Arabic Alphabet and Transliteration

Introduction to the Arabic Alphabet and Transliteration

Learning Arabic can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. The Arabic script, with its flowing calligraphy and unique characters, is a key element of the language’s beauty and complexity. For learners from Western countries, understanding the Arabic alphabet and its transliteration is an essential first step. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to the Arabic alphabet, its pronunciation, and the transliteration system used to bridge the gap between Arabic and Latin scripts.

The Arabic Alphabet

The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters and is written from right to left. Unlike the Latin alphabet, Arabic is a cursive script, meaning that most letters connect to their neighbors. Here is a list of the Arabic letters along with their transliteration and approximate pronunciation:

Arabic LetterNameTransliterationApproximate Pronunciation
اAlifʾ, āa’ as in ‘apple’ (initial), long ‘a’ as in ‘father’
بBāʾbb’ as in ‘bat’
تTāʾtt’ as in ‘tap’
ثThāʾthth’ as in ‘think’
جJīmjj’ as in ‘judge’ (MSA) or ‘g’ as in ‘go’ (Egyptian)
حḤāʾStrong ‘h’ from deep in the throat
خKhāʾkhch’ as in Scottish ‘loch’
دDāldd’ as in ‘dog’
ذDhāldhth’ as in ‘this’
رRāʾrRolled ‘r’
زZāyzz’ as in ‘zoo’
سSīnss’ as in ‘sun’
شShīnshsh’ as in ‘shoe’
صṢādEmphatic ‘s’
ضḌādEmphatic ‘d’
طṬāʾEmphatic ‘t’
ظẒāʾEmphatic ‘th’
عʿAynʿGlottal stop
غGhaynghgh’ as in French ‘r’
فFāʾff’ as in ‘fun’
قQāfqDeep ‘k’ sound from the back of the throat
كKāfkk’ as in ‘kite’
لLāmll’ as in ‘lamp’
مMīmmm’ as in ‘moon’
نNūnnn’ as in ‘noon’
هHāʾhh’ as in ‘hat’
وWāww, ūw’ as in ‘water’, long ‘oo’ as in ‘food’
يYāʾy, īy’ as in ‘yes’, long ‘ee’ as in ‘see’
ءHamzaʾGlottal stop
ةTāʾ Marbūṭat (or h at end)t’ or ‘h’ depending on the context

Additional characters in dialects

While the core alphabet is consistent, some dialects introduce additional characters to represent sounds that are not found in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA):

  • گ (Gāf): Represents the ‘g’ sound in some dialects like Egyptian and Gulf Arabic.
  • ڤ (Vāʾ): Used for the ‘v’ sound in loanwords.
  • چ (Chāʾ): Used in some dialects, especially Gulf Arabic, for the ‘ch’ sound as in ‘check’.

Short vowels and diacritics

In addition to the letters, Arabic uses diacritics to indicate short vowels and other pronunciation guides:

  • َ (Fatḥa): Represents a short ‘a’ sound.
  • ِ (Kasra): Represents a short ‘i’ sound.
  • ُ (Ḍamma): Represents a short ‘u’ sound.
  • ّ (Shadda): Indicates a doubled consonant.
  • ْ (Sukūn): Indicates the absence of a vowel.


Transliteration is the process of representing Arabic letters with Latin characters. It helps learners read and pronounce Arabic words using a familiar alphabet. Here is a brief guide to transliterating Arabic:

  • Consonants: Each Arabic consonant has a corresponding Latin character (or combination) as shown in the table above.
  • Long Vowels: Represented by adding a macron (e.g., ā, ī, ū) or sometimes written as aa, ee, oo in informal transliterations.
  • Short Vowels: Often omitted in transliteration but can be indicated by a, i, u if necessary.

Example transliteration

Let’s take an example sentence in Arabic and see its transliteration:

Arabic: كَتَبَ الْوَلَدُ رِسَالَةً (Kataba al-waladu risālatan) Transliteration: Kataba al-waladu risālatan Translation: The boy wrote a letter.


Understanding the Arabic alphabet and its transliteration is a crucial first step for Western learners of Arabic. The script’s unique characteristics, combined with a systematic approach to transliteration, make it possible to bridge the gap between Arabic and Latin scripts. With practice and exposure, learners will find themselves increasingly comfortable with reading and writing in Arabic, opening the door to a rich and diverse linguistic and cultural heritage.





Other guides about Arabic language:





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