Arabic

Updated 4 October, 2021

This page brings together basic information about the Arabic script and its use for the Modern Standard Arabic language. It doesn't cover Quranic usage. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Arabic using Unicode.

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Sample (Arabic)

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details.
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المادة 1 يولد جميع الناس أحرارًا متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وقد وهبوا عقلاً وضميرًا وعليهم أن يعامل بعضهم بعضًا بروح الإخاء.

المادة 2 لكل إنسان حق التمتع بكافة الحقوق والحريات الواردة في هذا الإعلان، دون أي تمييز، كالتمييز بسبب العنصر أو اللون أو الجنس أو اللغة أو الدين أو الرأي السياسي أو أي رأي آخر، أو الأصل الوطني أو الإجتماعي أو الثروة أو الميلاد أو أي وضع آخر، دون أية تفرقة بين الرجال والنساء. وفضلاً عما تقدم فلن يكون هناك أي تمييز أساسه الوضع السياسي أو القانوني أو الدولي لبلد أو البقعة التي ينتمي إليها الفرد سواء كان هذا البلد أو تلك البقعة مستقلاً أو تحت الوصاية أو غير متمتع بالحكم الذاتي أو كانت سيادته خاضعة لأي قيد من القيود.

Usage & history

The Arabic script is the 2nd most widely used script after Latin by number of countries, and 3rd by number of speakers (after Latin and Chinese). It used for writing the Arabic language and several other languages of Asia and Africa, such as Persian, Urdu, Azerbaijani, Pashto, Uighur, etc. Historically, it was used far more widely, as its spread followed that of Islam into many countries of not only West and Central Asia, and North Africa, but also Southern and Eastern Europe, South Asia, Malaysia, East Africa, etc.

ألأبجدية ٱلعربية‎ ʔalʔabd͡ʒadiːjaʰ lʕarabiːjaʰ‎ Arabic alphabet

The script was first used to write texts in Arabic, most notably the Qurʼān, the holy book of Islam. It descended from the Nabataean abjad, itself a descendant of the Phoenician script, and has been used since the 4th century for writing the Arabic language.

Many of the languages written in Arabic script are non-Semitic, and so employ very different sound systems from spoken Arabic. As a result the script has had to be adapted and is used slightly differently by speakers of different languages.

Sources: Scriptsource, Wikipedia

Basic features

The Arabic script is an abjad. This means that in normal use the script represents only consonant and long vowel sounds. This approach is helped by the strong emphasis on consonant patterns in Semitic languages, however the Arabic script is also used for other kinds of language (such as Urdu and Uighur). See the table to the right for a brief overview of the features of Standard Arabic.

Arabic text runs right-to-left in horizontal lines, but numbers and embedded Latin text are read left-to-right.

The script is cursive, and some basic letter shapes change radically, depending on what they join to. It is also very common for adjacent characters to ligate and to stretch to fill available space. Many of the characters share a common base form, and are distinguished by the number and location of dots or other small diacritics, called i'jam. For example, س ‎ش ‎ݜ ‎ ݰ ‎ݽ ‎ݾ ‎ڛ ‎ښ ‎ڜ ‎ۺ., and some basic letter shapes change radically, depending on what they join to. It is also very common for adjacent characters to ligate and to stretch to fill available space. Many of the characters share a common base form, and are distinguished by the number and location of dots or other small diacritics, called i'jam. For example, س ‎ش ‎ݜ ‎ ݰ ‎ݽ ‎ݾ ‎ڛ ‎ښ ‎ڜ ‎ۺ.

There is no case distinction.

Words are separated by spaces (except some very short, usually 1-letter conjunctions and prepositions, which attach to the following word).

Modern Standard Arabic has 28 letters in its alphabet, but regularly uses 8 more. Most of those involve representations of the hamza, for which the usage is complicated. This page also lists 3 letters for foriegn sounds , and 6 others which are used infrequently.

The script hides short vowels, however these and other phonetic information can be written where needed using diacritics. There are 3 basic vowel diacritics, but 4 more and 1 letter are occasionally used. Long vowel locations are marked by matres lectionis (consonants indicating vowel locations), which also take diacritics in vowelled text.

In vowelled text, there is a diacritic to indicate the absence of a vowel in consonant clusters, and another diacritic to indicate gemination.

A mandatory ligature has to be used for combinations of lam + alif.

Arabic uses both European and native digits, and has local forms for several of the more common punctuation marks.

Character lists show:

Character index

Letters

Show

Basic consonants

ا␣و␣ي␣ج␣ظ␣ب␣ت␣د␣ط␣ض␣ك␣ق␣ف␣ث␣ذ␣س␣ص␣ز␣ش␣خ␣غ␣ه␣ح␣ع␣م␣ن␣ر␣ل

Extended consonants

ڤ␣پ␣چ

Vowels

ى

Other

ء␣آ␣أ␣إ␣ؤ␣ئ␣ة
ٱ␣ڢ␣ڧ␣ࢲ␣ـ␣ﷲ␣ﷺ␣ﷻ␣﷽

Combining marks

Show

Vowels

َ␣ُ␣ِ␣ً␣ٌ␣ٍ␣ْ␣ٰ

Other

ٓ␣ٔ␣ٕ␣ّ

The first 3 items only occur in decomposed text.

Numbers

Show
٠␣١␣٢␣٣␣٤␣٥␣٦␣٧␣٨␣٩

Punctuation

Show
٫␣٬␣٪␣؉␣‰␣–␣‐␣،␣؛␣—␣”␣“␣’␣‘␣«␣»␣‹␣›␣…
﴾␣﴿␣؍␣٭

ASCII

:␣.␣؟␣!␣(␣)␣%

Other

Show
‌␣‍␣⁧␣‫␣⁦␣‪␣⁨␣⁩␣‬␣‏␣‎␣؜␣͏

Phonology

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

ɪ ʊ o ɛ æ a aː ɑ ɑ

The above chart is for 'Standard Arabic'. Even so, many regional variants of the standard pronunciation exist, not to mention local dialects.wp

o, and e, and are sometimes used for foreign words, and are sometimes introduced into speech as allophones due to regional dialects.

In addition, the adjacent consonants can also affect the vowel sounds. In particular, the sound a is retracted to ɑ around a neighboring r, q or emphatic consonants. æ is also a common allophone of a.wp

Most of the phonetic transcriptions for examples in this page therefore just use basic phonemic representations when it comes to vowels.

For more details, see Wikipedia.

Diphthongs

aj aw

Source wp..

The diphthong aj is colloquially pronounced more like ej, however in this page we will continue to transcribe it phonetically per the official pronunciation.

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
alveolar
palatal velar uvular pharyngeal glottal
stop p b t d
      k ɡ q   ʔ
affricate       d͡ʒ          
fricative f v θ ð
ðˤ
s z
ʃ ʒ   x ɣ χ ʁ ħ ʕ h
nasal m   n          
approximant w   l ɫ   j      
trill/flap     r    

Modern Standard Arabic covers many territories, most of which have their own dialects or languages, and these tend to influence the local pronunciation of Standard Arabic. In the chart above, we remain conservative, only mentioning variants that tend to apply to the standard pronunciation. For a slightly more detailed set of notes, see Wikipedia.

p and v are sometimes pronounced by some speakers for foreign words, such as باكستان فيروس

Sometimes alternative letters are used for such words (see foreign).wp

Although most dialects include it as a phoneme, ɡ is only used in Modern Standard Arabic as a marginal phoneme to pronounce some dialectal and loan words.wp

The sound ɫ occurs as a phoneme in a handful of loanwords, though not in all pronunciations. It also occurs in the name اللّٰه

The sound, d͡ʒ is used in Algerian, Hejazi, Najdi, Iraqi, and Gulf regions, whereas ʒ is used in Moroccan, Tunisian, Egyptian, Levantine, and Israeli regions. In both cases, the sound is written using ج [U+062C ARABIC LETTER JEEM].wp,#Local_variations_of_Modern_Standard_Arabic

ظ [U+0638 ARABIC LETTER ZAH] is pronounced in some regions, rather than ðˤ

Structure

The following notes on structure are taken from Wikipedia.wp,#Phonotactics

[C1] [S1] V [S2] [C2 [C3]]

Legend
C
Consonant.
V
Vowel.
S
Semi-vowel.

