Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-rahim

In the last lesson we went through definite and indefinite nouns, and using the definite article “al” to make a noun definite. There is still an extra nuance to learn when it comes to pronouncing words with the article “al” depending on what letter comes after the definite article. So in the first part of this lesson we will cover Sun and Moon letters, and then in the second part we will cover gender in more detail.

Sun and Moon letters

Let’s take the words for “the moon” and “the sun” to illustrate the point about sun and moon letters:

اَلْقَمَرُ = the moon  (al-qamaru)
اَلشَّمْسُ = the sun (ash-shamsu)

Isn’t it pronounced “al-qamaru” for the first one, and “al-shamsu” for the second? Yes for the former, but not for the latter. ق is a moon letter. ش on the other hand is a sun letter, so the ل of ال becomes assimilated into the “sh” sound, and therefore the sound doubles (indicated by the shadda). The ل becomes swallowed as it were. Notice also that before a moon letter a sukūn is marked over the ل but when it is in front of a sun letter, no markings are on it, but rather the sun letter has a shadda on it to indicate its doubling.

There are 14 moon letters and 14 sun letters.

The moon letters (so called because the word for “moon” begins with one of them) are:
ء ي و ه م ك ق ف غ ع خ ح ج ب

اَلْيَوْمُ al-yawmu = the day
اَلْكِتَابُ al-kitābu = the book

The sun letters (so called because the word for “sun” begins with one of them) are:
ن ل ظ ط ض ص ش س ز ر ذ د ث ت

اَلرَّحْمَةُ ar-raḥmatu = the mercy
اَلرَّسُولُ ar-rasūlu = the messenger

A special note that in the Quran when “al” is prefixed to a word starting with lam, only one lam is written.
al-laylu (the night) = اَلَّيْلُ


Arabic has two genders: masculine (مُذَكَّر mudhakkar) and feminine (مُؤَنَّث mu’annath).
A general rule of thumb is to assume the word is masculine unless there is an indication that the word is feminine due to its form, meaning, category or convention.

The major group of feminine words are ones that end with ta marbūṭa (ة). Some examples are words like آيَةٌ and اَلرَّحْمَةُ. However there are exceptions such as خَلِيفَةٌ (khalīfatun) which is masculine despite the ta marbūṭa.

Masculine adjectives can be feminised by the addition of ta marbūṭa:

كَبِيرٌ kabīrun⇒ كَبِيرَةٌ kabīratun
اَلشَّدِيدُ ash-shadīdu⇒ اَلشَّدِيدَةُ as-shadīdatu

Finally, some arabic words are feminine due to their implicit meaning such as that for “mother” (أُمٌ) and by convention such as that for “earth” (أَرْضٌ).


Singular Plural English
أَمِينٌ amīnun faithful, secure
شَدِيدٌ shadīdun شِدَادٌ shidādun strong, severe
عَزِيزٌ ʿazīzun mighty
عَظِيمٌ ʿaẓīmun great, mighty
كَبِيرٌ kabīrun big, great
آخِرٌ ākhirun last, [next life]
نَجْمٌ najmun نُجُومٌ nujūmun star

Exercise 2

Label the letter after the definite article as either moon or sun letter, then fill in the missing diacritic marks over the ل (sukūn) or sun letter (shadda) as appropriate:

1) اَلأَمِينُ

2) اَلتَوَّابُ

3) اَلكَبِيرُ

4) اَلظَالِمُونَ

5) اَلنَجْمُ

Change the gender of the word to its opposite:

6) كَبِيرَةٌ

7) طَبِيبٌ (male doctor)

8) مُسْلِمَةٌ (female muslim)

9) عَظِيمٌ

10) مُدَرِّسٌ (male teacher)

Find the answers to these questions here. If you have any questions, then write them in the comments or feel free to contact me. Once you have finished this lesson go here for lesson 3.

If you want to really have a good foundation then I recommend getting the following easy to follow arabic grammar book:

New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language

And this is the companion book which contains all the answers to the grammar books exercises:
Key to a New Arabic Grammar

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