|IPA||Modern Hebrew: /e/ ([e̞]), Ø|
|Biblical Hebrew: /ɛ̆/ – /ɐ̆/ – /ɔ̆/ – /ĭ/|
|Transliteration||e, ' (apostrophe), nothing|
|English example||men, menorah|
Shva or, in Biblical Hebrew, shĕwa (Hebrew: שְׁוָא) is a Hebrew niqqud vowel sign written as two vertical dots (ְ ) beneath a letter. In Modern Hebrew, it indicates either the phoneme /e/ or the complete absence of a vowel (Ø), whereas in Hebrew prescriptive linguistics, six grammatical entities are differentiated: the resting Shva (naḥ / נָח), such as in the words שִׁמְעִי (II Sam. 16:5) and כַּרְמִי (Josh. 7:1); the mobile Shva (naʿ / נָע), such as the Shva which appears at the beginning of words, which renders the vowel a mobile vowel, as in the Hebrew word "floating" (meraḥef / מְרַחֵף), or as in לְפָנָי (lefanai) or שְׁמַע (shemaʿ) (Deut. 6:4); or whenever a diacritical vertical line known as a Ga'ya / גַּעְיָה (lit. "bleating" or "bellowing") appears next to a Shva. For example, in the words הַֽמְקַנֵּ֥א אַתָּ֖ה לִ֑י (Num. 11:29), the Shva beneath the Hebrew character mim becomes a mobile Shva because of the Ga'ya (small vertical line) beneath the Hebrew character he. In all these cases the Shva gives an audible sound to the letter, as in a short "a" or short "e", and is not mute. Likewise, whenever a Shva appears in the middle of a word and the letter has a diacritical point within it (dagesh), as in the pe of מִפְּנֵיכֶם (Lev. 18:24), or in the qoph of מִקְּדָֿשׁ (Exo. 15:17), they too will become a mobile Shva (na / נָע), as will a word that has two Shvas written one after the other, as in the word רַעְמְסֵס (Exo. 12:37), or in the word וישְׁמְעו (Gen. 3:8), etc. the first Shva is resting (mute), while the second Shva is a mobile Shva. Another instance of where the Shva becomes mobile is when it comes directly after a long vowel sound, such as the long vowel of either yod or ḥiríq, as in יְחִֽידְֿךָ (Gen. 22:2), giving it the sound of yeḥīdhəkha, etc., or as in the long vowel of waw or ḥolam, as in the words הוֹלְכִֿים, יוֹדְֿעִים and מוֹכְֿרִים, etc. (hōləkhīm, yōdəʻīm and mōkhərīm), or as in the verse שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ (Deut. 16:18), "shōfəṭīm wa-shōṭərīm titen ləkha."
In earlier forms of Hebrew, these entities were phonologically and phonetically distinguishable, but the two variants resulting from Modern Hebrew phonology no longer conform to the traditional classification, e.g. the (first) Shva Nach in the word סִפְרֵי תורה (trans. "books of the Law") while it is correctly pronounced in Modern Hebrew /sifrei torah/, the "פ" (or "f"-sound) being mute, the Shva Na, or mobile Shva in זְמַן ("time") in Modern Hebrew is often incorrectly pronounced as a mute Shva (/zman/). In religious contexts, however, scrupulous readers of the prayers and scriptures do still differentiate properly between Shva Nach and Shva Na (e.g. zĕman).
It is transliterated as "e", "ĕ", "ə", "'" (apostrophe), or nothing. Note that usage of "ə" for shva is questionable: transliterating modern Hebrew Shva Nach with ə or ' is misleading, since it is never actually pronounced [ə] – the vowel [ə] does not exist in modern Hebrew – moreover, the vowel [ə] is probably not characteristic of earlier pronunciations either (see Tiberian vocalization → Mobile Shwa = Shwa na').
Pronunciation in modern Hebrew
In Modern Hebrew, shva is either pronounced /e/ or is mute (Ø), regardless of its traditional classification as shva nacḥ (שְׁוָא נָח) or shva na (שְׁוָא נָע), see following table for examples. The Israeli standard for its transliteration is /e/ only for a pronounced shva na (i.e., one which is pronounced /e/) and no representation in transliteration if the shva is mute.
