Waw (also spelled vav or vau) (In Hebrew: Vav) is the sixth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic (in abjadi order; it is 27th in modern Arabic order). In most Semitic languages it represents the voiced labial-velar approximant w, and in some (particularly Arabic) also the long close back rounded vowel /uː/ depending on context, while in Hebrew it represents a labial approximant, either v or /β/, a pattern shared by the non-Semitic languages using the Arabic alphabet (e.g. Persian and Urdu).
The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek digamma (Ϝ, whose name in Greek was probably Ϝαυ) and upsilon (Υ), and Etruscan V (); V later developed into U and W.
Waw is derived from a hieroglyph depicting a hook.
Vav has three orthographic variants, each with a different phonemic
value and phonetic
|Variant (with Niqqud)
||English example |
as initial letter:ו
(Hebrew: Vav Itsurit
(/ ו׳ עיצורית)
|as middle letter:וו |
|as final letter:ו or יו |
||Vav Shruka (/ ו׳ שרוקה) or|
Shuruq ([ʃu'ʁuk] / שׁוּרוּק)
|| approximates put or moon |
||Vav Chaluma (/ ו׳ חלומה) or|
Holam Male (/ חוֹלָם מָלֵא)
|| approximates door |
Vav as consonant
Consonantal vav (ו) represents a voiced labiodental fricative
(like the English v
) in Ashkenazi
, European Sephardi
and modern Israeli Hebrew
; and a Labial-velar approximant
(/w/) by most Jews of Eastern origin.
Vav with a dot on top
Vav can be used as a mater lectionis
for an 'o' vowel, in which case it is known as a holom male
, and in pointed text is marked with a dot above and to the left and is usually pronounced as /o/.
This vowel can also appear without the vav, as just the dot, and is known then as holom haser. (The vav may still take a holom haser and thus appear identical to this vowel although the consonant is pronounced, thus representing the sound vo as in mitzvot .)
Vav with a dot in the middle
Vav can also be used as a mater lectionis
for an 'oo' vowel, in which case it is known as a shuruk
, and in text with niqqud
is marked with a dot in the middle (on the left side) and is usually transcribed as /ʊ/.
Vav in gematria
represents the number six, and when used at the beginning of Hebrew years
, it means 6000 (i.e. ותשנד in numbers
would be the date
In foreign words
Modern Hebrew has no way to distinguish orthographically
between [v] and [w]. The pronunciation is either determined by prior knowledge or must be derived through context.
Some non standard transliterations of the sound [w] are sometimes found in modern Hebrew texts, such as two Vavs side by side (officially used in a text without Niqqud to mark a non initial and a non final Vav as the consonant (phoneme) /v/, as opposed to the vowels (phonemes) /u/ and /o/ which are always represented by a single Vav) or a Vav with a chupchik (like an apostrophe).
Loanwords with English W are often pronounced with [w].
Words written as vav
Vav at the beginning of the word has several possible meanings:
- Vav Conjunctive, when a vav connects two words or parts of a sentence; it is a grammatical conjunction meaning 'and' , cognate to the Arabic. This is the most common usage.
- Vav Consecutive (Vav Hahipuch, literally "the Vav of Reversal"), mainly biblical, commonly mistaken for the previous type of vav; it indicates consequence of actions and reverses the tense of the verb following it:
- when placed in front of a verb in the imperfect tense, it changes the verb to the perfect tense. For example, yomar means 'he will say' and vayomar means 'he said';
- when placed in front of a verb in the perfect, it changes the verb to the imperfect tense. For example, ahavtah means 'you loved', and ve'ahavtah means 'you will love'.
(Note: Older Hebrew did not have "tense" in a temporal sense, "perfect," and "imperfect" instead denoting aspect of completed or continuing action. Modern Hebrew verbal tenses have developed closer to their Indo-European counterparts, mostly having a temporal quality rather than denoting aspect. As a rule, Modern Hebrew does not use the "Vav Consecutive" form.)
Waw's pronunciation as a consonant is w
) and as mater lectionis
(close back rounded vowel
) or o
The letter is named wāw
, and is written is several ways depending in its position in the word:
Wāw is used to represent three distinct phonetic features:
- A consonant, pronounced as a voiced labial-velar approximant /w/, which is the case whenever it is at the beginnings of words, but normally occurs also in the middle or end. In this case it is followed by one of the three short vowels marked by diacritic on it; or a sukun, indicating the absence of a short vowel.
- A long close back rounded vowel /uː/. In this case it has no diacritic, but could be marked with a sukun in some traditions. The preceding consonant could either have no diacritic or a short-wāw-vowel mark, i.e damma, to aid in the pronunciation by hinting to the following long vowel.
- A diphthong, /au/. In this case it has no diacritic, but could be marked with a sukun in some traditions. The preceding consonant could either have no diacritic or have fatḥa sign, hinting to the first vowel in the diphthong, i.e. /a/. In some dialects, the diphthong may be reduced to the long monophthong [ɔː]
As a vowel, wāw can serve as the carrier of a hamza: ؤ.
Wāw serves several functions in the Arabic language. Perhaps foremost among them is that it is the primary conjunction in Arabic, equivalent to "and"; it is usually prefixed to other conjunctions, such as ولكن wa-lakin, meaning "but". Another function is the "oath", by preceding a noun of great significantly valued by the speaker. It is often literally translatable to "By..." or "I swear to...", and is often used in the Qur'an in this way, and also in the generally fixed construction والله wallah ("By Allah!" or "I swear to God!").