Arabic syllable structure consists of an optional syllable onset, consisting of one or two consonants; an obligatory syllable nucleus, consisting of a vowel optionally preceded by and/or followed by a semivowel; and an optional syllable coda, consisting of one or two consonants.

The following restrictions apply:

Onset
C1 can be any consonant, including a liquid (l r). The onset is composed only of one consonant; consonant clusters are only found in loanwords. Sometimes an epenthetic a is inserted between consonants.
Nucleus
Includes S1 V S2.
Coda
C2 and C3 can be any consonant.

Vowels

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.

Ijam and tashkil

The Unicode Standard makes an important distinction between ijam and tashkil diacritics, which is particularly relevant for this section about vowels.

An ijam is an Arabic script diacritical mark considered to be part of a basic letter form. ځ [U+0681 ARABIC LETTER HAH WITH HAMZA ABOVE] is an example of a letter with an ijam. Unicode encodes letter+ijam combinations as separate, atomic characters, which are never given decompositions in the standard.u,366 Ijam generally take the form of one-, two-, three- or four-dot markings above or below the basic letter skeleton, although other diacritic forms occur in extensions of the Arabic script in Central and South Asia and in Africa.

A tashkil is an Arabic script mark that indicates vocalization of text, as well as other types of phonetic guides to correct pronunciation. حٔ [U+062D ARABIC LETTER HAH + U+0654 ARABIC HAMZA ABOVE] is an example of a letter plus tashkil combination. Tashkil are separately encoded as combining marks. These include several subtypes: harakat (short vowel marks), tanwin (postnasalized or long vowel marks), shaddah (consonant gemination mark), and sukun (to mark lack of a following vowel). A basic Arabic letter plus any of these types of marks is never encoded as a separate, precomposed character, but must always be represented as a sequence of letter plus combining mark.u,366 Additional marks invented to indicate non-Arabic vowels, used in extensions of the Arabic script, are also encoded as separate combining marks.

This distinction between using a character with ijam instead of combining a letter with a tashkil becomes important when choosing which Unicode characters to use because (as can be seen in the examples above) the visual forms can be identical. Using the wrong character can change the meaning of the text, affecting the results of text search, font rendering, text to speech, etc.

There are, however, some very common combinations of diacritic and base that can be represented using precomposed characters or decomposed sequences that are canonically equivalent. For those the standard encourages the use of the precomposed form, but the fact that the forms are canonically equivalent removes concerns about changes in meaning.

Short vowels

Marks used as phonetic guides are called tashkil (تَشْكِيل).

Short vowels can be expressed using diacritics, eg. العَرَبِيَّة

However for languages such as Arabic, Persian and Urdu they are typically not used unless there is a particular need to help the reader understand the pronunciation. The previous example would therefore usually be written العربية

On the other hand, when the script is used for some other languages (such as Uighur, Kashmiri, or Hausa), all vowels are shown, as a matter of course. These diacritics are also used in the Quran (though not originally), to reduce ambiguity.

The harakat (short vowel marks) in the Arabic language repertoire include the following:

َ␣ُ␣ِ␣ً␣ٌ␣ٍ␣ْ␣ٰ

Tanwīn

Tanwin refers to the secondary set of vowel diacritics with origins in classical arabic, where indefinite nouns, and adjectives were marked by a final n-sound, called تنوين tænwiːn or, in English, 'nunation'. This is indicated by visually doubling the vowel diacritic, but there are Unicode characters for each combination.

ً␣ٌ␣ٍ

In modern text this is particularly common for adverbs.jm,51

ً [U+064B ARABIC FATHATAN] is often used in the combination ◌ًا [U+064B ARABIC FATHATAN + U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF] , where the ALEF is silent and the ending is pronounced -an, eg. فورًا The same applies before TEH MARBUTA, eg. أفعًى If it appears as ◌َةً [U+064E ARABIC FATHA + U+0629 ARABIC LETTER TEH MARBUTA + U+064B ARABIC FATHATAN] the pronunciation is -atan, eg. عادةً After a final YEH, the pronunciation has an extra j sound,jm,51 ie. -iːjan, eg. رسميًا

In modern arabic printing the fathatan may be dropped, but the alef is retained.

The other two diacritics are much less common.jm,51

Matres lectionis

ا␣و␣ي

In Arabic, the consonants listed just above may indicate the location of a long vowel, eg. قلوب تاريخ They are always visible, whether or not the text shows vowel diacritics.

These characters, especially ا [U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF], may also be used with a number of other small marks, such as hamza, for particular effects. (see hamza).

The letter alef cannot actually represent a consonant sound on it's own (unlike the other two). In most cases it is really only a support for a vowel and/or diacritic, or an indicator of vowel length, but in word final position commonly either represents a short a, eg. أنا or is silent, eg. رسميًا كتبوا

Alef maksura

ى

ى [U+0649 ARABIC LETTER ALEF MAKSURA] represents the long a-vowel at the end of many words when it is written with YEH instead of an ALEF. In this case the YEH is typically printed without dots, to avoid confusion (although an ordinary YEH may also be written sometimes dotless). This spelling only occurs with certain words, and only when the final sound is long, eg. , eg. معنى

If any suffix is added, the spelling reverts to the normal alef, eg. معناهم mæʕnaː-hum

Superscript alef

ٰ  [U+0670 ARABIC LETTER SUPERSCRIPT ALEF] is used in certain Arabic words such as هٰذَا ذٰلِكَ

And not forgetting اللّٰه

Diphthongs

The 2 diphthongs aj and aw are written using a combination of short a with the semivowels ي [U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH] and و [U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW],wp,#Vowels eg. عَيْن عَوْد

Vowel absence

When text is vowelled, ْ   [U+0652 ARABIC SUKUN] can be used over a consonant to indicate that it is not followed by a vowel sound, eg. مَكْتَب

Vowel to script mapping

Arabic uses diacritics to express short vowel sounds, but rarely uses them in normal text.

The following tables show how the above vowel sounds map to common characters or sequences of characters in vowelled text. The sections that follow this provide additional information.

Word-initial vowels that are not preceded by a consonant always come after ا [U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF]. However, many words begin with a glottal stop, in which case the vowel follows أ [U+0623 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH HAMZA ABOVE], إ [U+0625 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH HAMZA BELOW], or آ [U+0622 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH MADDA ABOVE].

Plain vowels

 

◌ِيـ [U+0650 ARABIC KASRA + U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH], eg. رِيح.

ɪ
 

◌ِ [U+0650 ARABIC KASRA], eg. اِسْم.

ʊ
 

◌ُ [U+064F ARABIC DAMMA], eg. أُذُن.

 

◌ُو [U+064F ARABIC DAMMA + U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW], eg. دُودَة.

 

◌ِيـ [U+0650 ARABIC KASRA + U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH], for foreign words, eg. سكرتير.

o
 

◌ُ [U+064F ARABIC DAMMA], for foriegn words, eg. أُكتُوبِر.

 

◌ُو [U+064F ARABIC DAMMA + U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW], for foriegn words, eg. أوتيل.

a
 

◌َ [U+064E ARABIC FATHA], eg. قَدَم.

ɑː
 

◌َا [U+064E ARABIC FATHA + U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF], eg. سَاق.

◌َى [U+064E ARABIC FATHA + U+0649 ARABIC LETTER ALEF MAKSURA], only used word-finally and in some words, eg. رَمَى.

