Arabic Grammar – 48

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§A. Unlike wȃw و and yȃʔ ي , the letter ʔalif is unambiguous because it has different written forms depending on whether it indicates a glottal stop ʔ or a long vowel ȃ.

The vowel-denoting ʔalif (the ʔalif extensionis) never carries the sign ء . This sign is specific to the glottal stop or hamza·t هَمْزَةٌ (the ʔalif hamzatum). If you see a letter carrying the sign ء , you should be sure that it is a hamza·t, no matter how it looks like.

Here are some examples, click on the Arabic syllables with hamza·t‘s to hear their pronunciation:

Syllable Transliteration Sound Syllable Transliteration Sound
بَأْ baʔ baʔ بَاْ baa = bȃ baː
شُؤْ šuwˀ šuʔ شُوْ šuw = šȗ šuː
وِئْ wiyˀ wiʔ وِيْ wiy = wȋ wiː
مَرْءْ marˀ marʔ مَرْ mar mar

You can see from the above examples that the figures of the hamza·t can look very different from each other. Those figures vary in accordance with surrounding vowels. Detailed information about this will be added later.

§B. In the initial position of words, the hamza·t can sometimes appear like this ا . However, that does not create any ambiguity, because the extension ʔalif never occurs initial in any Arabic word, nor does any other vowel for that matter, as Arabic syllables never begin with vowels.

Notice in the following examples that an initial ʔalif is always an ʔalif hamzatum, whether it carries the sign ء or not.

Syllable Transliteration Sound Syllable Transliteration Sound
أَلْ ʔal ʔal اَلْ ʔ·al ʔal
أُنْ ʔun ʔun اُنْ ʔ·un ʔun
إِسْ ʔis ʔis اِسْ ʔ·is ʔis

So the rule is that an extension ʔalif never carries the sign ء and never occurs initial. Knowing that will make it always possible to distinguish between an extension ʔalif and a hamza·t ʔalif.

The following table contains all the written forms of the hamza·t.

Figures of the letter أ

ʔalif hamzatum

Beginning أ إ ا
Middle ـــأ ــــئـ ـــؤ ء
End ـــأ ـئ ـــؤ ء


أ + ا = آ

ل + أ = لأ / ــلأ

ل + إ = لإ / ـلإ

ل + ا = لا / ـلا



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