Sun and Moon Arabic letters

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In Arabic, the consonants are divided into two groups – the Sun-letters (حروف شمسية‎) and Moon-letters (حروف قمرية). This classification is based on whether or not they assimilate the definite article al ال. When the definite article is assimilated into the Sun-letters and it loses its distinctive sound. As a result, the sound at the beginning of the word is doubled. (Given Shaddah).

For example: (الرّحمن) the merciful-a name of Allah  

Whereas, the definite article retains its distinctive sound when it comes before one of the Moon-letters.

For example: (الْأرض) the earth.

The Sun and Moon letters might seem tricky, but they are really easy.

Keep in mind: It’s all about pronunciation.

sun-and-moon-letters-arabic

The Rule Is In The Name

The Arabic term for Sun-letters is (الحروف الشمسية) and in Al Shams, you don’t pronounce the ل (Lam). As for the “Moon-letters”, it is (الحروف القمرية ), and for Al Qamar, the
ل (Lam) is pronounced.

There are 28 consonants in the Arabic alphabet. Exactly half are Sun, and half are Moon. Can you feel where your tongue is when you say al?  It’s at your teeth. Notice how your mouth changes when you make the sh sound? al ال and sh ش  are very close to each other – they’re both produced right at the front of your mouth. The Sun-letters assimilate the ‘Lam’ because it makes pronunciation easier. So the Arabs make use of Idgham (ادغام) to make the speech light.

Now say القمر (Al Qamar). As far as your tongue is concerned, the al‘ ال is nowhere near the qaf ق  sound. The Moon-letters, therefore, keep the ‘L’ ل sound. So it is pronounced with the alif ا and then the Lam ل for the Moon letter.

What Are They?

The 14 Sun-letters are: (ﻥ ,ﻝ ,ﻅ ,ﻁ ,ﺽ ,ﺹ ,ﺵ ,ﺱ ,ﺯ ,ﺭ ,ﺫ ,ﺩ ,ﺙ ,ﺕ).

Here are some examples of words that begin with sun letters:

(الرّحمن) the merciful-a name of Allah. 

(الضّحى) the morning brightness.

(التّاج) the crown.

(الثّلج) the ice.

(الدّب) the bear.

(الرّجل) the man.

 (الزّمن) the time.

The 14 Moon-letters are: ( ه ,ﻱ ,ﻭ ,ﻡ ,ﻙ ,ﻕ ,ﻑ ,ﻍ ,ﻉ ,ﺥ ,ﺡ ,ﺝ ,ﺏ ,أ). Arabs usually memorize this rhyme that contains all the Moon-letters.

ُاِبْغِ حَجَّكَ وَخَفْ عَقِيْمَه  (which roughly translates to: ‘Perform Haj and be vary of quarrel’).

Examples of words that begin with moon letters are:

 (الْارض) the earth.

(الْخلق) the creation.

(الْقيامة) the day of judgment.

(الْكتاب) the book.

(الْيوم) the day. 

(الْبحر) the sea.

(الْفيل) the elephant.

Orthography

In the written language, the ال al – is written the same regardless of how it is pronounced. Assimilation of the Sun-letters can be expressed by putting Shaddah on the consonant after the Lam. Non-assimilating Moon-letters can be expressed by placing a Sukoon over the Lam  ْ, الْق.

In summery 

  • Definite nouns in Arabic begin with ال al
  • The way the definite article is pronounced is Arabic is determined by the letter after it. 
  • If the letter after the definite article is a Sun letter – the letter is merged/assimilated into the definite article.
  • If the letter after the definite article is a Moon-letter – the Lam ل  of the definite article is pronounced.
  • These names come from the fact that the word for the Sun, Al Shams is pronounced Ash Shams – assimilating the Lam. While the word for the moon, Al Qamar, does not.

Try it!

By now you should be able to identify the two types of letters. Try to find them in these Ayat of the Holy Quran:

بسم الله الرّحمن الرّحيم

الرَّحْمَنُ (1) عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآَنَ (2) خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ (3) عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ (4) الشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ بِحُسْبَانٍ (5) وَالنَّجْمُ وَالشَّجَرُ يَسْجُدَانِ (6) وَالسَّمَاءَ رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ (7) أَلَّا تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ (8) وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ (9) وَالْأَرْضَ وَضَعَهَا لِلْأَنَامِ (10) فِيهَا فَاكِهَةٌ وَالنَّخْلُ ذَاتُ الْأَكْمَامِ (11) وَالْحَبُّ ذُو الْعَصْفِ وَالرَّيْحَانُ (12) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ (13) خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ مِنْ صَلْصَالٍ كَالْفَخَّارِ (14) وَخَلَقَ الْجَانَّ مِنْ مَارِجٍ مِنْ نَارٍ (15) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ (16) رَبُّ الْمَشْرِقَيْنِ وَرَبُّ الْمَغْرِبَيْنِ (17) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ (18) مَرَجَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ يَلْتَقِيَانِ (19) بَيْنَهُمَا بَرْزَخٌ لَا يَبْغِيَانِ (20) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ (21) يَخْرُجُ مِنْهُمَا اللُّؤْلُؤُ وَالْمَرْجَانُ (22) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ (23) وَلَهُ الْجَوَارِ الْمُنْشَآَتُ فِي الْبَحْرِ كَالْأَعْلَامِ (24) فَبِأَيِّ آَلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ (25) كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍ (26) وَيَبْقَى وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ ذُو الْجَلَالِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ(27).  

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