Arabic diacritics

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The Arabic script has numerous diacritics, including i'jam (إِعْجَام, ʾIʿjām), consonant pointing, and tashkil (تَشْكِيل, tashkīl), supplementary diacritics. Arabic diacritics_sentence_0

The latter include the ḥarakāt (حَرَكَات) vowel marks - singular: ḥarakah (حَرَكَة). Arabic diacritics_sentence_1

The Arabic script is an impure abjad, where short consonants and long vowels are represented by letters but short vowels and consonant length are not generally indicated in writing. Arabic diacritics_sentence_2

Tashkīl is optional to represent missing vowels and consonant length. Arabic diacritics_sentence_3

Modern Arabic is always written with the i‘jām - consonant pointing, but only religious texts, children's books and works for learners are written with the full tashkīl - vowel guides and consonant length. Arabic diacritics_sentence_4

It is not uncommon for authors to add diacritics to a word or letter when the grammatical case or the meaning is deemed otherwise ambiguous. Arabic diacritics_sentence_5

In addition, classical works and historic documents rendered to the general public are often rendered with the full tashkīl, to compensate for the gap in understanding resulting from stylistic changes over the centuries. Arabic diacritics_sentence_6

Tashkil (marks used as phonetic guides) Arabic diacritics_section_0

The literal meaning of تَشْكِيل tashkīl is 'forming'. Arabic diacritics_sentence_7

As the normal Arabic text does not provide enough information about the correct pronunciation, the main purpose of tashkīl (and ḥarakāt) is to provide a phonetic guide or a phonetic aid; i.e. show the correct pronunciation. Arabic diacritics_sentence_8

It serves the same purpose as furigana (also called "ruby") in Japanese or pinyin or zhuyin in Mandarin Chinese for children who are learning to read or foreign learners. Arabic diacritics_sentence_9

The bulk of Arabic script is written without ḥarakāt (or short vowels). Arabic diacritics_sentence_10

However, they are commonly used in texts that demand strict adherence to exact wording. Arabic diacritics_sentence_11

This is true, primarily, of the Qur'an ⟨ٱلْقُرْآن⟩ (al-Qurʾān) and poetry. Arabic diacritics_sentence_12

It is also quite common to add ḥarakāt to hadiths ⟨ٱلْحَدِيث⟩ (al-ḥadīth; plural: al-ḥādīth) and the Bible. Arabic diacritics_sentence_13

Another use is in children's literature. Arabic diacritics_sentence_14

Moreover, ḥarakāt are used in ordinary texts in individual words when an ambiguity of pronunciation cannot easily be resolved from context alone. Arabic diacritics_sentence_15

Arabic dictionaries with vowel marks provide information about the correct pronunciation to both native and foreign Arabic speakers. Arabic diacritics_sentence_16

In art and calligraphy, ḥarakāt might be used simply because their writing is considered aesthetically pleasing. Arabic diacritics_sentence_17

An example of a fully vocalised (vowelised or vowelled) Arabic from the Basmala: Arabic diacritics_sentence_18

Some Arabic textbooks for foreigners now use ḥarakāt as a phonetic guide to make learning reading Arabic easier. Arabic diacritics_sentence_19

The other method used in textbooks is phonetic romanisation of unvocalised texts. Arabic diacritics_sentence_20

Fully vocalised Arabic texts (i.e. Arabic texts with ḥarakāt/diacritics) are sought after by learners of Arabic. Arabic diacritics_sentence_21

Some online bilingual dictionaries also provide ḥarakāt as a phonetic guide similarly to English dictionaries providing transcription. Arabic diacritics_sentence_22

Harakat (short vowel marks) Arabic diacritics_section_1

The ḥarakāt حَرَكَات , which literally means 'motions', are the short vowel marks. Arabic diacritics_sentence_23

There is some ambiguity as to which tashkīl are also ḥarakāt; the tanwīn, for example, are markers for both vowels and consonants. Arabic diacritics_sentence_24

