What is Tanween?

What is Tanween?

As the name suggests, tanween in Arabic has to do with the sound ن noon. To be precise, it is an acoustic ن (i.e. said but not written). This ن is added to the end of nouns. Only nouns get tanween, but not all nouns. Certain nouns; all types of pronouns, which are classified as nouns in Arabic; verbs; and particles (e.g. prepositions, words of negation, words of interrogation, conjunctions) do not get it. Generally, tanween is used: (1) to distinguish nouns from other parts of speech and (2) to indicate that the noun with which it is used is indefinite نَكِرَةٌ, that is it does not refer to a specific entity (thing, person). If we define the noun, tanween is removed and replaced by the corresponding short vowel: faHah, DHammah, or kasrah.

Tanween in Arabic

Types of Tanween:

For each short vowel in Arabic, there is a corresponding tanween mark. For the DHammah, it is tanween al-DHammah marked by two DHammahs, and it is pronounced as un. For the fatHah, it is tanween al-fatHah marked by two fatHahs, and it is pronounced as an. For the kasrah, it is tanween al-kasrah marked by two kasrahs, and it is pronounced as in, hence كِتَابٌ kitab-un, كِتَابًا kitab-an, and كِتَابٍ kitab-in




بٍ بِ بًا بَ بٌ بُ
ءٍ ءِ ءً / ءًا ءَ ءٌ ءُ
لٍ لِ ـلًا لَ لٌ لُ
ـةٍ ـةِ ـةً ـةَ ـةٌ ـةُ
ـهٍ ـهِ ـهًا ـهَ ـهٌ ـهُ
With tanween al-fatHah, alif is added after the tanween (not before), except with ـة (taa marbuta) and certain types of hamzah. When we stop/pause on the word that has tanween, especially at the end of sentences, the acoustic ن, i.e. tanween, is removed, and the last letter of the word will be saakin, i.e. has sukoon on it. And sukoon means the absence of a short vowel. Hence, كِتَابٌ kitab-un, كِتَابًا kitab-an, and كِتَابٍ kitab-in become kitab.  

Tanween Assignment:

Tanween is always added to the end of the indefinite noun. The position of this noun in the sentence determines the type of tanween to add. If the indefinite noun is a subject فَاعِل, a topic مُبْتَدَأ, or a predicate خَبَر, it gets tanween al-DHammah. If the indefinite noun is an object مَفْعُول, it gets tanween al-fatHah. And if it is after a preposition, it gets tanween al-kasrah.

Tanween al-DHammah

(a) Tanween al-DHammah at the end of the indefinite noun means that this noun is مَرْفُوع ‘in the nominative case’.

(b) In (1) and (4), the indefinite nouns are خَبَر.

(c) In (3) and (6), the indefinite nouns are مُبْتَدَأ. Note that when the مُبْتَدَأ is indefinite نَكِرَة, it occurs after the خَبَر.

(d) In (2) and (5), the indefinite nouns are فَاعِل.

(1) هَذَا مِفْتَاحٌ. This is a key

(2) خَرَجَتْ بِنْتٌ مِنَ الْغُرْفَةِ. A girl came out of the room

(3) فِي الْمَدِينَةِ مَلْعَبٌ. There is a stadium in the city

(4) السَّيَّارَةُ جَدِيْدَةٌ. The car is new

(5) نَبَحَ كَلْبٌ. A dog barked

(6) أَمَامَ البَيْتُ دُكَّانٌ. There’s a shop in front of the house

Tanween al-fatHah

(a) Tanween al-fatHah at the end of the indefinite noun means that this noun is مَنْصُوب ‘in the accusative case’.

(b) Since they represent the receiver of the action, each noun in these examples is مَفْعُول. Note that there are other positions in which the noun is مَنْصُوب. This will be explained in future lessons.

(c) جَدِيْدةً and جَدِيْدًا in (3) and (5) are adjectives, and they follow the preceding noun in gender and tanween (i.e. case).

(1) وَجَدْتُ مِفْتَاحًا فِي الشَّارِعِ. I found a key in the street

(2) رَأَيْتُ بِنْتًا فِي الْحَدِيْقَةِ. I saw a girl in the garden

(3) اِشْتَرَى أَبِي سَيَّارَةً جَدِيْدَةً. My father bought a new car

(4) قَتَلَ الصَّيَّادُ أَسَدًا. The hunter killed a lion

(5) فَتَحَ التَّاجِرُ دُكَانًا جَدِيْدًا. The businessman opened a new shop.

Tanween al-kasrah

(a) Tanween al-kasrah at the end of the indefinite noun means that this noun is مَجْرُور ‘in the genitive case’.

(b) Since preceded by a preposition, every noun in these examples is مَجْرُور.

(c) in (3), جَدِيْدٍ follow the noun in gender and tanween (i.e. case).

(1) يَأكُلُ الطِّفْلُ بِمِلْعَقَةٍ. The child eats with a spoon

(2) أَسْكُنُ فِي بَيْتٍ صَغِيْرٍ. I live in a small house

(3) كَتَبْتُ بَقَلَمٍ جَدِيْدٍ. I wrote with a new pen

(4) يَبْحَتُ الطَّالِبُ عَنْ عَمَلٍ. The student is looking for a job

(5) نَامَ الْمُسَافِر تَحْتَ شَجَرَةٍ. The traveller slept under a tree.

Replacing Tanween with Short Vowels:

Tanween at the end of indefinite nouns changes to its corresponding short vowel if these nouns are made definite. As mentioned above, this means that tanween is a marker for indefiniteness عَلَامَة التَّنْكِير.


اِسْم مَعْرِفَة definite noun

اِسْم نَكِرَة indefinite noun

(a) With the definite nouns, short vowels replace the tanween.

(b) The indefinite nouns are made definite by adding the definite article ال to the beginning, or by attaching a possessive pronoun, as in (6).

(c) Not that in (4), when the indefinite مُبْتَدَأ is made definite, it must be placed at the start of the sentence

رَأَيْتُ الْبِنْتَ فِي الْحَدِيْقَةِ.

هَذَا الْمِفْتَاحُ لِمُحَمَّدٍ.

نَامَ الْمُسَافِرُ تَحِتَ الشَّجَرَةِ.

الدُّكَّانُ أَمَامَ اليْتِ.

يَأَكُلُ الطِّفْلُ بِالْمِلْعَقةِ.

وَجَدْتُ مِفْتَاحَهَا فِي الشَّارِعِ.

(1) رَأَيْتُ بِنْتًا فِي الْحَدِيْقَةِ

(2) هَذَا مِفْتَاحٌ.

(3) نَامَ الْمُسَافِرُ تَحْتَ شَجِرَةٍ.

(4) أَمَامَ الْبَيْتِ دُكَّانٌ.

(5) يَأَكُلُ الطِّفْلُ بِمِلْعَقَةٍ.

(6) وَجَدْتُ مِفْتَاحًا فِي الشَّارِعِ.

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