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  Arabic Online

ARABIC ONLINE

        اللّغة العربيّة    

Arabic Online

 

Welcome!

Viewing Arabic Texts

Introduction

Alphabet

Pronunciation
Words
Vowels
Reading out

Accent and Stress

Rules of Pause

Writing of Letter 'alif

Roots

Root Extraction

Nouns

Irregular Nouns

Declension

Noun Gender

Feminine Markers

Singular Nouns

Dual Nouns

Plural Nouns EDITED

Masculine Plural Nouns EDITED

Feminine Plural Nouns

Irregular Plural Nouns
Articles

Case Inflection

Case Endings

The Six Nouns

Noonation

Adjectives

Genitive Construction

Am/Is/Are Sentences

Verbs

Irregular Verbs

Verb Forms

Perfective Verbs

Perfective Conjugation

Irregular Perfective Conjugation

Imperfective Verbs

Imperfective Conjugation

Irregular Imperfective Conjugation

Moods

Subjunctive Mood

Jussive Mood

Mood Signs

Energetic Mood

Imperative Mood

Passive Voice

Passive Perfective Verbs

Passive Imperfective Verbs

Passive of Irregular Verbs

Subject Pronouns

Object Pronouns

Demonstratives

Relative Pronouns

Sentences

To Have

Incomplete Verbs

Frozen Verbs

Verb-Like Particles

Negation

Present Negative

Past Negative

Future Negative

Negation+Exclusion Style

Interrogation

Yes/No Questions

Interrogative Pronouns

Polite Request

Introductory Particles

Infinitival/Indefinite maa

Prepositions

Conjunctions

Adverbs

Inactive Particles

Ablative Particles

Vocative Particles

Exclamatory Style

Praise & Disparagement

Derived Nouns

Verbal Nouns

Active Participles

Passive Participles

Participle-like Adjectives

Comparatives

Place-nouns

Time-nouns

Tool-nouns

Attributives

Diminutives

Vocabulary

Dialects

Survival Phrases

History & Culture

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Arabic Alphabet

 

 Semitic languages are written from right to left. Ancient Mesopotamians wrote on stones with chisels, and since that most inscribers were right-handed, it was easier and more natural to them to write from right to left (I think it still makes more sense today to write from right to left!).

The Arabic script, which is derived from that of Aramaic, is based on 18 distinct shapes. Using a combination of dots above and below 8 of these shapes, the full complement of 28 characters can be fully spelled out.

Those 28 Arabic letters are all consonants.

In the table below:

The first column to the right shows the Arabic letters.

The second column shows their names in Arabic. Click on the letter to hear its name.

The third column shows the Romanized version of the Arabic letters. I will use these when I write Arabic words in Roman letters.


The last colu
mn shows how the letters are represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is unimportant for most people, I guess. To see these IPA figures you may need to install a font.


Some letters (the gutturals) can be hard to pronounce by non-natives, so it should be tried to pronounce them in the closest possible way to the original sounds.

 

International Phonetic Alphabet

Romanized Version

Name

Letter

[ʔ]

 glottal plosive

'

'alif

أَلِفٌ

أ

[b]

voiced bilabial plosive

as in "bat"

b

baa'<

بَاْءٌ

ب

[t̪]

 voiceless dental plosive

as in "tap"

t

taa'<

تَاْءٌ

ت

[θ]

 voiceless inter-dental fricative

as in "thumb"

th

thaa'<

ثَاْءٌ

ث

[dʒ]

voiced post-alveolar affricate

as in "jar"

j

jeem

جِيْمٌ

ج

[ħ]

voiceless pharyngeal fricative

h

haa'<

حَاْءٌ

ح

[x]

voiceless velar fricative

as in German "nacht"

or Scottish "loch"

kh

khaa'<

خََاْءٌ

خ

[d̪]

voiced dental plosive

as in "dark"

d

daal

دَاْلٌ

د

[]

voiced inter-dental fricative

as in "this"

th

thaal

ذَاْلٌ

ذ

[r]

alveolar trill

as in "run"

r

raa'<

رَاْءٌ

ر

[z]

voiced alveolar fricative

as in "zoo"

z

zayn

زَيْنٌ

ز

[s]

voiceless alveolar fricative

as in "sad"

s

seen

سِيْنٌ

س

[ʃ]

voiceless post-alveolar fricative

as in "she"

sh

sheen

شِيْنٌ

ش

[sˁ]

emphatic voiceless alveolar fricative

s

saad

صَاْدٌ

ص

[d̪ˁ]

emphatic voiced alveolar plosive

d

daad

ضَاْدٌ

ض

[t̪ˁ]

emphatic voiceless dental plosive

t

taa'<

طَاْءٌ

ط

[ˁ]

emphatic voiced alveolar fricative

z

 zaa'<

ظَاْءٌ

ظ

[ʕ]

voiced pharyngeal fricative

"

