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Hebrew 101
Scripts Table

Lessons 202
Lesson 1

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Hebrew Alphabet

הָאָלֶף־בֵּית הָעִבְרִי

[Introduction]  [Alphabet]  [Matres Lectionis]  [Disclamer]

Introduction to Hebrew script.

  • Hebrew alphabeth consists of 22 letters. Some of the letters may be pronounced in two different ways; also, instead of capital letters, 5 Hebrew characters have special final version.
  • 3 of Hebrew letters have two different ways to pronounce (we're talking about modern Israeli Hebrew; although there are more such letters in Ashkenazi Hebrew.)
  • Hebrew script goes from right to left. (Other Semitic languages are written in the same way, like Arabic or Aramaic.) Jewish Diaspora languages are usually written with Hebrew script.
  • The tablel below shows the transcription used on our site, and numeric values of the letters (Numeric value.) Letters are widely used as numbers till today: numbering chapters in books, especially prayers and traditional Jewish literature,  days in Hebrew calendar are usually written with letters (א' ניסן - Nisan 1st), as well as years (ה' תשנ"א - 5751.) Israeli school year goes according to Hebrew calendar (which is very convenient, since the Jewish year starts around September, e.g. 2000/2001 - ".)
  • Most Hebrew letters correspond to some letters in Latin alphabet (used in English and Western European languages.) Actually, Latin and Greek evolved from the ancient Hebrew (or Phoenician) script, which consists of the same exact letters like the Hebrew alphabet we use today.

Hebrew Alphabet

Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

' 1

Aleph (Alef)

The letter A of European alphabets (Latin, Greek, Cyrillic) originates from the letter Aleph. The Greeks adopted it from Phoenicians and turned into a vowel sign. Same way Aleph is used in Yiddish. However, in Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Aleph is a guttural consonant, sounding like a voice pause in the middle of "uh-oh".

Normally, Aleph is an "empty consonant", or a "placeholder" with a diacritic mark (a vowel.) Aleph is pronounced as "guttural consonant" only when the speaker makes the best effort to pronounce the word "the right way".

Sometimes Aleph is used in Hebrew for vowels either. It can happen when, e.g., Aleph is part of the root, but loses its own diacritics ( - ), in the suffix - (, , ), in some words with traditional spelling with no particular rules (, , , , ), and sometimes in foreign words and names.


Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
B 2

Bet (Beth)



Bet rafa (Vet)

The letter Beth is a close relative of English B.

Bet has two "versions": B (with dagesh - a point inside the letter) and V (withot dagesh.) Bet can have dagesh qal (see Lesson 3.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

G (as in get, grab) 3


The letter Gimel (ghee-mel) is a close relative of English G.

In ancient times the letter Gimel had two versions, like Bet/Vet. Some North-African Jewish communities kept the different pronunciation for Gimel Dgusha and Gimel Rafa, but no difference exists in modern Israeli pronunciation. Still, Gimel can have dagesh qal (see Lesson 3.)

Gimel with a Geresh (an apostrophe) - ' - is used to mark the English (or Arabic) consonant J/Ge, like in joke, gem. This vowel (J) does not exist in any Hebrew word.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

D 4


The letter Dalet corresponds to D in English.

The story of Dalet is similar to the one of Gimel: on the paper, two variants exist: Dalet Dgusha and Dalet Rafa. Modern pronunciation does not discriminate between them, but Dalet can have dagesh qal (see Lesson 3.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

H 5

Hey, Hei

The letter Hei corresponds to what? Nope, it's not "H". It's "E"! Here is approximately how Hei looked in Ktav Daatz (ancient Hebrew script): It passed the same way as Aleph, evolving through the Greek letter Epsilon to Latin E. Pronunciation of Hei is pretty much like H in English.

Hei is also used as a sign of a vowel at the end of the word (usually vowel A or E, rarely O.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

V (W) 6


The Letter Vav is related to Latin U, V, W, and even Y and F, through Greek Upsilon and obsolete Greek Fau. All those European letters are descendants of Phoenician Vav. (U, V, and W were splitted to separate letters centuries later after Romans adopted the alphabet.)

