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Hebrew Time #8 - The Hebrew Vowels!

Hello everyone!

שָׁלוֹם לְכוּלַם !

Shalom lekulam!

Welcome to Hebrew Time #8! For those of us who are joining now – Hebrew Time is a series of weekly posts about the Hebrew language, Israel, and the Jewish people.

You can see the previous post here

Before we start, you also might want to go over Hebrew Time #3, where we learned about the Hebrew alphabet.

So sit down, relax, and enjoy the lesson!

As you probably noticed, when I wrote “Shalom lekulam”, it looked different from what you’ve met so far.

This bring us to today’s topic – by popular demand, it is about the Hebrew Vowels (Nikud).

Before we learn how to use Nikud, we will give some background information on this system.

Introduction (and a little bit of history)

The Hebrew Vowels (Nikud) are a system of lines and dots that are placed in different positions around letters in Hebrew. In contrast to European languages, Hebrew vowels are not determined by letters, but by these lines and dots. This vowel system is typical to Semitic languages. The Modern Hebrew vowels are based on an ancient system called “Nikud Taberni” which is the method of vowels used in the Jewish bible.

Today in Israel, children learn Nikud in 1st grade together with the Hebrew letters, but the majority of everyday Hebrew is written without them and you are expected to eventually be able to read without them. There can be several different kinds of nikud for each kind of vowel sound, but it is not expected to be able to know which one to use when – these days they are purely for reading purposes. The Hebrew vowels are used today when defining new words, in places where the word would otherwise be ambiguous, in the bible and in some books (usually children books).

The Hebrew Vowels

In contrast to English, which uses around 13 different vowel sounds (depending on where you are from), Hebrew only has 5 distinct vowel sounds:

“a” as in “cat”

“e” as in “bed”

“i” as in “eep”

“o” as in “bog”

“u” as in “toot”

Remember that when we write that something is pronounced “do”, what we mean is that it is pronounced like “do” in “dog”, not “do” in “doe” or “do”.

The other important thing to know is that in Hebrew, most syllables follow a consonant-vowel (e.g “ba”) or consonant-vowel-consonant (e.g. “bag”) form. Some are vowel-consonant (e.g “ag”, but the point is that clusters of consonants (e.g the one-syllable word “thrift” which is ccvcc) are almost non-existent. Bearing that in mind… let’s learn the Hebrew vowels!

We will use the Letter “א” (alef) to carry the vowel.


The shva is a vowel that is used a lot in Hebrew.

It looks like this:


This vowel has two pronunciations.

It can be pronounced as “e” or as a letter with no vowel.

For example:

שְ - She / Sh

מְ - Me / Mm

רְ - Re / Rr

The “e” form is usually found at the start of a word.


Chirik looks like this:


It’ short like “i” but sounds much more like “ee”.

For example:

שִ - Shi

וִ - Vi

רִ – Ri

Tsira and Segol

These vowels in the modern Hebrew sound pretty much the same.

The big difference between them was in ancient Hebrew.

They look like this:



It pronounced like the letter “e” in English.

For example:

שֵ/שֶ - She

גֵ/גֶ - Ge

לֵ/לֶ - Le

Kamatz and Patach

These vowels in the modern Hebrew sound pretty much the same.

The big different between them was in the ancient Hebrew.

They look like this:

Kamatz – אָ

Patach – אַ

Both pronounced as "a".

For example:

שָ/שַ - Sha

רָ/רַ - Ra

בָ/בַ – Ba

(note: in some cases the patach is pronounced as “o”).

Cholam chaser Cholam Chaser looks like this:


It sounds like the letter “o” in English.

For example:

רֹ - Ro

דׂ - Do

גׂ – Go

Cholam Maleh

This vowel is used only on the letter “ו” (vav)

It looks like this:


It sounds like “o” in English.

When we use a Cholam Maleh, the letter “ו” operates as a vowel letter (like in English).

For example:

בוֹ - Bo (this is the Hebrew for “In him”)

לוֹ - Lo (this is the Hebrew word for “to him”)

אוֹ - O (this is the Hebrew word for “or”)


The Kubutz looks like this:


It sounds like the letter “u” in English.

For example:

בֻ – Bu

לֻ - Lu

הֻ - Hu


This vowel is used only on the letter “ו” (vav).

It looks like this:


It sounds like “u” in English.

When we use the Shuruk, the letter “ו” operates as a vowel letter (like in English).

For example:

בוּ – Bu

נוּ – Nu (noise of impatience in Hebrew!)

רוּ – Ru

Dagesh (in Hebrew it means “emphasis”)

Fitting to its name, the Dagesh emphasizes the letter.


(we used the letter "Taf" for this example)

We have already discussed the letters that have special changes when they are emphasized in the alphabet Hebrew Time #3 (you can see the link for it above). With nikud, you use a dot in the middle of the letter to signify emphasis. There are only six letters that can use this emphasis, although some of these letters no longer have differences in pronunciation between the emphasized and non-emphasized forms in modern Hebrew – for example, “ג”, “ד” and “ת” can use emphasis but are pronounced the same with or without emphasis.

