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In the Arabic script, ḥarakāt (حركات — the singular is ḥaraka حركة), also known as tashkīl (تشكيل), are the vocalization diacritics that mark vowels and other sounds that are not represented by Arabic letters. The literal meaning of ḥarakāt is "motions", and that of tashkīl is "forming".

The Arabic script is an impure abjad, meaning that short consonants and long vowels are represented by letters but short vowels and consonant length are not generally indicated in writing. The ḥarakāt are optional symbols that can be used to represent the missing vowels and consonant length.

Harakat (vowel points or vocalisation) should not be confused with I`jām (إعجام consonant points), which are considered part of a letter and are always present in normal writing.

List of ḥarakāt

The fatḥa (فتحة‎‎) is a small diagonal line placed above a letter, and represents a short /a/. The word fatḥa itself (فتحة) means opening, and refers to the opening of the mouth when producing an /a/. Example with dāl (henceforth, the base consonant in the following examples): <دَ> /da/.

A fatḥa plus a following letter <ا> (alif), the indicate a long /aː/. Example: <دَا> [dā]. As it is obvious, fatḥa is usually not written in such cases.

A similar diagonal line below a letter is called a kasra (كسرة) and designates a short /i/. Example: <دِ> /di/.

A kasra plus a following letter <ﻱ>(yāʼ) indicate a long /iː/ (as in the English word "bead"). Example: <دِي> /diː/. As it is obvious, kasra is usually not written in such cases but if yāʼ is pronounced as a diphthong /ai/, fatḥa should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation. The word "kasra" means "breaking."

The ḍamma (ضمة) is a small curl-like diacritic placed above a letter to represent a short /u/. Example: <دُ> /du/.

And the ḍamma with a following letter <و> (wāw) designates a long /uː/ (as in the English word "soon"). Example: <دُو> /duː/. As it is obvious, ḍamma is usually not written in such cases but if wāw is pronounced as a diphthong /aw/, fatḥa should be written on the preceding consonant to avoid mispronunciation.

If one of the three vowel diacritics is doubled, which can only appear at the end of a word, it indicates that vowel sound plus the consonant /n/, known as tanwīn (تنوين), or nunation. Thus, the signs <ـً ـٍ ـٌ> indicate, from left to right, /un, in, an/. These endings are used as non-pausal grammatical indefinite case endings in MSA or Classical Arabic (triptotes only). See ʼIʻrāb for more details. In spoken Arabic dialects, these endings are absent. Many Arabic textbooks introduce standard Arabic without these endings. The grammatical endings may not be written in some vocalised Arabic texts. As knowledge of ʼIʻrāb varies from country to country and there is a trend in simplifying the Arabic grammar. The sign is most commonly written in combination with ʼalif ‎ or (tāʼ marbūṭa). Alif should always be written, even if "un" is not.
The sukūn (سكون) is a circle-shaped diacritic placed above a letter. It indicates that the consonant to which it is attached is not followed by a vowel; this is a necessary symbol for writing CVC syllables, which are very common in Arabic. Example: <دَدْ> /dad/.

The sukūn may also be used to help represent a diphthong. A fatḥa followed by the letter <ﻱ> (yāʼ) with a sukūn over it indicates the diphthong /ay/ (IPA /aj/). A fatḥa followed by the letter <ﻭ> (wāw) with a sukūn indicates /aw/.

The shadda (شدة) or tashdīd (تشديد tašdīd) is a diacritic shaped like a small written English "w". It is used to indicate gemination (consonant doubling or extra length), which is phonemic in Arabic. It is written above the consonant which is to be doubled. It is the only ḥaraka that is sometimes used in ordinary spelling to avoid ambiguity. Example: <دّ> /dd/; مدرسة /madrasa/ school vs. مدرّسة /mudarrisa/ teacher (f.)
The superscript (dagger) ʼalif (ألف خنجرية‎‎ alif khanjariyya), is written as short vertical stroke on top of a consonant, it means a long /aː/ sound where alif is normally not written, e.g. <هٰذَا> or <رَحْمٰن‎>. The "dagger alif" doesn't happen too often but happens in some very common words. It is seldom written, even in fully vocalised texts. Most keyboards don't have "dagger alif". The word for "Allāh(u)" ( الله ) in Arabic is usually produced automatically by entering alif - lām - lām - hā'. The word consists of alif + ligature of doubled lām with shadda and "dagger alif" above lām.


ئ ؤ إ أ
The hamza (‎‎همزة) diacritic (which is not itself part of the system of ḥarakāt but interacts with it) indicates a glottal stop. It may appear by itself or over an alif, wāw, or yāʼ.

