What is Alif al-Wasl?

What is Alif al-Wasl?

What is alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ? The word وَصْل wasl means ‘connection’. So, alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ is the ‘connective alif.’ It connects the word in which it occurs with the preceding word. The purpose of this is to make Arabic speech sound natural and connected. It always occurs at the beginning of certain verbs, certain nouns, and the definite article اَلْـ 'the'. Another grammar terms for alif al-wasl is hamza al-wasl, hamzat al-waslhamzatu l-waslii هَمْزَةُ الْوَصْلِ. Given that it is connective, alif al-wasl (hamza(t) al-wasl) is never part of the word in which it occurs. Rather, it is an addition. The reason behind adding it is that the root word begins with a sukuun, and in Arabic language it is difficult to utter words beginning with a sukuun. Therefore, the connective alif (i.e., alif al-wasl) is added to make them easier to pronounce.

alif al-wasl (hamza(t) al-wasl

Where does alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ occur? It occurs at the beginning of the triliteral imperative verb الْفِعْلُ الْأَمْرُ الثُّلَاثِيُّ, at the beginning of the five- and six-letter perfective verb الْفِعْلُ الْمَاضِي الْخُمَاسِيُّ وَالسُّدَاسِيُّ, and at the beginning of the five- and six-letter imperative verb الْفِعْلُ الْأَمْرُ الْخُمَاسِيُّ وَالسُّدَاسِيُّ. Also, it occurs at the beginning of the verbal noun الْمَصْدَر that is derived from the five- and six-letter verb. The alif of the definite article اَلْـ is always alif al-wasl. There are a few non-verbal nouns start with alif al-wasl

Verbs with alif al-wasl:

 الْفِعْلُ الثُّلَاثِيُّ Triliteral Verb

  الْمُضَارِعُ The imperfective -->  الْأَمْر The imperative

  الْمَاضِي The perfective

(a) The imperative الْفِعْلُ الْأَمْرُ is derived from the imperfective (present) verb الْفْعْلُ الْمُضَارِعُ by dropping the يَـ at the beginning (of the triliteral imperfective verb).

(b) The remainder verb (in orange) starts with a letter that is saakin (i.e,. with a sukuun over it) after dropping the يَـ . It is difficult to utter, so alif al-wasl is added to ease pronunciation.

(c) The short vowel over or below alif al-wasl is either dhamma or kasra.

(d) If the second letter of the root verb in the imperfective الْمُضَارِع has dhamma, alif al-wasl must also have dhamma, as in (3), (4), (6), (8), and (9). If it does not have dhamma, the short vowel with alif al-wasl is always kasra.

  يَفْهَم – (فْهَم) – اِفْهَمْ

  يَشْرَب – (شْرَب) – اِشْرَبْ

  يْكْتُب – (كْتُب) – اُكْتُبْ

  يَخْرُج – (خْرُج) – اُخْرُجْ

  يَلْعَب – (لْعَب) – اِلْعَبْ

  يَدْخُل – (دْخُل) – اُدْخُلْ

  يَسْمَع – (سْمَع) – اِسْمَعْ

  تَطْبُخ – (طْبُخ) – اِطْبُخِي

  تَدْرُس – (دْرُس) – اُدْرُسِي

  تَلْبَس – (لْبَس) – اِلْبَسِي 

(1) فَهِمَ he understood

(2) شَرِبَ he drank

(3) كَتَبَ he wrote

(4) خَرَجَ he went out

(5) لَعِبَ he played

(6) دَخَلَ he came in

(7) سَمِعَ he heard

(8) طَبَخَتْ she cooked

(9) دَرَسَتْ she studied

(10) لَبِسَتْ she dressed

الْفْعْلُ الْخُمَاسِيُّ وَالسُّدَاسِيُّ Five- and Six-letter Verb

  الْمُضَارِعُ The Imperfective --> الْأَمْرُ The Imperative

  الْمَاضِي The Perfective

(a) Like with the triliteral verb, the imperative verb الْفِعْلُ الْأَمْرُ here is derived from the imperfective verb الْفِعْلُ الْمُضَارِعُ by dropping the يـَ and adding alif al-wasl to the beginning of the remaining form, which starts with a saakin letter. 

(b) With the five- and six-letter verbs, the short vowel with alif al-wasl is always kasra both in the perfective form صِيْغَةُ الْمَاضِي and the imperative form صِيْغَةُ الْأَمْرِ (the alif in blue). 

