Updated 26 October, 2021
This page brings together basic information about the Hebrew script and its use for the Hebrew language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Hebrew using Unicode.
Phonetic transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide, only. Many are more phonemic than phonetic, and there may be variations depending on the source of the transcription. See also phonology.
סעיף א. כל בני אדם נולדו בני חורין ושווים בערכם ובזכויותיהם. כולם חוננו בתבונה ובמצפון, לפיכך חובה עליהם לנהוג איש ברעהו ברוח של אחוה.
סעיף ב. כל אדם זכאי לזכויות ולחרויות שנקבעו בהכרזש זו ללא הפליה כלשהיא מטעמי גזע, צבע, מין, לשון, דח, דעה פוליטית או דעה בבעיות אחרות, בגלל מוצא לאומי או חברתי, קנין, לידה או מעמד אחר. גדולה מזו, לא יופלה אדם על פי מעמדה המדיני, על פי סמכותה או על פי מעמדה הבינלאומי של המדינה או הארץ שאליה הוא שייך, דין שהארץ היא עצמאית, ובין שהיא נתונה לנאמנות, בין שהיא נטולת שלטון עצמי ובין שריבונותה מוגבלת כל הגבלה אחרת.
The Hebrew script is widely used by the Jewish community and is used to write modern Hebrew in Israel. It is the script used for Jewish sacred texts. It is also used for a number of other languages, including Samaritan, Yiddish, and Judeo-Arabic.
אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי alefbet ivri Hebrew alphabet
Before the Jewish exile in Babylon, Hebrew was written using a Paleo-Hebrew script that resembles the Samaritan alphabet. The current script, known as 'square', or 'block' script, derives from Aramaic writing. It is generally referred to as the Ashuri (Assyrian) script, although there are a few alternate writing styles. It dates from the 5th century BCE.
Sources Scriptsource and Wikipedia.
Hebrew is an abjad. This means that in normal use the script represents only consonants. This approach is helped by the strong emphasis on consonant patterns in Semitic languages. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Hebrew orthography.
Hebrew text runs right-to-left in horizontal lines, but numbers and embedded Latin text are read left-to-right.
There is no case distinction.
Words are separated by spaces.
The Modern Israeli Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, plus 5 word-final letters that have their own code points. Additional sounds can be represented using dagesh, shin/sin dots, or geresh.
The script hides short vowels, however these and other phonetic information can be written where needed for clarifying ambiguity or educational purposes using diacritics (points). There are 11 vowel diacritics. Vowel locations can be marked by 4 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.
Modern Hebrew uses both European digits, and ASCII punctuation marks.
These are phonemes of Israeli Hebrew.
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.
Modern Israeli Hebrew was born from speakers who brought their own accents and pronunciations from different parts of the world. There are still variations in pronunciation, but two main types predominate today: Oriental and Occidental. Oriental Hebrew was chosen as the preferred accent for Israel by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, but has since declined in popularity. Age is often a factor in individual pronunciation.wp
In particular, there are alternative pronunciations for x~ħ, ʁ~r, ʔ~ʕ. In this document we use the left-hand side of each of these pairings.
Younger speakers also tend to make all consonants in a cluster voiced or unvoiced, depending of the last consonant, eg. לִסְגֹּר lisᵊgoˑʁ lis'ɡoʁ to close becomes liz'ɡoʁ, and אַבְטָחָה ʔavᵊtāxāh avta'xa security becomes afta'xa.
For more details, see: Wikipedia.
See also the phonology_notes.
|stop||p b||t d||k ɡ||ʔ|
|fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ
x is sometimes described as χ, and ʁ as r. For more variants see phonology_notes.
Final -h is rarely pronounced in modern Hebrew.wp,#Loss_of_final_H_consonant
Hebrew has diacritics that can be used to express short vowel sounds, but rarely uses them in normal text. Hebrew readers are usually able to understand the pronunciation from the context and the regular structure of Hebrew words.
Certain consonant letters, referred to as matres lectionis, may indicate the location of vowels in pointed and unpointed text.
Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.
A series of points, known as niqqud, can be used to give precision about vowel sounds. They are rarely used outside of educational, children's, and religious texts, or for foreign or ambiguous words.