Diphthongs

aj
 

◌َي [U+064E ARABIC FATHA + U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH], eg. لَيْلَة.

aw
 

◌َو [U+064E ARABIC FATHA + U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW], eg. يَوْم.

Letters

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see consonant_mappings.

Basic consonant letters

The main Unicode Arabic block contains 153 letters, with 77 more in the extended blocks. As shown in the previous section, only a small subset of those are used to write a given language. The others represent special characters added to the repertoire for one or other of the many languages for which the Arabic script is used.

The vast majority of letters represent consonants. A few represent long vowels.

The following letters are those generally recognised as constituting the alphabet for the Standard Arabic language.

Alef

ا

Stops

ب␣ت␣د␣ط␣ض␣ك␣ق

Fricatives

ف␣ث␣ذ␣س␣ص␣ز␣ظ␣ش␣ج␣خ␣غ␣ه␣ح␣ع

Nasals

م␣ن

Liquids

و␣ر␣ل␣ي

Of those, as mentioned earlier, some letters represent long vowel locations or combinations of consonant plus vowel.

Supplementary letters

Other Unicode letters regularly used in Arabic include:

ء␣آ␣أ␣إ␣ؤ␣ئ␣ى␣ة

Most of the above letters with diacritics decompose in Unicode Normalization Form D (NFD), however ة [U+0629 ARABIC LETTER TEH MARBUTA] does not.

Alef

Formally speaking, ا [U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF] has no sound of its own. It is really a vowel lengthener and carrier. Its main uses in arabic orthography are:

That said, its presence usually indicates the location of a vowel.

It also has one or two minor functions such as in conjunction with tawiin (nunation) (see U+064B ARABIC FATHATAN ً ).

Certain parts of the arabic verb end in a long u-vowel that is conventionally written with a following alef that has no effect on pronunciation, eg. كتبوا ktbwɑ kætæbuːThe alef is omitted if a suffix is added, eg. كتبوها ktbwhɑ kætæbuː-haa

Hamza

ء␣أ␣إ␣ؤ␣ئ␣آ
ٔ␣ٕ

ء [U+0621 ARABIC LETTER HAMZA] represents the glottal stop sound. For historical reasons, it is treated as an orthographic sign rather than as a letter of the alphabet. It sometimes stands alone, but usually appears with a 'carrier' letter - ALEF, WAW, or YEH for which separate precomposed characters are available in Unicode ( أ إ ؤ ئ ). Examples of use include أنكر نائم بناء

In modern printed arabic, the hamza is rarely shown when it occurs at the beginning of a word, but may appear in conjunction with another character. When the hamza is above another character you should typically use ٔ [U+0654 ARABIC HAMZA ABOVE] with the appropriate base character, although there are a number of exceptions, and for the Arabic language all the needed combinations are available as precomposed characters. For more details, see the character description.

Classical arabic distinguishes between 'cutting' and 'joining' hamza. 'Cutting' means always pronounced, 'joining' means frequently elided. The joining hamza is of little practical importance in modern arabic pronounced without the old case endings. When it does appear in modern Arabic, ٱ [U+0671 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WASLA] is used to indicate a joining hamza.

Alef madda

آ [U+0622 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH MADDA ABOVE] is used when either of the two following combinations of glottal stop and a vowel appear in a word:

  • ʔaʔ (hamza, short a, hamza) eg. آثار

  • ʔaː (hamza, long a) eg. القرآن ɑlqrɑ̄n alqur'ʔaːn the Koran

Normal pronunciation in both cases is ʔaː.

The madda sign is still very often shown in print.

Teh marbuta

ة [U+0629 ARABIC LETTER TEH MARBUTA] usually has no sound, eg. مَدرَسَة but is sometimes pronounced t in specific grammatical contexts.

It is used for historical reasons to indicate the feminine ending, a, and is only used in final position. The dots are borrowed from TEH (ت). If any suffix is added, the ending is spelled with ت [U+062A ARABIC LETTER TEH], eg. مَدرَسَتنَا

In modern arabic it is not uncommon to find the two dots omitted, particularly on masculine proper names that have the feminine ending, eg. طلبة t̴lbẗ tulbæIn such cases, should one write with normal he?

Vowelled text may omit the short a diacritic before the TEH MARBUTA, because the sound is always the same.

Letters for foreign sounds

The following characters are not part of the standard Arabic language set but are occasionally used to represent foreign sounds.

ڤ␣پ␣چ

Two of the above are borrowed from Persian/Urdu.

Other letters

The following characters also have the general property of Letter, but are less commonly used for modern Arabic language text.

ڢ␣ڧ␣ࢲ␣ـ␣ﷲ␣ٱ

ڢ [U+06A2 ARABIC LETTER FEH WITH DOT MOVED BELOW] and ڧ [U+06A7 ARABIC LETTER QAF WITH DOT ABOVE], are alternative forms that are used in Northwest Africa. [U+08B2 ARABIC LETTER ZAIN WITH INVERTED V ABOVE is used for Berber.

ٱ [U+0671 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WASLA] is described in the section hamza. Whereas many of the above letters with diacritics decompose in Unicode Normalization Form D (NFD), this letter does not.

[U+FDF2 ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM] is a letter from the Arabic precomposed block used to write the name of Allah. The composition of this character differs from font to font in terms of glyph forms. With some fonts it is necessary to add diacritics, whereas with others it is not. 

ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] is used to stretch words for simple justification, or to make a word or phrase a particular width, or as a form of emphasis. For more information see justify.

The combination لا [U+0644 ARABIC LETTER LAM + U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF] is always written as a ligature. The underlying code points are, however, preserved. The form of this ligature that joins to the right is ‍لاand unjoined it is لا

ڢ [U+06A2 ARABIC LETTER FEH WITH DOT MOVED BELOW] and ڧ [U+06A7 ARABIC LETTER QAF WITH DOT ABOVE], are alternative forms that are used in Northwest Africa. [U+08B2 ARABIC LETTER ZAIN WITH INVERTED V ABOVE is used for Berber.

ٱ [U+0671 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WASLA] is described in the section hamza. Whereas many of the above letters with diacritics decompose in Unicode Normalization Form D (NFD), this letter does not.

ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] is used to stretch words for simple justification, or to make a word or phrase a particular width, or as a form of emphasis. For more information see justify.

Characters in the Arabic Presentation Forms blocks should not normally be used, but they contain just a few characters that are not just for compability use, including the following. (Click on the characters for more details.)

ﷲ␣ﷺ␣ﷻ␣﷽

[U+FDF2 ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM] is a letter from the Arabic precomposed block used to write the name of Allah. The composition of this character differs from font to font in terms of glyph forms. With some fonts it is necessary to add diacritics, whereas with others it is not. 

Arabic definite article

The pronunciation of ال (alif followed by lām) varies when it represents the Arabic definite article.

The lām is not pronounced if it precedes one of the following characters, but instead the following sound is doubled, eg. السلام علیکم ɑlslɑm ʿlykm asːalɑːm ʕalajkum greetings

ت␣ث␣د␣ذ␣ر␣ز␣س␣ش␣ص␣ض␣ط␣ظ␣ل␣ن

These are called 'sun letters' in Arabic. The other letters are 'moon letters'.j,32

The alif is also not pronounced if the preceding word ends with a vowel or h. It is, however, written.j,32

Consonant clusters & gemination

The diacritic ّ  [U+0651 ARABIC SHADDA] doubles the value of the consonant it is attached to, which is phonemically significant in Arabic, eg. تاجر، تجّار Like the short vowels, it, too, is not often used, although sometimes it appears when vowel signs don't.

When both shadda and kasra are attached to the same base consonant, a common, though not universal, practice is to display the kasra below the shadda, rather than below the base consonant, eg. مُمَثِّلْ Some fonts, such as Amiri, don't do this. (See also gpos.)

