The Arabic Script:
The Alphabet

As a spoken variant of Arabic, Gulf Arabic is not normally written in books and newspapers - that's the domain of Modern Standard Arabic (except to represent authentic dialogs), however, it is used all the time in online forums, chats and text messages. Indeed, there are even people who write short novels in Gulf Arabic and share them in forums, for example here.

Note: In order to go through this course, it is not essential that you know the Arabic alphabet, as the whole course uses both the Arabic script and transliteration with Latin letters. You might want to choose to go through the lessons using the transliteration and then, at the end, come here, study the alphabet, and then go through the course one more time focusing on the way words are spelled in Arabic. The choice is yours.

In Arabic, writing runs from right to left, so from an English-language perspective, we write from back to front in Arabic. Letters consist of strokes or strokes and dots. The only difference between some of the letters is the number of dots! You will notice there are two types of letters - those that can be joined by other letters on both sides (joiners), and those that can be joined only to the preceding letter.

With regards to the table columns below, note the following terms:

(1) independent - the way the letter is written in the alphabet or when not connected to any other letters
(2) transliteration - the way the letter is transliterated with Latin letters throughout the GulfArabic course
(3) final - the way the letter is after a joining letter (if the preceding letter is not a joiner, the independent form is used)
(4) medial - the way the letter is written when it is surrounded by letters
(5) initial - the way the letter is written at the beginning of a word

Indep Trans Final Mid Init
ا
alif
a ـا ـا ا
ب
baa
b ـب ـبـ بـ
ت
taa
t ـت ـتـ تـ
ث
thaa
th ـث ـثـ ثـ
ج
jiim
j ـج ـجـ جـ
ح
Haa
H ـح ـحـ حـ
خ
xaa
x ـخ ـخـ خـ
د
daal
d ـد ـد د
ذ
dhaal
dh ـذ ـذ ذ
ر
raa
r ـر ـر ر
ز
zayn
z ـز ـز ز
س
siin
s ـس ـسـ سـ
ش
shiin
sh ـش ـشـ شـ
ص
Saad
S ـص ـصـ صـ
ض
Daad
D, DH ـض ـضـ ضـ
ط
Taa
T ـط ـطـ طـ
ظ
DHaa
DH ـظ ـظـ ظـ
ع
^ayn
^ ـع ـعـ عـ
غ
ghayn
gh ـغ ـغـ غـ
ف
faa
f ـف ـفـ فـ
ق
qaaf
q, g, j ـق ـقـ قـ
ك
kaaf
k, ch ـك ـكـ كـ
ل
lam
l ـل ـلـ لـ
م
miim
m ـم ـمـ مـ
ن
nuun
n ـن ـنـ نـ
ه
haa
h ـه ـهـ هـ
و
waaw
w, uu, oo ـو ـو و
ي
yaa
y ـي ـيـ يـ
ة (taa marbuuTa, or 'hidden t') is not considered a letter but a variant of ه . It is the last letter of most feminine adjectives and nouns. When joined to the previous letter, it is written like this ـة .

The combination of ل lam and ا alif is a special sign written like this لا (pronounced 'laa', meaning 'no') as an initial or independent, and ـلا as a medial or final.

Note that in Gulf Arabic speech a few of the letters have a non-standard pronunciation. Here they are:

(1) ق is oftentimes 'g' (as in 'gun') or 'j' (as in 'jam')
One of the emirates in the UAE, الشارقة as-shaariqa, is الشارجة ash-shaarja (Sharjah) in the local dialect.
Literary قبيلة qabiila (tribe) is pronounced gabiila and spelled the same way as in Literary Arabic.

(2) ج is frequently sounded out as 'j' (as in 'jam')
Literary جديد jadiid (new) oftentimes becomes yidiid in Gulf Arabic and is usually spelled يديد in online forums.
Literary جلس jalasa (sit down) becomes yilas in Gulf Arabic and could be spelled يلس .

(3) ك is sometimes sounded out as a 'ch' (as in 'China')
Literary سمك samak (fish) is pronounced as simach in Gulf Arabic and written either سمج or سمك .

(4) ض ('D', Daad) is sounded out most of the times as a ظ ('DH', DHaa) even though in less relaxed speech people try to pronounce it as a a Literary 'D'. This is reflected throughout our course, sometimes transliterating it as a 'D' and sometimes as a 'DH'.

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There is a sign in Arabic, not considered part of the alphabet - ء called hamza. It is a glottal stop - something like the stop between uh and uh in uh-uh (when you agree with somebody and just say uh-uh). It can be carried (written above) by ا , ي and و . However, it is not commonly used in the Gulf Arabic dialects.

أ (alif as a carrier of the hamza) can represent either a, i or u (as short vowels).

Only the long vowels ا aa, ي ii, و uu are normally written in Arabic.

The short vowels are represented by special diacritical signs (called Harakaat) above and below the letters. These are used almost exclusively in al-qur'aan al-kariim (the Holy Quran) and other religious texts as well as children's books and textbooks, and are really not within the scope of our course, but just for your information here are the main ones:

fatHa ـَ - a stroke above a letter - adds an 'a' sound (like in 'mat')
kasra ـِ a stroke below a letter adds an 'i' sound (like in 'bit')
Damma ـُ a 9-like squiggle above a letter adds an 'u' sound (like in 'put')
sukuun ـْ a small 'o' above a letter means that no vowel follows that letter
shadda ـّ a w-like squiggle doubles the consonant above which it is written.

An example:
بِسْمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحْمٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
bismi l-lahi r-raHmaani r-raHiim
in the name of God, the gracious, the merciful

Normally, the diacritics (Harakaat) are not written. Reading Arabic, thus, necessitates some getting used to as a lot of the sounds of the word are not actually spelled out, for example the Arab name Hamad is written with 3 letters - Hmd - حمد . aHmad is أحمد , and muHammad is محمد . Hamdaan, however, has a long 'aa' vowel so it's spelled like this: حمدان . (All of these names, by the way, come from the root حمد with the meaning 'to bless'.)

Arabic has no letters representing the sounds 'p' and 'v' - they are usually represented by ب and ف , respectively. So, Paris is باريس baariis.