Last modified on 9 December 2013, at 17:28

Arabic/Forming words from letters

Combining letters to form words in Arabic is somewhat different from how it's done in English.

First of all, there are no redundant letters in the Arabic alphabet. There's almost never a doubt as in "should I use ie or ei? should I use y or i?". If it sounds like ي then you use ي, there is no other option. (You should be familiar with the Arabic alphabet before reading this article.)
There are two exceptions (that I'm aware of):

  • Some forms of the hamza.
  • The alef-maqsoora.

and two issues which can be tricky:

  • The taa-marboota.
  • The tanween.

For the alef-maqsoora, there is a rule which you can use to figure out when you have to use it and when you don't, but it maybe a bit too advanced for this lesson. The same applies for taa-marboota, and the tanween, there are rules which tell you what to do, but they maybe too advanced for the purposes of this lesson.

Second, you need to be careful with vowels. There are two types of vowels: letters, and Harakat. If the vowel is short, it's not written as a letter, rather as a symbol that appears above or below the letter which proceeds it.
For example, the English word "dish" has a short vowel between the 'd' sound and the 'sh' sound; in Arabic, such a vowel wouldn't be written as a letter.
Consider the word:
which is pronounced 'salaam', with a short 'a' sound after the 's', and a long 'a' sound after the 'l'.
We used four letters to write the word:
س 'seen'
ل 'laam'
ا 'alef'
م 'meem'
Note that there's no 'alef' after the 'seen'; that's because it's a short 'aa' sound, thus it's not written as a letter, rather, a 'fatHa' appears on top of the 'seen'.
The fatHa is a straight line that appears above the letter to indicate a short 'aa' sound the follows the letter.

With that said, you need to note that there are only three vowel sounds in Arabic:

aaaaa - represented with an 'alef' ا if it's long (as in man, can, dash), and a fatHa َ if it's short (as in let, bet, mesh).

eeiii - represented with a 'yaa' ي if it's long (as in feel, heal), and with a kasra ِ if it's short (as in dish, fish.)

ooooo - represented with a 'waw' و if it's long (as in food, mood), and with a dhamma ُ if it's short (as in .. can't think of a proper example! except maybe mashrum.) Note that this sound is *not* the same as in "hawk" or "poke"!!

To sum up: there are three vowels: alef, waw, ya' ا, و , ي and three Harakat:
fatHa: a short stroke above the letter to indicate a short 'aa' sound.
kasra: a short stroke below the letter to indicate a short 'ee' sound.
Dhamma: a small 'waw' و above the letter to indicate a short 'oo' sound.

Here are some examples: مَقال ma-qaal

رَصِيد ra-Seed

حَرَكَة Ha-ra-kah

تَمثِيل tam-theel

مُلتُقٌى mul-ta-qa

مِفتَاح mif-taaH

There are two more things I want to talk about:
Taa Marbota (connected taa'):
This letter can only appear at the end of the letter, it looks just like 'haa' هـ in its final shape, except it has two dots on top. ـة or ة
When this letter appears in a word, it means this: if you stop at the end of the word, you pronounce it like a 'haa' ـه
i.e. حركة would be pronounced "Harakah"
However, if you don't stop talking when you finish saying the word, then you would pronounce it as a 'taa' ـت
i.e. الحركة مفيدة would be pronounced: "alHarakatu Mofeedah"

The taa-marboota is usually used to indicate "female" nouns and adjectives.

Alef Maqsoora