Ligatures

The combination ل + ا [U+0644 ARABIC LETTER LAM + U+0627 ARABIC LETTER ALEF] is always written as a ligature. The underlying code points are, however, preserved. The form of this ligature that joins to the right is ‍لاand unjoined it is لا

Observation: When diacritics are used with this ligature, they sometimes appear to be over the ALEF, rather than over the LAM, eg. قليلاً This would require a typing order that is different from the spoken sequence.

Other combinations of characters are likely to also ligate (see gsub). The number of ligatures in text typically depends on the font used, but ligation can also be used as a device to manage justification, in which case it needs some degree of manual control

Consonant sounds to characters

The following maps Arabic language consonant sounds to common graphemes.

p

Used only for foreign words.

ب [U+0628 ARABIC LETTER BEH], eg. باريس.

پ [U+067E ARABIC LETTER PEH] (from Persian/Urdu), eg. پاريس.

b

ب [U+0628 ARABIC LETTER BEH], eg. بيت.

t

ت [U+062A ARABIC LETTER TEH], eg. تلك.

d

د [U+062F ARABIC LETTER DAL], eg. دينار.

ط [U+0637 ARABIC LETTER TAH], eg. طريق

ض [U+0636 ARABIC LETTER DAD], eg. ضمان

k

ك [U+0643 ARABIC LETTER KAF], eg. كيف.

q

ق [U+0642 ARABIC LETTER QAF], eg. قدم.

t͡ʃ

Used only for foreign words.

چ [U+0686 ARABIC LETTER TCHEH] (from Persian/Urdu)

d͡ʒ

ج [U+062C ARABIC LETTER JEEM], eg. جبل.

چ [U+0686 ARABIC LETTER TCHEH] (from Persian/Urdu) in Egypt for foreign names, eg. چاكارتا.

f

ف [U+0641 ARABIC LETTER FEH], eg. فندق.

v

Used only for foreign words.

ف [U+0641 ARABIC LETTER FEH], eg. جنيف.

ڤ [U+06A4 ARABIC LETTER VEH] (not in the Arabic alphabet), eg. ڤيينا.

θ

ث [U+062B ARABIC LETTER THEH], eg. ثلاثة.

ð

ذ [U+0630 ARABIC LETTER THAL], eg. ذهب.

ðˤ

ظ [U+0638 ARABIC LETTER ZAH], eg. ظلمة.

s

س [U+0633 ARABIC LETTER SEEN], eg. سنة.

z

ز [U+0632 ARABIC LETTER ZAIN], eg. زيارة

ص [U+0635 ARABIC LETTER SAD], eg. صحيفة.

Regional variant. See ðˤ.

ʃ

ش [U+0634 ARABIC LETTER SHEEN], eg. شمس.

ʒ

Regional variant. See d͡ʒ.

x

خ [U+062E ARABIC LETTER KHAH], eg. خلال.

ɣ

غ [U+063A ARABIC LETTER GHAIN], eg. غابة.

ħ

ح [U+062D ARABIC LETTER HAH], eg. حتّى

ʕ

ع [U+0639 ARABIC LETTER AIN], eg. على

h

ه [U+0647 ARABIC LETTER HEH], eg. هناك.

m

م [U+0645 ARABIC LETTER MEEM], eg. منذ.

n

ن [U+0646 ARABIC LETTER NOON], eg. نحو.

w

و [U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW], eg. ولد، أولاد.

r

ر [U+0631 ARABIC LETTER REH], eg. رؤوس.

l

ل [U+0644 ARABIC LETTER LAM], eg. لَحم.

j

ي [U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH], eg. سيارة.

Sources: Wikipedia, and Google Translate.

Formatting characters

Modern Arabic text makes use of a relatively large set of invisible formatting characters, especially in plain text, many of which are used to manage text direction. Descriptions of these characters can be found in the following sections:

Numbers, dates, currency, etc.

Digits

٠␣١␣٢␣٣␣٤␣٥␣٦␣٧␣٨␣٩

A set of arabic-indic digits are typically used in Middle Eastern and Gulf countries, whereas North African countries tend to use European digits. In neither area, however, is one digit style used exclusively.

The Unicode bidi_class property for these native digits is Arabic_Number, which makes them behave differently from ASCII digits, and differently from the set of extended digits used for Persian, Urdu, etc. For more information, see expressions.

Arabic script has its own number separators, which are used in Arabic language text when the non-European digits are used. They are ٫ [U+066B ARABIC DECIMAL SEPARATOR] and ٬ [U+066C ARABIC THOUSANDS SEPARATOR].

Arabic also has its own characters for ٪ [U+066A ARABIC PERCENT SIGN] and ؉ [U+0609 ARABIC-INDIC PER MILLE SIGN]. The ASCII % [U+0025 PERCENT SIGN] and [U+2030 PER MILLE SIGN] are also used.

The CLDR standard-decimal pattern is #,##0.###. The standard-percent pattern is #,##0% or #,##0٪.c

See also expressions about directional implications for handling expressions or sequences of numbers.

Extended-Arabic digits. Still in the basic Unicode Arabic block, as mentioned, there is a second set of digits in Unicode for use in languages such as Persian and Urdu.

۰␣۱␣۲␣۳␣۴␣۵␣۶␣۷␣۸␣۹

The glyph shapes are typically different for 3 of the digits (although not always the same 3 digits) in Persian, Urdu and Sindhi.

Arabic٠١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩
Persian۰۱۲۳۴۵۶۷۸۹
Urdu۰۱۲۳۴۵۶۷۸۹
Sindi۰۱۲۳۴۵۶۷۸۹
Arabic-indic numerals, as used in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Sindhi language text.

Text direction

Arabic text is written horizontally and right-to-left in the main but, as in most right-to-left scripts, numbers and embedded text in other scripts are written left-to-right (producing 'bidirectional' text).

العاشر ليونيكود (Unicode Conference)،الذي سيعقد في 10-12 آذار 1997 مبدينة
Arabic words are read right-to-left, starting from the right of this line, but numbers and Latin text (highlighted) are read left-to-right.

The Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm automatically takes care of the ordering for all the text in fig_bidi, as long as the 'base direction' is set to RTL. In HTML this can be set using the dir attribute, or in plain text using formatting controls.

If the base direction is not set appropriately, the directional runs will be ordered incorrectly as shown in fig_bidi_no_base_direction, making it very difficult to get the meaning.

في XHMTL 1.0 يتم تحقيق ذلك بإضافة العنصر المضمن bdo.
في XHMTL 1.0 يتم تحقيق ذلك بإضافة العنصر المضمن bdo.
The exact same sequence of characters with the base direction set to RTL (top), and with no base direction set on this LTR page (bottom). Certain items are highlighted to help track their position.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Standard Arabic language.

For other aspects of dealing with right-to-left writing systems see the following sections:

For more information about how directionality and base direction work, see Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm basics. For information about plain text formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. And for working with markup in HTML, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.

For authoring HTML pages, one of the most important things to remember is to use <html dir="rtl" … > at the top of the page. Also, use markup to manage direction, and do not use CSS styling.

Managing text direction

Unicode provides a set of 10 formatting characters that can be used to control the direction of text when displayed. These characters have no visual form in the rendered text, however text editing applications may have a way to show their location.

RLE [U+202B RIGHT-TO-LEFT EMBEDDING] (RLE), LRE [U+202A LEFT-TO-RIGHT EMBEDDING] (LRE), and PDF [U+202C POP DIRECTIONAL FORMATTING] (PDF) are in widespread use to set the base direction of a range of characters. RLE/LRE comes at the start, and PDF at the end of a range of characters for which the base direction is to be set.

In Unicode 6.1, the Unicode Standard added a set of characters which do the same thing but also isolate the content from surrounding characters, in order to avoid spillover effects. They are RLI [U+2067 RIGHT-TO-LEFT ISOLATE] (RLI), LRI [U+2066 LEFT-TO-RIGHT ISOLATE] (LRI), and PDI [U+2069 POP DIRECTIONAL ISOLATE] (PDI). The Unicode Standard recommends that these be used instead.

