The one who said that there are no synonyms in the Arabic language spoke truthfully. Although two words may have the same meaning in general, there are subtle differences between them that add a whole new light to their meaning. An example is found in the words لعلّ and ليت.

Both of these words generally mean “if only,” “perhaps,” alluding to wishing and hoping for something or something to happen. But more specifically, لعل refers to hoping or wishing for something that can actually happen, something that is possible to achieve. Conversely, ليت refers to wishing or hoping for something that can never happen, can never be achieved.

Some examples from the Qur’an:

فأجاءها المخاض إلى جذع النخلة قالت يا ليتني مت قبل هذا و كنت نسيا منسيا

And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!”

[19:23]

وأما من أوتي كتابه بشماله فيقول يا ليتني لم أوت كتابيه

And he that will be given his Record in his left hand, will say: “Ah! Would that my Record had not been given to me!

[69:25]

إنا أنذرناكم عذابا قريبا يوم ينظر المرء ما قدمت يداه و يقول الكافر يا ليتني كنت ترابا

Verily, We have warned you of a Penalty near, the Day when man will see (the deeds) which his hands have sent forth, and the Unbeliever will say, “Woe unto me! Would that I were (metre) dust!”

[79:40]

ٍSome examples of the use of لعل:

يا أيها الناس اعبدوا ربكم الذي خلقكم والذين من قبلكم لعلكم تتقون

O ye people! Adore your Guardian-Lord, who created you and those who came before you, that ye may have the chance to learn righteousness

[2:21]

وما كان المؤمنون لينفروا كافة فلولا نفر من كل فرقة منهم طائفة ليتفقهوا في الدين ولينذروا قومهم إذا رجعوا إليهم لعلهم يحذرون

Nor should the Believers all go forth together: if a contingent from every expedition remained behind, they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they return to them,- that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil).

[9:122]

يوسف أيها الصديق أفتنا في سبع بقرات سمان يأكلهن سبع عجاف وسبع سنبلات خضر وأخر يابسات لعلي أرجع إلى الناس لعلهم يعلمون

“O Joseph!” (he said) “O man of truth! Expound to us (the dream) of seven fat kine whom seven lean ones devour, and of seven green ears of corn and (seven) others withered: that I may return to the people, and that they may understand.”

[12:46]

وقال فرعون يا أيها الملأ ما علمت لكم من إله غيري فأوقد لي يا هامان على الطين فاجعل لي صرحا لعلي أطلع إلى إله موسى وإني لأظنه من الكاذبين

Pharaoh said: “O Chiefs! no god do I know for you but myself: therefore, O Haman! light me a (kiln to bake bricks) out of clay, and build me a lofty palace, that I may mount up to the god of Moses: but as far as I am concerned, I think (Moses) is a liar!”

[28:38]

What is particularly interesting is this last Ayah, regarding Fir’awn wanting to “mount up to the god of Moses”. Here, the word used was لعل and we said usually لعل refers to wishing, hoping for things that are possible. Is it possible for Fir’awn to “mount up to the god of Moses”? Obviously not, but this is where Balaghah comes in, and the deeper meanings embedded in the Qur’an. The Kufr of Fir’awn was so strong, so severe, that he actually thought he could reach the god of Moses, and thus one word with a slightly different meaning, we are able to get a glimpse of how disillusioned Fir’awn became due to his Kufr and misguidance.

 

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