These are the niqqud used for modern Hebrew.
Redundancy arises because the modern orthography retains alternative points that in the past expressed length differences. Modern Israeli Hebrew pronunciation ignores phonetic length.
Three of the above code points have glyphs that combine ְ [U+05B0 HEBREW POINT SHEVA] (sh'va) and another point (used to indicate shortened lengths in older Hebrew). A single Unicode code point (that doesn't decompose during normalisation) is used for each of these combinations. Authors should not attach multiple vowel code points to a single consonant letter.
Hebrew uses the following consonant letters to indicate the location of a vowel.
The first two are silent vowel supports, whereas the second two are considered to be part of the vowel.
There is a trend in Modern Hebrew towards the use of matres lectionis to indicate vowels that have traditionally gone unwritten, a practice known as
In pointed text, ְ [U+05B0 HEBREW POINT SHEVA] may be used to express an absence of vowel between two consonants. However, in various other contexts this sh'va is pronounced.
Word-initial vowels that are not preceded by a consonant sound are represented by, or written in conjunction with, א [U+05D0 HEBREW LETTER ALEF] or ע [U+05E2 HEBREW LETTER AYIN].
The following tables show how Hebrew vowel sounds commonly map to characters or sequences of characters in pointed text.
Any of the five short vowels may be realized as a schwa when far from lexical stress.wp,#Vowels
Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see consonant_mappings.
These are the basic consonant letters used in modern Hebrew.
Five letters have special word-final forms, called sofit. They are encoded as separate code points in Unicode, and appear as separate keys on a keyboard, so no special processing is needed to display or store them (unlike Arabic).
Foreign words and names may sometimes use the normal forms at the end of a word, rather than the sofit form. In those cases, use the non-final code points.
Three of the letters can also represent vowel locations. See matres.
Methods used to modify the sound of a consonant.
ּ [U+05BC HEBREW POINT DAGESH OR MAPIQ] is used in pointed text with 3 consonant letters (and one final form) to indicate that they map to 'hard' sounds. This is similar to the distinction made in Syriac. Dagesh is the only diacritic to appear inside a consonant. Below, the hard sounds are shown to the left, and the normal to the right.
Dagesh can also be found alongside other letters, without any sound change, due to preservation of archaic spelling. The pairs t–θ, d–ð and ɡ–ɣ were lost over time, leaving:
The two phonemes s and ʃ are represented by a single consonant letter, ש [U+05E9 HEBREW LETTER SHIN]. If it is necessary to indicate which is intended, two diacritics used only with this character, do the job: ׂ [U+05C2 HEBREW POINT SIN DOT] and ׁ [U+05C1 HEBREW POINT SHIN DOT]. They look identical apart from the side to which they are positioned.
Other consonants are extended to non-native sounds by use of a following ׳ [U+05F3 HEBREW PUNCTUATION GERESH].
This first set is used in loanwords and slang that are part of the everyday Hebrew colloquial vocabulary.ws,#Sounds_represented_with_diacritic_geresh
The graphemes ו׳ and וו are alternative ways of writing the same thing.
A second set is only used to transliterate foreign sounds, especially Arabic.ws,#Sounds_represented_with_diacritic_geresh
In Biblical and older Hebrew texts, many additional diacritics are attached to the base character alongside the niqqud. Nearly all of the following additional marks in the Hebrew Unicode block are cantillation marks, used to indicate how to chant ritual readings from the Hebrew Bible in synagogue services.
The following tables show how the above consonant sounds commonly map to characters or sequences of characters.
ז [U+05D6 HEBREW LETTER ZAYIN], eg. זה.
ה [U+05D4 HEBREW LETTER HE], eg. הד.
ל [U+05DC HEBREW LETTER LAMED], eg. לי.
י [U+05D9 HEBREW LETTER YOD], eg. ים.
Hebrew uses european digits.
For about a thousand years from the 2nd century BC, Hebrew used letters as numbers. Nowadays, they are only used this way for the Hebrew calendar, for school grades, for counter styles, and in religious contexts.