There is also PDI [U+2068 FIRST STRONG ISOLATE] (FSI), used initially to set the base direction according to the first recognised strongly-directional character.

؜ALM [U+061C ARABIC LETTER MARK] (ALM) is used to produce correct sequencing of numeric data. Follow the link and see expressions for details. 

RLM [U+200F RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK] (RLM) and LRM [U+200E LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK] (LRM) are invisible characters with strong directional properties that are also sometimes used to produce the correct ordering of text.

For more information about how to use these formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. Note, however, that when writing HTML you should generally use markup rather than these control codes. For information about that, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.

Expressions & sequences

A sequence of numbers used to express a range of values generally runs right to left in the Arabic language (and languages using the Thaana or Syriac scripts), whereas for Persian language text (and in Hebrew, N’Ko or Adlam scripts) it runs left to right.

This also tends to apply to expressions such as 1 + 2 = 3.

fig_range_ar shows Arabic text which is right-to-left overall, containing an ASCII-digit numeric range that is also ordered RTL, ie. it starts with 10 on the right and ends with 12 on the left.

في 10–12 آدار
A numeric range in Arabic language text.

In Persian, however, the sequence would generally run LTR, so 10 would be on the left, and 12 on the right. The underlying order of characters, and the typing order remain the same.

في ‎10–12 آدار
A numeric range in Persian language text.

However, the preferred order for a sequence of numbers may also depend on the context. For ISBN numbers, telephone numbers, and so forth, a left-to-right sequencing is likely to be preferred.

The default direction for a sequence in an application that implements Unicode fully will depend on (a) the digits used (ASCII, Arabic or Extended Arabic), (b) whether or not the sequence is preceded by Arabic script text, and (c) the separators used.

Contextual factors for Arabic

The table below shows default sequence orders for Arabic text, with separators drawn from 4 different Unicode bidi_class properties. The base direction in all cases is RTL. The coloured items are LTR sequences; the black sequences run RTL.

The ASCII digits have the bidi property European_number, and the Arabic digits have the property Arabic_number.

If you add spaces after any separator (such as the solidus on the right), the order will be RTL, per the left-hand column.

bidi_class White_Space Other_Neutral European_Separator Common_Separator
Includes: ASCII space, and 15 others Hyphen (U+2010), en-dash, and 5,500+ other code points Hyphen-minus (U+002D), minus sign, plus sign, +9 more Solidus, Arabic comma, comma, full stop, colon, nbsp, +9 more
Bare ASCII 12 34 56 12‐34‐56 12-34-56 12/34/56
Bare native ١٢ ٣٤ ٥٦ ١٢‐٣٤‐٥٦ ١٢-٣٤-٥٦ ١٢/٣٤/٥٦
ASCII after Arabic ن 12 34 56 ن 12‐34‐56 ن 12-34-56 ن 12/34/56
Native after Arabic ن ١٢ ٣٤ ٥٦ ن ١٢‐٣٤‐٥٦ ن ١٢-٣٤-٥٦ ن ١٢/٣٤/٥٦

Controlling the direction for Arabic

Changing the direction of the bare ASCII digits with ASCII hyphen. If you have a line that only contains digits the direction for the sequences varies, depending on whether the digits are ASCII (European_Number) or Arabic (Arabic_number).

If you want the ASCII digit sequence to run RTL (eg. for a range) you need to start the line with the formatting character ؜ALM [U+061C ARABIC LETTER MARK] (ALM). This is effectively an invisible Arabic script character. The required order cannot be achieved by simply setting the base direction, nor by using RLM [U+200F RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK]. It has to be ALM.

An alternative would be to use [U+2010 HYPHEN] or [U+2013 EN DASH] instead, since they have a different bidi class.

Making other sequences run LTR. Sequences using most other separators, such as the non-ASCII hyphen, run RTL by default in RTL text. This is appropriate for ranges in Arabic, but not for ISBN numbers, telephone numbers, etc. To make these run LTR, you can either precede the sequence with a LRM [U+200E LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK] (LRM), or set the base direction of the sequence to LTR using markup or formatting characters.

Making Common_separator sequences run RTL. Sequences separated by commas (ASCII and Arabic), full stops, colons, and no-break spaces run LTR and are resistant to change. The direction cannot be changed using RLM or by changing the base direction. Which means that, for example, if you want the components of numeric dates to be ordered RTL, you should avoid using these separators. (Although, surrounding the separators by a space would produce the RTL direction, eg. compare 12/34/56 and 12 / 34 / 56, where the only difference is the addition of spaces.)

Alphanumeric sequences. Some sequences, such as MAC addresses, contain a mixture of numbers and letters. The strong directionality of the letters influences the resulting order, and so these sequences are best managed by explicitly setting the base direction.

Contextual factors for Persian

Although we are describing Arabic here, it may also be useful to include data for Persian to allow for comparison.

This table is the same as the Arabic table, except for the cell that is the junction of European_separator and native Arabic digits. This is because the native digits are from the Extended Arabic-indic range, and have a bidi_class property of European_number, like the ASCII digits.

bidi_class White_Space Other_Neutral European_Separator Common_Separator
Includes: ASCII space, and 15 others Hyphen (U+2010), en-dash, and 5,500+ other code points Hyphen-minus (U+002D), minus sign, plus sign, +9 more Solidus, Arabic comma, comma, full stop, colon, nbsp, +9 more
Bare ASCII 12 34 56 12‐34‐56 12-34-56 12/34/56
Bare native ۱۲ ۳۴ ۵۶ ۱۲‐۳۴‐۵۶ ۱۲-۳۴-۵۶ ۱۲/۳۴/۵۶
ASCII after Arabic ن 12 34 56 ن 12‐34‐56 ن 12-34-56 ن 12/34/56
Native after Arabic ن ۱۲ ۳۴ ۵۶ ن ۱۲‐۳۴‐۵۶ ن ۱۲-۳۴-۵۶ ن ۱۲/۳۴/۵۶

Glyph shaping & positioning

This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.

You can experiment with examples using the Arabic character app.

Writing styles

Arabic orthographies can be grouped into a number of writing styles, some of which are more common for particular languages, while others can be used interchangeably for the same language. Sometimes the variations are adapted to usage, for example book text vs. inscriptions; sometimes the variants reflect regional, cultural or stylistic calligraphic preferences.

The different styles include Naskh, Nasta'liq, Ruq'a, Thuluth, Taʻlīq, Kufi, Diwani, Maghribi, Kano. The examples in this page use a naskh writing style. For a brief introduction to font styles, with examples, see the following pages: Text layout requirements for the Arabic script, the home page of arabicfont.org, and

The naskh writing style is the most prominent style for the Arabic language, and has become the default form of Arabic language content in most contexts. It has clearly distinguished letters, which make it easy to read, and can be written in small sizes.

يحق لكل فرد أن يغادر أية بلاد بما في ذلك بلده كما يحق له العودة إليه.
Arabic is commonly written in the naskh writing style.

The ruq’ah writing style was designed for use in education, in official documents, and for every-day writing. It is known for its clipped letters composed of short, straight lines and simple curves, as well as its straight and even lines of text. It is a functional style of writing that is quick to write and easy to read. It also doesn’t extend baselines, like a naskh font does. In 2010's rebranding of Amman a ruq'ah font family was created to serve as an italic face. Monotype has an interesting article on the development of ruq'ah.

يحق لكل فرد أن يغادر أية بلاد بما في ذلك بلده كما يحق له العودة إليه.
The Waseem font released with Mojave OS is based on the ruq'ah style.

The nasta’liq writing style is the standard way of writing Urdu and Kashmiri, and is also often a preferred style for Persian text. Key features include a sloping baseline for joined letters, and overall complex shaping and positioning for base letters and diacritics alike. There are also distinctive shapes for many glyphs and ligatures.

