This document describes the arabic alphabet, and how it can be written using roman letters.
Please remember that Egyptian Arabic is an oral language. When people are asked to write it, some write in Modern Standard Arabic and then pronounce it the Egyptian way, others write it as an Egyptian would say it. As a result, there may some variation in the way things are spelt. For example, many verbs end in alif-layena aY ى, but many people write it as a regular alif aaa اَ.
There are 28 basic letters in Egyptian arabic, and about a dozen modifiers.
Writing goes from right to left, and the majority of arabic letters join onto the following letter and so there are therefore four forms of each letter: solitary, initial, middle and final. For the six letters that do not join left ( aaa اَ, dd د, zdh ذ, rr ر, zz ز, ww و ), there are just two forms- solitary and final.
|position||normal letter||non-joining letter|
The three short vowels aa َ, ii ِ and uu ُ and shadda ّ, which doubles the length of a consonant, are collectively called tashkeeltashkyl تـَشكيل or vowellization. Tashkyl is not normally used in written arabic apart from in the Quran. If they are used, they are written above a consonant but pronounced after it: for the convenience of non-arabic readers, I have included the tashkyl, but written it after the consonant.
See the Arabic Alphabet section for full information about each arabic letter, including the european letters used.
It can be a big challenge learning arabic writing at the same time as learning Egyptian Arabic, so words in the dictionary are written both in Arabic and in European letters. There are two forms of writing in european letters: Transliterated and Pronounced.
The transliterated form is an exact representation of the arabic script in roman letters: this is not always straightforward, as there are a lot more letters and modifiers in arabic than there are in the roman alphabet.
If you want to be able to say words accurately, you need to be able to read either arabic or the transliterated form- for example, so that you can see the difference between syn and saad.
Here is a brief summary that shows the relationship between different groups of letters:
|short vowel||a i u|
َ ِ ُ
|long vowel (alif)||aa ee ii uu|
ا َ آ ا ِ اُ
|alif with hamza||aac iic uuc|
أ إ أُ
|other long vowels||y w|
|other long vowels with hamza||yc wc|
|gluttal stop qaf||q|
|soft consonant||d h s t z|
د ه س ت ز
|alveolar consonant||D H S T Z|
ض ح ص ط ظ
|double-letter consonants||dh sh th|
ذ ش ث
It is readable if you ignore hamza 'C ء and tee-marbuta -t_o ـة, and read alif-layena aY ى as a.
If you are not interested in learning to read and write arabic writing, you may find the pronounced form easier to use. This shows an arabic word as it would be pronounced by an English person. The stressed syllable is underlined, and a ' is a gluttal stop: think of a cockney saying bottle as bo'le.
Some words are joined together when spoken: the pronounced form shows when joining takes place. See Pronunciation rules for more information.
Fatha is the short vowel corresponding to a. It is normally written above a consonant and pronounced after it. For ease of reading, this dictionary puts short vowels after the consonant. Short vowels are normally omitted except in the quran.
Kasra is the short vowel corresponding to i. It is normally written above a consonant and pronounced after it. For ease of reading, this dictionary puts short vowels after the consonant. Short vowels are normally omitted except in the quran.
Damma is the short vowel corresponding to u. It is normally written above a consonant and pronounced after it. For ease of reading, this dictionary puts short vowels after the consonant. Short vowels are normally omitted except in the quran.
Shadda is written above a consonant and doubles the consonant. Unlike in english, double consonants are pronounced, so if you take katab and put a shadda above the t, it will be pronounced kat-tab, with one t and the end of the first syllable and one t at the beginning of the next syllable. Shadda is often omitted in written arabic. Double-lem and double-yeh are often written as two separate letters, rather than one with a shadda.
Alif with a hamza above is used mainly at the beginning of words. It represents a gluttal stop followed by fatha - a short a. Strictly speaking, it should be written with both a hamza and a fatha.
Alif with a hamza below is used only at the beginning of words. It represents a gluttal stop followed by kasra - a short i. Strictly speaking, it should be written with both a hamza and a kasra.
Alif-hamza below is used at the beginning of the perfect of many derived verbs, which are formed by adding a prefix (it-, in-, ist- and i?t-) to a base verb. These derived verbs often have a passive (be ...ed) or reflexive (oneself, each other) meaning.