The denomination is generally expressed by the following abbreviationwhp, which stands for שקל חדש: ש״ח
₪ [U+20AA NEW SHEQEL SIGN] may also be used. It is displayed to the left of the amount, with no separation or with a thin space, eg. ₪12,000 (Wikipedia says that this requires the sheqel sign to be typed after the amount, however, the opposite is the case for all major browsers.)whp
Hebrew script is written right-to-left in the main, but as with all RTL scripts, numbers and embedded LTR script text are written left-to-right (bidirectional text). In the following example, the Hebrew words are read right-to-left, starting with the one on the right, and the numeric expression ("10-12") is read left-to-right, ie. it starts with 10 and ends with 12. (Note that this is unlike Arabic, where the 10 and 12 would be in opposite positions.)
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, and can become unreadable.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Hebrew orthography described here.
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.
On this page, see also expressions and linebreak for additional features related to 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.
U+202B RIGHT-TO-LEFT EMBEDDING] ( [RLE), U+202A LEFT-TO-RIGHT EMBEDDING] ( [LRE), and U+202C POP DIRECTIONAL FORMATTING] ( [PDF) are in widespread use to set the base direction of a range of characters. RLE/LRE come at the start, and PDF at the end of a range of characters for which the base direction is to be set.
More recently, 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 U+2067 RIGHT-TO-LEFT ISOLATE] ( [RLI), U+2066 LEFT-TO-RIGHT ISOLATE] ( [LRI), and U+2069 POP DIRECTIONAL ISOLATE] ( [PDI). The Unicode Standard recommends that these be used instead.
There is also U+2068 FIRST STRONG ISOLATE] ( [FSI), used initially to set the base direction according to the first recognised strongly-directional character.
U+200F RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK] ( [RLM) and 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.
A sequence of numbers, for example a range separated by hyphens, generally runs left to right in Hebrew (unlike Arabic).
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 Hebrew character app.
The Hebrew script is not usually cursive (ie. joined up) when printed.
The script makes no case distinctions and needs no transforms to convert between code points.
Hebrew has a number of different writing styles.
The standard, 'square script' is derived from Aramaic. There are serif and sans-serif fonts.
The STAM style is used for sacred texts such as the Torah. Certain letters have decorative tags above.s
The rashi style is used for commentaries on sacred texts. Letters have a more rounded, almost cursive style.s
Hebrew also has a 'cursive' style, which means 'handwriting' style. Letters are not normally joined. Cursive fonts are only used as display fonts. Many glyphs look very different from the standard letter forms.
Before the Babylonian exile (from which the square script derives), Hebrew was written with different shapes, which are similar to those used for Samaritan.
In Hebrew several characters have a different shape at the end of a word, but each shape variant has it's own code point and keyboard key, so there is no need for rendering rules to choose the correct glyph.
This example shows מ [U+05DE HEBREW LETTER MEM] and ם [U+05DD HEBREW LETTER FINAL MEM] (on the left).
Multiple diacritics for one base character are common where the various types of diacritic are mixed.
Combinations of ְ [U+05B0 HEBREW POINT SHEVA] with other vowel diacritics are represented by single, non-decomposable code points, eg. ֱ [U+05B1 HEBREW POINT HATAF SEGOL].
In NFC normalised text, a dagesh or shin/sin dot always follows the vowel diacritic. It may be necessary to reorder the diacritics for some applications, eg. for transcriptions that map a consonant+dagesh to a single letter.
The diacritic ֹ [U+05B9 HEBREW POINT HOLAM] illustrates how positioning can be context-sensitive. fig_holam shows 3 examples.
Hebrew uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.
Bold text is used as one way to highlight or emphasise text. The degree of bolding is often quite light. Bold-italic is typically only used for large display text.l
Italics may also be used, however its use is not abundant, and many of the italic faces in fonts are designed for display use, rather than to accompany a regular font.l
There are different preferences for the direction of the slant for italicised Hebrew text. The choice as to which is preferred appears to be down to the individual, and is a question of whether the slant matches the direction of the Hebrew text, or embedded Latin text.l
Hebrew typographic units consist of base characters, optionally followed by one or more combining marks. Unicode grapheme clusters can be applied to Hebrew without problems. There are no special issues related to operations that use grapheme clusters as their basic unit of text.
Words are separated by spaces.
