In Arabic, the word "al" means "the". In Arabic, the "the" tends to stick more closely with the nouns it precedes. Words and placenames borrowed from Arabic often include the initial "al", and, conversely, words with an initial "al" often have an Arabic origin. Purists sometimes are dismayed at the repetition inherent in calling something "The Alhambra", for instance.

Note that this kind of confusion can work both ways. The city of Alexandria, in Egypt, became in Arabic al-Iskandariyya, taking the first part of Alexander's name to be "the"!


Last modified on 29 July 2019.