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How to understand vowels in Hebrew?

  • 2159

I am just a newbie to Hebrew, without any other knowledge of it, and I am very confused from the very beginning.

Currently, I am just stuck with "The dove likes wine" somewhere in the first lesson. The task (listening comprehension) is to write something which is sounds like "oyuna ohevet teaim" (sorry guys, didn't mean to hurt someone) with Hebrew letters which is nearly impossible to finish with my 15 minutes of knowledge of this fascinating language. Not mentioning that the course does not have slow spelling mode which I thought is present in every other course on DL.

How to define where should be א or ה for a, o and other vowels? Tips and notes have no answer. Even the first tasks (mom, dad) - aleph is spelled as "a" and "i or ee"... I'm totally confused :-(

Any help appreciated.

June 21, 2016



Yes spelling is quite the nightmare for the beginner,

there are 4 letters which are used as Vowels(but careful because some can be Consonants too)

There are א,ה,ו,י

Alef - alef can be any vowel(except U, that's quite rare), in Alef's case you must memorize by word its use: acting as I in ראשון, A in מוצא, and O in צאן

Hey - Hey is most commonly used as A, or E. be careful however because it can be silent too, in that end of a word: A in צורה, O in איפה, H in הרס

Vav - vav can be used as the Consonant V, but when it's a Vowel You'll see it as a O or U(tip: a Vav after a letter is most likely a O/U, although there are exceptions! ): O in שור, U in מוזר, and V in ורד

Yod - You'll see Yod as either a Y in consonant form, or I in vowel form(tip: double Yod, or a Yod as the first letter of a word is probably a Y sound): I in שיר, Y in ים

so in your case of the dove likes wine, or in written form היונה אוהבת יין

You see Yod acting as Y and I, Vav as O, Hey as E, and Alef acting as a vassel for the O in Ohevet

Hope I helped and didn't confuse you even more...

Here is a Wiki article that explains better than me ;) English - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mater_lectionis#Hebrew

Hebrew - https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%90%D7%9D_%D7%A7%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%90%D7%94

  • 2159

Whoa. Thanks for detailed input.

But I am confused how to record spoken words - i hear similar sounds, but letters (or even worse letter combinations) are different.


Are you talking about unwritten vowels?

  • 2159

I am struggling with listening comprehension of this one "היונה אוהבת יין".

I just don't see a system, or regularity how the letters which are shown in correct answer should correspond with the audio (which is too fast for learning adult newbies imo).

Okay here's my current breakdown for this piece of Hebrew:


I hear as ayuna - hey for first and last "a", nun for "n", rest should be "yu" - i don't understand how, maybe vav and yod can combo in such way.

the next two words the person from audio spells very close, as it would be a single word

אוהבת יין


let's suppose aleph and vav make combo and produce "o", hei - for "h", bet - for something between 'b' and 'v'. But then the weird crap begins - there are two short 'e' sounds between hei/bet and bet/tav - but no letters for these.

The last portion I really can't comprehend - it is spelled as ee-ai, or tee-ai and written double yod and mem sofit. How I supposed to guess all that in first lesson...?


You must learn the Nikud system(vowels) first, then try to see the word without and you'll get a grip of what letter is what

this is the sentence with vowels: הַיּוֹנָה אוֹהֶבֶת יַיִן

This is a site that will add Nikud to words for you, http://www.nikuda.co.il/

but also see this to understand writing without Nikud better https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ktiv_hasar_niqqud


You should hear "hayona", for some reason Duolingo cuts off first few milliseconds of audio if you replay it.

h ה
y י
o ו
n נ
a ה


An extra "a" gets inserted between "h" and "y". From what I've read, ה is usually "a", sometimes "e" at the end of the word, and "h" elsewhere. I think it used to be always "h", that's why many loanwords from Hebrew in English end in "-ah" and "-eh".

silent א
o ו
h ה
v ב
t ת


Extra "e"s get inserted between "h", "v" and "t". In the middle of the word, ב is usually pronounced "v", and word-initally it's "b".

y י
i י
n ן


An extra "a" gets inserted between "y" and "i".

Please someone correct me if I'm wrong.


So it's ya-ien for יין?


Hebrew is impossible, I will never learn it...


I wouldn't say Hebrew is very hard, in fact, one of the major pluses of Hebrew is, although it's quite hard for a beginner to catch the hang of spelling, Speaking is very easy compared to some langauges, there are no difficult sounds in it, only 5 vowels with no short or long versions to them, I'd say that alone is a great quality of Hebrew


I completely agree with you, but I just have a small correction to make, Hebrew does have long vowel in some words, such as "תעבוד" /taːvod/, but it's not hard to learn, and to be honest, this is as hard as Hebrew gets.


