Aleph (or alef or alif) is the first letter of the Semitic abjads,
including Phoenician 'Ālep 𐤀,
Hebrew 'Ālef א, Aramaic Ālap
𐡀, Syriac ʾĀlap̄ ܐ,
Arabic Alif ا, and Persian. It also
appears as South Arabian 𐩱, and Ge'ez ʾÄlef አ.
The Phoenician letter is derived from an
Egyptian hieroglyph depicting
an ox's head 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 onset of a
vowel at the glottis. In Semitic languages, this functions as a weak
consonant allowing roots with only two true consonants to be
conjugated in the manner of a standard three consonant Semitic root.
Hebrew dialects as well as Syriac, the glottal onset
Aleph is an absence of a true consonant although a
glottal stop ([ʔ]), which is a true consonant, typically occurs as an
allophone. In Arabic, the Alif has the glottal stop pronunciation when
occurring initially. In text with diacritical marks, the pronunciation
as a glottal stop is usually indicated by a special marking, hamza in
Arabic and mappiq in Tiberian Hebrew. (Although once thought to be the
original pronunciation of
Aleph in all cases where it behaves as a
consonant, a consistent glottal stop appears to have been absent in
ancient Semitic languages such as Akkadian and Ugaritic besides being
absent in Syriac and Hebrew.) Occasionally, the
Aleph was also used to
indicate an initial unstressed vowel before certain consonant
clusters, without functioning as a consonant itself, the prosthetic
(or prothetic) aleph. In later Semitic languages,
sometimes function as a mater lectionis indicating the presence of a
vowel elsewhere (usually long). The period at which use as a mater
lectionis began is the subject of some controversy, though it had
become well established by the late stage of Old Aramaic (ca. 200
Aleph is often transliterated as U+02BE
ʾ , based on the Greek
spiritus lenis ʼ, for example, in the transliteration of the letter
name itself, ʾāleph.
2.1.1 Alif with hamza: أ and إ
2.1.2 Alif maddah: آ
2.1.3 Alif maqṣūrah: ى
4.1 Rabbinic Judaism
5 Syriac Alaph/Olaf
6 South Arabian/Ge'ez
7 Ancient Egyptian
8 Other uses
9 Character encodings
10 See also
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 an Egyptian hieroglyph
, which depicts an ox's head.
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'. 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]
Written as ا, spelled as الِف and transliterated as alif, it is
the first letter in Arabic. Together with
Hebrew Aleph, Greek Alpha
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:
Alif with hamza: أ and إ
Main article: Hamza
Arabic letter was used to render either a long /aː/ or a glottal
stop /ʔ/. That led to orthographical confusion and to the
introduction of the additional letter hamzat qaṭ‘ ﺀ.
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 if the only adjacent vowel
is fatḥah. It is the only possible carrier if hamza is the first
phoneme of a word. Where alif acts as a carrier for hamza, hamza is
added above the alif, or, for initial alif-kasrah, below it and
indicates that the letter so modified is indeed a glottal stop, not a
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.
Alif maddah: آ
The alif maddah is a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop and
a long vowel. Essentially, it is the same as a أا sequence: 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" (the
"horizontal" alif being the maddah sign).
Alif maqṣūrah: ى
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 appear
only 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 it is written, alif maqṣūrah is indistinguishable from
final Persian ye or
Arabic yā’ as it is written in Egypt, Sudan and
sometimes elsewhere. Alif maqsurah is transliterated as á in ALA-LC,
ā in DIN 31635, à in ISO 233-2, and ỳ 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.
The Aramaic reflex of the letter is conventionally represented with
Hebrew א in typography for convenience, but the actual graphic
form varied significantly over the long history and wide geographic
extent of the language. Maraqten identifies three different aleph
traditions in East Arabian coins, a lapidary Aramaic form that
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 with of two crossed
oblique lines, much like a simple
It is written as א and spelled as אָלֶף
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). It is
sometimes silent (word-finally always, word-medially sometimes:
הוּא [hu] "he", רָאשִׁי [ʁaˈʃi] "main",
רֹאשׁ [ʁoʃ] "head", רִאשׁוֹן [ʁiˈʃon]
"first"). The pronunciation varies in different Jewish ethnic
In gematria, aleph represents the number 1, and when used at the
Hebrew years, it means 1000 (e.g. א'תשנ"ד in
numbers would be the
Hebrew date 1754, not to be confused with 1754
Aleph, along with Ayin, Resh, and Heth, cannot receive a dagesh.
