Tibetan orthography notes

Updated 2 February, 2023

This page brings together basic information about the Tibetan script and its use for the Tibetan language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Tibetan using Unicode. The main focus is the Standard Tibetan used in Lhasa, but some information is also provided about use of the script for Sanskrit.


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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དོན་ཚན་དང་པོ། འགྲོ་བ་མིའི་རིགས་རྒྱུད་ཡོངས་ལ་སྐྱེས་ཙམ་ཉིད་ནས་ཆེ་མཐོངས་དང༌། ཐོབ་ཐངགི་རང་དབང་འདྲ་མཉམ་དུ་ཡོད་ལ། ཁོང་ཚོར་རང་བྱུང་གི་བློ་རྩལ་དང་བསམ་ཚུལ་བཟང་པོ་འདོན་པའི་འོས་བབས་ཀྱང་ཡོད། དེ་བཞིན་ཕན་ཚུན་གཅིག་གིས་གཅིག་ལ་བུ་སྤུན་གྱི་འདུ་ཤེས་འཛིན་པའི་བྱ་སྤྱོད་ཀྱང་ལག་ལེན་བསྟར་དགོས་པ་ཡིན༎

དོན་ཚན་གཉིས་པ། སྐྱེ་བོ་རེ་རེར་གསལ་བསྒྲགས་འདི་ནང་བཀོད་པའི་ཐོབ་ཐང་དང་རང་དབང་སྟེ། མི་རིགས་དང། ཤ་མདོག། ཕོ་མོ། སྐད་ཡིག། ཆོས་ལུགས། སྲིད་དོན་བཅས་སམ། འདོད་ཚུལ་གཞནདག་དང༌། རྒྱལ་ཁབ་དང་སྤྱི་ཚོགས་ཀྱི་འབྱུང་ཁུངས་། མཁར་དབང༌། རིགས་རྒྱུད། དེ་མིན་གནས་ཚུལ་འདི་རིགས་གང་ཡང་རུང་བར་དབྱེ་འབྱེད་མེད པའི་ཐོབ་དབང་ཡོད༎ ད་དུང་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་བམ། ས་གནས་གང་ཞིག་རང་བཙན་ཡིན་པ་དང༌། ལྟ་རྟོགས་འོག་ཏུ་གནས་པ། རང་གཞུང་རང་སྐྱོང་མ་ཡིན་པ། གཞན་དག་བདག་དབང་ཚད་འཛིན་ཡོད་པ་བཅས་ཇི་ལྟར་ཡང་དེ་དག་གི་སྐྱེ་བོ་གང་ཞིག་སྐིད་དོན་དང། ཁྲིམས་དབང། རྒྱལ་སྤྱིའི་གནས་སྟངས་བཅས་ཀྱི་ཐོག་ཏུ་ཁྱད་པརམི་དབྱེ་བ་ཡིན༎

Usage & history

The Tibetan script is used for writing the Tibetan, Dzongkha, Ladakhi and Sikkimese languages, spoken in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India. It is also used for transcribing religious Sanskrit texts.



While the exact origin of the script is not clear (other than that is a derivative of the Brahmi script), tradition says that it was developed by Thonmi Sambhota after a visit to India in the mid-7th century to study the art of writing.

The creation of the Tibetan alphabet is attributed to Thonmi Sambhota of the mid-7th century. Tradition holds that Thonmi Sambhota, a minister of Songtsen Gampo (569-649), was sent to India to study the art of writing, and upon his return introduced the alphabet. The form of the letters is based on an Indic alphabet of that period.

Sources: Scriptsource, Wikipedia.

Basic features

Tibetan is an abugida, ie. consonants carry an inherent vowel sound a that is overridden using vowel signs. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Tibetan orthography.

There are various different Tibetan scripts, of two basic types: དབུ་ཅན་ dbu␣ʧn␣ (dbu can), pronounced uchen (with a head), and དབུ་མེད་ dbu␣med␣ (dbu med), pronounced ume (headless). This page concentrates on the former. Pronunciations are based on the central, Lhasa dialect.

Historically, Tibetan text was written on loose-leaf sheets called pechas, དཔེ་ཆ་ dpe␣ʧʰ␣ (dpe cha). Some of the characters used and formatting approaches are different in books and pechas.

Tibetan text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Words are not separated, however, Tibetan ends all syllables using a tsek mark.

To write the sounds of the standard Lhasa dialect, Tibetan uses 30 consonant letters (plus their subjoined forms). 6 more letters are used to write Sanskrit.

A distinguishing feature of Tibetan is the set of separate code points for subjoined consonants, used to create consonant stacks. Of the 77 combining characters in the Tibetan block, 48 represent subjoined consonant forms. There is no virama for normal Tibetan writing.

Tibetan orthographic syllables tend to include a stack and additional consonants to either side of the root consonant, typically to qualify or modify the root value, but also for syllable-final consonant sounds. The actual pronunciation is usually much more simple than a transliteration would suggest.

