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Modern Standard Arabic Punctuation Marks and Grammar (My Burning Questions)

I understand how question marks, exclamation points, and periods are used in Arabic. However, I'm not sure if commas and semicolons work the same way. Do they work the same as in English?

What about quotations? What kind of quotation marks (guillemets / double / single) are used in Modern Standard Arabic? How are they used?

What about abbreviation? How are they displayed in Arabic?

How are hyphens used in Arabic? Do they also represent "interruptions" or additional information?

Do diacritics change in words due to context?

September 30, 2019



You can find an overview on page 10 of this book which Juliet recommended a bit earlier. ;-)


  • 1383

Probably other users here provided good links to answer your questions already, so I won't explain much of it (beside being a long topic).
However, just to get to the quotation marks. Nowadays, most Arabic typers and writers would use the typical (" ") as is used with other languages, but in fact the quotation marks for Arabic should be something completely different. They are (« ») or sometimes instead of being triangular ones they would be crescent in shape. This shape was picked specifically to avoid mixing up the quotations with dots above letters, specially when writing. Unfortunately, search engines on the internet wouldn't define « » as proper Boolean marks to search, and modern keyboards even those with Arabic letters come nowadays without these marks (they are not even in the layout of the keyboard in use). The last keyboard I used with such marks was back in 1980s when I was a kid. I heard Mac keyboards though have these marks still, not sure.

Abbreviations in Arabic mostly come combined like one word. For example الخ for (etc) - meaning: إلى آخره (= to its end = and so on).

Hyphen in Arabic is used in maybe 2 ways. One way is for a dialog in a story (instead of mentioning the speaker's name in each line), and the other way is used to mark an interrupting sentence, like for example: محمد -صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم- كان ... meaning: Mohammed -may God bless him and his household with peace- was ...*
So believe in this instance, the hyphen might be equivalent to parentheses somehow in English. Also, usually the hyphen is long and not short as (-); I'm sure it has a special name in English as well but my memory doesn't serve me right.

Diacritics sure change in words. This is the core of the grammar in Arabic.

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