The Arabic script evolved from the Nabataean
Aramaic script. It has been used since the 4th century AD, but
the earliest document, an inscription in Arabic, Syriac
and Greek, dates from 512
AD. The Aramaic language has fewer consonants than Arabic, so during
the 7th century new Arabic letters were created by adding dots to existing
letters in order to avoid ambiguities. Further diacritics indicating
short vowels were introduced, but are only generally used to ensure
the Qur’an was read aloud without mistakes.
There are two main types of written Arabic:
- Classical Arabic – the language of the Qur’an and classical
literature. It differs from Modern Standard Arabic mainly in style
and vocabulary, some of which is archaic. All Muslims are expected
to recite the Qur’an in the original language, however many rely on
translations in order to understand the text.
- Modern Standard Arabic (
اللغة العربية الفصحى
/ al-luġatu l-ʿarabiyyatu l-fuṣḥā) – the universal language of the Arabic-speaking
world which is understood by all Arabic speakers. It is the language
of the vast majority of written material and of formal TV shows, lectures,
Each Arabic speaking country or region also has its own variety of
colloquial spoken Arabic. These colloquial varieties of Arabic appear
in written form in some poetry, cartoons and comics, plays and personal
letters. There are also translations of the bible into most varieties
of colloquial Arabic.
Arabic has also been written with the Hebrew,
Syriac and Latin scripts.
The transliteration of consonants used above is the ISO version of 1984. There are various other ways of transliterating Arabic.
This chart shows how the letters change in different positions
Arabic vowel diacritics and other symbols
Hear how to pronounce the Arabic letters:
Arabic chat alphabet
When chatting online some Arabic speakers write in the Latin alphabet use the following letters:
Download an Arabic alphabet chart in Word
or PDF format
Arabic numerals and numbers
These numerals are those used when writing Arabic and are written from left
to right. In Arabic they are known as “Indian numbers” (أرقام
هندية / arqa-m hindiyyah). The term ‘Arabic numerals’ is
also used to refer to 1, 2, 3, etc.
The Arabic language
Arabic is a Semitic language with about 221 million speakers in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Palestinian West Bank & Gaza, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
There are over 30 different varieties of colloquial Arabic which
- Egyptian – spoken by about 50 million people in Egypt and perhaps the most widely understood variety, thanks to the popularity of Egyptian-made films and TV shows.
- Algerian – spoken by about 22 million people in Algeria
- Moroccan/Maghrebi – spoken in Morocco by about 19.5 million people
- Sudanese – spoken in Sudan by about 19 million people
- Saidi – spoken by about 19 million people in Egypt
- North Levantine – spoken in Lebanon and
Syria by about 15 million people
- Mesopotamian – spoken by about 14 million people in Iraq, Iran and Syria
- Najdi – spoken in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria by about 10 million people
For a full list of all varieties of colloquial Arabic
click here (format: Excel, 20K).
Sample Arabic text (unvocalised)
Sample Arabic text (vocalised)
Yūladu jamī’u n-nāsi aḥrāran
mutasāwīna fī l-karāmati wa-l-ḥuqūq. Wa-qad wuhibū
‘aqlan wa-ḍamīran wa-‘alayhim an yu’āmila ba’ḍuhum ba’ḍan
Listen to a recording of this text by
زين العابدين شبيب (Zein Al-A’bideen Shabeeb)
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Sample videos in and about Modern Standard Arabic
Information about Arabic |
Video lessons |
Tower of Babel |
Learning materials |
Books about the Arabic script |
Arabic electronic dictionaries and translators
Online Arabic lessons
– Learn Arabic online with ArabicPod101
– TalkInArabic.com – learn colloquial Arabic of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, the Levant, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Tunisia
– eArabic Learning – Learn Arabic Online with Live Teachers
– Learn Arabic with Glossika
– Learn Arabic now at Rocket Languages!
– Arabic Genie – a quick and easy way to learn the Arabic alphabet
Arabic courses and other resources available on Amazon
Experienced Arabic Tutors (tutorhouse.co.uk)
More Arabic-related links
How to read handwritten Arabic
Varieties of Arabic
Arabic (Modern Standard),
Assyrian / Neo-Assyrian,
Languages written with the Arabic script
Arabic (Modern Standard),
Proto-Sinaitic / Proto-Canaanite,
Other writing systems
Page last modified: 10.08.21
Why not share this page:
If you need to type in many different languages, the Q International Keyboard can help. It enables you to type almost any language that uses the Latin, Cyrillic or Greek alphabets, and is free.
If you like this site and find it useful, you can support it by making a donation via PayPal or Patreon, or by contributing in other ways. Omniglot is how I make my living.
Note: all links on this site to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr are affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you click on any of them and buy something. So by clicking on these links you can help to support this site.