A syllable with an initial stack of three consonants plus a vowel sign.


Tibetan consonant letters have an inherent vowel. When writing the Lhasa dialect, other vowels are represented using 4 vowel signs. All vowel signs are combining marks, and there are no pre-base, circumgraph, or composite vowels.

Standalone vowels are written by adding vowel signs to either [U+0F60 TIBETAN LETTER -A] or [U+0F68 TIBETAN LETTER A] depending on the tone.

Sanskrit vowels written in Tibetan use additional vowel signs and combining marks, some of which represent diphthongs, and some of which form circumgraphs or composite characters, depending on the encoding.

Tone is not explicitly indicated in the orthography.

Modern Tibetan writing uses few punctuation marks or symbols, but the Tibetan script block in Unicode contains many of these.

Tibetan has its own set of numbers.

Character index



Basic consonants





Extended consonants


Other Tibetan block characters mentioned here


Combining marks


Subjoined consonants




Sanskrit additions mentioned here


Other Tibetan block characters mentioned here




Other Tibetan block characters mentioned here






Other Tibetan block characters mentioned here



Items to show in lists


These sounds are for the modern Lhasa dialect of Tibetan.

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

i ĩ y y u e ø ø̃ ø ø̃ o ə ə ɛ ɛ̃ ɔ ɑ ɑ


ɑi ɑu ɑi ɑu

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
retroflex palatal velar glottal
stops p t     ʈ c k ʔ
aspirated     ʈʰ  
affricates   t͡s   t͡ɕ ʈ͡ʂ      
aspirated   t͡sʰ   t͡ɕʰ ʈ͡ʂʰ      
fricatives     s   ʂ ɕ   h
nasals m   n     ɲ ŋ
approximants w   l ɹ ɹ̥   j ʎ  

Tibetan vowels

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information.

Tibetan consonant letters have an inherent vowel. When writing the Lhasa dialect, other vowels are represented using 4 vowel signs. All vowel signs are combining marks, and there are no pre-base, circumgraph, or composite vowels.

Standalone vowels are written by adding vowel signs to either [U+0F60 TIBETAN LETTER -A] or [U+0F68 TIBETAN LETTER A] depending on the tone.

Sanskrit vowels written in Tibetan use additional vowel signs and combining marks, some of which represent diphthongs, and some of which form circumgraphs or composite characters, depending on the encoding.

Tone is not explicitly indicated in the orthography.

Inherent vowel

a following a consonant is not written, but is seen as an inherent part of the consonant letter, so ka is written by simply using the consonant letter.


Vowel signs

Non-inherent vowel sounds that follow a consonant can be represented using vowel signs, eg.


Tibetan vowel signs are all combining characters. All vowel signs are stored after the base consonant. The Lhasa dialect has no pre-base vowels, circumgraphs, or spacing marks.

An orthography that uses vowel signs is different from one that uses simple diacritics or letters for vowels in that the vowel signs are generally displayed relative to the orthographic syllable, rather than just applied to the letter of the immediately preceding consonant. This means that vowel signs that appear above a base appear above a whole consonant cluster if the cluster is rendered as a stack.

None of the vowel signs are spacing marks, ie. they don't consume horizontal space when added to a base consonant.

Combining marks used for vowels

Standard Tibetan has only 5 vowels, including the inherent vowel, and so only 4 vowel signs.


Standalone vowels

Standalone vowels are written by adding vowel signs to either [U+0F60 TIBETAN LETTER -A] or [U+0F68 TIBETAN LETTER A] depending on the tone.

འ␣འི␣འུ␣འེ␣འོ␣ ␣ཨ␣ཨི␣ཨུ␣ཨེ␣ཨོ

[U+0F60 TIBETAN LETTER -A] (called འ་ཆུང་ à␣ʧʰuŋ␣ 'a chung) and [U+0F68 TIBETAN LETTER A] (called ཨ་ཆེན་ ạ␣ʧʰen␣ a chen) represent the phoneme a. In the Lhasa dialect, the former has a high and the latter a low tone.

Other standalone vowels are written by attaching vowel signs to one or other of these, depending on the tone.

Consonants with no following vowel

The inherent vowel is not normally pronounced at the end of a word.

Word-internally, consonants with no intervening vowel are stacked (see stacking).

Other uses of A-chung



'A-chung can also represent a nasal, so the following alternative spellings may occur.

མཚམས་ or འཚམས་ mtshams boundary

མཐུན་ or འཐུན་ mtʰun agreement

'A-chung may also nasalise the juncture of two morphemes, eg.