In Modern Hebrew, a shva is pronounced /e/ under the following conditions:
|Condition for /e/ pronunciation of shva in Israeli Hebrew||Examples||Examples for silent shva (since condition does not apply)|
|In Hebrew||IPA||translation||In Hebrew||IPA||translation|
|1. When under the first of two letters, both representing the same consonant or consonants with identical place and manner of articulation:||שָׁכְחוּ||/ʃaχeˈχu/||they forgot||מָכְרוּ||/maχˈru/||they sold|
|שָׁדַדְתְּ||/ʃaˈdadet/||you (f.) robbed||שָׁלַלְתְּ||/ʃaˈlalt/||you (feminine) negated|
|2. When under the first letter of a word, if this letter is י (/j/), ל (/l/), מ (/m/), נ (/n/) or ר (/r/)[*]:||נְמָלִים||/nemaˈlim/||ants||גְּמָלִים||/ɡmaˈlim/||camels|
|3. When under the first letter of a word, if the second letter is א (/ʔ/), ה (/h/) or ע (/ʕ/ or /ʔ/):||תְּאָרִים||/teaˈrim/||titles||מִתְאָרִים||/mitʔaˈrim/||outlines|
|4. When under the first letter of a word, if this letter represents one of the prefix-morphemes||בְּרֵיחָהּ||/berejˈχa/||in her scent||בְּרֵיכָה||/brejˈχa/||pool|
|וְרוֹדִים||/veroˈdim/||and (they) tyrannize||וְרוּדִים||/vruˈdim/||pink (m.p.)|
|כְּרָזָה||/keraˈza/||as a thin person||כְּרָזָה||/kraˈza/||poster|
|תְּבַלּוּ||/tevaˈlu/||you (m. p.) will have a good time||תְּבַלּוּל||/tvaˈlul/||cataract|
|5. (In non standard language usage) if one of the morphemes mentioned above (ב /be/, ו /ve/, כ /ke/, ל /le/ or ת /te/) or one of the morphemes מ /mi/ ("from") or ש /ʃe/ ("that") is added as a prefix to a word, which without this prefix begins with a letter marked with a shva pronounced /e/ under the above conditions, this shva will retain its /e/-pronunciation also with the prefix:||מִצְּעָדִים||/mitseaˈdim/||from steps||מִצְּמָדִים||/mitsmaˈdim/||from pairs|
|standard: מֵרְוָחִים –/merevaˈχim/|
|לְאֲרָיוֹת וְלְנְמֵרִים יֵשׁ פַּרְוָה||/learaˈjot velenemerim…/||Lions and tigers have fur|
|standard: וְלִנְמֵרִים /…velinmeˈrim…/|
|וְכְּיְלָדִים שִׂחַקְנוּ בַּחוּץ||/vekejelaˈdim…/||And as children we played outside|
|standard: וְכִילָדִים – /veχilaˈdim…/|
|6. (Usually – see Counterexamples[**]) when under a medial letter, before whose pronunciation a consonant was pronounced:||אִשְׁפְּזוּ||/iʃpeˈzu/||they hospitalized||אִישׁ פְּזוּר דַּעַת||/iʃ pzur ˈda.at/||an absentminded man|
*^ One exception to rule 2 seems to be מְלַאי /mlaj/ "inventory"; the absence of a vowel after the מ (/m/) might be attributable to the high sonority of the subsequent liquid ל (/l/), however compare with מְלִית (/meˈlit/, not /*mlit/) "filling (in cuisine)". According to the "New User-Friendly Hebrew-English Dictionary" (Arie Comey, Naomi Tsur ; Achiasaf, 2006), the word word מְלַאי is pronounced with an /e/: [me'lai].
**^ Exceptions to rule 6 include פְּסַנְתְּרָן (/psantˈran/, not */psanteˈran/ – "pianist"), אַנְגְּלִית (/aŋˈɡlit/, not */aŋɡeˈlit/ – "English"), נַשְׁפְּרִיץ (/naʃˈprit͡s/, not */naʃpeˈrit͡s/ – "we will sprinkle"), several inflections of quinqueliteral roots – e.g.: סִנְכְּרֵן (/sinˈkren/, not */sinkeˈren/ – "he synchronized"); חִנְטְרֵשׁ (/χinˈtreʃ/, not */χinteˈreʃ/ – "he did stupid things"); הִתְפְלַרְטֵט (/hitflarˈtet/, not */hitfelartet/ – "he had a flirt") – and several loanwords, e.g. מַנְטְרַה (/ˈmantra/, not */mantera/ – "mantra").
In traditional Hebrew grammar, shvas are in most cases classified as either "shva na" (Heb. שווא נע) or as "shva naḥ" (Heb. שווא נח); in a few cases as "shva meraḥef" (Heb. שווא מרחף), and when discussing Tiberian pronunciation (ca. from the 8th until the 15th century) some shvas are classified as "shva ga'ya" (Heb. שווא געיה).
