Short vowels and diacritic signs

Short vowels and diacritic signs

Long vowels :

In Arabic, there are three long vowels which are considered as letters in their full right and feature as such in the alphabet : Thus â = ا , û = و , î = ي There are three corresponding short vowels , which are not called letters but diacritic signs, namely signs which are written either above or below the letter. These short vowels are :

fatha – damma – kasra

Besides these three short vowels, or diacritic signs, there are two other signs, namely : Sukûn عطْشان – جوْعان – تعْبان which is written above the letter and expresses the absence of a vowel.


the tanwîn is written in the following way : مرحباً – شكرا ً . Note that at the end of these words, there is a double fatha ; one can hear the sound nûn, – an – even though it is not written. This process is called the tanwîn or nunisation.


this sign expresses a double consonant and is written above the letter. Note that in modern printing, the kasra used with a double consonant is always placed below the shadda, as in the following example : عبّاس – معلّم

What to do with these signs ?

– In contemporary written documents (administrative documents, newspapers, novels, road or shop signs, …) these signs are not used. Yet, they will be useful during the teaching and training period.

– short vowels will only be used when needed. For example, each new dialogue or text will include new words. The short vowel marks will be voiced in the vocabulary list so as to make the words easier to read.

– the shadda, which is therefore not a vowel, corresponds in effectto a letter: it will be used in words with a double consonant.

– whenever a consonant is followed by a long vowel, there is no need to add the short vowel either above or below. Example :

Arabic, as many other languages (such as Russian, German, Latin…) declines, which means that the final vowels are changeable. Yet, in modern Arabic, these declensions are more and more often overlooked. Thus, in the texts and dialogues which you will be studying, they will not be used, unless necessary. As a result, the final vowel will not appear in the vocabulary list either.