Other than loanwords, Tibetan only allows diphthongs in diminutive expressions. 'A-chung is used to write these, as in the following: མི་ མེའུ་

Another example:

རྡོ་ རྡེའུ་

Vowel lengthening

A subjoined 'a-chung is used to express long vowels in loan words (Tibetan doesn't have them natively), such as those borrowed from Chinese, Hindi and Mongolian. For example,

ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ ཤྲཱི་

The Unicode Standard says of SUBJOINED LETTER -A:

U+0FB0 TIBETAN SUBJOINED LETTER -A ( a-chung ) should be used only in the very rare cases where a full-sized subjoined a-chung letter is required. The small vowel lengthening a-chung encoded as U+0F71 TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN AA is far more frequently used in Tibetan text, and it is therefore recommended that implementations treat this character (rather than U+0FB0) as the normal subjoined a-chung.

Inherent vowel locator

Finally, 'a-chung can be used to disambiguate the location of an inherent vowel in a syllable. The following sequence is interpreted as CVC.


To express CCV add 'a-chung, eg.


Sanskrit vowels

This section examines additional vowel signs used for transcription of Sanskrit text or foreign words, principally from Chinese and Mongolian.

See also vocalics.

Vowel signs

Circumgraphs & composite vowels

Sanskrit extensions add vowels that involve more than one glyph per base. In 2 cases these glyphs are positioned both above and below the base or stack.

A circumgraph: the 2 glyphs needed to write the vowel sound appear above and below the base.


The Unicode Tibetan block provides precomposed characters for each of these vowels, but discourages their use.


Instead, the Standard recommends the use of decomposed sequences as follows. The decomposed sequence is produced after normalisation by both NFC and NFD methods


Whichever approach is used, the vowel signs must be typed and stored after the consonant characters they surround. In the case of decomposed vowel signs, the order is also important and must be as shown above.

Other vowel signs

In addition to the vowel signs just mentioned, the following combining marks are used to indicate additional vowel sounds for the Sanskrit repertoire.


[U+0F71 TIBETAN VOWEL SIGN AA] is used here to lengthen vowels.

Sanskrit vocalics

Tibetan vocalics are used only for transcription of Sanskrit.

As for the vowels described earlier, there are deprecated precomposed characters, and equivalent decomposed sequences. The precomposed characters are all circumgraphs, and the decomposed sequences are all composite vowels.

These are the precomposed code points. The R and L vowels are decomposed in NFC, but the RR and LL vowel code points are not, nor do they decompose in NFD.


The Unicode Standard discourages the use of the above precomposed forms (strongly discouraging the last two), and recommends the following sequences instead.



Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information.

To write the sounds of the standard Lhasa dialect, Tibetan uses 30 consonant letters (plus their subjoined forms). 6 more letters are used to write Sanskrit.

A distinguishing feature of Tibetan is the set of separate code points for subjoined consonants, used to create consonant stacks. Of the 77 combining characters in the Tibetan block, 48 represent subjoined consonant forms. There is no virama for normal Tibetan writing.

Tibetan orthographic syllables tend to include a stack and additional consonants to either side of the root consonant, typically to qualify or modify the root value, but also for syllable-final consonant sounds. The actual pronunciation is usually much more simple than a transliteration would suggest.

Basic consonants

Native Tibetan words use 30 consonants, but the Tibetan block contains many more (see extendedC).

There is a basic and a subjoined version of each consonant. These are shown in pairs in this list.

ཝ␣ ␣ར␣ལ␣ཡ

Consonant stacking

A stack has a consonant character at the top (although it may actually be slightly squeezed or adapted slightly in shape), and one or more special subjoined consonant characters beneath it.

The topmost consonant in a stack always uses the standard character from the Unicode Tibetan block regardless of whether it is a root consonant or not, and consonants below it always use a character from the subjoined range.

fig_stack shows an example from the Unicode Standard of a word which shows a stack with three consonants, and lists the components.

སྤྱིར་ spyir
A word containing a stack of 3 consonants and a vowel sign.


Unlike Indic scripts, there is no virama (or halant) used for native Tibetan text. Instead, just a full and subjoined form of each consonant. The subjoined forms are combining characters. Avoiding the virama makes sense because the virama is not used by Tibetans, and the approach taken makes it easier to create the large number of stacks contained in Tibetan text.

Tibetan uses the word 'head' to refer to either the top-most consonant (ie. spacially) or the root consonant of a syllable, which may be a subjoined consonant. We therefore avoid this term here, and say 'root' or 'topmost'.

The following list shows the order in which characters should be typed, and stored in memory, for a set of stacked characters.

  1. Standard consonant shape
  2. First subjoined consonant
  3. Any other subjoined consonants, in order of descent
  4. Subjoined vowel 'a-chung
  5. Standard or compound vowel sign, or virama (for transliterations)

In transliterated text consonants are sometimes stacked in ways that are not allowed in native Tibetan text.

The root consonant

The pronunciation of Tibetan words is typically much simpler than the orthography, which involves patterns of consonants. These reduce ambiguity and can affect pronunciation and tone.

