Arabic vowels

There are just six vowels in Arabic. Three short vowels: a, i and u. And three long vowels: aa, ii and uu.

Short vowels

The short vowels in Arabic are: a, i and u. They are normally not written.

aiu
َ ِ ُ

Short a

In the third lesson about on how to write in Arabic, we looked at the Arabic word for heart which is pronounced "qalb".

We learned how to write it without the vowel a, which is most common:

قلب

And with the vowel a, which is used in educational contexts.

قَلب

As we can see, the short vowel a is just written as a line above the consonant.

َ

Short i

Now let's look at a word with the short vowel i. For example the Arabic word for girl, which is pronounced "bint".

This is how the word is written without vowels:

بنت

And here it is with the vowel i:

بِنت

So the short vowel i is just written as a line below the consonant:

ِ

Short u

Now we have only one more short vowel left to look at: u. We can use the Arabic word for dream as an example. It is pronounced "Hulm".

This is how to write the word for dream without the vowel u:

حلم

And this is how to write it with the vowel u:

حُلم

The short vowel u is just written as a loop above the consonant:

ُ

Long vowels

The long vowels in Arabic are aa, ii and uu. They are written by using three of the letters in the Arabic alphabet.

aaiiuu
alefyawaw
ا ي و

Long aa

Let's start by looking at a word with the long vowel aa, the Arabic word for day which is pronounced "nahaar":

This is how the word is normally written:

نهار

And this is how to write it with the short vowels:

نَهَار

Between the letters "n" and "h" is the short vowel a, and between "h" and "r" is the long vowel aa.

The long vowel aa is a combination of the short vowel a and the letter alef. Normally the short vowel a is not written.

Long ii

Now, let's look at a word with the long vowel ii. We will choose the Arabic word for beautiful which is pronounced "jamiil".

This is how the word is normally written:

جميل

And this is how to write it with the short vowels:

جَمِيل

Between the letters "j" and "m" is the short vowel a and between "m" and "l" is the long vowel ii.

The long vowel ii is a combination of the short vowel i and the letter ya. Normally the short vowel i is not written.

Long uu

It's time to look at the last long vowel: uu. As an example, we use the Arabic word for sitting which is pronounced "juluus".

This is how the word is normally written:

جلوس

And this is how to write it with the short vowels:

جُلُوس

Between the letters "j" and "l" is he short vowel u and between "l" and "s" is the long vowel uu.

The long vowel uu is a combination of the short vowel u and the letter waw. Normally the short vowel u is not written.

Double functionality

The letters we just looked at, alef, ya and waw, has a double functionality. Sometimes they are consonants, and sometimes they are long vowels.

In all other cases, the letters functions as consonants. The letter ya sounds like "y" when it is a consonant and the letter waw sounds like "w" when it is a consonant.

Now we just saw that the short vowels are normally not written. So how do we know if they are long vowels or consonants?
One answer is: experience. But for those without experience, knowledge about roots and patterns are really helpful.

Roots and patterns

In the lesson about roots, we learned that most Arabic words has a root with three letters.
When the letters alef, ya and waw are part of the root, they are often pronounced like consonants.

For example the Arabic word for face which is pronounced "wajh".

This is how the word is normally written.

وجه

And here it is with the vowels:

وَجه

It is not so hard to guess the three letters in the root because the word has only three letters. The root consist of the letter w (waw), the letter j, and the letter h.
The letter waw is a part of the root and is pronounced with its consonant sound: "w".


If you read the lesson about patterns, you know that the pattern is the way the letters in the root are combined with affixes.
The long vowels aa, ii and uu are common as affixes.

Let's repeat the Arabic word for sitting:

جلوس

The root consist of the letter j, the letter l, and the letter s.
The letters waw is not part of the root, it is therefore part of the affix and pronounced with its long vowel sound "uu".

Here are some more words with the same pattern.