Arabic Observations: “Diamonds” and the Definite Article


root: ق-ر-ء / verbal noun of form I / definition: reading

As I was doing my reading for yesterday’s literature class, I came across a familiar word: الأَلماس. I instantly recalled that it meant “diamond”… but then I remembered another word for “diamonds” that I had learnt: الماس.

So, I headed to the Hans Wehr for a little linguistic investigation. Both entries (ألماس and ماس) are listed alphabetically in the dictionary, and the only difference between them is the أل… Can you see what’s going on here?

The little gem (or should I say diamond) is nestled right there in the Wehr—under the entry for ألماس:

The Wehr tells us that the أل of ألماس is sometimes interpreted as the definite article (ال) of the word, leaving the core word as ماس.

So the existence of that little hamza on top of the alif marks the difference between the definite الماس and the indefinite ألماس—tell that to anyone who says the hamza isn’t important!

When I notice words with these tiny differences, like the ones we looked at in Arabic Observations: Word Twins, it’s always interesting to ponder at which point (and how/why) one word evolved into two. Or, with some words, you wonder if that’s the case at all.

Have you come across any other pairs of words like ماس and ألماس, where the أل could be interpreted as the definite article? Let us know in the comments below!

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