The primary consonant is called the root consonant (or radical), and the other consonants in the syllable (which normally has up to 6 consonants in total) annotate or modify it. The following rules help identify the root:

The following diagram shows characters in all of the syllabic positions, and lists the characters that can appear in each of the non-root locations. The word is འགྲེམས་སྟོན་

Parts of a Tibetan syllable.



Characters in the prefix position are not pronounced, but de-aspirate aspirated root characters and give a higher tone value to nasal root characters. The consonant [U+0F42 TIBETAN LETTER GA] may occur before 11 root characters, [U+0F51 TIBETAN LETTER DA] before 6, [U+0F56 TIBETAN LETTER BA] before 10, [U+0F58 TIBETAN LETTER MA] before 11, and [U+0F60 TIBETAN LETTER -A] before 10, eg. འཁོར་ལོ་བསད་



Characters in the suffix position have one of the following effects:

  1. add their own sound ( ག ང བ མ འ ར ) , eg. དག་

  2. modify the root's vowel value ( ད ས ), eg. བསད་

  3. both of the above ( ན ལ ), eg. བདུན་

Secondary suffixes


Only two characters can appear in the secondary suffix location, according to Tibetan grammar, [U+0F66 TIBETAN LETTER SA] and [U+0F51 TIBETAN LETTER DA], and the latter is no longer officially found in modern Tibetan. A character in this position adds no sound and nor does it affect the sounds in the rest of the syllable, eg. བསྒྲུབས་ གྱུརད་



The three characters that appear in the superscript location raise the tone pitch of the syllable, but are not pronounced themselves. Each superscript character can only be used with a specified set of root characters.


Note that RA has a shape slightly different from its nominal shape in all combinations except རྙ and རླ. You should still use the normal RA character for the superscript. The font will make the needed adjustments of shape.



The four characters that can appear in the subscript location are also each combined with a particular subset of root characters and have different effects.


Note that three of the subscripts have shapes that are significantly different from the nominal shape of the character they represent.

Uniquely, WA can also appear as a sub-subscript as in the following word, which is transcribed grwa pa.


Irregular pronunciations

Most consonants translate to the same basic sound unless they are modified by surrounding letters as mentioned above. In some cases, however, the pronunciation of a consonant is irregular. In particular, b is sometimes pronounced w, eg.



And some words have an additional nasalisation which is not shown, eg.


Repertoire extension

Many of the extra consonants (and other characters) in the Uncode Tibetan script block are used for transliteration of other languages, principally Sanskrit and Chinese. These include the retroflex and voiced aspirated consonants. A couple of characters are extensions for Balti.

Fixed form letters


[U+0F62 TIBETAN LETTER RA] at the top of a stack usually has a reduced form, eg. རྐ rka. For transliterations it is sometimes desirable to retain the full form of RA where in Tibetan words it would be reduced.

To do this use [U+0F6A TIBETAN LETTER FIXED-FORM RA] instead of the normal RA, but only where the normal RA would not produce the full form anyway, ie. do not use eg. རྙ rnya, which has the full form already.

There are also fixed form variants of subjoined YA and WA.

Aspirated consonants

A set of precomposed characters exists for representing aspirated sounds, and the Sanskrit diphone .


These characters are decomposed under Normalization Form C, and the Unicode Standard recommends that these letters should always be represented by those decomposed forms.


The bottom line here is that aspirated consonants are normally written by simply adding a subjoined HA below a consonant, and the diphone is produced in a similar way.

Retroflex consonants


The retroflex consonants, which are reversed versions of Tibetan consonant shapes, are often used to distinguish loan words from sequences of Tibetan syllables. For example,



Other Sanskrit characters


 ཿ [U+0F7F TIBETAN SIGN RNAM BCAD​] ( nam chay ) is the visarga, and  ཾ [U+0F7E TIBETAN SIGN RJES SU NGA RO​] ( ngaro ) is the anusvara.

Tsa-'phru mark

[U+0F39 TIBETAN MARK TSA -PHRU] is an integral part of the three consonants [U+0F59 TIBETAN LETTER TSA], [U+0F5A TIBETAN LETTER TSHA] , and [U+0F5B TIBETAN LETTER DZA]. Although those consonants are not decomposable, this mark has been abstracted and may by itself be applied to [U+0F55 TIBETAN LETTER PHA] (ie. ཕ༹) and other consonants to make new letters for use in transliteration and transcription of other languages. For example, in modern literary Tibetan, it is one of the ways used to transcribe the Chinese “fa” and “va” sounds not represented by the normal Tibetan consonants.

Also used to represent tsa , tsha , and dza in abbreviations.

This code point should be used immediately after the consonant it modifies, even if that consonant is followed by a subjoined consonant.


Two characters are provided for use with Balti.


Other letters

The Unicode Tibetan block contains the following additional characters with the general property of letter.



Tibetan has its own set of numbers. My Chinese publication, however, uses european digits.