Alif with a damma above is used only at the beginning of words. It represents a gluttal stop followed by damma - a short u. Strictly speaking, it should be written with both a hamza and a damma.
Alif with a fatha is used only in the middle and at the end of words. It is usually pronounced either as ae as in aeroplane, or as ar as in hard: these two forms are represented as ae and aa respectively in transliterated arabic. When it is followed by two consonants in a row or a consonant and a long vowel, it is shortened to a short a.
When it follows a lem, the two letters are joined together and written لا. At the end of the 'we' and 'they' form of pronouns and verbs, wow-alif is pronounced as oo.
Alif-kasra is used only in ال il, the prefix meaning 'the'. As the kasra is never actually written, it is not clear whether 'the' should be pronounced il, el, or al. As a result, there are regional differences in pronunciation. In the dictionary, we have standardized on il, to avoid confusion.
Alif-madda is used only at the beginning of words. It is pronounced as a gluttal stop followed by ee as in feel.
Bee is pronounced as b.
Tee is pronounced as t.
Thee is pronounced as voiced th as in thumb, as t. You may also hear s or unvoiced th as in thin: these may be caused by speech impediments.
Del is pronounced as d.
Dhel is pronounced as z.
In Egypt, gyn is pronounced as g as in gold. In most of the arab world it is pronounced as j as in jeans.
Ha is an unvoiced but quite audible h sound: there is no equivalent in English.
Kha is an rolled alveolar h like ch in loch, but a little stronger: imagine clearing your throat to make this sound.
Jyn is borrowed from Farsi to represent the j sound in imported words like 'agenda'.
Syn is an s sound. Many Egyptians, even educated ones, do not distinguish clearly between this and shyn.
Shyn is a sh
Reh is an r sound.
Zyn is a z sound.
Saad is an alveolar s. It affects the following short vowel, making it heavier.
Daad is an alveolar d. It affects the following short vowel, making it heavier.
Taa is an alveolar t. It affects the following short vowel, making it heavier.
Zaa is an alveolar z. It affects the following short vowel, making it heavier.
Ain is an alveolar a. This letter makes more problems for Europeans than any other: it sounds close to alif, and you can easily confuse people if you do not say it correctly. Ain is treated as a consonant for the purposes of pronunciation rules.
Ghin is an alveolar g.
Fa is an f sound.
Qaf is pronounced by Cairenes as either an alveolar k or as a gluttal stop. People from upper Egypt pronounce it as a g.
Vee is borrowed from Farsi to represent the v sound in imported words like 'villa'.
Kef is a k sound.
Lem is normally pronounced as l. If it is followed by an alif, the letters are joined together as لا. In the il prefix (which means 'the'), if it is attached to a noun that starts with a Sun letter, the lem is pronounced by replacing with a second sun-letter, so il-Dwr is pronounced iD-Dwr.
Mym is pronounced as m
Nun is pronounced as n
Fathatan is used only above an alif at the end of a word to represent an n
Hey is a very gentle, unrestricted, unvoiced h sound.
Tee-marbuta is a hey with two dots above it. For many words, opinions vary about whether the word should be spelt with hey or tee-marbuta. In this dictionary, most feminine singular nouns are spelt with tee-marbuta at the end: The ending of these words is pronounced as either -a or -ah in the nominative form, and as -it in the genitive form.
Wow can be pronounced as w when it is next to at least one short vowel, and as oo when it is between two consonants. The 'we' and 'they' form of verbs and pronouns ends in wow-alif, which is pronounced oo as in 'too'.
wow-hamza is pronounce as u followed by a gluttal stop.
yeh is pronounced as y when it is next to at least one short vowel, and as ee in 'feel' when it is between two consonants or a consonant and wow. At the end of a word, it is pronounced as i.
yeh-hamza is a gluttal stop.
alif-layena is used at the end of words as an a sound. Verbs whose perfect ends with alif-layena normally have an imperfect that ends with a yeh.
Hamza is pronounced as a gluttal stop. It appears occasionally as a full-size letter at the end of a word, and more frequently as a small symbol above or below alif, and above wow and yeh.