The Arabic Alphabet

Letter Position
Separate Initial Medial Final Transliteration Name Sounds Like…
ا أ ـا ـا ā or ’ā alif father
ب بـ ـبـ ـب b bā’ big
ت تـ ـتـ ـت t tā’ ton
ث ثـ ـثـ ـث th thā’ thought
ج جـ ـجـ ـج j jīm juice
ح حـ ـحـ ـح H Hā’ This is a voiceless counterpart to ‘ayn (see below). There is no English equivalent.
خ خـ ـخـ ـخ kh khā’ There is no English equivalent. It is similar to German loch.
د د ـد ـد d dāl dove
ذ ذ ـذ ـذ dh dhal brother
ر ر ـر ـر r rā’ rake; Unlike English ‘r’, this sound is rolled.
ز ز ـز ـز z zay zipper
س سـ ـسـ ـس s sīn soft
ش شـ ـشـ ـش sh shīn short
ص صـ ـصـ ـص S Sād Emphatic version of sīn. There is no English equivalent.
ض ضـ ـضـ ـض D Dād Emphatic version of dāl. There is no English equivalent.
ط طـ ـطـ ـط T Tā’ Emphatic version of tā’. There is no English equivalent.
ظ ظـ ـظـ ـظ DH DHā’ Emphatic version of dhal. There is no English equivalent.
ع عـ ـعـ ـع ‘ayn This is a sound produced in the throat by muscle constriction and a free flow of air. It has no English equivalent.
غ غـ ـغـ ـغ gh ghayn There is no English equivalent.
ف فـ ـفـ ـف f fā’ four
ق قـ ـقـ ـق q qāf carve; This sound is made even further back in the throat.
ك كـ ـكـ ـك k kāf king
ل لـ ـلـ ـل l lām loose
م مـ ـمـ ـم m mīm man
ن نـ ـنـ ـن n nūn name
ه هـ ـهـ ـه h hā’ happy
و و ـو ـو w or ū wāw wobble or moot
ي يـ ـيـ ـي y or ī yā’ yo-yor even

Usage Notes:

  1. The names of characters are written in transliteration, since they contain sounds not native to English.
  2. There is a ء, called hamza, on alif in the initial position. We’ll talk more about hamza later…
  3. alif is often not pronounced as ‘ā’. alif is a holder for many of the other marks used in arabic script, including the short vowel marks at the beginning of words and tanwin, also to be discussed later…
  4. wāw and yā’ can either be consonant or vowel sounds, depending on where they fall among other consonants and vowels.
  5. I cannot produce half of these sounds properly. I’m working on it. Get yourself a good sound reference: a native speaker, Arabic CDs, etc.
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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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3 Responses to The Arabic Alphabet

  1. womencaned says:

    why did you choose to learn arabic?

  2. George says:

    Short and simple I love language-learning. Digging deeper, I heard it was difficult, and the challenge made me giddy with excitement.

    And beyond that, it’s a rather important cultural language today. I would like to be able to read the Koran in Arabic for my own understanding.

    And above all, I consider it an open door for sharing the gospel. Knowing someone’s language is a great way to strike up a conversation – one that is not defensive in nature.

  3. Moroccan says:

    “I would like to be able to read the Koran in Arabic for my own understanding”.
    I congratulate you on your will to learn about Islam from the source, “Quran”.

    Happy learning!

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