Silent alif al-wasl

Silent alif al-wasl

Silent alif al-wasl is the conjunctive alif that is not pronounced in connected speech. When we speak, it is common that we assimilate, drop, or blend certain sounds. In English, for example, the phrase does she is pronounced as dushee in connected speech. In Arabic, the most common assimilation and/or dropping occurs with the definite article ال “the”; with the alif of imperative tri-consonantal verbs (i.e. verbs that have a root of three consonants); and with the alif of verbs and verbal nouns that are composed of five or more letters. The alif in all these cases is called alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ (literally, the conjunctive alif).

silent conjunctive alif

Silent Conjunctive alif

(1) alif al-wasl in isolated words

  • اَلْكِتَاب the book

  • اَلْغُرْفَة the room

  • اَلْقَلَم the pen

These words are nouns starting with the definite article ال. The alif of ال must be pronounced. If it is not pronounced, the remainder word لْكِتَاب, لْغُرْفَة, or لْقَلَم is difficult to pronounce. So, the conjunctive alif must be articulated to ease the pronunciation of the word.

  • اُكْتُب write!

  •  اِجْلِس sit down!

  • اِنْهَض stand up!

These words are imperative verbs. They start with alif al-wasl. This alif must be pronounced because the letters that follow have a sukuun over them. And a word that begins with a sukuun is difficult to pronounce.

  • اِنْكَسَرَ it broke

  • اِبْتَسَمَ he smiled

  • اِسْتَخْدَمَ he used

These words are past tense verbs composed five / six letters. They begin with alif al-wasl which must be pronounced. If dropped, the remainder words become difficult to pronounce.

  • اِنْكِسَار breakage

  • اِبْتِسَام smiling

  • اِسْتِخْدَام usage

These are verbal nouns the root of which are verbs compose of five / six letters. The first letter is alif al-wasl. It must be pronounced.

The Rule: alif al-wasl in isolated words must be pronounced because it is difficult in Arabic to pronounce a word that begins with a sukuun.

(2) alif al-wasl after prepositions

  • مِنَ الْيَمَن from Yemen

  • عَنِ الْيَمَن about Yemen

  • مَعَ الْيَمَن with Yemen

The word اَلْيَمَن begins with alif al-wasl. It preceded by the prepositions مِنْ, عَنْ, and مَعَ. When pronouncing the whole phrase, alif al-wasl is dropped (i.e. not pronounced). Also, the sukuun over the نْ is replaced by fatHa or kasrah because of the juxtaposition of two sukuuns, one over the لْ and the other over the نْ. In such cases, the first sukuun is replaced by either fatHa or kasrah.

  • وَاُكْتُب write! and

  • وَاِجْلِس sit down! and

  • وَاِنْهَض and stand up!

These imperative verbs are preceded by the connecting word وَ. This word forces alif al-wasl of the imperative verbs to drop (i.e. not to be pronounced).

  • فَاِنْكَسَرَ so it broke

  • فَاِبْتَسَم so he smiled

  • فَاِسْتَخْدَمَ so he used

These past form verbs are preceded by the connecting particle فَ. This particle forces alif al-wasl of the verbs to drop. Hence, the pronunciation of these phrases is:

فَنْكَسَرَ

فَبْتَسَمَ

فَسْتَخْدَمَ

  • بِاِنْكِسَار by breakage of

  • لِاِبْتِسَام for smiling

  • كَاِسْتِخْدَام  as usage of

These verbal nouns are preceded by prepositions which cause alif al-wasl to drop (i.e. not to be pronounced). Hence, the pronunciation becomes:

بِنْكِسَار

لِبْتِسَام

كًسْتِخْدَام

The Rule: When a preposition or a connecting particle precedes a word that begins with alif al-wasl, it forces alif al-wasl to drop in spoken Arabic. That is, it is not pronounced, but it must be kept in writing.

