Arabic Alphabets – Introduction
The Arabic script is believed to have been evolved from the Nabataean Aramaic script. It is being used since the 4th century AD, but the earliest document that is available are an inscription in Arabic, Syriac, and Greek,which dates it from 512 AD.
Since the earlier Aramaic language had fewer consonants than Arabic, so during the 7th century new Arabic letters were created by adding dots to existing letters in order to avoid ambiguities and diacritics were introduced indicating short vowels.
There are two main types of written Arabic:
- Classical Arabic–this is the language that has been used to write the Quran and classical literature.Modern Standard Arabic mainly differs from it in style and vocabulary, which is somewhat archaic. Almost all Muslims recite the Quran in the original language. However, many Muslims and other people rely on translations in order to understand the text
- Modern Standard Arabic–the universal language of the Arabic-speaking world, understood by all Arabic speakers rather than the Classical Arabic. It is the language that is used widely by the majority of people in form of written material and of formal TV shows, lectures, etc. since it is easily understood.
Each Arabic-speaking country or region also has its own colloquial spoken Arabic which can also be termed as their local language. These colloquial varieties of Arabic appear in written form in some poetry, cartoons and comics, plays and personal letters and there it becomes prominent to spot out the differences in various regional languages. Even translations of the bible into most of these varieties of colloquial Arabic languages are available.
Arabic has also been written with the Syriac, Hebrew and Latin scripts.
The Arabic alphabet or Arabic abjad is the Arabic script, used commonly worldwide,which as it is codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right to left, unlike Hindi and English which are written from left to right, in a cursive style and includes 28 letters.
Originally, the alphabet was an abjad, with only consonants, but it is now considered an “impure abjad” because of the introduction of various letters. Whereas, other abjads, such as the Hebrew alphabet, were introduced as means of indicating vowel sounds by separate vowel points.
- The writing system: Abjad
- Direction of writing: words are written in horizontal lines from right to left, numerals are written from left to right
- A number of letters: 28 (in Arabic) – some additional letters are used when writing other languages which do not occur in Standard Arabic.
- Meaning/Pronunciation: Most letters change depending on where they appear/placed at the beginning, middle or end of a word, or on their own.
- Letters, that can be joined are joined in both hand-written and printed Arabic maintaining the balance and similarity in both methods. The only exceptions to this rule are the crossword puzzles and signs in which the script is written vertically, usually.
- The long vowels are represented by the letters.
- Vowel diacritics that are used to mark short vowels, other special symbols appear only in the holy book Quran. Though they are also used, in other religious texts, in classical poetry, in books for children and foreign learners, and occasionally in complex texts to avoid ambiguity but with less consistency. Sometimes these diacritics are used for the purpose of decoration in book titles, letterheads, nameplates, etc.
Basic facts about the Arabic alphabet
- The Arabic alphabets are not actually alphabets: Arabic is one of the most difficult languages to learn this is because of the fact that its writing system doesn’t follow an alphabet but an abjad. An abjad is a type of a writing system where each letter stands for a consonant and not a vowel, which requires the user of the language to provide the vowels using vowel marks.
- The Arabic language belongs to the Afroasiatic family: In the family tree of languages, Arabic belongs to the Afroasiatic family which has its legs spread across the Middle East and a large part of Africa, consisting of 6 branches and around 300 living languages and dialects and is spoken by more than 350 million native speakers. Hence, making Arabic the most widely spoken language in this family!
- There are more than 300 million Arab speakers in the world: Arabic is the official language for the 22 countries that form the Arab League. Predominantly, the native speakers live in the Middle East and North Africa. It is also one of the 6 languages of the UN, yet less than 1% of the population in the UK can hold a basic conversation in Arabic.
- Words constructed from basic roots: Arabic has a very complex and unusual method of constructing words i.e. from a basic root. This means that a set of characters from a pattern for example pattern of three letters such as ‘k-t-b’, such as the work ‘kitaab’ which means ‘a book’ and ‘maktab’ which means ‘a desk or office’. The beauty of it is that it conveys a depth of both meaning and emotion which makes it unique and unmatched by many languages.
