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The Arabic alphabet (Arabic script) is one of the most fascinating scripts in the world. Whether you’d just like to write your name in Arabic, read the Quraan, or become fluent in Arabic – there are many reasons to learn the Arabic alphabet!
In this article, you’ll learn some important rules which will help you read and write Arabic. I’ve compiled an Arabic alphabet chart with pronunciation and examples, along with some additional tips for beginners.
Read and Write in Arabic (Basic Rules)
Before we have a look at the actual alphabet, let’s have a look at some basic rules. These will greatly help you understand how the Arabic alphabet works, and eventually be able to read and write Arabic by yourself.
1. Arabic is Written from Right to Left
The Arabic script is written from right to left. This is probably the most significant difference from the Latin script which is written from left to right. While you might find it intimidating at first, let me reassure you that you’ll quickly get used to reading and writing from right to left.
It’s important to know that only letters are written from right to left. Arabic numbers are written from left to right, no matter if they are written in the Arabic script (١, ٢, ٣ …) or in the numeral system that we use in English (1, 2, 3 …).
2. The Arabic Alphabet Has 28 Letters
The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters (full letters). Additionally, there are a few derivatives such as hamzah (a glottal stop).
The good news is that there is no difference between upper and lower cases. This means that you can’t make any mistakes when it comes to capitalization, like in English. On the downside, you’ll have to learn the letter’s contextual forms (more on that in the next point).
3. Most Letters Have Contextual Forms
Most Arabic letters have contextual forms, meaning that the way they look varies according to their position in a word. The way of writing a letter that you’ll see in most Arabic alphabet charts is the isolated form of a letter.
Most letters will look slightly different from the isolated form when you write full words. There are in total four different forms of Arabic letters.
- Isolated: way of writing a letter when it’s on its own, without any other letter preceding or following it in the same word.
- Initial form: first letter in a word, or first letter in the middle of a word when following a letter that isn’t connected to the next.
- Middle form: second or penultimate letter in a word when the letter before and after are connected to it.
- End form: way of writing a letter at the end of a word, when the letter preceding it has to be connected.
In addition to the 28 Arabic letters, you’ll also have to learn their contextual forms. However, you’ll see in my Arabic alphabet chart that they look almost identical. That said, they are quite easy to memorize. In fact, you can compare the Arabic alphabet to the concept of block letters and handwriting in English. Most of the time, there’s just a small additional line to connect a letter with the next.
In the list above (about contextual forms), I mentioned some rules about letters being connected. Note that not all letters have four different forms. The middle form can be identical to the end or initial form, which means the letter isn’t connected to the next.
For example the Arabic letter a, which is written as ا when isolated and at first position in a word, and as ـا when in the middle or at the end of a word. That said, there are only two forms of the letter a.
Arabic is essentially a type of handwriting with predefined rules of which letters need to be connected to the next. These rules apply to both machine typing (on a computer) and when writing by hand (on paper).
4. Arabic Alphabet vs. Arabic Script
Note that there’s a difference between the Arabic alphabet and the Arabic script. In fact, the Arabic alphabet is used specifically to write Arabic. On the other hand, the Arabic script is also used for several other languages such as Persian and Urdu.
Though the core is the same, there are slight differences in terms of pronunciation and certain letters. For example, there’s no letter p in Arabic, while the Persian alphabet does have the letter p.
You can compare this to the Latin script, too. For example, English, German and French all use the same script. However, there are some unique letters to German and French which aren’t used in English, such as the German ä or the French ç.
5. Arabic Short Vowels vs. Long Vowels
There’s a common misconception that the Arabic language doesn’t have vowels. The Arabic alphabet totally has vowels!
However, when it comes to reading (and pronouncing), you’ll notice that there’s a difference between Arabic long vowels and Arabic short vowels. Let me explain the difference.
- Arabic long vowels: long vowels are written as full letters, for example for a long a. You can clearly hear long vowels in a word, such as in the initial letter of the word امل (amal).
- Arabic short vowels: short vowels are not written full letters. In most resources for language learners, the Quraan and some newspapers, they are written as accents above and below the mainletters. However, they are most commonly omitted in standard writing. You’ll slightly hear short vowels in a word in spoken language. For example, in the Arabic writing for habibi (حبیبي), you have a short vowel a, while both i are long vowels.
Sounds complicated? It’s not that complicated. There are studies that say that we don’t actually read words letter by letter, but as a whole. That’s why most people are perfectly able to read even when the order of the letters in a word is reversed.
If you’re able to read a word where letters are inverted, you’ll totally be able to do without short vowels.
That said, let’s move on to the Arabic alphabet chart.
Arabic Alphabet Chart
Whether you’re learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or an Arabic dialect (e.g. Lebanese / Levantine Arabic, Egyptian Arabic…), the script is the same across all dialects of Arabic.
As explained above, there are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet. Arabic is written from right to left. There are contextual forms which means that the form of a letter depends on its position in a word.
If you’re using a mobile device, make sure to scroll to the right to view the full table.
Tips on Learning the Arabic Alphabet
While it’s great to have a handy Arabic alphabet chart, the best way to learn how to read and write Arabic is by practicing. It will take quite some time to master the entire alphabet (including all 4 variations of the letters).
So don’t wait until you know all the letters with its contextual forms by heart, but just start reading and writing some words.
Have a look at the most common expressions in Arabic, such as:
- Arabic greetings (How to say hello, good morning, bye etc. in Arabic)
- Introduce yourself in Arabic (how to say your name, where you come from…)
- Basic Arabic words for everyday life
- Thank you in Arabic
- How are you in Arabic (and what to answer)
Learning basic Arabic words will make your learning more fun and efficient. Seeing the letters in a word will be a mnemonic aid to remember all of them eventually. You might remember that letter ش (sh) is written differently from the isolated form when at the beginning of a word by learning the word شكراً (thank you in Arabic).
Learn Arabic with Me!
Looking for more expressions in Arabic, or are you interested in Arab culture? You’ve come to the right place! This blog is about all things Middle Eastern. You’ll find plenty of useful articles here to immerse yourself in the Arabic language, culture and cuisine.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment down the page. I’d love to hear from you!