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Shin and sin

Shin and sin are represented by the same letter, ש, but are two separate phonemes. 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 the sin-dot is above the upper-left side of the letter.

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Hebrew alphabet

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Hebrew alphabet

א בּ ב ג גּ ג׳ ד דּ ד׳ ה ו וּ וֹ וו , ו׳
ז ז׳ ח ט י
IPA [ʔ], [b] [v] [ɡ] [d͡ʒ] [d] [ð] [h~ʔ], [v]~[w] [u] [o̞] [w] [z] [ʒ] [χ]~[ħ] [t] [j]
Letters ‏ִי כּ ךּ
כ ך ל מ ם נ ן ס ע פּ פ ף צ ץ צ׳ ץ׳ ק ר שׁ שׂ תּ ת ת׳
IPA [i] [k] [χ] [l] [m] [n] [s] [ʔ]~[ʕ], [p] [f] [t͡s] [] [k] [ʁ]~[r] [ʃ] [s] [t] [θ]
Symbol Name Transliteration Example
שׁ (right dot) shin sh /ʃ/ shop
שׂ (left dot) sin s /s/ sour

Historically, left-dot-sin corresponds to Proto-Semitic *ś, which in biblical-Judaic-Hebrew corresponded to a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative /ɬ/, as is evident in Greek transliteration of Hebrew words such as Balsam (בֹּשֶׂם) (the ls - 'שׂ') as is evident in the Targum Onkelos. Rendering of proto-semitic *ś as /ɬ/, is still evident in the Soqotri language.


Historically, the consonants ב beth, ג gimel, ד daleth, כ kaf, פ pe and ת tav each had two sounds: one hard (plosive), and one soft (fricative), 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 modern Hebrew, however, the dagesh only changes the pronunciation of ב beth, כ kaf, and פ pe, and doesn't affect the name of the letter. The differences are as follows:

Name With dagesh Without dagesh
Symbol Transliteration IPA Example Symbol Transliteration IPA Example
beth בּ b /b/ bun ב v /v/ van
kaf [10]כּ ךּ k /k/ kangaroo כ ך kh/ch/x /χ/ loch
pe פּ p /p/ pass פ ף f/ph /f/ find

In other dialects (mainly liturgical) there are variations from this pattern.

  • In some Sephardi and Mizrahi dialects, bet without dagesh is pronounced [b], like bet with dagesh
  • In Syrian and Yemenite Hebrew, gimel without dagesh is pronounced [ɣ].
  • In Yemenite Hebrew, and in the Iraqi pronunciation of the word "Adonai", dalet without dagesh is pronounced [ð] as in "these"
  • In Ashkenazi Hebrew, tav without dagesh is pronounced [s] as in "silk"
  • In Iraqi and Yemenite Hebrew, and formerly in some other dialects, tav without dagesh is pronounced [θ] is in "thick"

Identical pronunciation

In Israel's general population, many consonants have the same pronunciation. They are as follows:

Letters Transliteration Pronunciation (IPA)
Usually when in medial word position:
(separation of vowels in a hiatus)
When in initial or final word position, sometimes also in medial word position:
' or /ʔ/
(glottal stop)
Bet (without dagesh)
v /v/
Kaf (without dagesh)
kh/ch/h /χ/
t /t/
Kaf (with dagesh)
k /k/
Sin (with left dot)
s /s/
and תשׂ
ts/tz /ts/
Tsadi (with geresh)
and תשׁ
ch/tsh (chair) //

* Varyingly

Ancient Hebrew pronunciation

Some of the variations in sound mentioned above are due to a systematic feature of Ancient Hebrew. The six consonants /b ɡ d k p t/ were pronounced differently depending on their position. These letters were also called BeGeD KeFeT letters . The full details are very complex; this summary omits some points. They were pronounced as plosives /b ɡ d k p t/ at the beginning of a syllable, or when doubled. They were pronounced as fricatives /v ɣ ð x f θ/ when preceded by a vowel (commonly indicated with a macron, ḇ ḡ ḏ ḵ p̄ ṯ). The plosive and double pronunciations were indicated by the dagesh. In Modern Hebrew the sounds and have reverted to [d] and [ɡ], respectively, and has become [t], so only the remaining three consonants /b k p/ show variation. ר resh may have also been a "doubled" letter, making the list BeGeD KePoReS. (Sefer Yetzirah, 4:1)


Matres lectionis

א alef, ה he, ו vav and י yod are letters that can sometimes indicate a vowel instead of a consonant (which would be, respectively, /ʔ/, /h/, /v/ and /j/). When they do, ו and י are considered to constitute part of the vowel designation in combination with a niqqud symbol – a vowel diacritic (whether or not the diacritic is marked), whereas א and ה are considered to be mute, their role being purely indicative of the non-marked vowel.

