[ah-lif; Heb. ah-lef]

is the reconstructed name of the first letter of the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, continued in descended Semitic alphabets as Phoenician , Syriac ܐ, Hebrew Aleph , and Arabic ﺍ.

Aleph originally represented the glottal stop (IPA /ʔ/), usually transliterated as ʾ (U+02BE) "modifier letter right half ring", a character of the Unicode Spacing Modifier Letters range, based on the Greek spiritus lenis ʼ. For example in the transliteration of the letter name itself, .

The Phoenician letter 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 Egyptology

The Egyptian A hieroglyph (commonly transliterated as 3 and by convention pronounced as |a|) is also referred to as alef, on grounds that it has traditionally been taken to represent a glottal stop, although some recent suggestions tend towards an [[ɹ]] sound instead.


Aleph is thought to be derived from the West Semitic word for "ox", and the shape of the letter derives from a Proto-Sinaitic glyph based on a hieroglyph depicting an ox's head,

In modern Hebrew, "meulaf", derived from the Hebrew root ʔ-l-f (alef-lamed-pe) is the passive participle of the verb "le'alef", and means 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. In modern Arabic, "aleef" literally means "domesticated".

Hebrew Aleph

Orthographic variants
Various Print Fonts Cursive
Serif Sans-serif Monospaced
א א א

In Modern Israeli Hebrew, the letter represents either a glottal stop, or has no pronunciation besides that of the vowel attached to it. The pronunciation varies from between Jewish ethnic groups.

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

Aleph, along with Ayin, Resh, He, and Heth, cannot receive a dagesh. (However, there are few very rare examples where the Masoretes added a dagesh to an Aleph or Resh.)

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.

In Judaism

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, 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 That I Am, (in Hebrew, 'Ehye 'Asher 'Ehye), and aleph is an important part of mystical amulets and formulas.

Hebrew sayings with Aleph

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 b'aleph rabati - לא באלף רבתי) means Absolutely not!.


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.

Syriac Olaf/Alap

In the Syriac alphabet, the first letter is ܐ — — Olaf (in western pronunciation) or Alap (in eastern pronunciation). 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 Olaf/Alap is elided. For example, when the Syriac first-person singular pronoun ܐܢܐ is in enclitic positions, it is pronounced no/na (again west/east) rather than the full form eno/ena. 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.´


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

Arabic Alif

Alif (pronounced ) is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.

Together with Hebrew Aleph, Greek Alpha and Latin A, it is descended from Phoenician , from Proto-Canaanite "ox".

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 hamzatu l-qat` ﺀ. Hamza is not considered a full harf in Arabic orthography: in most cases it appears on a carrier, either a waw, a dotless ', 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 fatha. It is the only possible carrier where 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 kasra, below it, indicating that the letter so modified does indeed signify a glottal stop, and not a long vowel.

A second type of hamza, hamzatu l-wasl, occurs only as the initial phoneme of the definite article and in some related cases. It differs from hamzatu l-qat` in that it is elided after a preceding vowel. Again, alif is always the carrier.

The is, as it were, a double alif, expressing both a glottal stop and a long vowel: (final ) [ʔæː], for example in القرآن

The , or "broken alif," looks like a dotless , (final ). It may only appear at the end of a word. Although it looks different from a regular Alif, it represents the same sound (long /aː/). Alif maqsura is transliterated as in DIN 31635 and ỳ in ISO 233. ʾAlif maqṣūra can be confused with a yāʼ ي because many writers (especially in Egypt) use a dotless "yaa" at the end of a word, when this letter should actually be written with two dots underneath. This makes it more difficult for Arabic learners to distinguish between these two letters, although native speakers can usually tell which letter is intended. The dotless "yaa" is not called alif maqsura in these cases but it only looks like one.

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

See also


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