Arabic alphabet
Script type
Time period
3rd century CE – present[1]
DirectionRight-to-left script Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesArabic
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Arab (160), ​Arabic
Unicode
Unicode alias
Arabic
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Countries and regions that use the Arabic script:
  as the sole official script
  as a co-official script

The Arabic alphabet (Arabic: الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, al-ʾabǧadiyyah l-ʿarabiyyah [æl.ʔæb.d͡ʒæˈdɪj.jæ l.ʕɑ.rɑˈbɪj.jæ] or الْحُرُوف الْعَرَبِيَّة, al-ḥurūf al-ʿarabiyyah), or Arabic abjad, is the Arabic script as specifically codified for writing the Arabic language. It is written from right-to-left in a cursive style, and includes 28 letters, of which most have contextual letterforms. The Arabic alphabet is considered an abjad, with only consonants required to be written; due to its optional use of diacritics to notate vowels, it is considered an impure abjad.[2]

Letters

The basic Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters. Forms using the Arabic script to write other languages added and removed letters: for example Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu, Sindhi, Azerbaijani, Malay, Acehnese, Banjarese, Javanese, Pashto, Punjabi, Uyghur, Arwi and Arabi Malayalam all have additional letters in their alphabets. Unlike Greek-derived alphabets, Arabic has no distinct upper and lower case letterforms.

Many letters look similar but are distinguished from one another by dots (ʾiʿjām) above or below their central part (rasm). These dots are an integral part of a letter, since they distinguish between letters that represent different sounds. For example, the Arabic letters ب b, ت t, and ث th have the same basic shape, but with one dot added below, two dots added above, and three dots added above respectively. The letter ن n also has the same form in initial and medial forms, with one dot added above, though it is somewhat different in its isolated and final forms.

Both printed and written Arabic are cursive, with most letters within a word directly joined to adjacent letters.

Alphabetical order

There are two main collating sequences ('alphabetical orderings') for the Arabic alphabet: ʾabjadīy, and hijā’ī.

The original ʾabjadī order derives from that used by the Phoenician alphabet, and is therefore reminiscent of the orderings of other alphabets, such as those in Hebrew and Greek. With this ordering, letters are also used as numbers known as abjad numerals, possessing the same numerological codes as in Hebrew gematria and Greek isopsephy.

The hijā’ī or alifbāʾī order is used when sorting lists of words and names, such as in phonebooks, classroom lists, and dictionaries. The ordering groups letters by the graphical similarity of the glyphs' shapes.

Abjadi

The ʾabjadī order is not a simple correspondence with the earlier north Semitic alphabetic order, as it has a position corresponding to the Aramaic letter samek ס, which has no cognate letter in the Arabic alphabet historically.

The loss of sameḵ was compensated for by:

The six other letters that do not correspond to any north Semitic letter are placed at the end.

Common abjadī sequence[3]
ا ب ج د ه و ز ح ط ي ك ل م ن س ع ف ص ق ر ش ت ث خ ذ ض ظ غ
ʾ b j d h w z y k l m n s ʿ f q r sh t th kh dh gh
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900

This is commonly vocalized as follows:

ʾabjad hawwaz ḥuṭṭī kalaman saʿfaṣ qarashat thakhadh ḍaẓagh.

Another vocalization is:

ʾabujadin hawazin ḥuṭiya kalman saʿfaṣ qurishat thakhudh ḍaẓugh[citation needed]
Maghrebian abjadī sequence (quoted in apparently earliest authorities & considered older)[3][4]
ا ب ج د ه و ز ح ط ي ك ل م ن ص ع ف ض ق ر س ت ث خ ذ ظ غ ش
ʾ b j d h w z y k l m n ʿ f q r s t th kh dh gh sh
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000
The colors indicate which letters have different positions from the previous table

This can be vocalized as:

ʾabujadin hawazin ḥuṭiya kalman ṣaʿfaḍ qurisat thakhudh ẓaghush

Hijāʾī

hijāʾī collation compared to Hebrew, Syriac, and Greek

Modern dictionaries and other reference books do not use the abjadī order to sort alphabetically; instead, the newer hijāʾī order is used wherein letters are partially grouped together by similarity of shape. The hijāʾī order is never used as numerals.

Common hijāʾī order
ا ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن ه و ي
ʾ b t th j kh d dh r z s sh ʿ gh f q k l m n h w y

In the hijāʾī order replaced recently [when?] by the Mashriqi order,[4][unreliable source?] though still used in many Quranic schools in Algeria,[citation needed] the sequence is:[3]

Maghrebian hijāʾī order
ا ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز ط ظ ك ل م ن ص ض ع غ ف ق س ش ه و ي
ʾ b t th j kh d dh r z k l m n ʿ gh f q s sh h w y
The colors indicate which letters have different positions from the previous table

In Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani's encyclopedia الإكليل من أخبار اليمن وأنساب حمير Kitāb al-Iklīl min akhbār al-Yaman wa-ansāb Ḥimyar, the letter sequence is:[5]

Al-Iklīl's order
ا ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ك ل م و ن ص ض ع غ ط ظ ف ق ر ز ه س ش ي
ʾ b t th j kh d dh k l m w n ʿ gh f q r z h s sh y

Letter forms

The Arabic alphabet is always cursive and letters vary in shape depending on their position within a word. Letters can exhibit up to four distinct forms corresponding to an initial, medial (middle), final, or isolated position (IMFI). While some letters show considerable variations, others remain almost identical across all four positions. Generally, letters in the same word are linked together on both sides by short horizontal lines, but six letters (و ,ز ,ر ,ذ ,د ,ا) can only be linked to their preceding letter. In addition, some letter combinations are written as ligatures (special shapes), notably lām-alif لا,[6] which is the only mandatory ligature (the unligated combination ل‍‌‍ا is considered difficult to read).