Letter Name
of letter
when letter
Name of
vowel designation
א alef /ʔ/ ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô
ה he /h/ ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô
ו vav /v/ וֹ ḥolám malé ô
וּ shurúq û
י yud /j/ ‏ִי ḥiríq malé î
‏ֵי tseré malé ê, ệ

Vowel points

Niqqud is the system of dots that help determine vowels and consonants. In Hebrew, all forms of niqqud are often omitted in writing, except for children's books, prayer books, poetry, foreign words, and words which would be ambiguous to pronounce. Israeli Hebrew has five vowel phonemes, /i e a o u/, but many more written symbols for them:

Name Symbol Israeli Hebrew
Transliteration English
Hiriq [i] i mandi
Zeire [], ([e̞j] with
succeeding yod)
e, (ei with
succeeding yod)
men, main
Segol [] e men
Patach [ä] a father
Kamatz סָ [ä], (or []) a, (or o) father
Holam Haser [] o over
Holam Male וֹ [] o over
Shuruk [u] u moon
Kubutz [u] u moon

Note 1: The symbol "ס" represents whatever Hebrew letter is used.
Note 2: The pronunciation of zeire and sometimes segol – with or without the letter yod – is sometimes ei in Modern Hebrew. This is not correct in the normative pronunciation and not consistent in the spoken language.[11]
Note 3: The dagesh, mappiq, and shuruk have different functions, even though they look the same.
Note 4: The letter ו (vav) is used since it can only be represented by that letter.


By adding a vertical line (called Meteg) underneath the letter and to the left of the vowel point, the vowel is made long. The meteg is only used in Biblical Hebrew, not Modern Hebrew.


By adding two vertical dots (called Sh'va) underneath the letter, the vowel is made very short.

Name Symbol Israeli Hebrew
Transliteration English
Shva ] or apostrophe, e,
or nothing
h as pronounced in herb
Reduced Segol [] e men
Reduced Patach [ä] a father
Reduced Kamatz
[] o father

Comparison table

Vowel comparison table [12]
Vowel Length
(phonetically not manifested in Israeli Hebrew)
Transliteration English
Long Short Very Short
ָ ַ ֲ [ä] a spa
ֵ ֶ ֱ [] e temp
וֹ ָ
[] o Congo
וּ ֻ n/a [u] u soon
‏ִי ִ [i] i ski
Note I: By adding two vertical dots (sh'va) ְ
the vowel is made very short.
Note II: The short o and long a have the same niqqud.
Note III: The short o is usually promoted to a long o
in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation
Note IV: The short u is usually promoted to a long u
in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation


The symbol ״ is called a gershayim and is a punctuation mark used in the Hebrew language to denote acronyms. It is written before the last letter in the acronym, e.g. ר״ת. Gershayim is also the name of a note of cantillation in the reading of the Torah, printed above the accented letter, e.g. א֞.

Sounds represented with diacritic geresh

The sounds [t͡ʃ], [d͡ʒ], [ʒ], written "צ׳", "ג׳", "ז׳", and [w], non-standardly sometimes transliterated וו or ו׳[e3], are often found in slang and loanwords that are part of the everyday Hebrew colloquial vocabulary. The apostrophe-looking symbol after the Hebrew letter modifies the pronunciation of the letter and is called a geresh. (As mentioned above, while still done, using ו׳ to represent [w] is non-standard; standard spelling rules allow no usage of ו׳ whatsoever[e4]).

Hebrew slang and loanwords
Name Symbol Transliteration Example
Gimel with a geresh ג׳ [d͡ʒ] ǧ[9] ǧáḥnun [ˈd͡ʒaχnun] גַּ׳חְנוּן
Zayin with a geresh ז׳ [ʒ] ž[9] koláž [koˈlaʒ] קוֹלַאז׳
Tsadi with a geresh צ׳ [t͡ʃ] č[9] čupár (treat) [t͡ʃuˈpar] צ׳וּפָּר
Vav with a geresh
or double Vav
וו or ו׳(non standard)[e5] [w] w awánta (boastful act) [aˈwanta] אַוַּנְטַה

The pronunciation of the following letters can also be modified with the geresh diacritic, the represented sounds are however foreign to Hebrew phonology, i.e., these symbols only represent sounds in foreign words or names when transliterated with the Hebrew alphabet, and never loanwords.

