Hebrew alphabet

From Academic Kids

Template:Alphabet Template:SpecialCharsNote

This article is mainly about Hebrew letters. For Hebrew diacritical marks, see niqqud (for the vowel points) and cantillation.

The Hebrew alphabet is a set of 22 letters used for writing the Hebrew language. It is has also been used in mildly adapted forms for writing several languages of the Jewish diaspora, most famously Yiddish, Ladino, and Judaeo-Arabic (for a full and detailed list, see Jewish languages). Hebrew is written from right to left.

The Hebrew word for "alphabet" is אלף-בית (alef-bet), named after the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet was in origin an abjad, in other words it had letters for consonants only, but means were later devised to indicate vowels, first by using consonant letters as matres lectionis, later by separate vowel points or niqqud.

The number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, their order, their names, and their phonetic values are virtually identical to those of the Aramaic alphabet, as both Hebrews and Arameans borrowed the Phoenician alphabet for their uses during the end of the 2nd millennium BC.

The modern script used for writing Hebrew (usually called the Jewish script by scholars, and also traditionally known as the square script, or the Assyrian script), evolved during the 3rd century BC from the Aramaic script, which was used by Jews for writing Hebrew since the 6th century BC. Prior to that, Hebrew was written using the old Hebrew script, which evolved during the 9th century BC from the Phoenician script; the Samaritans still write Hebrew in a variant of this script for religious works (see Samaritan alphabet).


Short table

The Hebrew alphabet consists of the following letters. Some letters have a different form used at the ends of words: these are shown in the table below the normal form.

א א ב ב ג ג ד ד ה ה ו ו ז ז ח ח ט ט י י כ כ
ך ך
ל ל מ מ נ נ ס ס ע ע פ פ צ צ ק ק ר ר ש ש ת ת
ם ם ן ן ף ף ץ ץ


Both the old Hebrew script and the modern Jewish script have only one case, but in the modern script some letters have special final forms used only at the end of a word. This is similar to the Arabic alphabet, although much simpler. The Hebrew alphabet is an abjad: vowels are normally not indicated. Where they are it is because a weak consonant such as א alef, ה he, ו vav, or י yod has combined with a previous vowel and become silent or by imitation of such cases in spelling of other forms.

To preserve the proper vowel sounds, scholars developed several different sets of diacritic symbols called niqqud (ניקוד; literally: "applying points"). One of these, the Tiberian system, eventually prevailed. Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, and his family for several generations, are credited for creating and maintaining the system. These points are normally used only for special purposes, such as Biblical books intended for study, in poetry, or when teaching the language to children. The Tiberian system also includes a set of cantillation marks used to indicate how scriptural passages should be chanted, and decorative "crowns" used only for Torah scrolls.

Hebrew letters may also be used as numbers; see the entry on Hebrew numerals. This use of letters as numbers is used in Qabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in a practice known as gematria.

Main table

The following table is a breakdown of each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, describing its written glyph or glyphs, its name or names, its Latin script transliteration values used in academic work, and its pronunciation in reconstructed historical forms and dialects using the International Phonetic Alphabet. If two glyphs are shown for a letter, then the left-most glyph is the Final form of the letter (or right-most glyph if your browser doesn't support right-to-left text layout).