Fatḥah Arabic diacritics_section_2

The fatḥah ⟨فَتْحَة⟩ is a small diagonal line placed above a letter, and represents a short /a/ (like the /a/ sound in English word "cat"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_25

The word fatḥah itself (فَتْحَة) means opening and refers to the opening of the mouth when producing an /a/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_26

For example, with dāl (henceforth, the base consonant in the following examples): ⟨دَ⟩ /da/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_27

When a fatḥah is placed before a plain letter ⟨ا⟩ (alif) (i.e. one having no hamza or vowel of its own), it represents a long /aː/ (close to the English word "dad", with an open front vowel /æː/, not back /ɑː/ as in "father"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_28

For example: ⟨دَا⟩ /daː/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_29

The fatḥah is not usually written in such cases. Arabic diacritics_sentence_30

When a fathah placed before the letter ⟨ﻱ⟩ (yā’), it creates an /aj/ (as in "lie"); and when placed before the letter ⟨و⟩ (wāw), it creates an /aw/ (as in "cow"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_31

Although paired with a plain letter creates an open front vowel (/a/), often realized as near-open (/æ/), the standard also allows for variations, especially under certain surrounding conditions. Arabic diacritics_sentence_32

Usually, in order to have the more central (/ä/) or back (/ɑ/) pronunciation, the word features a nearby back consonant, such as the emphatics, as well as qāf, or rā’. Arabic diacritics_sentence_33

A similar "back" quality is undergone by other vowels as well in the presence of such consonants, however not as drastically realized as in the case of fatḥah. Arabic diacritics_sentence_34

Kasrah Arabic diacritics_section_3

A similar diagonal line below a letter is called a kasrah ⟨كَسْرَة⟩ and designates a short /i/ (as in "me", "be") and its allophones [i, ɪ, e, e̞, ɛ] (as in "Tim", "sit"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_35

For example: ⟨دِ⟩ /di/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_36

When a kasrah is placed before a plain letter ⟨ﻱ⟩ (yā’), it represents a long /iː/ (as in the English word "steed"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_37

For example: ⟨دِي⟩ /diː/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_38

The kasrah is usually not written in such cases, but if yā’ is pronounced as a diphthong /aj/, fatḥah should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. Arabic diacritics_sentence_39

The word kasrah means 'breaking'. Arabic diacritics_sentence_40

Ḍammah Arabic diacritics_section_4

The ḍammah ⟨ضَمَّة⟩ is a small curl-like diacritic placed above a letter to represent a short /u/ (as in "duke", shorter "you") and its allophones [u, ʊ, o, o̞, ɔ] (as in "put", or "bull"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_41

For example: ⟨دُ⟩ /du/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_42

When a ḍammah is placed before a plain letter ⟨و⟩ (wāw), it represents a long /uː/ (like the 'oo' sound in the English word "swoop"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_43

For example: ⟨دُو⟩ /duː/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_44

The ḍammah is usually not written in such cases, but if wāw is pronounced as a diphthong /aw/, fatḥah should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. Arabic diacritics_sentence_45

The word ḍammah (ضَمَّة) in this context means rounding, since it is the only rounded vowel in the vowel inventory of Arabic. Arabic diacritics_sentence_46

Alif Khanjariyah Arabic diacritics_section_5

The superscript (or dagger) alif ⟨أَلِف خَنْجَرِيَّة⟩ (alif khanjarīyah), is written as short vertical stroke on top of a consonant. Arabic diacritics_sentence_47

It indicates a long /aː/ sound for which alif is normally not written. Arabic diacritics_sentence_48

For example: ⟨هَٰذَا⟩ (hādhā) or ⟨رَحْمَٰن⟩ (raḥmān). Arabic diacritics_sentence_49

The dagger alif occurs in only a few words, but they include some common ones; it is seldom written, however, even in fully vocalised texts. Arabic diacritics_sentence_50

Most keyboards do not have dagger alif. Arabic diacritics_sentence_51

The word Allah ⟨الله⟩ (Allāh) is usually produced automatically by entering alif lām lām hāʾ. Arabic diacritics_sentence_52