 ༾ [U+0F3E TIBETAN SIGN YAR TSHES​] and  ༿ [U+0F3F TIBETAN SIGN MAR TSHES​] are paired characters used in combination with digits.


By some interpretations, the following shapes each have the value of 0.5 less than the number within which it appears. Used only in some traditional contexts, they appear as the last digit of a multidigit number, eg. ༤༬ represents 42.5. These are very rarely used, however, and other uses have been postulated. For more information see Numbers that Don't Add Up : Tibetan Half Digits, by Andrew West.


Text direction

Tibetan text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Tibetan orthography described here.

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 Tibetan picker.

Tibetan requires many rules to position glyphs correctly, and also to shape characters according to context.

The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.

Context-based shaping & positioning

Glyphs in Tibetan script need to be adapted sometimes to suit the context in which the character is used. A particularly prevalent example is that of the letter [U+0F62 TIBETAN LETTER RA]. When used at the top of a stack it has an abbreviated form, as shown by the highlight in fig_ra_position on the left.

The example on the right in fig_ra_position shows what a normal RA looks like. This is the same underlying character. The shape is determined by rules in the font.

རང རྐང་པ
Different renderings of the letter ra.



Combining characters need to be placed in different positions, according to the context. fig_tibetan_position shows the same vowel sign displayed at different heights, according to what stacks above it.

Vowel marks at different heights.


Font styling & weight

Tibetan writing never had bold or italic effects until the Chinese introduced bold style for books after the invasion of Tibet.dt,34

Duff describes some Western publications that slant Tibetan text in books, but points out that a more natural slant direction for Tibetan would be the opposite to that of Western italics.dt,34


Grapheme clusters


Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

Word boundaries within a section are not indicated. Only 'syllables', known as tsheg-bar tsek bar, are separated by the tsek character, [U+0F0B TIBETAN MARK INTERSYLLABIC TSHEG].

The intersyllabic tsek in use.

See also tsek.

Phrase & section boundaries


Tibetan uses native punctuation marks.






[U+0F11 TIBETAN MARK RIN CHEN SPUNGS SHAD] after a single syllable wrapped to a new line 

[0020 SPACE]








head marks



Sections & topics

Key divisions of the text are sections (or expressions (brjod-pa)) and topics (don-tshan), which do not necessarily equate to English phrases, sentences and paragraphs.

Sections normally end with a shay, [U+0F0D TIBETAN MARK SHAD], followed by a space. Topics (eg. headlines, verses, and longer paragraphs) are often terminated with a double shay or separated with shay+space+shay.

དུང་དང་འོ་མར་འགྲན་པའི་ལྷག་བསམ་མཐུ། །དམན་ཡང་དཀར་པོའི་བྱས་འབྲས་ཅུང་ཟད་ཅིག །བློ་དང་འདུན་པ་བཟང་བའི་རང་རིགས་ཀུན། །རྒྱལ་ཁའི་འཕྲིན་བཟང་ལས་དོན་འགྲུབ་ཕྱིར་འབད།།

Examples of double shay.

A line that ends with the root consonant [U+0F40 TIBETAN LETTER KA] or [U+0F42 TIBETAN LETTER GA] will normally swallow up the shay that immediately follows it, even if there is a vowel sign. For example, where you might expect to see a double shay, you might see ཀུ ། and སྐུ །. However, the shad is not omitted if these characters have a subscript, eg. གྲུ། །.

དུང་དང་འོ་མར་འགྲན་པའི་ལྷག་བསམ་མཐུ། །དམན་ཡང་དཀར་པོའི་བྱས་འབྲས་ཅུང་ཟད་ཅིག །བློ་དང་འདུན་པ་བཟང་བའི་རང་རིགས་ཀུན། །རྒྱལ་ཁའི་འཕྲིན་བཟང་ལས་དོན་འགྲུབ་ཕྱིར་འབད།།

Example of GA swallowing up a shay at the end of a topic.

རྩོམ་པ་པོ། ལྡོང་ཕྲུག པར་སྐྲུན་ཁང་། གངས་ཅན་པ་ཚོང་འཕྲིན་ཇུས་འགོད་ཞབས་ཞུ་ལྟེ་གནས་ནས་དཔར།

Example of GA swallowing up a shay at the end of a section.

When a line ends with shay+space+shay the space between the shay marks is normally reduced in Tibetan pechas, down to 1/4 or 1/3 of the normal width, or made to fit the space available. Some space is retained to avoid the appearance of a double-shay.dt,39

Boundaries between chapters or significant sections may also be represented by a double-shay followed by 5-6 spaces and another double-shay.dt,38

དང་འཇམ་པའི་དབྱངས་དང་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་ཡིན༎     ༎སང་རྒྱས་བཅོམ་ལྔན་འདས་དགྲ་བཅོམ་པ་་་་་་

Example of GA swallowing up a shay at the end of a section.

[U+0F0E TIBETAN MARK NYIS SHAD] can be used for the double-shay.