Transliteration of non-native sounds
Name Symbol Arabic letter Example Comment
Dalet with a geresh ד׳ [ð] Dhāl (ذ)
Voiced th
Dhū al-Ḥijjah (ذو الحجة)‎ ד׳ו אל-חיג׳ה * Also used for English voiced th
* Often a simple ד is written.
Tav with a geresh ת׳ [θ] Thāʼ (ﺙ)
Voiceless th
Thurston ת׳רסטון
Ḥet with a geresh ח׳ [χ] Khāʼ (خ) Sheikh (شيخ)‎ שייח׳ * Unlike the other sounds in this table, the sound [χ] represented by ח׳ is indeed a native sound in Hebrew; the geresh is however used only when transliteration must distinguish between [χ] and ], in which case ח׳ transliterates the former and ח the latter, whereas in everyday usage ח without geresh is pronounced [ħ] only dialectically but [χ] commonly.
Resh with a geresh ר׳ or ע׳ [ʁ] Ghayn (غ) Ghajar (غجر) ר׳ג׳ר Sometimes an ʻayin with a geresh (ע׳) is used to transliterate غ – inconsistently with the guidelines specified by the Academy of the Hebrew Language

A geresh is also used to denote acronyms pronounced as a string of letters, and to denote a Hebrew numeral. Geresh also is the name of one of the notes of cantillation in the reading of the Torah, but its appearance and function is different.

Religious use

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have played varied roles in Jewish religious literature over the centuries, primarily in mystical texts. Some sources in classical rabbinical literature seem to acknowledge the historical provenance of the currently used Hebrew alphabet and deal with them as a mundane subject (the Jerusalem Talmud, for example, records that "the Israelites took for themselves square calligraphy", and that the letters "came with the Israelites from Ashur [Assyria]");[13] others attribute mystical significance to the letters, connecting them with the process of creation or the redemption. In mystical conceptions, the alphabet is considered eternal, pre-existent to the Earth, and the letters themselves are seen as having holiness and power, sometimes to such an extent that several stories from the Talmud illustrate the idea that they cannot be destroyed.[14]

The idea of the letters' creative power finds its greatest vehicle in the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation, a mystical text of uncertain origin which describes a story of creation highly divergent from that in the Book of Genesis, largely through exposition on the powers of the letters of the alphabet. The supposed creative powers of the letters are also referenced in the Talmud and Zohar.[15][16]

The four-pronged Shin

Another book, the 13th-century Kabbalistic text Sefer HaTemunah, holds that a single letter of unknown pronunciation, held by some to be the four-pronged shin on one side of the teffilin box, is missing from the current alphabet. The world's flaws, the book teaches, are related to the absence of this letter, the eventual revelation of which will repair the universe.[17] Another example of messianic significance attached to the letters is the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer that the five letters of the alphabet with final forms hold the "secret of redemption".[17]

In addition, the letters occasionally feature in aggadic portions of non-mystical rabbinic literature. In such aggada the letters are often given anthropomorphic qualities and depicted as speaking to God. Commonly their shapes are used in parables to illustrate points of ethics or theology. An example from the Babylonian Talmud (a parable intended to discourage speculation about the universe before creation):

Why does the story of creation begin with bet?... In the same manner that the letter bet is closed on all sides and only open in front, similarly you are not permitted to inquire into what is before or what was behind, but only from the actual time of Creation.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, 77c

Extensive instructions about the proper methods of forming the letters are found in Mishnat Soferim, within Mishna Berura of Yisrael Meir Kagan.

Mathematical use

In set theory the letter aleph with a subscript 0 (\aleph_0) is used to mark the cardinal number of an infinite set. It is pronounced aleph-naught or aleph-null. Similarly the letter beth is used for infinite ordinals. See aleph number and beth number.

Unicode and HTML

The [3] The Numeric Character References is included for HTML. These can be used in many markup languages, and they are often used in Wiki to create the Hebrew glyphs compatible with the majority of web browsers.

