Definite versus indefinite article


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The definite and indefinite noun explained

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(1.18 min)

Recognize a/an in Arabic.

         What do we mean by definite and indefinite nouns?

Definite nouns in English have a "the" in front of the noun.

The "the" allows us to refer to a specific noun.

e.g. The book is on the table. (Book is definite)

Indefinite nouns in English have an "a/an" in front of the noun. The "a/an" allows us to refer to a general class of nouns.

e.g. A book is on the table. (Book is indefinite)

Only nouns – unlike verbs – can be definite or indefinite.


In Arabic to make a noun definite place:
"The" =
 1-1  اَلْ OR  اِل in front of the noun.

اَلْ (MSA/Classical)
= “al”  =  the

اِل  (Egyptian Colloquial/Spoken) = il  = the

But for an indefinite noun there is no "a/an" in Arabic. Nothing is placed before the noun





For MSA/Classical Arabic the article is pronounced "al" and in Egyptian Colloquial/Spoken Arabic the article is pronounced "il" unless there is assimilation.


Note (Only read if interested in MSA/Classical):

In MSA/Classical nunation appears at the end of indefinite nouns and adjectives in the form of TWO dammas ٌ . Nunation gives nouns and adjectives a unique "un" sound to the ending.

So whenever you hear a noun ending in an "un" sound, guess what? It's indefinite.

To make life joyously complicated for MSA/Classical: Nunation can be nominative, accusative, and genitive in form carrying two dammas, two fathas, or two kasras.

In this lesson the focus is on the nominative. But still, for future reference...
Nominative nunation = two dammas
ٌ sounding like un  صَبيٌ
Accusative nunation = two fathas
ً sounding like an  صَبيً
Genitive nunation = two kasras
ٍ sounding like in  صَبيٍ

Oh, my. You say, kinda get nunation -- "it makes words end in a "un" sound when indefinite" -- but how do I know if a word is nominative, accusative, or genitive in case??

You will learn that as you go along.
For now, just think of the nominative case
ُ or ٌ as the default form in Arabic.
If the noun is definite it carries one damma 
If the noun is indefinite it carries two dammas 

Why two dammas?

Imagine the indefinite noun as deficient (or lacking) for not having an "a/an" in front of it. Therefore, it is compensated by two dammas instead of just one -- to tell us it is indefinite.

How does this effect the "sound ending" of the word? Well, you hear at the end of the noun:

un= a/an = two damma
u= the = one damma

Arabic is a musical language -- think of case endings similar to musical notes.

Beware: Nunation is written but not heard for word lists (Referred to as "pausal").

Therefore, for the words listed below you will not hear nunation in the recordings.


Examples of the definite and indefinite noun


   Example for masc.

a boy (masc. noun)


Il walad

the boy



   Example for fem.


a girl (fem. noun)



Il bint

the girl

   Example for plural



cloths (plural noun)



Il hoduum

the cloths


Got it? Pretty simple, right?

Of course the real challenge is memorizing your nouns. While making a noun definite or indefinite is easy.

Keep on going! You're almost there.

    Read more on a/an/the



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