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Arabic Script

Now let’s take a look at vowels in Arabic script. Remember that there are two types of vowels in Arabic. Long vowels are written as “real” letters, while short ones, when they are written, appear as strokes or swirls above or below a “hosting” consonant.

Long Vowels

Let’s start with long vowels. 'alif, pronounced aa, and waaw, pronounced uu, are non-connecting letters, so they only have two forms. When 'alif is at the beginning of a word, it may have a small hamza, like a backwards 2, written above or below it, but we’ll explain that later. For now just be aware of it. yaa', pronounced ii, is a connecting letter, so it has four forms. The letters و and ي also represent the consonants w and y respectively.

aa: look for a long vertical stroke.

Independent
Initial
Medial
Final

uu or w: look for a backwards e.

Independent
Initial
Medial ـﻮ
Final ـﻮ

ii or y: look for two dots below the letter.

Independent
Initial
Medial ـﻴ
Final ـﻲ

Short Vowels

Now let’s add the short vowels. The vowel fatHa, pronounced a, is written as a slash above the consonant that “hosts” it. Damma, pronounced u is like a small hook. kasra, pronounced i, is a slash below the consonant. Let’s see how that works, using the consonants و and ي to host these short vowels.

وَ wa
يَ ya
وُ wu
يُ yu
وِ wi
يِ yi

Let’s do a quick recognition practice with both short and long vowels. Pronounce these syllables.

1. وَ

2. يا

3. يَ

4. يو

5. وُ

6. وِ

7. يُ

8. يي

Answers

1. wa, 2. yaa, 3. ya, 4. yuu, 5. wu, 6. wi, 7. yu, 8. yii

Diphthongs

A diphthong is a combination of a vowel and a “glide” consonant, for instance ou in out or ay in day. Arabic has two diphthongs, aw and ay. These are written with fatHa over the (preceding) host consonant, and then a special symbol called sukuun, which is a small open circle: وْ (aw), يْ (ay). The role of the sukuun (which means silent or quiet) is to indicate that there’s no vowel pronounced after و and ي, in other words, they’re part of the fatHa before them. This gives the combination sound of the diphthong: aw or ay.

وَيْ way
يَوْ yaw

Now practice reading these syllables.

1. يَوْ

2. يَيْ

3. وَيْ

4. وَوْ

Answers

1. yaw, 2. yay, 3. way, 4. waw

Let’s apply all of this to some words and phrases you’ve seen in this lesson. See if you can pick out the long vowels in the following familiar words. Let's start with ا aa:

صَباح الخَيْر SabaaH al-khayr.
Good morning.
مَساء الخَيْر masaa' al-khayr.
Good evening.
كَيْف الحال kayf al-Haal?
How are you?

You've also learned two words with ي ii and one with و uu. Can you pick them out? (Remember that Arabic letters have different shapes depending on where they appear in a word.)

إِسْمي 'ismii…
My name is…
أُريدُ 'uriidu…
I would like…
بِكُلِّ سُرور bikulli suruur.
With pleasure.

Now pick out the short vowels fatHa, kasra, and Damma. Also look for sukuun. Don't worry about the letters that you're not familiar with yet. You'll learn them gradually.

نَعَم naxam
yes
مِن فَضْلَك min faDlak.
Please
شُكْراً shukran.
Thank you.
بِكُلِّ سُرور bikulli suruur.
With pleasure.

And finally, look for the diphthong ay in these two phrases.

صَباح الخَيْر SabaaH al-khayr.
Good morning.
كَيْف الحال kayf al-Haal?
How are you?