Definite and indefinite / المَعْرِفة والنَكِرة

Definite and indefinite in Arabic (المَعْرِفة والنَكِرة)

Indefinite / النَكِرة

The concept of definite and indefinite in Arabic slightly differ from English in the way that there’s no indefinite article in Arabic. So to say ‘a man’ for example, we will use the word without article and without complement: رَجُلٌ (rajulun).

This indefiniteness will be noted by the presence of a final tanwīn, except in the case of a diptote noun, a dual, or a masculine external plural.

The tanwīn / التَنْوِين

It is the pronunciation of a ن at the end of the word. This ن is not written but is noted by a doubling of the final vowel. This process of making a noun or adjective indefinite is called تَنْوِين tanwîn in Arabic and nunation in English. The indefinite forms of the three different cases are:

  • Nominative indefinite (مَرْفُوع نَكِرة): The word ends with a double ḍamma:

( ُُ )  or ( ٌ )  /…un/ 

جاء رَجُلٌ
A man came (ja’a rajulun)

Note: The form of the double ḍamma ( ،ٌ  ) is the commonest of the two alternatives.


  • Accusative indefinite (مَنْصُوب نَكِرة): The word ends with a double fatḥa and an extra alif ا (except if the noun ends with a ة, أ or  اء) which is not pronounced as a long vowel a :

( ا ً ) /…an/ 

رَأَيْتُ رَجُلاً
I saw a man (ra’aytu rajulan)

  • Genitive indefinite (مَجْرُور نَكِرة): The word ends with a double kasra:

(  ٍ ) /…in/ 

ذَهَبَ مَعَ رَجُلٍ
He left with a man (dhahaba ma’a rajulin)

Note: Certain nouns can be grammatically indefinite yet semantically definite – especially the male proper nouns that are not followed by any articles such as Muḥammad(un) / مُحَمَّدٌ or Karīm(un) / كرِيمٌ which will both end with the tanwīn.

Note 2: In spoken Arabic the pronunciation of nunation/tanwīn (تَنْوِين), i.e. /…un/, /…an/ and /…in/ in nouns, is rare.

Definite article / أداة التَعْرِيف

In Arabic, the only definite article is ال al… which appears at the start of all nouns and adjectives. When an indefinite form becomes definite, it removes its nunation /…n/ and a single vowel takes its place on or under the final consonant – for instance:

Indefinite / نَكِرةDefinite / مَعْرِفة
رَجُلٌ
a man
الرَجُلُ 
the man
Nominative 
مَرْفُوع
رَجُلاً
a man
الرَجُلَ 
the man
Accusative
مَنْصُوب
رَجُلٍ 
a man
الرَجُلِ 
the man
Genitive
مَجْرور

In Arabic, the definite article ال /al/ is utilized more often than in English. One of its causes can be attributed to nouns signifying abstract concepts, general gatherings, and broad terms which take on the definite form – for instance:

Educationُالتعليم
Cats are animalsالقِطَطُ حيواناتٌ

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Indefinite

Definite and Indefinite

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