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Lesson 3 – Arabic Prefixes and Suffixes

One important challenge in reading Arabic is to identify prefixes and suffixes. We are referring here to letters or groups of letters that attach to the beginning or the end of a word to give additional meaning. In linguistics, these letters can sometimes be referred to as “clitics”, which are words that cannot be used separately, but have to depend on another word. An example for this in English is (‘s), that is used to indicate possession as in “the teacher’s dog”, but you cannot have it separately. In Arabic, we have a number of these.


We can divide prefixes into the following categories:

  • Prefix “al- الـ” , which is the definite article in Arabic. It turns an indefinite nouns and adjectives into definite
  • Prefix “wa- و” , which is a coordinating conjunction (equivalent to the word “and”), but is attached to the second word. It can be used in the beginning of the sentence
  • Prefix “fa- فـَ”, which is also a coordinating conjunction, but it implies order. It can be also used in the beginning of the sentence to meaning something like “so/therefore”
  • Prefix “le- لـِ”, which is a preposition that means “to”, and can take different meanings if it is used with different verbs
  • Prefix “be- بـِ”, which is also a preposition that means “with”, and can also have different meanings when used with different verbs
  • Prefix “ka- كـَ”, which means “as/like/such as”, and it is more commonly used in classical Arabic than Modern Standard Arabic
  • Prefix “sa- سـَ”, which means “will”, and is used with present tense verbs to indicate the future.

We will cover here the first three, since prepositions are covered in the lesson about prepositions, and the ka- prefix isn’t frequently used. The sa- prefix will be covered in the verbs lesson.


In Arabic, we use the following suffixes”

  • Suffix “-ah”, indicating the female version of nouns and adjectives.
  • Possessive pronouns: These are attached to the end of words to indicate possession (e.g. my/your/his .. etc). These are covered in the lesson about possessives.
  • Object pronouns: These are attached to the end of verbs to indicate a pronoun in object position (e.g. me/him/them .. etc).

The common factor among all of prefixes and suffixes in Arabic is that there is no space between them and the word. So it is important to learn them early on while starting to read Arabic words. There are other grammatical items that attach to words, such as object pronouns and possessive pronouns, but we will cover them in later lessons.

The Arabic prefix al- ال – definite article

It is important to observe that a noun in Arabic by default is indefinite, unless it is a proper noun. This means that there is no indefinite article in Arabic similar to “a/an” in English. Therefore, there is only the definite article “al-” is used, for both nouns and adjectives.

The prefix alif-laam al- ال represents the definite article in Arabic. It is attached before nouns and adjectives
If an adjective describes a definite word, al- is added before both of them

The Arabic prefix wa- و

The prefix wa- is the quivalent to “and” in English.

The letter waaw (wa-) is attached at the beginning of the word to mean “and”

The Arabic suffix -ah ة (the letter taa’ marbootah)

The letter taa’ marbootah can be added to words and adjectives to indicate a feminine form
Taa’ marbootah is commonly used with adjectives to create the feminine equivalent

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