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Arabic is written from right to left, and the front cover of an Arabic-language book is like the back cover of what Westerners are used to.

There is no difference between capitals and lower-case letters in Arabic.
There is also no difference between printed Arabic and handwritten, but there are very may styles including some very artistic ones.

Letters have potentially 4 forms.

The way they appear in isolation.
The way they appear at the beginning of a word;
The way they appear in the middle of a word.
And how they appear at the end of a word.


Some letters don't join up with letters following them.
Others don't connect to letters before them.

What is great with word processors is that the joining up rules are automatically applied by your software.

For example, the simple letter 'b', which on its own looks like this:   
at the beginning of a word it would look like this and connect with the following letter:       
in the middle of a word it would look like this:  ــبــ
If there were a such a word as bbb, it would be written:   ببب

The first 'B' joins with the second, which in turn joins with the third. Only the third has the appearance of the independant letter.

A similar letter is 't', which behaves in the same way, except that instead of one dot below has two dots above the letter. ت


The same letter, but with three dots above:  ث
    ثثث ththth

N is almost identical to these letters with a single dot above, but the full shape is deeper, rounder and shorter than its cousins:  ن

ننن  nnn

A real word now. بنت
(short vowels aren't written in Arabic)

It's B-N-T which is 'bint' - a girl.
Next letter, the alif  ا

The alif doesn't really have a sound all of it's own at the beginning of a word, but indicates that there is a vowel.
The vowel can be an 'a', an 'i' or a 'u'. More about this later.
Elsewhere in a word, it is usually is a long 'aa' One of the 3 long vowels that are written.

At the beginning of a word it is written: ا
Alif is a letter that only joins with the letter before it, but NOT with any letter following.
When it comes after another letter it is written: ــا

Another word for you:  باب
It's 'baab' - door. Notice that the second 'b' is written as if it were on it's own as the alif doesn't join with it.

Another anomaly, at the end of a word, a long aa is usually written - ـــى
Exceptions - pronouns, the word 'no' and foreign words.


Let's learn another vowel next ي
This is the long vowel 'ii', but it can also be the the consonant 'y'

It will look familiar to you.
On it's own it's: ي
At the beginning of a word it's like the "t" we learned, but the two dots are underneath, ot above.: يـــ
In the middle of a word, it's also like the 't' with the dots below.: ـــيــ
At the end of a word, it's the same as the long 'aa' at the end of a word, but with the two dots underneath.: ـــي

And next, the third long vowel: و
And just to make things interesting, this also is the semi-consonant 'w'

This letter is like alif in that is doesn't join up with letters following it.

when preceeded by another letter it looks like this: ـــو

some more words?

بيت   بين  بيوت 
bayt - bayna - buyuut (house - between - houses)

Anothr group of 3 letters that look similar

This is a 'kh' sound.It doesn't exist in English, but is the same sound as the Spanish 'j' (jota) or the German 'ch' as in Bach.
It's a raspy very loud kind of 'h'.

This letter joins both with letter before and after it.

At the beginning of a word: خــ
In the middle: ــخــ
And at the end: ـــخ

This is the same letter as above without the dot above it.
It's sound is another h-like sound, but this one is raspy at the back of your throat and exaggerated.
It is often transliterated as a capital H.


This is a 'j' sound as in he English name 'John'
The dot is below the letter this time.

جيب  حج جانب
jayb (pocket), Hajj (pilgrim), jaanib (next to)

Two more related letters

This is a 'd' sound. This letter doesn't connect to others after it and looks very similar when preceeded by another: ـــد

This is the sound of the English word 'this' or 'them'

جديد  دخل 
jadiid (new) - dakhala (he entered)
Another duo

This is an 'r'
This letter doesn't join up with letters after it, but looks like this with a letter before it:   ـــر

This is a 'z'
The same as the 'r' with a dot on top.
رجل  زبون
rajul (man) zabuun (customer)

Two more:

This a an 's'.
At the beginning of a word: ســـــ
In the middle of a word: ـــســ
At the end of a word: ـــس

This is the "sh" sound as in 'she'
Behaves just like the 's', but has three dots above it.

