Sun Letters and Moon Letters

Sun Letters and Moon Letters

The Arabic letters are two categories: sun letters and moon letters. The definite article الـ "the" triggers this classification. The الـ precedes indefinite nouns and adjectives (i.e., attached to them to be exact). Basically, the لـ in the الـ assimilates to the certain subsequent letters. These letters are called sun letters. And it (the لـ) does not assimilate to other letters. These are called moon letters.

Sun Letters and Moon Letters

Why does this assimilation happen? It happens because the points of articulation in the oral cavity (the mouth) for the sun letters and the لـ are adjacent. Therefore, the لـ gets assimilated to the sun letter that follows it. The sun letter, in turn, becomes doubled (i.e., a geminate). This doubling is marked by the shaddah  ّ on the sun letter. In phonology (the science of speech sounds), this kind of assimilation occurs because the لـ and sun letters share many phonological features. As for writing, the لـ of the definite article الـ is not affected; that is, it is written. 

Why are they called sun letters? They are called sun letters after the word شَمْس "sun", which begins with the letter (sound) ش /sh/ to which the لـ assimilates. This word (i.e., شَمْس) is chosen because it is one of kind. Also, it sharply contrasts with the word قَمَر "moon." 

If you look at the Arabic diagram of speech sounds presented in a previous lesson, you will notice that the letters that are produced / articulated from the vicinity of the لـ are:

ت ، ث ، د ، ذ ، ر ، ز ، س ، ش ، ص ، ض ، ط ، ظ ، ل ، ن

In the following table, you can see that the لـ under the pronunciation column is dropped and replaced with shaddah over the subsequent letter (the sun letter). 

الْحُرُوفُ الشَّمْسِيَّة The Sun Letters

نَـكِرَة  Indefinite 

مَعْرِفَة ( الـ )  Definite

النُّطْق  Pronunciation

تَدْخِين  smoking

التَّدْخِين  the smoking


ثَعْلَب  a fox

الثَّعْلَب  the fox


دَرْس  a lesson

الدَّرْس  the lesson


ذِرَاع  an arm

الذِّرَاع  the arm


رَيْحَان  basil

الرَّيْحَان  the basil


زَبِيب  raisins (fruit)

الزَّبِيب  the raisins


سَبَانِخ  spinach

السَّبَانِخ  the spinach


شَارِع  a street

الشَّارِع  the street


صُورَة  a picture

الصُّورَة  the picture


ضَرِيبَة  a tax

الضَّرِيبَة  the tax


طَعَام  food

الطَّعَام  the food


ظَلَام  darkness

الظَّلَام  the darkness


لَبَن  yogurt

اللَّبَن  the yogurt


نِصْف  a half

النِّصْف  the half


Likewise, the moon letters are named after the word قَمَر "moon" which begins with the letter (sound) ق. The word قَمْر sharply contrasts with the word شَمْس. Plus, it is one of a kind. Assimilation of the لـ of الـ to the moon letters is impossible because their points of articulation is far from that of the لـ. In other words, they do not share any phonological features with the لـ. These letters are: 

 أ ، ب ، ج ، ح ، خ ، ع ، غ ، ف ، ق ، ك ، م ، و ، هـ ، ي

In the table below, you can see that the لـ does not assimilate to the subsequent moon letter, as shown under the pronunciation column. 

الْحُرُوفُ الْقَمَرِيَّة The Moon Letters

نَـكِرَة  Indefinite Noun

مَعْرِفَة ( الـ )  Definite Noun

النُّطْق  The Pronunciation

أَدَب  literature

الْـأَدَب  the literature


بُرْكَان  a volcano

الْبُرْكَان  the volcano


جَرَس  a bell

الْجَرَس  the bell


حَرَارَة  heat

الْحَرَارَة  the heat


خُبْز  bread

الْخُبْز  the bread


عَاصِفَة  a storm

الْعَاصِفَة  the storm


غَسَّالَة  a washing machine

الْغَسَّالَة  the washing machine


فُضُول  curiosity

الْفُضُول  the curiosity


قَامُوس  a dictionary

الْقَامُوس  the dictionary


كَلْب  a dog

الْكَلْب  The dog


مُدَير  a manager

الْمُدِير  the manager


هَدِيَّة  a gift

الْهَدِيَّة  the gift


وِسَادَة  a pillow

الْوِسَادَة  the pillow


يَقْطِين  pumpkin

الْيَقْطِين  the pumpkin


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