يحق لكل فرد أن يغادر أية بلاد بما في ذلك بلده كما يحق له العودة إليه.
The same Arabic language text rendered with the Awami Nastaliq font.

The kano writing style is a common way of writing Hausa in Nigeria in the ajami script, and like other East African writing it is based on Warsh (Warš) forms, which incorporate Maghribi characteristics. Some sources describe an alternative Hafs (Ḥafṣ) orthography, used with hand-written adaptations for the newspaper Al-Fijir.

يحق لكل فرد أن يغادر أية بلاد بما في ذلك بلده كما يحق له العودة إليه.
The same Arabic language text rendered with the Alkalami font.

The kufi writing style is the original style used for the Koran, but is not used for newspapers or official content today. However, it is used in modern content for logos and other stylised applications.

يحق لكل فرد أن يغادر أية بلاد بما في ذلك بلده كما يحق له العودة إليه.
The same Arabic language text rendered with the KufiStandardGK font.

Cursive script

Arabic script is always cursive, ie. letters in a word are joined up. Fonts need to produce the appropriate joining form for a letter, according to its visual context, but the code point used doesn't change. This results in four different shapes for most letters (including an isolated shape). Ligated forms also join with characters alongside them.

The highlights in the example below show the same letter, ع [U+0639 ARABIC LETTER AIN], with three different joining forms.

على  •  متعددة  •  وسيجمع

The letter ع (ain) in 3 different joining contexts.

Most Arabic script letters join on both sides. A few only join on the right-hand side: this involves 4 basic shapes for Modern Standard Arabic.

ء [U+0621 ARABIC LETTER HAMZA] doesn't join on either side.

Cursive joining forms

Most dual-joining characters add or become a swash when they don't join to the left. A number of characters, however, undergo additional shape changes across the joining forms. fig_joining_forms and fig_right_joining_forms show the basic shapes in Modern Standard Arabic and what their joining forms look like. Significant variations are highlighted.

isolatedright-joineddual-joinleft-joined MSA letters
ب ـب ـبـ بـ
ب␣ت␣ث␣پ
ن ـن ـنـ نـ
ن
ق ـق ـقـ قـ
ق
ف ـف ـفـ فـ
ف␣ڤ
س ـس ـسـ سـ
س␣ش
ص ـص ـصـ صـ
ص␣ض
ط ـط ـطـ طـ
ط␣ظ
ك ـك ـكـ كـ
ك
ل ـل ـلـ لـ
ل
ه ـه ـهـ هـ
ه␣ة
م ـم ـمـ مـ
م
ع ـع ـعـ عـ
ع␣غ
ح ـح ـحـ حـ
ح␣خ␣ج␣چ
ي ـي ـيـ يـ
ي␣ئ␣ى
Joining forms for shapes that join on both sides..
isolatedright-joined MSA letters
ا ـا
ا␣أ␣إ␣آ␣ٱ
ر ـر
ر␣ز
د ـد
د␣ذ
و ـو
و␣ؤ
Joining forms for shapes that join on the right only.

Managing glyph shaping

ZWJ [U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER] (ZWJ) and ZWNJ [U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER] (ZWNJ) are used to control the joining behaviour of cursive glyphs. They are particularly useful in educational contexts, but also have real world applications.

ZWJ permits a letter to form a cursive connection without a visible neighbour. For example, the marker for hijri dates is an initial form of heh, even though it doesn't join to the left, ie. ه‍. For this, use ZWJ immediately after the heh, eg. الاثنين 10 رجب 1415 ه‍..

ZWNJ prevents two adjacent letters forming a cursive connection with each other when rendered. For example, it is used in Persian for plural suffixes, some proper names, and Ottoman Turkish vowels. Ignoring or removing the ZWNJ will result in text with a different meaning or meaningless text, eg, تن‌ها is the plural of body, whereas تنها is the adjective alone.2 The only difference is the presence or absence of ZWNJ after noon.

͏MVS [U+034F COMBINING GRAPHEME JOINER] is used in Arabic to produce special ordering of diacritics. The name is a misnomer, as it is generally used to break the normal sequence of diacritics.

Context-based shaping

See just above for shaping related to cursive joining.

In all but the most basic fonts, glyph shapes are highly variable for Arabic letters. For example, fig_mishafi_ka shows a wide variety of shapes produced by default in the Mishafi font for ك [U+0643 ARABIC LETTER KAF] when followed by various letters.

كا  كع كغ كح كخ كق كف كط كه كم كر كو كؤ كد كي كب كن كص كس
Glyph variation in the Mishafi font.

Teeth letters

A good font will constantly change the shape of glyphs slightly so as to create a more aesthetically pleasing, and in some cases a more easily readable, flow.

ـدد       تتـ       سسـ
Three examples where the same letter is repeated, but the glyph shapes differ.

teeth_letters shows an example where the same word is displayed using different fonts.a,#h_teeth_letters The font on the left applies rules to distinguish the letter bases clearly. Note, in particular, that although there are 3 letters which are repeated, none of those letters uses the same shape twice.

بتثبيتين

The same word in two different fonts (Mishaf and Scheherazade).

Special joining forms

In more traditional fonts, you will also often see the join between certain characters, when adjacent, above the baseline, like this:

rather than on the baseline, like this:

But actually a good font will typically have a range of shapes and placements for a given letter, depending on the adjoining letter. This is illustrated in noon_joining_forms.a,#multi-context-joining

نم نمل نجر نسيم نبات

Various different forms for the initial letter noon,

Characters within a word may also combine vertically in certain groupings. See the example in vertical_joining.

نم نمل نجر نسيم نبات

Vertical arrangements of letters in the word خجمم,

Ligatures

Ligated glyph forms are common in Arabic. Some, such as لا are mandatory. Most of the remainder depend on the font style. The lam-alif ligature also affects other characters that are based on the alif, such as for لإ لأ لآ.

Traditional fonts tend to have more optional ligated forms than modern styles.

المؤتمر  vs.  المؤتمر

The same word with ligatures (right) and no ligatures (left).

Ligatures are often used to manage justification. Since they generally reduce the horizontal width of a word, they can be used to fit more text on the end of a line, or balance baseline stretching.

Context-based positioning

When vowel or shadda diacritics are used they can be placed in different positions, according to the context.

يتكلّم  •  تسجّل

The position of the shadda diacritic depends on the height of the base character in many fonts.

When both shadda and vowel signs are combined with a base character, a more complicated set of rules may be applied. Depending on the font used, some vowel diacritics may be placed relative the shadda diacritic, rather than relative to the base character.

مَمِمّمَّمِّ

When kasra and shadda diacritics appear together, the kasra may be below the base character (right), or below the shadda (left), depending on the font.

Baselines, line height, etc.

The alphabetic baseline is a strong feature of Arabic script on the whole, since characters tend to join there. This is not always the case: for example, some adjacent pairs or ligatures have joins above the baseline, and initial letters in some fonts may start slightly above the baseline, but for most cases it remains a strong feature.

The nastaliq writing style, on the other hand, uses arrangements of joined glyphs that cascade downwards from right to left, and ressemble a strongly sloping baseline.

مستحق  •  شخص  •  کیفیت

Sloping baselines in Urdu nastaliq text.

However, even writing styles with an ostensibly flat baseline may, in good quality fonts, draw words on a slightly slanted baseline, or multiple baselines, as shown in fig_word_baselines.a,#multi-level-baselines

Sloping baseline in Mishafi font for يستبشر and يستمع
Words with a gradually sloping baseline (left) and multiple baselines (right).

Characters within a word may also combine vertically in certain groupings, as mentioned in the previous section.

Line height and multi-script positioning. Even without the deviations from the baseline described above, the ascenders and descenders of Arabic letters tend to travel further from the baseline that is usual in Latin script text. Allowances for this need to be made for line height settings on a page, but also it can be problematic when combining Latin and Arabic text on the same line using different fonts for each.