  يَبْتَسِم – (بْتَسِم) – اِبْتَسِم ْ

  يَجْتَمِع –(جْتَمِع) – اِجْتَمَعْ

  يَبْتَكِر –(بْتَكِر) – اِبْتَكِرْ

  يَسْتَمِع –(سْتَمِع) – اِسْتَمِعْ

  يَسْتَفْهِم – (سْتَفْهِم) – اِسْتَفْهِمْ

  يَسْتَقْبِل – (سْتَقْبِل) – اِسْتَقْبِلْ

(1) اِبْتَسَمَ he smiled

(2) اِجْتَمَعَ he met with

(3) اِبْتَكَرَ he improvised

(4) اِسْتَمَعَ he listened

(5) اِسْتَفْهَمَ he enquired

(6) اِسْتَقْبَلَ he received

Remember that alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصٍْلِ is the alif without hamza; it is always compared to alif al-qatˁ, an alif with a hamza above/below it, as in أَكْتُبُ 'I write' and إِلَى 'to'. 

Nouns with alif al-wasl:

الْأَسْمَاءُ The Nouns

(a) There are ten non-verbal nouns that start with alif al-wasl. The usage of these six nouns is very common in Arabic language. The remaining four nouns are rarely used (i.e., they are outdated). 

(b) The short vowel that accompany alif al-wasl in these nouns is always kasra.

  اِبْنٌ a son

  اِبْنَةٌ a daughter

  اِسْمٌ a name/ a noun

  اِثْنَانِ  two (male)

  اِثْنَتَانِ two (female)

  اِمْرَأْةٌ a woman

الْمَصْدَرُ الْخُمَاسِيُّ وَالسُّدَاسِيُّ Five- and Six-letter Verbal Noun

(a) Each of these noun is a verbal noun مَصْدَر. It is derived from the five- and six-letter verbs above. اِبْتِسَام is derived from the five-letter verb اِبْتَسَمَ. Likewise, اِسْتِفْهَام is derived from the six-letter verb اِسْتَفْهَمَ. 

(b) alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ with five- and six-letter verbal nouns الْمَصَادِرُ الْخُمَاسِيَّةُ وَالسُّدَاسِيَّةُ is always accompanied by kasra (the alif in blue).

  اِبْتِسَام smiling

  اِجْتِمَاع meeting

  اِبْتِكَار improvising

  اِسْتِمَاع listening

  اِسْتِفْهَام inquiry

  اِسْتِقْبَال reception

alif al-wasl with the Definite Article اَلْـ:

(a) The alif in the definite article اَلْـ is alif al-wasl.

(b) The short vowel that accompanies alif al-wasl in اَلْـ is always fatha.

(c) According some grammarians, the definite article in Arabic is لْ only, and it is saakin. Being saakin, it must be preceded by alif al-wasl.

  اَلْكِتَابُ the book

  اَلْسَّيْفُ the sword

  اَلْلَعِبُ the playing

  اَلْخَيْلُ the horse

  اَلْقَلَمُ the pen

Pronunciation of alif al-wasl:

alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ is pronounced if the word in which it occurs is at the start of the sentence. If it is preceded by a word, it is not pronounced, but is still written.

In these examples, alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الْوَصْلِ is pronounced because it occurs in words that are at the beginning of the sentence. As you can see, the letter after alif al-wasl in each word is saakin (i.e., there is a sukuun over it which triggers the prefixing of alif al-wasl). 

(1) اِسْمَعْ يَا وَلَد. listen you boy

(2) اِبْن سَلْمَان حَضَرَ. Salman’s son came

(3) اِسْتِخْدَامُ التَّلَفُونِ مَمْنُوعٌ. using the phone isn't allowed

(4) اَلْبَيْتُ كَبِيرٌ. the house is big

alif al-wasl in these examples is not pronounced because it occurs in words that are preceded by another word, but it is still written. So, alif al-wasl loses it connective function when it is not at the start of the sentence.

(1) اِجْلِسْ وَاُكْتُبِ اَلْوَاجِبَ. sit down and write the HW

(2) وَاِبْن عَمِّي فِي اَلْبَيْتِ.  and my cousin is at home

(3) كَتَبْتُ بِالْقَلَمِ. I wrote with the pen

If alif al-wasl is preceded by the preposition لِ, which means ‘for’, it is omitted, i.e. it is neither pronounced nor written. In other words, whenever we prefix لِـ to a word that begins with اَلْـ, alif al-wasl is left out.

(1) لِ  + اَلْأُسْتَاذ = لِلْأُسْتَاذِ for the teacher

(2) لِ + اَلْمَرِيْض = لِلْمَرِيضِ for the patient

(3) لِ + اَلْوَلَد = لِلْوَلَدِ for the boy

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