Arabic Alphabet

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Arabic Alphabet

 

 Semitic languages are written from right to left. Ancient Mesopotamians wrote on stones with chisels, and since that most inscribers were right-handed, it was easier and more natural to them to write from right to left (I think it still makes more sense today to write from right to left!).

The Arabic script, which is derived from that of Aramaic, is based on 18 distinct shapes. Using a combination of dots above and below 8 of these shapes, the full complement of 28 characters can be fully spelled out.

Those 28 Arabic letters are all consonants.

In the table below:

The first column to the right shows the Arabic letters.

The second column shows their names in Arabic. Click on the letter to hear its name.

The third column shows the Romanized version of the Arabic letters. I will use these when I write Arabic words in Roman letters.


The last colu
mn shows how the letters are represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is unimportant for most people, I guess. To see these IPA figures you may need to install a font.


Some letters (the gutturals) can be hard to pronounce by non-natives, so it should be tried to pronounce them in the closest possible way to the original sounds.

 

International Phonetic Alphabet

Romanized Version

Name

Letter

[ʔ]

 glottal plosive

‘alif

أَلِفٌ

أ

[b]

voiced bilabial plosive

as in “bat”

b

baa'<

بَاْءٌ

ب

[t̪]

 voiceless dental plosive

as in “tap”

t

taa'<

تَاْءٌ

ت

[θ]

 voiceless inter-dental fricative

as in “thumb”

th

thaa'<

ثَاْءٌ

ث

[dʒ]

voiced post-alveolar affricate

as in “jar”

j

jeem

جِيْمٌ

ج

[ħ]

voiceless pharyngeal fricative

h

haa'<

حَاْءٌ

ح

[x]

voiceless velar fricative

as in German “nacht”

or Scottish “loch

kh

khaa'<

خََاْءٌ

خ

[d̪]

voiced dental plosive

as in “dark”

d

daal

دَاْلٌ

د

[ð]

voiced inter-dental fricative

as in “this”

th

thaal

ذَاْلٌ

ذ

[r]

alveolar trill

as in “run”

r

raa'<

رَاْءٌ

ر

[z]

voiced alveolar fricative

as in “zoo”

z

zayn

زَيْنٌ

ز

[s]

voiceless alveolar fricative

as in “sad”

s

seen

سِيْنٌ

س

[ʃ]

voiceless post-alveolar fricative

as in “she”

sh

sheen

شِيْنٌ

ش

[sˁ]

emphatic voiceless alveolar fricative

s

saad

صَاْدٌ

ص

[d̪ˁ]

emphatic voiced alveolar plosive

d

daad

ضَاْدٌ

ض

[t̪ˁ]

emphatic voiceless dental plosive

t

taa'<

طَاْءٌ

ط

[ðˁ]

emphatic voiced alveolar fricative

z

 zaa'<

ظَاْءٌ

ظ

[ʕ]

voiced pharyngeal fricative

“ayn

عَيْنٌ

ع

[ɣ]

voiced velar fricative

(French R or guttural R)

r

rayn

غَيْنٌ

غ

[f]

voiceless labiodental fricative

as in “fan”

f

faa'<

فَاْءٌ

ف

[q]

voiced uvular plosive

q

qaaf

قَاْفٌ

ق

[k]

voiceless velar plosive

as in “kite”

k

kaaf

كَاْفٌ

ك

[l]

alveolar lateral

as in “leg”

l

laam

لامٌ

ل

[m]

bilabial nasal

as in “man”

m

meem

مِيْمٌ

م

[n]

alveolar nasal

as in “nose”

n

noon

نُوْنٌ

ن

[h]

voiceless glottal fricative

as in “hat”

h

haa'<

هَاْءٌ

هـ

[W]

voiced labialized approximant

as in “wool” 

w

waaw

وَاْوٌ

و

[j]

palatal approximant

as in “yes”

y

yaa'<

يَاْءٌ

ي

*Note: This figure ( ‘<  ) means a still consonant letter alif . Stillness means that the  sound is not followed by any vowel. Thus, it has an almost zero duration and does not leave the throat. Look in the pronunciation section for more information.

 

The 28 Arabic letters are all consonants.

However, there are vowels in Arabic of course. There are six vowels; three short vowels and three long ones. Only the three long vowels are written using the alphabet. The three short vowels have special marks which denote them.

The long vowels are letters but the short vowels are not letters.

The three long vowels are written using the three following letters:
و ، ي ، ا
 

Because of this, those letters are called “weak letters;” we are going to talk about this in the vowels section.
The letter
daadض  is characteristic to Arabic and does not exist in any other language. This is why Arabs called their language sometimes the “daad language.”

This ordering of Arabic letters is recent. Formerly, they were laid in the same order as that of other Semitic and Indo-European languages:

أ ب ج د هـ و ز ح ط ي ك ل م ن ث ع ف ص ق ر ش ت

 

This common ordering is a hint to the fact that all those alphabets have a common distant ancestor.