Arabic script
Arabic script
has numerous
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that ...
s, including ''i'jam'' (, '), consonant pointing, and ''tashkil'' (, '), supplementary diacritics. The latter include the () vowel marks - singular: ' (). The Arabic script is a modified
abjad An abjad () is a type of writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to th ...

, where short consonants and long vowels are represented by letters but short vowels and
consonant length In phonetics Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of sign languages, the equivalent aspects of sign. Phoneticians—linguists who specialize in phonetics—study the physical p ...
are not generally indicated in writing. ' is optional to represent missing vowels and consonant length. Modern Arabic is always written with the ''i‘jām'' - consonant pointing, but only religious texts, children's books and works for learners are written with the full ''tashkīl'' - vowel guides and consonant length. It is not uncommon for authors to add diacritics to a word or letter when the grammatical case or the meaning is deemed otherwise ambiguous. In addition, classical works and historic documents rendered to the general public are often rendered with the full tashkīl, to compensate for the gap in understanding resulting from stylistic changes over the centuries.

Tashkil (marks used as phonetic guides)

The literal meaning of ' is 'forming'. As the normal Arabic text does not provide enough information about the correct pronunciation, the main purpose of ' (and ') is to provide a phonetic guide or a phonetic aid; i.e. show the correct pronunciation. It serves the same purpose as
furigana is a Japanese language, Japanese reading aid, consisting of smaller kana or syllabic characters, printed next to kanji (Ideogram, ideographic characters) or other characters to indicate their pronunciation. It is one type of ruby character, ruby ...
(also called "ruby") in
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or ...

pinyin ''Hanyu Pinyin'' (), often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objecti ...

zhuyin Zhuyin () or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also nicknamed Bopomofo, is a major Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic languages, Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of no ...
Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of northern and southwestern China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more ...
for children who are learning to read or foreign learners. The bulk of Arabic script is written without ' (or short vowels). However, they are commonly used in texts that demand strict adherence to exact wording. This is true, primarily, of the
Qur'an The Quran (, ; ar, القرآن , "the recitation"), also romanized Qur'an or Koran, is the central religious text of Islam, believed by Muslims to be a revelation in Islam, revelation from God in Islam, God (''Allah''). It is widely rega ...

(') and
poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its popula ...
. It is also quite common to add ' to
hadith Ḥadīth ( or ; ar, حديث , pl. aḥādīth, , , , literally means "talk" or "discourse") or Athar ( ar, أثر, , literally means "tradition") in Islam refers to what the majority of Muslims Muslims () are people who follow or ...

s ('; plural: ') and the
Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek approximately ;. , , , lit. "Common Greek"), also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, Hellenistic or Biblical Greek, was the koiné language, common supra-regional form of Gree ...
. Another use is in children's literature. Moreover, ' are used in ordinary texts in individual words when an ambiguity of pronunciation cannot easily be resolved from context alone. Arabic dictionaries with vowel marks provide information about the correct pronunciation to both native and foreign Arabic speakers. In art and
calligraphy Calligraphy (from Greek language, Greek: καλλιγραφία) is a Visual arts, visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad-tipped instrument, brush, or other writing instrument. A contemporary call ...

, ' might be used simply because their writing is considered
pleasing. An example of a fully ''vocalised'' (''vowelised'' or ''vowelled'') Arabic from the ''
Basmala The ''Basmala'' ( ar, بَسْمَلَة, ), also known by its incipit The incipit () of a text is the first few words of the text, employed as an identifying label. In a musical composition, an incipit is an initial sequence of Musical no ...

'': Some Arabic textbooks for foreigners now use ' as a phonetic guide to make learning reading Arabic easier. The other method used in textbooks is phonetic
romanisation Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas ...
of unvocalised texts. Fully vocalised Arabic texts (i.e. Arabic texts with '/diacritics) are sought after by learners of Arabic. Some online bilingual dictionaries also provide ' as a phonetic guide similarly to English dictionaries providing transcription.

Harakat (short vowel marks)

The ' , which literally means 'motions', are the short vowel marks. There is some ambiguity as to which ' are also '; the ', for example, are markers for both vowels and consonants.


