The Sun and Moon letters seem really tricky, but they are so easy. It’s all about pronunciation. Here’s how you remember which is which:
Sun letters are at the front of the mouth. Moon letters are all the rest.
But read on for a more satisfying explanation, and trick for remembering.
So why are they called ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’ letters?
Probably because Arabic is super poetic. There’s sun and moon, day and night, one complements the other–why not sun and moon? It’s lovely and much easier to remember than some linguistic term.
And because the arabic word for sun is “Al-shams“. Can you feel where your tongue is when you say ‘al‘? Right at your teeth. Then, notice how your mouth changes when you make the ‘sh‘ sound? ‘al‘ and ‘sh‘ are very close to each other–they’re both produced right at the front of your mouth, right there at your teeth. Sun letters assimilate the ‘L’ because it makes pronunciation easier (or, more likely, because it makes the language more lovely and poetic. Pretty much everything in Arabic goes back to this truth.).
Now say “Al qamar”. As far as your tongue is concerned, the ‘al‘ is nowhere near the ‘qaf’‘ sound. The moon letters keep the ‘L’ sound.
The rule is in the name. The Arabic term for sun letters is الحروف الشمسية or al-huroof ash-shamsiyya and you don’t pronounce the L. “Moon letters” is الحروف القمرية al-huroof al-qamariyya, and you can feel even in the name how “l” and the sound after it are nowhere near each other (many moon letters are at the back of the tongue). The transition isn’t close.
Great, but I have a quiz on Monday. How do I memorize them really fast?
If you read the above, this will be really fast and easy. If you didn’t, it will still be fast and easy.
Say the alphabet. Really–this way you don’t have to memorize anything. Go through the whole alphabet and guess which letters are sun and which are moon just based on where your tongue is.
أ ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن ه و ي
There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet. Exactly half are sun, half are moon.
Have you guessed which are which?
Say each letter in this line:
ت ث د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ل ن
and then this one:
أ ب ج ح خ ع غ ف ق ك م ه و ي
The first line, pronounced at the front of your mouth by your teeth, are the sun letters.
The second line, at the back of your mouth, and with your lips, are moon letters.
Now go ace that quiz.
[Originally published July 31, 2012. Updated March 28, 2017]