Silent alif al-wasl

Silent alif al-wasl

Silent alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ is the conjunctive/connective alif that we do not pronounced in connected speech. When we speak, it is common that we assimilate, drop, or blend certain sounds/letters. In English, for example, we pronounce the phrase does she as dushee in connected speech. In Arabic, the most common assimilation and/or dropping occurs with the alif of the definite article الْـ, 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/connective alif).

Silent alif al-wasl

(1) alif al-wasl in isolated words:

  • اَلْكِتَاب the book

  • اَلْغُرْفَة the room

  • اَلْقَلَم the pen

  • اَلْبَيْت the house

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

  • اُكْتُبْ! write

  • اِجْلِسْ! sit down

  • اِنْهَضْ! stand up

  • اُنْظُرْ! look

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 in Arabic.

  • اِنْكَسَرَ it broke

  • اِبْتَسَمَ he smiled

  • اِسْتَخْدَمَ he used

  • اِسْتَمْتَعَ he had fun

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

  • اِنْكِسَار breakage

  • اِبْتِسَام smiling

  • اِسْتِخْدَام usage

  • اِسْتِمْتَاع having fun

These words are verbal nouns. They are derived from the past tense verbs above. Like the verb roots, they begin with alif al-wasl. When they occur alone or at the beginning of a sentence, alif al-wasl 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 letter that has a sukuun over it. This letter must be mutaharrik, that is has a short vowel over/below it.

(2) alif al-wasl after prepositions:

  • إِلَىْ الْيَمَن to Yemen ⇐ إِلَلْيَمَن
  • مِنَ الْيَمَن from Yemen ⇐ مِنَلْيَمَن 

  • عَنِ الْيَمَن about Yemen ⇐ عَنِلْيَمَن

  • عَلَىْ الْيَمَن against Yemen ⇐ عَلَلْيَمَن 
  • حَتَّىْ الْيَمَن even Yemen ⇐ حَتَّلْيَمَن

  • فِيْ الْيَمَن in Yemen ⇐ فِلْيَمَن

The word اَلْيَمَن begins with alif al-wasl. It is preceded by another word: a preposition. When reading the whole phrase, alif al-wasl is dropped (i.e. not pronounced). With إِلَى, عَلَى, حتَّى, and فِي, the ى and ي is dropped in speech, and the لْ of الْيَمَن is joined to the preceding letter. With عَنْ and مَنْ, the sukuun over the نْ is replaced by fatha نَ or kasra نِ because of the juxtaposition of two sukuuns. 

  • وَاُكْتُبْ! and write ⇐ وَكْتُبْ

  • وَاِجْلِسْ! and sit down ⇐ وَجْلِسْ

  • وَاِنْهَضْ! and stand up ⇐ وَنْهَضْ

These imperative verbs are preceded by the connecting word وَ. This word forces alif al-wasl of the imperative verbs to drop in connected speech (i.e., when we speak).

  • فَاِنْكَسَرَ so/then it broke ⇐ فَنْكَسَرَ

  • فَاِبْتَسَمَ so/then he smiled ⇐ فَبْتَسَمَ

  • فَاِسْتَخْدَمَ so/then he used ⇐ فَسْتَخْدَمَ

  • فَاِسْتَمْتَعَ so/then he had fun ⇐ فَسْتَمْتَعَ

These past form verbs are preceded by the connecting particle فَـ 'so/then'. This particle forces alif al-wasl of the verbs to drop when we speak so that our speech becomes natural and connected.

  • بِاِنْكِسَارِ by breakage of ⇐ بِنْكِسَارِ

  • لِـاِبْتِسَامِ for smiling ⇐ لِبْتِسَامِ

  • كَاِسْتِخْدَامِ  as usage of ⇐ كَسْتِخْدَامِ

  • لِـاِسْتِمْتَاعِ for enjoying ⇐ لِسْتِمْتَاعِ 

These verbal nouns are preceded by the prepositions بِـ 'by', لِـ 'for', and كَـ 'as'. They trigger the dropping of alif al-wasl when we speak. Our speech becomes more connected, as a result. بِنْكِسَارِ is certainly a lot more natural than بِاِنْكِسَارِ as a spoken form.

