Support this site with a membership: For only $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year, you can have a true AD-FREE experience. You also get a 15% discount in my shop and a monthly premium newsletter. Find out more here.


Passion doesn't need money. Unfortunately, my web provider does. Your contribution ensures that this site will grow and grow.

Buy Me A Coffee

PayPal Donate
amazon wishlist button
Free monthly newsletter

Subscribe to my FREE newsletter and get 10% off in my store!


What is the function of the Aleph in كَتَبُوا?

The Aleph at the end of third-person plural verbs is there for protection.

Last updated: 9 months ago

Have you ever thought why we spell كَتَبُوا (they wrote) with an at the end?

When a conjugated verb has a و at the end, and when this و is preceded by ضَمّةٌ or by فَتْحةٌ, then the ا is often used (and written), particularly in the of verbs.

Let's see some examples:

they (m.) remindedذَكَّرُوا
they (m.) sawرَأَوْا
they (m.) wroteكَتَبُوا
they (m.) visitedزارُوا
Table: conjugated verb in the plural

This Aleph, in itself superfluous (Aleph otiosum), is in­tended to guard the و. The Aleph protects it against the possibility that the و could be separated from the body of the word to which it belongs – and thus could be mistaken for the word and (i.e., the conjunction وَ).

For this reason, this Aleph is called أَلِفُ الْوِقايةِ, the guarding Aleph, or الْأَلِفُ الْفاصِلةُ, the separating Aleph.

Note that there are other explanations as well, but most of them share the idea of guarding and protecting the و from being mistaken for other letters or from being absorbed.

Excursus: In which position will you never find an Aleph?

The Aleph can never stand at the beginning of an utterance.

The Aleph (ا) is a sound of prolongation after فَتْحةٌ (=“a”) and can't carry any vowel – which makes it different to و and ي since they are capa­ble of that. The Aleph, although mostly unwritten, al­ways has a سُكُونٌ on it (اْ). In Arabic, you can only start an utter­ance if the first let­ter has a vowel on it. Thus, you can't start a sen­tence with an Aleph.

Notify of
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Philip Mulville
Philip Mulville
2 years ago

Thank you Gerald. This is a very clear and helpful explanation.

Previous Article

Arabic Verbs: The Vowel on the Second Root Letter

Next Article
Uchechi Kalu1 scaled scaled

20 questions for: Uchechi Kalu (#28)

Related Posts

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter

Don't miss any updates and get your regular dose of Arabic.