Vowels in Arabic

Vowels in Arabic

Vowels in Arabic are called harakat حَرَكَات, the singular of which is haraka حَرَكَة. Fortunately for the learners of Arabic as a foreign language, they are simple and limited. They are simple in that they are easily produced which makes the articulation of words straightforward. These vowels are [a], [i], and [u]; and for each short vowel, there is a corresponding long vowel. These are [aa], [ii], and [uu], respectively. So, there are six vowels in Arabic.

What are Vowels in Arabic?

What are Vowels in Arabic?

(1) Short Vowels:

The short vowels in Arabic are called الحَرَكَاتُ الْقَصِيرَة. They are represented by three diacritical marks placed above or below the consonant that precedes them: the fatha, the kasra, and the dhamma. The fatha (ــَـ) is pronounced as [a]. The kasra (ــِـ) is pronounced as [i]. The dhamma (ــُـ) is pronounced as [u]. Therefore, they are secondary sounds that accompany letters. It worth noting that these vowels are not written in Modern Standard Arabic, but they are fully articulated. Put another way, although seemingly additional, they are considerably essential, for they determine the part of speech of the word, its function, and its meaning. For example, by changing the diacritical mark that accompanies the word علم, multiple words are generated: عَلِمَ ‘he knew’ is an active verb, عُلِمَ ‘was known’ is a passive verb, عِلْم ‘science’ is a noun, عَلَم ‘flag’ is a noun, عَلَّمَ ‘to educate’, among other words. Pedagogically, therefore, it essential that learners of Arabic learn how to add them to words from the outset of their learning.

(a) fatha الْفَتْحــَــة (ــَــ):

As can be seen from its shape, the fatha is a small alif (ا) lain down on the letter (this shape was proposed by the renowned Arab grammarian Al-Khalil ibn Ahmed Al-Farahidi in the 8th century). It is pronounced as [a], that is a reduced alif. At the word-level, it can determine the part of speech of words and may change word-meanings.

رَجَعَ

raja‘a

He returned

ذَكَرَ

dhakara

He mentioned

جَمَعَ

jama‘a

He collected

طَلَبَ

Talaba

He requested

كَتَبَ

kataba

He wrote

خَرَجَ

kharaja

He went out

وَصَلَ

waSala

He arrived

نَظَرَ

naDHara

He looked at

رَقَدَ

raqada

He slept

(b) kasra الْكَســْــرَة (ــِــ):

Proposed by Al-Farahidi in the 8th century, the kasra is a small alif (ا) laid down below the letter. It is put underneath the letter because it is the opposite of fatha. It is pronounced as [i], that is a reduced yaa. Like the fatha, it can determine the part of the speech of the word and may change word-meanings.

شَرِبَ

shariba

He drank

سَعَدَ

sa‘ada

He became happy

غَرِمَ

gharima

He paid a fine

سَمِعَ

sami‘a

He heard

ضَمِنَ

dhamina

He guaranteed

حَزِنَ

Hazina

He was sad

قَبِلَ

qabila

He accepted

خَجِلَ

khajila

He was shy

رَغِبَ

raghiba

He aspired

(c) dhamma الضَّمــَّــة (ــُــ):

The dhamma is a small waaw (و) added above the letter. It is pronounced as [u], that is a reduced waaw. Like the other two diacritical marks, it can determine the part of speech of words, and it may affect word-meanings.

شُرِبَ

shuriba

was drunk

ذُكِرَ

dhukira

was mentioned

جُمِعَ

jumi‘a

was collected

طُلِبَ

Tuliba

was requested

كُتِبَ

kutiba

was written

كَبُرَ

kabura

He grew up

قُبِلَ

qubila

was accepted

سُمِعَ

sumi‘a

was heard

صَغُرَ

Saghura

He became small

(2) Long Vowels:

Long vowels in Arabic are called الْحَرَكَاتُ الطَّوِيلَة. They are represented by three letters that are saakina (i.e. have a sukuun) over them—the alif, the yaa, and the waaw. The alif (ـا) is pronounced as [aa], the yaa (ـيـ) is pronounced as [ii], and the waaw (ـو) is pronounced as [uu]. In Arabic, these letters are also called weak letters (أَحْرُفُ العِلَّة) or the letters of prolongation (أَحْرُف المَدّ).

