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This article is about the Semitic letter. For other uses, see Aleph (disambiguation).
Phonemic representation ʔ, a
Position in alphabet 1
Numerical value 1
Alphabetic derivatives of the Phoenician

Aleph is the first letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician 'Ālep Phoenician aleph.svg, Hebrew 'Ālef א, Aramaic Ālap Aleph.svg, Syriac ʾĀlap̄ ܐ, and Arabic Alif ا.

The Phoenician letter is derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph depicting an ox's head[1] and gave rise to the Greek Alpha (Α), being re-interpreted to express not the glottal consonant but the accompanying vowel, and hence the Latin A and Cyrillic А.

In phonetics, aleph /ˈɑːlɛf/ originally represented the glottal stop ([ʔ]), often transliterated as U+02BE ʾ , based on the Greek spiritus lenis ʼ, for example, in the transliteration of the letter name itself, ʾāleph.


The name aleph is derived from the West Semitic word for "ox", and the shape of the letter derives from a Proto-Sinaitic glyph that may have been based on a Egyptian hieroglyph


which depicts an ox's head. [2]

Hieroglyph Proto-Sinaitic Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew
Aleph Aleph Aleph

In Modern Standard Arabic, the word أليف /ʔaliːf/ literally means 'tamed' or 'familiar', derived from the root |ʔ-l-f|, from which the verb ألِف /ʔalifa/ means 'to be acquainted with; to be on intimate terms with'.[3] In modern Hebrew, the same root |ʔ-l-f| (alef-lamed-peh) gives me’ulaf, the passive participle of the verb le’alef, meaning 'trained' (when referring to pets) or 'tamed' (when referring to wild animals); the IDF rank of Aluf, taken from an Edomite title of nobility, is also cognate.[clarification needed]


The Aramaic reflex of the letter is conventionally represented with the Hebrew א in typography for convenience, but the actual graphic form varied significantly over the long history and wide geographic extent of Aramaic usage. Maraqten identifies three different aleph traditions in East Arabian coins, a lapidary Aramaic form which realizes it as a combination of a V-shape and a straight stroke attached to the apex, much like a Latin K; a cursive Aramaic form he calls the "elaborated X-form," essentially the same tradition as the Hebrew reflex; and an extremely cursive form that consists of two crossed oblique lines, much like a simple Latin X.[4]

Cursive Aramaic Lapidary Aramaic
Aleph.svg Lapidary aleph


Written as א, spelled as אָלֶף and transcribed as Aleph.

In Modern Israeli Hebrew, the letter either represents a glottal stop ([ʔ]) or indicates a hiatus (the separation of two adjacent vowels into distinct syllables with no intervening consonant), as well as sometimes being silent (as word-final always, as word-medial sometimes, e.g. הוּא [hu] "he", רָאשִׁי [ʁaˈʃi] "main", רֹאשׁ [ʁoʃ] "head", רִאשׁוֹן [ʁiˈʃon] "first"). The pronunciation varies among Jewish ethnic groups.

In gematria, aleph represents the number 1, and when used at the beginning of Hebrew years, it means 1000 (e.g. א'תשנ"ד in numbers would be the date 1754).

Aleph, along with Ayin, Resh, and Heth, cannot receive a dagesh. (However, there are few very rare examples where the Masoretes added a dagesh or mappiq to an Aleph or Resh. The verses of the Hebrew Bible wherein an Aleph with a mappiq or dagesh appears are Genesis 43:26, Leviticus 23:17, Job 33:21 and Ezra 8:18.)

In Modern Hebrew the frequency of the usage of alef, out of all the letters, is 4.94%.

Aleph is sometimes used as a mater lectionis to denote a vowel, usually /a/. Such use is more common in words of Aramaic and Arabic origin, in foreign names and some other borrowed words.

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
א א א Hebrew letter Alef handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Alef Rashi.png

Rabbinic Judaism[edit]

Aleph is the subject of a midrash which praises its humility in not demanding to start the Bible. (In Hebrew the Bible begins with the second letter of the alphabet, Bet.) In this folktale, Aleph is rewarded by being allowed to start the Ten Commandments. (In Hebrew, the first word is אָנֹכִי, which starts with an aleph.)