The word consists of alif + ligature of doubled lām with a shaddah and a dagger alif above lām. Arabic diacritics_sentence_53

Maddah Arabic diacritics_section_6

Not to be confused with Maddah (religious singer) or Maddahi. Arabic diacritics_sentence_54

The maddah ⟨مَدَّة⟩ is a tilde-shaped diacritic, which can only appear on top of an alif (آ) and indicates a glottal stop /ʔ/ followed by a long /aː/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_55

In theory, the same sequence /ʔaː/ could also be represented by two alifs, as in *⟨أَا⟩, where a hamza above the first alif represents the /ʔ/ while the second alif represents the /aː/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_56

However, consecutive alifs are never used in the Arabic orthography. Arabic diacritics_sentence_57

Instead, this sequence must always be written as a single alif with a maddah above it, the combination known as an alif maddah. Arabic diacritics_sentence_58

For example: ⟨قُرْآن⟩ /qurˈʔaːn/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_59

Alif waslah Arabic diacritics_section_7

Main article: Wasla (diacritic) Arabic diacritics_sentence_60

The waṣlah ⟨وَصْلَة⟩, alif waṣlah ⟨أَلِف وَصْلَة⟩ or hamzat waṣl ⟨هَمْزَة وَصْل⟩ looks like a small letter ṣād on top of an alif ⟨ٱ⟩ (also indicated by an alif ⟨ا⟩ without a hamzah). Arabic diacritics_sentence_61

It means that the alif is not pronounced when its word does not begin a sentence. Arabic diacritics_sentence_62

For example: ⟨بِٱسْمِ⟩ (bismi), but ⟨ٱمْشُوا۟⟩ (imshū not mshū). Arabic diacritics_sentence_63

This is because no Arab word can start with a vowel-less consonant (unlike the English school, or skateboard). Arabic diacritics_sentence_64

But when it happens, an alif is added to obtain a vowel or a vowelled consonant at the beginning of one's speech. Arabic diacritics_sentence_65

In English that would result in *ischool, or *iskateboard. Arabic diacritics_sentence_66

It occurs only in the beginning of words, but it can occur after prepositions and the definite article. Arabic diacritics_sentence_67

It is commonly found in imperative verbs, the perfective aspect of verb stems VII to X and their verbal nouns (maṣdar). Arabic diacritics_sentence_68

The alif of the definite article is considered a waṣlah. Arabic diacritics_sentence_69

It occurs in phrases and sentences (connected speech, not isolated/dictionary forms): Arabic diacritics_sentence_70

Arabic diacritics_unordered_list_0

  • To replace the elided hamza whose alif-seat has assimilated to the previous vowel. For example: فِي ٱلْيَمَن or في اليمن (fi l-Yaman) ‘in Yemen’.Arabic diacritics_item_0_0
  • In hamza-initial imperative forms following a vowel, especially following the conjunction ⟨و⟩ (wa-) ‘and’. For example: َقُمْ وَٱشْرَبِ ٱلْمَاءَ (qum wa-shrab-i l-mā’) ‘rise and then drink the water’.Arabic diacritics_item_0_1

Sukūn Arabic diacritics_section_8

The sukūn ⟨سُكُونْ⟩ is a circle-shaped diacritic placed above a letter ( ْ). Arabic diacritics_sentence_71

It indicates that the consonant to which it is attached is not followed by a vowel, i.e., zero-vowel. Arabic diacritics_sentence_72

It is a necessary symbol for writing consonant-vowel-consonant syllables, which are very common in Arabic. Arabic diacritics_sentence_73

For example: ⟨دَدْ⟩ (dad). Arabic diacritics_sentence_74

The sukūn may also be used to help represent a diphthong. Arabic diacritics_sentence_75

A fatḥah followed by the letter ⟨ﻱ⟩ (yā’) with a sukūn over it (ـَيْ‎) indicates the diphthong ay (IPA /aj/). Arabic diacritics_sentence_76

