Sukun

You know from the last lesson that the sukun is used to indicate that there is no vowel sound after a consonant. In this lesson, you’ll see that in some cases, it’s not as simple as that.

In standard Dhivehi, the sukun can only be carried by five letters. We will go through each of those letters one by one to see their particular pronunciations.

Alifu Sukun (އް)

At the end of a word އް is pronounced as a glottal stop. The sound of the preceding vowel is cut short and the airflow stops. It is similar to the way some people say the word ‘what’ without pronouncing the ‘t’ at the end.

އް is also used for gemination, that is, doubling the sounds of consonants. When އް is in the middle of a word, the sound of the following consonant is doubled. Even if it is at the end of the word but the middle of a sentence, the first consonant of the following word is doubled.

However, if the following consonant is either ހ or another އ, the އް is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’ (nasal, without pronouncing the ‘g’). This is just because it is kind of awkward doubling a ‘h’ sound or a glottal stop.

Examples

I will use IPA (as best as I can) to help you with the pronunciation.

އެކެއް /ekeʔ/ one

ފޮތެއް /fot̪eʔ/ a book

ބައްޕަ /bappa/ dad, father (note that it is not /baʔpa/)

އެއްހާސް /eŋha:s/ one thousand (note that it is not /ehha:s/ or /eʔha:s/)

Shaviyani sukun (ށް)

The exact same rules as އް apply in this case as well. Keep in mind that it is NOT pronounced ‘sh’ in this case.

Examples

ރަށް /ɾaʔ/ island

އަށްޑިހަ /aɖɖihɑ/ (not /aʔɖihɑ/) eighty

އަށްހާސް /aŋha:s/ (not /ahha:s/ or /aʔha:s/) eight thousand

These words would be pronounced the same even if ށް was replaced by އް. The reason ށް is used is because the ‘sh’ sound is retained when adding suffixes (in cases like ރަށް), or to keep the the original root of the word (like in އަށްހާސް where އަށް means ‘eight’).

Thaa sukun (ތް)

This is probably the most difficult sukun letter to explain. The pronunciation depends on the preceding vowel.

  • If it is ަ  or ާ  , ތް is pronounced the same way as އް (a glottal stop), but the ަ  and ާ   will change to short and long versions, respectively, of the ‘a’ in ‘hat’ (IPA /æ/)
  • If it is ި  , ީ   , ެ  or ޭ  , ތް is pronounced the same was as އް
  • If it is any other vowel, ތް is pronounced as if it were ‘އިއް’, but it forms part of the same syllable as the preceding vowel
  • ތް NEVER makes a ‘th’ sound (in native words)

Because of its similarity to އް, it also doubles consonants and is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’ if the next consonant is either ހ or އ.

Examples

ރަތް /ɾæʔ/ red

މާތް /mæ:ʔ/ high level

ހިތް /hiʔ/ heart

ނެތް /neʔ/ there is not

އޮތް /oiʔ/ there is

މުތް /muiʔ/ pearl

ތޮތްޕެއް /t̪oippeʔ/ a hat

ދަތް އަޅާ /d̪æŋ aɭa:/ bite

Noonu sukun (ން)

The pronunciation of this one depends of the letter that comes after it.

  • At the end of words, or when the next letter is ހ or އ,  it is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’.
  • In all other cases it represents the nasal equivalent of the following consonant:
    • If the next letter is ކ or ގ, it is pronounced like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing’
    • If the next letter is ތ or ދ, it is pronounced as a dental ‘n’
    • If the next letter is ޓ or ޑ, it is pronounced as a retroflex ‘n’
    • If the next letter is ޕ or ބ, it is pronounced ‘m’ (which is a bilabial nasal)
    • If the next letter is ފ or ވ, it is pronounced as a labiodental nasal
    • If the next letter is ނ or މ, the sound of that letter is doubled

The key thing to remember is that it glides on to the next sound and very rarely sounds like a pure ‘n’.

Examples

ދެން /d̪eŋ/ then

ކާން /ka:ŋ/ to eat

ބޯން /bo:ŋ/ to drink

ސުކުން /sukuŋ/ sukun

އަންހެން /aŋheŋ/ girl, female, wife

ސިންގާ /siŋga:/ lion

ބަންދު /ban̪d̪u/ closed

ހަންޑި /haɳɖi/ demon

ޕަންޕު /pampu/ pump

ކަރަންފޫ /kaɾaɱfu:/ clove

އަންނަން /annaŋ/ to come

މަންމަ /mamma/ mum, mother

Seenu sukun (ސް)

This is the easiest of all sukun consonants as it is always pronounced ‘s’.

Examples

ބިސް /bis/ egg

ލަސް /las/ late

އިސްކޫލު /isku:lu/ school


As mentioned before, those are the only five letters which are allowed to carry sukun. The only times you will see sukun carried by other letters are in loanwords, personal names, names of foreign places, and non-standard Dhivehi dialects. In these cases, the letters follow the standard sukun rule of no vowel sound afterwards.

Many loanwords are Maldivianised somewhat by using ު  where there would otherwise be a consonant cluster.

Just a little fun-fact (and an explanation why I presented the letters in this order): Maldivians use the mnemonic “އަށް ތިނޯސް” (eight needles) to remember these letters.

Empty Letters

I said in the first lesson that all letters must have a fili except for two special cases. We will now look at those cases.

Hus noonu (ނ)

Hus noonu (empty noonu) represents prenasalisation of the following consonant which is always ދ ,ޑ ,ގ, or ބ.

It makes the same sound that ން would in each of those situations, but now that sound is at the beginning of the syllable instead of the end. Think of the English words ‘singer’ vs ‘finger’. Hus noonu would be used in ‘singer’, while noonu sukun would be used in ‘finger’.

For those who know Sinhalese, hus noonu is used in Dhivehi where Sinhalese would use ඹ, ඬ, ඟ, or ඳ.

Examples

އަނގަ /aŋga/ mouth (The two syllables are /a/ and /ŋga/. If the word were އަންގަ, the sylables would be /aŋ/ and /ga/)

ބަނޑު /baɳɖu/ stomach (/ba/ and /ɳɖu/)

ހަނދު /had̪u/ moon (/ha/ and /d̪u/)

އަނބު /ambu/ mango (/a/ and /mbu/)

Hus raa (ރ)

This is used in English loanwords which have ‘-er’, ‘-or’, ‘-ur’, etc. pronounced as a schwa. Usage of the letter ރ this way is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Examples

ޑޮކްޓަރ doctor

ޑައިރެކްޓަރ director

ކޮންޓްރެކްޓަރ contractor

It would also be acceptable to write the words with ރު (e.g. ޑޮކްޓަރު). This is more common in the spoken language, as Maldivians can find it difficult to pronounce a schwa (they usually change it to އާ).

Emphasis

This is the easiest part of this lesson. In Dhivehi words, emphasis is always on the first syllable.

Even with loanwords like ޑައިރެކްޓަރު, the emphasis is on ޑައި and not on ރެކް, as is the case in English.

Still Need Help?

Now you should be able to read any Dhivehi text. However, if you still need help with pronunciation, you can try apps like Magey Adu and Thaana for kidsThey will also help you to learn some vocabulary.

You can also watch a live stream of VTV or listen to Maldivian radio (1,2,3) to get a feel for how the language sounds.

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