Arabic/Arabic alphabet

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Here are all the official letters of the Arabic alphabet in order. Alph2.gif

The following image shows which letters have an equivalent in the English language. Note that the r differs from the English one; it is a trill like in Spanish and Russian.

Because you know English, you have an advantage that speakers of other Western European Languages don't have:
"th" sound

The rest of the letters have no true English equivalents. Before you learn them they will sound silent, or seem like another letter. We will learn to pronounce and recognize these letters later.

Arabic Letters have tails

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Minus tails

Some Arabic letters have extra parts to them. These parts are only written at the end of words, and a few of them are optional. Look at the picture above. These extra parts have been cut off and brightened so you can see the important part of each letter. Without the extra parts, you see what letters look like at the beginning of words. Focus on some letters.gif

Some letters

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In the picture before the one above, there were some letters that didn't seem to have any extra parts. Some don't. These don't connect to letters after them—connecting them to letters after them would make words very difficult to read, and is not allowed. We boxed these letters in the picture directly above. Some letters do connect to letters after them, but don't have tails; instead, the whole shape of the letter changes. These letters are circled above, and their different shapes are shown in the picture below..

ه هـ ـهـ ـه


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Arabic letters change shape according to their place within a word. Usually this means not writing a tail, because the letter is not at the end of the word. But because Arabic is meant to be written mainly by hand, there are also other changes (i.e., shortcuts) that make writing easier. Here is an important shortcut. Because the shortcut is always used in handwriting, it has made its way into Arabic printing. ه هـ ـهـ ـه Notice how the hole in the middle and final forms of the letter get covered presumably due to thick ink. This comes from calligraphy, Arabic has an incredibly rich calligraphic history.

There are even more shortcuts (mainly ligatures) that we will cover later. Just in case you didn't notice, Arabic is written and read from right to left.

The Arabic alphabet is very focused on representing sounds. Some of the sounds may be hard to distinguish for English speakers. See Arabic sounds and Wikipedia:Arabic Alphabet for more details on sounds.

The alphabet does not have capital letters (letters especially designed for names or certain grammar cases). But the way letters are written does depend on the location of the letter in a word. A letter at the beginning of a word (initial) is often written slightly different from the same letter at the ending of a word (final), or somewhere in between (medial).

The easiest way to learn the language is to try to recognize certain shapes in the letters (like hooks, bows, and points). Based on these shared shapes, the letters can be divided in shape groups. See Arabic alphabet (by group) to learn more on how to tell the written shapes apart, and how to write them.

Synthetic table

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Note that 'a' is pronounced as the sound 'a' in 'cat' or the sound 'u' in 'but'.
Stand-alone Initial Medial Final Name Transliteration Phonetic Value (IPA)
أ ؤ إ ئ ٵ ٶ ٸ, etc. hamza ʾ / [ʔ]
ʼalif ʼ, a, ae various, including [aː]
bāʼ b [b]
tāʼ t [t]
tħāʼ [θ]
Other Accents:(djīm, gīm)
j [ʤ]
ḥāʼ [ħ]
ḫāʼ [x]
dāl d [d]
ḏāl [ð]
rāʼ r [r]
zāī z [z]
sīn s [s]
šīn [ʃ]
ṣād [sˁ]
ﺿ ḍād [dˁ]
ṭāʼ [tˁ]
ẓāʼ dhž [ðˁ]
rħayn rħ, ʻ [ʕ]
Other Accents: (ġhāyn)
g [ɣ]
fāʼ f [f]
Other Accents: (gžāf)
q [q]
kāf k [k]
lām l [l], [lˁ] (in Allah only)
mīm m [m]
nūn n [n]
hāʼ h [h]
wāw w, u, o [w] , [uː]
yāʼ y, i, e [j] , [iː]
Stand-alone Initial Medial Final Name Trans. Value
ʼalif madda 'aa [ʔæː]
tāʼ marbūta (ä),äh,ät [ɛ̈], [ɛ̈t]
ʼalif maqṣūra [ɛ̈]
lām ʼalif NA NA

Each Arabic letter is made up of two parts: a shape, a number of dots. Rules for all writing systems using the Arabetic (writing using Arabic shapes, with dots) system. The following Rules apply.

  1. Every letter consists of a shape with no dots or some dots.
  2. The placement (above or below) is important. A shape with a dot underneath is not the same letter as the same shape with a dot above.
  3. The number of dots is important. A shape with one dot is a different letter than the same shape with a different number of dots.

In Arabic Arabetics, dots can only be above or below the shape, never both at the same time. The way the dots are placed relative to each other, (i.e. diagonally, vertically, in a triangle) does not make different letters.