Ancient Vav was pronounced like W in English (and it's still pronounced that way in Arabic and Aramaic.) The remnants of this pronunciation can be traced in conjunction (): is the only case in Hebrew, when a diacritic (shuruq) is written without corresponding consonant. The explanation is, conjunction was once pronounced like w- with a "most convenient" vowel, i.e. convenient to pronounce before the word following the conjunction word itself. In some cases we- turned to wu-, and the "w" before the "u" was hardly recognizable and disappeared with the time.

In modern Hebrew the consonant is totally equivalent to V.

is also used as W in foreign words, coming from languages where the sound W is present (like English or Arabic.)

In certain cases is used as a sign of vowels O () and U (). When writing without Niqud, always comes as a vowel O and U, sometimes even as ultra-short O (אוניה.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

Z 7

Zain, Zayin

Zayin () is equivalent to Z.

Zayin with a Geresh (apostrophe) - ' - comes as a sign of G in French Geneve. (This is slightly different from J in joke.) Zayin with a Geresh is rarely used even for foreign words (mainly of French or Russian origin.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

Kh 8

Khet, Het

The letter Khet is related to Latin H and Greek letter ήτα.

Originally Semitic guttural sounds, Khet lost its guttural nature under the influence of European languages (and became undistinguishable from Chaf), although some immigrants from Arab countries, mainly from Yemen, still preserve the guttural sound of Khet.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

T 9


To make long story short, Tet is pronounced as T. Just remember for now, that there is another T in Hebrew, which is the letter Tav. (The relations of two Hebrew T's with Greek Tau and Theta are really messy.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

Y 10

Yud (Yod)

The letter Yud is the relative of I and J of European languages (J sounds like Y in yellow, in languages like German and French.)

The letter corresponds to consonant Y; and also comes as a sign of "long" vowel I (like ee in feed.) In non-vocalized writing is also used for shorter I. is also used for a longer E or diphthong EI.  Also, means short E in certains constructs (היקף, היתר), and even in vocalized writing (מִצְווֹתֶיךָ.) Words ending with "-av" (which is a declination suffix -, but not only), also marks the presence of the vowel A (עכשיו - [`achshav] - "now", עיניו - [`einav] - "his eyes".)


Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
K 20




Kaf Sofit
(Final Kaf)


(Kaf Rafa)


Khaf Sofit
(Final Khaf)

The letter Kaf is related to Latin K and Greek Kappa.

Kaf is pronounced in two ways: K and Kh (similar to ch in German.) Kh has no similar sound in any English word, but it's found in foreign words like Yiddish chutzpe, tukhes, German Ich, natuerlich, etc. Unfortunately, there is no English word with a Kh-sound.

Kaf also has a special Final form, to be written at the end of the word. In modern Hebrew only the Khaf is written in the final form, and when somebody wants to put Kaf at the end of the word, the regular כ is used. In rabbinical Hebrew, however, we find the use in final ךּwith dagesh, e.g. in Birkat ha-Kohanim ("Priests Blessing") we read: וִיחֻנֶּךָּ.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

L 30


 The letter Lamed is similar to L; in Middle East, and in Israel in particular, it's pronounced slightly "softer" than English L. It can be compared to L in lead.


Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
M 40



Mem sofit
(Final Mem)

Just M. :)

Mem has a special "final" form to be written at the end of a word.


Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
N 50

Nun [Noon]


Nun Sofit
(Final Nun)

Just N, as simple as that.

Like Mem, Nun has a special "final" form to be written at the end of a word.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

S 60


Samekh is related to Latin X (surprise!) and Greek Xi. There is another S in Hebrew, which is Sin; there is no difference in pronunciation between Sin and Samekh. The correct spelling should be just memorized. Samekh is usually used in foreign word, and it is also in most cases in Hebrew words; however, many very commonly used words are spelled with Sin (see Shin/Sin for details.)


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

` 70

Ain, Ayin

Surprisingly, the letter Ain is the "relative" of the O in European alphabets! Greeks adopted the Phoenician Ain (which was written like O in older Hebrew script) and turned it into a vowel. In semitic languages, however, this letter has nothing to do with O; this is a specific guttural sound, which can be compared to something between very light French R and the vowel A in father. Uh, well, did I say "A"? Ain is still a consonant, of course!

