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Arabic Pronunciation: Sun Letters & Moon Letters الحروف الشمسية والحروف القمرية
Sun Letters: الحروف الشمسية
alif-laam الـ + “sun letters”
Adding the definite article alif-lam “ الـ” to a word may impact its pronunciation depending on whether the first letter of that word is a sun letter or moon letter. But what are these letters and why do they impact pronunciation.
Let's start with sun letters ...
Pronunciation will be altered when we add the article alif-lam to a noun or adjective beginning with the following letters:
ت ث د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ل ن
For example, when we add ال to the word سيارة ("car") to form the definite noun السيارة how does the pronunciation change? Well, the sun letter - in this case س (the letter "seen") takes a shadda (that is, it takes the grammatical marker shadda which extends its pronunciation into a double consonant) and the laam in the article alif-lam is no longer pronounced.
Another way of saying this is that sun letters eat up laam, and steal it’s length (e.g. are pronounced with a shadda and the laam is not pronounced).
Therefore, the word السيارة is pronounced as-sayyaara, and NOT al-sayyaara.
Sun Letter Example
How can I figure out which letters are sun letters?
All sun letters are pronounced near the letter lam in the mouth. Therefore, they are typically pronounced with the tip or middle of the tongue towards the front of the mouth.
One way to think about this is, it is difficult to annunciate a sun letter when it is located next to the letter lam because these sounds are formed so close to one another in the mouth. Therefore, the lam is simply dropped; however, to indicate that it is there (just not being pronounces) the sun letter's length is extended from a single consonant to a double.
Moon letters are simple in comparison: they are all those letters which are NOT sun letters. These letters have no impact on the pronunciation of alif-lam and the words they appear in.
Therefore the القمر ("the moon") is pronounced al-qamr.