In my last article, I went over the important points to remember before starting to learn Arabic letters. I also went over the mindset of grouping of Arabic letters according to dots. Today, we will continue with the learning of Arabic letters below.


The simple truth is there are numerous websites for anyone who wants to learn Arabic and learners can easily navigate these websites easily for self-learning purposes. Suffice to say, it can be very accessible for anyone not familiar with the Arabic alphabet, and wishes to learn it, to start via the Internet.


For a more specific reference, you can study the shapes of Arabic letters at the end of volume one from a book titled, “Arabic Between your Hands". The same alphabetical reference can accessed for studying purposes in this series of books from volumes one to six.


Let us understand how Arabic vowels can influence and change the pronunciations of Arabic letters.



Arabic Vowels


For languages, the usage of vowels helps by contributing knowledge of the meaning of words. Vowels can also help to distinguish between the noun and verb formatting as well as syntactical situations for advanced stages of the language.


The Arabic vowels are:


  • الضمّة // Damma
  • – والفتحة // fathah
  • - والكسرة // Kasra
  • - والتنوين // nunation
  • والسكون // sukun
  • - والشَّدّة // shadda


This is similar or even more important than the importance of consonants in English (a - e - i - o - u ).



Tashkil (marks used as phonetic guides)


The literal meaning of tashkīl is 'forming'. Since regular Arabic text doesn’t provide enough information about the correct pronunciation, the main purpose of tashkīl (and harakāt) is to act as a phonetic guide/phonetic aid; i.e. indicate to you the word’s correct pronunciation.


The bulk of Arabic script is written without harakāt (or short vowels). But one such use of harakāt are in children's literature.


Harakāt might also be used in regular texts when an ambiguity of pronunciation arises. Arabic dictionaries that include vowel marks helps by explaining the correct pronunciation to both native and foreign Arabic speakers.


Short vowels can be included in cases where readers cannot easily resolve word ambiguity from just the context alone, or simply included for aesthetic purposes.


Some Arabic educational textbooks for foreigners now use ḥarakāt as a phonetic guide to help learners to read Arabic easier. The other method used in textbooks is phonetic romanization of un-vocalized texts. Fully vocalized Arabic texts (i.e. Arabic texts with harakāt/diacritics) are, however, more sought after by learners of Arabic.


Harakāt, which literally means 'motions', are the short vowel marks. There are some ambiguities as to which tashkīl can also be considered as harakāt. For example: the tanwīn are markers for both vowels and consonants.



Fat-hah: ـَ


The fatḥah ⟨فَتْحَة⟩ is a small diagonal line placed above a letter, and represents a short vowel /a/. The word fatḥah itself (فَتْحَة) means “opening” and refers to the opening of the mouth when producing an /a/ sound. For example, with dāl (henceforth, the base consonant in the following examples):


  • ⟨دَ⟩ /da/


When a fatḥah is placed before the letter ⟨ا⟩ (aleph), it represents a long /aː/ sound (like in the English word "father"). For example:


  • ⟨دَا⟩ /daː/


The fatḥah is not usually written in such cases. When a fathah is placed before the letter ⟨ﻱ⟩ (yā’), it creates an /eː/ sound (as in "play").



Kasrah: ـِ


This is a similar diagonal line below a letter, called a kasrah ⟨كَسْرَة⟩ and designates a short /i/ sound (as in "Tim"). For example:


  • ⟨دِ⟩ /di/


When a kasrah is placed before the letter ⟨ﻱ⟩ (yā’), it represents a long /iː/ sound (as in the English word "steed"). For example:


  • ⟨دِي⟩ /diː/


The kasrah vowel is usually not written in such cases, but if yā’ is pronounced as a diphthong /eɪ/, then fatḥah should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. The word kasrah means 'breaking'.



