Hebrew Alphabet Basics

Alephbet

The Hebrew alphabet is called their “Alephbet”. We derive our English word alphabet from the first two letters of the alphabet in greek, alpha and beta). Similarly, their alphabet is named after the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph and bet.

The Hebrew alephbet has 22 consonants and no vowels. Vowels are represented by dots or lines above or below the characters.

Hebrew, like German, but unlike English or Polish, uses a consistent sound for each letter. This makes sounding out words much easier.

Text direction

Hebrew is read left to right, unlike English, but like other Semetic languages (languages descending from the people of the tribe of Shem) such as Arabic. So Hebrew books start on the “back” page and read to the “front” of the book.

Modern versus Ancient Hebrew

Hebrew has been around for thousands of years, and much like English over time the character forms and pronunciation of certain letters have changed. Have you ever tried to read something written in English from the 1600s? That was only a couple hundred years ago, and its quite hard.

Paleo-Hebrew is an ancient form of Hebrew used Before 585 B.C. which looks a bit more hieroglyphic (and more similar to a roman alphabet than Modern Hebrew).

Vowels

Nikkud is the Hebrew word for vowel. (It is pluralized nikkudot). In normal day to day writing such as newspapers, signs, and novels the vowels are not included. Vowels are typically included in applications like children’s books and grammar books. Biblical text can be found in both forms.

Hebrew is more rigid about vowel-consonant order than English. In English we can have several consonants in a row (eg. circle), Hebrew it (almost) always alternates consonant-vowel, consonant-vowel.

Yud ( י ) which makes a Y sound can be used as either a consonant or a vowel, just like English.

Aleph ( א ) and Ayin ( ע ) are both almost silent consonants, they do not make their own sound in the word, much the same way we have words in English which have a silent E.

Special Letter Forms

Sophit is the Hebrew word for the five “final letters” that have a different form when they are at the end of a word. When those five letters come at the end of a word, they are shaped differently, typically either being more boxy or having a longer downward stroke than their non-sophit versions.

Letter
Name
Normal Sophit
Form
Kaph
כ
ך
Mem
מ
ם
Nun
נ
ן
Pe
פ
ף
Tsade
צ
ץ

 


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