Phonemic representationʔ, a
Position in alphabet1
Numerical value1
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician
CyrillicА, Я

Aleph (or alef or alif, transliterated ʾ) is the first letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician ʾālep 𐤀, Hebrew ʾālef א, Aramaic ʾālap 𐡀, Syriac ʾālap̄ ܐ, Arabic ʾalif ا, and North Arabian 𐪑. It also appears as South Arabian 𐩱 and Ge'ez ʾälef አ.

These letters are believed to have derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph depicting an ox's head[1] to describe the initial sound of *ʾalp, the West Semitic word for ox[2] (compare Biblical Hebrew אֶלֶףʾelef, "ox"[3]). The Phoenician variant gave rise to the Greek alpha (Α), being re-interpreted to express not the glottal consonant but the accompanying vowel, and hence the Latin A and Cyrillic А.

Phonetically, aleph originally represented the onset of a vowel at the glottis. In Semitic languages, this functions as a prosthetic weak consonant, allowing roots with only two true consonants to be conjugated in the manner of a standard three consonant Semitic root. In most Hebrew dialects as well as Syriac, the aleph is an absence of a true consonant, a glottal stop ([ʔ]), the sound found in the catch in uh-oh. In Arabic, the alif represents the glottal stop pronunciation when it is the initial letter of a word. In texts with diacritical marks, the pronunciation of an aleph as a consonant is rarely indicated by a special marking, hamza in Arabic and mappiq in Tiberian Hebrew. In later Semitic languages, aleph could sometimes function as a mater lectionis indicating the presence of a vowel elsewhere (usually long). When this practice began is the subject of some controversy, though it had become well established by the late stage of Old Aramaic (ca. 200 BCE). Aleph is often transliterated as U+02BE ʾ MODIFIER LETTER RIGHT HALF RING, based on the Greek spiritus lenis ʼ; for example, in the transliteration of the letter name itself, ʾāleph.[4]


The name aleph is derived from the West Semitic word for "ox" (as in the Biblical Hebrew word Eleph (אֶלֶף) 'ox'[3]), and the shape of the letter derives from a Proto-Sinaitic glyph that may have been based on an Egyptian hieroglyph, which depicts an ox's head.[5]

Hieroglyph Proto-Sinaitic Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew
Aleph Aleph Aleph

In Modern Standard Arabic, the word أليف /ʔaliːf/ literally means 'tamed' or 'familiar', derived from the root ʔ-L-F, from which the verb ألِف /ʔalifa/ means 'to be acquainted with; to be on intimate terms with'.[6] In modern Hebrew, the same root ʔ-L-P (alef-lamed-peh) gives me’ulaf, the passive participle of the verb le’alef, meaning 'trained' (when referring to pets) or 'tamed' (when referring to wild animals).

Ancient Egyptian

Further information: Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian § alef

in hieroglyphs

The Egyptian "vulture" hieroglyph (Gardiner G1), by convention pronounced [a]) is also referred to as aleph, on grounds that it has traditionally been taken to represent a glottal stop ([ʔ]), although some recent suggestions[7][8] tend towards an alveolar approximant ([ɹ]) sound instead. Despite the name it does not correspond to an aleph in cognate Semitic words, where the single "reed" hieroglyph is found instead.

The phoneme is commonly transliterated by a symbol composed of two half-rings, in Unicode (as of version 5.1, in the Latin Extended-D range) encoded at U+A722 Ꜣ LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF and U+A723 ꜣ LATIN SMALL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF. A fallback representation is the numeral 3, or the Middle English character ȝ Yogh; neither are to be preferred to the genuine Egyptological characters.

Arabic ʾalif

Written as ا or 𐪑, spelled as ألف or 𐪑𐪁𐪐 and transliterated as alif, it is the first letter in Arabic and North Arabian. Together with Hebrew aleph, Greek alpha and Latin A, it is descended from Phoenician ʾāleph, from a reconstructed Proto-Canaanite ʾalp "ox".