Table of basic letters

Arabic letters usage in Literary Arabic
Maghrebian Common Closest English
equivalent in pronunciation
Letter
name

(Classical pronunciation; IPA)

Letter
name in Arabic script[a]
Value in Literary Arabic (IPA) Contextual forms Isolated
form
ʾAbjadī Hijāʾī ʾAbjadī Hijāʾī Final Medial Initial
 
1. 1. 1. 1.  uhoh / car, cat[b] ʾalif ([ʔælif]) أَلِف //, /ʔ/[b] ـا ا
2. 2. 2. 2. barn bāʾ ([baːʔ]) بَاء /b/ ـب ـبـ بـ ب
22. 3. 22. 3. tick tāʾ ([taːʔ]) تَاء /t/ ـت ـتـ تـ ت
23. 4. 23. 4. think thāʾ ([θaːʔ]) / ṯāʾ ثَاء /θ/ ـث ـثـ ثـ ث
3. 5. 3. 5. gem jīm ([d͡ʒiːm]) جِيم /d͡ʒ/[c] ـج ـجـ جـ ج
8. 6. 8. 6. no equivalent
(pharyngeal h)
ḥāʾ ([ħæːʔ]) حَاء /ħ/ ـح ـحـ حـ ح
24. 7. 24. 7. Scottish loch khāʾ ([xaːʔ]) / ḵāʾ خَاء /x/ ـخ ـخـ خـ خ
4. 8. 4. 8. dear dāl ([daːl]) دَال /d/ ـد د
25. 9. 25. 9. that dhāl ([ðaːl]) / ḏāl ذَال /ð/ ـذ ذ
20. 10. 20. 10. Scottish right rāʾ ([raːʔ]) رَاء /r/ ـر ر
7. 11. 7. 11. zebra zāy ([zaːj]) زَاي [d] /z/ ـز ز
21. 24. 15. 12. sin sīn ([siːn]) سِين /s/ ـس ـسـ سـ س
28. 25. 21. 13. shin shīn ([ʃiːn]) / šīn شِين /ʃ/ ـش ـشـ شـ ش
15. 18. 18. 14. no equivalent
(emphatic s)
ṣād ([sˤaːd]) صَاد // ـص ـصـ صـ ص
18. 19. 26. 15. no equivalent
(emphatic d)
ḍād ([dˤaːd]) ضَاد // ـض ـضـ ضـ ض
9. 12. 9. 16. no equivalent
(emphatic t)
ṭāʾ ([tˤaːʔ]) طَاء // ـط ـطـ طـ ط
26. 13. 27. 17. no equivalent
(emphatic the)
ẓāʾ ([ðˤaːʔ]) ظَاء /ðˤ/ ـظ ـظـ ظـ ظ
16. 20. 16. 18. no equivalent
(similar to ح ḥāʾ but voiced)
ʿayn ([ʕajn]) عَيْن /ʕ/ ـع ـعـ عـ ع
27. 21. 28. 19. no equivalent
(Spanish abogado or French rouge)
ghayn ([ɣajn]) / ḡayn غَيْن /ɣ/ ـغ ـغـ غـ غ
17. 22. 17. 20. far fāʾ ([faːʔ]) فَاء /f/ ـف ـفـ فـ ف[e]
19. 23. 19. 21. no equivalent
(MLE cut)
qāf ([qaːf]) قَاف /q/ ـق ـقـ قـ ق[e]
11. 14. 11. 22. cap kāf ([kaːf]) كَاف /k/ ـك ـكـ كـ ك[e]
12. 15. 12. 23. lamp lām ([laːm]) لاَم /l/ ـل ـلـ لـ ل
13. 16. 13. 24. me mīm ([miːm]) مِيم /m/ ـم ـمـ مـ م
14. 17. 14. 25. nun nūn ([nuːn]) نُون /n/ ـن ـنـ نـ ن
5. 26. 5. 26. hat hāʾ ([haːʔ]) هَاء /h/ ـه‎ ـهـ‎‎ هـ‎ [f]
6. 27. 6. 27. wow, pool wāw ([waːw]) وَاو /w/, //[g] ـو و
10. 28. 10. 28. yes, meet yāʾ ([jaːʔ]) يَاء /j/, //[g] ـي ـيـ يـ ي[e]
29. 29. 29. 29.  uhoh hamzah هَمْزة /ʔ/ ء[h]

(used in medial and final positions as an unlinked letter)