A shva is categorized according to several attributes of its grammatical context. The three categories of shva relevant to standard grammar of Modern Hebrew are "shva na", "shva naḥ" and "shva meraḥef"; the following table summarizes four distinguishing attributes which determine these categories:
- Does the shva supersede a vowel or no vowel in the word's non inflected form?
- Is the preceding letter pointed with a "short" or a "long" niqqud-variant?
- Is the following letter, when בג״ד כפ״ת, pointed with a dagesh qal or not?
- Is the letter which is pointed with shva assigned to the preceding or to the following syllable?
To help illustrate the first criterion (existence or non-existence of a vowel in the word's non inflected form), the "location" of the shva, i.e., the place within the word where the lack of vowel is indicated by it, is marked within the phonemic transcription with an orange linguistic zero: Ø; if existing, the corresponding vowel in the basic (non inflected) form of the example is also marked in orange.
|type of shva||example||non inflected form of example||standard syllabification||attributes:|
|supersedes in non inflected form:||preceding letter's niqqud:||following letter with / without dagesh qal:||assigned to syllable:|
|meraḥef||יֶאֶרְכוּ||/je.erØˈχu/||(they will last)||יֶאֱרַךְ||/je.eˈraχ/||(it will last)||יֶ—אֶרְ—כוּ||vowel||short||without||preceding|
In most cases, traditional Hebrew grammar considers shva na, or the mobile shva, to be an entity that supersedes a vowel that exists in the basic form of a word but not after this word underwent inflection or declension. Additionally, any shva marked under an initial letter is classified shva na.
Merely identifying a given shva as being a "shva na" offers no indication as to its pronunciation in Modern Hebrew; it is however relevant to the application of standard niqqud, e.g.: a בג״ד כפ״ת letter following a letter marked with a shva na may not be marked with a dagesh qal (Modern Hebrew phonology sometimes disagrees with this linguistic prescription, as in זִפְּזְפּוּ – "they zapped" – in which the second pe is pointed with a dagesh qal although preceded by a shva na), or: the vowel preceding a letter marked with a shva na must be represented by the "long" niqqud-variant for that vowel: qamats and not pataḥ, tsere and not segol etc.[↑]. Furthermore, in standard syllabification, the letter under which a shva na is marked is grouped with the following syllable.
The Academy of the Hebrew Language's transliteration guidelines specify that shva na should be transliterated only if pronounced in Modern Hebrew, in which case "e" be used for general purposes and "ĕ" for precise transliteration. Generally, shva na is sometimes transliterated "ə". Concerning Modern Hebrew pronunciation, however, this symbol is misleading, since it is commonly used in linguistics to denote the vowel Schwa, which does not exist in Modern Hebrew.
A shva na can be identified as such by means of the following criteria:
- when marked under the first letter of a word,
- when marked under the first of two identical letters,
- when it's the second of two shvas marked under two consecutive letters (except when marked under the last letter of a word),
- when the letter before the one under which it is marked is marked with a "long" niqqud-variant,[↑]
- when marked under a letter with a dagesh ḥazaq (historically an indicator of gemination).
For a more detailed account, see Tiberian vocalization → Vowels.
Traditional Hebrew grammar defines shva naḥ, or shva quiescens, as indicating the absence of a vowel. In Modern Hebrew, some shvas classified as shva naḥ are nonetheless pronounced /e/ (e.g. the shva under the second dalet in the word שָׁדַדְתְּ – /ʃaˈdadet/ – "you (f.) robbed"; see table above).
In all but a small number of cases, a shva not conforming to the criteria listed above is classified shva naḥ. This offers no conclusive indication as to its pronunciation in Modern Hebrew; it is however relevant to the application of standard niqqud, e.g.: a בג״ד כפ״ת letter following a letter marked with a shva nacḥ must be marked with a dagesh qal (Modern Hebrew phonology sometimes disagrees with this linguistic prescription, as in לְפַסְפֵס – "to miss" – in which the second pe lacks a dagesh qal although preceded by a shva naḥ), or: the vowel preceding a letter marked with a shva naḥ must be represented by the "short" niqqud-variant for that vowel: pataḥ and not qamats, segol and not tsere etc.[↑]. Furthermore, in standard syllabification, the letter under which a shva naḥ is marked is grouped with the preceding syllable.
"Shva meraḥef" is the grammatical designation of a shva which does not comply with all criteria characterizing a shva na (specifically, one marked under a letter following a letter marked with a "short", not a "long", niqqud-variant[↑]), but which does, like a shva na, supersede a vowel (or a shva na) that exists in the basic form of a word but not after this word underwent inflection or declension.