Alif has the highest frequency out of all 28 letters in the Arabic abjad.[citation needed] Alif is also the most used letter in Arabic.

Alif is written in one of the following ways depending on its position in the word:

Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ا ـا ـا ا
North Arabian

Arabic variants

Alif mahmūza: أ and إ

Main article: Hamza

The Arabic letter was used to render either a long /aː/ or a glottal stop /ʔ/. That led to orthographical confusion and to the introduction of the additional marking hamzat qaṭ‘ to fix the problem. Hamza is not considered a full letter in Arabic orthography: in most cases, it appears on a carrier, either a wāw (ؤ), a dotless yā’ (ئ), or an alif.

Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
أ ـأ ـأ أ

The choice of carrier depends on complicated orthographic rules. Alif إ أ is generally the carrier if the only adjacent vowel is fatḥah. It is the only possible carrier if hamza is the first phoneme of a word. Where alif acts as a carrier for hamza, hamza is added above the alif, or, for initial alif-kasrah, below it and indicates that the letter so modified is indeed a glottal stop, not a long vowel.

A second type of hamza, hamzat waṣl (همزة وصل) whose diacritic is normally omitted outside of sacred texts, occurs only as the initial letter of the definite article and in some related cases. It differs from hamzat qaṭ‘ in that it is elided after a preceding vowel. Alif is always the carrier.

Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ٱ ـٱ ـٱ ٱ

Alif mamdūda: آ

The alif maddah is a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop and a long vowel. Essentially, it is the same as a أا sequence: آ (final ـآ) ’ā /ʔaː/, for example in آخر ākhir /ʔaːxir/ 'last'.

Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
آ ـآ ـآ آ

"It has become standard for a hamza followed by a long ā to be written as two alifs, one vertical and one horizontal."[9] (the "horizontal" alif being the maddah sign).

Alif maqṣūrah: ى

The ى ('limited/restricted alif', alif maqṣūrah), commonly known in Egypt as alif layyinah (ألف لينة, 'flexible alif'), may appear only at the end of a word. Although it looks different from a regular alif, it represents the same sound /aː/, often realized as a short vowel. When it is written, alif maqṣūrah is indistinguishable from final Persian ye or Arabic yā’ as it is written in Egypt, Sudan and sometimes elsewhere.

The letter is transliterated as y in Kazakh, representing the vowel /ə/. Alif maqsurah is transliterated as á in ALA-LC, ā in DIN 31635, à in ISO 233-2, and in ISO 233.

In Arabic, alif maqsurah ى is not used initially or medially, and it is not joinable initially or medially in any font. However, the letter is used initially and medially in the Uyghur Arabic alphabet and the Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet, representing the vowel /ɯ/: (ىـ ـىـ).

Position in word Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form:
ى ـى ـىـ ىـ


As a numeral, alif stands for the number one. It may be modified as follows to represent other numbers.[citation needed]

Modification to alif Number represented
One dot below 1,000
One line below 10,000
One line above 1,000,000
Two dots below 10,000,000


The Aramaic reflex of the letter is conventionally represented with the Hebrew א in typography for convenience, but the actual graphic form varied significantly over the long history and wide geographic extent of the language. Maraqten identifies three different aleph traditions in East Arabian coins: a lapidary Aramaic form that realizes it as a combination of a V-shape and a straight stroke attached to the apex, much like a Latin K; a cursive Aramaic form he calls the "elaborated X-form", essentially the same tradition as the Hebrew reflex; and an extremely cursive form of two crossed oblique lines, much like a simple Latin X.[10]

Cursive Aramaic Lapidary Aramaic
Lapidary aleph

Hebrew alef

"א" redirects here. For the Biblical manuscript, see Codex Sinaiticus.

Hebrew spelling: אָלֶף

In Modern Israeli Hebrew, the letter either represents a glottal stop ([ʔ]) or indicates a hiatus (the separation of two adjacent vowels into distinct syllables, with no intervening consonant). It is sometimes silent (word-finally always, word-medially sometimes: הוּא[hu] "he", רָאשִׁי[ʁaˈʃi] "main", רֹאשׁ[ʁoʃ] "head", רִאשׁוֹן[ʁiˈʃon] "first"). The pronunciation varies in different Jewish ethnic divisions.

