A Guide to Hebrew - The Hebrew alphabet

What's the Hebrew alphabet like?

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What's significant about the Hebrew alphabet?

  • The Hebrew alphabet  האלף בית העברי [haaleph bet haivri] consists of 22 letters, five of which have a different form when written at the end of a word:

    כ [kaf] becomes ך [kaf sofit]
    מ [mem] becomes ם [mem sofit]
    נ [nun] becomes ן [nun sofit]
    פ [peh] becomes ף [peh sofit]
    and צ [tsadi] becomes ץ [tsadi sofit]

    The word [sofit] translates as final or ending.

    The Hebrew alphabet has a printed form called block letters  אותיות דפוס [otiot dfus]. This is used for anything printed, from books and newspapers to street signs and examples in this text. It also has a cursive form  אותיות כתב [otiot ktav], in which the letters are more round, used for writing by hand.

    Hebrew is written from right to left; however, as in Arabic, numbers are read and written from left to right.

    All the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are consonants; however, four letters: א [aleph] ה [he] ו [vav] and י [iod] can be used as vowels as well.

  • Niqqud - The vowels

    There is a system of vowel signs (points and small lines) to indicate vowels, called  ניקוד [Niqqud]. However, in everyday life, books, newspapers, etc are written without them. Hebrew speakers know how to read words according to context and recognition of the word.

  • A single dot makes a big difference

    The consonants ב [bet], כ [kaf], and פ [pe], each has two sounds: one hard (plosive) and one soft (fricative) depending mainly on its position in the word. When the Niqqud is used, the hard sounds are indicated by a central dot called  דגש [dagesh] while the soft sounds are written without a dagesh.

    The letter ש [shin] is pronounced in two different ways: if there is a dot on the top right side of the letter it corresponds to a 'sh' sound, whilst if the dot is on the top left side of the letter, the sound is 's'.

  • Two letters the same pronunciation

    ש [shin] with a dot on its top left side is pronounced like a ס [samech]

    א [alef] is often pronounced like a ע [ayin]

    ב [bet] can be pronounced like a ו [vav], if it is written without a dot

    ח [chet] is pronounced as the soft כ [kaf]

    ט [tet] is pronounced the same way as ת [tav]

    כ [kaf] in its hard pronunciation is pronounced in the same way as the ק [kof].

  • How to write sounds that do not exist in Hebrew

    If you wanted to write the name Churchill, you would use the letter צ, which normally sounds like 'ts', followed by an apostrophe: ’צ. When written like this, it sounds like the 'ch' in Churchill.

    Similarily, if you wanted to write the name George you would use the letter ג, which normally sounds like the 'g' in 'great', followed by an apostrophe: ’ג. This is pronounced like the 'g' in 'George'.

    And, finally, if you wanted to write the French name Jacques you would use the letter ז, which normally sounds like the English 'z', followed by an apostrophe: ’ז is pronounced like the 'j' in Jacques.

  • Email and website conventions

    When giving an email or website address, the conventions are:
    @  כרוכית[kroochit], at
    .  נקודה [nekooda], dot
    /  לוכסן [lochsan], forward slash
    -  מקף [makaf], hyphen

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