Symbol Name Transliteration Numer-
ical Value
Pronunciation (IPA)
Academic Uni-
code Stan-
Israeli Ash-
Academic Israeli Modern Israeli Ash-
Font-friendly ISO-8859-1-friendly Uni-
Font-friendly ISO-8859-1-friendly Mish-
א Template:Unicode ’āleph 'leph alef alef alef, olef Template:Unicode ' ' (1) 1 [[glottal stop|]], - silent
ב Template:Unicode bth, bhth bth, bhth bet bet, vet beis, veis Template:Unicode b, bh b, bh b, v 2
ג Template:Unicode gmel, ghmel gmel, ghmel gimel gimel gimmel Template:Unicode g, gh g, gh g 3
ד Template:Unicode dāleth, dhāleth dleth, dhleth dalet dalet doles Template:Unicode d, dh d, dh d 4
ה  ? h h he he, hei, e, ei hei Template:Unicode  ?  ? h (2) 5
ו Template:Unicode wāw ww vav vav vov, vof  ? w w v 6
ז  ? zyin zyin zayin zayin zayin ? z z  ? 7
ח Template:Unicode ħth, (3) xth h`th, (3) xth het chet ches Template:Unicode ħ, (3) x h`, (3) x h, ch (4) 8
ט Template:Unicode ţth t`th tet tet tes Template:Unicode ţ t` t 9 (5) (6) (7)
י Template:Unicode ydh ydh yod yod, yud yud  ? y y y, i (8) 10
ך כ Template:Unicode kāph, khāph kph, khph kaf kaf, chaf kof, chof Template:Unicode k, kh k, kh k, ch 20
ל Template:Unicode lāmedh lmedh lamed lamed lomed  ? l l l 30
ם מ mēm mēm mm mem mem mem  ? m m m 40
ן נ  ? nn nn nun nun nun  ? n n n 50
ס Template:Unicode sāmekh smekh samekh samech somech  ? s s s 60
ע Template:Unicode (3) Template:Unicode ‘yin, (3) ġyin `yin, (3) 3yin ayin ayin ayin, oyin Template:Unicode, (3) Template:Unicode ‘, (3) ġ `, (3) 3 ' (9) 70 [ , – ] silent [ – ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]
ף פ Template:Unicode p, ph p, ph pe pe, pei, fe/fei pei, fei Template:Unicode p, ph p, ph p, f 80
ץ צ Template:Unicode şādh s`dh tsadi tzadi, tzadik tsodi, tsodik Template:Unicode ş s` tz, ts, z 90 (5) (6) (7)
ק  ? qph qph qof kof, kuf kuf  ? q q k 100 (7)
ר Template:Unicode rsh resh resh, reish reish  ? r r r 200
ש Template:Unicode šn, śn shn, lhn shin shin, sin shin, sin Template:Unicode š, ś sh, lh sh, s 300
ת Template:Unicode tāw, thāw tw, thw tav tav tov, tof, sov, sof Template:Unicode t, th t, th t 400


  1. unwritten in initial and final positions, though often not written at all
  2. unwritten in final positions
  3. archaic
  4. h initial or after consonants, ch everywhere else
  5. velarized or pharyngealized
  6. pharyngealized
  7. ejective
  8. i in final positions or before consonants
  9. often not written at all

  • Historically, the consonants ב bet, ג gimel, ד dalet, כ kaf, פ pe, and ת tav each had two sounds: one hard (plosive consonant), and one soft (fricative consonant), depending on the position of the letter and other factors. When vowel diacritics are used, the hard sounds are indicated by a central dot called dagesh (דגש), while the soft sounds lack a dagesh. In masoretic manuscripts, the soft fricative consonants are indicated by a small line on top of the letter; this diacritical mark is called raphe (רפה), but its use has been largely discontinued in printed texts.
  • א alef, ה he, ו vav and י yod are consonants that can sometimes fill the position of a vowel. vav and yod in particular are more often vowels than they are consonants.
  • ש shin and sin are two separate phonemes written with the same letter. They are not mutually allophonic. When vowel diacritics are used, the two phonemes are differentiated with a shin-dot or sin-dot; the shin-dot is above the upper-right side of the letter, and sin-dot is above the upper-left side of the letter.
  • In Israel's general population, many consonants have merged to the same pronunciation. They are:
    • א alef with ayin and (varyingly) ה he
    • ב bet (without dagesh) with ו vav
    • ח het with כ kaf (without dagesh)
    • ט tet with ת tav (both with and without dagesh)
    • כ kaf (with dagesh) with ק qof
    • ס samekh with שׂ sin (but not with שׁ shin)
    • צ tsadi with the consonant cluster תס tav-samekh

Vowel formation

Some of the letters, as well as their consonantal function, also acted as matres lectionis to represent vowels, as follows:

SymbolNameVowel formation
א alef , ệ, ậ, ,
ה he , ệ, ậ, ,
ו vav ,
י yod , , ệ

Ancient Hebrew

Some of the variations in sound mentioned above are due to a systematic feature of Ancient Hebrew. The six consonants /p t k b d g/ were pronounced differently depending on their position. These letters were also called BeGeDKePHaT (pronounced ) letters. (The full details are very complex; this summary omits some points.) They were pronounced as stops [p t k b d g] at the beginning of a syllable, or when doubled. They were pronounced as fricatives Template:UnicodeIPA when preceded by a vowel. The stop and double pronunciations were indicated by the dagesh. In Modern Hebrew the sounds Template:Unicode and Template:Unicode have reverted to [d] and [g], and Template:Unicode has become [t], so only the remaining three letters show variation.

ו vav was a semivowel /w/ (as in English, not as in German).

ח het and ע ayin were pharyngeal fricatives, צ tsadi was an emphatic /s/, ט tet was an emphatic /t/, and ק qof was /q/. All these are common Semitic consonants.

שׂ sin (the /s/ variant of ש shin) was originally different from both שׁ shin and ס samekh, but had become /s/ the same as ס samekh by the time the vowel pointing was devised. Because of cognates with other Semitic languages, this phoneme is known to have originally been a lateral consonant, most likely IPA the fricative (as in Welsh /ll/) or the affricate (as in Nhuatl /tl/).


Archeological evidence indicates that the original Hebrew script is related to the Phoenician script that was in wide use in the Middle East region at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Eventually this alphabet evolved in Europe into the Greek and Roman alphabets. This script was borrowed by the Hebrews during the 12th or 11th century BCE, and around the 9th century BCE, a distinct Hebrew variant, the original "Hebrew script", emerged. This script was widely used in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah until they fell in the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, respectively.

Following the Babylonian exile, Jews gradually stopped using the Hebrew script, and instead adopted the Babylonian Aramaic script (which was also originally derived from the Phoenician script). This script, used for writing Hebrew, later evolved into the Jewish, or "square" script, that is still used today. "Square"-related scripts were in use all over the Middle East for several hundred years, but following the rise of Christianity (and later, the rise of Islam), they gave way to the Roman and Arabic alphabets, respectively. According to traditional Jewish thought, the Hebrew writing system contained all the current letters at the time of Moses, although Ezra is known for his contribution to the square form.

Following the decline of Hebrew and Aramaic as the spoken languages of the Jews, the Hebrew alphabet was adopted in order to write down the languages of the Jewish diaspora (Karaim, Judo-Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish, etc.). The Hebrew alphabet was retained as the alphabet used for writing down the Hebrew language during its rebirth in the end of the 19th century, despite several unsuccessful attempts to replace it with the Latin alphabet.

Hebrew in Unicode

The Unicode Hebrew block extends from U+0590 to U+05FF. It includes letters, ligatures, combining diacritical marks (niqqud and cantillation marks) and punctuation.

590 ֐֑֖֛֚֒֓֔֕֗֘֙֜֝֞֟
5A0 ֢֣֤֥֦֧֪֭֮֠֡֨֩֫֬֯
5B0 ְֱֲֳִֵֶַָֹֺֻּֽ־ֿ
5C0 ׀ׁׂ׃ׅׄ׆ׇ׈׉׊׋׌׍׎׏
5D0 אבגדהוזחטיךכלםמן
5E0 נסעףפץצקרשת׫׬׭׮ׯ
5F0 װױײ׳״׵׶׷׸׹׺׻׼׽׾׿

See also

External links

ast:Alfabetu hebreu ca:Alfabet hebreu de:Hebrisches Alphabet es:Alfabeto hebreo eo:Hebrea alfabeto fr:Alphabet hbreu he:אלפבית עברי it:Alfabeto ebraico nl:Hebreeuws alfabet ja:ヘブライ文字 no:Hebraisk alfabet nn:Det hebraiske alfabetet pl:Alfabet hebrajski ru:Еврейский алфавит sk:Hebrejsk abeceda sr:Хебрејско писмо zh:希伯来字母


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