World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hebrew diacritics

Article Id: WHEBN0021809924
Reproduction Date:

Title: Hebrew diacritics  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Gershayim, Hebrew language, Macron, Ogonek, Dotted circle
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hebrew diacritics

Gen. 1:9 And God said, "Let the waters be collected".
Letters in black, pointing in red, cantillation in blue[1]

Hebrew orthography includes several types of diacritics:

  • (Mainly) a set of mostly optional ancillary glyphs known as niqqud in Hebrew, which are used either to represent vowels or to distinguish between alternate pronunciations of several letters of the Hebrew alphabet (the rafe sign is sometimes also listed as part of the niqqud system)[*];
  • geresh and gershayim, two diacritics that are not considered a part of niqqud, each of which has several functions (e.g. to denote Hebrew numerals);
  • and cantillation, "accents" which show how Biblical passages should be chanted and which sometimes possess a punctuating function.

Several diacritical systems were developed in the Early Middle Ages. The most widespread system, and the only one still used to a significant degree today, was created by the Masoretes of Tiberias in the second half of the first millennium in the Land of Israel (see Masoretic Text, Tiberian Hebrew). The Niqqud signs and cantillation marks developed by the Masoretes are small compared to consonants, so they could be added to the consonantal texts without retranscribing them.

Pointing (niqqud)

In modern Israeli orthography, vowel and consonant pointing is seldom used, except in specialised texts such as dictionaries, poetry, or texts for children or for new immigrants. Israeli Hebrew has five vowel phonemes—/i/, /e/, /a/, /o/ and /u/—but many more written symbols for them. Niqqud distinguish the following vowels and consonants; for more detail, see the main article.

Name Symbol Unicode Israeli Hebrew Keyboard input Hebrew Alternate
Transliteration English
Letter Key
Hiriq U+05B4 [i] i seek 4 חִירִיק
Tzeire U+05B5 [] and [ei̯] e and ei men 5 צֵירֵי or צֵירֶה
Segol U+05B6 [], ([ei̯] with
succeeding yod)
e, (ei with
succeeding yod)
men 6 סֶגוֹל
Patakh U+05B7 [ä] a far 7 פַּתָּח
Kamatz סָ U+05B8 [ä], (or []) a, (or o) far 8 קָמָץ
Sin dot (left) U+05C2 [s] s sour 9 שִׂי״ן
Shin dot (right) U+05C1 [ʃ] sh shop 0 שִׁי״ן
Holam Haser
U+05B9 [] o bore - חוֹלָם חָסֵר
Holam Male or Vav Haluma וֹ U+05B9 חוֹלָם מָלֵא
Dagesh or Mappiq;

Shuruk or Vav Shruqa

U+05BC N/A N/A N/A = דָּגֵשׁ or מַפִּיק
U+05BC [u] u cool שׁוּרוּק
Kubutz U+05BB \ קֻבּוּץ
Below: Two vertical dots underneath the letter (called sh'va) make the vowel very short.
Sh'va U+05B0 [] or [-] apostrophe, e,
or nothing
silent ~ שְׁוָא
Reduced Segol U+05B1 [] e men 1 חֲטַף סֶגוֹל Hataf Segol
Reduced Patakh U+05B2 [ä] a far 2 חֲטַף פַּתָּח Hataf Patakh
Reduced Kamatz
U+05B3 [] o bore 3 חֲטַף קָמָץ Hataf Kamatz

Note 1: The symbol "ס" represents whatever Hebrew letter is used.
Note 2: The letter "ש" is used since it can only be represented by that letter.
Note 3: The dagesh, mappiq, and shuruk are different, however, they look the same and are inputted in the same manner. Also, they are represented by the same Unicode character.
Note 4: The letter "ו" is used since it can only be represented by that letter.

