Learning the Arabic language might seem like a difficult and overwhelming task but this seemingly big thing can only be handled like eating an elephant; one bite at a time. Therefore, a basic step that this article tackles is the Sun and Moon letters in Arabic.
Definition of Sun and Moon letters
The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters that are categorized into two groups; Sun letters (حروف شمسية) and Moon letters (حروف قمرية). The classification of Sun and Moon letters in Arabic language rests on the way each section affects the pronunciation of the definite article (ال).
So let’s first take a moment to understand the characteristics of the definite article in Arabic.
The definite article ال:
Not every ال in Arabic is considered a definite article that relates to the topic of our article. Therefore, the definite article in Arabic ال has four main characteristics:
- It only comes at the beginning of words, not in the middle or the end. For example, ال in the word (مال) is not counted as a definite article.
- It only comes at the beginning of nouns, not verbs. So, the verb (التمس) starts with ال but it is not a definite article.
- It does not have a Hamza on the letter Alif.
- It is added to nouns but it is not a part of the original structure of the word. If you consider words such as (ألوان- ألبان), you will find that the ال at the beginning of these two nouns is an original part of the word and once it is removed, the words lose their meanings. However, the word (الكتاب/the book) contains the definite article that if removed, the word still keeps its intended meaning.
Moon letters in Arabic With Examples
If you are wondering what are Moon letters in Arabic, they are fourteen letters that are grouped in the following phrase: (ابغ حجك وخف عقيمه)
If the definite article ال is followed by one of these letters (أ-ب-ج-ح-خ-ع-غ-ف-ق-ك-م-ه-و-ي), it is both written and pronounced. For example:
- الخير← the goodness
- العينthe eye ←
- الْقرآنthe Quran ←
It is true that the definite article is pronounced clearly when it is followed by one of the Moon letters but it is important to note that the (a) sound found at the beginning of ال is skipped in pronunciation when the word is preceded by another one.
The word (الفجر) has one of the Moon letters which is ف so the article is written and pronounced and the initial sound that is heard is similar to the one of Hamza. But in the verse: (والفجر), you will find that the (a) sound of ال is skipped and we go directly from the و to the ل.
Sun letters in Arabic With Examples
This leaves us with how many Sun letters in Arabic? Another fourteen!
The Sun letters in Arabic are found at the beginning of each word in this mnemonic:
(طب ثم صل رحماً تفز ضف ذا نعم — دع سوء ظن زر شريفاً للكرم)
These letters have something in common which is the fact that they are pronounced with the tongue either touching the teeth as in ث and ذ or the part at the front of the mouth like ت and د.
Mainly, Sun letters in Arabic have two basic features:
- They are found in the written form but they are not pronounced.
- They can be easily spotted in a word that starts with the definite article ال because the Sun letter would have a Shaddah on it.
Some examples of words that have Sun letters are:
- السَّيفthe sword ←
- النَّار← the fire
- الْظَّلامthe darkness ←
It might be a little confusing to recognize the Lam as a Sun letter in Arabic and separate it from the Lam in the definite article. Therefore, consider the following words:
- -اللَّيلthe night ←
- اللّاعب← the player
- الْلّيمونthe lemon ←
These words start with the definite article and are followed by Lam as one of the Sun letters. Therefore, the Lam that is pronounced with Shaddah is the second one, not the Lam in the definite article.
A basic distinction:
From the previous examples of Sun and Moon letters in Arabic, a basic distinction could be derived between the two sections. This distinction is also found in how the words with Sun and Moon letters are written in the Quran:
- In the Quran, we see that with Moon letters there is a Sukoon on the Lam in the definite article as in the verses:
- (الْحَمْدُ لِلهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِين)
- (وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْقَارِعَة)
- (علَّمَه الْبَيَان)
This creates a case of what is called “Idhar Qamari” where the Lam is clear in pronunciation.
- Whereas words that have Sun letters do not have a Sukoon on the Lam of the definite article; instead, there is a Shaddah on the Sun letter. For example:
- (قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ النَّاس)
- (إيلافهم رحلة الشِّتَاء والصَّيْف)
This Tajweed rule is called Idgham Shamsi because the Lam in the definite article is inserted into the following Sun letter and the letter becomes Mushaddad in that case.
List of Sun and Moon letters
As stated before, the difference between Sun and Moon letters in Arabic lies in the fact that they affect the pronunciation of the definite article ال. In other words, the definite article in Arabic is the litmus test that can show you how to identify Sun and Moon letters in Arabic.
Why they are called Sun and Moon letters?
It is said that Sun and Moon letters in Arabic are called so due to the words (الشمس) and (القمر) that mean the sun and the moon in Arabic. In the word (الشمس), the definite article ال is written but it is not pronounced, rather it is assimilated into the letter that follows it (ش). On the other hand, the definite article in the word (القمر) is both written and pronounced.
Before we get into that, let’s check a list of Sun and Moon letters in Arabic.
The purpose of the rule for Sun and Moon letter:
Basically the rules of the Arabic language aim at avoiding any cacophony or difficulty in pronunciation. By extension, the reason for accentuating the definite article ال with Moon letters and hiding it with Sun letters is the closeness between the Lam in the definite article and Sun letters.
Therefore, pronouncing the Lam in the definite article when it is followed by a Moon letter does not involve any difficulty. On the other hand, pronouncing it when it is followed by a Sun letter leads to the pronunciation of two successive letters that are close in their Makhraj and that is why it is skipped in pronunciation.
Before we conclude, let’s practice what we’ve learnt.
Check the following verses from the Quran and try to identify the Sun and Moon letters:
- 1. (إنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْر)
- 2. (والشَّمس وَضُحَاهَا)
- 3. (وتَوَاصوا بِالحَقِّ وَتَوَاصوا بِالصَّبْر)
- 4. (وَالّذِي أَخْرَجَ الْمَرْعَى)
In this article, we have explained the difference between Sun and Moon letters in Arabic and how to identify them in addition to giving some Arabic Sun and Moon letters examples to help you to read them easily and without confusion.
If you need more knowledge about the Arabic language so that you would be able to recite Quran properly and accurately, you can apply for one of our online Arabic courses for kids as well as courses in Tajweed and Quran recitation here at Almuhammadi Academy.
Our tutors are native Arab graduates of Al-Azhar University who have Ijazah in Qira’at and they are well equipped to help you reach your goals. So join our courses now and do not miss the opportunity!