Notes

  1. ^ The Arabic letter names below are the standard and most universally used names, other names (e.g. letter names in Egypt) might be used instead.
  2. ^ a b Alif can represent different phonemes; initially: a/i/u /a, i, u/ or sometimes silent in the definite article ال (a)l-. Medially and finally it represents a long vowel ā /aː/. It also part of the hamzah /ʔ/ forms, check #Hamzah forms
  3. ^ The standard pronunciation of ج /d͡ʒ/ varies regionally, most prominently [d͡ʒ] in the Arabian Peninsula, parts of the Levant, Iraq, and northern Algeria, it is also considered as the predominant pronunciation of Literary Arabic when reciting the Quran and in Arabic studies outside the Arab world, [ʒ] in most of Northwest Africa and parts of the Levant (especially urban centers), while [ɡ] is the pronunciation only in lower Egypt, coastal Yemen, and coastal Oman, as well as [ɟ] in Sudan.
  4. ^ ز can also be called ("zāʾ" / زاء), ("zayy" / زَيّ) or ("zayn" / زين), but the standard is zāy.
  5. ^ a b c d See the section on regional variations in letter form.
  6. ^ In certain contexts such as serial numbers and license plates the initial form is used to prevent confusion with the western number zero or Eastern Arabic Numeral for 5(٥)
  7. ^ a b The letters ⟨و⟩ and ⟨ي⟩ are used to transcribe the vowels // and // respectively in loanwords and dialects, ⟨و⟩ is also used as a silent letter in some words like عمرو.
  8. ^ (counted as a letter in the Arabic and plays an important role in Arabic spelling but not considered as one) denoting most irregular female nouns [citation needed]
In academic work, the hamzah is transliterated with the modifier letter right half ring (ʾ), while the modifier letter left half ring (ʿ) transliterates the letter ‘ayn (ع), which represents a different sound, not found in English.
The hamzah has a single form, since it is never linked to a preceding or following letter. However, it is sometimes combined with a wāw, yā’, or alif, and in that case the carrier behaves like an ordinary wāw, yā’, or alif, check the table below:

Hamzah forms

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Name Contextual forms Isolated Position occurrence
Final Medial Initial
Hamzah ʿalā al-ʾalif (هَمْزَة عَلَى الأَلِفْ) ـأ أ Initial / Medial / Final positions
Hamzah taḥt al-ʾalif (هَمْزَة تَحْت الأَلِفْ) - إ Initial position only
Hamzah ʿalā as-saṭr (هَمْزَة عَلَى السَّطْر) ء - ء Medial / Final only
Hamzah ʿalā al-wāw (هَمْزَة عَلَى الوَاو) ـؤ - ؤ Medial / Final only
Hamzah ʿalā nabra (هَمْزَة عَلَى نَبْرَة) (medial)
Hamzah ʿalā al-yāʾ (هَمْزَة عَلَى اليَاء) (final)
ـئ ـئـ - ئ Medial / Final only
Hamzat al-madd (هَمْزَةْ المد) - ـآ آ Initial / Medial only

For the writing rule of each form, check Hamza.

Modified letters

The following are not individual letters, but rather different contextual variants of some of the Arabic letters.

Name Contextual forms Isolated Translit. Phonemic Value (IPA)
Final Medial Initial
tāʾ marbūṭah

(تَاءْ مَرْبُوطَة)

ـة (only final) ة h or
t/ẗ
(aka "correlated tā'")

used in final position only and for denoting the feminine noun/word or to make the noun/word feminine; however, in rare irregular noun/word cases, it appears to denote the "masculine"; singular nouns: /a/,

plural nouns: āt (a preceding letter followed by a fatḥah alif + tāʾ = ـَات‎)

ʾalif maqṣūrah (أَلِفْ مَقْصُورَة) ـى (only final) ى ā or
y/ỳ
Two uses:
1. The letter called أَلِفْ مَقْصُورَة alif maqṣūrah or ْأَلِف لَيِّنَة alif layyinah (as opposed to أَلِف مَمْدُودَة alif mamdūda ا), pronounced /aː/ in Modern Standard Arabic. It is used only at the end of words in some special cases to denote the neuter/non-feminine aspect of the word (mainly verbs), where tā’ marbūṭah cannot be used.
[citation needed]
2. A way of writing the letter ي yāʾ without its dots at the end of words, either traditionally or in contemporary use in Egypt and Sudan.
ʾalif al-waṣl

(أَلِفُ ٱلْوَصْلِ)

(only initial) ٱ or ا silent

(check Wasla)

  • an ʾalif with a hamzat waṣl above it, rarely used in this form and mostly written as an ordinary ʾalif ا.
  • Initial/ Medial/ Final position: silent
  • Marker/connector/conjoiner between two words, either using the Arabic definite article al or with an ʾalif or hamzah ʾalif to form a phrase, phrasal noun, or even name: e.g. 'Abd 'Allah عَبْدَ ٱلله - "servant of Allah (God)".

Gemination

Further information: Shadda

Gemination is the doubling of a consonant. Instead of writing the letter twice, Arabic places a W-shaped sign called shaddah, above it. Note that if a vowel occurs between the two consonants the letter will simply be written twice. The diacritic only appears where the consonant at the end of one syllable is identical to the initial consonant of the following syllable. (The generic term for such diacritical signs is ḥarakāt), e. g., درس darasa (with full diacritics: دَرَسَ) is a Form I verb meaning to study, whereas درّس darrasa (with full diacritics: دَرَّسَ) is the corresponding Form II verb, with the middle r consonant doubled, meaning to teach.

General Unicode Name Name in Arabic script Transliteration
0651

ــّـ

shaddah شَدَّة (consonant doubled/geminated)

Nunation

Main article: Nunation

Nunation (Arabic: تنوين tanwīn) is the addition of a final -n  to a noun or adjective. The vowel before it indicates grammatical case. In written Arabic nunation is indicated by doubling the vowel diacritic at the end of the word.