The is a small diagonal line placed ''above'' a letter, and represents a short (like the /a/ sound in English word "cat"). The word ' itself () means ''opening'' and refers to the opening of the mouth when producing an . For example, with ''

'' (henceforth, the base consonant in the following examples): . When a is placed before a plain letter (''

'') (i.e. one having no hamza or vowel of its own), it represents a long (close to the sound of "a" in the English word "dad", with an open front vowel /æː/, not back /ɑː/ as in "father"). For example: . The ' is not usually written in such cases. When a fathah placed before the letter ⟨⟩ (yā’), it creates an (as in "lie"); and when placed before the letter ⟨⟩ (wāw), it creates an (as in "cow"). Although paired with a plain letter creates an open front vowel (/a/), often realized as near-open (/
/), the standard also allows for variations, especially under certain surrounding conditions. Usually, in order to have the more central (/ ä/) or back (/ ɑ/) pronunciation, the word features a nearby back consonant, such as the emphatics, as well as ''

'', or '' ''. A similar "back" quality is undergone by other vowels as well in the presence of such consonants, however not as drastically realized as in the case of .Karin C. Ryding, "A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic", Cambridge University Press, 2005, pgs. 25-34, specifically “Chapter 2, Section 4: Vowels”


A similar diagonal line ''below'' a letter is called a and designates a short (as in "me", "be") and its allophones , ɪ, e, e̞, ɛ(as in "Tim", "sit"). For example: . When a ' is placed before a plain letter (''

''), it represents a long (as in the English word "steed"). For example: . The ' is usually not written in such cases, but if ''

'' is pronounced as a diphthong , ' should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. The word ' means 'breaking'.


The is a small curl-like diacritic placed above a letter to represent a short /u/ (as in "duke", shorter "you") and its allophones , ʊ, o, o̞, ɔ(as in "put", or "bull"). For example: . When a is placed before a plain letter ('), it represents a long (like the 'oo' sound in the English word "swoop"). For example: . The ' is usually not written in such cases, but if ' is pronounced as a diphthong , ' should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. The word ''ḍammah'' (ضَمَّة) in this context means ''rounding'', since it is the only rounded vowel in the vowel inventory of Arabic.

Alif Khanjariyah

The superscript (or dagger) ' ('), is written as short vertical stroke on top of a consonant. It indicates a long sound for which ''

'' is normally not written. For example: (') or ('). The dagger ' occurs in only a few words, but they include some common ones; it is seldom written, however, even in fully vocalised texts. Most keyboards do not have dagger ''.'' The word
Allah Allah (; ar, الله, translit=Allāh, ) is the Arabic Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic language The Semitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family originating in the Middle East The Middle East ...

() is usually produced automatically by entering ''.'' The word consists of ' + ligature of doubled ' with a ' and a dagger ' above '.


The is a
tilde The tilde (
in the American Heritage dictionary
), or , is a

-shaped diacritic, which can only appear on top of an ''

'' (آ) and indicates a followed by a long . In theory, the same sequence could also be represented by two 's, as in *, where a hamza above the first ' represents the while the second ' represents the . However, consecutive 's are never used in the Arabic orthography. Instead, this sequence must always be written as a single ' with a ' above it, the combination known as an '. For example: .

Alif waslah

The , or looks like a small letter '' '' on top of an ' (also indicated by an ' without a '). It means that the ' is not pronounced when its word does not begin a sentence. For example: ('), but (''imshū'' not ''mshū''). This is because no Arab word can start with a vowel-less consonant (unlike the English ''school'', or ''skateboard''). But when it happens, an ''alif'' is added to obtain a vowel or a vowelled consonant at the beginning of one's speech. In English that would result in *''ischool'', or *''iskateboard''. It occurs only in the beginning of words, but it can occur after prepositions and the definite article. It is commonly found in imperative verbs, the perfective aspect of verb stems VII to X and their ('). The ''alif'' of the definite article is considered a '. It occurs in phrases and sentences (connected speech, not isolated/dictionary forms): * To replace the elided hamza whose alif-seat has assimilated to the previous vowel. For example: or (') ‘in Yemen’. * In hamza-initial imperative forms following a vowel, especially following the conjunction (') ‘and’. For example: َ (') ‘rise and then drink the water’.


The 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, i.e.,
zero 0 (zero) is a number A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and ...
-vowel. It is a necessary symbol for writing consonant-vowel-consonant syllables, which are very common in Arabic. For example: ('). The may also be used to help represent a diphthong. A ' followed by the letter ('' '') with a over it () indicates the diphthong ' (
IPA IPA commonly refers to: * India pale ale, a style of beer * International Phonetic Alphabet The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin script Latin script, also ...
). A ', followed by the letter (') with a ', () indicates .
The may have also an alternative form of the small high head of ' (), particularly in some Qurans. Other shapes may exist as well (for example, like a small comma above ⟨ʼ⟩ or like a
circumflex The circumflex is a diacritic in the Latin script, Latin and Greek alphabet, Greek scripts that is used in the written forms of many languages and in various romanization and Transcription (linguistics), transcription schemes. It received its E ...
⟨ˆ⟩ in ').

