Like Spanish, Arabic has two genders, masculine and feminine. Most nouns not referring to people are arbitrarily assigned a gender, again, just like Spanish. For example, كتاب is masculine, but سيارة is feminine.

You can usually spot a feminine word, because, just as in Spanish, it has a feminine suffix attached to it. The suffix is a ة (called a “taa marbuuta”). Theo is always preceded by a fatha. Since the ة will often not be pronounced, you will hear only the fatha which precedes it when someone says a word which is feminine – it will sound just like a Spanish feminine word.

With words referring to human beings such as طالب, we add the feminine ending in order to indicate that we are talking of the feminine variety of such creatures. Thus a female student is طالبة. This is just like Spanish as well.

Of course, just as in Spanish, every word that looks feminine will not necessarily be feminine. خليفة “Caliph” is an example. These words are few and far between. Additionally, some words which do not end with ة are feminine; حرب “war” is one example. (“Peace” سلام is masculine – interesting.) Spanish does the same thing.

When a word ends in a ة we will pronounce the ة only if we wish or need to pronounce the case ending on the word. For example, “a student” is written طالبة. If we wish or need to pronounce the entire thing, we will say “taalibatun”, pronouncing the ة as a regular ت. But, if we wish to read the word without the case ending, we do not pronounce the ة at all; we only pronounce the fatha which precedes the ة. Thus the word can also be pronounced “taaliba”.

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