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The Hebrew Alphabet

The Hebrew Alphabet
on March 24, 2017

Although there are about 5,000 human languages spoken on the planet, there are not many alphabets. Most European languages, for example, share letters from the Latin alphabet, and the Arabic alphabet is used across dozens of languages as well.

In contrast, the Hebrew alphabet is wholly unique to the Hebrew language (and derivatives, like Yiddish, etc..) Additionally, like most Semitic languages, Arabic is written from right to left. Below is a table of the Hebrew alphabet: 

Also, you might have noticed that some of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet repeat themselves (for instance, there are two different letters for T, don’t ask me why). In other cases, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet can sound like more than one English letter. (For example, פ can take the sound of P or F, depending on the word.)

For some English letters there is no equivalent in Hebrew (like J), although you might see it as the letter ג with apostrophe: ‘ג. It’s not a mistake, Hebrew can be a little weird. But on the bright side, we only have 22 letters to deal with! We also have vowel letters that don’t have a specific sound –– ע and א –– it just depends on the word, but typically they sound like A or E. Another “odd” letter is ח, which doesn’t really sound like H because we say it from the throat (you may recognize it as the weird sound Hebrew speakers make). It’s only one of the five guttural letters (which are: ה, ר, ע, א, ח), but you should know about it just to be able to distinguish it from ה –– which you can, usually, think of like H.

Confused yet? Don’t worry! Here are some summary “fast facts” about the Hebrew alphabet. 

  • Like all Semitic languages, Hebrew is written and read from right to left, on a horizontal line
  • There are no capital letters
  • There are 22 letters, plus 4 derived, for a total of 26, each letter representing a consonant, though four letters also function as vowels: א, ה, ו, and י
  • Only six letters change shape in absolute final form
  • Vowel signs are placed beneath, above or in the side of each letter
  • Letters are never joined together because each letter stands alone
  • Written forms, not shown here, are known as German or cursive script; printed forms are known as Ashuri or square script, used in books, magazines, newspapers and any printed documents
  • Each letter has also a numerical value

Foreign Sounds Not Found in Hebrew

  • ג' stands for the soft sound of ג g, as in gel: ג'וֹרְג' – "George", ג'ינס – "jeans"
  • ז' stands for the soft sound dji /ž/, as in measure: זַ'ן-ז'ק "Jean-Jacques"
  • צ' stands for the sound tch /ĉ/, as in chore: צַ'רְלִי צַ'פְּלִין "Charlie Chaplin"

Vowel signs

  • There are 12 vowels: 5 short and 7 long
  • Most vowel signs are placed below the consonant

Short Vowels

a (Patah): (as in manicure) a short horizontal line below the consonant: אַ

e (Seghol): (as in let) 3 dots forming an equilateral triangle placed below the consonant: אֶ

i (Hiriq): (as a pit) 1 dot below the consonant: אִ

o (Qamas Qatan): (as in cola) like a small letter T placed below the consonant: אָ

u (Qubbus): (as a nut) 3 dots positioned diagonally below the consonant: אֻ 

Long Vowels

ā (Qamas): (as in father) like a small letter T placed bellow the consonant: אָ

ē (Tsereh): (as in prey) 2 horizontal dots bellow the consonant: אֵ

ē (Tsereh): (as in prey) 2 horizontal dots bellow the consonant followed by the letter י (yohd): אֵי

ī (Hiriq): (as in marine) 1 dot bellow the consonant followed by the letter י (yohd): אִי

ō (Holam): (as in oh!) 1 dot above the letter וֹ (vahv): אוֹ

ō (Holam): (as in oh!) 1 dot over the left-hand corner of the consonant: אֹ

ū (Shuruq): (as in astute) 1 dot in the middle of the letter וּ (vahv): וּ

Dagesh Forte דָּגֵשׁ חָזָק   Dagesh Lene דָּגֵשׁ קַל

For more tips on how to learn Hebrew, click here.

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