In the Sefer Yetzirah, the letter aleph is king over breath, formed air in the universe, temperate in the year, and the chest in the soul.

Aleph is also the first letter of the Hebrew word emet (אֶמֶת), which means truth. In Jewish mythology it was the letter aleph that was carved into the head of the golem which ultimately gave it life.

Aleph also begins the three words that make up God's mystical name in Exodus, I Am who I Am (in Hebrew, Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh אהיה אשר אהיה), and aleph is an important part of mystical amulets and formulas.

Aleph in Jewish mysticism represents the oneness of God. The letter can be seen as being composed of an upper yud (Yodh), a lower yud, and a vav (Waw (letter)) leaning on a diagonal. The upper yud represents the hidden and ineffable aspects of God while the lower yud represents God's revelation and presence in the world. The vav ("hook") connects the two realms.

Jewish mysticism relates aleph to the element of air, the Fool (Key 0, value 1) of the major arcana of the tarot deck,[5] and the Scintillating Intelligence (#11) of the path between Kether and Chokmah in the Tree of the Sephiroth.

Hebrew sayings with aleph[edit]

From aleph to tav describes something from beginning to end, the Hebrew equivalent of the English "From A to Z."

One who doesn't know how to make an aleph is someone who is illiterate.

No...with a big aleph! (lo be-aleph rabbati - לא באלף רבּתי) means 'Absolutely not!'.

Syriac Alaph/Olaf[edit]

Syriac Eastern alap.svg Madnḫaya Alap
Syriac Serta alap.svg Serṭo Olaph
Syriac Estrangela alap.svg Esṭrangela Alap

Syriac letter shapes Alaph.PNG

In the Syriac alphabet, the first letter is ܐClassical Syriac: ܐܵܠܲܦ — Alap (in eastern dialects) or Olaph (in western dialects). It is used in word-initial position to mark a word beginning with a vowel — although some words beginning with i or u do not need its help, and sometimes an initial Alap/Olaph is elided. For example, when the Syriac first-person singular pronoun ܐܵܢܵܐ is in enclitic positions, it is pronounced no/na (again west/east) rather than the full form eno/ana. The letter occurs very regularly at the end of words, where it represents the long final vowels o/a or e. In the middle of the word, the letter represents either a glottal stop between vowels (but West Syriac pronunciation often makes this a palatal approximant), a long i/e (less commonly o/a) or is silent.


Written as ا, spelled as ألف and transliterated as alif it is the first letter in Arabic. Together with Hebrew Aleph, Greek Alpha and Latin A, it is descended from Phoenician ʾāleph, from a reconstructed Proto-Canaanite ʾalp "ox".

Alif is written in one of the following ways depending on its position in the word:

Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ا ـا ـا ا

Arabic variants[edit]

Historically, the Arabic letter was used to render either a long /aː/, or a glottal stop /ʔ/. This led to orthographical confusion, and to introduction of the additional letter hamzat qaṭ‘ . Hamzah is not considered a full letter in Arabic orthography: in most cases it appears on a carrier, either a wāw (ؤ), a dotless yā’ (ئ), or an alif. The choice of carrier depends on complicated orthographic rules. Alif إ أ is generally the carrier where the only adjacent vowel is fatḥah. It is the only possible carrier where hamzah is the first phoneme of a word. Where alif acts as a carrier for hamzah, hamzah is added above the alif, or, for initial alif-kasrah, below it, indicating that the letter so modified does indeed signify a glottal stop, and not a long vowel.

A second type of hamza, hamzat waṣl (همزة وصل), occurs only as the initial phoneme of the definite article and in some related cases. It differs from hamzat qaṭ‘ in that it is elided after a preceding vowel. Again, alif is always the carrier.