سبح  سادس  شرب  شديد
sabaHa (he swam) - saadis (sixth) - shariba (he drank) - shadiid (intense)
Another pair:

This is what is called an "emphatic s" in Arabic. Unlike the other s س
which is pronouned with the tip of the tongue, this one is less hissing and is pronounced with the whole of the tongue.
Hard to describe an hard to hear. It takes practice.

It is transliterated as a capital S.

It connects with letters both before and after.
At the beginning of a word: صــ
In the middle of a word:  ــصــ
At the end of a word:  ــص

This is what is called the "emphatic d" in Arabic. Translitered as a capital D.
Nor pronounced with the tip of the tongue like a regular d د
but with the whole of the tongue. Practice, practice, practice.
This is the same letter as the emphatic s with a dot above it.

صحيح  رياض
SaHiiH - correct    riiyaaD - Riyad (capital of Saudi Arabia)

Two more "emphatic" letters

This is an emphatic T. Transliterated with a capital.
Not pronounced with the tip of the tongue, but with the whole of the tongue.
Connects with letters before and after.

طبيب  رباط
Tabiib - doctor     rabaaT - Rabat (capital of Morocco)
This is a relatively rare letter that is the "emphatic" version of the 'dh' ذ

This is probably the most difficult sound to learn. It is unique to the Arabic language and is hard to describe.
The best description (although not a flattering one) is to pretend that you are about to retch and locate the place in the back of your throat that moves.
ثhat is where the sound is made, although it is not an unpleasant one at all as the throat remains relaxed.

At the begining of a word it is written: عــ
In the middle of a word:  ــعــ
At the end of a word:  ــع

This difficult sound is a transliteration nightmare. On this website, I use the ?
In the Western spelling of Arabic names it is usually left out.

عدن  عربي
Aden  Arab (?dn, ?arabiy)
This is the vocalised version of 'kh' and also comes close to the French pronunciation of a thick throaty 'r'

At the begiing of a word:  غــ
In the middle:  ــغــ
At the end: ــغ

غربي  بغداد
gharbiy (Western)   Baghdad
This is an 'f'

At the beginning of a word:  فـــ
In the middle:  ــفــ
At the end:  ــف

This is similar to the 'f', but has a slightly more rounded shape when in isolation or at the end of a word.
It is like a 'k' sound, but is pronounced much further back in the throat than a regular k, a letter we haven't seen yet.

At the beginning of a word:  قـــ
In the middle:  ــقــ
At the end:  ــق

قريب  قطر  عراقي

This is a 'k' sound. Different from the q above.

At the beginning of a word: كــ
In the middle:  ــكــ
At the end:  ــك

    كبير  كويت

قلب      كلب
Note the difference between the 'k' and the 'q' in these words.
'qalb-heart', 'kalb-dog'

This is an 'm'.

At the beginning of a word: مــ
In the middle: ــمـ
At the end:  ــم

مغربي  شمس  مطعم

This is an 'l'.

At the beginning of a word: لــ
In the middle:  ــلــ
At the end:  ــل

This letter changes form when followed by an alif which means that 'laa' is لا
This is a regular 'h' sound like in English 'he'. Not to be confused with the louder 'H' ح
It shape changes considerably.

At the beginning of a word: هــ
In the middle: ــهـ
At the end:  ــه

هنا  فحم 

(the ta marbuta - the hidden t)
This is our last entirely new letter, but it's not really a letter in it's own right.
It only occurs at the end of a word. Either as ة or as ــة if joined with the previous letter.

It has the shape of the 'h' at the end of a word. It is almost always the feminine ending of a noun which is pronouced as a light 'h' or not pronounced at all.
It is used to turn masculine nouns into feminine ones.