(However, there are few very rare examples of the
Masoretes adding a
dagesh or mappiq to an
Aleph or Resh. The verses of the
for which an
Aleph with a mappiq or dagesh appears are Genesis 43:26,
Leviticus 23:17, Job 33:21 and
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/. That use is more common in words of Aramaic and Arabic
origin, in foreign names, and some other borrowed words.
Various Print Fonts
Aleph is the subject of a midrash that 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,
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 that
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
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, and the
Scintillating Intelligence (#11) of the path between Kether and
Chokmah in the Tree of the Sephiroth.
In the Syriac alphabet, the first letter is ܐ, Classical 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, but 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 it a palatal
approximant), a long i/e (less commonly o/a) or is silent.
In the Ancient South Arabian alphabet, 𐩱 appears as the seventeenth
letter of the South Arabian abjad. The letter is used to render a
glottal stop /ʔ/.
In the Ge'ez alphabet, ʾÄlef አ appears as the thirteenth letter of
its abjad. This letter is also used to render a glottal stop /ʔ/.
Transliteration of Ancient Egyptian
It has been suggested that
Vulture (hieroglyph) be merged into this
article. (Discuss) Proposed since November 2017.
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 tend towards an alveolar approximant ([ɹ])
sound instead. Despite the name it does not correspond to an
cognate Semitic words, where instead the single "reed" hieroglyph is
The phoneme is commonly transliterated by a symbol composed of two
Unicode (as of version 5.1, in the
range) encoded at U+A722 Ꜣ LATIN CAPITAL LETTER EGYPTOLOGICAL ALEF
and U+A723 ꜣ 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
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.
HEBREW LETTER ALEF
ARABIC LETTER ALIF
SYRIAC LETTER ALAPH
SAMARITAN LETTER ALAF
UGARITIC LETTER ALPA
PHOENICIAN LETTER ALF
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
Numeric character reference
Named character reference
"The Aleph", a short story by
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges describing a point in
space that contains all other spaces at once
Wikimedia Commons has media related to ʾĀlep.
^ "BBC News - Middle East - Oldest alphabet found in Egypt".
^ Andersen, F.I.; Freedman, D.N. (1992). "
Aleph as a vowel in Old
Aramaic". Studies in
Hebrew and Aramaic Orthography. Winona Lake,
Indiana: Eisenbrauns. pp. 79–90.
^ "What did the letter A originally sound and look like? -
Dictionary.com Blog". Dictionary Blog.
^ Wehr, Hans (1994). A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic:
(Arabic-English) (4th ed.). Urbana: Spoken Language Services.
pp. 28–29. ISBN 0879500034.
^ Jones, Alan (2005).
Arabic Through The Qur'an. Cambridge: The
Islamic Texts Society. p. 4. ISBN 0946621 68 3.
^ Maraqten, Mohammed (1996). "Notes on the Aramaic script of some
coins from East Arabia". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. 7:
^ "Tarot Journey with Leisa ReFalo". tarotjourney.net.
^ Schneider, Thomas. 2003. "Etymologische Methode, die Historizität
Phoneme und das ägyptologische Transkriptionsalphabet." Lingua
aegyptia: Journal of Egyptian Language Studies 11:187–199.
^ Swanson, Ellen; O'Sean, Arlene Ann; Schleyer, Antoinette Tingley
(1999) , 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
Influence on other languages
Ancient North Arabian
Ancient South Arabian script
Ancient North Arabian
Old South Arabian
Modern South Arabian
Ethnic / religious
Babalia Creole Arabic
Sun and moon letters
Arabic script in Unicode
aSociolinguistically not Arabic
Transliteration to English / from English
Biblical (northern dialect)
Kubutz and Shuruk
Niqqud / missing / full
Law of attenuation
Hebrew / ancient / modern Israeli literature
Unicode and HTML
Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament
The Northwest Semitic abjad