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بَيْتًا or بَيْتاً? – Before or on the Aleph? Where do you add the tanween in Arabic?

Before the Aleph or on top of it – the position of the Tanween fatha has long been debated. Egyptians and Syrians have different approaches

Last updated: June 28, 2021

Let’s have a look at the writing of the تَنْوِين if you have to deal with an indefinite اِسْم in the accusative (مَنْصُوب) case.

You will usually encounter both versions: on top of the Aleph (بَيْتاً) and before the Aleph (بَيْتًا) – in books, in subtitles in movies, in calligraphies. But what is correct?

This has been a long debate. In my opinion, the form كِتابًا, i.e., be­fore the Aleph, is more logical. But let’s see the details.

Why do people write the Tanween BEFORE the Aleph (بَيْتًا)?

First of all, all other diacritical marks of the nunation are writ­ten on the last letter. Moreover, by definition, the Aleph cannot carry any other vowel. It must carry سُكُونٌ, resulting in اْ. This is primary not a spelling problem, but a problem of pronunciation. If we write كِتابًا, then we will pronounce it like كِتابَنْ.

However, if we write كِتاباً, then we will suddenly get two سُكُونٌ in a row which is impossible in Arabic (عَدَمُ اِلْتِقاءِ ساكِنَتَيْنِ). We would have such a construction: كِتابَاْ+نْ.

Now, imagine that we stopped after كِتاباْ. You can’t add the نْ then.

How can you justify the spelling ON TOP of the Aleph (بَيْتاً)?

You may say that the other signs of declension are also put on the last letter which is true (e.g., كِتابٌ or كِتابٍ); furthermore, you may say that you are aware that there can’t be two subsequent سُكُونٌ which is the reason why they come together in one place.

What’s correct?

Today the spelling is more a matter of taste and depends on the region.

  1. Before the Aleph (كِتابًا): mainly in Egypt and the Hijāz.
  2. On top of the Aleph (كِتاباً): You will primarily encounter this spelling in Syria and Lebanon (أَهْلُ الشّامِ).

Special situations

If you encounter one of the following four situations, you don’t have a choice. You have to put the tanween (تنوين) like in the examples.

examplelast letter
اِنْتِهاءً, ماءًهَمْزة1
مُصْطَفًى,عَصًا أَلِف مَقْصُورة2
أُسْرةًة – تاء تَأْنِيث3
مَلْجَأًهَمْزة – أ4

Excursus: The nature of the Aleph

There is a theoretical discussion going on claiming that the Aleph is not a “silent letter” (حَرْف ساكِن) but rather a “long vowel”, a so called حَرْف مَدّ. To remind you: The latter (حَرْف مَدّ) explains the rule why the “long vowel” in a verb has to be elided, if the verb is مَجْزُوم – as it is theoretically impossible to have two سُكُون in a row.

An example:

لَمْ يَقُلْ is correct and works, but لَمْ يَقُوْلْ doesn’t work whereas theoretically, يَقُوْلُ does. If you are interested in these theoretical discussions, try to search for this term: اِلْتِقاء ساكِنَيْنِ


Question: Final Aleph in Arabic: مَساءًا or مَساءً – What is correct?

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