Hamza (Arabic: همزة, hamzah) (ء) is a letter in the Arabic alphabet, representing the glottal stop [ʔ]. Hamza is not one of the 28 "full" letters and owes its existence to historical inconsistencies in the standard writing system. It is derived from the Arabic letter 'ayn. In the Phoenician and Aramaic alphabets, from which the Arabic alphabet is descended, the glottal stop was expressed by aleph (), continued by alif ( ) in the Arabic alphabet. However, alif was used to express both a glottal stop and a long vowel /aː/. To indicate that a glottal stop, and not a mere vowel, was intended, hamza was added 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. In Unicode it is at the codepoint U+0621 and named 'ARABIC LETTER HAMZA'.
Hamzah is a noun from the verb هَمَزَ hamaza meaning 'to prick, goad, drive' or 'to provide (a letter or word) with hamzah'.
The hamza letter on its own always represents hamzat qaṭ' (همزة قطع); that is, a phonemic glottal stop unlike the hamzat waṣl or hamzat al-waṣl (همزة الوصل), 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 (notably in the Quran), it is normally indicated by a regular alif without a hamza.
It occurs, for example, in:
the definite article al-,
some short words with two-consonant roots like ism, ibn, ibna, imr, imra, ithnāni, ithnatāni,
the imperative verbs of forms I and VII to X,
the perfective aspect of verb forms VII to X and their verbal nouns,
some borrowed words that start with consonant clusters such as istūdiyū.
It is not pronounced following a vowel: (al-baytu l-kabīru for written البيت الكبير). It occurs only in the definite article or at the beginning of a word following a preposition.
The hamza can be written either alone, as if it were a letter, or with a carrier, when it becomes a diacritic:
Alone: (only one isolated form):
By itself, as a high hamza (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):
Combined with a letter:
Arabic "seat" rules
The rules for writing hamza differ somewhat between languages even if the writing is based on the Arabic abjad. The following addresses Arabic specifically.
Initial hamza is always placed over (أ for ʾa-/ʾu-) or under (إ for ʾi-) an alif.
Medial hamza will have a seat or be written alone:
Surrounding vowels determine the seat of the hamza with preceding long vowels and diphthongs (such as aw or ay) being ignored.
i- (ئ) over u- (ؤ) over a- (أ) if there are two conflicting vowels that "count"; on the line (ء) if there are none.
As a special case, ā'a, ū'a and aw'a require hamza on the line, instead of over an alif as one would expect. (See III.1b below.)
Final hamza will have a seat or be written alone:
Alone on the line when preceded by a long vowel or final consonent.
Has a seat matching the final short vowel for words ending in a short vowel.
Two adjacent alifs are never allowed. If the rules call for this, replace the combination by a single alif-maddah.
Logically, hamza 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 hamza—even if this results in the appearance of two consecutive wāws or yā's.
Hamza can be written in five ways: on its own ("on the line"), under an alif, or over an alif, wāw, or yā', called the "seat" of the hamza. When written over yā', the dots that would normally be written underneath are omitted.
When according to the rules below, a hamza 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 hamza 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 -an is written as alif + nunation, counts, and the hamza is considered medial.)
I. If the hamza is initial:
If the following letter is a short vowel, fatḥah (a) (as in أفراد afrād) or ḍammah (u) (as in أصول uṣūl), the hamza is written over a place-holding alif; kasrah (i) (as in إسلام islām) the hamza is written under a place-holding alif and is called "hamza on a wall."
If the letter following the hamza is an alif itself: (as in آكل ākul) alif maddah will occur.
II. If the hamza is final:
If a short vowel precedes, the hamza is written over the letter (alif, wāw, or yā') corresponding to the short vowel.
Otherwise, the hamza is written on the line (as in شيء shay' "thing").
III. If the hamza is medial:
If a long vowel or diphthong precedes, the seat of the hamza is determined mostly by what follows:
If i or u follows, the hamza is written over yā' or wāw, accordingly.
Otherwise, the hamza would be written on the line. If a yā' precedes, however, that would conflict with the stroke joining the yā' to the following letter, so the hamza is written over yā'. (as in جئت)
Otherwise, both preceding and following vowels have an effect on the hamza.
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 hamza over the yā'.
Alif-maddah occurs if appropriate.
Not surprisingly, the complexity of the rules causes some disagreement.
Barron's 201 Arabic Verbs follows the rules exactly (but 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 hamza 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 hamza over yā' in all cases. Example forms are mas'ūl, yajī'ūna, yashā'ūna. Exceptions:
In the sequence ū'ū (yasū'ūna), the alternatives are hamza on the line, or hamza over yā', when the rules here would call for hamza over wāw. Perhaps, the resulting sequence of three wāws would be especially repugnant.
In the sequence yaqra'ūna, the alternative form has hamza over alif, not yā'.
The forms yabṭu'ūna, ya'ūbu have no alternative form. (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 with the entire sequence 'ū written as a single hamza over wāw instead of as two letters.
Al-Kitaab fii Taʿallum... presents paradigms with hamza written the same way throughout, regardless of the rules above. Thus yabda'ūna with hamza only over alif, yajī'ūna with hamza only over yā', yaqra'īna with hamza only over alif, but that is not allowed in any of the previous three books. (It appears to be an overgeneralization on the part of the al-Kitaab writers.)
The letter ط ṭ stands for any consonant. Note: The table shows only potential combinations and their graphic representations according to the spelling rules; not every possible combination exists in Arabic.
^[a] Arabic writing has tried to avoid two consecutive wāws, however, in Modern Arabic this rule is less applicable, thus modern رؤوس ruʾūs "heads" corresponds to رءوس in the Quran.
Hamza in other Arabic-based scripts
In Urdu script, hamza does not occur at the initial position over alif since alif is not used as a glottal stop in Urdu. In the middle position, if hamza is surrounded by vowels, it indicates a diphthong between the two vowels. In the middle position, if hamza is surrounded by only one vowel, it takes the sound of that vowel. In the final position hamza is silent or produces a glottal sound, as in Arabic.
In Urdu, hamza usually represents a diphthong between two vowels. It rarely acts like the Arabic hamza except in a few loanwords from Arabic.
Hamza is also added at the last letter of the first word of ezāfe compound to represent -e- if the first word ends with yeh or with he or over bari yeh if is added at the end of the first word of the ezāfe compound.
Hamza is always written on the line in the middle position unless in waw if that letter is preceded by a non-joiner letter; then, it is seated above waw. Hamza is also seated when written above bari yeh. In the final form, Hamza is written in its full form. In ezāfe, hamza is seated above he, yeh or bari yeh of the first word to represent the -e- of ezāfe compound.
There are different ways to represent hamza in Latin transliteration:
In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the sound of the glottal stop is represented by the letter ʔ, resembling a dotless question mark.
There is a tradition of using ', the simple apostrophe; and a grave accent ‹`› represents `ayn (ع).
Some standard transliterations, such as DIN 31635, transliterate it with a modifier letter right half ring ʾ and others such as ALA-LC with the modifier letter apostrophe ʼ and sometimes substituted with the Right Single Quotation Mark '.
Different unstandardized symbols exist such as 2 in Arabic chat alphabet.
ʼ and ʾ
Glottal stop (letter)
Romanization of Arabic
Varieties of Arabic
Interactive lesson for learning hamza