If the Arabic font supports the needed Latin letters, the font design will already take into account the relative sizes of the letters, and their placement relative to the baselines of each script. If different fonts are used, though, it's important to match the baselines and harmonise the font sizes used.

Font styles

Italics & oblique

Arabic text does use slanting letters. In some cases the letters may be slanted to the left as in fig_font_style_italic.

Left-leaning italics for جريدة العجب الدولية

The text just below this newspaper title leans to the left.

Case & other character transforms

Arabic has no case distinction.

However, as mentioned in numbers, Arabic sometimes uses ASCII digit glyphs and other times uses local digit glyphs. Some fonts and authoring applications allow you to choose which glyph shapes to use for the same underlying characters.

Arabic fonts may also have alternative shapes for glyphs, which can be turned on in certain circumstances. For example, some fonts have a set of swash forms for certain characters, which can be used for justification, or just for effect.

Jalt table
The jalt table in the Arabic Typesetting font contains alternative elongated forms. (source)

Punctuation & inline features

Grapheme boundaries

In most cases Arabic text uses precomposed characters and omits vowels. Therefore grapheme boundaries are consistent with individual letters. Where this is not the case, the additions are combining marks, and the Unicode grapheme cluster is designed to span combinations of base character plus any number of following combining marks.

One potential complication is that fonts often render sequences of characters as ligated forms. The ligated forms are a font-specific feature, whereas grapheme clusters are based on code point sequences: some fonts may display the same sequence of characters without a ligated form. Most applications tend to move character by character through the text, producing situations like the cursor position in fig_gc_ligature_cursor.

لم بلده كما
The cursor positioned between k and m in the ligated form for كما kmɑ. (source)

This approach allows for easy deletion or insertion of any component of a ligated form.

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

In Arabic, small words like 'and' (و) are written alongside the following word with no intervening space (eg. الجامعات والكليات means 'universities and colleges', but there is only one space). Such small words are handled typographically as part of the word they are attached to.

Phrase & section boundaries

،␣؛␣:␣.␣؟␣!
phrase

، [U+060C ARABIC COMMA]

؛ [U+061B ARABIC SEMICOLON]

: [U+003A COLON]

sentence

. [U+002E FULL STOP]

؟ [U+061F ARABIC QUESTION MARK]

! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK]

Arabic language uses a mixture of western and arabic punctuation. Other languages using the Arabic script may use different punctuation, such as the full stop in Urdu.

آخر، … والنساء.

Arabic language text using an arabic comma, but an ASCII full stop.

Arabic language text also uses [U+2010 HYPHEN], [U+2013 EN DASH], and [U+2014 EM DASH].

Parentheses & brackets

(␣)
  start end
standard

( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]

) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

خصائصها الفيزيائية (الإشعاعية والحرارية) له أهمية خاصة في أبحاث المناخ

In this text sample, the parenthesis on the right is U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS, and the one on the left is U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS (see mirrored_characters).

Mirrored characters

The words 'left' and 'right' in the Unicode names for parentheses, brackets, and other paired characters should be ignored. LEFT should be read as if it said START, and RIGHT as END. The direction in which the glyphs point will be automatically determined according to the base direction of the text.

a > b > c
ا > ب > ج
Both of these lines use > [U+003E GREATER-THAN SIGN], but the direction it faces depends on the base direction at the point of display.

The number of characters that are mirrored in this way is around 550, most of which are mathematical symbols. Some are single characters, rather than pairs. The following are some of the more common ones for Arabic.

(␣)␣<␣>␣[␣]␣{␣}␣«␣»␣‹␣›

Presentation forms

Although characters in the Arabic Presentation Forms blocks should not normally be used, the following are sometimes used for Arabic text.

﴾␣﴿

Unlike other parentheses, for legacy reasons these are not automatically mirrored when used in text, so you need to choose the right code point based on the expected glyph shape.

Quotations

”␣“␣’␣‘␣«␣»␣‹␣›
  start end
initial

[U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]

[U+201C LEFT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]

nested

[U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]

[U+2018 LEFT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]

alternate « [U+00AB LEFT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK] » [U+00BB RIGHT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]
alternate nested [U+2039 SINGLE LEFT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK] [U+203A SINGLE RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]

Arabic language text uses 2 different sets of quotation marks. Sometimes they are mixed in the same text. The example in fig_quotation_marks uses both in a single sentence.

 يعني اسم ”سيسيميوت“ «المستعمرة القريبة من أرض بها ثعالب».

A sentence containing 2 types of quotation mark.

When using bracketing quotation marks, « [U+00AB LEFT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK] is used at the start, and » [U+00BB RIGHT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK] is used at the end. The shapes are typically rounded, a shown in fig_quotation_marks.

When an additional quote is embedded within the first, the quote marks are [U+2039 SINGLE LEFT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK] and [U+203A SINGLE RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK].

The other quote marks are [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK] at the start, and [U+201C LEFT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK] at the end.

When an additional quote is embedded within the first, the quote marks are [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK] and [U+2018 LEFT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK].

Unlike the bracketing quotation marks, these characters are not mirrored during display. This means that LEFT means use on the left, and RIGHT means use on the right.

Emphasis

Emphasis can sometimes be expressed by stretching the baseline of one or more words. See the section on justification below for more information about baseline stretching.

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

Arabic uses [U+2026 HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS].

Inline notes & annotations

tbd

Other inline ranges

Underlines & overlines

Underlines and overlines in Arabic text are usually further from the baseline than they are in Latin text. This is because the Arabic letters extend further from the baseline, and because there are also sometimes diacritics beyond those long extensions. Typically, the line will be drawn so that it is further from the baseline than any other glyphs reach.§

Underlining of Arabic usually clears the long descenders and their diacritics.

In some cases, however, while still keeping the line further from the baseline than in Latin text, typographers don't clear the glyphs. In this case, the lines usually skip the ink of the other glyphs.

Underlining of Arabic that skips the ink of some long descenders.

When skipping ink it is important to avoid leaving very short remnants of the line between glyphs, since these may look like dots or diacritics.

Ink-skipping during underline that can create confusing marks.

The Qur'an tends to use overlines, rather than underlines.

An example of the use of an overline in the Qur'an.

Other punctuation

Other punctuation marks used in Arabic include the following.

‐␣–␣—
؍␣٭

Line & paragraph layout

This section focuses mainly on Arabic language text, however attention is sometimes drawn to differences when the Arabic script is used for other languages.

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are normally broken at word boundaries.

They are not broken at the small gaps that appear where a character doesn't join on the left.

Like most writing systems, certain characters are expected not to start or end a line. For example, periods and commas shouldn't start a line, and opening parentheses shouldn't end a line.

Show default line-breaking properties for characters in the Modern Standard Arabic language.

Breaking between Latin words

When a line break occurs in the middle of an embedded left-to-right sequence, the items in that sequence need to be rearranged visually so that it isn't necessary to read lines from top to bottom.

latin-line-breaks shows how two Latin words are apparently reordered in the flow of text to accommodate this rule. Of course, the rearragement is only that of the visual glyphs: nothing affects the order of the characters in memory.

Text with no line break in Latin text.

Text with line break in Latin text.

The lower of these two images shows the result of decreasing the line width, so that text wraps between a sequence of Latin words.

Hyphenation/word-breaking

Hyphenation isn't used for the Arabic language, however other languages using the Arabic script may hyphenate (such as Uighur).a

Text alignment & justification

Arabic script justification can be implemented using a number of different techniques, which ideally are applied in combination. These include:

(In hand-written manuscripts it is also possible to find instances where the letters the would appear at the end of the line are squeezed above the last word in the line, or hang into the margin.)

