Definite and Indefinite Nouns, & Sun and Moon Letters in Arabic

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Learn about definite and indefinite nouns in Arabic. This is an important and building-block lesson for beginners in Arabic. Understanding this concept will help you also understand the structure of the Arabic sentence and nominal and verbal sentences.


(You can review a previous lesson about the Arabic word in terms of three categories: nouns , verbs and particles https://www.learningarabicwithangela.com/post/understanding-the-arabic-word).


First watch the video, and then proceed to read the notes and download the lesson.



Lesson Outcomes:

After finishing this lesson you will be able to:

-Identify a definite and indefinite noun in Arabic language.

-Tell apart a definite noun from an indefinite noun/adjective.

-Construct words in both a definite and indefinite state.


Let's start by considering what makes a definite and indefinite noun in other languages like English or French. If you observe the picture below, you will notice that there is always a supporting article such as the, a or an (English), un, une, le, la, les... (French).


In Arabic, however, there is only one article, which is a prefix that attaches to the beginning of the word, and it is "Al" الـ , made up of Alif and Laam letters. This article is only used for the definite state.


On the other hand, there is simply no prefix or supporting article for the indefinite state. It is mainly signified by "not using Al" ال التَّعريف / أداة التَّعْريف (definite article).


Definite noun الاِسْمُ الَمَعْرِفَة

Indefinite noun الاسْمُ النَّكِرَة



We conclude the following so far: "Al" ال is the only definite article in Arabic.

There is no indefinite article in Article. It is simply the word without "Al".


  • "Al" attaches to the beginning a noun or adjective: Al-fatātu - The girl - الفتاةُ Al-fatātu al-jamīlatu - the beautiful girl - الفَتاةُ الجَميلَةُ

  • Used for all noun cases, genders and numbers: Al-fatātāni - the 2 girl - الفَتاتانِ Al-fatayātu - the girls - (3+; plural) الفَتَياتُ Al-fatá - the boy - الفَتى


The noun in Arabic has 3 grammatical cases and 3 signs:

  1. Nominative case: sign is Dammah (Example: used for subject, predicate, doer, or doer substitue, *subject of "kāna and it's sisters", *object of "'Inna and it's sisters"... *don't worry about these terms now): أكَلَتِ الفَتاةُ. The girl ate. Akalati-l-fatātu. "Al-fatātu" is the doer of the verb, so Dammah is used).

  2. Accusative case: sign is FatHah (Example: object, circumstantial adverb, *object of "kāna and it's sisters", *subject of "'Inna and it's sisters"...): ضَرَبَتْ هِنْدُ الفَتاةَ. Hind hit the girl Đarabat Hindu al-fatāta. "Al-fatāta" is the object, who received the verb, so FatHah is used).

  3. Genitive case: sign is Kasrah (Example: after a preposition, or as "Muđāf 'ilayh"...): رَحَّبْتُ بِالفَتاةِ. I welcomed the girl RaHHabtu bi-l-fatāti. "Al-fatāti" was preceded by a genitive particle: "bi", so kasrah is used).

In the indefinite case, the noun accepts nunation التَّنوين: double fatHah, Dammah, or kasrah.

If we remove "Al", the definite particle from the above, we get an indefinite form, where nunation is used by doubling the signs:

  1. Nominative: sign is double Dammah أكَلَتْ فَتاةٌ. A girl ate Akalan fatātun. "Fatātun" is the doer of the verb, so double Dammah is used).

  2. Accusative: sign is double FatHah ضَرَبَتْ هِنْدُ فَتاةً. Hind hit a girl Đarabat Hindu fatātan. "Fatātan" is the object, who received the verb, so double FatHah is used).

  3. Genitive: sign is double Kasrah رَحَّبْتُ بِفَتاةٍ. I welcomed a girl RaHHabtu bi-fatātin. "Fatātin" was preceded by a genitive particle: "bi", so double kasrah is used).



The three case declension system in Arabic; Indefinite noun.

The three case declension system in Arabic; Definite noun.

*The definite article in Arabic is used when speaking in general or abstract terms, such as "Life is beautiful"= .الحَياةُ جميلةٌ (*There is no "is" or verb to be, "Life beautiful" literally.) "I love books" = .أُحِبُّ الكُتُبَ Notice we used Al: "Al-Hayātu jamīlatun. 'UHibbu al-kutuba."




*You cannot combine "Al" with nunation! When it's Al at the beginning of a word, it will always end with only a single Dammah/ FatHah/ Kasrah.


Pronunciation

The alif in Al is called “hamzatu al wasl” (literal meaning: connecting Hamza”, and it is basically the normal alif shape, and it is sometimes marked by this diacritic on top that looks like letter Şaad صـ.

At the beginning of a sentence we actually pronounce it as “A”. However, anytime there is a word before it, the “a” sound in “Al” is not pronounced. This is also true when preceded by “and = wa =و”.

Example (1): أُحِبُّ الكُتُبَ. 'Uḩibbu-l-kutuba. I love books.

Example (2): ...وَالكُتُبَ - …wa-l-kutuba - …and the books.

Letters in Arabic are divided into moon letters and sun letters.

In moon letters you pronounce the Laam in AL.

However, in sun letters you do not pronounce the Laam in Al, instead it assimilates with the letter after it, which causes this letter to double. This is also marked by “shaddah” diacritic.


Sun and moon letters in Arabic in Arabic language

Sun and moon letters in Arabic in Arabic language; use of shaddah diacritic


* A noun in Arabic is also considered definite under the following conditions: الاسْمُ المَعْرِفَة

  • Proper nouns, such as names of people or places. خالِد [Khālid]; لُبْنان [Lubnān] Lebanon

  • Personal and demonstrative pronouns like: أنا [ʼAnā] I; هَذا [hadhā] this

  • Relative pronouns such as: الَّذي [al-ladhi] which, مَنْ [man] who

  • Nouns forming the first part of Iḑafah construction (a genitive instructive, where two nouns combine; the second noun provides more information about the first one): كِتابُ ا