Tanwin (final postnasalized or long vowels)

The three vowel diacritics may be doubled at the end of a word to indicate that the vowel is followed by the consonant ''n''. They may or may not be considered and are known as , or nunation. The signs indicate, from right to left, ''. These endings are used as non-pausal grammatical indefinite case endings in Literary Arabic or
classical Arabic Classical Arabic ( ar, links=no, ٱلْعَرَبِيَّةُ ٱلْفُصْحَىٰ, al-ʿarabīyah al-fuṣḥā) or Quranic Arabic is the standardized literary form of the Arabic language Arabic (, ' or , ' or ) is a Semitic languages, ...
( triptotes only). In a vocalised text, they may be written even if they are not pronounced (see
pausa In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic ...

). See ''ʾIʿrab, '' for more details. In many spoken Arabic dialects, the 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 '' '' varies from country to country, and there is a trend towards simplifying Arabic grammar. The sign is most commonly written in combination with (''aleph, ''), (''Ta' marbuta, ''), (alif hamzah) or stand-alone ('). ' should always be written (except for words ending in ' or diptotes) even if ' is not. Grammatical cases and ' endings in indefinite triptote forms: * ':
nominative case In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as wel ...
; * ':
accusative case The accusative case (abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brevis'', meaning ''short'') is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters, or words taken from the full version of the word or phras ...
, also serves as an adverbial marker; * ':
genitive case In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, a ...

Shaddah (consonant gemination mark)

The shadda or shaddah ('), or tashdid ('), is a diacritic shaped like a small written Latin "". It is used to indicate
gemination In phonetics and phonology, gemination (), or consonant lengthening (from Latin 'doubling', itself from ''Gemini (constellation), gemini'' 'twins'), is an articulation of a consonant for a longer period of time than that of a singleton consonan ...

(consonant doubling or extra length), which is phonemic in Arabic. It is written above the consonant which is to be doubled. It is the only ' that is commonly used in ordinary spelling to avoid
ambiguity Ambiguity is a type of meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * ...
. For example: ; ' ('school') vs. ' ('teacher', female).

I‘jām (phonetic distinctions of consonants)

The ''i‘jām'' (sometimes also called ''nuqaṭ'') are the diacritic points that distinguish various consonants that have the same form ('), such as ب, ت, ث, ن, and ي. Typically ''i‘jām'' are not considered diacritics but part of the letter. Early manuscripts of the ''

'' did not use diacritics either for vowels or to distinguish the different values of the ''.'' Vowel pointing was introduced first, as a red dot placed above, below, or beside the ', and later consonant pointing was introduced, as thin, short black single or multiple dashes placed above or below the ''rasm'' (
image An image (from la, imago) is an artifact that depicts visual perception Visual perception is the ability to interpret the surrounding environment (biophysical), environment through photopic vision (daytime vision), color vision, sco ...
). These ''i‘jām'' became black dots about the same time as the ' became small black letters or strokes. Typically, Egyptians do not use dots under final ' , which looks exactly like ' in handwriting and in print. This practice is also used in copies of the '' '' (
Qurʾān The Quran (, ; ar, القرآن , "the recitation"), also romanized Qur'an or Koran, is the central religious text Religious texts are texts related to a religious tradition. They differ from literary texts by being a compilation or di ...
) scribed by . The same unification of ' and ' has happened in
Persian Persian may refer to: * People and things from Iran, historically called ''Persia'' in the English language ** Persians, Persian people, the majority ethnic group in Iran, not to be conflated with the Iranian peoples ** Persian language, an Iranian ...
, resulting in what the Unicode Standard calls "", that looks exactly the same as ' in initial and medial forms, but exactly the same as ' in final and isolated forms .
At the time when the ''i‘jām'' was optional, letters deliberately lacking the points of ''i‘jām'': , , , , , , , , — could be marked with a small v-shaped sign above or below the letter, or a semicircle, or a miniature of the letter itself (e.g. a small to indicate that the letter in question is and not ), or one or several subscript dots, or a superscript ''
hamza Hamza ( ar, همزة ') () is a letter in the Arabic alphabet The Arabic alphabet ( ar, الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, ' or , ', ), or Arabic abjad, is the as it is codified for writing . It is written from ...
'', or a superscript stroke. These signs, collectively known as ''‘alāmātu-l-ihmāl'', are still occasionally used in modern
Arabic calligraphy Arabic calligraphy is the artistic practice of penmanship, handwriting and calligraphy based on the Arabic alphabet. It is known in Arabic language, Arabic as ''khatt'' ( ar, خط), derived from the word 'line', 'design', or 'construction'. Kufic ...
, either for their original purpose (i.e. marking letters without ''i‘jām''), or often as purely decorative space-fillers. The small above the in its final and isolated forms was originally ''‘alāmatu-l-ihmāl'', but became a permanent part of the letter. Previously this sign could also appear above the medial form of ''kāf'', instead of the stroke on its
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Hamza (glottal stop semi-consonant)