See also


a^ "Alef-bet" is commonly written in Israeli Hebrew without the maqaf (מקף, "[Hebrew] hyphen"), אלפבית עברי, as opposed to with the hyphen, אלף־בית עברי.

b^ The Arabic letters generally (as six of the primary letters can have only two variants) have four forms, according to their place in the word. The same goes with the Mandaic ones, except for three of the 22 letters, which have only one form.

c^ In forms of Hebrew older than Modern Hebrew, כ״ף, בי״ת and פ״א can only be read b, k and p, respectively, at the beginning of a word, while they will have the sole value of v, kh and f in a sofit (final) position, with few exceptions.[10] In medial positions, both pronunciations are possible. In Modern Hebrew this restriction is not absolute, e.g. פִיזִיקַאי /fiziˈkaj/ and never /piziˈkaj/ (= "physicist"), סְנוֹבּ /snob/ and never /snov/ (= "snob"). A dagesh may be inserted to unambiguously denote the plosive variant: בּ = /b/, כּ = /k/, פּ =/p/; similarly (though today very rare in Hebrew and common only in Yiddish) a rafé placed above the letter unambiguously denotes the fricative variant: בֿ = /v/, כֿ = /χ/ and פֿ = /f/. In Modern Hebrew orthography, the sound [p] at the end of a word is denoted by the regular form "פ", as opposed to the final form "ף", which always denotes [f] (see table of transliterations and transcriptions, comment[D]).

d^ However, וו (two separate vavs), used in Ktiv male, is to be distinguished from the Yiddish ligature װ (also two vavs but together as one character).

e1^ e2^ e3^ e4^ e5^ The Academy of the Hebrew Language states that both [v] and [w] be indistinguishably represented in Hebrew using the letter Vav.[18] Sometimes the Vav is indeed doubled, however not to denote [w] as opposed to [v] but rather, when spelling without niqqud, to denote the phoneme /v/ at a non-initial and non-final position in the word, whereas a single Vav at a non-initial and non-final position in the word in spelling without niqqud denotes one of the phonemes /u/ or /o/. To pronounce foreign words and loanwords containing the sound [w], Hebrew readers must therefore rely on former knowledge and context.


  1. ^ Old HebrewAncient
  2. ^ A History of the Hebrew Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 1993.  
  3. ^ a b c Chart of Hebrew glyphs at
  4. ^ a b Unicode names of Hebrew characters at
  5. ^ a b Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
  6. ^ Kaplan, Aryeh. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. pp. 8, 22.
  7. ^ Resources for New Testament Exegesis – Transliteration Standards of The SBL Handbook of Style
  8. ^ a b c d Transliteration guidelines by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, November 2006
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Transliteration guidelines preceding 2006-update, p. 3 Academy of the Hebrew Language
  10. ^ a b c d e "ךּ" is rare but exists, e.g. last word in Deuteronomy 7 1 (דברים פרק ז׳ פסוק א׳) in the word "מִמֶּךָּ" – see תנ״ך מנוקד, דברים פרק ז׳. There is a single occurrence of "ףּ", see this comment[D].
  11. ^ Laufer, Asher (2008). Chapters in Phonetics and Phonetic Transcription. Jerusalem:  
  12. ^ Hebrew lessons for Christians
  13. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 21b
  14. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesach 87b, Avodah Zarah 18a.
  15. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 55c
  16. ^ Zohar 1:3; 2:152
  17. ^ a b The Book of Letters. Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock. 1990
  18. ^ "Transliteration Rules" (PDF).  issued by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.


  •  §5 Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, ff.
  • New York: New York University Press.In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language.Hoffman, Joel M. 2004.
  • Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.A History of the Hebrew Language.Saenz-Badillos, Angel. 1993.
  • History of the Hebrew Language.Steinberg, David.
  • Mathers table
  • Hebrew Alphabet Guide

External links


  • The Hebrew alphabet, meanings, and spiritual symbolism
  • How to draw letters
  • Official Unicode standards document for Hebrew
  • Transliterate your English name into Hebrew Letters
  • Hebrew Alphabet Charts
  • Interactive Hebrew Alphabet Lesson
  • Mobile OCR Hebrew Dictionary


  • – Virtual & Interactive Hebrew Keyboard
  • Hebrew calligraphy alphabet Model Hebrew calligraphy Alphabet
  • – For typing Hebrew with an English keyboard (Hebrew keyboard|Hebrew layout)
  • Hebrew Writing – Typing Hebrew and Nikud using extended English keyboard (Hebrew keyboard|Hebrew Writing layout)
  • Prize Find: Oldest Hebrew Inscription Biblical Archaeology Review
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