Observation: In a Chinese magazine publication I have, most articles contain no double shay as a delimiter. (The text is formatted in paragraphs.) I did find a double shay at the very end of one of the articles, and it was used at the end of each line on a page containing some verse-formatted folk literature. The same appears to apply for large parts of the Bhutanese newspapers I have, however there are other pages with plenty of double shays - some at the end of paragraphs, some inside paragraphs.

[U+0F08 TIBETAN MARK SBRUL SHAD] is used to separate texts that are equivalent to topics and subtopics, such as the start of a smaller text, the start of a prayer, a chapter boundary, or to mark the beginning and end of insertions into text in pechas.

This drul-shay is usually surrounded on both sides by the equivalent of about three non-breaking spaces (though no rule is specified).dt,35 The drul-shay should not appear at the beginning of a new line and the whole structure of spacing-plus-shay needs to be kept together.

For [U+0F11 TIBETAN MARK RIN CHEN SPUNGS SHAD] see rin_chen_spung_shad.

[U+0FBE TIBETAN KU RU KHA] (often repeated three times) indicates a refrain.

Tsek and section boundaries

The tsek is not used before a shay, except after [U+0F44 TIBETAN LETTER NGA]. For example, note the end of the three sections in fig_tsek_shay:

དོན་ཚན་དང་པོ། འགྲོ་བ་མིའི་རིགས་རྒྱུད་ཡོངས་ལ་སྐྱེས་ཙམ་ཉིད་ནས་ཆེ་མཐོངས་དང༌། ཐོབ་ཐངགི་རང་དབང་འདྲ་མཉམ་དུ་ཡོད་ལ།

Examples of tsek not being used before shay, and of U+0F0C being used between NGA and shay.

So that line-breaking keeps the NGA + tsek + shay together, [U+0F0C TIBETAN MARK DELIMITER TSHEG BSTAR] should be used between NGA and a shay. This is a non-breaking version of the tsek (the word 'delimiter' in the name is a misnomer).

སུ་གང་གིས་གང་ཞིག་གི་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་ཐོབ་ཐང་བཙན་ཤེད་ཀྱིས་འཕྲོག་པ་དང༌། ཡང་ན་དེའི་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་བརྗེ་བསྒྱུར་གྱི་ཐོབ་ཐང་བཀག་འགོག་བྱེདཔའི་རིགས་མི་ཆོག །

Example of TSEG BSTAR being used between NGA and shay.

White space

Space is used as a punctuation mark in Tibetan, to separate meaning in sections. It should not appear at the start of a line.dt,37

[U+00A0 NO-BREAK SPACE] should be used for spaces when they appear after [U+0F40 TIBETAN LETTER KA] or [U+0F42 TIBETAN LETTER GA], or between 2 shay or double-shay characters, so that line-breaks work correctly. It should also be used for spacing around [U+0F08 TIBETAN MARK SBRUL SHAD].

Spaces in Tibetan text are usually wider than spaces in English text, and typically only occur after one of the following: , , or ཿ. However, numbers and embedded Western text are surrounded by smaller spaces, eg. ལོ་ ༢༠༠༡ ཤིང་བྱ་ཟླ་ ༩ ཚེས་ ༥ ཉིན་.

Except for special situations, such as the use of sbrul shad, it is recommended to use a single space where gaps appear, and to stretch that space where necessary.dt,35

Head marks

In traditional, loose-leaf Tibetan pechas a head mark or yig-mgo (yig go) is used at the beginning of the front of the folio so that you can tell which is the front.

Head marks are also used in both pechas and books to indicate the start of a headline or the start of the first paragraph in a longer text.

Head marks differ from text to text. The Unicode Standard provides a number of characters to give some basic coverage, but may not meet all needs.

A common head mark is [U+0F04 TIBETAN MARK INITIAL YIG MGO MDUN MA], and there is also the extension character [U+0F05 TIBETAN MARK CLOSING YIG MGO SGAB MA]. A head mark can be written alone, or can be followed by as many as three closing marks; head marks are also followed by two shads.

༄༅༎ ཡོངས་ཁྱབ་གསལ་བསྒྲགས་འགྲོ་བ་མིའི་ཐོབ་ཐང༌།

Example of use of head marks at the start of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Three less common head marks, used in Nyingmapa and Bonpo literature, are also represented in the Tibetan block, namely:


Bracketed text


Tibetan commonly uses native marks to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end



[U+0F3C TIBETAN MARK ANG KHANG GYON] and [U+0F3D TIBETAN MARK ANG KHANG GYAS] are paired punctuation used to form a roof over one or more digits or words. The right-hand character can also be used much like a single parenthesis in list counters.

Observation: Looking at various articles in Wikipedia it is possible to find various sets of paired punctuation.