Hyphens.־ [U+05BE HEBREW PUNCTUATION MAQAF] is the proper punctuation for representing hyphens between compounds,wc eg. תל־אביב
However, it is less common online because it is not always easily available on keyboards. Therefore, - [U+002D HYPHEN-MINUS] is often substituted, even though the position of that character is too low when displayed.wc
The Unicode Standard indicates that lines should not break on either side of the maqaf.g
In the Bible, maqaf is primarily associated with cantillation marks and indicates a combination of 2 or more words that are pronounced in one breath.g
, [U+002C COMMA]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [U+003A COLON]
. [U+002E FULL STOP]
Hebrew uses ASCII punctuation for the most part. Full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and commas are used as in English. There are 6 additional punctuation characters in the Hebrew Unicode block.
Note that the direction of the question mark (?) is the same as in English, and unlike Arabic. The same is true for the comma ( , ).
Biblical & liturgical usage. ׀ [U+05C0 HEBREW PUNCTUATION PASEQ] is used as a word separator.wc
Prayer books and similar use ׃ [U+05C3 HEBREW PUNCTUATION SOF PASUQ] as a full stop.wc
Hebrew uses the same parentheses as English, and uses ( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS] at the start (right) and ) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS] at the end (left).wc These are mirrored characters in Unicode, so the glyph for each character is automatically reversed in RTL text.
For example, click on the following to see the component characters (חדשה)
The first character in memory is the paren on the right. The consequence of this is that, when writing Hebrew, the parentheses should be used as if they were named U+0028 START PARENTHESIS and U+0028 END PARENTHESIS, respectively.
|initial||” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]|
|nested||’ [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
In principle, for modern quotations, ” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK] is used at the start and at the end, eg.”ישראל” IsraelNested quotations use different quote marks, which would typically be ’ [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK].a,#target-4931
However, in practice, Hebrew texts often use " [U+0022 QUOTATION MARK] and ' [U+0027 APOSTROPHE].
Up to around 1970 Hebrew used „ [U+201E DOUBLE LOW-9 QUOTATION MARK] instead for the initial quotation mark, ie. „ישראל”but this changed, partly due to inadequate keyboard designs.whp,#Quotation_marks
Increased tracking is a common way to express emphasis in Hebrew.
Aternatives include the use of a different typeface, and/or underlining.l
Acronyms are indicated by placing ״ [U+05F4 HEBREW PUNCTUATION GERSHAYIM] before the last character, eg. ד״ר
׳ [U+05F3 HEBREW PUNCTUATION GERESH] may also be used to indicate an abbreviation,wg eg. גברת is abbreviated as גב׳
Due to keyboard inadequacies, these are often replaced by ASCII single and double quote characters, even though in general they are visually too high.
Text can be highlighted using bold, italic, different fonts, font sizing, colour, or tracking.
Lines are normally broken at word boundaries.
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.
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.
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Hebrew orthography described here.
Increased tracking is a common way to express emphasis in Hebrew.
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 Hebrew orthography uses an additive styles, in addition to numeric decimal style based on ASCII digits.
The hebrew additive style uses the letters shown below. It is specified for a range between 1 and 10,999. This system manually specifies the values for 19-15 to force the correct display of 15 and 16, which are commonly rewritten to avoid a close resemblance to the Tetragrammaton. Implementations may, and some do, implement this manually to a higher range.
The default list style uses a full stop + space as a suffix.
It is possible to find the first letter in a paragraph styled so that it is larger and sits alongside several lines of the continuing paragraph text.
Observation: The glyph in fig_drop_cap rises above the normal top line of most Hebrew characters. It also rises above the top line of the adjacent glyphs when positioned alongside them. The bottom of the glyph is aligned with the bottom of the glyphs on the 3rd line down.
Boxed initials can also be found, such as the one in fig_drop_cap_box. Here, the initial letter is centred horizontally and vertically inside the space created by the box. The box extends from the top line of the first line of text to the baseline of the 6th line.
This section is for any features that are specific to thisScript and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.
Hebrew books, magazines, etc., are bound on the right-hand side, and pages progress from right to left.
Columns are vertical but run right-to-left across the page.
According to ScriptSource, the Hebrew script is used for the following languages: