Chapter III.1. Alephbet

Table of Contents

III.1.1. Letters
III.1.2. Vowels

III.1.1. Letters

The first (main) part of the Alephbet is letters. Here they are in (almost) all their glory.

Table III.1.1. Hebrew letters

כ (ך)

Kaf (k/kh)


Yud (y)


Tet (t)


Khet (kh)


Zayin (z)


Vav (v)


Hey (h)


Dalet (d)


Gimel (g)


Bet (b/v)


Aleph (no sound)


Tav (t)

שׁ / שׂ

Shin / Sin (sh/s)


Resh (r)


Kuf (k)

צ (ץ)

Tsadi (ts)

פ (ף)

Pey (p/f)


Ayin (no sound)


Samekh (s)

נ (ן)

Nun (n)

מ (ם)

Mem (m)


Lamed (l)

You may encounter different names for some letters, like “yodh” or “he”. Even in Israel, there’re at least two ways pronounce some letter names – the official one and the most used one. But that doesn’t really matter since you’ll be able to distinguish between different letter names anyway.

Things to note:

  • The alphabet starts sort of like English, continuing similar to Greek (although it looks entirely different). It’s even called “alephbet” in Hebrew.

  • The sequence Yud-Kaf-Lamed-Mem-Nun-Samekh is quite easy to remember because it is similar to j-k-l-m-n-o, where “o” only looks (but doesn’t sound) like Samekh, though.

There are actually 23 letters in Hebrew. שׁ (Shin) and שׂ (Sin) are different letters, pronounced as “sh” and “s” (the same as ס – Samekh) respectively! The dots that make them differ are usually omitted in writing, but Shin is far more common than Sin, so if you don’t know what it is, at least you can try to guess.

Although there are no capital letters, there are five letters that look differently when they are at the end of a word. Those are called “sofit”: Kaf sofit (ך), Mem sofit (ם), Nun sofit (ן), Pey sofit (ף) and Tsadi sofit (ץ). Unlike Shin and Sin, sofits aren’t considered to be different letters, that’s why there’s only 23 letters in total but 27 different (printed) symbols. Note that four of sofits (except Mem) actually look like their regular counterparts, but with their “tails” straightened down below the baseline. The reason for this “feature” is that sofit forms are really the original ones, but then at some moment these long “tails” started to curve towards the next letter. Unless there was no next letter, of course, which is why these forms persisted at the end of a word. As for Mem sofit, it really looks weird, and I know of no explanation for that. At least it’s pretty easy to remember.

The pronunciation of the letters ב, כ and פ depends on whether they have a dot inside called Dagesh. With Dagesh they have plosive pronunciation: [b], [k], [p], without it – fricative pronunciation: [v], [kh], [f]. The Dagesh can be of two varieties:

  • The Light Dagesh (Dagesh Kal) can only be found inside the so-called Beged-Kefet (stress on the first syllable in both words) letters: ב, ג, ד, כ, פ, ת. The always there if one of these letters is at the beginning of a word, and it’s almost never there if one of them is at the end of a word. In the middle of a word, it’s there if, and only if a Beged-Kefet letter follows a Shva Nakh nekudot (but not Shva Na or Shva Merakhef).

  • The Strong (not heavy!) Dagesh (Dagesh Khazak) can be found in almost any letter, except א, ה, ח, ע, ר. It can only be found after a long or short vowel (but not the Shva or a khataf), and it really depends on the pattern and the syllabification rules. One of the most common cases is the Strong Dagesh in a letter preceded by a short unstressed vowel and followed by another (short or long) vowel, like in “kittul”, “kattar”, “kittel” and similar models.

The letters א, ה, ח, ע are called glottal. The letter ר is also considered glottal (or semi-glottal) sometimes. Glottal letters have a whole bunch of special properties, including, but not limited to:

  • They can’t be doubled with the strong Dagesh, hence requiring special care to preserve the structure of syllables.

  • They very often require a vowel after them (doesn’t apply to Resh) even if there should be no vowel otherwise.

  • They don’t like narrow sounds like “i” and “u”, tending to replace them with broader ones, typically “a” (doesn’t apply to Resh either).

Here are the cursive letters. Or at least I call them cursive, but most computer fonts just display regular letters slanted to the right when you switch to cursive. You can encounter them in Israel typically in real handwriting or on various posters and labels.

Table III.1.2. Cursive letters


The small “1” marks the first stroke, and the arrows indicate stroke directions. If there is no “1”, then a letter is written in a single stroke.

Now there are some letters that can really be confused with each other. Here is the list of most common confusions.

Table III.1.3. Similar-looking letters

The letter...Can be confused with...And the difference between them is...
ב / כ / Kaf is strictly “round” on the right
ד ז Dalet’s “hat” is much longer on the left
ד ך Kaf sofit has its vertical line continuing below the base line, which is actually a feature that only sofits have (well, except for Kuf) and it makes them pretty distinguishable
ה ח Hey has a “hole” at top-left (according to some kabbalistic sources, Hey really symbolizes how easily one can fall into the abyss of sin and how hard it is to get back up, since the upper hole is much smaller – and Khet doesn’t have a hole at all, which is supposed to make it even more scary)
ו ן See the Dalet/Kaf-sofit confusion
ח / ת / Tav has a “foot” sticking out at bottom-left; in cursive, both letters sometimes look like an upside-down “V” – in this case Tav is asymmetrical with the left “leg” being longer
י ' (apostrophe)The apostrophe usually “sticks out” or somewhat “slanted”, while Yud is “within the line” and often “curved”, but really you just have to take a look at both in some fonts to get the hang of it
כּ פ Pey is a single stroke, while dagesh in Kaf is separated from the letter itself, but it can still be pretty confusing if the font is small enough
נ ב Bet is much wider and also has a part sticking out at bottom-right, while Nun looks more like
Kuf has a line continuing downwards below the base line, but in poor handwriting these can still look similar