རྩིས་དཔོན་ལུང་ཤར་ལ་མ་དགའ་བའི་གླེང་ཕྱོགས་ཆེན་པོ་བྱུང་འདུག་ཀྱང་དེའི་དུས་ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མའི་གཟིགས་བསྐྱོང་ཆེན་པོ་ཡོད་སྟབས་སུས་་ཀྱང་གནོད་འཚེ་གཏོང་ཐུབ་མི་འདུག དེ་རྗེས་ལུང་ཤར་མཆོག་ལ་རྩིས་དཔོན་དང་འབབ་ཞིབ་དོ་དམ་ཡིན་མུས་ཐོག་ཏྭ་ལའི་བླ་མས་དམག་སྤྱིའི་འཚོ་འཛིན་〉ཞེས་དམག་སྤྱི་ཁང་གི་ལས་འགན་ཡང་གནང་བ་རེད།

Observation: [U+3008 LEFT ANGLE BRACKET] and [U+3009 RIGHT ANGLE BRACKET].

བཀའ་ཤག་གི་ཕྲ་མའི་ཐོད་དུ་དེ་སྔ་ཆིང་གོང་མས་གནང་བའི་པྭན་ཞིག་ཡོད་པ་དེའི་ཐོག་བོད་ཡིག་དབུ་ཅན་གྱིས་ཕྱི་ནང་བསྟན་སྲིད་ཡོངས་ ལ་བསོད་ནམས་ཀྱི་དགེ་ཚོགས་ལྷག་པར་སྤེལ་བ་ཞེས་འཁོད་ཡོད་པ་ དེ་ལ་བལྟས་ནས་བཀའ་ཤག་གི་ཕྲ་མའི་འོག་ཏུ་ཡི་གེ་ཞིག་སྦྱར་བའི་ནང་ཕྱི་ནང་སྐྱེ་འགྲོ་ཡོངས་ལ་འབྲུ་དངུལ་གྱི་སྟོན་མོ་ལྷག་པར་སྤེལ་བ་ཞེས་བྲིས་ཡོད་པ་རེད།



Observation: ( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS] and ) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS].



Quotations & citations



༵␣ ༷

 ༵ [U+0F35 TIBETAN MARK NGAS BZUNG NYI ZLA​] and  ༷ [U+0F37 TIBETAN MARK NGAS BZUNG SGOR RTAGS​] can be used to create a similar effect to underlining or to mark emphasis.

The use of these marks is not straightforward, since they attach to a syllable rather than a character and therefore to place them correctly the application needs to take syllable boundary positions into account. If entered as combining characters they can be added after the vowel sign in a stack.

Application software has to ignore these characters for text processing, such as search and collation.

Alternative methods of emphasis include use of a different colour, or the use of the prefix [U+0F38 TIBETAN MARK CHE MGO].


Use of colour and diacritics to emphasise text.

These characters may also be used in interspersed commentaries to tag the root text that is being commented on. An alternative is to set the tsek-bar being commented on in large type and the commentary in small type.


Marks being used to identify root text.

Modern texts appear to use bolding on text.

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition


[U+0F34 TIBETAN MARK BSDUS RTAGS] means 'etc', or 'ditto', and is used after the first few tsek-bar of a recurring phrase.

Inline notes & annotations


Other punctuation


Other inline text decoration


Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Normally, Tibetan only breaks after the tsek, and doesn't break after spaces.

Tibetan never breaks inside a syllable, and has no hyphenation. If a word is composed of multiple syllables, it is also preferable to avoid breaking a line in the middle of the word.

Line breaks do not occur after a tsek when it follows [U+0F44 TIBETAN LETTER NGA] (with or without a vowel sign) and precedes a shay, [U+0F0D TIBETAN MARK SHAD]. Content authors should use [U+0F0C TIBETAN MARK DELIMITER TSHEG BSTAR] rather than the normal tsek in order to prevent that, but applications should be able to handle this situation if they encounter a normal tsek instead.

Line breaks are also possible after:

A line must never start with a shad, space, or other punctuation sign.dt,37

A line that ends with a shay plus space followed by a consonant can wrap after the shay and discard the space. But a line that ends with one of the following must not lose the space and must not be broken either side of the space:

This should be straighforward if content authors use [U+00A0 NO-BREAK SPACE] for the latter cases.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Tibetan orthography.

Line breaks and rin chen spungs shad

In Tibetan, especially in pechas, it is considered a special case if the last syllable of an expression that is terminated by a shay breaks onto a new line. In that case the shay or double-shay is replaced by [U+0F11 TIBETAN MARK RIN CHEN SPUNGS SHAD]. This change serves as an optical indication that there is a left-over syllable at the beginning of the line that actually belongs to the preceding line.

ས་དང་པོར་སྦྱིན་པའི་གཏམ་མཛད་དོ། །སྙིང་རྗེ་དམན་ཞིང་་་་་་་་་་སེམས་<br>ཅན༑ །གཉས་པ་རྒྱལ་བའི་
Rin chen spung shad in use. Source du40.

