Like most early Semitic alphabetic writing systems, the Alef-Bet has no vowels. People who are fluent in the language do not need vowels to read Hebrew, and most newspapers, magazines, or books of general use written in Hebrew are written without vowels. Siddurim (Prayer Books) and Tanach (Torah, Neviyim, and Kethubim ) are the exceptions to the rule.

Around the 8th century, the Rabbis realized the need for aids to pronunciation, so they developed a system of dots and dashes called Nikud (points). These dots and dashes are written above, below or inside the letter, in ways that do not alter the spacing of the line. Text containing these markings is referred to as "pointed" text. See some examples below.

Most nikud are used to indicate vowels. The table below illustrates the vowel points, along with their pronunciations. Pronunciations are approximate; there are quite a bit of variation in vowel pronunciation.

Vowel points are shown in blue. The letter Alef, shown in red, is used to illustrate the position of the points relative to the consonants. The letters shown in purple are technically consonants and would appear in unpointed texts, but they function as vowels in this context.

Vowel Name Approximate Sound
kametz Sephardic "a" as in father
(Ashkenazic "aw" as in saw)
Hear it!
chataf kametz Sephardic "a" as in father
(Ashkenazic "aw" as in saw)
Hear it!
patach "a" as in father Hear it!
chataf patach "a" as in father Hear it!
segol "e" as in egg or met Hear it!
chataf segol "e" as in egg or met Hear it!
tsayreh "ey" as in they Hear it!
tsayreh "ey" as in they Hear it!
chirik chaser "i" as in kilo Hear it!
chirik malay "i" as in kilo Hear it!
cholam chaser "o" as in alone Hear it!
cholam malay "o" as in alone Hear it!
shuruk "u" as in moon Hear it!
kubutz "u" as in moon Hear it!
shva At end of syllable: silent.
In middle of syllable: like "a" as in alone
Hear it!


"Hard" and "Soft" Sounds

There are a few other nikud, illustrated in the table at right.

The dot that appears in the center of some letters is called a dagesh. With most letters, the dagesh does not significantly affect pronunciation. With the letters Bet, Kaf and Pay, however, the dagesh indicates that the letter should be pronounced with its "hard" sound (the red sound) rather than the "soft" sound (the black sound).
In Ashkenazic pronunciation (the pronunciation used by many Jews of European descent), Tav also has a "soft" sound, and is pronounced as an "s" when it does not have a dagesh. See the letter Sav

Vov, usually a consonant pronounced as a "v," is sometimes a vowel pronounced "oo" (u) or "oh" (o). When it is pronounced "oo", pointed texts have a dagesh. When it is pronounced "oh", pointed texts have a dot on top.

Shin is pronounced "sh" when it has a dot over the right branch and "s" when it has a dot over the left branch. See the letter Shin.


Below are two examples of pointed text. For emphasis, the Nikud points in the illustrations are in blue and somewhat larger than they would ordinarily be written.

example 1

The line of text above would be pronounced in Sephardic pronunciation, (which is what most people today use): V-ah-hav-ta L'ray-a(ch)a ka-moh-(ch)a. (And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Vayikra - Leviticus 19:18).

example 2

The above line of text would be pronounced (in Sephardic pronunciation): Vah-yhee eh-rev vah-yhee voh-kehr yohm ha-shee-shee. Va-y(ch)oo-loo ha-sha-ma-yeem v-ha-ah-retz v-(ch)ol tz-vah-am. (And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and the earth were finished, the whole host of them. Bereishit - Genesis Ch. 1-2).

Thanks to Judaism 101 web site!

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