Vowels in Arabic: Short Vowels, Sukun, Shadda, and Tanwin

Arabic vowels for beginners? Learn short vowel marks in Arabic, including the Arabic fatha, kasra, damma, sukoon, Shadda and Tanwīn

Vowels in Arabic: Short Vowels, Sukun, Shadda, and Tanwin

Vowels, in all languages (that we know of), are much less in number than consonants. But that doesn’t disregard their importance. Like English, Arabic language has short vowels and long vowels. Today, we are going into short vowel marks in Arabic including the Arabic fatha, kasra, damma, and sukoon. We are also learning how to write tanween for all of them: Arabic double vowels. Arabic vowels for beginners lesson starts now.

Let’s start with the vowels meaning in Arabic. حركات pronounced /harakat/, refer to the short vowels. There are three short Arabic vowels: fatha, damma, and kasra. Sukoon is a specific case and we will discuss it later on.

Fatha

The fatha in phonics is the short /a/ sound. It is a short line reaching to the sky. It is the same sound as in the word “cut”. In Arabic, you would write it as فتحة and it looks like this َ

The word fatha meanings opening and this is what it literally does. It opens up the word, elevating it. For example, the letter س is pronounced /seen/. With the addition of the fatha, it becomes سَ pronounced /sa/. It is as if the sound went up.

Originally, each short vowel originates, if you wish, from an original long vowel. The Arabic fatha comes from the alif long vowel آ pronounced /ā/ as in “cat.” Let’s look at an example:


WordWith HarakatTransliterationMeaning
سكنسَكَنَ/sakana/(he) lived


Damma

The damma in phonics is the short /u/ sound. It is an exact replica of the letterو  /waaw/, but smaller. The damma in Arabic is ضمة and it looks like this on top of the consonant: ُ

One of the many meanings of damma is to piece together in a cuddle-like way, and this is what it does to a letter. For example, the letter ك is pronounced /saf/. With the addition of the damma, it becomes كُ pronounced /ku/. It feels like it has been cuddled in.  

You probably already guessed it, but the Arabic damma comes from the long vowel و pronounced ū/ as in “soon.” Let’s look at an example:


WordWith HarakatTransliterationMeaning
كتبكُتُب/kotob/Books


Kasra

The kasra in phonics is the short /i/ sound. It looks exactly like the fatha but is under the consonant. The word “sit” represents this vowel perfectly. The Arabic kasra is كسرة and is it presented like this under its consonant: ِ

The word kasra refers to something being broken or has broken. Similarly, this short Arabic vowel does the same for a word in the sense that it takes it down, or almost breaks it. For example, the letter فis pronounced /fa’/, however, with the kasra it becomes فِ pronounced /fi/. It took the letter down.  

The kasra is taken from the long vowel ي pronounced /ya/, such as the case in the word “sleep.” Let’s look at an example:


WordWith HarakatTransliterationMeaning
فيفِي/fi/in


Sukoon

The sukoon is very different simply because it is the only one that is unvoiced. It simply means there is no sound on that consonant. It has no phonic representation, and for that reason, it is not regarded as an official short vowel. Nonetheless, it is still one of the official Arabic harakat.

Sukoon in Arabic is basically a small circle above the consonant.  The Arabic Sukoon can be is written like this: ْ

“Sukoon” literally means stillness and silence, which is what it does to a sound anyway. For example, the letter بis pronounced /ba’/, but with sukoon it becomes بْ pronounced /ib/. It eliminated any sounds. It is much clearer when seen in a word.  The sukoon is not taken from long vowel. It is independent from everything. Let’s look at an example:


WordWith HarakatTransliterationMeaning
سبتسبْت/sabt/Saturday


Tanween

Tanween is known in nunnation. This is when we add a final /n/ to Arabic words. 

For example:

سراً means secret and is pronounced /sirran/

قلبٌ means heart and it is pronounced /qalbon/

كلمةٍ means word and it is pronounced /kalimatin/

There are two things to notice here:

One is that the tanween literally doubles the fatha, damma, and kasra by adding a second haraka.

Two is that they all end with /an/, /un/ or /in/. Basically the short vowel sound + the /n/ sound at the end.

Naturally, there is no tanween for the sukoon as it is a silent haraka.

Shadda

This is “the double vowel”. Exactly as its name suggests, this means that the vowel is doubled in pronunciation. You would assume that doubling means writing it twice, but not in this case. What happen in the شدة , this ّ mark is added.

For example:  

فتَّحَ means (it) opened,  pronounced  /fattaha/

مُرُّ means bitter, pronounced /morro/

كسِّر means break, pronounced /kassir/


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