Ligatures

Components of a ligature for "Allah":
1. alif
2. hamzat waṣl (ْهَمْزَة وَصْل‎)
3. lām
4. lām
5. shadda (شَدَّة‎)
6. dagger alif (أَلِفْ خَنْجَریَّة‎)
7. hāʾ

The use of ligature in Arabic is common. There is one compulsory ligature, that for lām ل + alif ا, which exists in two forms. All other ligatures, of which there are many,[7] are optional.

Contextual forms Name Trans. Value
Final Medial Initial Isolated
lām + alif laa /laː/
[8] yāʾ + mīm īm /iːm/
lam + mīm lm /lm/

A more complex ligature that combines as many as seven distinct components is commonly used to represent the word Allāh.

The only ligature within the primary range of Arabic script in Unicode (U+06xx) is lām + alif. This is the only one compulsory for fonts and word-processing. Other ranges are for compatibility to older standards and contain other ligatures, which are optional.

Note: Unicode also has in its Presentation Form B FExx range a code for this ligature. If your browser and font are configured correctly for Arabic, the ligature displayed above should be identical to this one, U+FEFB ARABIC LIGATURE LAM WITH ALEF ISOLATED FORM:

Note: Unicode also has in its Presentation Form B U+FExx range a code for this ligature. If your browser and font are configured correctly for Arabic, the ligature displayed above should be identical to this one:

Another ligature in the Unicode Presentation Form A range U+FB50 to U+FDxx is the special code for glyph for the ligature Allāh ("God"), U+FDF2 ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM:

This is a work-around for the shortcomings of most text processors, which are incapable of displaying the correct vowel marks for the word Allāh in the Quran. Because Arabic script is used to write other texts rather than Quran only, rendering lām + lām + hā’ as the previous ligature is considered faulty.

This simplified style is often preferred for clarity, especially in non-Arabic languages, but may not be considered appropriate in situations where a more elaborate style of calligraphy is preferred. –SIL International[9]

If one of a number of the fonts (Noto Naskh Arabic, mry_KacstQurn, KacstOne, Nadeem, DejaVu Sans, Harmattan, Scheherazade, Lateef, Iranian Sans, Baghdad, DecoType Naskh) is installed on a computer (Iranian Sans is supported by Wikimedia web-fonts), the word will appear without diacritics.

An attempt to show them on the faulty fonts without automatically adding the gemination mark and the superscript alif, although may not display as desired on all browsers, is by adding the U+200d (Zero width joiner) after the first or second lām

Vowels

Users of Arabic usually write long vowels but omit short ones, so readers must utilize their knowledge of the language in order to supply the missing vowels. However, in the education system and particularly in classes on Arabic grammar these vowels are used since they are crucial to the grammar. An Arabic sentence can have a completely different meaning by a subtle change of the vowels. This is why in an important text such as the Qur’ān the three basic vowel signs are mandated, like the Arabic diacritics and other types of marks, like the cantillation signs.

Short vowels

Further information: Arabic diacritics

In the Arabic handwriting of everyday use, in general publications, and on street signs, short vowels are typically not written. On the other hand, copies of the Qur’ān cannot be endorsed by the religious institutes that review them unless the diacritics are included. Children's books, elementary school texts, and Arabic-language grammars in general will include diacritics to some degree. These are known as "vocalized" texts.

Short vowels may be written with diacritics placed above or below the consonant that precedes them in the syllable, called ḥarakāt. All Arabic vowels, long and short, follow a consonant; in Arabic, words like "Ali" or "alif", for example, start with a consonant: ‘Aliyy, alif.

Short vowels
(fully vocalized text)
Code Name Name in Arabic script Trans. Phonemic Value Remarks
ــَـ 064E fat·ḥah فَتْحَة a /a/ Ranges from [æ], [a], [ä], [ɑ], [ɐ], to [e], depending on the native dialect, position, and stress.
ــُـ 064F ḍammah ضَمَّة u /u/ Ranges from [ʊ], [o], to [u], depending on the native dialect, position, and stress. Approximated to English "OO" (as "boot" but shorter)

ــِـ

0650 kasrah كَسْرَة i /i/ Ranges from [ɪ], [e], to [i], depending on the native dialect, position, and stress. Approximated to English "I" (as in "pick")

Long vowels

In the fully vocalized Arabic text found in texts such as the Quran, a long ā following a consonant other than a hamzah is written with a short a sign (fatḥah) on the consonant plus an ʾalif after it; long ī is written as a sign for short i (kasrah) plus a yāʾ; and long ū as a sign for short u (ḍammah) plus a wāw. Briefly, ᵃa = ā; ⁱy = ī; and ᵘw = ū. Long ā following a hamzah may be represented by an ʾalif maddah or by a free hamzah followed by an ʾalif (two consecutive ʾalifs are never allowed in Arabic).

The table below shows vowels placed above or below a dotted circle replacing a primary consonant letter or a shaddah sign. For clarity in the table, the primary letters on the left used to mark these long vowels are shown only in their isolated form. Most consonants do connect to the left with ʾalif, wāw and yāʾ written then with their medial or final form. Additionally, the letter yāʾ in the last row may connect to the letter on its left, and then will use a medial or initial form. Use the table of primary letters to look at their actual glyph and joining types.