Which letter is to be used to support the hamza depends on the quality of the adjacent vowels. If the syllable occurs at the beginning of the word, the glottal stop is always indicated by hamza on an alif. But if the syllable occurs in the middle of the word, alif is used only if it is not preceded or followed by /i/ or /u/. If /i(ː)/ is before or after the glottal stop, a yāʼ with a hamza is used (the two dots which are usually beneath the yāʼ disappear in this case - <ئ>). If [u(ː)] is there, a wāw sukūn with a hamza is used. Consider the following words: <أَخ> (/ʔax/, brother), <ِإِسْرَائِيل> (/ʔisraːʔiːl/, Israel), <أُمْ> (/ʔumm/, mother). All three of above words "begin" with a vowel opening the syllable, and in each case, alif is used to designate the initial glottal stop (the actual beginning). But if we consider middle syllables "beginning" with a vowel: <نَشْأة (/našʔa/, 'origin'), <ِإِسْرَائِيل (/ʔisraːʔiːl/, 'Israel' - notice the /ʔiːl/ syllable), <ِرَؤُوف> (/raʔuːf/ 'lenient'), the situation is different, as noted above. See the comprehensive article on hamza for more details.

The madda (مدة) is a tilde-like diacritic which can appear only on top of an alif and indicates a glottal stop followed by long /aː/. The sequence /ʔaː/ should logically be spelled with a hamza on an alif (representing the /ʔ/) followed by another alif (representing the /aː/) but two consecutive alifs, including the combination *<أَا, is never written. The sequence /ʔaː/ must always be written with an alif madda. Example: <ﺁ>.
The waṣla (وصلة), ʼalif waṣla or hamzatu 'l-waṣl looks like a small letter ṣad on top of an alif (also indicated by an alif without a hamza), it means that the alif is not pronounced, e.g. <بٱسم>. Occurs only in the beginning of words (can occur after prepositions and the definite article). Found commonly in imperative verbs, the perfective aspect of verb stems VII to X and their verbal nouns (maṣdar). The alif of the definite article is considered a waṣla.


As the normal Arabic text doesn't provide enough information about the correct pronunciation, the main purpose of tashkīl (ḥarakāt) is to provide a phonetic guide or a phonetic aid, i.e. show the correct pronunciation. It serves the same purpose as furigana (also called "ruby") in Japanese or pinyin or zhuyin in Chinese (Mandarin) for children who are learning to read or foreign learners.

The bulk of Arabic script is written without ḥarakāt (or short vowels). However, they are commonly used in some religious texts that demand strict adherence to pronunciation rules such as Qur'an (القرآن ‎ al-qur’ān). It is not uncommon to add ḥarakāt to Hadith (الحديث al-ḥadīth, pl. aḥadīth) as well. Another use is in children's literature. Harakat are also used in ordinary texts when an ambiguity of pronunciation might arise. Vowelled Arabic dictionaries provide information about the correct pronunciation to both native and foreign Arabic speakers.

An example of a fully vocalised (vowelised or vowelled) Arabic from Qur'ān (Al-Fatihah 1:1):

بِسْمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
/ bismi 'llāhi 'r-raḥmāni 'r-raḥīmi /
In the Name of Allāh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Some Arabic textbooks for foreigners now use ḥarakāt as a phonetic guide to make learning reading Arabic easier. The other method used in textbooks being phonetic romanisation of unvocalised texts. Fully vocalised Arabic texts (i.e. Arabic texts with ḥarakāt/diacritics) are sought after by learners of Arabic. Some online bilingual dictionaries also provide ḥarakāt as a phonetic guide similarly to English dictionaries providing transcription.


According to tradition, the first to commission a system of harakat was Muawiyah I of the Umayyad dynasty, when he ordered Ziad Ibn Abih, his wāli in Basra (governed 664-673), to find someone to who would devise a method to transcribe correct reading. Ziad Ibn Abih, in turn, appointed Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali for the task. Abu al-Aswad devised a system of dots to signal the three short vowels (along with their respective allophones) of Arabic. This system of dots predates the i'jam, dots used to distinguish between different consonants.

Abu al-Aswad's system

Abu al-Aswad's system of Harakat was different from the system we know today. The system used red dots with each arrangement or position indicating a different short vowel. A dot above a letter indicated the vowel "a", a dot below indicated the vowel "i", a dot on the side of a letter stood for the vowel "u", and two dots stood for the tanwin. However, the early manuscripts of the Qur'an did not use the vowel signs for every letter requiring them, but only for letters where they were necessary for a correct reading.

Al Farāhídi's system

This is the precursor to the system we know today. Al Farāhídi found that the task of writing using two different colours was tedious and impractical. Another complication was that the i'jam had been introduced by then, which, while they were short strokes rather than the round dots seen today, meant that without a color distinction the two could become confused. Accordingly he changed the harakat into shapes resembling the letters used to transcribe the corresponding long vowels. His system evolved to the system we know today.

See also

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