: الهَمْزة, ʼal-hamzah
) is a letter in the Arabic alphabet
, representing the glottal stop
[ʔ]. Hamza is not one of the 28 "full" letters, and owes its existence to historical orthographical inconsistencies in early Islamic times. In the Phoenician
alphabets, from which the Arabic alphabet is descended, the glottal stop was expressed by ʼāleph
, continued by Arabic ʼalif
. However, alif was used to express both a glottal stop, and a long vowel [a:]. To indicate that a glottal stop, and not a mere vowel, was intended, hamza was added diacritically to alif. In modern orthography, under certain circumstances, hamza may also appear on the line, as if it were a full letter, independent of an alif.
The hamza can be written alone or with a carrier, in which case it becomes a diacritic:
- Alone: ;
- Combined with a letter:
- and (above and under an )
- (above a )
- (above a dotless , also called )
The hamza letter on its own always represents hamzatu 'l-qatʿ
, that is, a phonemical glottal stop. Compared to this, is a non-phonemical glottal stop produced automatically at the beginning of an utterance. It is written as alif
carrying a waṣla sign ٱ (also indicated by an alif without a hamza). It occurs ,for example, in the definite article al-
, ism, ibn, imperative verbs and the perfective aspect of verb forms VII to X, but is not pronounced following a vowel (e.g. for written <ʾal-baytu al-kabīru
>). It occurs only in the beginning of words (can occur after prepositions and the definite article).
- Initial hamza is always written over or under an alif. Otherwise, surrounding vowels determine the seat of the hamza – but, preceding long vowels or diphthongs are ignored (as are final short vowels).
- over over if there are two conflicting vowels that “count”; on the line if there are none.
- As a special case, and require hamza on the line, instead of over an alif as you would expect from rule #1. (See III.1b below.)
- Two adjacent alifs are never allowed. If the rules call for this, replace the combination by a single alif-madda.
- Logically, hamza is just like any other letter, but it may be written in different ways. It has no effect on the way other letters are written. In particular, surrounding long vowels are written just as they always are, regardless of the “seat” of the hamza – even if this results in the appearance of two consecutive waws or yaas.
- Hamza can be written in four ways – on its own (“on the line”) or over an alif, waw, or yaa, called the “seat” of the hamza. When written over yaa, the dots that would normally be written underneath disappear.
- When, according to the rules below, a hamza with an alif seat would occur before another alif, instead a single alif is written with the madda symbol over it.
- The rules for hamza depend on whether it occurs as the initial, middle, or final letter (not sound) in a word. (Thus, final short inflectional vowels do not count, but when –an is written as alif + nunation, it does count and the hamza is considered medial.)
I. If the hamza is initial:
- If the following letter is a short vowel: fatḥah (a) (as in أفراد ʼafrād) or ḍammah (u) (as in أﺼﻮﻝ ʼuṣūl), the hamza is written over a place-holding alif; kasrah (i) (as in إسلاﻡ ʼislām) the hamza is written under a place-holding alif. This is called "hamza on a wall".
- If the letter following the hamza is an alif itself: (as in آكل ʼākul) alif madda will occur.
II. If the hamza is final:
- If a short vowel precedes: the hamza is written over the letter (alif, waw, or yaa) corresponding to the short vowel.
- Otherwise: the hamza is written on the line (as in ﺷﻲء šayʼ "thing").
III. If the hamza is medial:
- If a long vowel or diphthong precedes, the seat of the hamza is determined mostly by what follows:
- *If or follows, the hamza is written over yaa or waw, accordingly.
- *Otherwise, the hamza wants to be written on the line. If a yaa precedes, however, this would conflict with the stroke joining the yaa to the following letter, so the hamza is (in print, at least) written over yaa. (as in جئت)
- Otherwise, both preceding and following vowels have an effect on the hamza.
- *If there is only one vowel (or two of the same kind), that vowel determines the seat (alif, waw, or yaa).
- *If there are two conflicting vowels, takes precedence over , over , so miʼat "hundred" is written ﻣﺌﺖ, with hamza over the yaa.
- *Alif-madda will occur if appropriate.
Not surprisingly given the complexity of these rules, there is some disagreement.
- Barron’s "201 Arabic Verbs" follows these rules exactly (although the sequence does not occur; see below).
- John Mace’s "Teach Yourself Arabic Verbs and Essential Grammar" presents alternative forms in almost all cases when hamza is followed by a long . The motivation appears to be to avoid two waws in a row. Generally, the choice is between the form following the rules here, or an alternative form using hamza over yaa in all cases. Example forms are . Exceptions:
- *In the sequence , e.g. , the alternatives are hamza on the line, or hamza over yaa, when the rules here would call for hamza over waw. Perhaps the resulting sequence of three waws would be especially repugnant?
- *In the sequence , the alternative form has hamza over alif, not yaa.
- *The forms have no alternative form. (But note with the same sequence of vowels!)
- Haywood and Nahmad’s "A new Arabic grammar" doesn’t write the paradigms out in full but in general agrees with John Mace’s book, including the alternative forms – and sometimes lists a third alternative where the entire sequence is written as a single hamza over waw instead of as two letters.
- "Al-Kitaab fii Ta:allum ..." presents paradigms with hamza written the same way throughout, regardless of what the rules above say. Thus with hamza only over alif, with hamza only over yaa, with hamza only over alif although this is not allowed in any of the previous three books. (This appears to be an over-generalization on the part of the Al-Kitaab writers.)