"ayn

عَيْنٌ

ع

[ɣ]

voiced velar fricative

(French R or guttural R)

r

rayn

غَيْنٌ

غ

[f]

voiceless labiodental fricative

as in "fan"

f

faa'<

فَاْءٌ

ف

[q]

voiced uvular plosive

q

qaaf

قَاْفٌ

ق

[k]

voiceless velar plosive

as in "kite"

k

kaaf

كَاْفٌ

ك

[l]

alveolar lateral

as in "leg"

l

laam

لامٌ

ل

[m]

bilabial nasal

as in "man"

m

meem

مِيْمٌ

م

[n]

alveolar nasal

as in "nose"

n

noon

نُوْنٌ

ن

[h]

voiceless glottal fricative

as in "hat"

h

haa'<

هَاْءٌ

هـ

[W]

voiced labialized approximant

as in "wool" 

w

waaw

وَاْوٌ

و

[j]

palatal approximant

as in "yes"

y

yaa'<

يَاْءٌ

ي

*Note: This figure ( '<  ) means a still consonant letter 'alif '. Stillness means that the'  sound is not followed by any vowel. Thus, it has an almost zero duration and does not leave the throat. Look in the pronunciation section for more information.

 

The 28 Arabic letters are all consonants.

However, there are vowels in Arabic of course. There are six vowels; three short vowels and three long ones. Only the three long vowels are written using the alphabet. The three short vowels have special marks which denote them.

The long vowels are letters but the short vowels are not letters.

The three long vowels are written using the three following letters:
و ، ي ، ا
 

Because of this, those letters are called "weak letters;" we are going to talk about this in the vowels section.
The letter
daad ض  is characteristic to Arabic and does not exist in any other language. This is why Arabs called their language sometimes the "daad language."

This ordering of Arabic letters is recent. Formerly, they were laid in the same order as that of other Semitic and Indo-European languages:

أ ب ج د هـ و ز ح ط ي ك ل م ن ث ع ف ص ق ر ش ت

 

This common ordering is a hint to the fact that all those alphabets have a common distant ancestor.

 

 

 

 

Pronunciation of Consonants

 

  In Arabic, as in any language, proper pronunciation is best learned by imitating a native speaker. What follows here is meant to give only a general idea of how the letters sound. By carefully following the instructions here, you can arrive at a good enough first approximation to serve until you are able to listen to Arabs.

 Except for the ones discussed below, the consonants are pronounced pretty much as they are in English.

Consonant 'alif  ء  (hamza(t))

The letter 'alif has two forms: a form that denotes a long vowel ا , and one that denotes a consonant ء . The consonant form  ء is called hamza(t) .

Phonetically, the hamza(t) is a "glottal stop". It sounds like a little "catch" in the voice. Although there is no letter representing this sound in English, the sound actually does exist.

It is the catch that occurs between vowels in the exclamation "oh - oh," (as though you're in trouble), or the separation of syllables the second of which begins with a vowel, as in the sequence "an aim" as opposed to "a name," or in "grade A" as opposed to "gray day."  You should notice that little catch in the voice at the beginning of each syllable. If you did it properly and forcefully, that little catch in your voice between the two syllables is a perfect hamza(t).

In Arabic, the glottal stop is a full-fledged consonant and can appear in the strangest places: at the end of a word for example.

The traditional way to transcribe the hamza(t) in Roman characters is as an apostrophe'.

English Phrase

Arabic Online Transcription

An aim

'an 'aim

Grade A

graid 'ai

However this symbolism may lead some people to ignore it, which is a problem when the letter is not followed by a vowel. I am going to use this novel symbolism : '<  for the hamza(t) that is not followed by any vowel; even if it looks funny, it is clearer.

 

 

Emphatic Consonants

(You may click on the Arabic letter to hear its sound)

 

Four Arabic letters:  ص , ض , ط , ظ  are known as "emphatic consonants".

Although there is no exact equivalent of them in English, they are not all that difficult to pronounce: it just takes a bit of practice.

The best way to do it is to start with their "unemphatic" equivalents.