For letters that do change their pronunciation, the emphasis makes the “plosive” version of the consonant (which is the one you make with your lips or throat that you can’t sustain e.g. “b”, for example you can make the noise vvvvvvvv but not bbbbbbbb).


פּ - p (without Dagesh we read it “f”)

כּ - k (without Dagesh we read it “ch” - like in “Bach”)

בּ - b (without Dagesh we read it “v”)

A little rule - when the letters “ב” , “ג” , “ד” , “כ” ,“פ” and “ת” come at the beginning of a word, they will be always emphasized. If the come at the middle or end, they usually won’t be.

Shin and Sin

We also use nikud to make changes to the letter “ש” (Shin).

Shin - שׁ

When using this vowel, the letter “ש” is pronounced as “sh”.

Sin - שׂ

When using this vowel, the letter “ש” is pronounced as “s”.

The Chataf

The Chataf is two dots that look like the Shva which are placed next to another vowel, and has the effect of shortening the vowel.

We use the Chataf with the Segol, Patach and Kamatz (you can also use it with Chirik, but we won’t teach you about it because it used very rarely).

Chataf Segol - אֱ

Chataf Patach - אֲ

Chataf Kamats - אֳ

The Chataf Kamatz is pronounced as “o”.

That’s it! You now know how to “Le’naked” (לְנַקֵד) - it means that now you know how to use vowels.

We can't finish without telling you:


See you later!

That was the seventh Hebrew Time, thanks for joining us! Hooray!

Join our facebook group here!

Support the future Hebrew for English speakers course so we will be able to work on it!

Thanks MaeMcA for helping me write this post!

That's it!

לָיְלָה טוֹב !

Layla Tov ! (Good night)

February 27, 2015



עבודה טובה! יש פה דברים שלא ידעתי...


A bit belatedly but thank you to both of you for creating this very difficult post. Coming from a background of Biblical Hebrew I have found myself having to re-learn a bit to adjust, but other than the tsayreh/segol and possibly the chirik, most vowel sounds are the same. My problem, which you kind of answered with the comment that nikkud is added in children's books, is that I wouldn't know a world like ילדה is pronounced 'yalda' unless I'd seen the nikkud or heard someone say it first. I'm guessing that's quite a common thing though?


Thanks! Without spoiling too much I just wanted to say: sit tight and hopefully this week's post might help...:)


Ooh exciting! Thank you!


יש לנו בקר עכשיו

(Is this a correct sentence ?)


Do you mean: "it's morning now"?


To be precise I mean "it's morning now in our place "


In that case the translation is: "עכשיו בוקר אצלנו"


Oh! Really! I should think more Russian-style. )))


And why is there the 'yod' letter in the word 'עכשיו' if there is nothing like 'i' sound in this word?


In this word the "yod" is silent.


Hebrew's on Duolingo?


Not yet, but we hope it will be eventually!


Wow, this one must have been really hard to make. Great job guys! However, I think some of the transliteration might be kind of ambiguous, leading to mispronunciations. For example, when you say that something sounds like the letter "u", it's unclear whether you mean the "uh" (as in but) sound or "oo" (as in boot) sound. So the lovely word of נו may be pronounced by a learner as "nuh"! Does anyone else feel this way? Either way, this was a really good lesson.


Due to a mis-communication, the first version of this post that went up didn't include the bit about how the vowels actually sound, among other things! If you checked the post too early (our bad), you may not have seen it:) That should all be explained now.


Oh good! I'm glad to hear it. Though I still think there are some ambiguities-- like when you say that one of the vowels sounds like "e", it is unclear whether you mean that it's pronounced "ee" or "eh", (as in the name of the letter vs. the sound of the letter), which means that for the following examples it was unclear whether it would be pronounced "shee", "gee", and "lee" or "sheh", "geh", and "leh". Maybe it's just me but I was a little worried that those who hadn't learned nikud before would go for the wrong possible pronunciation. Maybe it would help if you put words with those sounds as examples, and linked to pronunciations like you did on the last Hebrew Time. That would eradicate any ambiguities.


Hmm, I thought I'd made it clear that anytime we wrote "e" we meant "e as in bed" but maybe that wasn't clear enough...Will try and clear that up this week...


Have adopted IPA in this week's post. Hopefully that should clear everything up...:)


I have a question, how do I know which vowel goes in between the consonants? For example, the word for girl only has consonants, but how do I know that there are a's in between yldh?


You know it from the vowels: יָלְדַה

As you can see there is "kamats" in the letter "yod" which pronounced as: "ya", and "patach" in the letter "dalet" which pronounced as: "da". Yalda.

[deactivated user]

    Thank you so much,this is very helpful.But there is just one little mistake you've made,it's Jackie Chan's grandfather who used to say ''one more thing'' :)

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