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The spelling of the Hamza in Arabic: سَماءٌ‎ – How did هَمْزة‎‎ get into this word?

In Arabic, if you see a Hamza at the end of the word, you have to watch out. Here are the spelling rules of the Arabic letter Hamza.

Last updated: May 2, 2021

Usually, a final Hamza is related the last root letter, in the example of sky (سَماءٌ‎), it is the و.

سَماءٌ means sky. If we want to answer our question, we need to have a look at the root of this word – which is  س-م–و . First thing we should notice: There is no Hamza in the root!

It is a very ancient Semitic root that is found in Aramaic, Ugaritic, and Hebrew and finally also entered Arabic. Its origi­nal meaning is probably high place, height.

Some scholars assume that the verbal root was deducted from the noun, as the noun came before the verbal meaning – which is to be high, elevated; to be above. In grammar, we call them denominal verbs – verbs derived from nouns.

Let’s start our analysis by applying the root letters to our word.

  1. If we do that, we will get the word سَمَاْوٌ for sky.
  2. Such a word would be diffi­cult to pronounce.
  3. And for exactly that reason, the و turned into a ء resulting in سَماءٌ.

But that is actually the exception.

Why? In the Nisba-form (نِسْبةٌ), which is used to form adjec­tives (صِفةٌ), the weak root letter و suddenly appears again: سَماوِيٌّ. It means heavenly.

What about the gender of the word سَماءٌ?

 Both genders  – masculine and feminine – are theoretically possible. However, most scholars treat سَماءٌ as feminine (مُؤَنَّثٌ).

What about other words ending in Hamza?

Many work in the same way. What we said here applies to many roots which have a weak letter (ي or و) in  position 3, i.e., the last root letter .

Some examples:

  • The word بِناءٌ for building. It is the مَصْدَر of the root is بني. Therefore, the word should be spelled like that: بِناْيٌ. But this would be hard to pronounce.
  • The word لِقاءٌ for meeting. It is the مَصْدَر of لَقِيَ. It has the plural form لِقَاءاتٌ.

Remark: In Arabic for Nerds 1, you will find many examples and discussions about this topic.


You never run out of grammar:

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