A fatḥah, followed by the letter ⟨ﻭ⟩ (wāw) with a sukūn, (ـَوْ‎) indicates /aw/. Arabic diacritics_sentence_77

The sukūn may have also an alternative form of the small high head of hāʾ (U+06E1 ۡ ), particularly in some Qurans. Arabic diacritics_sentence_78

Other shapes may exist as well (for example, like a small comma above ⟨ʼ⟩ or like a circumflex ⟨ˆ⟩ in nastaʿlīq). Arabic diacritics_sentence_79

Tanwin (final postnasalized or long vowels) Arabic diacritics_section_9

Main article: Nunation Arabic diacritics_sentence_80

The three vowel diacritics may be doubled at the end of a word to indicate that the vowel is followed by the consonant n. They may or may not be considered ḥarakāt and are known as tanwīn ⟨تَنْوِين⟩, or nunation. Arabic diacritics_sentence_81

The signs indicate, from right to left, -un, -in, -an. Arabic diacritics_sentence_82

These endings are used as non-pausal grammatical indefinite case endings in Literary Arabic or classical Arabic (triptotes only). Arabic diacritics_sentence_83

In a vocalised text, they may be written even if they are not pronounced (see pausa). Arabic diacritics_sentence_84

See i‘rāb for more details. Arabic diacritics_sentence_85

In many spoken Arabic dialects, the endings are absent. Arabic diacritics_sentence_86

Many Arabic textbooks introduce standard Arabic without these endings. Arabic diacritics_sentence_87

The grammatical endings may not be written in some vocalized Arabic texts, as knowledge of i‘rāb varies from country to country, and there is a trend towards simplifying Arabic grammar. Arabic diacritics_sentence_88

The sign ⟨ـً⟩ is most commonly written in combination with ⟨ـًا⟩ (alif), ⟨ةً⟩ (tā’ marbūṭah), ⟨أً⟩ (alif hamzah) or stand-alone ⟨ءً⟩ (hamzah). Arabic diacritics_sentence_89

Alif should always be written (except for words ending in tā’ marbūṭah, hamzah or diptotes) even if an is not. Arabic diacritics_sentence_90

Grammatical cases and tanwīn endings in indefinite triptote forms: Arabic diacritics_sentence_91

Arabic diacritics_unordered_list_1

Shaddah (consonant gemination mark) Arabic diacritics_section_10

Main article: Shadda Arabic diacritics_sentence_92

The shadda or shaddah ⟨شَدَّة⟩ (shaddah), or tashdid ⟨تَشْدِيد⟩ (tashdīd), is a diacritic shaped like a small written Latin "w". Arabic diacritics_sentence_93

It is used to indicate gemination (consonant doubling or extra length), which is phonemic in Arabic. Arabic diacritics_sentence_94

It is written above the consonant which is to be doubled. Arabic diacritics_sentence_95

It is the only ḥarakah that is commonly used in ordinary spelling to avoid ambiguity. Arabic diacritics_sentence_96

For example: ⟨دّ⟩ /dd/; madrasah ⟨مَدْرَسَة⟩ ('school') vs. mudarrisah ⟨مُدَرِّسَة⟩ ('teacher', female). Arabic diacritics_sentence_97

I‘jām (phonetic distinctions of consonants) Arabic diacritics_section_11

The i‘jām ⟨إِعْجَام⟩ (sometimes also called nuqaṭ) are the diacritic points that distinguish various consonants that have the same form (rasm), such as ⟨ـبـ⟩ /b/ ب, ⟨ـتـ⟩ /t/ ت, ⟨ـثـ⟩ /θ/ ث, ⟨ـنـ⟩ /n/ ن, and ⟨ـيـ⟩ /j/ ي. Arabic diacritics_sentence_98

Typically i‘jām are not considered diacritics but part of the letter. Arabic diacritics_sentence_99

Early manuscripts of the Qur’ān did not use diacritics either for vowels or to distinguish the different values of the rasm. Arabic diacritics_sentence_100