Dammah : ـُ


The Dammah ⟨ضَمَّة⟩ is a small curl-like diacritic placed above a letter to represent a short /u/ sound. For example:


  • ⟨دُ⟩ /du/


When a Dammah is placed before the letter ⟨و⟩ (wāw), it represents a long /uː/ sound (as in the English word "blue"). For example:


  • ⟨دُو⟩ /duː/


The Dammah is usually not written in such cases, but if wāw is pronounced as a diphthong /aw/, then fatḥah should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation.



Sukun: ـْـ


The sukūn ⟨سُكُون⟩ is a circle-shaped diacritic placed above a letter. It indicates that the consonant to which it is attached is not followed by a vowel.


This is a necessary symbol for writing consonant-vowel-consonant syllables, which are very common in Arabic. For example:


  • ⟨دَدْ⟩ (dad)


The sukūn may also be used to help represent a diphthong. A fatḥah followed by the letter ⟨ﻱ⟩ (yā’) with a sukūn over it indicates the diphthong ay (IPA /aj/). A fatḥah, followed by the letter ⟨ﻭ⟩ (wāw) with a sukūn, indicates the /aw/ sound.



Tanwin (final post nasalized or long vowels)


Main article: Nutation: ـٌ ـٍ ـً


The three vowel diacritics can be doubled at the end of a word to indicate that the vowel is followed by the consonant n. This may or may not be considered harakāt and is otherwise known as tanwīn ⟨تَنْوِين⟩ -- nutation. The signs, indicated from right to left, are: -un, -in, -an.


These endings are used as non-pausal grammatical indefinite case endings in literary Arabic or classical Arabic (trip totes only). In vocalized text, they may be written even if the nutation is not pronounced. *See i‘rāb for more details.


In many spoken Arabic dialects, these endings are absent. Many Arabic textbooks introduce standard Arabic without these endings.


The grammatical endings may not be written in some vocalized Arabic texts, as knowledge of i‘rāb varies from country to country, and there is a trend towards simplifying Arabic grammar.


The sign ⟨ـً⟩ is the most commonly written in combination with ⟨ـًا⟩ (alif), ⟨ةً⟩ (tā’ marbotah), or the stand-alone ⟨ءً⟩ (hamzah). The Alif should always be written (except for words ending in tā’ marbūṭah, hamzah, or diptotes).


Here are also some grammatical cases and tanwīn endings in indefinite triptote forms:


  • UN: nominative case.
  • an: accusative case, also serves as an adverbial marker.
  • in: genitive case.



Shaddah (consonant gemination mark)


Main article: Shadda ـّـ


The shadda, otherwise known as; shaddah ⟨شَدَّة⟩ (shaddah) or tashdid ⟨تَشْدِيد⟩ (tashdīd), is a diacritic shaped like a small written Latin "w".


It is used to indicate gemination (consonant doubling or extra length), which is phonemic in Arabic. It is written above the consonant which is to be doubled.


The shadda is the only harakah that is sometimes used in ordinary spelling to avoid pronunciation ambiguity. For example:


  • ⟨دّ⟩ /dd/; madrasah ⟨مَدْرَسَة⟩ ('school')


  • mudarrisah ⟨مُدَرِّسَة⟩ ('teacher', female)"


For more information on Arabic diacritics, you can click here

There are differences between the vowelized letter and which has sukun. For example:

  • {بَ ، بِ ، بُ} { بً ، بٍ ، بٌ }
  • With shadda {ّ} : بَّ ، بِّ ، بُّ }
  • With shadda {ّ and تَنوين nunation} : {دًّ ، دٍّ ، دٌّ}
  • When shadda {ّ is joined with تَنوين nunation} this must be in the end of the word.


Of course, all of this information can be overwhelming and perhaps you would benefit from finding a native teacher to show you the differences between short and long vowels. The short and long vowels that were mentioned above are as follows:


  • [الألف ا - والواو و - والياء ي]


I hope this was an informative read into the intricacies and beauty of the Arabic language and its individual characters. Comment below on some of your strategies in mastering how to write Arabic. Good day!


Hero image by Azrul Aziz (CC0 1.0)