Reading Arabic Without Vowels: Place Names

We just wrapped up a new Arabic reading series on Instagram. We learned how to read place names without vowels.

If you’re new to learning Arabic, the idea of reading without vowels can be pretty scary. Hopefully, this post will help you to see how easy it can be.

Understanding Root Words

Think of the words write, writer, writing, written, writes, and writeable. (That last one really is a word!)

In English, we would say that the root of each of these words is “write.” And we would know the meaning of each word based on what was added to the word. In English, these words can often have more than one meaning. For example, we can say “He is writing.” or “The writing is on the wall.”

In Arabic, root words actually tell us HOW to read the word and what the word means. Even better, in Arabic, each pattern will usually have one meaning.

Adding َم to Make Place Names

The first Arabic root pattern we’ll look at is adding مَ (meem with fatha).

Here’s one of the videos we shared on Instagram in case you haven’t seen them. It introduces the concept of reading Arabic without vowels and shows us three sample words.

These three words all have the same pattern in Arabic. We know the م has a fatha because they are places.

Let’s look at them one by one.

Eating and A Place to Eat

The first word we have is

مطعم

If we saw this word on a building, we would already know it’s a place, so we know that it has to start with مَ and the next letter will have sukoon. We would read the word as:

مَطْعَم (Meem fatha then the next letter has sukoon.)

Sorry to say, but the vowel for the third letter has to be memorized. But you get three out of four from the pattern! In time, your brain will start to just add the vowels anyway. Trust me, it will happen, inshaa Allaah.

Reading without a Picture

Let’s say you saw this word in a book without any illustration and you had no idea how to read it or what it meant. When you look at this word, you’ll notice, there are four letters:

م ط ع م

You would have to have some context for the word to read it. If you had to guess, just take off the first م. I’ll share a strategy for knowing what letters to take off in a future post. But for now, if it’s four letters and the first one is م, just take the meem off.

It’s very rare that you’ll just come across one word lying in the middle of the street. Words are always understood in context, so you will be able to read and understand without vowels once you learn the patterns.

That leaves us with three letters to think about:

ط ع م

Then we could think about any words that we know that have these same letters.

طعام and نطعم are both common words that are mentioned in the Quran.

We could think, both of these words are about food. So a مطعم has to be something related to food also!

If we remember our pattern, that a مَ is for a place, we could take a guess that a مطعم is a restaurant and see if that makes sense in the story.

Try using these reading strategies to understand words that you read or hear in Arabic. To start, go back to the video and try to figure out how we say the last two words:

مصنع and محكمة

An additional tip, any words that end with ة has to have a fatha before the ة. See, we’ll get all those vowels figured out!

If you want even more practice, we have a full series for practice on Instagram.

Speaking is funner with friends. Spread the word.

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