This varies in the following cases:

  • when a line starts with ལེའུ། །, no rin chen spungs shad would be used, since le'u is pronounced as two syllables.
  • at the end of a topic the rules say that only one shay should be converted, ie. ༑ །, however it is moderately common to see both converted, ie. ༑ ༑.
  • some printed books do not use rin chen spungs shad replacements, however the majority of books seem to apply the same rules as are used with pechas.

In an environment where the width or content of the page can change, such as a web browser, this feature poses a problem. A content author would typically only insert rin chen spungs shad once the layout has been settled in a fixed page layout. On the Web, resizing a window or displaying on different devices will reflow the content, and only after that process is it apparent which instances of shay need to be converted. Applications need to be able to automatically switch between the two styles of shad as a syllable moves on or off a new line when the page is resized or when preceding content is modified.

The Unicode Standard adds: "Not only is rin-chen-spungs-shad used as the replacement for the shay but a whole class of “ornamental shays ” are used for the same purpose. All are scribal variants on a rin-chen-spungs-shad, which is correctly written with three dots above it."

Text alignment & justification

There are two alternative methods of justification.

Method 1: inter-character spacing

Spacing between all characters should be adapted equally. Note that the width of the white-space character should not be changed significantly, so Tibetan texts use the non-breaking space mentioned above, which doesn't change width on justification.

Method 2: tsek padding

While hand writing pechas, but also in some publications, authors add small spaces across the text to get the line end as near as possible to the right margin. Where space remains at the margin, it may be left as is, if it is short. Otherwise, the remaining space will be filled with tseks to make the line as flush as possible with the right margin (there will usually still be a slight raggedness to the right edge of the text).

A page of a booklet showing tsek padding.

There are a couple of detailed rules about the use of tsek padding. Justifying tseks are almost always used when the line ends in a tsek. If, however, the line ends in a shay, there are a number of alternatives.

If the line ends with a single shay the shay is followed by spaces. Tsek padding is never applied after spaces. (See examples in the figure above.)

If the line ends in a double shay (with space between), it is unusual (though possible) to add tsek padding. Instead, the space between the shays is stretched or narrowed. (See examples in the figure below.) The same applies if the second shay was removed because it was preceded by a KA or GA.

Booklet pages showing double shay usage at the end of a line.

Text spacing


This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Tibetan uses a hanging baseline, which tends to fall between the ascender and x-height of Latin text. When text in smaller annotations or larger heading text is mixed with normal text, the letter-heads of all characters should align to the same height.

Tibetan places vowel marks above base characters, and can also add combining characters below the line. In addition, the stacking of consonants, which can have vowel sign below, further extends the text height downwards. The complexity of the glyph clusters means that the vertical resolution needed for clearly readable Tibetan text is higher than for English, or most Latin text.

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Tibetan glyphs from the Noto Serif font.

Font metrics for Latin text compared with Tibetan glyphs in the Noto Serif Tibetan font.

fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Microsoft Himalaya and Tibetan Machine Uni fonts.

Hhqxམ་ནཐུདུརྡེམོཀདཤྲཱིསྤྱིསྒྲུཧཱུྃ།༼ Hhqxམ་ནཐུདུརྡེམོཀདཤྲཱིསྤྱིསྒྲུཧཱུྃ།༼
Latin font metrics compared with Tibetan glyphs in the Microsoft Himalaya (top) and Tibetan Machine Uni (bottom) fonts.

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 modern Tibetan orthography uses a numeric style with native digits.


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




Prefixes and suffixes

[U+0F3D TIBETAN MARK ANG KHANG GYAS] can be used much like a single parenthesis in list counters.

Sub- or superscript counters

Duff describes a form of numbered list where the numbers are placed above or below the main text, which he says is often used.dt,41

Superscript numbering of text.

Styling initials


Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to Tibetan 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


In pechas, Tibetan text is written inside a visible box which defines the margin of the page. In more recent publications this box may be invisible. Modern publications also use paragraphs. The initial line of a new paragraph may be indented.

Traditional pechas only have 2 sizes of text: ཡིག་ཆེན་ yig␣ʧʰen␣ larger, and ཡིག་ཆུང་ yig␣ʧʰuŋ␣ smaller, where the larger is the standard size. The smaller text needs to be readable, and so doesn't usually go below 20pt; the larger text is likely to be around 27-30pt.dt,34

Titles are usually written on a title page, using the 'larger' size. However, on shorter pechas it may be written on the same page as the text using the 'smaller' size.dt,34

Small size text is also used to write annotations, in a similar way to the use of italics or footnotes in the West.dt,34

Notes, footnotes, etc.

[U+0F36 TIBETAN MARK CARET -DZUD RTAGS BZHI MIG CAN] and ྿ [U+0FBF TIBETAN KU RU KHA BZHI MIG CAN] are used to indicate where text should be inserted within other text or as references to footnotes and marginal notes.