- Arabic has sounds that don’t exist in other languages: There are many differences between Arabic and English, the most obvious one being that it is written from right to left. There are few sounds that don’t exist in other languages, such as ‘ح’, which is an ‘h’ sounded as ‘hub’ means love. To get an idea of how this is pronounced, imagine breathing on a window pane to create a mist.
- English has many words of Arabic origin: English has many words acquired either directly from Arabic or indirectly from Arabic words that have entered into Romance languages before passing into English with words like alcohol, algebra, algorithm, cotton and to name a few. Even the number system used today was introduced to Europeans by Arab merchants.
- Arabic is at least 1500 years old: Classic Arabic originated in the sixth century, but earlier versions of the language existed including the Safaitic dialect, an old Arabic dialect used by the pre-Islamic nomadic inhabitants of the Syro-Arabian desert which date back to the 1st century.
- It’s a Study in Dialects: Arabic is spoken in 22 countries but it is a language of regional dialects which are completely incomprehensible to each other, despite being the same language! Arabic is suspected of having lived as a spoken for centuries prior to the birth of Islam, which may explain why it is so widely used.
- Arabic is a Semitic language: A Semitic language is a name used to name a group of Asiatic and African languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Assyrian. In regard to, Arabic writing, many languages use the Arabic alphabet, like Persian/Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, and Kurdish. You will be able to read in any of these languages, even though you might not understand!
- The oldest form of Arabic literature is poetry: Arabic literature has a great old history. The history of Arabic literature goes back to 16 centuries ago. It actually began in the Arabian Peninsula!
- You need an average of 1.69 years to learn Arabic.
The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State did a study in 2014 that found Arabic to be one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world for native English speakers.
It requires an average of 1.69 years (88 weeks), or 2,200 class hours, to reach speaking and reading proficiency, as opposed to the 23-24 weeks of study, or 575-600 class hours required for the world’s easiest language.
Maltese is descended from Arabic
The Maltese language, the national language of Malta, originated in the 11th century when settlers arrived from the neighboring island Sicily who spoke an Arabic dialect as a result of the Arab conquest of Sicily at the end of the ninth century. Maltese then evolved from Siculo-Arabic, that is why it is linguistically classified as a branch of Arabic. It is the only dialect of Arabic written in the Latin alphabet and is the only Semitic language that has official status in the European Union.
The five basic facts about the Arabic alphabet that you’ll need to understand
- The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters. In addition to the 28 letters, there are 3 special characters that are written above and below other letters.
- Arabic contains 5 sounds that we do not use in English. You’ll need to try extra hard to learn to pronounce these sounds.
- Arabic is read from right to left and the letters in words also run from right to left other than the numerals. Here is an example using the English alphabet:
English order: This is my new car.
Arabic order: rac wen ym si sihT
- Each Arabic letter can take a different form depending whether it’s at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the word.
This is not so different to English where some words take a capital letter at the beginning. In the English alphabet capital letters look completely different to lower case letters: A a / B b recognize the capital letters as well as their lower-case forms. In Arabic, you also need to learn to recognize more than one form of a letter.
- When written in words, most Arabic letters are joined together, without spaces between. Unlike in English, where you’re used to seeing a space between each individual letter so, as a beginner, it can be difficult for you to distinguish and identify where one Arabic letter ends and the next begins.
Arabic Alphabet: Arabic Alphabet consists of 28 letters. Learning Arabic Alphabet is the first step to learning the Arabic language. If you are interested to learn Arabic Writing you need to know some information. Arabic is a language that is written from right to left. Arabic is written in a cursive way. To learn Arabic alphabet and to learn Arabic writing, you need to pay much attention to dots. Dots are used to differentiate a letter from another. A single dot, which may be added by mistake, can make a certain word mean a completely different meaning.
Arabic Grammar: As the Arabic language is considered as a Semitic language; Arabic grammar is similar to other Semitic languages. The classical Arabic grammar has been divided into the following five branches:
I. Lexicon: which is concerned with the meaning and the explanation of Arabic Vocabulary
II.Morphology: It deals with the form of the words.
III.Syntax: It is about inflection; however, it is lost in spoken Arabic language between Arabs.
IV.Derivation: It is the study of the origin of the words.
V.Rhetoric: It is the study of the construction quality of sentences.