Long vowels (fully vocalized text)
Unicode Letter with diacritic Name Trans. Variants Value
064E 0627 ـَـا fatḥah ʾalif ā aa /aː/
064E 0649 ـَـى fatḥah ʾalif maqṣūrah ā aa
064F 0648 ـُـو ḍammah wāw ū uw/ ou /uː/
0650 064A ـِـي kasrah yāʾ ī iy /iː/
0650 0649 ـِـى[a] kasrah yāʾ ī iy /iː/

In unvocalized text (one in which the short vowels are not marked), the long vowels are represented by the vowel in question: ʾalif ṭawīlah/maqṣūrah, wāw, or yāʾ. Long vowels written in the middle of a word of unvocalized text are treated like consonants with a sukūn (see below) in a text that has full diacritics. Here also, the table shows long vowel letters only in isolated form for clarity.

Combinations وا and يا are always pronounced and yāʾ respectively. The exception is the suffix ـوا۟ in verb endings where ʾalif is silent, resulting in ū or aw.

Long vowels
(unvocalized text)
Name Trans. Value
0627
ا
(implied fatḥah) ʾalif ā /aː/
0649
ى
(implied fatḥah) ʾalif maqṣūrah ā / y
0648
و
(implied ḍammah) wāw ū /uː/
064A
ي
(implied kasrah) yāʾ ī /iː/

In addition, when transliterating names and loanwords, Arabic language speakers write out most or all the vowels as long (ā with ا ʾalif, ē and ī with ي yaʾ, and ō and ū with و wāw), meaning it approaches a true alphabet.

Diphthongs

The diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ are represented in vocalized text as follows:

Diphthongs
(fully vocalized text)
Name Trans. Value
064A 064E
ـَـي
fatḥah yāʾ ay /aj/
0648 064E
ـَـو
fatḥah vāv/ wāw aw /aw/

Vowel omission

An Arabic syllable can be open (ending with a vowel) or closed (ending with a consonant):

A normal text is composed only of a series of consonants plus vowel-lengthening letters; thus, the word qalb, "heart", is written qlb, and the word qalaba "he turned around", is also written qlb.

To write qalaba without this ambiguity, we could indicate that the l is followed by a short a by writing a fatḥah above it.

To write qalb, we would instead indicate that the l is followed by no vowel by marking it with a diacritic called sukūn ( ْ‎), like this: قلْب.

This is one step down from full vocalization, where the vowel after the q would also be indicated by a fatḥah: قَلْب.

The Qurʾān is traditionally written in full vocalization.

The long i sound in some editions of the Qur’ān is written with a kasrah followed by a diacritic-less y, and long u by a ḍammah followed by a bare w. In others, these y and w carry a sukūn. Outside of the Qur’ān, the latter convention is extremely rare, to the point that y with sukūn will be unambiguously read as the diphthong /aj/, and w with sukūn will be read /aw/.

For example, the letters m-y-l can be read like English meel or mail, or (theoretically) also like mayyal or mayil. But if a sukūn is added on the y then the m cannot have a sukūn (because two letters in a row cannot be sukūnated), cannot have a ḍammah (because there is never an uy sound in Arabic unless there is another vowel after the y), and cannot have a kasrah (because kasrah before sukūnated y is never found outside the Qur’ān), so it must have a fatḥah and the only possible pronunciation is /majl/ (meaning mile, or even e-mail). By the same token, m-y-t with a sukūn over the y can be mayt but not mayyit or meet, and m-w-t with a sukūn on the w can only be mawt, not moot (iw is impossible when the w closes the syllable).

Vowel marks are always written as if the i‘rāb vowels were in fact pronounced, even when they must be skipped in actual pronunciation. So, when writing the name Aḥmad, it is optional to place a sukūn on the , but a sukūn is forbidden on the d, because it would carry a ḍammah if any other word followed, as in Aḥmadu zawjī "Ahmad is my husband".

Another example: the sentence that in correct literary Arabic must be pronounced Aḥmadu zawjun shirrīr "Ahmad is a wicked husband", is usually pronounced (due to influence from vernacular Arabic varieties) as Aḥmad zawj shirrīr. Yet, for the purposes of Arabic grammar and orthography, is treated as if it were not mispronounced and as if yet another word followed it, i.e., if adding any vowel marks, they must be added as if the pronunciation were Aḥmadu zawjun sharrīrun with a tanwīn 'un' at the end. So, it is correct to add an un tanwīn sign on the final r, but actually pronouncing it would be a hypercorrection. Also, it is never correct to write a sukūn on that r, even though in actual pronunciation it is (and in correct Arabic MUST be) sukūned.

Of course, if the correct i‘rāb is a sukūn, it may be optionally written.

General Unicode Name Name in Arabic script Translit. Phonemic Value (IPA)
0652 ــْـ sukūn سُكُون (no vowel with this consonant letter or
diphthong with this long vowel letter)
0670 ــٰـ alif khanjariyyah [dagger ’alif – smaller ’alif written above consonant] أَلِف خَنْجَرِيَّة ā /aː/

ٰٰ The sukūn is also used for transliterating words into the Arabic script. The Persian word ماسک (mâsk, from the English word "mask"), for example, might be written with a sukūn above the to signify that there is no vowel sound between that letter and the ک.

