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Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet

In this section you will take a closer look at the Hebrew alphabet. We’ll cover it piece by piece, so you’ll gradually learn how to read Hebrew. You probably already know that Hebrew is written from right to left, in the opposite order of English. Another important thing to keep in mind about Hebrew is that many vowels are written as small dots or dashes above, below or inside consonants, called in Hebrew נִיקוּד  nikud. But we’ll come to that in a moment.

Let’s first take a look at some consonants. The first column gives the Hebrew consonant, followed by the transliteration we’re using in this course. Then you’ll see the consonant used in a Hebrew word, which is transliterated and translated in the last column.

ל
 l
לַיְלָה  
layla
night
מ
 m
מַה  
ma

what
נ 
n
מַה נִשְמָע?  
ma nishma?

How’s it going?
ש  
sh
שָלוֹם  
shalom

hello
שׂ  
s
בְּשִׂמְחָה  
besimHa

with pleasure
ס  
s
סְלִיחָה  
sliHa

excuse me/I’m sorry
ת  
t
תוֹדָה  
toda
thanks
ט  
t
טוֹב  
tov

good
א
 '
אַת
 'at
you (f.)
ה  
h
לְהִתְרָאוֹת  
lehitra'ot

good-bye

You will notice that some letters in Hebrew represent the same sound. For example, the letter ט and the letter ת are both pronounced t as in take. Also, the letters שׂ and ס are both pronounced as s. In the past, the two letters represented two different sounds. Over the years, these differences in pronunciation have disappeared, but the spelling differences remain, similar to the English knight and night.

You probably saw two letters that look almost alike, ש  sh and שׂ  s. But notice the little dot at the top left corner of שׂ  s. (There’s actually sometimes a dot on the upper right corner of ש  sh, but it’s often dropped, so we’ll follow that convention in this course, too.)

You should also know that the letter א ' is not always vocalized. At the beginning of a word it is always pronounced and at the end of a word it is always silent. When it is vocalized, it is transliterated by the apostrophe sign ( '), which you were introduced to above . For example, the word אִמָא  'ima (mother) contains two instances of the letter א The first is vocalized and the second is not.

Finally, also notice that the letter ה  h often appears at the end of a word. In this position, it is also usually silent. For example, in the word אַתָה  'ata (you, m.), the final ה  h is silent and does not appear in the transliteration.