What is the Arabic Alphabet?
The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters, reading from right to left.
Shown below are the basic forms of the letters.
- Arabic doesn't have a case distinction. There are no upper case or lower case letters
- When combined into words, most letters connect with one another, using slight modifications to the basic letter forms (see more on this below).
- The letters are all consonants, but three of them also represent long vowels.
- In addition to the letters shown above, there are three short vowels, which are added as small marks above or below the consonants. There are also other marks, signifying things like "silent vowel", "doubling of the consonant", etc.
How are Arabic letters written?
The letters in the table above, are all shown in their isolated form. This is the basic, original form of the letters.
- To write a word, we need to make slight modifications to the isolated forms of the letters, to enable them to join with their "neighbours".
For example, when kaaf begins a word, we call it the "initial" form, and it looks like this:
When kaaf comes anywhere between the first and the last letter of the word, we call it the "middle" form, and it looks like this:
When kaaf is the last letter of the word, we call it the "end" form, and it looks like this:
Let's now try and build a simple word - the verb kataba. This word means "to write", and consists of the letters kaaf, taa' and baa'.
To write the word kataba, we will again need to use the initial form of kaaf, but this time we will add a short "a"-vowel - looking like a short stroke - above the kaaf:
What we have written so far, reads ka.
We are now going to add the second letter, called taa'. The isolated form of taa' is shown in the alphabet table above. It is in the first row, the third letter from the right.
We will need the middle form of taa' in order to connect it to kaaf. Below you can see the middle form of taa', before we connect it to kaaf:
After connecting taa' to kaaf, we add a short "a"-vowel above the taa':
What we have written so far, reads kata.
We will now add the third letter, called baa'. The isolated form of baa' is in the alphabet table above. It is in the first row, the second letter from the right.
Below we can see the end form of baa', before we connect it to taa':
After connecting baa' to taa', we add yet another short "a"-vowel, this time above the baa'.
The word is now complete, and reads kataba.
- Arabic is usually written unvocalized, meaning that the text is written without the short vowels. Short vowels are mostly added in poetry and texts for Arabic learners (including children's books).
- The most prominent example of a vocalized (complete with short vowels) text is the Quran.
- Reading unvocalized text is possible because of the strict grammatical structure of the language. A person with knowledge of Arabic grammar knows which vowels should be where, when reading unvocalized Arabic text.