Arabic/Arabic alphabet (by group)

Recognising Characters


Written Arabic has 4 forms for each letter. This might appear much at first, but it's not as hard as you might think. For starters, Arabic does not have any capital letters, so this drops us from 4:1 ratio with the Roman alphabet to a meager 2:1 ratio. Secondly, Arabic does not have a separate cursive and manuscript versions of the letters; since what you're learning already is cursive, one could conceivably argue that we're dropping from a 2:1 to a 1:1 ratio.

There's better news still. A lot of these letters are really just derivations of other letters, and many of the ones that aren't derivations behave in a similar enough fashion to be learned together. This page is aimed at exploiting these similarities to help you learn how to read and write Arabic letters.

At a glance


Here are the letter-groups at a glance. We mentioned earlier that there are 4 forms for each character: isolated, initial, medial and final. In this table, we only show the isolated form of each character. But we also break the letters into groups that have similar shapes. Notice how some letters are derived from other letters by adding dots above or below some base form. You might be wondering why it is claimed that certain letters are similar to each other. (FIXME: for example). This is because the table is organised by similarity the medial form of each letter, that is the shape the letter takes when it is in the middle of a word. Let's proceed to the next set of tables, where you shall learn about these forms in greater detail.

Disclaimer: the organisation of letters into groups is based strictly on the authors' personal opinions. If an authority on the Arabic language tells you that things are otherwise, you should believe them and not us

no dots 1 dot 2 dots 3 dots
constant س








isolated ا



curve/pointy   ب






hook ح


ج خ


other ل



Arabic letters in detail


Now, we will look at each of the letter classes in detail. Every row in this table represents a separate letter. There are 8 constant letters, 6 isolated ones, 5 curve-pointy ones, 5 hook ones, and 4 other ones. You'll note also that we group the rows by number of dots; this is to show you the similarities between letters that differ only by the dots that they use. Even though ba ( ب ) and tha ( ث ) are completely different letters, they pretty much act the same way.



The constant forms behave roughly the same way no matter what position they are in.

final medial initial isolated
no dots ـس ـسـ سـ س
ـص ـصـ صـ ص
ـط ـطـ ـط ط
1 dot  
ـض ـضـ ضـ ض
ـظ ـظـ ظـ ظ
ـف ـفـ فـ ف
2 dots  
ـق ـقـ قـ ق
3 dots ـش ـشـ شـ ش

Note: technically fa and qa are not related to each other, but for us, being beginners, we'll pretend that they are for now.



The isolated characters do not connect to the next letter in the medial form. Consider alef and lam... written in the middle of words, they would look almost the same, but because alef does not connect to the next character (ـاـ) but lam does (ـلـ), you can tell them apart.

final medial initial isolated
no dots ـا ـاـ اـ ا
ـد ـدـ دـ د
ـر ـرـ رـ ر
ـو ـوـ وـ و
1 dot  
ـذ ـذـ ـذ ذ
ـز ـزـ زـ ز



The curve-pointy letters have a single curve in isolated or initial form, but when they are in the middle of a word, they form a simple point up.

final medial initial isolated
1 dot ـب ـبـ بـ ب
ـن ـنـ نـ ن
2 dots ـت ـتـ تـ ت
ـي ـيـ يـ ي
3 dots ـث ـثـ ثـ ث



The hook letters have a downward hook in their final form and an upward hook in their medial form.

final medial initial isolated
no dots ـح ـحـ حـ ح
ـع ـعـ عـ ع
1 dot above ـخ ـخـ خـ خ
ـغ ـغـ غـ غ
1 dot below ـج ـجـ جـ ج



Finally, there are four letters which have their own idiosyncratic behaviours.

final medial initial isolated
no dots ـك ـكـ كـ ك
ـل ـلـ لـ ل
ـم ـمـ مـ م
ـه ـهـ هـ ه

Special letters


Tâ marbûta


One letter which you will encounter rather frequently is the tâ marbûta (ة, not to be confused with ه). This letter always occurs in final position and has two forms:

final medial initial isolated
2 dots ـة ة



Sometimes two letters combine (and form a ligature) to be written in a prettier or more convenient manner. When lam ( ل ) is followed by alif ( ا ), it generally forms the lam-alif ligature ( لا ):

final medial initial isolated
no dots ـلا لا