Additional letters

Regional variations

Some letters take a traditionally different form in specific regions:

Letter Explanation
Isolated Final Medial Initial
ڛ ـڛ ـڛـ ڛـ A traditional form to denotate the sīn س letter, used in areas influenced by Persian script and former Ottoman script, although rarely. Also used in older Pashto script.[10]
ڢ ـڢ ـڢـ ڢـ A traditional Maghrebi variant of fā’ ف.
ڧ/ٯ ـڧ/ـٯ ـڧـ/ـٯـ ڧـ/ٯـ A traditional Maghrebi variant of qāf ق. Generally dotless in isolated and final positions and dotted in the initial and medial forms.
ک ـک ـکـ کـ An alternative version of kāf ك used especially in Maghrebi under the influence of the Ottoman script or in Gulf script under the influence of the Persian script.
ی ـی ـیـ یـ The traditional style to write or print the letter, and remains so in the Nile Valley region (Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan... etc.) and sometimes Maghreb; yā’ ي is dotless in the isolated and final position. Visually identical to alif maqṣūrah ى; resembling the Perso-Arabic letter یـ ـیـ ـی ی which was also used in Ottoman Turkish.

The phoneme /g/ is considered native in most Arabic dialects, below are the different representations of the phoneme in native and loanwords:

Arabic Dialects
Moroccan Tunisian Algerian Egyptian Najdi Hejazi South Levantine North Levantine Iraqi Gulf
ڭ / گ / ق ڨ / ق ج ق ك / ج / ق ك / ج گ / ك / ق ق / گ

Non-native letters to Standard Arabic

Some modified letters are used to represent non-native sounds of Modern Standard Arabic. These letters are used in transliterated names, loanwords and dialectal words.

Letter Value Note
پ /p/ Sometimes used when transliterating foreign names and loanwords instead of bā’ ب
ڤ /v/ Sometimes used when transliterating foreign names and loanwords instead of fā’ ف‎.[11] Not to be confused with ڨ‎.
ڥ Used in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
چ /t͡ʃ/1 Used in Gulf and Iraqi Arabic dialects. The sequence تشtāʼ-shīn is usually preferred in most of the Arab world (e.g. تشاد‎ for "Chad").
/ʒ/2 Used in Egypt for /ʒ/ or /d͡ʒ/ where ج‎ is pronounced /ɡ/.
/ɡ/3 Used in Israel, for example on road signs.
گ Used in Gulf and Iraqi Arabic dialects
ڨ Used in Tunisia and in Algeria for loanwords and for the dialectal pronunciation of qāf ق‎ in some words. Not to be confused with ڤ‎.
ڭ/ݣ Used in Morocco.
  1. /t͡ʃ/ is considered a native phoneme/allophone in some dialects, e.g. Kuwaiti and Iraqi dialects.
  2. /ʒ/ is considered a native phoneme (instead of /d͡ʒ/) in a number of Levantine and North African dialects and as an allophone in others.
  3. The phoneme /ɡ/ is considered native in most Arabic dialects, but not always part of Modern Standard Arabic. E.g. in Egypt, ج spells /g/ in all cases,[12] the same applies to Oman, and coastal Yemen. Regionally, in MSA or dialects, /ɡ/ is differently spelled in loanwords; most commonly ج, غ, ق, and ك. For example, "golf" can be written جولف, غولف, قولف, or كولف /ɡolf/.

Used in languages other than Arabic

Further information: Arabic script § Additional letters used in other languages

Numerals

Western
(Maghreb, Europe)
Central
(Mideast)
Eastern
Persian Urdu
0 ٠ ۰ ۰
1 ١ ۱ ۱
2 ٢ ۲ ۲
3 ٣ ۳ ۳
4 ٤ ۴ ۴
5 ٥ ۵ ۵
6 ٦ ۶ ۶
7 ٧ ۷ ۷
8 ٨ ۸ ۸
9 ٩ ۹ ۹
10 ١٠ ۱۰ ۱۰

Main articles: Western Arabic numerals and Eastern Arabic numerals

There are two main kinds of numerals used along with Arabic text; Western Arabic numerals and Eastern Arabic numerals. In most of present-day North Africa, the usual Western Arabic numerals are used. Like Western Arabic numerals, in Eastern Arabic numerals, the units are always right-most, and the highest value left-most. Eastern Arabic numbers are written from left to right.

Letters as numerals

Main article: Abjad numerals

In addition, the Arabic alphabet can be used to represent numbers (Abjad numerals). This usage is based on the ʾabjadī order of the alphabet. أ ʾalif is 1, ب bāʾ is 2, ج jīm is 3, and so on until ي yāʾ = 10, ك kāf = 20, ل lām = 30, ..., ر rāʾ = 200, ..., غ ghayn = 1000. This is sometimes used to produce chronograms.

History

Main article: History of the Arabic alphabet

Evolution of early Arabic calligraphy (9th–11th century). The Basmala is taken as an example, from Kufic Qur’ān manuscripts. (1) Early 9th century script used no dots or diacritic marks;[13] (2) and (3) in the 9th–10th century during the Abbasid dynasty, Abu al-Aswad's system used red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel. Later, a second system of black dots was used to differentiate between letters like fā’ and qāf;[14] (4) in the 11th century (al-Farāhīdī's system) dots were changed into shapes resembling the letters to transcribe the corresponding long vowels. This system is the one used today.[15]

The Arabic alphabet can be traced back to the Nabataean script used to write Nabataean Aramaic. The first known text in the Arabic alphabet is a late fourth-century inscription from Jabal Ram 50 km east of ‘Aqabah in Jordan, but the first dated one is a trilingual inscription at Zebed in Syria from 512.[citation needed] However, the epigraphic record is extremely sparse, with only five certainly pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions surviving, though some others may be pre-Islamic. Later, dots were added above and below the letters to differentiate them. (The Aramaic language had fewer phonemes than the Arabic, and some originally distinct Aramaic letters had become indistinguishable in shape, so that in the early writings 14 distinct letter-shapes had to do duty for 28 sounds; cf. the similarly ambiguous Book Pahlavi.)

