Research Article

Definite or Indefinite? The Case of Arabic Product Names as Judged by Student Translators


  • Reima Al-Jarf Full Professor of English and Translation Studies, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


Product names in Saudi Arabia are mostly written in both Arabic and English, whether they are imported or locally produced. Numerous errors in using the Arabic definite article are currently very common. This study aims to examine a sample of Arabic product names consisting of single and multi-word names to find out the percentage of indefinite and definite product names, the types of compound product names with the highest frequency in faulty definite article attachment, and whether they faulty {al-} attachment is a result of transfer from their English equivalents which in most cases are printed on the product boxes or bottles. A sample of 187 product names (food, teas, coffee, herbs, spices, supplements, and beauty products) was collected from supermarkets, shops, and pharmacies. A sample of undergraduate student translators made judgments about the correctness of the definiteness and indefiniteness of all the product names in the sample. A product name was confirmed as definite or indefinite if it received the same response from 70% of the participants. Results showed that 60% of the product names are definite and 40% are indefinite. 49% were judged correct ((38% indefinite and 11% definite) as برجر بقري Beef burger; توت مشكل mixed berries  & كبة دجاج chicken kibbeh. 51% were judged incorrect (49% definite and 2% indefinite) as (الزنك *the zinc). مربى المشمش apricot fruit spread; شيش طاووق الدجاج shish tawook). In some cases, definite and indefinite forms of the same product names are used due to differences in the manufacturer. Few  faulty indefinite forms should be definite ( بهارات السمكfish spices instead  of بهارات سمك ), and few definite forms were considered correct (توابل المشويات BBQ spices). The highest frequency of faulty {al-} occurred in two-word product names. It seems that manufacturers are unaware of the rules of making product names  definite/indefinite, especially those with a generic and ubiquitous reference as opposed to those referring to specific and unique entities  as in oil names. Analysis revealed no transfer of definiteness/indefiniteness from English, in which product names are usually indefinite. Recommendations for the correct labelling and translation of product names are given.

Article information


International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation

Volume (Issue)

7 (3)





How to Cite

Al-Jarf, R. (2024). Definite or Indefinite? The Case of Arabic Product Names as Judged by Student Translators . International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation, 7(3), 83–92.



Arabic Product names, Arabic definite article, definite article {al-}, indefinite product names, definite product names, unique reference, specific reference, generic reference, ubiquitous reference