How do you spell لكن (but; however)?

Many students are confused why words like هذا, ذلك or لكن should be pronounced with a long vowel (“aa”) – although quite often, they are only marked with a simple فَتْحة, for example: هَذا

Let’s look at the Arabic word for but; however. The word is usually written like this:  لكن. However, sometimes it is written as لاكن, which is similar to how it should be pronounced: “laakin”. But why do some people simply write لكن?

In fact, the word should be spelled like this: لٰكن

Actually, all the words mentioned above should be written with a strange vertical dash:

this (masculine) هٰذا
this (feminine) هٰذِه
that ذٰلِك

 

This brings us to the topic of the so-called dagger Aleph (أَلِف خَنْجَرِيَّة as خَنْجَر means dagger). This kind of Aleph – ...ٰ.… – has to do with the history of the script.

The most famous word with a “dagger Aleph” is the word Allah – in Arabic: الله -, because the singular word for a god in Arabic is: إلٰه

 

Why is that?

The original Semitic alphabet had no vowel signs. Eventually some vowels came to be marked with letters, but in the Qur’an you still have many words whose (long) vowels are not marked as we are used today.

Usually people don’t notice this because the Qur’an is fully vocalized, but for example if you read the first sura – al-Fātiha (سورة الفاتِحة) – you will see that the word الْعالَمِين in the second verse has no Aleph. Nor does the word مالِك in the fourth verse. They have daggers instead.

 

Let’s look at them (notice that some browsers might not display the signs properly):

(All) praise is (due) to Allah , Lord of the worlds

الْحَمْدُ لِلّٰهِ رَبِّ الْعَٰلَمِينَ

2
The Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful

الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

 3
Sovereign of the Day of Recompense

مَٰلِكِ يَوْمِ اْلدِينِ

4

 

Eventually the script became more orderly and today we have absolute rules. However, some words, including grammar words like هٰذا and religious words like اْلرَّحْمٰن are still spelled in the old way and vocalized with daggers.

Note: The same happens in Hebrew. Old Biblical names like כהן (“Cohen” which means priest in Hebrew) and שלמה (“Shlomo”; meaning: Solomon, son of David; in Arabic: سُلَيْمان) are spelled in the old way, instead of כוהן and שלומו.

 

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