Al-Zarqawi or Az-Zarqawi: The Definite Article in Arabic With Sun Letters

June 9, 2006 at 4:11 am (Arabic, Iraq, Islam, Languages, Middle East)

In Arabic, the definite article (“the”) is indicated by the prefix “al”. After a word ending with a vowel, the “a” of “al” is dropped (elided, to be more technical), and vowel before “l” being the vowel of the last word.

Thus if “al-ahlu” means “the people” and “al-kitaabu” means “book” (the affix “u” being the definite nominative affix), using iDaafah (rules of making possessives) “the people of the book” would be “ahlu al-kitaab”, but with the rule of elision, it would become “ahlu-l-kitaab”.

This is important because before certain consonants, the “l” in “al” becomes silent and the consonant is doubled. This occurs before the so-called sun letters. These are:

  • taa’ (t as in tart)
  • thaa’ (th as in thing)
  • daal (d as in dog)
  • dhaal (dh; th as in the)
  • raa’ (r as in right, a bit trilled)
  • zaa’ (z as in zoo)
  • seen (s as in sing)
  • sheen (sh as in shoe)
  • Saad (an emphatic “s”)
  • Daad (an emphatic “d”)
  • Taa’ (an emphatic “t”)
  • Zaa’ (an emphatiz “z” or “dh”)
  • laam (l as in long)
  • noon (n as in none)
  • Thus, whereas “shams” means “sun,” “the sun” would be pronounced “ashshams” rather than “alshams”. “The people of the sun” would then become “ahlu-sh-shams”.

    However, this change is not reflected in writing. The “l” of “al” before sun letters is still written even though it isn’t pronounce.

    Because zaa’ is one of the sun letters, and “zarqaawee” begins with zaa’, when the definite article is added the proper pronunciation would be “azzarqaawee” rather than “alzarqaawee.” As most English-speakers may not be aware of the rule of how the Arabic definite article is pronounced before sun letters, We write aboo muS’ab‘s last name as “az-Zarqawi” rather than “al-Zarqawi” in English.

    innaa naHnu-l-a’lam.


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