In gematria, aleph represents the number 1, and when used at the beginning of Hebrew years, it means 1000 (e.g. א'תשנ"ד‎ in numbers would be the Hebrew date 1754, not to be confused with 1754 CE).

Aleph, along with ayin, resh, he and heth, cannot receive a dagesh. (However, there are few very rare examples of the Masoretes adding a dagesh or mappiq to an aleph or resh. The verses of the Hebrew Bible for which an aleph with a mappiq or dagesh appears are Genesis 43:26, Leviticus 23:17, Job 33:21 and Ezra 8:18.)

In Modern Hebrew, the frequency of the usage of alef, out of all the letters, is 4.94%.

Aleph is sometimes used as a mater lectionis to denote a vowel, usually /a/. That use is more common in words of Aramaic and Arabic origin, in foreign names, and some other borrowed words.

Orthographic variants
Various print fonts Cursive
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
א א א

Rabbinic Judaism

Aleph is the subject of a midrash that praises its humility in not demanding to start the Bible. (In Hebrew, the Bible begins with the second letter of the alphabet, bet.) In the story, aleph is rewarded by being allowed to start the Ten Commandments. (In Hebrew, the first word is anoki (אָנֹכִי‎), which starts with an aleph.)

In the Sefer Yetzirah, the letter aleph is king over breath, formed air in the universe, temperate in the year, and the chest in the soul.

Aleph is also the first letter of the Hebrew word emet (אֶמֶת‎), which means truth. In Judaism, it was the letter aleph that was carved into the head of the golem that ultimately gave it life.

Aleph also begins the three words that make up God's name in Exodus, I Am who I Am (in Hebrew, Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh אהיה אשר אהיה), and aleph is an important part of mystical amulets and formulas.

Aleph represents the oneness of God. The letter can be seen as being composed of an upper yud, a lower yud, and a vav leaning on a diagonal. The upper yud represents the hidden and ineffable aspects of God while the lower yud represents God's revelation and presence in the world. The vav ("hook") connects the two realms.

Judaism relates aleph to the element of air, and the Scintillating Intelligence (#11) of the path between Kether and Chokmah in the Tree of the Sephiroth [citation needed].


In Yiddish,[11] aleph is used for several orthographic purposes in native words, usually with different diacritical marks borrowed from Hebrew niqqud:

Loanwords from Hebrew or Aramaic in Yiddish are spelled as they are in their language of origin.

Syriac ʾalaph/olaf

Madnḫaya alap
Serṭo olaph
Esṭrangela alap

In the Syriac alphabet, the first letter is ܐ, Classical Syriac: ܐܵܠܲܦ, alap (in eastern dialects) or olaph (in western dialects). It is used in word-initial position to mark a word beginning with a vowel, but some words beginning with i or u do not need its help, and sometimes, an initial alap/olaph is elided. For example, when the Syriac first-person singular pronoun ܐܸܢܵܐ is in enclitic positions, it is pronounced no/na (again west/east), rather than the full form eno/ana. The letter occurs very regularly at the end of words, where it represents the long final vowels o/a or e. In the middle of the word, the letter represents either a glottal stop between vowels (but West Syriac pronunciation often makes it a palatal approximant), a long i/e (less commonly o/a) or is silent.

South Arabian/Ge'ez

In the Ancient South Arabian alphabet, 𐩱 appears as the seventeenth letter of the South Arabian abjad. The letter is used to render a glottal stop /ʔ/.

In the Ge'ez alphabet, ʾälef አ appears as the thirteenth letter of its abjad. This letter is also used to render a glottal stop /ʔ/.