(3) alif al-wasl after case-marked words

  • كِتَابُ الْوَلَدِ the boy’s book

  • غُرْفُةُ الْجُلُوْسِ the sitting room

  • بَيْتُ الْكَلْبِ the dog’s house

These are two-word phrases. The first word in each phrase is assigned the nominative case mark, that is the dhamma, over the last letter. The second word begins with alif al-wasl. The dhamma over the last letter of the preceding words forces alif al-wasl to drop. So, pronunciation of these phrases becomes:

كِتَابُلْوَلَدِ

غُرْفَتُلْجُلُوْسِ

بَيْتُلْكَلْبِ

  • كِتَابَ الْوَلَدِ the boy’s book

  • غُرْفُةَ الْجُلُوْسِ the sitting room

  • بَيْتَ الْكَلْبِ the dog’s house

The accusative case mark at the end of the first word in these phrases cause the alif al-wasl in the second word to drop while pronouncing the entire phrase, hence the pronunciation of these phrases become:

كِتَابَلْوَلَدِ

غُرْفَتَلْجُلُوْسِ

بَيْتَلْكَلْبِ

  • كِتَابِ الْوَلَدِ the boy’s book

  • غُرْفُةِ الْجُلُوْسِ the sitting room

  • بَيْتِ الْكَلْبِ the dog’s house

The alif of the ال in second word of each of these phrases is silent. This liaison is caused by the genitive mark at the end of the first word. So, the pronunciation of these phrases is:

كِتَابِلْوَلَدِ

غُرْفَتِلْجُلُوْسِ

بَيْتِلْكَلْبِ

The Rule: When a noun starts with the definite article ال and is preceded by a word (a noun) that is assigned the case mark (i.e. fatHa, dhamma, or kasra), the alif of ال becomes mute (i.e. not pronounced).

(4) alif al-wasl with the preposition لِـ ‘for’

  • لِـ + اَلْوَلَدِ = لِلْوَلَدِ for the boy

  • لِـ + اَلْوَطَنِ = لِلْوَطَنِ for the country

  • لِـ + اَلْمُدِيْر = لِلْمُدِيْر for the boss

If the alif is preceded by the preposition لِـ  ‘for’, it is neither written nor pronounced.

The Rule: when the ل, which is mostly used for possession, precedes a definite noun (i.e. a noun that begins with the definite article ال), alif al-wasl of ال is omitted.

(5) Alif al-wasl, ال , and sun letters

  • اَلشَّمْس the sun

  • اَلسِّكِّين the knife

  • اَلطَّالِب the student

  • كَالشَّمْسِ like the sun

  • بِالسِّكِيْنِ with the knife

  • فَالطَّالِبِ so the student

When the definite article ال precedes a noun that starts with a sun letter, the ل gets assimilated to the sun letter. And the sun letter, in turn, becomes a geminate (i.e. doubled).

 

In كَالشَّمْس, بِالسِّكِيْن, and فَالطَّالِب, alif al-wasl is dropped and the ل is assimilated to the following letter. So, the pronunciation of these phrases is:

كَشَّمْسِ

بِسِّكِّيْنِ

فَطَّالِبِ

  • نَظَّارَةَ الطَّبِيْبِ the doctor’s glasses

  • يَوْمُ الثُّلَثَاءِ Tuesday

  • سَيَّارَةِ الرَّجُلِ the man’s car

The case mark assigned to the last letter of the first word in these phrase forces alif al-wasl to drop and the ل to assimilate to the subsequent letter. Hence the pronunciation becomes:

نَظَّارَتُطَّبِيْبِ

يَوْمُثُّلَثَاءِ

سَيَّارَتُرَّجُلِ

Knowing these rules help you comprehend the speech of native speakers of Arabic more easily. Besides, putting them into practice makes your speech of Arabic more intelligible. More importantly, you will certainly speak a lot more fluently. To change these rules from mere knowledge about the language to actual linguistic ability in your speech, it is important that you practice them as much as possible so that they become commonplace and automatic.

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