(a) The alif ـا:

Pronounced as [aa], the alif ـا is a prolonged fatha, so it is called a long fatha. It is always saakina (i.e. has a sukuun over it), and the letter that precedes it must have a fatha over it. So, given that it is always saakina and must be preceded by a letter that has a fatha over it, it never occurs at the start of words.

كَاتِب

kaatib

a writer

قَالَ

qaala

He said

مَقَال

maqaal

an article

لَاعِب

laa‘ib

a player

نَامَ

naama

He slept

شَرَاب

sharaab

a drink

شَاهِد

shaahid

a witness

بَاعَ

baa‘a

He sold

بَارِد

baarid

cold

(b) The yaa ـيـ:

Pronounced as [ii], the yaa ـيـ is a prolonged kasra, so it is called a long kasra. Like the alif, it is always saakina (i.e. has a sukuun over it), and the letter that precedes it must have a kasra below it. If the yaa occurs at the start of words, it is not a long vowel.

خَبِير

khabiir

an expert

بَعِيد

ba‘iid

far

نَحِيف

naHiif

thin

سَعِيد

sa‘iid

happy

كَرِيم

kariim

generous

غَرِيب

ghariib

strange

جَمِيل

jamiil

beautiful

فَقِير

faqiir

poor

يَجْرِي

yajrii

He runs

(c) The waaw ـو:

Pronounced as [uu], the waaw ـو is a prolonged dhamma, so it is called a long dhamma. Like the other two long vowels, it is always saakina (i.e. has a sukuun over it), and the letter that precedes it must have a dhamma above it. Given that is it is saakina and the letter preceding it has a dhamma over it, it, as a long vowel, never occurs at the beginning of words.

ثُوم

thuum

garlic

يَقُول

yaquul

He says

خَرُوف

kharuuf

a sheep

بُوق

buuq

a horn

شُعُور

shu‘uur

feeling

مَسْرُور

masruur

delight

نُور

nuur

light

حُدُود

Huduud

borders

لَيْمُون

laymuun

lemon

(3) Short Vowels Vs. Long Vowels:

(1) fatha vs. alif: ــَـ vs ـا

In the following list, the words are minimal pairs (i.e. they differ only in the length of vowel). Besides the changes in pronunciation (from a short vowel to a long vowel), there is a change in meaning.

رَجَعَ

raja‘a

He returned

رَاجَعَ

raaja‘a

He revised

ذَكَرَ

dhakara

He mentioned

ذَاكَرَ

dhaakara

He studied

دَخَلَ

dakhala

He entered

دَاخَلَ

daakhala

He interposed

طَلَبَ

Talaba

He requested

طَالَبَ

Taalaba

He demanded

سَعَدَ

sa‘ada

He became happy

سَاعَدَ

saa‘ada

He helped

كَتَبَ

kataba

He wrote

كَاتَبَ

kaataba

He wrote to

(2) kasra vs. yaa: ــِـ vs. ـيـ

The yaa is basically a long fatha. In the following list, in addition to the change in pronunciation, there is change in meaning.

حَزِن

Hazin

He was sad

حَزِين

Haziin

Sad

ضَمِن

dhamin

He guaranteed

ضَمِين

dhamiin

A guarantor

رَغِد

raghid

He became affluent

رَغِيد

raghiid

Affluent

سَلِم

salim

He was safe

سَلِيم

saliim

Safe

كَفِل

kafil

He guaranteed

كَفِيل

kafiil

A guarantor

بِخِل

bakhil

He was stingy

بَخِيل

bakhiil

Stingy

(3) dhamma vs. waaw: ــُـ vs. ـو

The prolongation of dhamma results into a letter, that is a waaw which is pronounced as [uu]. This change in the length of sound can have some change in meaning, as in this list.

لَم يَعُد

lam ya‘ud

He did not come back

يَعُود

ya‘uud

He comes back

خَرُف

kharuf

He became senile

خَرُوف

kharuuf

A sheep

لَا تَخُنْ

la takhun

Do not betray

تَخُون

takhuun

You betray

لَا تَقُل

la taqul

Do not say

لَنْ تَقُول

lan taquul

You will not say

كُرَة

kurah

A ball

كُورَة

kuurah

A county

شُهِدَ

shuhida

was witnessed

شُوهِدَ

shuuhida

was watched

Zahra Hasan
Thank you so much for this. Very well explained and helps a lot:)
    we are delighted that you find it useful. our aim is to help learners of Arabic as much as we could. we are trying our best to find time to write decent and informative materials.

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