South Arabian Ge'ez

Other uses


In set theory, the Hebrew aleph glyph is used as the symbol to denote the aleph numbers, which represent the cardinality of infinite sets. This notation was introduced by mathematician Georg Cantor. In older mathematics books, the letter aleph is often printed upside down by accident, partly because a Monotype matrix for aleph was mistakenly constructed the wrong way up.[12]


The Mapai political party in Israel used an aleph as its election symbol, and featured it prominently in its campaign posters.[13]

Character encodings

Character information
Preview א ا ܐ 𐎀 𐤀 𐡀 𐫀
Encodings decimal hex dec hex dec hex dec hex dec hex dec hex dec hex dec hex dec hex
Unicode 1488 U+05D0 1575 U+0627 1808 U+0710 2048 U+0800 66432 U+10380 67840 U+10900 67648 U+10840 68288 U+10AC0 8501 U+2135
UTF-8 215 144 D7 90 216 167 D8 A7 220 144 DC 90 224 160 128 E0 A0 80 240 144 142 128 F0 90 8E 80 240 144 164 128 F0 90 A4 80 240 144 161 128 F0 90 A1 80 240 144 171 128 F0 90 AB 80 226 132 181 E2 84 B5
UTF-16 1488 05D0 1575 0627 1808 0710 2048 0800 55296 57216 D800 DF80 55298 56576 D802 DD00 55298 56384 D802 DC40 55298 57024 D802 DEC0 8501 2135
Numeric character reference א א ا ا ܐ ܐ ࠀ ࠀ 𐎀 𐎀 𐤀 𐤀 𐡀 𐡀 𐫀 𐫀 ℵ ℵ
Named character reference ℵ, ℵ

See also


  1. ^ "Oldest alphabet found in Egypt". BBC News. 1999-11-15. Archived from the original on 2017-06-07. Retrieved 2014-08-01.
  2. ^ Goldwasser, O. (2010). "How the Alphabet was Born from Hieroglyphs". Biblical Archaeology Review. 36 (2): 40–53. Archived from the original on 2021-11-28. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  3. ^ a b "Strong's Hebrew: 504. אֲלָפִים (eleph) -- cattle". Archived from the original on 2020-06-16. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  4. ^ Andersen, F.I.; Freedman, D.N. (1992). "Aleph as a vowel in Old Aramaic". Studies in Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. pp. 79–90.
  5. ^ "Meet The Animal That Inspired The Letter A". Everything After Z. 2014-10-31. Archived from the original on 2019-05-09. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  6. ^ Wehr, Hans (1994). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: (Arabic-English) (4th ed.). Urbana: Spoken Language Services. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0879500034.
  7. ^ Lecarme, Jacqueline; Lowenstamm, Jean; Shlonsky, Ur (2000). Research in Afroasiatic Grammar: Papers from the Third Conference on Afroasiatic Languages, Sophia Antipolis, France, 1996. John Benjamins. p. 345. ISBN 90-272-3709-3. The "aleps" problem in Old Egyptian The character of Egyptian "aleph" (transcribed Ꜣ) has always been debated by linguists and egyptologists. Even at the present we can claim surely only that Egyptian Ꜣ was often not the same as the Semitic glottal stop ɂ.
  8. ^ Schneider, Thomas (2003). "Etymologische Methode, die Historizität der Phoneme und das ägyptologische Transkriptionsalphabet". Lingua Aegyptia: Journal of Egyptian Language Studies (11): 187–199.
  9. ^ Jones, Alan (2005). Arabic Through The Qur'an. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society. p. 4. ISBN 0946621-68-3.
  10. ^ Maraqten, Mohammed (1996). "Notes on the Aramaic script of some coins from East Arabia". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. 7 (2): 304–315. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0471.1996.tb00107.x.
  11. ^ Weinreich, Uriel (1992). College Yiddish. New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. pp. 25–8.
  12. ^ Swanson, Ellen; O'Sean, Arlene Ann; Schleyer, Antoinette Tingley (1999) [1979], Mathematics into type. Copy editing and proofreading of mathematics for editorial assistants and authors (updated ed.), Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, p. 16, ISBN 0-8218-0053-1, MR 0553111
  13. ^ Weitz, Carmel Sapir (2018-07-12). "Symbols of the Mapai Party". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 2023-03-20. Retrieved 2024-03-06.