Although often a diacritic is not considered a letter of the alphabet, the hamza (', ), often stands as a separate letter in writing, is written in unpointed texts and is not considered a ''.'' It may appear as a letter by itself or as a diacritic over or under an ', ', or '. Which letter is to be used to support the ' depends on the quality of the adjacent vowels; * If the glottal stop occurs at the beginning of the word, it is always indicated by hamza on an ': above if the following vowel is or and below if it is . * If the glottal stop occurs in the middle of the word, ' above ' is used only if it is not preceded or followed by or : ** If is before or after the glottal stop, a ' with a ' is used (the two dots which are usually beneath the ' disappear in this case): . ** Otherwise, if is before or after the glottal stop, a ' with a ' is used: . * If the glottal stop occurs at the end of the word (ignoring any grammatical suffixes), if it follows a short vowel it is written above ', ', or ' the same as for a medial case; otherwise on the line (i.e. if it follows a long vowel, diphthong or consonant). * Two 's in succession are never allowed: is written with '' '' and is written with a free ' on the line . Consider the following words: ("brother"), ("Ismael"), ("mother"). All three of above words "begin" with a vowel opening the syllable, and in each case, ' is used to designate the initial glottal stop (the ''actual'' beginning). But if we consider ''middle'' syllables "beginning" with a vowel: ("origin"), ("hearts" — notice the syllable; singular ), ("heads", singular ), the situation is different, as noted above. See the comprehensive article on ' for more details.


According to tradition, the first to commission a system of ''harakat'' was
Ali Ali ibn Abi Talib ( ar, عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب, ; 13 September 601 – 29 January 661) was a cousin, son-in-law and companion of the Prophets and messengers in Islam, Islamic prophet Muhammad in Islam, Muhammad, who ru ...

who appointed
Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali Abu or ABU may refer to: Places * Abu (volcano) is the name of a group of shield volcanoes located on the coast of Japan on the southwest end of the island of Honshū. It is primarily based in the city of Hagi, Yamaguchi, Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefect ...
for the task. Abu al-Aswad devised a system of dots to signal the three short vowels (along with their respective allophones) of Arabic. This system of dots predates the ', dots used to distinguish between different consonants. File:Basmala kufi.svg, Early Basmala Kufic File:Kufi.jpg, Middle Kufic File:Qur'an folio 11th century kufic.jpg, Modern Kufic in Qur'an

Abu al-Aswad's system

Abu al-Aswad's system of Harakat was different from the system we know today. The system used red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel. A dot above a letter indicated the vowel ', a dot below indicated the vowel ', a dot on the side of a letter stood for the vowel ', and two dots stood for the '' ''. However, the early manuscripts of the Qur'an did not use the vowel signs for every letter requiring them, but only for letters where they were necessary for a correct reading.

Al Farahidi's system

The precursor to the system we know today is Al Farahidi's system. '' '' found that the task of writing using two different colours was tedious and impractical. Another complication was that the ' had been introduced by then, which, while they were short strokes rather than the round dots seen today, meant that without a color distinction the two could become confused. Accordingly, he replaced the ' with small superscript letters: small alif, yā’, and wāw for the short vowels corresponding to the long vowels written with those letters, a small ''s(h)īn'' for ''shaddah'' (geminate), a small ''khā’'' for ''khafīf'' (short consonant; no longer used). His system is essentially the one we know today.

See also

Arabic alphabet The Arabic alphabet ( ar, الْأَبْجَدِيَّة الْعَرَبِيَّة, ' or , ', ), or Arabic abjad, is the as it is codified for writing . It is written from right to left in a style and includes 28 letters. Most letters hav ...

Arabic alphabet
: ** '' '' (), the case system of Arabic ** '' '' (), the basic system of Arabic consonants ** '' '' (), the phonetic rules of recitation of Qur'an in Arabic * ''
Niqqud In Hebrew language, Hebrew orthography, niqqud or nikud ( or ) is a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels or distinguish between alternative pronunciations of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Several such diacritical systems were ...
,'' the
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...
equivalent of ' * ''
Dagesh The dagesh () is a diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph The term glyph is used in typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a comp ...

,'' the Hebrew diacritic similar to Arabic ' and shaddah


'' Alexis Neme and Sébastien Paumier (2019), Restoring Arabic vowels through omission-tolerant dictionary lookup, Lang Resources & Evaluation, Vol 53, 1-65 pages''

External links

Online Arabic Diacritic Tool by Multillect
{{DEFAULTSORT:Arabic Diacritics Arabic words and phrases Quranic orthography Phonetic guides