The reason it is called 'the hidden t' is that as soon as a suffix is addd to the word, the ة becomes a regular 't' .ت

wife -  زوجة - zawja   add the suffix -ـي (which means 'my')
my wife - زوجتي - zawjatiy

This sign above a letter means that it is doubled. It is called the 'shadda'
For a letter like 'm' it is like in Italian where the letter lasts (almost) twice as long when doubled.


For other letters that are more explosive, it's as if you stop in the middle of pronouncing them, pause for just a second and then finish.

It is essential that this differnce is heard as it changes the meaning.

e.g. darasa - درس - to study
BUT darrasa - درّس - to teach

The Hamza
This is what is known in linguistics as the glottal stop.
It occurs in most languages without having a name for it. It just means the vocal cords stop. Even just for a second.
I use the apostrophe to transliterate it.

It occurs naturally at the beginning of any word that starts with a vowel. We just don't think about it.

A little kid imitating the sound of a machine-gun produces it over and over

This interuption in the flow of air is called the 'hamza' in Arabic and exists at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of words.

We saw earlier that the alif ا only indicates the presence of a vowel at the beginning of a word.

It can be one of three short vowels - 'a', 'i' or 'u'

These vowels aren't usually written in Arabic. However, the 'hamza' can appear either above the 'alif' or under it.
If it is underneath it, it is definitely an 'i'
It looks like this:
If it appears above the alif, it can be either an 'a' or an 'u'
It looks like this:
It can also appear after a 'u'
and also at he end of a word
وراء - waraa' - behind


Try to recognize geographical terms:

باريس                   - baariis           -    Paris

موسكو                  - Muskuu - Moscow

واشنطن                 - waashinTon - Washington

- Israel إسرائيل

Baghdad  بغداد

ليبيا    Libya  * Note that this word is entirely symmetrical!

يابان     Japan 

Additional letters from other languages

There are some other letters that do not normally appear in Arabic, but have been borrowed from Farsi to indicate sounds that don't normally occur in the standard Arabic language.

This is a 'g'. It is used in Moroccan Arabic.
cigarette - سجارة sijaara in standard Arabic is - گارو garro in Moroccan Arabic.

This is a 'v'
This is used in foreign words sometimes, but is usually rendered as an 'f' ف

This is a 'p'

The Transliteration nightmare

Anyone learning Arabic will soon realize that there are hardly ever two learning sources that use the same transliteration.

This is partly due to different pronunciation in different Arabic-speaking countries. (Bin Laden in English, Ben laden in French as they use Norh African pronunciation.)
Also due to the fact that different colonizing powers spoke different languages with different spelling rules. 

Also due to the fact that there are so many Arabic sounds that have no equivalent in Western languages.

This is reflected in the spelling of  Arab names in the news.
The typical sound ع is left out of transliteration.
Arafat. Aden. Abbas. These all start with ع

Typing in Arabic

There are two Arabic keyboards.
The first is the traditional Arabic keyboard. You can find an online version on this website:
On-line Arabic keyboard

The great thing about typing Arabic on a computer is that the joining up rules apply automatically as you type!

Arabic Qwerty keyboard

there is another Arabic keyboard layout that is much more intuitive for a Westerner called Arabic Qwerty.
Most of the letters correspond to a rough equivalent on the English keyboard.
The alif is the English 'a' key.
The ن is the 'n' key. And predictably the q key is a ق , the k is a ك , the l ل , the j is ج
The ي is the 'i' and the ى is the uppercase 'i'.
س = s
ص = c
ض= uppercase c
ت= t
ط = y
ظ= uppercase y

The hardest ones to remember are the ة  which is the 'p' key,
the ه is the 'o' key (the ح is 'h')
the kh خ is the 'x'
and the sh ش is 'z'

The shadda ّّ  is an uppercase   w

the hamza ءis the last key on the right of the keyboard in the middle row.

This is a ressource.