Hebrew diacritics

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Gen. 1:9 And God said, "Let the waters be collected".
Letters in black, pointing in red, cantillation in blue[1]

Hebrew orthography includes three types of diacritics:

  • Niqqud in Hebrew is the way to indicate vowels, which are omitted in modern orthography, using a set of ancillary glyphs. Since the vowels can be understood from surrounding, context can help readers read the correct pronunciations of several letters of the Hebrew alphabet (the rafe sign and other rare glyphs are also listed as part of the niqqud system but are not in common use)[*];
  • geresh and gershayim, two diacritics that are not considered a part of niqqud, each of which has several functions (e.g. to denote Hebrew numerals);
  • and cantillation, "accents" which are used exclusively to indicate how Biblical passages should be chanted and may possess a punctuating function.

Several diacritical systems were developed in the Early Middle Ages. The most widespread system, and the only one still used to a significant degree today, was created by the Masoretes of Tiberias in the second half of the first millennium in the Land of Israel (see Masoretic Text, Tiberian Hebrew). The Niqqud signs and cantillation marks developed by the Masoretes are small in size compared to consonants, so they could be added to the consonantal texts without retranscribing them.

Pointing (niqqud)[edit]

In modern Israeli orthography, vowel and consonant pointing is seldom used, except in specialised texts such as dictionaries, poetry, or texts for children or for new immigrants. Israeli Hebrew has five vowel phonemes—/i/, /e/, /a/, /o/ and /u/—but many more written symbols for them. Niqqud distinguish the following vowels and consonants; for more detail, see the main article.

Name Symbol Unicode Israeli Hebrew Keyboard input Hebrew Alternate
IPA Transliteration English
Letter Key
Hiriq Hebrew Hiriq.svg U+05B4 [i] i seek 4 חִירִיק
Tzere Hebrew Zeire.svg U+05B5 [] and [ei̯] e and ei men 5 צֵירֵי‎ or צֵירֶה
Segol Hebrew Segol.svg U+05B6 [], ([ei̯] with
succeeding yod)
e, (ei with
succeeding yod)
men 6 סֶגוֹל
Patach Hebrew Patah.svg U+05B7 [ä] a far 7 פַּתָּח
Kamatz Hebrew Qamaz.svg U+05B8 [ä], (or []) a, (or o) far 8 קָמָץ
Sin dot (left) Hebrew Sin.svg U+05C2 [s] s sour 9 שִׂי״ן
Shin dot (right) 0 Shin.svg U+05C1 [ʃ] sh shop 0 שִׁי״ן
Holam Haser Hebrew Holam.svg U+05B9 [] o bore - MinusKey.PNG חוֹלָם חָסֵר
Holam Male or Vav Haluma וֹ U+05B9 חוֹלָם מָלֵא
Dagesh or Mappiq;

Shuruk or Vav Shruqa

Hebrew Equal Dagesh.svg U+05BC N/A N/A N/A = דָּגֵשׁ‎ or מַפִּיק
Hebrew Equal Shuruk.svg U+05BC [u] u cool שׁוּרוּק
Kubutz Hebrew Backslash Qubuz.svg U+05BB \ קֻבּוּץ
Below: Two vertical dots underneath the letter (called sh'va) make the vowel very short.
Shva Tilde Schwa.svg U+05B0 [] or [-] apostrophe, e,
or nothing
silent ~ TildeKey.PNG שְׁוָא
Reduced Segol Hataf Segol.svg U+05B1 [] e men 1 חֲטַף סֶגוֹל Hataf Segol
Reduced Patach Hataf Patah.svg U+05B2 [ä] a far 2 חֲטַף פַּתָּח Hataf Patakh
Reduced Kamatz Hataf Qamaz.svg U+05B3 [] o bore 3 חֲטַף קָמָץ Hataf Kamatz

Note 1: The symbol "ס" represents whatever Hebrew letter is used.
Note 2: The letter "ש" is used since it can only be represented by that letter.
Note 3: The dagesh, mappiq, and shuruk are different, however, they look the same and are inputted in the same manner. Also, they are represented by the same Unicode character.
Note 4: The letter "ו" is used since it can only be represented by that letter.

Vowel comparison table[edit]

Vowel Comparison Table
Vowel length[1] IPA Transliteration English
Long Short Very short
ָ [3] Hebrew Patah.svg   Hataf Patah.svg [2] [ä] a far
וֹ [4] Hebrew Qamaz.svg [3][4] Hataf Qamaz.svg [2] [] o cold
Hebrew Equal Shuruk.svg [5] Hebrew Backslash Qubuz.svg [5]   N/A [u] u you
ִ י   Hebrew Hiriq.svg     N/A [i] i ski
Hebrew Zeire.svg   Hebrew Segol.svg   Hataf Segol.svg [2] [] e let


  • [1] : These vowels lengths are not manifested in Modern Hebrew.
  • [2] : Adding two vertical dots (sh'va) to the "short-vowel" diacritic produces the diacritic for "very short vowel" (Hebrew: חטף ḥatáf).
  • [3] : The short /o/ and long /a/ are represented by the same diacritic.
  • [4] : The short /o/ is usually promoted to a long /o/ (holam male, vav with dot above) in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation.
  • [5] : The short /u/ is usually promoted to a long /u/ (shuruk, vav with middle dot) in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation.


Meteg is a vertical bar placed below a character next to the niqqud for various purposes, including marking vowel length and secondary stress. Its shape is identical to the cantillation mark sof pasuq.


Geresh is a mark, ׳‎⟩ that may be used as a diacritic, as a punctuation mark for initialisms, or as a marker of Hebrew numerals. It is also used in cantillation.

As a diacritic, the geresh is combined with the following consonants:

letter value with
value English example usage
ג [ɡ] ג׳ [dʒ] age slang and loanwords
(phonologically native
ז [z] ז׳ [ʒ] vision
צ [ts] צ׳ [tʃ] change
(non standard[2])
ו [v] ו׳[2] [w] quiet
ד [d] ד׳ [ð] there For transliteration of
sounds in foreign
languages (non-native
sounds, i.e. sounds
foreign to Hebrew
ח [ħ] ח׳ [χ][3] loch
ס [s] ס׳ [sˤ]
ע [ʕ] ע׳ [ɣ]
ר [r] ר׳
ת [t] ת׳ [θ] think


Cantillation has a more limited use than vowel pointing, as it is only used for reciting the Tanakh, and is not found in children's books or dictionaries.


Gershayim between the penultimate and last letters ( ״‎  e.g. פזצט״א‎) marks acronyms, alphabetic numerals, names of Hebrew letters, linguistic roots and, in older texts, transcriptions of foreign words. Placed above a letter (◌֞‎  e.g. פְּרִ֞י‎) it is one of the cantillation marks.

Disputes among Protestant Christians[edit]

Protestant literalists who believe that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God are divided on the question of whether or not the vowel points should be considered an inspired part of the Old Testament. In 1624, Louis Cappel, a French Huguenot scholar at Saumur, published a work in which he concluded that the vowel points were a later addition to the biblical text and that the vowel points were added not earlier than the fifth century AD. This assertion was hotly contested by Swiss theologian Johannes Buxtorf II in 1648. Brian Walton's 1657 polyglot bible followed Cappel in revising the vowel points. In 1675, the 2nd and 3rd canons of the so-called Helvetic Consensus of the Swiss Reformed Church confirmed Buxtorf's view as orthodox and affirmed that the vowel points were inspired.[citation needed]

Torah scrolls in Jewish synagogues do not have any diacritical marks whatsoever, only the letters themselves. It is expected of anyone reading out-loud to know the correct intonations.

See also[edit]


*^ The rafe sign (רפה‎,  ֿ ‎ ) which is used to mark fricative consonants in the YIVO orthography of Yiddish; is no longer used in modern printed Hebrew. Rafe may appear in masoretic manuscripts as well as other older texts where the soft fricative consonants and sometimes matres lectionis are indicated by this sign.


  1. ^ Cantillation
  2. ^ a b Vav with geresh, "ו׳‎", is non standard and its usage is therefore inconsistent: "Transliteration Rules" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-28. issued by the Academy of the Hebrew Language states that both [v] and [w] be indistinguishably represented in Hebrew using the letter Vav. To pronounce foreign words and loanwords containing the sound [w], Hebrew readers must therefore rely on former knowledge and context, see also pronunciation of Hebrew Vav.
  3. ^ a b The sound [χ] represented by ח׳is a native sound in Hebrew; the geresh is however used only to distinguish Arabic "خ" from "ح" when transcribing Arabic (in which context just ח‎—without geresh—represents "ح" / [ħ]), whereas in everyday usage ח‎ without geresh is pronounced [ħ] only dialectically but [χ] commonly.

External links[edit]