Vowel pointing was introduced first, as a red dot placed above, below, or beside the rasm, and later consonant pointing was introduced, as thin, short black single or multiple dashes placed above or below the rasm (image). Arabic diacritics_sentence_101

These i‘jām became black dots about the same time as the ḥarakāt became small black letters or strokes. Arabic diacritics_sentence_102

Typically, Egyptians do not use dots under final yā’ ⟨ي⟩, which looks exactly like alif maqṣūrah ⟨ى⟩ in handwriting and in print. Arabic diacritics_sentence_103

This practice is also used in copies of the muṣḥaf (Qurʾān) scribed by ‘Uthman Ṭāhā. Arabic diacritics_sentence_104

The same unification of yā and alif maqṣūrā has happened in Persian, resulting in what the Unicode Standard calls "arabic letter farsi yeh", that looks exactly the same as yā in initial and medial forms, but exactly the same as alif maqṣūrah in final and isolated forms ⟨یـ  ـیـ  ـی⟩. Arabic diacritics_sentence_105

At the time when the i‘jām was optional, letters deliberately lacking the points of i‘jām: ⟨ح⟩ /ħ/, ⟨د⟩ /d/, ⟨ر⟩ /r/, ⟨س⟩ /s/, ⟨ص⟩ /sˤ/, ⟨ط⟩ /tˤ/, ⟨ع⟩ /ʕ/, ⟨ل⟩ /l/, ⟨ه⟩ /h/ — could be marked with a small v-shaped sign above or below the letter, or a semicircle, or a miniature of the letter itself (e.g. a small س to indicate that the letter in question is س and not ش), or one or several subscript dots, or a superscript hamza, or a superscript stroke. Arabic diacritics_sentence_106

These signs, collectively known as ‘alāmātu-l-ihmāl, are still occasionally used in modern Arabic calligraphy, either for their original purpose (i.e. marking letters without i‘jām), or often as purely decorative space-fillers. Arabic diacritics_sentence_107

The small ک above the kāf in its final and isolated forms ⟨ك  ـك⟩ was originally ‘alāmatu-l-ihmāl, but became a permanent part of the letter. Arabic diacritics_sentence_108

Previously this sign could also appear above the medial form of kāf, instead of the stroke on its ascender. Arabic diacritics_sentence_109

Hamza (glottal stop semi-consonant) Arabic diacritics_section_12

Main article: Hamza Arabic diacritics_sentence_110

Although often a diacritic is not considered a letter of the alphabet, the hamza هَمْزَة (hamzah, glottal stop), often stands as a separate letter in writing, is written in unpointed texts and is not considered a tashkīl. Arabic diacritics_sentence_111

It may appear as a letter by itself or as a diacritic over or under an alif, wāw, or yā. Arabic diacritics_sentence_112

Which letter is to be used to support the hamzah depends on the quality of the adjacent vowels; Arabic diacritics_sentence_113

Arabic diacritics_unordered_list_2

  • If the glottal stop occurs at the beginning of the word, it is always indicated by hamza on an alif: above if the following vowel is /a/ or /u/ and below if it is /i/.Arabic diacritics_item_2_5
  • If the glottal stop occurs in the middle of the word, hamzah above alif is used only if it is not preceded or followed by /i/ or /u/:Arabic diacritics_item_2_6
    • If /i/ is before or after the glottal stop, a yāʼ with a hamzah is used (the two dots which are usually beneath the yāʾ disappear in this case): ⟨ئ⟩.Arabic diacritics_item_2_7
    • Otherwise, if /u/ is before or after the glottal stop, a wāw with a hamzah is used: ⟨ؤ⟩.Arabic diacritics_item_2_8
  • If the glottal stop occurs at the end of the word (ignoring any grammatical suffixes), if it follows a short vowel it is written above alif, wāw, or yā the same as for a medial case; otherwise on the line (i.e. if it follows a long vowel, diphthong or consonant).Arabic diacritics_item_2_9
  • Two alifs in succession are never allowed: /ʔaː/ is written with alif maddah ⟨آ⟩ and /aːʔ/ is written with a free hamzah on the line ⟨اء⟩.Arabic diacritics_item_2_10