The first surviving document that definitely uses these dots is also the first surviving Arabic papyrus (PERF 558), dated April 643, although they did not become obligatory until much later. Important texts were and still are frequently memorized, especially in Qurʾan memorization.

Later still, vowel marks and the hamzah were introduced, beginning some time in the latter half of the 7th century, preceding the first invention of Syriac and Tiberian vocalizations. Initially, this was done by a system of red dots, said to have been commissioned in the Umayyad era by Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, a dot above = a, a dot below = i, a dot on the line = u, and doubled dots indicated nunation. However, this was cumbersome and easily confusable with the letter-distinguishing dots, so about 100 years later, the modern system was adopted. The system was finalized around 786 by al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi.

Other tributes and alphabets written in Arabic dialects

Arabic dialects were written in different alphabets before the spread of the Arabic alphabet currently in use. The most important of these alphabets and inscriptions are the Safaitic inscriptions, amounting to 30,000 inscriptions discovered in the Levant desert.[16]

There are about 3,700 inscriptions in Hismaic in central Jordan and northwest of the Arabian Peninsula, and Nabataean inscriptions, the most important of which are the Umm al-Jimal I inscription and the Numara inscription.[17]

Musnad script as is clear from one of the Sabaean inscriptions.

Arabic printing

Medieval Arabic blockprinting flourished from the 10th century until the 14th. It was devoted only to very small texts, usually for use in amulets.

In 1514, following Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450, Gregorio de Gregorii, a Venetian, published an entire prayer-book in Arabic script; it was entitled Kitab Salat al-Sawa'i and was intended for eastern Christian communities.[18] Between 1580 and 1586, type designer Robert Granjon designed Arabic typefaces for Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici, and the Medici Oriental Press published many Christian prayer and scholarly Arabic texts in the late 16th century.[19]

A page from the manuscript of Al-Kamil's book on the making of the northern and southern astrolabe and their reasons for geometry and arithmetic by Ahmed bin Katheer Al-Farghani, where the letters appear in red in an arranged order expressing numbers.

Maronite monks at Maar Quzhay Monastery on Mount Lebanon published the first Arabic books to use movable type in the Middle East. The monks transliterated the Arabic language using Syriac script.

Although Napoleon generally receives credit for introducing the printing press to Egypt during his invasion of the country in 1798, and though he did indeed bring printing presses and Arabic presses to print the French occupation's official newspaper Al-Tanbiyyah "The Courier", printing in the Arabic language had started several centuries earlier. A goldsmith (like Gutenberg) designed and implemented an Arabic-script movable-type printing-press in the Middle East. The Lebanese Melkite monk Abdallah Zakher set up an Arabic printing press using movable type at the monastery of Saint John at the town of Dhour El Shuwayr in Mount Lebanon, the first homemade press in Lebanon using Arabic script. He personally cut the type molds and did the founding of the typeface. The first book came off his press in 1734; this press continued in use until 1899.[20]

Computers

The Arabic alphabet can be encoded using several character sets, including ISO-8859-6, Windows-1256 and Unicode, latter thanks to the "Arabic segment", entries U+0600 to U+06FF. However, none of the sets indicates the form that each character should take in context. It is left to the rendering engine to select the proper glyph to display for each character.

Each letter has a position-independent encoding in Unicode, and the rendering software can infer the correct glyph form (initial, medial, final or isolated) from its joining context. That is the current recommendation. However, for compatibility with previous standards, the initial, medial, final and isolated forms can also be encoded separately.

Unicode

Main article: Arabic script in Unicode

As of Unicode 15.1, the Arabic script is contained in the following blocks:[21]

The basic Arabic range encodes the standard letters and diacritics but does not encode contextual forms (U+0621-U+0652 being directly based on ISO 8859-6). It also includes the most common diacritics and Arabic-Indic digits. U+06D6 to U+06ED encode Qur'anic annotation signs such as "end of ayah" ۝ۖ and "start of rub el hizb" ۞. The Arabic supplement range encodes letter variants mostly used for writing African (non-Arabic) languages. The Arabic Extended-A range encodes additional Qur'anic annotations and letter variants used for various non-Arabic languages.

The Arabic Presentation Forms-A range encodes contextual forms and ligatures of letter variants needed for Persian, Urdu, Sindhi and Central Asian languages. The Arabic Presentation Forms-B range encodes spacing forms of Arabic diacritics, and more contextual letter forms. The Arabic Mathematical Alphabetical Symbols block encodes characters used in Arabic mathematical expressions.

See also the notes of the section on modified letters.

Keyboards

See also: Keyboard layout and Arabic keyboard

Arabic Mac keyboard layout
Arabic PC keyboard layout
Intellark imposed on a QWERTY keyboard layout

Keyboards designed for different nations have different layouts, so proficiency in one style of keyboard, such as Iraq's, does not transfer to proficiency in another, such as Saudi Arabia's. Differences can include the location of non-alphabetic characters.

All Arabic keyboards allow typing Roman characters, e.g., for the URL in a web browser. Thus, each Arabic keyboard has both Arabic and Roman characters marked on the keys. Usually, the Roman characters of an Arabic keyboard conform to the QWERTY layout, but in North Africa, where French is the most common language typed using the Roman characters, the Arabic keyboards are AZERTY.

To encode a particular written form of a character, there are extra code points provided in Unicode which can be used to express the exact written form desired. The range Arabic presentation forms A (U+FB50 to U+FDFF) contain ligatures while the range Arabic presentation forms B (U+FE70 to U+FEFF) contains the positional variants. These effects are better achieved in Unicode by using the zero-width joiner and zero-width non-joiner, as these presentation forms are deprecated in Unicode and should generally only be used within the internals of text-rendering software; when using Unicode as an intermediate form for conversion between character encodings; or for backwards compatibility with implementations that rely on the hard-coding of glyph forms.

Finally, the Unicode encoding of Arabic is in logical order, that is, the characters are entered, and stored in computer memory, in the order that they are written and pronounced without worrying about the direction in which they will be displayed on paper or on the screen. Again, it is left to the rendering engine to present the characters in the correct direction, using Unicode's bi-directional text features. In this regard, if the Arabic words on this page are written left to right, it is an indication that the Unicode rendering engine used to display them is out of date.[22][23]

There are competing online tools, e.g. Yamli editor, which allow entry of Arabic letters without having Arabic support installed on a PC, and without knowledge of the layout of the Arabic keyboard.[24]

Handwriting recognition

The first software program of its kind in the world that identifies Arabic handwriting in real time was developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU).

The prototype enables the user to write Arabic words by hand on an electronic screen, which then analyzes the text and translates it into printed Arabic letters in a thousandth of a second. The error rate is less than three percent, according to Dr. Jihad El-Sana, from BGU's department of computer sciences, who developed the system along with master's degree student Fadi Biadsy.[25]

Variations

The modern hijā’ī sequence and abjadī sequence (excluding hamzah) in 15 fonts:
ي و ه ن م ل ك ق ف غ ع ظ ط ض ص ش س ز ر ذ د خ ح ج ث ت ب ا hijā’ī sequence
Noto Nastaliq Urdu
Scheherazade New
Lateef
Noto Naskh Arabic
Markazi Text
Noto Sans Arabic
El Messiri
Lemonada 
Changa 
Mada
Noto Kufi Arabic
Reem Kufi
Lalezar
Jomhuria
Rakkas
غ ظ ض ذ خ ث ت ش ر ق ص ف ع س ن م ل ك ي ط ح ز و ه د ج ب ا abjadī sequence
Noto Nastaliq Urdu
Scheherazade New
Lateef
Noto Naskh Arabic
Markazi Text
Noto Sans Arabic
El Messiri
Lemonada 
Changa 
Mada
Noto Kufi Arabic
Reem Kufi
Lalezar
Jomhuria
Rakkas

See also

Notes

  1. ^ See the section on regional variations in letter form.

References

  1. ^ Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William, eds. (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 559. ISBN 978-0195079937.
  2. ^ Zitouni, Imed (2014). Natural Language Processing of Semitic Languages. Springer Science & Business. p. 15. ISBN 978-3642453588.
  3. ^ a b c Macdonald 1986, p. 117, 130, 149.
  4. ^ a b (in Arabic) Alyaseer.net ترتيب المداخل والبطاقات في القوائم والفهارس الموضوعية Ordering entries and cards in subject indexes Archived 23 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine Discussion thread (Accessed 2009-October–06)
  5. ^ Macdonald 1986, p. 130.
  6. ^ Rogers, Henry (2005). Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach. Blackwell Publishing. p. 135.
  7. ^ "A list of Arabic ligature forms in Unicode".
  8. ^ Depending on fonts used for rendering, the form shown on-screen may or may not be the ligature form.
  9. ^ "Scheherazade New". SIL International. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  10. ^ Notice sur les divers genres d'écriture ancienne et moderne des arabes, des persans et des turcs / par A.-P. Pihan. 1856.
  11. ^ "Arabic Dialect Tutorial" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  12. ^ al Nassir, Abdulmunʿim Abdulamir (1985). Sibawayh the Phonologist (PDF) (in Arabic). University of New York. p. 80. Retrieved 23 April 2024.
  13. ^ File:Basmala kufi.svg – Wikimedia Commons
  14. ^ File:Kufi.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
  15. ^ File:Qur'an folio 11th century kufic.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
  16. ^ "علم اللغة العربية • الموقع الرسمي للمكتبة الشاملة". web.archive.org. 15 December 2018. Retrieved 16 March 2024.
  17. ^ "(PDF) Al-Jallad. A Manual of the Historical Grammar of Arabic | Ahmad Al-Jallad - Academia.edu". web.archive.org. 13 January 2021. Retrieved 16 March 2024.
  18. ^ "294° anniversario della Biblioteca Federiciana: ricerche e curiosità sul Kitab Salat al-Sawai". Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  19. ^ Naghashian, Naghi (21 January 2013). Design and Structure of Arabic Script. epubli. ISBN 9783844245059.
  20. ^ Arabic and the Art of Printing – A Special Section Archived 29 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine, by Paul Lunde
  21. ^ "UAX #24: Script data file". Unicode Character Database. The Unicode Consortium.
  22. ^ For more information about encoding Arabic, consult the Unicode manual available at The Unicode website
  23. ^ See also Multilingual Computing with Arabic and Arabic Transliteration: Arabicizing Windows Applications to Read and Write Arabic & Solutions for the Transliteration Quagmire Faced by Arabic-Script Languages and A PowerPoint Tutorial (with screen shots and an English voice-over) on how to add Arabic to the Windows Operating System. Archived 11 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Yamli in the News".
  25. ^ "Israel 21c". 14 May 2007.

Sources