The application of the various techniques is generally subject to rules governing the frequency and location of use of particular methods. Rules can differ by writing style – for example, elongation is not normally used at all for ruq'a fonts. Where baseline stretching is applied, the rules for what can be stretched, and how much, are complicated. Unlike space-based width adjustments, baseline extension is not a question of simply adding equal-length extensions across the line. The rules tend to differ across orthographies, and eminent typographers of the past also had their own preferred or idiosyncratic rules.

Justified Arabic text.

An example from a newspaper column of justified text.

The baseline extension character ـ [U+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL] is sometimes suggested as a way of producing justification by extending the baseline, however when a browser window is resized, or when new text is added near the start of a paragraph, lines wrap differently and all the places where tatweel would be needed have to be recalibrated. Thus tatweels only work for static text with fixed dimensions.

Better quality justification systems stretch glyphs, rather than adding baseline extensions. This dynamic stretching of glyphs is often called 'kashida'. In some typesetting systems, such as InDesign, the stretching can be produced automatically without the need for tatweel characters. InDesign has controls to vary the preferred length of the extensions.

بعد زبع قرن من الغياب والشوق لرؤية الاهل توفيت الراكبة جورجيت بشير (69 عاما) وهي كندية من اصل مصري، داخل صالة يرانزيت مطار القاهرة بعد اول زيارة لها الى مصر متئثرة بإصابتها بهبوط حاد في الدورة الدموية قبل دقائق من صعودها الى الطائرة المصرية المتجهة الى الولايات المتحدة الاميركية.

The same text, but produced automatically by InDesign, without the use of tatweel.

Note that the result of the automatic justification in fig_kashida_justification is different from that in the newspaper clipping. For one thing, the kashida effect is only applied once per word (but is applied to most words). The rules determining which combinations of characters receive baseline stretching, and the extent of that stretching also differ.

InDesign also allows fonts to substitute long swash variants for certain characters, which soak more some of the horizontal space.

بعد زبع قرن من الغياب والشوق لرؤية الاهل توفيت الراكبة جورجيت بشير (69 عاما) وهي كندية من اصل مصري، داخل صالة يرانزيت مطار القاهرة بعد اول زيارة لها الى مصر متئثرة بإصابتها بهبوط حاد في الدورة الدموية قبل دقائق من صعودها الى الطائرة المصرية المتجهة الى الولايات المتحدة الاميركية.

The last 2 lines of the previous example, showing swash forms.

Well justified text would apply a mixture of swash characters, space stretching, kashidas and ligatures to achieve a visually appealing and effective justification. Also, the baseline stretching in fig_kashida_justification is flat. A more advanced system would instead produce elegantly curved kashidas more like handwritten text.

محمد

Curvilinear kashidas. (source)
Useful links

It is very common to see baseline stretching in modern Arabic text where a word or phrase is stretched to fill a particular space, eg. the Arabic tag line (الابداع المتجدد Creativity renewed) below the word Lexus in fig_lexus is stretched to be the same width.

Arabic text stretched to fit the width of the word Lexus.
Arabic text being stretched to fit the width of text alongside it.

Observation: Text that is stretched in this manner very often has multiple kashidas per word. This is perhaps understandable, given that usually only a small number of words are involved.

Letter spacing

Spaces are not added between characters, with the exception of micro-spacing during justification, which is applied to word-medial letters that don't join to the left. On the other hand, the baseline between words is often stretched.

It is quite common to see Arabic text stretched to fit a given width, as shown in fig_lexus, but that type of stretching is more akin to justification than the typical letter-spacing that is applied to other scripts. The amount of stretch is determined by the area that needs to be filled.

In some cases, it may be that elongation of words is driven by stretching the distance between letters rather than matching an external template, for example to express emphasis or prolonged sound. However, as for justification, this is not normally based on an even amount of stretch between all letters, as letter-spacing tends to be in other scripts.

Counters, lists, etc.

You can experiment with counter styles using the Counter styles converter. Patterns for using these styles in CSS can be found in Ready-made Counter Styles, and we use the names of those patterns here to refer to the various styles.

The Arabic language uses 1 numeric and 2 fixed styles. Wikipedia lists 2 more styles: an old maghrebi sequence and the hijai sequence.

Numeric

The arabic-indic numeric style is decimal-based and uses these digits.rmcs

٠␣١␣٢␣٣␣٤␣٥␣٦␣٧␣٨␣٩

Examples:

١␣٢␣٣␣٤␣ ␣١١␣٢٢␣٣٣␣٤٤␣ ␣١١١␣٢٢٢␣٣٣٣␣٤٤٤

Fixed

The arabic-abjad fixed style uses these letters. It is only able to count to 28.rmcs

ا␣ب␣ج␣د␣ه‍␣و␣ز␣ح␣ط␣ي␣ك␣ل␣م␣ن␣س␣ع␣ف␣ص␣ق␣ر␣ش␣ت␣ث␣خ␣ذ␣ض␣ظ␣غ

Note that the 5th counter includes a zero-width joiner formatting character. This makes the shape distinguishable from ٥ [U+0665 ARABIC-INDIC DIGIT FIVE].

Examples:

ا␣ب␣ج␣د␣ ␣ك␣ش␣خ␣غ

The maghrebi-abjad fixed style uses these letters. It is also only able to count to 28. The letters are the same as those used for the arabic-abjad style, but 6 occur in different positions.rmcs

ا␣ب␣ج␣د␣ه‍␣و␣ز␣ح␣ط␣ي␣ك␣ل␣م␣ن␣ص␣ع␣ف␣ض␣ق␣ر␣س␣ت␣ث␣خ␣ذ␣ظ␣غ␣ش

The 5th counter also includes a zero-width joiner formatting character.

Examples:

ا␣ب␣ج␣د␣ ␣ك␣س␣خ␣ش

Prefixes and suffixes

Arabic lists generally use a full stop suffix as a separator.

Comparison of lists

The table below shows the differences between fixed counter styles for the Arabic and Persian languages. In addition to the styles described above are two other sequences that are mentioned in Wikipedia – an old maghrebi sequence and the hijai sequence.

A blank cell uses the same letter as the nearest non-blank cell above it.

Show the table
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
persian-abjad ا ب ج د ه‍ و ز ح ط ی ک ل م ن س ع ف ص ق ر ش ت ث خ ذ ض ظ غ        
arabic-abjad                   ي ك                                          
magrebi-abjad                             ص     ض     س         ظ غ ش        
WP old magrebi     ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز ط ظ ك ل م ن ص ض ع غ ف ق س ش ه و ي        
WP hijai                       س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن              
persian-alphabetic     پ ت ث ج چ ح خ د ذ ر ز ژ س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ک گ ل م ن و ه‍ ی

Styling initials

It is possible to find cases where Arabic enlarges and styles the first character at the beginning of a paragraph, but it is quite rare.

Observation: It is not clear whether it is appropriate to maintain the joining forms of the initial letter and the following letter. A good proportion of the examples seen have the initial letter in a box, in which case it appears to be in isolated form. For further discussion see this thread and this one.

Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to Arabic and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.

General page layout & progression

Arabic books, magazines, etc., are bound on the right-hand side, and pages progress from right to left.

عنوان كتاب

Binding configuration for Arabic books, magazines, etc.

Columns are vertical but run right-to-left across the page.

Grids & tables

Tables, grids, and other 2-dimensional arrangements progress from right to left across a page.

Forms & user interaction

Form controls should display Arabic text from right to left, starting at the right side of the input field. Form controls should also usually be arranged from right to left.

fig_form shows some form fields from an Arabic language web page. Note the position of the labels relative to the input fields and the checkbox, mirror-imaging a similar page in English. Note also that the input text in the first field appears to the right of the box.

A set of form fields on an Arabic web page

The position of a scrollbar should depend on the user's environment, not on the content of a page. A non-Arab user viewing a web page in Arabic shouldn't have to look for the scroll bar on the left side of the window. In a system that is set up for an Arab user, however, the scrollbar can appear on the left.

Languages using the Arabic script

According to ScriptSource, the Arabic script is used for the following languages:

References