Consider the following words: ⟨أَخ⟩ /ʔax/ ("brother"), ⟨إِسماعيل⟩ /ʔismaːʕiːl/ ("Ismael"), ⟨أُمّ⟩ /ʔumm/ ("mother"). Arabic diacritics_sentence_114

All three of above words "begin" with a vowel opening the syllable, and in each case, alif is used to designate the initial glottal stop (the actual beginning). Arabic diacritics_sentence_115

But if we consider middle syllables "beginning" with a vowel: ⟨نَشْأَة⟩ /naʃʔa/ ("origin"), ⟨أَفْئِدَة⟩ /ʔafʔida/ ("hearts" — notice the /ʔi/ syllable; singular ⟨فُؤَاد⟩ /fuʔaːd/), ⟨رُؤُوس⟩ /ruʔuːs/ ("heads", singular ⟨رَأْس⟩ /raʔs/), the situation is different, as noted above. Arabic diacritics_sentence_116

See the comprehensive article on hamzah for more details. Arabic diacritics_sentence_117

History Arabic diacritics_section_13

According to tradition, the first to commission a system of harakat was Ali who appointed Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali for the task. Arabic diacritics_sentence_118

Abu al-Aswad devised a system of dots to signal the three short vowels (along with their respective allophones) of Arabic. Arabic diacritics_sentence_119

This system of dots predates the i‘jām, dots used to distinguish between different consonants. Arabic diacritics_sentence_120

Arabic diacritics_unordered_list_3

  • Arabic diacritics_item_3_11
  • Arabic diacritics_item_3_12
  • Arabic diacritics_item_3_13

Abu al-Aswad's system Arabic diacritics_section_14

Abu al-Aswad's system of Harakat was different from the system we know today. Arabic diacritics_sentence_121

The system used red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel. Arabic diacritics_sentence_122

A dot above a letter indicated the vowel a, a dot below indicated the vowel i, a dot on the side of a letter stood for the vowel u, and two dots stood for the tanwīn. Arabic diacritics_sentence_123

However, the early manuscripts of the Qur'an did not use the vowel signs for every letter requiring them, but only for letters where they were necessary for a correct reading. Arabic diacritics_sentence_124

Al Farahidi's system Arabic diacritics_section_15

The precursor to the system we know today is Al Farahidi's system. Arabic diacritics_sentence_125

al-Farāhīdī found that the task of writing using two different colours was tedious and impractical. Arabic diacritics_sentence_126

Another complication was that the i‘jām had been introduced by then, which, while they were short strokes rather than the round dots seen today, meant that without a color distinction the two could become confused. Arabic diacritics_sentence_127

Accordingly, he replaced the ḥarakāt with small superscript letters: small alif, yā’, and wāw for the short vowels corresponding to the long vowels written with those letters, a small s(h)īn for shaddah (geminate), a small khā’ for khafīf (short consonant; no longer used). Arabic diacritics_sentence_128

His system is essentially the one we know today. Arabic diacritics_sentence_129

See also Arabic diacritics_section_16

Arabic diacritics_unordered_list_4

  • Arabic alphabet:Arabic diacritics_item_4_14
    • I‘rāb (إِﻋْﺮَﺍﺏ‎), the case system of ArabicArabic diacritics_item_4_15
    • Rasm (رَسْم‎), the basic system of Arabic consonantsArabic diacritics_item_4_16
    • Tajwīd (تَجْوِيد‎), the phonetic rules of recitation of Qur'an in ArabicArabic diacritics_item_4_17
  • Niqqud, the Hebrew equivalent of ḥarakātArabic diacritics_item_4_18
  • Dagesh, the Hebrew diacritic similar to Arabic i‘jām and shaddahArabic diacritics_item_4_19


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic diacritics.