Arabic Literature: The oldest form of Arabic literature is poetry. Arabic literature has a great old history – the history of Arabic literature goes as back as up to 16 centuries ago. It began in the Arabian Peninsula. If you decide to learn the Arabic Language, you will have to deal with the Arabic literature in a direct way or another indirect way. Arabic literature is a very important and crucial part for those who are interested in learning Arabic language and as well as Arabic grammar.
Learn Arabic Letters and Alphabet
Arabic Alphabet: To start with the Arabic Alphabets here are some basic characteristics of the Arabic writing system:
- The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters.
- Arabic is written from right to left.
- In Arabic short vowels are generally not written.
- Arabic letters change their shape according to their position in a word.
Let’s go through these points in some more details.
I.The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters: This means that the Arabic alphabet contains only two more letters than the English alphabet (26 letters). In English,sometimes the same letter may have different pronunciations depending on its use such as “c” is sometimes pronounced like an “s” (ceasar) and sometimes like a “k” (cucumber). Or, to take another example, “gh” is sometimes pronounced “f” (enough) and sometimes pronounced “g” as (ghost). In Arabic, the letters always retain their sound unlike in English.
II. Arabic is written from right to left: English, of course, is written from left to right Arabic, on the other hand, is written from right to left. Sure, this takes some getting used to, but is not that hard with enough practice.
III.In Arabic short vowels are generally not written: There are three short vowels in Arabic: a short “u” (as in “look”), a short “a” (as in “can”) and a short “i” (as in “with”). Usually, these short vowels are simply omitted in writing. Long vowels (such as the “ee” in “tree”) are written. A sentence such as:
English: “The book in the tree is very ugly and rotten.”
In Arabic, it becomes: “Th bk ‘n th tree ‘s vr ‘gl ‘nd rttn.”
This omission of short vowels can be very difficult in the beginning because it’s difficult to guess which short vowels exactly are missing. As you will proceed further and learn more about Arabic grammar you will be able to “guess” the missing short vowels and pronounce unknown words automatically.
IV. Arabic letters change their shape according to their position in a word: The Arabic script is essentially a cursive script, much like handwritten English. i.e. almost all the letters that are written within a word are connected to each other and have certain changes in their shapes. If you write an English word cursively, then you will also make certain changes to the letters to connect it, for example, the letter “s” will be connected to the letter on the left with a diagonal stroke if that preceding letter is e.g. an “n”.
However, in Arabic these changes can be quite drastic, take a look at the following table to know it better that summarizes the letters in the Arabic alphabet and their shapes according to whether they are:
1) on their own (isolated),
2) at the start of a word
3) in the middle of a word,or
4) at the end of a word.
* The six letters marked with an asterisk (*) cannot be connected to the left
Arabic Grammar: Here is a quick outline of the grammatical aspects of Arabic discussed in the following paragraphs:
- The verb “to be” is not necessary to form a simple sentence.
- Arabic has two grammatical genders.
- Arabic words are formed according to a root system.
- Arabic verbs change aa per the subject introduced.
Let’s go through these points in more detail.
I.The verb “to be” is not necessary to form a simple sentence: In Arabic, the verb “to be” is usually dropped when describing something in the present tense. So, our example sentence would become “The house big.”Here are some examples, remember to start reading from the right:
Note that when describing past occurrences, the verb “to be” is necessary:
The word “kaana” is the past tense of the verb “to be”.
II.Arabic has two grammatical genders: In Arabic, a word can be either masculine or feminine – just like in French. Feminine words are usually easy to spot because most of them end in ـةة refer the below given some examples:
III. Arabic words are formed according to a root system: Most Arabic words derive from a three or four letter root this can best be explained using a concrete example – كتب (k t b) – three root letters. You will be able to construct a lot of words from the same root, once you have known the basic concept of how words are formed hence, saving you valuable time in memorizing vocabulary. For now, simply try to recognize similarities between words and see if you can spot the three (or four) root letters.
IV. Arabic verbs change according to the subject: Another similarity between Arabic and French language is that verbs change according to their subject. In English, verbal conjugations have been greatlyruns”.