In modern Hebrew the Ain is pronounced mainly by the Mizrahim (the Jews who came from Arabic-speaking countries) and, well, by the Arabs, of course (unless they want to make an effort to speak "like average Israeli".) Most of the others (including Israeli-born children of Mizrahim) adopt "average Israeli" pronunciation, which makes Ain pronounceable only when the right spelling is about to be indicated (which happens in pretty rare cases, e.g., to distinguish between the words הארה and הערה, which still have pretty close meaning: "clarification" and "remark". Most people even don't bother to pronounce the Ain, and just say "heara be-ain, lo be-alef")


Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
P 80

Peh, Pei




Fei Sofit
(Final Fei)

The letter Pei is related to P.

The letter has two pronunciations: P (pei dgusha) and F (fei, or pei rafa), and therefore, it can have dagesh qal (Lesson 3.)

Like Nun or Kaf, Pei has a special Final form.

If we want to write a foreign word or name which has P at the end, we use regular Pei (not the final form): Philipp: פיליפ


Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
TZ 90

Tzadi [tzaady]

Tzadi Sofit

The letter Tzadi doesn't have corresponding sisters in Latin or Greek; however, it was borrowed to Cyrillic in the form of Ц [tz] and Ч [ch].

Like Nun, Tzadi has a special Final form.

Today the pronunciation of Tzadi in Israeli Hebrew is pretty much the same as corresponding sound in Yiddish or German. However, older pronunciation of Tzadi was probably closer to S (as it is in Arabic), and this explains why the name יצחק is written as Isaac.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

K 100

Kuf (Kof)

Kuf corresponds to Q in Latin, and to Koppa in archaic Greek.

Ancient pronunciation was different, sometimes referred as "guttural K", but today it's just a regular K.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

R 200

Resh (Reish)

Reish corresponds to R by all means.

Interestingly, although the guttural pronunciation of Reish is usually referred to Yiddish/German origin, however, from perspective of diacritic rules, the morphology etc, Reish was considered "semi-guttural". The "right Hebrew pronunciation" is considered to be the pronunciation similar to that in Spanish or Arabic. Most Israelis, still, use "Yiddish-style" pronunciation of Reish as de-facto norm.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter
SH 300




Shin came to Greek as Sigma, Latin S, and later was borrowed to Cyrillic almost in its original form: Ш.

There are actually two letters, (Shin) and (Sin) - meaning, Sh and S, respectively. Don't be confused by the shape: these are two phonemes, two different entities, which never turn into each other. They have totally separate meaning. In non-vocalized text they are written exactly the same though. In the alphabet they also come together. Strange? It is. Nobody really knows why did it happen this way.

In Hebrew words there is no "rule" to distinguish between the cases when S should be indicated by Samekh or Sin. In most Hebrew words Samekh is taking the place of S; however, many very commonly used words are spelled with Sin: ישראל, בשר, שר, משרד, לשרוד.

There is also no way to know whether the written ש is S or SH. One should just memorize the roots of Hebrew words.


Letter Transcription Numeric value Name of the letter

T 400

Tav (Taw)

Tav is the relative of Latin T and Greek Tau.

Once it had two pronunciations: T and TH (as in thin.) Sepharadi tradition didn't keep TH; Ashkenazi tradition distinguished between T and TH, but turned TH to S: Shabbes, mitzves.

In modern Israeli Hebrew both Tav Dgusha and Tav Rafa are pronounced as T, but of course, Tav can have dagesh qal (Lesson 3).



"Matres Lectionis" - אִמּוֹת הַקְּרִיאָה

To make a long story short, at some point writing "just consonants" became not sufficient. Gradually, the ancient Hebrews and Phoenicians started to use some of the consonant letters for the indication of long vowels. It started with Hei (ה) at the end of a word, then involved Vav (ו) and Yud (י), and later Aleph (א) joined on. With the time a whole system of rules was developed in Hebrew, which vowels and when we want to write with those letters. In Yiddish, the letter Ayin (ה) is used to indicate the presence of the sound E.

Those letters (basically consonant letters used as vowels) became known under Latin name of Matres Lectionis (Mothers of Reading.)



Some people believe that saying "such and such letter reads as such and such vowel" is not quite correct in the case of Matres Lectionis, but it would be much more accurate to say "such and such letter indicates the presence of certain vowel".

I'd say, first, it's arguable, and second, it doesn't really matter for practical purposes of learning Hebrew.

However, one must not forget, the letters , , and (used as Matres Lectionis) do not have one specific pronunciation indeed, but they rather indicate one of:

-  can be A, O, E, and even i/ee ().

- can be A, E, and sometimes - O ().



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