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 the spoken form of Arabic. So, alif al-wasl in such cases is not pronounced, but it must be kept in writing.

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

  • كِتَابُ الْوَلَدِ the boy’s book ⇐ كِتَابُلْوَلَدِ
  • غُرْفَةُ الْجُلُوسِ the sitting room ⇐ غُرْفَتُلْجُلُوسِ
  • بَيْتُ الْكَلْبِ the dog’s house ⇐ بَيْتُلْكَلْبِ

The first word in each of these phrases is assigned the nominative case mark (i.e., the dhamma) over the last letter. The second word begins with alif al-wasl. The dhamma forces alif al-wasl to drop in connected speech.

  • كِتَابَ الْوَلَدِ the boy’s book ⇐ كِتَابَلْوَلَدِ

  • غُرْفُةَ الْجُلُوْسِ the sitting room ⇐ غُرْفَتَلْجُلُوسِ

  • بَيْتَ الْكَلْبِ the dog’s house ⇐ بَيْتَلْكَلْبِ

The first word in each of these phrases is assigned the accusative case mark (i.e., the fatha) over the last letter. The second word begins with alif al-wasl. The fatha forces alif al-wasl to drop in connected speech.

  • كِتَابِ الْوَلَدِ the boy’s book ⇐ كِتَابِلْوَلَدِ

  • غُرْفُةِ الْجُلُوْسِ the sitting room ⇐ غُرْفَتِلْجُلُوسِ

  • بَيْتِ الْكَلْبِ the dog’s house ⇐ بَيْتِلْكَلْبِ

The first word in each of these phrases is assigned the genitive case mark (i.e., the kasra) over the last letter. The second word begins with alif al-wasl. The kasra forces alif al-wasl to drop in connected speech.

The Rule: When a noun that starts with the definite article الْـ is preceded by a word (a noun in the above examples) that is assigned the case mark (i.e. fatha, dhamma, or kasra), the alif of الْـ becomes silent. 

(4) alif al-wasl with the preposition لِـ:

  • لِـ + اَلْوَلَدِ = لِلْوَلَدِ for the boy

  • لِـ + اَلْوَطَنِ = لِلْوَطَنِ for the country

  • لِـ + اَلْمُدِيرِ = لِلْمُدِيرِ for the boss

When alif al-wasl of the definite article الْـ is preceded by the preposition لِـ, which means for, it is neither written nor pronounced.

The Rule: when the لِـ, which is mostly used to talk about ownership/possession, precedes a definite noun (i.e., a noun that begins with the definite article الْـ), alif al-wasl of الْـ is omitted in writing. 

(5) Alif al-wasl, الْ , and sun letters:

  • اَلشَّمْس the sun

  • اَلسِّكِّين the knife

  • اَلطَّالِب the student

  • كَالشَّمْسِ like the sun ⇐ كَشَّمْسِ

  • بِالسِّكِيْنِ with the knife ⇐ بِسِّكِّينِ

  • فَالطَّالِبِ so the student ⇐ فَطَّالِبِ

When the definite article الْ precedes a noun that starts with a sun letter, the لْ gets assimilated to the sun letter. And the sun letter, in turn, becomes a geminate (i.e. doubled): شْشَ ⇐ شَّـ ، سْسِ ⇐ سِّـ ، طْطَ ⇐ طَّـ. 

In كَالشَّمْسِ , بِالسِّكِّينِ, and فَالطَّالِبِ, alif al-wasl is dropped and the ل is assimilated to the following sun letter.

  • نَظَّارَةَ الطَّبِيْبِ the doctor’s glasses ⇐ نَظَّارَتُطَّبِيبِ

  • يَوْمُ الثُّلَثَاءِ Tuesday ⇐ يَوْمُثُّلَثَاءِ

  • سَيَّارَةِ الرَّجُلِ the man’s car ⇐ سَيَّارَتِرَّجُلِ 

The case mark assigned to the last letter of the first word in these phrase forces alif al-wasl to drop and the لْ to assimilate to the following sun letter, which becomes doubled (i.e., a geminate). 

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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