The classification of a shva as "shva meraḥef" is relevant to the application of standard niqqud, e.g.: a בג״ד כפ״ת letter following a letter marked with a shva meraḥef should not be marked with a dagesh qal, although the vowel preceding this letter could be represented by the "short" niqqud-variant for that vowel.[↑] This reflects sometimes, but not always, pronunciation in Modern Hebrew, e.g. מַלְכֵי ("kings of") is commonly pronounced in accordance with the standard form, /malˈχej/ (with no dagesh qal in the letter kaf), whereas כַּלְבֵי ("dogs of"), whose standard pronunciation is /kalˈvej/, is commonly pronounced /kalˈbej/ (as if there were a dagesh qal in the letter bet). In standard syllabification, the letter under which a shva meraḥef is marked is grouped with the preceding syllable.
"Shva Ga'ya" designates a shva marked under a letter that is also marked with the cantillation mark "ga'ya", or "meteg", e.g. the shva under the letter bet in the word בְּהוֹנוֹת ("toes") would normally be classified a shva na and be transliterated "e": "behonót" (or according to the precise standard, "ĕ": "bĕhonót"), however, if marked with the ga'ya cantillation mark, , this shva is classified as shva ga'ya, and the transliteration reflecting its historical pronunciation would be "bohonót". For more on the strict application of the Shva Ga'ya, see
Within niqqud, vowel diacritics are sorted into three groups: "big", "small" and "fleeting" or "furtive" ("T'nuot g'dolot" – "גדולות", "T'nuot k'tanot" – "קטנות" and "T'nuot chatufot" "חטופות"), sometimes also referred to as "long", "short" and "very short" or "ultrashort". This grouping might have correlated to different vowel lengths in earlier forms of Hebrew (see Tiberian vocalization → Vowels; spoken Israeli Hebrew however does not distinguish between different vowel lengths, thus this orthographic differentiation is not manifest in speech).
The vowel diacritics classified as "chatufot" ("fleeting") all share the common feature of being a digraph of a "small vowel" diacritic (Patach, Segol or Kamatz Katan) plus a shva sign. Similarly, their names are derived from the respective "small vowel" diacritic's name plus the adjunct "chataf": "chataf patach", "chataf segol" and "chataf kamatz".
As with a shva na, standard (prescribed) syllabification determines that letters pointed with a "fleeting vowel" diacritic be considered part of the subsequent syllable, even if in modern Hebrew pronunciation this diacritic represents a full-fledged syllable, thus e.g. the phonologically trisyllabic word "הֶעֱמִיד" ("he placed upright"), pronounced /he.eˈmid/, should standardly be syllabified into only two syllables, "הֶ—עֱמִיד" ("he'emid").
("ẖatáf ẖiríq") – not in current use, appears rarely in the Aleppo Codex
|Vowel comparison table|
(phonetically not manifested in Israeli Hebrew)
|סָ||סַ||סֲ||/a/||[ä]||a||spa||see open central unrounded vowel|
|סֵ||סֶ||סֱ||/e/||[e̞]||e||temp||see mid front unrounded vowel|
|סוֹ||סָ||סֳ||/o/||[o̞]||o||cone||see mid back rounded vowel|
|Note I:||By adding two vertical dots (shva) ְ the vowel is made very short.|
|Note II:||The short o and long a have the same niqqud.|
|Note III:||The short o is usually promoted to a long o in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation|
|Note IV:||The short u is usually promoted to a long u in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation|
|ְ||U+05B0||HEBREW POINT SHEVA|
|ֱ||U+05B1||HEBREW POINT HATAF SEGOL|
|ֲ||U+05B2||HEBREW POINT HATAF PATAH|
|ֳ||U+05B3||HEBREW POINT HATAF QAMATS|
↑^ Long and short niqqud-variants represent identical spoken vowels in Modern Hebrew; the orthographic distinction is, however, still observed in standard spelling.
- Maḥberet Kitrei Ha-Torah (ed. Yoav Pinhas Halevi), chapter 5, Benei Barak 1990, p. 22 (Hebrew)
- Maḥberet Kitrei Ha-Torah (ed. Yoav Pinhas Halevi), chapter 5, Benei Barak 1990, pp. 22-23 (Hebrew)
- Maḥberet Kitrei Ha-Torah (ed. Yoav Pinhas Halevi), chapter 5, Benei Barak 1990, p. 31 (Hebrew)
- Transliteration guidelines from 2006 (p. 4)
- "Characterization and Evaluation of Speech-Reading Support Systems for Hard-of-Hearing Students in the Class" by Becky Schocken; Faculty of Management, Tel-Aviv University, Department of Management and Economics, The Open University of Israel
- I Kings 17:11 "לקחי־נא"; Psalms 14:1 "השחיתו","התעיבו"; Psalms 53:2 "השחיתו", "והתעיבו"