Let us take a look at the verb “to write”: Here you will notice that Arabic has more personal pronouns than English, strange, right? Specifically, Arabic has something called a “dual” that only applies to two persons. There is also a feminine and a masculine “they”.
- Note that in Arabic it is not necessary to use the personal pronouns in front of the verbs, because the conjugated verb itself makes it clear who its subjected to, hence not needed.
- Note that some endings (e.g. the “an” at the end of taktuboon(a)) are usually omitted in normal speech.
Arabic Alphabet and Pronunciation
In Arabic, the alphabets, consisting of 28 letters, are written and read horizontally from right to left.
As an Arabic learner, there are 2 ways of reading Arabic:
1) By reading the Arabic letters.
2) By reading the phonetic equivalent of the Arabic word by using Latin letters.
Though Latin phonetics can be of a quick help but we cannot rely on phonetics as Arabic does not have a standard phonetic equivalent for each word for example, the word “book” is written phonetically in Arabic as “ketaab”, “kitaab”, “kitab”, “ketab” etc. whereasin Arabic letters, then there is only one way of writing it i.e. “كتاب”.
The Arabic alphabet uses the abjad script however, Arabic is sometimes written in Latin letters from left-to-right. This process is called romanization and lacks any standardized forms, but can be useful if the student does not have plants to go beyond the basic level.
The table below shows the letter “S” or “س” in Arabic is highlighted Red based on its occurrence in a word. For example, whether the letter occurs at the beginning of the word “initial”, middle of the word, or at the end of the word “final”. Look at the example below:
Notice how the “s” in Salam is different than the “s” in Fes? The variation is simply for esthetic reasons also note that the change is not very dramatic and sometimes you will notice that there is no change at all.
Arabic Vowels: It is possible to write a word in Arabic without vowels similar to as we write in English by making each word as short as possible but still wanting that word to be understood by others.
For example: Writing the word “huwa” as “hw”, but still worrying that others may not understand it.
So, you may decide to add the missing “u” and “a” in tiny characters (as given in the image below). After a couple months, you got used to the fact that “hw” is pronounced “huwa” that you no longer need you to add the tiny letters anymore. That’s how Arabic deals with vowels.
“Huwa” means “He” and “Hiya” means “She”.
From the image above, you will be able to see how in Arabic we have used vowels (highlighted in red). They are usually omitted because most people already understand the meaning of words without the need for vowels. The only time vowels are used is to clear confusion or for teaching purposes.
This page will be updated soon to also include a table which will help you remember the Arabic alphabet by using mnemonic techniques for better retention.
As you may have noticed from the image, some of the letters in Arabic don’t exist in English and vice versa. We will first go through the letters that exist in English, the table below shows the letters that you
may not have any problem learning or pronouncing:
Now, let us see how the Arabic letters that are either hard to pronounce or are pronounced a little bit differently can be correlated to English and learned. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce them the right way, because there are always close pronunciations in Arabic and its acceptable if you get confused or mispronounce it, important is that you still can be understood.
After knowing how to pronounce the Arabic letters, let us now move through reading them as it is a continuous process. Remember that the Arabic letters should be written connected to each other, you can simply think of it as if you’re writing in cursive in English, like in the example below you can see how the word WELCOME is written in different formats and then the second WELCOME is written where it has all letters connected to each other in a cursive style.Unlike English, Arabic in most cases cannot be written with its letters separated from each other like the way we wrote the word WELCOME. Most letters should be connected like the way the second Welcome is written except for some situations which we name as exceptions.
Note: Before you begin to read Arabic, you should be aware that the Arabic alphabet letters have up to 3 forms, each letter takes a form depending on its position in the word, look at the example below and you will notice that a letter has a form at the beginning of the word, in the middle of the word and at the end of the word, some letters, however, can keep the same form in one or two positions.
Compare the m in the two examples below, the M of come has a longer tail than the M of the room because of the position of m, the same thing happens in Arabic. The form that a letter takes depends on its position in a given word, and the difference most of the time is very small, like a longer tail to allow it to connect with another letter following it.
The table below shows the three forms that a letter can take, a letter in a blue font shows a letter starting a word, the red font shows a letter in the middle of the word, and the black font shows a letter at the end of the word, as you may have noticed, there is no big different between the three forms.