The alif maddah is, as it were, a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop and a long vowel: آ (final ـآ) ’ā /ʔaː/, for example in آخر ākhir /ʔaːxir/ 'last'. "It has become standard for a hamza followed by a long ā to be written as two alifs, one vertical and one horizontal"[6] (the "horizontal" alif being the maddah sign).

The alif maqṣūrah (ألف مقصورة, 'limited/restricted alif'), commonly known in Egypt as alif layyinah (ألف لينة, 'flexible alif'), looks like a dotless yā’ ى (final ـى) and may only appear at the end of a word. Although it looks different from a regular alif, it represents the same sound /aː/, often realized as a short vowel. When written, alif maqṣūrah is indistinguishable from final Persian ye or Arabic yā’ as it is written in Egypt, Sudan, and sometimes other places. Alif maqsurah is transliterated as á in ALA-LC, ā in DIN 31635, à in ISO 233-2, and in ISO 233.


As a numeral, Alaph/Olaf stands for the number one. With a dot below, it is the number 1,000; with a line above it, Alaph/Olaf will represent 1,000,000. With a line below it is 10,000 and with two dots below it is 10,000,000.

Ancient Egyptian[edit]

in hieroglyphs

The Egyptian "vulture" hieroglyph (Gardiner G1), by convention pronounced [a]) is also referred to as aleph, on grounds that it has traditionally been taken to represent a glottal stop, although some recent suggestions[7] tend towards an [ɹ] sound instead.

The phoneme is commonly transliterated by a symbol composed of two half-rings, in Unicode (as of version 5.1, in the Latin Extended-D range) encoded at U+A722 LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF and U+A723 LATIN SMALL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF. A fallback representation is the numeral 3, or the Middle English character ȝ Yogh; neither are to be preferred to the genuine Egyptological characters.

Other uses[edit]


In set theory, the Hebrew aleph glyph is used as the symbol to denote the aleph numbers, which represent the cardinality of infinite sets. This notation was introduced by mathematician Georg Cantor. In older mathematics books the letter aleph is often printed upside down by accident, partly because a Monotype matrix for aleph was mistakenly constructed the wrong way up.[8]

Character encodings[edit]

Character א ا ܐ 𐎀 𐤀
Encodings decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex decimal hex
Unicode 1488 U+05D0 1575 U+0627 1808 U+0710 2048 U+0800 66432 U+10380 67840 U+10900 8501 U+2135
UTF-8 215 144 D7 90 216 167 D8 A7 220 144 DC 90 224 160 128 E0 A0 80 240 144 142 128 F0 90 8E 80 240 144 164 128 F0 90 A4 80 226 132 181 E2 84 B5
UTF-16 1488 05D0 1575 0627 1808 0710 2048 0800 55296 57216 D800 DF80 55298 56576 D802 DD00 8501 2135
Numeric character reference א א ا ا ܐ ܐ ࠀ ࠀ 𐎀 𐎀 𐤀 𐤀 ℵ ℵ
Named character reference ℵ

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BBC News - Middle East - Oldest alphabet found in Egypt". 
  2. ^ "What did the letter A originally sound and look like? - Blog". Dictionary Blog. 
  3. ^ Wehr, Hans (1994). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: (Arabic-English) (4th ed.). Urbana: Spoken Language Services. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0879500034. 
  4. ^ Maraqten, Mohammed (1996). "Notes on the Aramaic script of some coins from East Arabia". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 7: 304–315. 
  5. ^ "Tarot Journey with Leisa ReFalo". 
  6. ^ Jones, Alan (2005). Arabic Through The Qur'an. Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society. p. 4. ISBN 0946621 68 3. 
  7. ^ Schneider, Thomas. 2003. "Etymologische Methode, die Historizität der Phoneme und das ägyptologische Transkriptionsalphabet." Lingua aegyptia: Journal of Egyptian Language Studies 11:187–199.
  8. ^ Swanson, Ellen; O'Sean, Arlene Ann; Schleyer, Antoinette Tingley (1999) [1979], Mathematics into type. Copy editing and proofreading of mathematics for editorial assistants and authors (updated ed.), Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, p. 16, ISBN 0-8218-0053-1, MR 0553111