Vowel comparison table

Vowel Comparison Table
Vowel length[1] Transliteration English
Long Short Very short
ָ [3]   [2] [ä] a far
וֹ [4]
[2] [] o cold
[5] [5]   N/A [u] u you
ִי       N/A [i] i ski
    [2] [] e let


  • [1] : These vowels lengths are not manifested in Modern Hebrew.
  • [2] : Adding two vertical dots (sh'va) ְ to the "short-vowel" diacritic produces the diacritic for "very short vowel" (Hebrew: חטףḥatáf ).
  • [3] : The short /o/ and long /a/ are represented by the same diacritic.
  • [4] : The short /o/ is usually promoted to a long /o/ (holam male, vav with dot above) in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation.
  • [5] : The short /u/ is usually promoted to a long /u/ (shuruk, vav with middle dot) in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation.


Meteg is a vertical bar placed below a character next to the niqqud for various purposes, including marking vowel length and secondary stress. Its shape is identical to the cantillation mark sof pasuq.


Geresh is a mark, ׳ that may be used as a diacritic, as a punctuation mark for initialisms, or as a marker of Hebrew numerals. It is also used in cantillation.

As a diacritic, the geresh is combined with the following consonants:

letter value with
value usage
ג [ɡ] ג׳ [dʒ] slang and loanwords
(phonologically native
ז [z] ז׳ [ʒ]
צ [ts] צ׳ [tʃ]
(non standard[2])
ו [v] ו׳[2] [w]
ד [d] ד׳ [ð] For transliteration of
sounds in foreign
languages (non-native
sounds, i.e. sounds
foreign to Hebrew
ח [ħ] ח׳ [χ][3]
ס [s] ס׳ [sˤ]
ע [ʕ] ע׳ [ɣ]
ר [r] ר׳
ת [t] ת׳ [θ]


Cantillation has a more limited use than vowel pointing, as it is only used for reciting the Torah, and is not found in children's books or dictionaries.


Gershayim between the penultimate and last letters ( ״  e.g. פזצט״א) marks acronyms, alphabetic numerals, names of Hebrew letters, linguistic roots and, in older texts, transcriptions of foreign words. Placed above a letter ( ֞  e.g. פְּרִ֞י) it is one of the cantillation marks.

Disputes among Protestant Christians

Protestant literalists who believe that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God are divided on the question of whether or not the vowel points should be considered an inspired part of the Old Testament. In 1624, Louis Cappel, a French Huguenot scholar at Saumur, published a work in which he concluded that the vowel points were a later addition to the biblical text and that the vowel points were added not earlier than the fifth century AD. This assertion was hotly contested by Swiss theologian Johannes Buxtorf in 1648. Brian Walton's 1657 polyglot bible followed Cappel in revising the vowel points. In 1675, the 2nd and 3rd canons of the so-called Helvetic Consensus of the Swiss Reformed Church confirmed Buxtorf's view as orthodox and affirmed that the vowel points were inspired.

See also


*^ The rafe sign (רפה,  ֿ ) is standardly used to mark fricative consonants in the YIVO orthography of Yiddish; in Hebrew it is generally no longer regularly used and in modern printed texts its use has been largely discontinued. In masoretic manuscripts and some other older texts the soft fricative consonants and sometimes matres lectionis are indicated by this sign.


  1. ^ Cantillation
  2. ^ a b Vav with geresh, "ו׳", is non standard and its usage is therefore inconsistent: "Transliteration Rules".  issued by the Academy of the Hebrew Language states that both [v] and [w] be indistinguishably represented in Hebrew using the letter Vav. To pronounce foreign words and loanwords containing the sound [w], Hebrew readers must therefore rely on former knowledge and context, see also pronunciation of Hebrew Vav.
  3. ^ a b The sound [χ] represented by ח׳ is a native sound in Hebrew; the geresh is however used only to distinguish Arabic "خ" from "ح" when transcribing Arabic (in which context just ח—without geresh—represents "ح" / [ħ]), whereas in everyday usage ח without geresh is pronounced [ħ] only dialectically but [χ] commonly.

External links

  • A free online course to learn the Hebrew Vowel System
  • Rules for Spelling without Niqqud - a simplified version of the Rules, published on the Academy of the Hebrew Language website.
  • m§5 Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, for usage of Geresh in abbreviations; §7, §8, §9, §10 for vowel signs; §12, §13, §14 for Dagesh, Mappiq and Rafe; §15, §16 for the cantillation signs and Maqqeph.
  • Hebrew tutorial on how to use diacritics in Word

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.