In תעבוד you have an áyin, which often corresponds to a glottal stop, in this word you have two A sounds in a row and a glottal stop in the middle, i'd argue it's not technically a long vowel, just 2 vowels, but I see how you'd see it as such


Oh, come on! If babies can do it, then you can too! :)

Remember what Theodor Herzl once said: אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה (If you will it, it is no dream).


❖❖❖ Sorry...This is just a reminder to me to keep this post!


Now, is this new and exotic "vowels don't have a fixed pronunciation" really that different to English? No, not really. Let's just be patient. It takes months, years. If shepherds 3000 years ago could do it, so can we. Enjoy.


It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.


For the first month of learning Hebrew, don't concentrate on the details, but just try and remember how to spell words by how they look, and how to recognise words by how they sound.

After about a month of just going with the flow, you'll be in a far better position to make sense of what's going on underneath the surface. But, it's very easy to get bogged down too quickly with details.


The a or i or ee does not represent the aleph, but the vowel that would be under it if vowels were shown. The aleph does not make a regular sound. It does sometimes represent a glottal stop (a stop and restart of air flow - the sound can be represented in English by saying oh-oh)


Hebrew speakers and natives not using nikkud on a very regular basis has always perplexed me. Is there one answer for this, other than the fact that the system doesn't work (it seems to function fairly well, from what I notice from my personal experience). For me, writing/(more so) typing without them is kind of like a short-hand, and, thus, could actually be the reason. This theory makes sense to me, since, in shorthand, short notes, etc., what is left out is implied, even more so with ample context.

My ear is becoming better and writing the nikkud because I listen for the vowels & their lengths; writing them out doesn't feel like it takes up too much time.

Does anyone have any helpful information & input?


These sentences are read by real people, not by computer, just like Esperanto and a few of the newer languages. That's why there's no slow mode, and why you can't get the sound of an individual word (which I really want!).

But I'm pretty happy I didn't get a dictation exercise. I thought it was bad enough being prompted with the "what's the word for wine" (יין) exercise (where you can't peek).


That's just the thing, why could they not make recordings for the individual words? And why can't there be slow-playing with real voices? That should not be a problem.

And they aught to make the same system as in the other non-latin-alphabetic courses, that you could switch scripts for watching the transcribed letters, just in the beginning for learning purposes. If it seems to hard, people will quit.


Agreed. But that's why there are Anki duolingo Hebrew vocab course with audio and Memrise Duolingo Hebrew course with audio. No sentences, just individual words.

You can look up transliteration of Hebrew words at wiktionary.com , Pealim.com and lyricstranslate.com . Morfix.co.il has the words with the nikkud, and Reverso will show you the definitions and how they're used in media/colloquially. (I don't think they're pronunciation is as helpful as I used to, because it's computerised - so I always double check with of the other references above). But for slang/colloquial, it can't be beat for translating.


The definitive article ה is always pronounced "Ha"


Almost correct. True except if the following letter is ה or ח, then the definite article should be pronounce Heh


Yeah, and same with ע, but most Israelis don't even bother and just say Ha for everything



<pre>I noticed that some words could have a yud suffix. What does this mean? </pre>

For example:

רעשני and הטיפשי


The sound it makes is the usual ee that yud makes, and is also usually stressed in these kinds of words. It is used when adding an adjective for "it". ex. Hu tipesh (He is stupid) הוא טיפש but Ze tipshee (This is stupid) זה טיפשי

Make sure to follow this rule or people will think you are tipesh


Hebrew does in fact have vowels, called נקודות, although they are only normally used in children's books, or to clarify words that it's difficult to glean from the context, when specifying grammatical rules in certain cases, as well as regularly in religious texts.

It might be a good idea to try using these when you're learning new words or are unsure about pronunciation...- eventually you'd come to recognize spelling patterns for the most part and not need to use נקודות.


Write down the answers until you get the hang of it. Once you get the spelling of words than you learn what word corresponds to what sound, then individual letters and pronunciations. Listen CAREFULLY TOO! The sound isn't spectacular.


Thank heavens we don't need to learn all the different nikkudim in Modern Hebrew :D

As @aviad688 pointed out above there are 4 consonant vowels which can be used as both consonants and vowels. While there are general rules on how to red those, unfortunately the exact reading still depends on the accompanying vowel marks.

The best way to master vowels, is ... practice. For example: - Listening to texts while following their written version; - Reading vocalised texts (texts with vowels); - Learning grammar to be able to detect nun and verb patterns more easily.

Here is a little more on that: https://www.quora.com/Why-can-Hebrew-be-read-without-written-vowels/answer/Marta-Krzeminska

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