Characteristics of letters (الصفات الحروف)3 min read

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Characteristics of letters (الصفات الحروف)


The second study on pronunciation is that of ṣifaat (singular: ṣifah (الصفة) meaning description, characteristic, attribute, or quality). Here the word ṣifaat (or ṣifah) refers to the special characteristics or qualities found in each letter. The purpose of defining ṣifaat is, first, to make sure they are present during pronunciation and, second, to differentiate between letters whose origin is in the same makhraj, such as (ت) and (ط), (ذ) and (ظ), or (س) and (ص). When a letter emerges from the correct makhraj and all its ṣifaat (qualities) are observed, then accurate pronunciation is obtained.

Ṣifaat are of two types: permanent (الصفات اللازمة ) and temporary (الصفات العارضة). The latter will be described under the sections dealing with tajweed rules. However, permanent qualities are inherent in the letter, without which correct pronunciation will not be realized. Most scholars give their number as seventeen, ten opposite each other (i.e., five pairs) and seven singles (with no opposites). Every letter has at least five ṣifaat (i.e., one from each pair of opposites), and many have a different single quality as well, with the letter (‘ر’ raa) having two different qualities. The following is a list of the permanent qualities (الصفات اللازمة) and the letters which carry them.


OPPOSITE ṢIFAAT (الصفات المتضادة)

1. (الهمس) – Whispering: a flow of breath during pronunciation – a quality of the letters contained in the phrase:

فحثه شخص سكت

2. (الجهر) – Audibility: trapping the flow of breath due to heavy dependence on the makhraj – quality of all other letters not included under whispering.

3. (الشدة) – Strength (or force): trapping the flow of sound in the makhraj – a quality of the letters in the phrase:

أجد قط بكت

4. (الرخاوة) – َweakness (or looseness): a flow of sound during pronunciation – Between the two opposites of strength and weakness falls a third quality: moderation – (التوسط) where the sound emerges but does not flow. The letters of ََ (لن عمر) are moderation, and those of weakness is all of the letters not included under the categories of strength and moderation.

5. (الاستعلاء) – Elevation: raising the tongue to the roof of the mouth during the emergence of the letter – This quality belongs to the letters in the following phrase:

خص ضغطْ قظ

6. (الاستفال) – Lowness: lowering the tongue to the floor of the mouth – It includes all letters other than those of elevation. 

7. (الاطباق) – Closing: the meeting of the tongue and what is opposite it from the roof of the mouth – Its letters are four:

ص ۔ ض ۔ ط – ظ

8. (الانفتاح) – Opening: the separation of the tongue from the roof of the mouth – It includes all letters other than (ص), (ض), (ظ) and (ط).

9. (الاذلاق) – Fluency: the easy flowing of the letters (فرّمن لُب) from the tip of the tongue and lips.

10. (الاصمات) – Restraint: the emergence of the remaining letters from inside the mouth and throat.



11. (الصفير) – Whistling: a sound emerging between the tip of the tongue and the upper central incisors which resembles the sound of a bird – It is a quality of the letters (ص), (س), and (ز). With (ز), it is more of a buzzing sound.

12. (القلقلة) – Vibration (or unrest): the vibration of the makhraj with the emergence of the letter when accompanied by sukoon ( ْ), a breaking of tension or release – Its letters are five:

قطب جد

13. (اللين) – Ease (softness): pronunciation without exertion or difficulty – This is a quality of و) َ ْwaaw with sukoon preceded by fat-ḥah and ي) َ ْyaa with sukoon preceded by fat-ḥah. These are not to be confused with the vowel sounds of ُ و, ْ and ي ِ, ْ which will be discussed under the section of madd (المد).

14. (الانحراف) – Inclination: the inclination of the letter after it emerges from the makhraj toward another makhraj – This is a characteristic of (ل) and (ر).

15. (التكرير) – Repetition: the natural tendency to vibrate or roll the tongue when pronouncing the letter (ر).

16. (التفشي) – Diffusion: the spreading of air throughout the mouth during pronunciation – This is a quality of (ش).

17. (الاستطالة) – Elongation: the extension of sound over the entire edge of the tongue from front to back – This is a quality of (ض) and is most noticeable when a sukoon accompanies it.

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Hassan Ali

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