite form of words that begin with a sun letter is one of the exceptions.

For example the logical way to write "addars" (the lesson) would be:

اَدَّرس

But as we know it is written like this:

اَلدَّرس

The "l" is still written even though it is not pronounced. I think it is a good exception because it makes it very easy to visually recognize definite form in a text:

ال