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Title: Hamzah  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: DIN 31635, Aleph, Utba ibn Rabi'ah
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


This article is about the letter. For other uses, see Hamza (disambiguation). For people of the same name, see Hamza (name).
Not to be confused with the letter ع (‘ayn), which has a similar looking initial form, and is what hamza is derived from

Hamza (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.


Hamzah is a noun from the verb هَمَزَ hamaza meaning 'to prick, goad, drive' or 'to provide (a letter or word) with hamzah'.[1]

Hamzat waṣl

The hamzah letter on its own always represents hamzat qaṭ‘ (همزة قطع); that is, a phonemic glottal stop. Compared to this, hamzat waṣl or hamzat al-waṣl (همزة الوصل) is a non-phonemic glottal stop produced automatically at the beginning of an utterance. Although it can be written as alif carrying a waṣlah sign ٱ, it is usually indicated by a regular alif without a hamzah. 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. al-baytu l-kabīru for written البيت الكبير). It occurs only at the beginning of a word following a preposition or the definite article.


The hamzah can be written alone, as if it was a letter, or with a carrier, in which case it becomes a diacritic:

  • Alone: (only one isolated form, the same form being also sometimes used in initial positions without perching it over an alif, and without joining with any following letter like most Arabic letters in initial positions):
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ء (none) (none) (none)
  • By itself as a high hamzah (not used in Arabic language; only one isolated form, but actually used in medial and final positions where it will be non joining), after any Arabic letter (if that letter has an initial or medial form, these forms will be changed to isolated or final forms respectively):
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ٴ (none) (none) (none)
  • Combined with a letter:
  • Above or below an alif:
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: أ ـأ ـأ أ
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: إ ـإ ـإ إ
  • Above a wāw:
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ؤ ـؤ ـؤ ؤ
  • Above a dotless yā’, also called hamzah ‘alá nabrah / yā’ hamzah. Joined medially and finally in Arabic, other languages written in Arabic-based script may have it initially as well:
Position in word: Isolated Final Medial Initial
Glyph form: ئ ـئ ـئـ ئـ


  • Initial hamzah is always perched over or under an alif, or sometimes over a dotless yā’. Otherwise, surrounding vowels determine the seat of the hamzah – but, preceding long vowels or diphthongs are ignored (as are final short vowels).
  • i- over u- over a- if there are two conflicting vowels that "count"; on the line if there are none.
  • As a special case, ā’a, ū’a and aw’a require hamzah on the line, instead of over an alif as one 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-maddah.

Detailed description

  • Logically, hamzah 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 hamzah—even if this results in the appearance of two consecutive wāws or yā’s.
  • Hamzah can be written in four ways: on its own ("on the line") or over an alif, wāw, or yā’, called the "seat" of the hamzah. When written over yā’, the dots that would normally be written underneath are omitted.
  • When, according to the rules below, a hamzah with an alif seat would occur before an alif which represents the vowel ā, a single alif is instead written with the maddah symbol over it.
  • The rules for hamzah 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 hamzah is considered medial.)

I. If the hamzah is initial:

  • If the following letter is a short vowel: fatḥah (a) (as in أفراد afrād) or ḍammah (u) (as in أصول uṣūl), the hamzah is written over a place-holding alif; kasrah (i) (as in إسلام islām) the hamzah is written under a place-holding alif. This is called "hamzah on a wall."
  • If the letter following the hamzah is an alif itself: (as in آكل ākul) alif maddah will occur.

II. If the hamzah is final:

  • If a short vowel precedes: the hamzah is written over the letter (alif, wāw, or yā’) corresponding to the short vowel.
  • Otherwise: the hamzah is written on the line (as in شيء shay’ "thing").

III. If the hamzah is medial:

  • If a long vowel or diphthong precedes, the seat of the hamzah is determined mostly by what follows:
  • If i or u follows, the hamzah is written over yā’ or wāw, accordingly.
  • Otherwise, the hamzah would be written on the line. If a yā’ precedes, however, this would conflict with the stroke joining the yā’ to the following letter, so the hamzah is written over yā’. (as in جئت)
  • Otherwise, both preceding and following vowels have an effect on the hamzah.
  • If there is only one vowel (or two of the same kind), that vowel determines the seat (alif, wāw, or yā’).
  • If there are two conflicting vowels, i takes precedence over u, u over a, so mi’ah 'hundred' is written مئة, with hamzah over the yā’.
  • Alif-maddah 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 ū’ū does not occur; see below).
  • John Mace’s Teach Yourself Arabic Verbs and Essential Grammar presents alternative forms in almost all cases when hamzah is followed by a long ū. The motivation appears to be to avoid two wāws in a row. Generally, the choice is between the form following the rules here, or an alternative form using hamzah over yā’ in all cases. Example forms are mas’ūl, yajī’ūna, yashā’ūna. Exceptions:
  • In the sequence ū’ū; e.g., yasū’ūna, the alternatives are hamzah on the line, or hamzah over yā’, when the rules here would call for hamzah over wāw. Perhaps the resulting sequence of three wāws would be especially repugnant?
  • In the sequence yaqra’ūna, the alternative form has hamzah over alif, not yā’.
  • The forms yabṭu’ūna, ya’ūbu have no alternative form. (But note yaqra’ūna with the same sequence of vowels.)
  • Haywood and Nahmad’s A new Arabic Grammar of the Written Language does not 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 ’ū is written as a single hamzah over wāw instead of as two letters.
  • "al-Kitaab fii Ta:allum..." presents paradigms with hamzah written the same way throughout, regardless of what the rules above say. Thus yabda’ūna with hamzah only over alif, yajī’ūna with hamzah only over yā’, yaqra’īna with hamzah 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.)

Latin representations

There are different ways to represent hamzah in Latin transliteration:

See also


External links

  • Interactive lesson for learning hamzah

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