For example, pronounce ص s  as س S.

Now try to make the same sound, but as if your mouth was full of cotton wool, so that you have to say S with your tongue drawn back. Make the sound more forcefully and shorter in duration than a normal S. The back of your tongue should be raised up toward the soft palate, and the sound produced should have a sort of "dark" quality.

This is the letter Saad ص s .

There is a similar relationship between the following pairs:

ض  d   and د  d

 ط  t   and ت  t

 ظ  z   and ذ  th


If you listen to native speakers of Arabic, one thing you will notice is that these "emphatic consonants" give a very distinctive sound to the language.

 

 

Kh  خ (khaa'<)

 

The letter Khaa'< is a voiceless velar fricative. It sounds like the ch in the Scottish loch or like the ch in the German nacht, but it is slightly more guttural than its Scottish or German counterparts.

Whatever you do, don't pronounce it as an H or a K. It is, better to exaggerate rather than underemphasize the guttural aspect.

 

R  غ (rayn)

This is the the sound of the Parisian R, in French. Or, if you like, the sound you make when gargling.

The common Romanization for this letter is "gh"; but I am going to go here with r .

 

Q  ق (qaaf)

This sound usually gives European speakers a hard time. It sounds a bit like K, but it is pronounced very far back in the throat.

When you say the letter K, you touch the roof of your mouth with more or less the middle of your tongue. When you say a qaaf, you touch the very back of your tongue to the soft palate in the back of your mouth.

Most Europeans trying to learn Arabic have a lot of trouble doing this, and pronounce qaaf as if it were kaaf ك . Arabs tend to be fairly tolerant of this mistake, and there are not very many words in which the difference between qaaf and kaaf determines a different meaning. Still, it's worth making the effort.

 

ع ("ayn)

This is a unique sound that only exist in Semitic languages. It is usually very hard for Europeans to make. Unfortunately, it is a very common letter so it must be mastered.

However, learners of Arabic can make this sound pretty well after practicing for some time. The best way to learn it is to listen to Arabs and to practice incessantly.

This letter is a pharyngeal voiced fricative. That means that the sound is made by constricting the muscles of the larynx so that the flow of air through the throat is partially choked off. One eminent Arabist once suggested that the best way to pronounce this letter is to gag. Do it, and you'll feel the muscles of your throat constrict the passage of air in just the right way.

The sound is voiced, which means that your vocal cords vibrate when making it. It sounds like the bleating of a lamb, but smoother.

Russell McGuirk described this sound in his "A Colloquial Arabic of Egypt" saying " if you sound like you are being strangled you will have mastered the 'voiced pharyngeal fricative." He also says to try to swallow the sound "ah".

An American learner of Arabic explained his technique as follows:

    Reduce your air flow by putting pressure on your throat with your hand, or, in essence, choking yourself. Start by saying the sound 'ah' as in father and then hold your open hand out in front of your face with the palm facing the floor -- in other words parallel with the floor. You will be looking at the profile of your index finger and your thumb. Now, while saying the sound 'ah' slowly move your hand towards your throat, above the Adam's Apple or below where the chin meets the neck. When your hand reaches your throat keep pushing (slowly) until it sounds like you think it should. I looked at my profile in the mirror while doing this to try to judge how far I push my hand into my throat, but it is difficult to tell -- maybe anywhere from a half inch to an inch.

    Anyway, this is a good exercise just to get you familiar with producing the sound, the muscles that produce it, and what they need to do to produce it. Eventually, with enough practice, one should be able to produce the sound without choking him/herself.

 

H  ح (haa'<)



The last one, this letter sounds much like a very emphatic H. Imagine that you've just swallowed a spoonful of the hottest chilies imaginable: that "haaa" sound that results should be a good approximation of haa'<.

Strictly speaking, haa'< is an unvoiced version of "ayn. In other words, it is made just like the "ayn, except that when you say "ayn your vocal cords vibrate, but when you say haa'< they don't. (In English, for instance, t and d are exactly the same, except that t is unvoiced and d is voiced: your vocal cords vibrate when you say d, but not when you say t.)

Don't worry too much if you can't get qaaf, "ayn, and haa'< right away. Quite a few learned people have struggled for decades with them.

As a first approximation, you can pronounce qaaf like kaaf, "ayn like hamza(t), and haa'< like haa'< (like an English h). But this should be only a temporary measure, more or less equivalent to the Arab who says "blease" instead of "please"' (as you will have noticed, there is no letter P in Arabic).

 

 

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