Tip: Most of the time it may happen that the letter at the end will look exactly like the letter when it’s alone, that is no extension has been made.
Arabic Alphabet List:
Note: The letters ending with stars **, next to them can only be connected this is the basic format rules of the Arabic alphabets.
Also, make a note that the letters marked with stars i.e. |** in the table above never connect with other letters marked with stars either before or after.
So make sure that you are careful with these starred letters, because sometimes they may make you think that they’re the last letter of a word because they have that form of an ending letter, while in the reality they may not be the last letter of the word. The table below may explain it better for your consideration:
Learning how to read Arabic characters and how to pronounce them will make it very easy for you to learn the language, and avoid counting on transliterations that are not really reliable.
Pronouncing the Arabic sounds: To hear the pronunciation of the Arabic letters you should head over to the Arabic letters application.For simplicity let’s divide the letters into three groups, according to their difficulty.
a. Easy: In this group are all the letters that are more or less exactly pronounced as their English counterparts.
b.Medium: These letters are still somewhat similar to English sounds, but already more difficult to pronounce.
c.Difficult: These Arabic letters can prove tough to pronounce for beginners. Keep at it, though, and listen to recordings of native speakers. Eventually, your throat will hurt and you’ll get it right!
Putting letters together to form words
Now that you know how to write and pronounce individual Arabic letters, let’s take a look at putting them together to form words.
salaam means “peace” in Arabic. To write the word starting from the right and connect all the letters:
Let’s take a look at another word: mumtaaz – which means “excellent” in Arabic.
Here is another post that deals with the writing and pronunciation of Arabic numbers. The table below gives the numbers in writing and transliteration of the sounds.
Arabic alphabet table and Chart
The Arabic Alphabet table and chart is used by many people/beginners/learners to begin any Language by teaching its Parts of Speech. However, logically it is better to begin learning/teaching the Arabic Alphabet (Arabic Letters) as it is the reasonable starting point but Arabic is different.
Consider the absence of Alphabets then how we can form words and/or sentences.
From the table herein attached / above Chart that Arabic letters are 29 with the letter hamza, (often not included in the image) sometimes is regarded as a separate Letter.
Further, in the first column above, you can see some dashes or symbols on the Arabic Letter above or below them they are called Arabic vowels. Like English, Hindi these are vowels which are spelled but not written completely.
Here below mentioned are the three basic Arabic Letters Characteristics:
- Letters are connected to form words.
- Words have vowels on it.
- Some letters have dots on it.
Points that may help you in knowing and learning Arabic in the better way are as mentioned below:
- The Arabic structure of alphabets is very different from any other Language.
- Arabic letters form words by connecting them together, as in any other language.
- Arabic Alphabet is written and read from right to left except the numerals.
- Arabic Letters can be written in the basic three forms: initial, medial, and final i.e. different in shape according to their position.
- Letters in isolation and final are mostly the same in shape other than when written cursively.
- Letters in the initial and medial positions are mostly the same in shape.
- There are many print forms, types of fonts and writing forms for Arabic – yet most common of which is /̛ān-naskh/ (normal writing) النَسخ and /̛ār-ruqعa/ الرِقعة.An elementary/ intermediate Reader/ Learner is advised to use /̛ān-naskh/ writing form.
- You can find the correct pronunciation in Arabic just from the spelling of the word which is considered a no-trouble-trick of Arabic pronunciation.
- Arabic Letters can be divided into two groups according to their position
- Can’t be joined on the left side.
- Can be joined to a preceding letter but never to the following one.
- Then, all Arabic Letters in the Alphabet could be connected from both sides except the following mentioned Letters.
Change shape according to their position in the word.
10.Few Arabic Written Letters could be only differentiated by their dots.
11.There are some Confusing Arabic Written Letters when considering them in phonetically-wise rather than by their spelling.
12.Some letters are written in a similar manner as the other letters like tā̛ ت is sometimes written like the letter hā̛ in its final form ـهyet with two dots above it ـة.
This letter is mostly is seen in its final position as to indicating a feminine gender ending and is termed “tā̛ Marbutah”.
13.There are some Letters in Moroccan Written Arabic which appear entirely different in their shape as seen below: