Seats of the Hamza (ء)

هَمْزة

root: ه-م-ز / noun / plural: هَمَزات / definition: the letter ء, the glottal stop


This is a post I’ve been meaning to make for a while—for my own sake as well as yours, fellow Arabic nerds.

I’m sure we’ve all noticed that the hamza (ء) sometimes appears independently in a word and, at other times, it appears on one of the following letters: ا / و / ى (the so-called seats).

Take a look at the ء in the words below, for example:

  • هُدوء
  • إِبداع
  • أَفضَل
  • سُؤال
  • نائِم

So, how do we know how to write the ء in a word?

I’ve made a flowchart that we can use to work it out (click on the image to enlarge):

Let’s test it out with a few examples:

تَفا(ءُ)ل

Is the ء at the very beginning of the word? No.

Is the ء at the very end of the word? No.

Does the ء follow a long ا sound and have a fatha on it, or follow a long و sound? No. It does follow a long alif, but it has a damma on top, not a fatha.

Is there a kasra or يْ immediately before or after the ء? No.

Is there a damma or وْ immediately before or after the ء? Yes. There’s a damma immediately after (i.e. on top of) the ء.

So, the correct spelling of the word is:

تَفاؤُل

شَيْ(ء)

Is the ء at the very beginning of the word? No.

Is the ء at the very end of the word? Yes.

Is there a long vowel or sukoon directly before the ء? Yes. The letter preceding the hamza (ي) has a sukoon on it.

So, the correct spelling of the word is:

شَيْء

(Note that there are a lot of people who misspell this word by writing it as: شئ or شيئ!)

ها(ءِ)ل

Is the ء at the very beginning of the word? No.

Is the ء at the very end of the word? No.

Does the ء follow a long ا sound and have a fatha on it, or follow a long و sound? No. It does follow a long alif, but it has a kasra, not a fatha.

Is there a kasra or يْ immediately before or after the ء? Yes. There’s a kasra immediately after (on top of) the ء.

So, the correct spelling of the word is:

هائِل

مَبْدَ(ء)

Is the ء at the very beginning of the word? No.

Is the ء at the very end of the word? Yes.

Is there a long vowel or sukoon directly before the ء? No.

Is there a fatha immediately before the ء? Yes.

So, the correct spelling of the word is:

مَبْدَأ

يَتَسا(ءَ)ل

Is the ء at the very beginning of the word? No.

Is the ء at the very end of the word? No.

Does the ء follow a long ا sound and have a fatha on it, or follow a long و sound? Yes. It follows an alif and has a fatha on top.

So, the correct spelling of the word is:

يَتَساءَل

For words where the ء is the first letter of the word, it sits above or below the alif depending on the vowel it carries. If it has a damma or fatha, it sits above the alif (أ); if it has a kasra, it sits below the alif (إ).

And what about the madda (آ, pronounced as a long aa sound)? This occurs when we have the ء followed by a long alif sound, or two hamzas in a row.

Take the first person form I verb آكُل, for instance, which comes from the root ء-ك-ل. Because first person form I verbs take the form أَفعل, the word would be أَأْكُل—which is harder to pronounce and more confusing to spell! So we write it as آكُل and pronounce it aakul.

The آ doesn’t necessarily have to occur at the beginning of the word either. We have words like مَآذِن (minarets) from the root ء-ذ-ن and بَدَآ (they (two males) began) from the root ب-د-ء.

(The two examples above are taken from A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic—one of my absolute favourite books!)

Another point to note is that when we add suffixes to words ending in hamza, the hamza is then no longer in the word-final position, and we have to head back to the flowchart.

Let’s take the word زُمَلاءُ (colleagues) as an example. If we wanted to add the possessive pronoun ـي (my) to the end (زملا(ء)ي), the word would now be spelt زملائِي. And if we wanted to add ـنا (our) at the end (زملا(ء)نا), it would be spelt زملاؤُنا.

The same thing can occur during verb conjugation. We see تَقرَأ (you (m) read) and تَقرَئين (you (f) read), for example.

I think that’s the bulk of it covered! If you have any questions about the seats of hamza, or anything else Arabic-related, feel free to ask in the comments below.

!إلى اللقاء


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